Today I got an e-mail from MoveOn.org, whose mailing list I’ve been on for years. The group often sends out alerts to readers about political issues that require some action, or online petitions needing signatures. Much of the time, the items mentioned in the message are already known to me from other news sources, or they cite several sources for the information in the message.
The message today was not from the staff of MoveOn, as is often the case, but from a member using a petition site setup by the group, which enables mailing of petitions to other members. The text claimed that Apple’s Siri, a sort of artificial intelligence search program that runs on the newest iPhones, was acting in an anti-abortion manner in dealing with family planning queries from users. The message listed one source – this article from Raw Story, a site I hadn’t heard of.
This evening I looked at that article, which lists a bunch of other things one can find info on through Siri (some of them illegal). I also googled some other information about this issue. There are a number of other items about the story (including this post by PC Mag) that relate Apple’s response. The company denies any anti-choice intent on their part (and I believe them, as they’re generally a pretty liberal company). One possibility they suggest for the problem is the usefulness (or lack thereof) of the word “abortion” in searching for abortion services – the word is perhaps not used so much by advocates, but more by opponents.
Apple does point out that Siri is still a beta product, and they mention their intention to fix this glitch. That seems good enough to me. I don’t know how bombarded with angry e-mails they might have been as a result of this petition message (which assumed the worst of Apple, and was titled “iphone’s big secret”), but the company should weather the “storm” fine. Whatever controversy has been stirred up seems to have been mild, and I think most people have probably, like me, thought “That’s odd,” and then waited for more info to come out.
BTW, after coming up with the title for this post, I googled the words “conspiracy siri”, and while there were one or 2 hits for the abortion story, nothing seemed to come up with that as a phrase/play-on-words as I intended it. There are, however, a number of hits on some supposed conspiracy with a Catholic Cardinal named Siri. I didn’t read much about that, but it looks intriguing.
Yesterday morning I got out of bed, and noticed an interesting color to the light that was coming in the window. I looked out, and saw that the eastern sky was very red.
The camera kept wanting to focus on the screen, so I tried getting pictures through screenless windows, though I didn’t have as direct a view through those:
Nevertheless, it was a really pretty sunrise. It was also transient – less than 10 minutes after I took these pictures, the sky was just gray.
So, today is Cyber Monday. A day when online retailers offer various deals on goods – always the Monday after Thanksgiving. It’s sort of an electronic version of Black Friday, though I noticed plenty of ads for Internet bargains this past Friday, not just sales in physical stores.
As I recall from when I first heard of this day’s designation, the reason for this being a day of online deals is that people would return to work after 4 days off and would do a lot of shopping online, presumably because they have better Internet access at work than at home (FWIW, the Wikipedia article on the day bears this out). I would guess that a lot more Americans these days have Internet connections at home that are perfectly fast enough for shopping, but now that the day is established for marketers, it probably will be a special designation for many, many years.
Here’s what I find confusing: offering all these deals would seem to encourage workers to spend their time buying stuff rather than working. In other words, on this day each year, one segment of the business community – retailers – is attacking the productivity of the rest of the business community. Are there employers that resent this marketing? Have they tried to put any pressure on retailers (and would it do any good, since promotions like this seem to be very helpful to retails bottom line?)? Do lots of employees run afoul of computer use policies today?
I googled a few news stories on this, and it seems like businesses do seem to lose a lot of productivity on the day, but they have different ways of coping with it. Some places probably don’t have an issue, simply because they keep a tight rein on what sites can be visited from their network. Nevertheless, this is one issue where the business community is certainly not of one mind (alth0ugh that community might be less monolithic in general than I give it credit for).
A few more little reviews of webcomics today.
In the past I have mentioned Narbonic, by Shaenon Garrity, and her strip Skin Horse that was new at the time. She collaborates with Jeffrey Wells on Skin Horse (they co-write it, and she does all the art), and now that it’s been running for a few years, I can say a bit more about it. The strip is basically about a secret government agency that helps nonhuman sapients cope with the world (in short, they’re black ops social services). Where Narbonic was about a mad scientist, Skin Horse (that title, BTW, is a reference to the Velveteen Rabbit) often involves the main characters taking on the products of mad science as their clients. The situations and plot lines in the strip are generally silly and imaginative, such as one that involved the ongoing discovery of various creatures having created their own clashing civilizations in the basement archives.
Clockwork Game is a historical comic, dramatizing the history of a real device – a seemingly chess-playing automaton known often as “The Turk”, for its decoration as though it were an Ottoman figure from a certain period. Jane Irwin is the creator, as well as having written and drawn earlier the fictional Vögelein graphic novels. The strip covered much of the life of the device’s inventor, Wolfgang von Kempelen, and his displeasure with something he built as an amusement coming to overshadow his more practical creations. Currently, the story is concerned with the work of the man who acquired the automaton after Kempelen’s death, what he did with it and other technologies. The comic is really neat as an interesting look at some history of technology that I wasn’t aware of, and several famous personages are encountered in the strip.
Finally, for a few years I’ve been reading Octopus Pie, by Meredith Gran. I may have mentioned her briefly in my NEWW posts, but I don’t think I talked specifically about the strip. OP follows the lives of several friends/acquaintances in Brooklyn, and is generally a humorous comic, though it has had its more serious stories. For the most part, it’s a slice of life type of comic, but the art style is quite cartoony, and occasionally it gets out of the realm of our usual reality. Gran has a great gift for dialogue, and often the characters say hilarious things, or at least say things in a funny manner. The strip pokes fun at a lot of aspects of modern urban life, such as hipster culture, organic food stores, bike culture, drugs, etc. The main character, Eve, is an excellent cranky protagonist, and she has a great foil in her really laid-back roommate Hanna.
So I cleaned the oven last night.
You might wonder why this warrants a blog post. It’s true that I done plenty of oven cleaning before in my life, but this time I used the oven’s self-cleaning feature.
And yes, if you’re wondering, I have never used the self-clean feature before. Not on this or any other oven. There were plenty of times in the past the oven we had was not self-cleaning, and I’ve never liked the idea of using the caustic spray-on cleaners, so I’ve always cleaned the oven by getting in there and scrubbing, often with a soapy steel wool pad. It does the trick, but takes a bunch of work.
We decided recently that we really ought to try this self-clean thing (heck, the technology has only been around for 3 decades or so). Not having done it before, I wanted to make sure I knew what to expect. I read the manual for the range, which warned that the area around the stove should be well ventilated, and that fumes could pose a danger to pet birds if they were too close to the kitchen. I also did some Googling of the process, and found a lot of people who love self-cleaning ovens and swear by it. I also found a few people who said that they or their children had gotten really sick from the fumes. So, I was a little trepid about it.
I plunged forward and did it last night, though. It was a good time to do so, as a bunch of stuff dripped from apple pies on Thanksgiving, and the stuff burnt on the bottom of the oven. The manual said it would take about 4 hours, and it ended up taking a bit more than that before the indicator said it was done. The vent fan was running on high speed most of the time, and while there were some unpleasant smelling fumes for the first hour or two, it wasn’t too strong (we didn’t need to open a window or anything). It was pretty late when it finished, so we turned it off and went to bed, letting it cool overnight.
This morning I opened up the oven and, as promised, there was just a bit of ash in the bottom:
I wiped it up, then cleaned the racks and put them back in. It may be a bit odd that it took me so long to give this technology a try, given how my work and home life have often involved using lots of high-tech items, but there you go. I’m certainly a convert to this method, and will use it again.
One thing I did not mention from my Las Vegas trip was that, during my walk along the Vegas Strip, I had stopped in at a mall to use the bathroom. I didn’t think it very worth mentioning here that I had visited a shopping mall, nor was it worth photographing, as it looked pretty much like other malls.
However, I had missed one important aspect, which was pointed out to me the other day: the place is a Strip mall.
Yeah. That is all.
As I promised last night, here are pictures of our Thanksgiving meal, some in-progress shots, and some of the finished dishes.
We first worked on the pies. I don’t like making pie crust, but my partner is good at it and likes it. The situation is the opposite with the filling, so while she was cutting butter and rolling dough, I was peeling, coring, and slicing apples. We put together 2 pies , and here they are before they went in the oven:
The pattern on the first one may look familiar to you.
There is generally extra dough leftover after pies are assembled, so we put it in small pieces on cookie sheets, and sprinkle them with cinnamon and sugar:
We had enough of those to fill 3 sheets (not to the wind).
Here are the finished pies (in late afternoon sun):
After the pies were done, I went out while there was still daylight and picked kale and chives in the garden (yes, both are still alive):
I spent about 2 hours on the cooking of dinner, and I made all the following dishes, except for the popovers.
Sweet potatoes that have been steamed, before mixing in the dressing:
After dressing (they got a little mashed from then stirring):
Mashed potatoes and celeriac (with minced chives):
Beets (white and striped):
Broccoli and purple cauliflower:
The cooked kale:
The sauerkraut (which was merely taken out of the fridge – we made it weeks ago):
Warm, fresh popovers:
We finished dinner a little while ago, and are waiting to have room for pie. The aftermath of all this food includes, of course, a lot of dirty dishes to do:
We do have a dishwasher, but I expect it will still take a day or so to get caught up on those. We also have plenty of leftover food, so we’ll have nice big dinners for a few nights, yet.
So, I’ve been planning our Thanksgiving meal the last few days, and was working this evening on the cooking schedule. During this process, I realized that a lot of the meal is composed of very locally produced foods.
To wit, here’s what will be having, with the local connections:
- Popovers, made with eggs from a free range chicken farm about 10 miles away
- We may have some crab apple jelly on those, made by us from crab apples grown in our yard and on some trees half a mile from here
- Mashed potatoes and celery root (both from the Hampshire College CSA), with chives from our garden
- Steamed sweet potatoes with miso/brown sugar dressing
- Boiled beets (from HC CSA)
- Broccoli and cauliflower (from HC CSA)
- Sauteed red Russian kale (from our garden)
- Sauerkraut, made by us from red cabbage from the HC CSA
- Mixed green salad with dried cranberries
- Apple pies, made with Cortland apples from Atkins Farms (whose store is 1 mile from our house, and the orchard about 2 miles away)
So only the salad and sweet potatoes don’t involve products from our immediate area. Pretty neat.
Tomorrow, I’ll provide some pictures of this fine repast.
So this is a quick review of a comic I’ve been following for about a year, now. I picked up a copy of the first book collection of Family Man from its creator, Dylan Meconis, at Webcomics Weekend last year. In one of my posts about that convention, I briefly mentioned and linked to her, but I have said nothing about the comic itself. It’s time to rectify that.
I had not read the comic before that point, though I’d read one previous comic by Meconis. Family Man is the story of Luther Levy, the son of a clockmaker in 18th century Germany (or what will become Germany, at any rate). Luther has studied theology, and aspires to get back to academia. He gets a chance to do so at an out-of-the-way university, but there are some odd things about the school and the town that houses it.
The comic is beautifully drawn, with very compelling and rich characters. It’s also a neat look at how life was in the 1760′s, especially the life of a scholarly institution (it’s interesting how much similarity there is with academic life today). The story is slow to build, and where it will eventually go is only vaguely hinted at, but there is still plenty to enjoy while we wait for more to be revealed.
There is still only one print edition available, which contains the pages up through early 2010. There have been many more pages published online since then, though not as large a number as you might think, as she took a hiatus for nearly half of this year. No telling when a second print version will come out (maybe late next year?), if you prefer your comics that way. Nevertheless, Family Man is definitely worth your time if you like intelligent storytelling in a well-researched historic setting, including the politics and social forces of the time, and where there might be something supernatural going on.
On Wednesday, the conference wrapped up at noon, and I soon left the hotel to head for the airport and my 3:15 flight.
I took a couple of last daytime shots of the hotel:
I took those from the bus stop as I waited for the airport bus.
The ride to the airport was uneventful. The line was particularly long at the check-in counter, as the self check kiosks were down (at least, the ones at the counter that allow you to check bags, which I needed to do). I got checked in eventually, and they gave me a security pass, rather than a boarding pass. For some reason, they couldn’t issue a boarding pass there, and I would have to get one at the gate itself.
Fortunately, security took me almost no time to get through, and I proceeded to the gate. There was another flight scheduled to go out before mine, and it was listed on the gate screen. I went to get the boarding pass, and as I did so, I heard a ticket agent other than the one who was helping me talking on the phone about my flight being delayed. The person helping me printed my boarding pass and handed it to me without saying anything about the delay. I asked her about it, and she confirmed that the flight was now expected to depart at 5:45 instead of 3:15. That’s Pacific time, so instead of landing in CT at 11:20pm, I’d be getting in at 1:50am. Oh boy. This meant rearranging my ground transportation, so I worked on that while waiting around.
I took this picture out the window of the mountains with the last of the day’s sunlight on them:
A while later, the departure estimate was changed to 5:40, but when we actually boarded, it was past that time before everyone was on the plane. It was about 6 when the plane backed away from the gate.
The jet stream must have been strong at our back, though, because the flight ended up taking less that 4.5 hours, and I was on the ground around 1:20 in the morning. Still, I ended up finally getting home at 2:30 or so. Unsurprisingly, I went into work late on Thursday.
Thus ended my Las Vegas “adventure”.
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