Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Who Needs Google...

...when you can have your own personalized search engine page. Check out my page here.

Thanks to Erika Jean for pointing out this site.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Sad Flickr Story

As you know, I'm a big fan of Flickr. Besides being a useful picture repository and a great place to host images for blogging, I enjoy participating in various Flickr groups. It's humbling to see all the wonderful, creative photos people take. However, it's a good way to learn and hopefully improve my photo skills.

I've made a few contacts there as well. It's not the social network that a site like MyBlogLog provides, but you can find and connect with folks. You're able to keep track of new photos posted by your contacts. One contact I've mentioned before is carlosluis. He has an amazing photographic ability -- especially with portraits and action shots of his kids. He had posted a wonderful collection of photos that captured the activities of his son and daughter as they were growing up.

"Had" is the operative word in the previous sentence. Tonight I noticed two images he recently posted contained words instead of an image. I thought that was strange. When I went to his photo pool I noticed all his images were gone and only 4 remained. The images were messages to folks looking at his photo collection that explain why Carlos made all his photos private. The reason Carlos mentioned (see the comments on the pixelated photo and his recent self portrait) is that the photos of his daughter were being used by someone else to make up a story about an adopted daughter on a myspace profile. That's disturbing to me -- I can't imagine how upsetting that discovery was to Carlos!!

It's sad to read stories like this. It explains why bloggers like Julie Leung don't have photos of her children on her blog.

I hope he'll at least post his nature photos. He has some incredible photos of hummingbirds he took while they were near feeders they had outside their window. My best wishes to Carlos.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

A Needle in the Haystack

I read an interesting article on protein analysis in biological fluids in the latest issue of LC/GC North America magazine. The article itself was about how to separate the wheat from the chaff during analysis. The article made me realize how difficult diagnostic tests are to develop. When trying to diagnose a protein related disease or pathophysiological condition, the issue boils down to how to detect very small amounts of a specific protein needed for diagnosis that is buried among the large number of proteins in the sample.

A specific example is the prostate specific antigen (PSA) test in human serum/plasma. Even when there is a bad prostate problem, the PSA protein that signals a problem is present in a very tiny amount. That alone makes it hard to detect. But compounding the problem is sorting out the PSA protein from many other proteins in the plasma. Albumin, responsible for managing blood volume and transporting substances in the bloodstream, accounts for over half the protein in plasma. Immunoglobulin G, a protein that helps defend the body from attacks (e.g. by toxins), accounts for roughly 15-20% of protein in serum. These two proteins alone make finding and measuring the PSA protein very hard. But how hard?

To put the problem in perspective, finding and measuring PSA in a single blood sample is about the same as trying to find a single, specific nail (the PSA protein) among all the fingers and toes of every human being (all the serum proteins) in the world. Talk about finding a needle in a haystack! And to think PSA analyses are done in several minutes, hundreds of times a day. Amazing.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

How Not to Paint a Kitchen

Today Dianne and I were part of a crew of 23 people (sorry if we miscounted and left out anyone) who gathered at the Sojourner House in Hamilton to paint and fix-up several of the apartments there and the common space. The event was well organized and there had been a lot of pre-work done by a few of the folks. The planning group had scouted the place, estimated the materials needed (paint, blinds, flooring, etc.), and bought or got donations for everything. If anything, we were a bit short on cleaning supplies to prep the walls and spruce up the place.

We aren't experienced painters. We were put in one of the kitchens. It took us the better part of the day to clean the walls a bit (we had help with baseboards) and do some prep work, put on two coats of paint, and clean up. I think we were the slowest painters in the group. The moulding and trim around the doorways and the two windows seemed to take forever. Also, the plaster on one of the walls wasn't in good shape so the wall was very bumpy and hard to paint. There were also a lot of odd things to paint, paint behind, or avoid: hot water heat pipes, a radiator that was about a million degrees according to Dianne, electrical conduit, cabinets, you name it. In our defense, one of our paint brushes wasn't much bigger than a toothbrush -- that didn't help.

I'm sure some of the more experienced folks on the crew could have completed that in half a day, but at least we helped out. With everyone chipping in, quite a few of the apartments were fixed up. The place really did need some work and the effort made a huge difference.

We are tired tonight!

Friday, February 23, 2007


Here’s another old news item I missed last fall. Has anyone seen, played, or tasted Nestle’s new WonkaZoid? Apparently Pez dispensers aren’t the interest catching candy gadget they used to be. The Nestle R&D folks came up with the WonkaZoid -- a combination video game and candy dispenser. What more could you ask for? Heaven forbid you’d have to release both hands from your video game to get some candy. I wonder if you have to reach a certain score or perform certain tasks before the candy can be dispensed.

Why am I worried that I’m going to see one of these at home? I’m guessing either the Sour Nerds or the Sweetart Shockers variety.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Seasoned Skewers

I’m not a huge marinade fan. One reason is that marinades usually have a lot of salt. That’s a big killer for me. Also, many of them have onion bits which is a killer for Dianne. Aside from the ingredient limitations, another reason is marinades take planning and time in order to get a good flavor from the effort. That’s tough to do during the work week.

Apparently the folks at Callison’s Fine Foods spent some time thinking about these problems and how to address them with a new product. I just read about their new Seasoned Skewers. They are skewers with seasoning embedded in the wood. They come in various flavors and the product claims the meat is seasoned from the inside out in 15 minutes. The nutritional information looks good with zero salt. Their ‘where to buy’ section says they’re available in the Cincinnati area at Cooks’Wares at Harper’s Point and Sur la Table at Rookwood. Anybody out there given them a try? I’m curious how well they season the meat. Seems like something you could use not only for traditional grilling but also for broiling or on the George Foreman grill.

M&M's Dark and The Scream

Dianne and I were fortunate to visit Oslo in the 90s. I had to attend a training course in Denmark for work and we went over early before I headed to the course. We spent some time in Denmark and Norway. In Oslo we saw the large version of Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream in the National Gallery. It’s exciting to see famous works of art that you’ve only seen as reproductions.

In 2004, another version of the painting was stolen from the Munch museum. I remembered hearing a news story last year that the painting was finally recovered. Not being a huge candy eater, I didn’t know the rest of the story until today. I thought I’d keep my M&M theme going for another post even though this is old news.

Apparently there is a ‘new’ variety of M&M’s out there – M&M’s Dark Chocolate Candies. Part of the ad campaign for the new candy placed an M&M in Munch’s painting. The campaign was announced while the painting was still missing. Masterfoods (owner of M&M) offered a reward of 2 million of the new M&Ms for the return of the painting. Less than 2 weeks after their announcement, the painting was found! Apparently Masterfoods is going to make good on the reward that amounts to a retail value of $22,000. If they had only waited a couple weeks!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Wikipedia and Citizendium

I ran across a Harvard Business School case study on Wikipedia and “Enterprise 2.0”. It’s a good read. Don’t expect an earth shattering conclusion about the term if you read the article. It’s a case study discussion piece.

I still found the article interesting for a general perspective on Wikipedia and its problems. Personally, I like Wikipedia. It’s not a conclusive information source, but often it’s a reasonable place to start when looking for information. Like anything on the web, you can’t always assume it’s 100% accurate. Just go in with eyes wide open. The site illustrates both the power of collective intelligence and also the ugly side of folks that try to spoil the collective intelligence. I have found some strange articles and some heated content discussions. The HBS article outlines perhaps why those issues are showing up on Wikipedia.

That case study led me to read a bit about Sanger’s new effort labeled Citizendium (a Citizen’s Compendium). In brief, it’s trying to be a better, more authoritative Wikipedia. You can read more about the philosophy behind the effort and there is information about the organization behind the new wiki. The main Citizendium pilot page has more information about participation. Any authors or editors out there? It sounds like an ambitious, but worthy goal. However, it’s sad to see that the ‘bad apples’ are still there trying to spoil the development rather than applying their effort for the collective good. I guess some kids never did learn to play nicely in the sandbox.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Have you seen the FDA's new 'superhero', Labelman? That's Labelman at the right. Go to the official site here. Wow. On the one hand I appreciate the importance of making sure nutritional labels are readily understood by everyone. But on the flip side, a couple things about the initiative bother me.

First, is it necessary to brand the effort with a 'superhero' like Labelman? Is that really making it more fun for people to learn the meaning behind %DV? I wonder how much the design of Labelman cost the taxpayers. I should let an expert like Dianne weigh in on the Labelman design. Personally, I find it only marginally better than my M&M character and about as fun and informative as the reconfigured nutritional pyramid. I guess I shouldn't be surprised since this is coming from the same government that put out Woodsy Owl ("...a whimsical fellow and he's got his heart set on motivating kids..."). Incidentally, remember the fate of Woodsy Owl costumes before you make a Labelman costume.

Second, as brought out in the Washington Post article that pointed me to the Labelman site, I question the impact this site will have on people that have trouble understanding nutritional labels. What percent of those folks have ready internet access? Of those, what fraction will take the time to go to the FDA site and work their way through the Flash modules or study the PDFs? If my recent comments about reading apply in this situation, I don't think this effort is helping many people.

Let me know if I'm way off base. There has to be a better way to educate folks. Any ideas? Perhaps the FDA should set up an educational facility in Second Life. I'll bet that would reach more people than the Labelman site.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Dianne's M&M

Dianne went to Planet M&M and made a character. I think it turned out very well!

Alternative Manapua

One of my favorite things to eat when going to Hawaii is manapua. Check out this old post for a picture of a manapua we picked up at a favorite place around Daiei (or Don Quijote) market near Ala Moana. There is a wikipedia entry about manapua and the Ono Kine Grindz site has some great pictures.

What prompted this post was an organization of my RSS feeds. I was looking at the Hawaii Stories site and happened to stumble across a series of posts about different flavors for manapua. There are four links: original, first follow-up, second follow-up, and third follow-up. Yikes! Most of them seem to be 7-11 experiments that have gone horribly wrong. Anyone tried these alternatives?

Become an M&M

Thanks to the Erika Jean blog, I found the page where you can become an M&M character. Here is my M&M.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Secret In-N-Out Menu

I'm not a huge fast food fan, but when I'm traveling in California, Nevada, or Arizona I always keep an eye out for an In-N-Out Burger place. They have the best fries! It has to be the fresh ingredients that make them so tasty.

While surfing around this weekend, I ran across a post on the PreZ who? blog where the PreZ describes the secret In-N-Out ordering tips. I'll have to give the extra crispy fries a try next time I'm at In-N-Out.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Our Icy World

Ice Pic 14Rain, freezing rain, sleet, and snow. We had them all in the Cincinnati area over the last couple of days. With the temperature hovering around the freezing point for most of the day Tuesday, we saw a messy mix of precipitation. Fortunately, both Dianne and I were able to work from home on Tuesday so we didn’t have to worry about the roads.

The worst part was the freezing rain that started Tuesday afternoon and lasted well into the evening. Everything outside was covered with ice. There was about 3/8 to ½ an inch of ice on everything in our area. The trees got very heavy with the weight of the ice and were bending. There were many news reports of tree limbs falling and power lines down. We lost our power for about 7 hours Tuesday night/early Wednesday morning. However, we were lucky as there were still many people without power Wednesday morning. The local news mentioned at one point there were more than 140,000 people without power.

On Wednesday morning, it was cold but the sky was partly sunny after the storm. The sunlight reflecting off the ice covered world was a pretty site. It was like sunlight shining through a giant crystal chandelier. It was hard to capture the beauty in a picture (I need to investigate the high dynamic range photos). Although pretty, you had to be very careful walking and driving. It’ll be several days before the temperatures get warm enough to melt the ice off the trees. On the way to work I saw many broken limbs on trees lining the highway.

I took a several photos during the day on Tuesday and a some on Wednesday that shows the ice buildup. You can see the entire set of photos here – click on the thumbnails to see larger images. Some of the photos like the maple tree branch, this shrub, and the tree branches at sunset give a feel for how thick the ice layer is.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Cincinnati Rollergirls 2007 Schedule

For all you Cincinnati Rollergirl fans, or wanna be fans, Sk8 Crime posted dates for events in the 2007 season. Check out the schedule here and mark your calendars.

Friday, February 09, 2007

What a Difference a Quarter Makes

Tonight I went grocery shopping at Bigg's for the first time in years. Between Jungle Jim's, Trader Joe's, Wild Oats, Super Walmart, and Kroger (for quick things), I haven’t needed to go there. However, I’ve been disappointed with my Kroger shopping experiences lately, so I went to Bigg's on Mason-Montgomery to pick up a few things. The store has changed a lot. They recently altered the configuration to compete with the deli, prepared food, and natural food offerings at Wild Oats and Kroger. I like the variety of items and choices at Biggs. It is easier for them to stock the variety because unlike Kroger they don’t have crummy Kroger store brand products displacing good products off the shelf. However, the biggest change I noticed was the shopping carts.

When we first went to Bigg's many, many years ago, you needed a quarter to get a shopping cart. When all the carts were stacked in a line, each cart was attached to the one ahead of it with a chain connected to a release mechanism on the cart. You needed to insert a quarter in the mechanism to release the chain. The quarter stayed in the mechanism until you returned the cart to the corral and connected it with the stack. When you reattached the chain, you got your quarter back.

The purpose was to get people to return their carts to the cart corral rather than leaving them all over the parking lot after they loaded things into their car. It worked! I remember Dianne commenting on that when we were shopping one cold winter evening. There wasn’t a single lone cart in the lot. If someone was cold and lazy and left their cart in their parking space, someone else would return it to get an extra quarter. That 25 cent incentive was a great way to keep the carts organized.

The problem was sometimes you didn’t have a quarter and so you’d have to go into the store, get change, go back out to get a cart, and then go in to shop. That was a pain. Eventually the service desk got tired of making change and just gave you a quarter to save time.

On my way to Bigg's I was digging in my ash tray to find a quarter. It was about 20 degrees outside. I noticed quite a few carts scattered across the lot when I turned in to park. As I got closer I noticed all the chain mechanisms had been taken off the carts. Without that incentive, people just left the cart where it was after they loaded the car. About 20% of the carts in the lot were loose. I bet the number of stray carts is inversely related to the air temperature. What a difference a quarter can make!

And yes, I did return my cart to the corral.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Aftermath

Snow covered bushWhen all was said and done, Cincinnati got 6.4 inches of snow officially. We probably got about 6 inches here. Fortunately, the snow was very powder like so it was light and easy to handle with a shovel or snow blower. You get a sense of that in the picture of a snow covered shrub shown here. Click it to see a larger view. The sky was clear this morning and things were bright with the clean snow. I snapped a couple pictures while I was waiting for the car to warm up. I saw some icicles on the downspout, the snow removal folks were here but our neighbors still had to dig out their cars, and ok I was fascinated with our shrubs.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

5 Food Things -- Tagged

I just happened to be visiting the TriniGourmet blog and I got tagged to post 5 things people don't know about me. I've never been tagged before. But in an interesting twist, she decided to tag the most recent 5 readers of her blog from the MyBlogLog community. You can read her 5 items here. Although I'm not a food blog, I'm going to stay with her food theme and list 5 food things that the blogging folks don't know.

1 - I'm allergic to walnuts. It's not a severe allergy, but enough to be careful about. We discovered it when I was a kid helping my mom make banana bread. She had a Tupperware gadget to grind the walnuts that I thought was really fun to use. It's always fun until someone has an allergic reaction! It's caused me to limit nut consumption. For example, I don't eat pecans because they can look similar to a walnut when in food. As a result, I also don't care for most nuts in foods unless I'm controlling the recipe. One notable exception is cashew chicken. There's no way you can mistake a cashew for a walnut. On their own, I'm ok with peanuts, cashews, and sunflower seeds.

2 - My favorite spice is tarragon. I like the anise-like sweetness of tarragon and it really brightens up certain dishes. There's nothing like a good tarragon chicken. Tuna patties are enhanced by tarragon. Finally, souped up rice is kicked up a notch with tarragon.

3 - I'm a sucker for a cooking show. I like the cooking reality shows like Top Chef and Hell's Kitchen as well as how-to shows. It's a great way to get ideas and learn some new things. One of my favorites was Ready...Set...Cook. That show brought out the creativity of the chefs -- especially when the contestants brought a strange bag of ingredients.

4 - I really like parmesan cheese. Sometimes I'll have spaghetti with a touch of oil, a little garlic, and lots of parmesan cheese. You can put parm on anything -- mashed potatos, soups, couscous, etc. There are lots of other good cheeses, but nothing compares to the taste of parm.

5 - I eat apple pie from the inside out. I don't have pie very often, but apple is my favorite when I do. When I eat the pie, I first use the fork to scoop out and eat the apple filling. Once the bulk of the filling is gone, then I'll start to eat the crust. I like the crust when it has a thin layer of residual apple filling on it.

The White Death Hits Cincinnati

Tuesday snowThe weather forecasts predicted it for a couple days...everyone knew it was coming...schools were closed or sent kids home early...businesses sent employees home early...and yet the Cincinnati panic associated with a snowstorm (a.k.a. the White Death) hit the city. I took this picture right after I got home. It was right near sunset and the snow was still coming down pretty hard. Click here and here to see a couple other photos. We got 4-5 inches. My usual 15 minute commute took just under 2 hours. Dianne decided to wait it out at work. She went with a couple of colleagues to get some dinner downtown to wait for the snow to pass and the traffic to thin out.

On the way home I was listening to Gary Burbank on xmradio (700 WLW). As I was inching along in traffic, he said something that made me laugh. He said the Cincinnati area has about a million people, but when it snows it seems like about 7 million idiots somehow come out of the woodwork and all of them are out driving a car in the snowstorm. That comment, along with Jim Borgman's Cincinnati snowstorm portfolio he posted today (I love his commute cartoon and the Kentucky snow removal cartoon) made the commute home a little easier to take.

The snow eased up around 8 pm and I took the photo below. It's always peaceful after a big snow. There aren't a lot of people out and about. Any sounds are dampened and the reflected light casts a soft glow on the new snow.

Winter Evening

7 Deadly Sins -- Indexed

I go to the Indexed blog every now and then. The posts are mostly diagrams or graphs that are basically single cell comics (they aren't all humorous) written on index cards. This recent post on the 7 deadly sins was quite clever.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Historic Maps

There is a lot of good information available on the Library of Congress web site. I was looking around there and found a nice set of old maps and panorama views of various cities. At the right is part of a panorama of Brainerd, MN from around 1914. Click here or on the image to see a larger view. Better yet, go to the Library of Congress site and look at the whole thing.

You can get to the city and town maps here and to the panorama views here. I don’t care much for the interface. After picking a map, click on the thumbnail image to open the map viewer. Scroll down to the options below the map, set the size and zoom level, and click on the map to refresh the image. The directions are given above the images. Although the viewer is a bit crude, it’s fun to see how places have changed in the last hundred years or so.

You can see part of a drawing of downtown Cincinnati in 1900 here. Compare that to the Google map satellite view of the same area here. The suspension bridge, finished in 1866, is visible in both. However, except for special events, the riverboats have nearly disappeared and the area has been transformed by the new football and baseball stadiums.

Too Cold for the Robins

Winter rainAt the beginning of January I wondered if there would be a winter. It was exceptionally warm here and we had so much rain there were flood watches issued regularly. The photo to the right is of berries on the tree outside our place during a rain shower. The ground was warm and after a rain you’d see worms on the surface. There was a robin hanging around our place too. He had plenty to eat.

Then the temperatures started getting more seasonable and in the last couple weeks it has been cooler-than normal. The robin stuck it out though. I heard the robin’s song in the morning when loading up the car. I’d see him going to our tree every now and then to pluck a berry for lunch. He was searching for food to tide him over until things warmed up again.

The last few days have been very cold here. The high today was about 30 degrees less than normal. This morning it was 3 degrees outside. A little wind made it feel very cold when I was brushing the snow off the cars. And it was quiet outside. Mr. Robin wasn’t anywhere to be seen. I think he finally went south to find some greener pastures until the warmer temperatures are here to stay.

Let’s hope Punxsutawney Phil is correct and we’ll have an early spring this year. I'm listening for the robins.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Movie Musings - Part 1

Between our Netflix service and the movies shown on the Turner Classic Movies channel, I’ve been watching some old films I’ve never seen or catching up on those I haven’t seen for many years. We’ve been watching a lot of old black and white films – Dianne groans when I start a DVD and the color “goes out” on the TV. Nevertheless, even the silent movie comedy classics are good for a laugh. Here are few I highly recommend.

The Gold Rush with Charlie Chaplin has to rank up there as one of his best. Chaplin’s tramp character goes to the Klondike to search for gold. We saw a re-mastered version that had a narration done by Chaplin and music composed by Chaplin. It was very well done and eliminated the need to read (see this earlier post).

The General is a Civil War era picture that puts Buster Keaton in the role of a locomotive engineer trying to thwart some Union spies. It’s a classic action and romance movie. Another Buster Keaton flick, a short called One Week, is also very good. He plays a newlywed that receives a do-it-yourself house building kit as a wedding gift from his uncle. A lot happens while building that house in the first week of marriage!

Finally, I also recommend the Harold Lloyd full length film called The Kid Brother. Lloyd plays the youngest of 3 sons of the town sheriff. He’s sheltered as the youngest son, but steps up when his dad needs help. It is also a romantic comedy with lots of action. The short film by Lloyd called Number Please is also good. It features Lloyd as one of two suitors of a woman which eventually became his actual wife. Lloyd’s efforts to lose a purse to avoid being accused of purse snatching are hilarious.

There are two common elements that make these silent films stand out for me. First, I’m amazed at the stunts and sight gags in these films. Long before computer generated imagery and sophisticated camera tricks were available, these folks captured some amazing scenes on film. The visual effects they created add levity but also enhance the story. It’s a lot of creative effort to come up with these ideas, scout appropriate locations in some cases, and plan the camera angles and timing to produce the desired effect. Second, the full length films not only allow time to show stunts and sight gags but also let the characters develop and give time to showcase the acting talent of the stars. Body language and facial expressions are key to convey emotion and make the connection with the audience. The action and romance aspects in these films demanded a wide range of acting ability. Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd handle it very well in these films.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Lentils and Ham

I like Alton Brown’s show Good Eats on the Food Network. He puts a light-hearted spin on culinary topics that makes the show educational and fun to watch. Along the way he gives lots of interesting tips.

His recent show on lentils got me inspired. He took lentils out of their traditional soup role and into other dishes – including lentil cookies. Well…I wan’t THAT inspired. But I took his basic guidance and came up with a nice ham and lentil creation.

I used his approach to preparing the lentils described towards the bottom of this page (minus onions for Dianne). While the lentils were boiling, I fried up a package of small diced ham cubes in some grapeseed oil. When they were cooked through, I deglazed the pan with some white wine and seasoned the mix with thyme (~1+ tsp), one fresh ground clove, parsley, ground pepper, and a dash of lemon juice. After the lentils were drained and the bay leaves removed, I tossed about 2/3 of the lentils together with the seasoned ham and served with some corn on the side. I thought it turned out pretty well for a first try.