2005-07-31

Hand-held Kitchen Splatterers (a.k.a. Immersion Blenders)

Summer is the season for gazpacho: make some with a handy immersion blender.

In all seriousness, I just picked that one up and thought I'd share the deal. According to the reviews, the Kitchen Aids are much better than the alternatives at this price, and I've had very good experiences with their stuff in the past.

The gazpacho turned out very well, BTW.

2005-07-28

Questions worth asking

2005-07-21

Socio-economic stratification, meritocracy & decision bases

In a section of their recent survey of America titled "Middle of the class", The Economist says the following:
The second reason for pessimism [about the likelihood of decreasing mobility] is that mobility may continue to decline because it is rooted in fundamental changes to the economy. These explain both the big rise in income inequality and the smaller shift in social mobility. Over the past 25 years, globalisation has increased rewards for intellectual skills, pushing up the value of a degree. The income gap between college graduates and those without university degrees doubled between 1979 and 1997.

This has gone hand in hand with changes in the nature of work. It used to be possible to start at the bottom of a big firm and work your way up. But America's corporate giants have got rid of their old hierarchies. Lifetime employment is at an end, and managers hop from job to job. That makes a degree essential. In the 1930s and 1940s, only half of all American chief executives had a college degree. Now almost all of them do, and 70% also have a higher degree, such as an MBA. People with a university degree are now more likely to move up an income bracket than those without. This is a big change since the 1970s, when income rises were distributed equally across all educational levels. America is becoming a stratified society based on education: a meritocracy.

But what if education itself becomes stratified?
The Economist is right to ask this question, and they answer it with data that points to growing stratification in education. What seems obvious to me, having spend most of my life in or around educational institutions, is that the explanation for decreasing mobility may lie as much in "changes in the nature of work" as with increasing stratification in education. While this is a lot speculative, I suggest that the move from a "work your way up" system to a "meritocratic" system has replaced better decision making with worse regarding advancement — or, more precisely, has given those making decisions about the advancement of others a poorer basis for making them.

Under the "work your way up" system, the relatively limited pool of talent available within a company allows managers to have fairly extensive experience with those whom they evaluate, thus giving them a good basis for deciding whom is the better candidate for advancement. Among the fairly small number of candidates, managers generally have good grounds for preferring one candidate to another.

On the "meritocratic" system, on the other hand, information for evaluating candidates is much more limited, and there is most always a surplus of well-qualified candidates for any position. Given this impoverished basis for evaluating candidates, it is no surprise that managers employ various proxies in order to make their decisions, such as where the candidate went to school or for which companies she has previously worked. But, as should be obvious, these are often poor proxies indeed, providing information only weakly correlated with the candidate's potential. Where a candidate went to school says little about her knowledge and skills (how hard is it to get As at Harvard?), but it may say a lot about where she happened to go to high school or who her parents happened to be; similarly, previous work history may reflect the sort of businesses that recruited at the candidate's university or that she had a fortuitous connection.

Now, managers (I suspect) are well aware of the limitations of this selection process. (Graduate school admissions committees certainly are, though they are loathe to admit it.) The system in which they operate doesn't allow for anything better. Contrary to The Economist, however, these limitations would still exist even if education wasn't stratified in the least, so long as the information available to managers deciding whom to hire is insufficient to effectively distinguish between better and worse candidates. You can't have a "meritocratic" system without the ability to distinguish merit.

Raising the Dead

Read on. It's worth it.

2005-07-18

Sexism → Extremeism → Terrorism?

From the Economist:
Another French "Islamologue", Antoine Sfeir, has identified relations between the sexes as a big factor in the re-Islamisation of second-generation Muslims in Europe. Because young Muslim women often do better than men at adapting to the host society (they tend to do better at school, for example), old patriarchal structures are upset and young men acquire a strong incentive to reassert the old order.
Lucky for us the attitudes of ba'alei teshuva are unflinchingly progressive when it comes to gender roles.

2005-07-17

Ua mau ke ea o ka ‘āina i ka pono — The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness

(The title is Hawaiʻi's state motto, uttered on 31 July 1843 by King Kamehameha III upon his restoration to the throne after the British government repudiated the actions of the captain of a Royal Navy frigate which forced his abdication. It's great, isn't it?)

The NYT reports: Bill Giving Native Hawaiians Sovereignty Is Too Much for Some, Too Little for Others

I don't have any comments to make about the article —beyond saying that I am generally in support of measures to restore Hawaiian sovereignty— but I will take this opportunity to point out that, regardless of the current debate about American "imperialism", the United States has admitted to the illegal overthrow of Hawaiʻi's legitimate monarch by groups consisting of primarily American businessmen with the active assistance of the United States government and its representatives. These interests first infringed upon Hawaiian sovereignty in 1887 with the imposition of the Bayonet Constitution, which disenfranchised the citizens of Hawaiʻi and enfranchised wealthy non-citizens. In 1893, when Queen Lili‘uokalani moved to replace the Bayonet Constitution, stripping power from those American interests, she was overthrown with the help of the US Marines and later arrested. Commendably, President Grover Cleveland rejected these illegal actions and would not be party to annexation, saying:
Upon the facts developed it seemed to me the only honorable course for our Government to pursue was to undo the wrong that had been done by those representing us and to restore as far as practicable the status existing at the time of our forcible intervention.
Others were not so honorable: the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi was ultimately annexed by the United States in 1896 under President McKinley.

This grave wrong has yet to receive due acknowledgment or redress, remaining virtually unknown to most Americans. We should all do our part to spread knowledge of these dark episodes. Those who are so exercised about current American conduct in the world would do well to direct some of their energies to righting a longer standing and far less controversial injustice, within (what are now) our own borders.

For more information, Wikipedia's article "The History of Hawaiʻi" details these events, and the various Hawaiian sovereignty movements are summed up here. The involvement of the United States in stripping Hawaiʻi of its sovereignty are succinctly presented in the Apology Resolution.

2005-07-13

NO cook, NO egg, NO machine... Ice Cream?

Yes, indeed, as seen on The Early Show:
Old Fashioned Lemon Ice Cream
Yields: 3 cups of ice cream
  1. In a medium bowl combine: Finely grated rind of 1 large lemon (or two small lemons), 3 Tbl. lemon juice, 1 cup of sugar. Combine all ingredients until well incorporated.
  2. Gradually stir in: 2 cups of light cream and 1/8 tsp. salt
  3. After mixing well, pour into vintage aluminum ice cube tray (without the cube insert) or a shallow rectangular container (with approx 2 1/2 to 3 cup capacity).
  4. Freeze until solid around the outside and mushy in the middle.
  5. Stir well with a wooden spoon, then cover and continue to freeze until firm.
Note: Ice cream will not set completely if the middle process of stirring the mixture isn't performed.
It's very yummy and couldn't be easier.

That's it...

I don't want to be a fireman anymore:
In Firehouse, Fastest Way Down Is on Its Way Out

2005-07-06

Central Park is great...

...if you live near it. I, on the other hand, live near Fort Washington and Highbridge Parks, both of which get a mention in this article:
Parks Even the Parks Dept. Won't Claim
Thankfully, the New York Restoration Project has taken on the task of doing something about it. The Park Department's attitude, revealed in this article, shows why the intervention of a private foundation is required to change the status quo. In case you were wondering, this sort of thing is not a problem in Chicago.

In fairness, we do have Fort Tryon and Inwood Hill Parks nearby which are in better shape, though the path in the latter which leads up to the Henry Hudson Bridge pedestrian walkway needs a good clearing — it's overgrown but passable in an 'I hope none of this is poison ivy' sort of way (a sign telling you it leads to the bridge would be handy too!).

On an unrelated topic, this is another worthwhile article from the Times. To my intrained eye, it looks like there are a raft of constitutional issues at stake. It will be interesting to see how this develops.

2005-07-05

No podcast, no problem

I'm a big fan of a few radio programs that I don't often get to listen to, in particular Odyssey, This American Life, and Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz. They aren't broadcast at convenient times for me and, inexcusably, Piano Jazz doesn't seem to be broadcast in NYC at all! The first two are available in streaming audio off their websites, but I just can't concentrate on whatever I'm trying to do at my computer while listening, so I don't find myself taking advantage of that very often. Plus, I'm always looking for something interesting (read: distracting) enough to listen to while I'm exercising or cooking or cleaning or whatever. So I set out to find a solution to this listening dilemma...

What I found was Audio Hijack Pro from Rogue Amoeba. It allows you to "hijack" the audio of any application and record it in the format and quality of your choosing. Critically, it allows you to set up timed recording which will wake up your computer (if necessary), launch AHP and the audio app of your choice, direct the app to a source (via a file or URL), record the audio (with the actual output muted if you like — perfect for recording on shabbat!), and add it automatically to iTunes with the ID3 tags your specify when its done. It works like a charm, and now I've got plenty to listen to.

(The competition to AHP is WireTap by Ambrosia Software. Whatever it's merits, it doesn't allow you to capture the audio of just one application, so it's pretty much useless to me.)

If you're wondering when various music programs on public radio are playing, you can use Allegro! to find out. WDUQ out of Pittsburgh has a high quality stereo stream that is probably the best streaming audio I've heard; you'll need VLC to play it on a Mac (iTunes doesn't handle streaming MP4 AACplus yet). VLC makes an excellent player for MP3 streams, so you can use it for recording them while leaving iTunes free to play whatever you like at that moment.

On a only slightly related note: Audible.com currently has a promotion in which you can get three free audiobooks at no cost; just sign up, snag what you want, and cancel. I went with three of David Sedaris's books; he's frequently hysterical and, since he reads the audiobooks himself, I expect they'll be good.

Still tickin'

In my ongoing efforts to get up at a reasonable hour and to make it to shacharit on shabbat morning, I decided to go out out and get myself an old fashioned mechanical alarm clock. (Since it's mechanical I can adjust it on shabbat, and they're damn loud.)

Initially I picked up a new Westclox Piper Twin-Bell, which turned out to be big mistake: mechanical alarm clocks aren't what they used to be — this one had a movement made of plastic which ceased to run consistently after a couple of weeks, getting stuck periodically until I gave it a whack, and running s l o w when it "worked". In its favor, when it didn't get stuck and so managed to go off on time, it was loud indeed — but what good is an alarm clock that you can't rely on? In addition, it ticked away loudly enough that I found it distracting while trying to get to sleep. Thankfully it was cheap — too cheap, in fact, to be worth sending it in under the warranty.

As a replacement, I picked up an old Westclox Baby Ben Style 6 off eBay:
Pic of my Baby Ben
(It's sitting on a 3x5 index card, which gives an idea of the size.)
These were manufactured from 1949–56, and supposedly have one of the best movements Westclox ever made. I'm pretty sure I remember my Dad having one. Sure it's a little banged up (paint chipped, a little rust), but it runs great (and quietly), has a loud alarm, and is made out of actual metal. It's actually quite an ingenious design: instead of a separate bell, the back cover itself functions as the bell. I'm also rather partial to the style of it. All told, it inspires confidence, which is a desirable quality in an alarm clock. I like trusty old things.

2005-07-04

Disgraceful

From Ha'aretz front page:
Lynching suspect hides from cameras behind a tallit
The caption: "The prime suspect in the Muasi lynching appearing before a Be'er Sheva court, Mon."

Hiding from the cameras behind a tallit!

2005-07-01

Let the battle begin!