Friday, October 31, 2008

Early Voting

We voted yesterday at lunch. The only hitch was we had to go through security to get into the DC government building, but the lines weren't bad. I'm about ready to be done with this election already - how about you all?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Russian Dance

by Tom Waits. Music from the play, The Black Rider.

(In college I had a small part in a staging of Gogol's The Inspector General where this song was used for the surreal, dream-like climax of the play. It worked really, really well in that context. I have no idea where the video is from--Russia, perhaps?--but it's kind of awesome.)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Theoretical Maximum

We were playing Scrabble tonight and Laura Jean mentioned that you can score something like 1,500 points on a single turn if you play your tiles right. This blew my tiny, tiny mind, but it's true!

In the right context, playing the word "BENZOXYCAMPHORS" will net you a cool 1,962 points. Thank you, triple-word-scores. If you want to be a stickler and restrict yourself to words found in the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, you can play "DEMYTHOLOGIZERS" for 1,682 points. And back in the real world, these two guys netted a total of 1,320 points in one actual game.

Blog Traffic

So this is odd. This blog normally gets somewhere around 10 visitors per day -- mostly friends and family plus a few other folks (hi yall). But then last month I got a sudden upsurge of visitors -- 185 on September 8 -- before it tapered back down to the normal level.

What's more, all of these new visitors were looking at one page (this post from 2006 on the seasonal distribution of birthdays) and had been directed from a website called is apparently an online 'knit and crochet community' (and how awesome is that!). Perhaps this is the knitting equivalent of getting farked? I have no idea why knitters are suddenly interested in birthdays, but welcome!

[Actually that birthdays post has popped up a few places on teh internets - for example, here. Also: not to completely geek out, but I spent far too much time in grad school staring at plots like the one above (or this one) not to instinctively calculate the signal-to-noise ratio (it's 20.6). HETE-2 would totally get a decent localization on this one.]

Friday, October 24, 2008

You have your vice...

... I have mine.

Quote 'o' the Day

From Alan Greenspan, testifying before Congress:
“I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such as that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms,” Mr. Greenspan said.

Referring to his free-market ideology, Mr. Greenspan added: “I have found a flaw. I don’t know how significant or permanent it is. But I have been very distressed by that fact.”

Mr. Waxman pressed the former Fed chair to clarify his words. “In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right, it was not working,” Mr. Waxman said.

“Absolutely, precisely,” Mr. Greenspan replied. “You know, that’s precisely the reason I was shocked, because I have been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well.”
Lord knows it's hard to admit you're wrong, particularly in the midst of an economic meltdown. It's hard to place love of truth ahead of ego and long-held ideology. So, kudos to Mr. Greenspan for his intellectual honesty. I suppose not everyone will be happy to accept his apologies, but at least they will set Ayn Rand spinning in her grave. Strange times...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Chicago Tribune Endorses Obama

The Chicago Tribune endorsed Barack Obama last week, saying "We have known Obama since he entered politics a dozen years ago ... He is ready."

For Chicagoans this is kind of a big deal since the Trib is such a staunchly Republican paper. Dating back to Abraham Lincoln in 1860 the paper has never endorsed a Democrat for President. Indeed, during WWII, a nasty feud between editor Robert McCormick and Franklin Roosevelt nearly resulted in charges of treason. And lest you think this is just hometown favoritism, Adlai Stevenson has a freeway in Chicago named after him, but Eisenhower got the endorsement. Perhaps the times they are a changing...

I always think of the Chicago Tribune when people talk about the "liberal" media. I grew up in an area where the local paper was probably more liberal than most of its readers. In contrast, Chicago is a big city that voted strongly for both Gore and Kerry, but the Tribune backed Bush twice. (The more populist Chicago Sun-Times went with Bush in 2000 and switched to Kerry in 2004.) Which is not to say that I think the Tribune is a bad paper for being editorially conservative - just that bias is relative and hard to measure objectively. In the end, media outlets are primarily interested in maximizing profits.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


Quinn has been finger (and toe!) painting at day care. Here are some of her first masterpieces. I think I can see the beginnings of a distinctive and revolutionary style... but then I might be biased.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Today in Real America

According to Sarah Palin, Washington DC isn't "real America" and she likes visiting "pro-America areas of this great nation." And then we have a McCain spokesperson saying that Northern Virginia isn't the "real Virginia."

As a current resident of DC and a former resident of NoVa, I have to say: Thanks a lot, jerks. Now, Palin's spokesperson says she didn't intend to insult DC per se, which would be a lot easier to believe if the McCain campaign hadn't been waving the bloody shirt of cultural division for months now.

I remember when the GOP used to talk about itself as the 'big tent party,' home to a diversity of types of people and points of view. Now they seem to be drawing smaller and smaller circles around what they consider to be the "real America." I guess we'll all see how that works out for them...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Here There Be Dragons

When I was a kid I used to draw my own maps of imaginary worlds, mostly inspired by Tolkien and the other fantasy novels I devoured. I especially remember the upside-down V's I used for the mountain ranges.
(With luck, those maps have been burned, along with any and all teenage attempts at poetry.) Yet even today, a map adorning the inner cover of a novel is an exciting thing. In addition to being helpful for keeping those fantasy place names straight ("Now where/what exactly is Grobulor...?") maps are instrumental in preserving some of the mystery that draws us in to fantasy in the first place.

The twin hearts of fantasy (and science-fiction, too) are deciphering the ideas that make the book work and exploring the worlds created by those ideas. In the beginning, all is mysterious--names and places and concepts are tossed around with little explanation--and gradually the pieces fit together and become clear. But a smart fantasist will always leave a whiff of mystery hanging in the air, a feeling that there are still frontiers to be explored (the better to set the stage for an infinite number of sequels, of course).

With Tolkien, I was always fascinated by the parts of the map that didn't enter into the storyline: Far Harad, the Northern Waste, Rhûn. As I got older, I also realized that a lot of fantasy never really dragged itself out from under Tolkien's shadow (trolls! swords! Old English diction!). But there are a lot of younger writers who are taking deliberate aim at the cliches of the past and I was thrilled to discover that some of them like maps too.

China Mieville's Perdido Street Station is a fantasy novel for urban planning majors. Instead of farmboys and fair maidens, Mieville gives us the teeming metropolis of New Crobuzon where five or six species coexist uneasily with a corrupt police state, organized crime, street gangs, vigilantes and all manner of religious cults, political movements, labor unions. Fittingly, the inner cover map delineates neighborhoods and provides a helpful overview of New Crobuzon's subway system.
The city itself is a tangible character in the story and Mieville delights in describing its streets and hoods and regaling us with stories from its past. (In one corner of the city, life goes on beneath the towering bones and ribcage of a prehistoric beast.) Of course, nothing warms the heart of an urbanite quite like a tube map, but the book as a lot more to recommend it than geography. Mieville also writes terrific, grown-up characters and has a smart nose for science and politics (in real life, he's a committed socialist). Like a lot of genre novels, the ending is lame, but the road there is terrific (full review here, he's also written two further novels in this world which I haven't read yet).

To Mieville I would also add Neil Gaiman. Gaiman is famous for reworking ancient myths into a modern context, and in his first non-graphic novel Neverwhere he constructs a netherworld (London Below) out of the 40 odd abandoned Tube stations on the London Underground.

Ultimately, Neverwhere is not Gaiman's strongest book, but it is quite charming in how it weaves magic into the everyday of grit of London. Gaiman treads lightly -- I could easily imagine a series of books inhabiting this world, but many of his most promising ideas are given only a glance. In this sense, Neverwhere is a little sketchier and less ambitious than PSS -- but I thoroughly enjoyed its merging of fantasy and modernity.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


I've always loved my last name - Donaghy - partly because it's not all that common (rogue NBA refs notwithstanding). But, I can count on one hand the number of school teachers or other people who pronounced it correctly the first time. Everyone assumes it's 'Don-a-hee' when really we say it 'Don-a-gee' ('g' as in 'geologist' -- not 'g' as in 'geek').

So, I was amused to learn from a colleague that this pronunciation conundrum popped up as a gag on '30 Rock' (the 'Fighting Irish' episode), where Alec Baldwin's character is named Jack Donaghy.
Liz Lemon: Can I help you?
Eddie Donaghy: Yeah, sweetheart: I'm looking for Jack Donaghy.
Liz Lemon: And you are?
Eddie Donaghy: Eddie Donaghy - Jack's brother.
Liz Lemon: Really? 'Cause Jack never mentioned a brother, and his name is "Donagee," not "Donahee."
I couldn't find a video clip online (probably because the first season is out on DVD), but apparently Jack changed his name in order to succeed in business. From what I can tell, the 'Don-a-hee' pronunciation is more common in Ireland, and given the number of times I've had to correct people, it would almost be easier to change it back the other direction. But, what can I say? We're Irish-American - may as well own it.

Thursday, October 09, 2008


Here's Quinn enjoying life during our trip to California...