Yoknapatawpha Crossing

Treasures

leave a comment »

When done properly, the day after a night of drinking is pretty exciting. If you’ve balanced your alcohol tolerance (measured as a barrier to drunkenness number, or BTD) against your actual consumption, or BAC, then you don’t have a hangover, but neither do you remember exactly what you were up to the previous evening. Then, as the coffee hits your system and you have a chance to reflect and IM whoever you were causing trouble with, bits and pieces begin to come back to you. Your mind is like that box of old photographs your grandmother has. They’re not in order; they’re old and dusty; you have no idea who the people in them are or what’s going on; many of them are out of focus; many of them just look stupid. If you stare at them long enough, though, threads start to develop, you start to recognize the recurring characters, and the past shapes itself before your eyes.

It would seem that my Friday night included having too much beer at a bar while it was still the afternoon; almost forgetting to go downtown to a hookah joint; going downtown to a hookah joint; randomly meeting a friend from Virginia at an el station in the middle of the city; being cuffed and cited by some plainclothesmen for drinking on the el; and being a jackass to people I don’t think I knew.

Once upon a Friday night long ago, it was the last day of classes for the semester, and then I woke up the next morning. I had not minded my BTD/BAC ratio as I should have, and Saturday was not fun. Monday I went to work, and one of the guys I worked with told me a story about Friday night. He said he saw me at the Wawa standing in line and talking to two girls I apparently did not know. He said that he said hi to me, and I was delighted to see him. “Dan!” I said. “We’re going to go streak the Sunken Gardens! You should come!” He said that this was apparently the first these two girls had heard about this plan, and they asked me what was going on. “Oh, man!” I said to them as I turned back around. “Dan and I are going to go streak the Sunken Gardens! You guys should come!”

Dan, apparently, did not go streak with us, and though the two girls must have had a high alcoholic tolerance, I feel confident that they also declined to accompany me to the Sunken Gardens. I may very well have streaked alone, and perhaps one day I will wake up and discover the memory of the chill Virginia air speeding by my nuts to comfort me when life seems bad.

Friday night memories secrete themselves in odd nooks of the chest of your mind, sitting quietly until you overturn them.

They lie in wait.

Written by Daniel Grady

January 15, 2007 at 14:03

Posted in Alcohol

I’d Rather Have a Bottle in Front of Me Than a Frontal Lobotomy

with one comment

Is the title of a song by Randy Hanzlick, who is (or perhaps was) a real live medical doctor who writes (wrote?) songs as a hobby. This particular song was printed on a 45 in 1980 in a run of about a thousand, but is now available on a larger scale as a track on Dr. Demento’s 30th Anniversary Collection, which is where I’m getting my information from.

The interesting thing, and the reason that I bring it up at all, is that I just found that same quote attributed to Tom Waits, who apparently used the line in a TV show in 1977. So it would at second blush appear that this line, like all great lines, originated with Tom Waits.

But wait! There’s a comment on this page which would seem to indicate that Dr. Hanzlick came up with the title of his song independently of Fernwood 2 Night. But then again, according to that source, Dr. Hanzlick “saw it written on a bathroom wall,” which is suspiciously similar to a quip Waits made about the origin of the line in the interview linked above. Will we never extricate ourselves from this labyrinth of minutiae?

Perhaps the important point is not who said it, but rather that it was said at all. Perhaps the phrase expresses a truth of such fundamental importance that both men gave voice to it completely independently. Yeah. Dig it.

Written by Daniel Grady

September 27, 2006 at 11:14

Posted in Alcohol

This Is Chicago

with 2 comments

The big news in my life is that I just moved to Chicago. This is how I knew I was there:

The Man on the El

I was riding home on the el with my friends, when a man tapped me on the shoulder, and this is what he said:

“Hey, man, wassure shirt say? I would… kill everyone in this… room… for a drop… of sweat beer… Hom… Homer… J… Simpson… Yeah, man, thaz what I’m talkin bout. Thazza fine shirt. You okay.”

Our new friend sat down right next to us. He wore a small goatee, a beat up sweater, and bloodshot eyes. As it turned out, he had a lot of things to say, and he said them many times. What follows is a selection of the parts that I feel are most relevant, and that I could also understand:

Race Relations

“White power, baby. Fuck those niggas, what the hell, what the hell they doing. I’m not wanting to offend anybody, you know, but for real, white power. High five, man.”

The man was black himself, and we were glad that the other people on the train were all wearing headphones.

Like the mantra of a devoted swami, he chanted along to the station announcements at every stop.

“This is Clark. Diversy is next. Doors open an the right at Diversy.”

“Standin passengers, please don lean gainst the doors.”

Except he usually missed that one.

Politics

“Y’all know George W. Bush? I luuuv him. I’m not tryin t’ offend y’all or anythin, but if I was a woman, I would have his babies. George W. Bush, Bush Sr, Dick Cheney, all them, I want to get down and dirty with em. If I was a woman I would fuck George W. Bush all night long, know what I’m sayin? I’m not tryin ta offend, that’s just the way I feel. They could do me in the ass, man. Course I’m jus sayin all this, I’ma married man.”

“Doors open on the left at Division.”

Women

He noticed that a couple of people in the group were girls.

“Man, women are the best, y’all know what I’m sayin? You gonna take me there, girl? Take me there!” snap snap

His fingers were more than a bit crusty, but for all that he could snap them very loudly, and he did, many times. The sound was made louder by his fingers’ proximity to our faces.

“Take me there, girl! You gonna take me there?” snap snap

The girl he was talking to: “I don’t know where we’re going!”

“You don need to know; you jus gotta get there.” snap snap

He was going somewhere. None of us knew where, and we didn’t stay to find out.

My train has just begun a five-year layover, and I for one can’t believe it spent so long tooling around the south. Chicago is the best place ever.

“Standin passenger, please don lean gainst the doors.”

Special Thoughtful Note

That all really happened. I didn’t have to make up any of it. I’m sorry if it offended you. I thought it was hilarious.

Written by Daniel Grady

September 12, 2006 at 19:04

Posted in True Stories

Sangria

leave a comment »

I’ve spent too much time talking about how awesome Macs are recently, so this post is intended to return the discourse to another subject near and dear to my heart, alcohol. Specifically, sangria.

Sangria is a drink that comes from Spain originally. It’s like fruit punch, but with booze. I make it pretty often, and people seem to think it generally tastes okay, so I’m gonna go over the recipe I use. It’ll be fun.

First, these are the things that go in sangria and some preliminary rambling about them: wine, fruit, sugar, orange liqueur. That’s it, actually.

There’s more wine than anything else in sangria, and usually it’s red. Sangria made with white wine is called sangria blanco, and you need to put different things in it. Don’t fiddle with that shit. Red wine is the way to go. You don’t need to get amazing red wine; you’re going to dump a bunch of sugar and fruit juice in with it, so if it doesn’t taste perfect you’ll probably never notice. You probably want to shoot for something fruity rather than dry. I’ve used Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Merlot, Merlot, and I think some other things to good effect. Something like Shiraz or Chianti is probably not the sangria wine you’re looking for. Actually, Chianti might work pretty well. I should try that. Yellow Tail is great for sangria.

On to fruit. As with everything in life, fresh is always better. However, I have found (through countless hours, selflessly spent, of experimentation) that using bottled orange juice and lemon juice in lieu of freshly squeezed tends to not make a huge difference in the quality of the sangria. On the other hand, you absolutely should use fresh fruit to make fruit slices to put in the sangria.

Some chefs, such as Emeril Lagasse, recommend the use of a top-shelf liqueur such as Grand Marnier to flavor your sangria. Mr. Lagasse may be an outstanding chef, but he is a piss-poor drunkard, and I assure you that the subtle and delightful features of Grand Marnier or Cointreau (which presumably justify their top shelf price) will be completely drowned in a sea of wine and fruit juice if they are used in sangria. All you care about is giving the concoction a little orange-flavored kick, and for that a seven-dollar bottle of triple sec is your best option.

You also need to make sure you get a big pot or pitcher; you’ll end up with about 2.5 L of sangria if you follow the instructions. And that’s it for introductory rambling. Here’s the recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 L red wine
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 1/4 c water
  • 1 c orange liqueur
  • 1 apple (Granny Smith is good)
  • 2 oranges; one for juice, one for slices
  • 2 lemons; one for juice, one for slices
  • 2 limes; juice and slices

Procedure:

  1. Put the water in a pot, and put it over medium-low heat on a stove. Let it heat up a bit, then stir in the sugar. Heating the water simply ensures that all the sugar dissolves easily. Once the sugar is all dissolved, dump this in your big pitcher.
  2. Cut the apple into chunks, the lemon and orange into thin slices. Dump them into your big pitcher.
  3. Pour some lemon and orange juice into your big pitcher. If you’re doing the freshly squeezed kind, you probably want the juice from one lemon and one orange. If you’re using prepackaged, you probably want a bit more than that. Guesstimate.
  4. Dump the wine and liqueur into your big pitcher as well.
  5. Stir.
  6. Let it sit for a while, preferably overnight. I’m no chemist, but my college roommate was, and he assures me that during the time the sangria sits, magic happens to make it taste better.
  7. Drink.

That’s all there is to making sangria. Give it a shot; don’t even worry about sticking to the recipe. Sangria is very flexible. In the words of Cole Porter, quoted here from Box, Hunter, and Hunter,

Experiment.
Make it your motto day and night.
Experiment
And it will lead you to the light.
The apple on the top of the tree
Is never too high to achieve,
So take an example from Eve,
Experiment.

I think it is the funniest thing in the world that Box, Hunter, and Hunter use that quote to preface their textbook on statistics and experimental design.

Written by Daniel Grady

August 31, 2006 at 02:41

Whoo for Design

leave a comment »

As planned, I bought a MacBook a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve been using it pretty obsessively since it showed up in the mail. It’s really nice, and I want to talk about why, but not for very long.

My background is Windows, and before that MS-DOS. The first computer I ever used was a Tandy 1000 SL. It had no hard drive, just two 5 1/4″ floppy drives. You booted everything off of a floppy disk. It could run all kinds of awesome games, like Think Quick. These worms chased you around some castle, but you could use a plunger to distract them. It was great. Also, I wrote book reports for school with this word-processing program; I can’t remember the name of it. The instruction manual for the program included this whole murder mystery story to explain how to use the cut-copy-paste functionality of the program. Instruction manuals nowadays are uninspired and banal.

The second computer we had was a CompuAdd, and it ran Windows 3.1. Windows 3.1 was all right in my book; it was a thin veil you could lay on top of MS-DOS to make it prettier, and like MS-DOS, it was pretty stable. That computer ran Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego, which is when I learned how to look things up in an almanac.

Since then, the family’s had several computers, all running Windows. It’s gotten progressively worse, as most people who use it have noticed. XP, now that it’s been out for however many years, is pretty stable, and that’s cool. It took them two major service packs to get it that way, though. This is what happens when I boot my Windows computer running XP (the machine has a 1.8 GHz processor and 1 GB of RAM):

  • The BIOS loads and does its song and dance.
  • The RAID drivers for my hard drives do their thing.
  • Windows throws up a loading screen, which looks like it’s about 640 x 480 pixels with 256 colors (=crappy).
  • The login screen shows up; I click my name; I type in my password; I hit Enter.
  • Windows shows me a desktop with no icons on it.
  • Windows draws the icons on my desktop, but with generic icons instead of the correct ones.
  • Windows replaces, one by one, the generic icons with the correct one for each item on my desktop.
  • Windows finishes all its crap and lets me actually interact with the desktop.

This takes about five minutes from the time I hit the power button to the time I can actually open a program.

This is what happens when I boot my new MacBook (2.0 GHz processor, 512 MB RAM):

  • I press the power button.
  • The computer makes a pleasant sound and shows me a neutral grey screen with a loading thingy.
  • A status bar shows up (which actually does not measure anything).
  • The login screen shows up; I click my name; I type in my password; I hit Enter. I mean Return.
  • The fully rendered desktop, all icons in place, shows up on the screen; the Dock saunters in from the right.

That takes about 30 seconds.

This is how you install a program in Windows: download the file, run the install program, which asks you about where you want to put the program, do you want a desktop icon, do you want a start menu icon, do you want to associate files with it, you need to restart your computer, BLAH!

This is how you install a program on Mac OS: download the disk image thing, double click it, and drag the program to your Applications directory. Boom.

It’s silly to try to say that one operating system is “better” in some qualitative, absolute sense. But Mac OS is better for me. And also in general.

At this point, I am, in fact, completely off the Microsoft. I have a ton of Word and Excel files lying around, but there’s this group called OpenOffice.org, and also NeoOffice for the Mac, which makes a suite of programs which have almost all the functionality of the Microsoft Office Suite, but are free. And that’s a good price.

There’s nothing else I can say about the Mac OS that hasn’t already been said too many times. To me, the biggest difference between it and Windows is this: in Windows, you constantly have the feeling that you are using things that were hacked together early in the development process, and then got a fresh coat of paint quickly applied before being released. On the Mac, you constantly have the feeling that someone sat down and thought hard about the programs you’re using and spent a lot of time polishing them before they ever got to you. Maybe you don’t agree with their decisions all the time, but they were at least actively making design choices, and that counts for a lot. Now I’m done.

Written by Daniel Grady

August 28, 2006 at 00:40

Posted in Fanboy

When I’m 64

leave a comment »

There’s a very interesting discussion I ran across today regarding Mac OS X. Since this post will essentially be me doing nothing more than aping their ideas, I’ll summarize it quickly. The discussion is also fairly long; it’s thanks to the oversight (or lack thereof) in my government-funded internship position that I was afforded the leisure to go through it myself.

  1. Mark Pilgrim is a computing professional and 22-year Apple user who recently wrote a post for his blog describing his decision to abandon the Mac OS in favor of Ubuntu. His reasons for switching have much to do with Apple’s tendency towards the closed-box mentality; their products are some of the most polished available today, but the inner workings of those products, and specifically many of the file formats they use to store your iApp creations, are closely-guarded secrets. The end result is that you get a product that is beautiful and a pleasure to use, but one that also locks you in. Should you want to export your iMovie edits or your iPhoto library metadata at any point in the future, you will find it unpleasantly difficult. These two applications are merely examples; the problem itself is endemic to most of Apple’s bundled applications, and this is what finally killed the Mac for Pilgrim.

  2. John Gruber of Daring Fireball, a blog in which he comments on Mac news and writes longer opinion pieces, linked to Pilgrim’s announcement and made a remark which some of Gruber’s readers interpreted as meaning that Pilgrim dropped the Mac solely because he had some problems with data corruption. Many of those readers then went to Pilgrim’s site and, without necessarily reading the article, posted comments lambasting Pilgrim/evangelizing the Mac; the statement that the Mac OS is “better” than other OSes was frequently invoked.

  3. In a lengthy response, Gruber apologized for the undue hostility of these readers, criticized them for completely missing the point, and clarified exactly what that point was. He ended the piece by saying, essentially, that while he understood and respected Pilgrim’s decision, he did not feel that data lock-in was that significant a problem for the Mac. After all, Gruber points out, the Mac OS has been around in one form or another for 22 years; if data lock-in were going to cause a catastrophe, it would have already.

  4. Pilgrim provided a laundry list of incidents in the history of the Mac OS when proprietary file formats have caused very real and significant problems for him personally.

Since I’ve decided to purchase a Mac in the near future, I was considerably interested in this exchange; in fact, it made me reexamine my reasons for wanting to switch to the Mac OS from Windows. The issues that Pilgrim brought up I hadn’t even considered prior to reading his complaints, yet he makes a very valid point. The beautiful interfaces, the “it just works” aspect, many of the Mac’s touted features, all hinge upon very specific, very closed standards that Apple certainly isn’t anxious to open up. iTunes library metadata, email archives, iPhoto library metadata, iMovie edits: all this information is stored in proprietary, undocumented formats; often the data file itself is completely hidden from the user. The threat of losing a significant part of my accumulated stuff if Apple ever stops supporting these standards or if I ever decide to move to a different platform is very real.

For people like me, and by that I mean people my age, this is something of a rude awakening. Microsoft Word has been around nearly as long as I’ve been using computers. There was that Tandy 1000SL back in the day, but every computer since then in my family’s household has run some version of Windows. The thought that I might one day not be able to open my .doc files in Word is rather disarming. I think the immediate future is pretty safe, but Pilgrim raises a good question: What about when I’m 80? Although preserving every essay I ever had to write on “Huckleberry Finn” is pretty far from my mind, I’m willing to accept that some of the data I am producing at this point in my life will be things I want to hang on to indefinitely. Is Apple going to help me do that?

The answer to that question, based on everything I’ve seen regarding OS X and not just Pilgrim’s indictment, is no. It’s to Apple’s advantage, business-wise, to keep customers tied to their products, and until a majority of customers recognize this problem and demand a change, there will undoubtedly be none. However, that’s not enough of a reason for me to not buy a Mac. The rationale goes directly back to the point Gruber made: Pilgrim switched to Ubuntu because that choice made the most sense for him and for what he does. For me and what I do, however, the switch to Mac OS still has an inescapable logic.

Although I’m sure that some of the information I produce in the next five years will be worth keeping, I have to ask myself exactly how much of it, and which parts, will be things I’ll want to look at years from now? Unlike Pilgrim, I am not the kind of person who is concerned about keeping email records going back a decade or more; nor do I have or plan on accumulating gigabytes of video footage, pictures, and associated metadata. The only things I produce of any consequence in the next five years will almost certainly be written in MATLAB, Mathematica, LaTex, or an open-source programming language. MATLAB and Mathematica are both proprietary, but there’s nothing I can do about that, and their file formats at least are transparent. This difference in focus on what we consider important enough to archive is the greatest disparity in thinking between Pilgrim and I, and because of it, the closed-format mentality of the iApp collection is a non-issue for me.

The other significant point that helped me make this decision is that, again unlike Pilgrim, my choice is essentially binary: I’m either going to be using Windows or Mac OS. At this point in my life, if my choice is between Windows and something else, I’ll pick the something else. I want an operating system that doesn’t inexplicably reset the transfer rate on my IDE channels every month or so, that has a consistent user interface, that doesn’t have an internet browser so inextricably linked to the OS that new security holes are discovered daily, that doesn’t take 10 seconds to redraw the desktop under heavy CPU load, that has some semblance of logical design underpinning it, and Windows fails on all those points. Nothing that I’ve seen written about Vista has convinced that it will be different from XP in any crucial way. Linux would fit the bill, but as far as it’s come, Linux is still something that I would have to “deal with” if I decided to run that on my personal computer, and I don’t want to be tied down to an operating system that I have zero experience with. Besides, if I ever change my mind, I can always just run it on a MacBook.

It is my hope that in the future Apple will be forced to address the problems Pilgrim brings up, but this may be misguided optimism. After all, how many average consumers care about these issues? How many average consumers are even aware of them? For someone like Mark Pilgrim, who has years of experience and years of involvement with software, a problem like data lock-in may be glaringly obvious, but I would be surprised if many people purchasing computers today even identify it as a possible concern. I’m quite happy that I happened across this discussion, however, since it’s made me aware. And knowing you have a problem is half the battle.

Written by Daniel Grady

June 21, 2006 at 23:33

Posted in Fanboy

Cantaloupe Bread

leave a comment »

The following is a recipe for cantaloupe bread that I made up the other day. There was this thing I read that was talking about melon bread, and it sounded like it would be pretty good, so I checked around and found a few places online with recipes for various types of melon bread, and they all seemed to follow a pretty standard formula, so I went back to Joy of Cooking and adapted their instructions for banana bread, instead using cantaloupe. It turned out pretty well. I’ll probably try to tweak it some more later.

Block 1 Ingredients

  • 1 ½ c. flour
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt

Block 2 Ingredients

  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 6 tblsp melted butter
  • 1 c. cantaloupe purée
  • ¼ – ½ tsp ground cinnamon

Procedure

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease and flour a 9″ x 5″ baking pan.
  2. Sift or whisk together block 1 ingredients.
  3. Mix block 2 ingredients.
  4. Fold block 1 into block 2 until just moistened. Do not overmix.
  5. Pour into loaf pan. Bake 50-60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Pretty simple. The thing is not to add too much cinnamon; the flavor of the cantaloupe is easily overwhelmed.

Written by Daniel Grady

February 26, 2006 at 23:28

Posted in Consumables, Recipes