August, 2005 Archives

West End Blvd at I-10This picture, which is all over the place for the past couple days, is actually the street I lived on during my last year in New Orleans. Orange circle to be exact. The middle of the picture is a wide, park-like median that runs down to Lake Pontchartrain. It’s a very nice area when not submerged. My heart is absolutely broken to see a city I came to love suffering this disaster.

Hitting Close to Home

Ultra Laser just called to check in from Baton Rouge, where he and 60,000 others are without power. He was looking for news about New Orleans, since he has only a crappy radio and second hand stories from people in his hotel. He’s heard that his suburban neighborhood could be uninhabitable for a good while. I can’t imagine that. He’s taking it better than I would.

The news I’ve seen has focused on New Orleans East being underwater. All they’re saying about downtown is a maddeningly vague phrase: “total structural failure.” I-10 is underwater in places (that happens during bad rain storms, let alone hurricanes). The Superdome lost some of it’s roof. Lakeside neighborhoods are underwater.

It’s uncomfortably surreal to be typing this as the rain comes down hard here in RI. I can’t imagine what it must be like down on the Gulf coast.

Katrina Update

I mentioned last week that I was reading (and loving) Seth Godin‘s books Purple Cow and Free Prize Inside. These are fundamentally books about marketing, but there’s a lot more, even for someone without a product to market (though, really, aren’t we all constantly marketing ourselves?) Purple Cows are the “things” that make a company, or product, or service, remarkable. Stuff like free shipping from or an ice cream shop where you can call the manager at home if you have any problems.

The cool thing about Godin is the way he walks the walk. He made the books I mentioned above remarkable, in part, by packaging them in a milk carton and a cereal box, a little change of pace to make his work stand out (or call it a gimmick, if you’re less than impressed by packaging). For his new book, The Big Moo, he’s selling discounted copies to people who will talk about the book and pass on the ideas.

Will it work? I don’t know, but I’m talking about it because Michael Arrington at TechCrunch (which is on my daily read list to look out for new web-based purple cows) says he’ll give me a copy just for mentioning it. And I’ll try to come up with a creative way to give that copy away to one of you guys when I finish it. Sounds like it’s working already.

Things that make you go Moo

As you might imagine, I’m fairly worried about by home away from home, New Orleans. Everybody who’s even visited the city knows about the almost certain city-wide devestation that lies but a Cat-5 hurricane away. And while Ultra Laser and I joke about bringing the grandkids on a scuba diving tour of our old apartment, those thoughts don’t seem that funny tonight.

Speaking of UL, I talked to him today and he was getting ready to join the masses on I-10 west to Baton Rouge, and hopefully beyond. He said if it weren’t for the national guard rolling through that he’d probably just stick it out at home. Yeah, he’s that guy you see footage of on the roof waiting for rescue helicopters.

So now we cross our fingers and wait. Scary, scary.

The End of the Big Easy?

The headline read “Rhode Island fares well in national study of obesity.” Apparently, our little state has the third lowest obesity rate among adults. Well yeah, but look at the competition. Being the skinniest guy at the Krispy Kreme Konvention isn’t exactly Kate Moss-ish (she’s still our culture’s yardstick of skin-and-bone-ism, right?)

Still, we should be happy that only one in five Rhode Islanders are considered obese (although every other one of us Ocean Staters is overweight). Or, as sandwich maker Lily Hall says, “We’re chubbies. Not to be mean, but I think a lot of us are chubbies.” Better, 16-year-old mall slave Spencer Stolle is “surprised. I thought everyone in Warwick was fat.” Ouch, Warwick.

If you’re wondering whether you’d be considered obese, or, like me, just terribly overweight, you can punch in your numbers here and get your body mass index, or BMI, the number used in this study to determine fattiness. BMIs of 25-29 are overweight, 30 and over are obese (unless you’re especially muscular or willing to lie to yourself that you are).


If that form doesn’t work, tough noogies, I don’t have time to whip up perfect programs for you. Just take your weight and multiply it by 703, then take that number and divide it by your height in inches, then divide that number by your height in inches again. Fun, no?

So maybe if we all take the stair from now on and park at the back of the lot, we’ll push RI to number one least obese. And then our one-eyed state will rule the land of the blind! (figuratively, of course)

My friend Kelly, not known for her eco-friendliness, was complaining to me about the paper cups our local coffee shop uses, and how she prefers Dunkin styrofoam. I told her that she should just bring a reusable plastic mug/cup, since they’re just as heat-retaining as styrofoam (I didn’t bother making a comment about the tradeoff of an extra 30 minutes of warm coffee being worth 10,000 years of landfill clutter). She disputed my claim of comparable heat retention, so, armed with a pilfered chem lab thermometer and three test vessels, we tested.

From a fresh-brewed pot of coffee, we poured equal amounts of liquid into a plastic dunkin donuts mug, a styrofoam DD cup, and a paper coffee cup with a loose-fitting lid, and recorded the temperature at 5 minute intervals. The results, in graph form, are below:

Heat Retention over Time

It may seem that the styrofoam is indeed best at retaining heat. However! If you look at the plastic and styrofoam lines, they decline at an almost identical rate after the first 2 minutes, when the plastic cup decreases by two and a half degrees. I posit that this is due to the air insulation of the plastic cup needing to heat up before its insulating properties kick in. And really, you can’t drink 70° (celcius!) coffee, anyway, it’s too hot.

So there you have it, your all around best bet for warm caffeine delivery and a clean conscience is to tote your refillable mug to the (fair trade, of course) coffee shop every morning. It’s a scientific fact.

A Small Experiment

And thou canst bear false witness the next day, apparently. Pat Robertson’s Church: it’s everything a dishonest, blood-lusting Christian could want!

I was willing to go with the State Dept’s line about wacky private citizens saying wacky things, all the while snickering in my snooty blue-state elitist way, but then he had to go say “I never said ‘assassinate’,” it was all the darned liberal media misquoting me. Again! Of course, we have this new invention called “video tape” which can, get this, record your words! Turns out you did mean “take him out” in the not-Vincent-Vega-with-Mrs-Wallace kind of way (did I reach too far for that one?) But, as Jon Stewert suggests, as long as the oil flow isn’t disrupted…

Ay, just as I was about to post this I see that Mr. Robertson has gone and apologized. I can do the Christian thing and forgive you, Pat. Now, about that nuking the State Department thing…

Thou Shalt Assassinate

… and no one to talk to.

As one of the millions of sheep who would gladly sign their surfing habits, social security number and/or soul to Google, you can bet I downloaded the internet behemoth’s newest offering: Google Talk. 900kb and a double click later, I’m all set up with my new “buddy list” open, and, of course, no one is on it.

Normally I’d be fine with AIM for my instant messaging, but nothing makes me scream louder than an ad that starts talking to me out of nowhere just because I wanted to talk to some friends.Shut up, ya jerk. I have a good feeling that Good ‘ol Google won’t do that to me. Wills you? My precious…

Anyway, if anyone goes Google talk, IM me at bilherron (probably could have guessed that one, eh?)

And since all my friends are mac-attacks®, Google talk does work with iChat.

All Googled Up…

I spent the night moving, so nothing good to read tonight. Tomorrow afternoon, though, I think I’m going to talk to the (RI) Secretary of State, Matt Brown, about replacing My Favorite Republican® in next years Senate race. If you want me to ask him something, leave a comment. (Short notice, I know.)

And so you don’t go away mad, here’s a link courtesy of Matt: Geek Squad Mayham

All moved? Good.

Now that the Sox have put their last late-game of the season to bed with a W (in extra innings, no less), I can put myself to bed too. But first, today’s post!

I mentioned yesterday that I read a library copy of Freakonomics. I’ve got about seven more books out, so these late night games have actually been good for my reading time. The other books, if you’re interested, are:

The 80/20 Principle by Richard Koch
Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt
Your Call is Important to Us: the Truth about Bullshit by Laura Penny (I tried reading Harry Frankfurt’s “On Bullshit“, but despite it’s svelte pagecount, I couldn’t get through more than 10 pages of its dense treatise)
Purple Cow and Free Prize Inside, both by Seth Godin (I’m really enjoying these, look for future posts on these)
The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki
and probably the most intriguing title on the list, Emergence: the Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities and Software by Steven Johnson

Man, I love the library. All of RI’s books at my fingertips, delivered to my local library a few blocks from home. If anyone has read any of these, definitely leave a comment. I’ll be in bed, reading…

Library Madness

I finally reached the top of the library queue for a copy of Freakonomics this week (I reserved it in April!), and since you only get 10 days with high-demand new books I sat down to start reading it tonight.

And I just finished it. This is partly because of the late Sox game (and partly because of the all-around suckiness of that game), but mostly because this book just rocks. Subtitled “a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything,” the collection of statistically true yet counterintuitive explanations of our world was right up my alley (I enjoy my share of contrarianism, oh yes.)

The most striking element of the book, as you may have heard, was the contention that the driving force behind the huge drop in crime during the 90’s was not a booming economy, nor was it policing innovations, but actually the logical result of less unwanted children being born once abortion was legalized in the early 70’s. That may be unsettling to think about (“ooh, you’re saying abortions are a good thing!”), but it certainly makes sense. I can’t do the argument justice, so I recommend getting the book. It’s very readable and accessible, and you’ll find some interesting new ways to see your world.

Get Your Freak On

I heard from a friend of a friend that Dunkin Donuts sells certified fair trade coffee, but downplays this fact because it will not appeal to the average customer (or make them complain more about the price of getting their fix). I couldn’t imagine that this was true, but it turns out that there is indeed a strong commitment to coffee growers at DDHQ. In fact, all of their espresso beans are fair trade certified.

Of course, last time I asked my local dealer DD employee, she told me they use the same beans for everything, so…

Anyway, this is excellent news for the social justice crowd, since you can avoid Starbucks and your nearest snooty coffee haüs while feeling good that you’re not putting any of your weight behind the unrestrained capitalist foot on the neck of your average Peruvian farmer, working himself to death for a quarter penny of every double mochacappalattechino (with whipped cream and caramel and make that snappy because I’m late for pilates thankyouverymuch) you buy. And if that’s not your cup of joe, then feel free to visit DD (surely you can see at least 3 from the roof of your house, right?) without being reminded of those pesky foreigners who can’t get their crap together enough to get a real job. Everybody wins!