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annals of household chemistry

(Feel free to apply Bachelor Frog image macros as needed.)

1. Fish tank pump taken out of water for a couple weeks wouldn't run when put back in. Inspection revealed an impeller motor humming but not running: i.e., getting power but likely held in place by corrosion. Being out of rubbing alcohol, we doused it in the solvent-grade vodka from under the sink and tried again; this immediately resolved the problem.

2. We lately ran out of dishwasher detergent and laundry detergent. I am annoyed with schlepping around various mixtures of water with unidentified foaming agents in them, and so decided to Google for the differences between ordinary dish liquid and these other things. It turns out that baking soda + (a wee bit of) dish liquid serves quite well in both the dishwasher and laundry roles.

3. As a bonus, this search yielded a recommendation for white vinegar as a fabric softener. Having put it in the fabric softener tub in the laundry machine and gotten out exceptionally soft and nice-smelling towels, I will testify that this, too, works nicely.

Future steps:

4. replace the dubious blue no-ingredients-listed Dawn we're using for dish liquid with something more soothing to the soul

5. figure out the monetary impact of substituting food-grade chemicals for household cleaners.

Dec. 7th, 2010

The latest evidence from Wikileaks is sufficient to justify the following standing assumption:

Is someone in authority trying hard to keep you from finding out what they are doing? They're raping children.

If they're not, they'd damn well better release their shit and show you what they were doing instead.
Oh yeah! I vaguely approximated local math blogger Mark Chu-Carroll's cranberry chutney recipe for Thanksgiving, and it seems to have been a hit: I made a quart of it, and despite the availability of plenty normal cranberry sauce, a variety of food alternatives, and the traditional pie contest being saved room for, it was gone by the end of dinner. If you like that sort of thing, it's worth a try.

Things I did differently (mainly due to rushing around in the morning with the grocery stores closed):

- scaled up by a third to use 2x 8 oz of organic cranberries instead of 1x 12oz regular, which meant a lot of eyeballing ninths in measuring cups marked in quarters
- balsamic vinegar + a little white vinegar in place of red wine vinegar
- Fuji apple instead of Granny Smith
- splash of lemon juice instead of lemon peel
- dried NM green chile instead of Serrano

so it probably came out less tangy and maybe less hot than it was supposed to; certainly I would have enjoyed it hotter. Cardamom came across as the strongest note after cranberries and sweetness; I may ramp up the other spices next time so it's more balanced.

Today I Learned

(thanks to the more-or-less-defunct HTML editor Quanta Plus) that

Australia = Hitler's moustache:

Cities and towns

Having lived in Boston for around 30 years, I've noticed now and then that many people there are confused about what a city is. Since every two-bit hamlet in New England that has outgrown the "town meeting" system of government sees fit to call itself a city, this is understandable.

city, n.: a more-or-less contiguous region served by a 24-hour public transit system and possessing at least one walkable district containing 24-hour restaurants, food markets, bars, and coffee shops

New York, London, Tokyo; Chicago, Seattle, even (as I'm discovering) New Orleans: these are cities; Boston, by contrast, is an agglomeration of college towns. Boston hasn't yet even managed to annex most of its major neighborhoods: if it were a city, Brookline, Cambridge, and Somerville would all be part of it for sure, as probably would Malden, Revere, Arlington, Medford, Dedham, Chelsea, Waltham, and so on. As it is, not a single subway line stays within the "city".

Since Boston has abdicated its seemingly natural leadership role in the region, there is something of a power vacuum crying to be filled. Of the various neighborhoods served by subway lines and calling themselves "city", I continue to believe that Somerville has the strongest natural claim, not least because we are free of major ties to any of the local degree-granting institutions, allowing us to act as a neutral arbiter rather than a captive government like our neighbors to the north and south. Write to your mayor, councillor, or selectbeing today and tell them you want to merge with Somerville.

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Nov. 3rd, 2010

Jesus ______ Christ

We didn’t know it, but apparently Tuesday was also the launch date for Glenn Beck’s new book, Broke. Our book at #1 ... prevented him from claiming the top spot, and so he called us out on his radio program Wednesday. ...

... here’s the executive summary: (a) His book is supposed to be #1. (b) The fact that it’s not, but ours is, is evidence of a liberal “culture of death” that is threatening to take over America and destroy everything sensible folks hold dear, a menace that can presumably only be stemmed by folks buying his book and making it #1.

Let me contextualize this for you, in the form of a parable in which all of the details are true.

A young entrepreneur, the son of a self-made immigrant small-business owner (a God-fearing Protestant who’d married a girl from a family of missionaries), had a crazy pie-in-the-sky idea. Having learned the rudiments of business by working since he was small in the family store, he struck out after his goal, investing himself into something he really believed in, inspiring both colleagues and strangers to join his cause even as “big business” slammed door after door in his face. For years he toiled long into the night, gradually growing his own small business by being as honest, kind and creative as he could manage. Ultimately, in a tremendous Rudy-like moment, he and his ragtag band of reg’lar folks — for one glorious day — accidentally made the twelfth book by the multimillionaire host of “the third-most-listened-to show in all of America” debut at #3 on one single bookseller’s list, rather than at #1.

On Tuesday, I cast my lot with the liberal culture of death. You can too!
via siderea's post

You used to need a little bit of technical clue to steal people's logins to insecure sites like LiveJournal, Facebook, etc. There is now a Firefox extension called Firesheep that makes this extremely user-friendly: absolutely any random loser at the coffee shop, the airport, work, or school can take over your accounts if you're using wireless. (For the record: using Firesheep can get you fired, kicked out of school, or sent to jail if you're caught, so don't.)

Some advice follows. Follow it and get your friends to, too. If you have any friends who are unlikely to follow this advice, you will want to drop them from your friends list on any social networks, because it is a near certainty that somebody else is going to be controlling some of their accounts soon.

Use HTTPS Everywhere to mitigate the problem.

HTTPS Everywhere protects Facebook, LiveJournal, and Google accounts by forcing them to use SSL.

Since this is a Firefox-only extension, you'll want to avoid using other browsers. I'd delete or rename them or move them aside.

HTTPS Everywhere isn't enough.

Most services won't work with HTTPS Everywhere (though it's possible that the ones you care about do). For example, I crossed out LiveJournal up above because, contrary to rumor, HTTPS Everywhere doesn't help. You want to use an SSH Proxy.

This is a decent way to get privacy from work/school too. Quick guide for Mac and Linux/Unix usersCollapse )

Privacy is something you often don't realize you need until it's too late. If you don't understand this, ask for help; if I know you, I will happily spend some time with you to reduce the chance that somebody I know will have their account taken over.

In the long run, I think this is a good thing. Sending personal traffic, much less login information, unencrypted over the internet makes a joke of privacy, but most people just haven't been noticing. The noise about this stands a good chance of closing that particular hole.

Dept of Almost Awesome

One major nuisance when taking the bus to NYC has been that I have to get on the return bus before dinnertime if I want to get home on the T. Now there's a new bus service that stops within walking distance of my house. That rocks. Unfortunately, their initial schedule doesn't solve my problem, since the last bus back is at 6 PM and the first in the morning is 8 AM.

EDIT: now there's an 8 PM bus back. Sweet!

Oct. 22nd, 2010

This swimming in space article (via reddit, natch) is a bit iffy on feline conservation of angular momentum, but pretty cool nonetheless.

Shear madness

For philosophical and zombie-apocalypse-preparedness reasons, one ought to understand one's essential tools well enough to fix them. Consequently, the Miss and I have undertaken to change the timing belt on our car, and while we're in there also change the water pump and thermostat and the serpentine and power steering belts.

What is supposed to happen goes like this. Now, I'm not a seasoned mechanic or anything, but a Certain Incident a few years back1 and some electrical work on my motorcycle have served to set firmly in my mind the idea that vehicle manufacturers and mechanics are lazy cheap bastards.

If you skim over the instructions, you will find that they actually seem like a pretty reasonable undertaking: take this off, take that off, etc., until you're at the bottom, then put this on, put that on, etc. until the car is back together. If you're enough of a nerd to have put together your own computer at some point, this basically seems like that except with more tools, more physical effort, and more fluids; and despite prior experience, that is more or less the attitude with which I went into this.

Looking over the instructions, I figured we could do it in 4 hours if we had enough hands and did everything right and encountered no trouble. So 8 hours in the real world, right?

Right?Collapse )

Moral: friends don't let friends abuse threaded fasteners.

footnotes!Collapse )

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The geography! It burns!

EDIT: I'll just leave this here

So I picked up Charles Stross' The Family Trade recently. It's pleasant alternate-universe fantasy / kinda-hard-boiled-ish whatever.

But it's set in my neighborhood. *wince*

Tell me, Charlie: where exactly is this office complex that's "in Cambridge off Somerville Ave"? ><

(For the record: the entire length of Somerville Ave is in Somerville except the very tip, in Porter Square, which is a better-known place than Somerville Ave, and virtually everything there is also off Mass Ave, which is also a better-known place than Somerville Ave. The nearest other business district to Somerville Ave that is in Cambridge is off Cambridge St. Everywhere that is "in Cambridge off Somerville Ave" other than right in Porter is closer to some other major street that is at least as well known.

My best guess is that he means a place in Somerville but called it Cambridge; you can get away with calling Cambridge and Somerville Boston in my book, but not Somerville Cambridge.)

And how exactly do you get from Belmont to the airport by taking "the Cambridge turnpike [route 2?] to I-95 to the tunnel"? Get out a map and tell me how that works.

I'm sorry. I know this is a mental illness. The spatial relations and names of places are important to me. He only does it every few chapters, so I've managed to keep going, but *grind*

Sep. 23rd, 2010

Get a bicycle. You will not regret it if you live.
—Mark Twain

This month maru_mari decided to stop riding in the street. My mother thinks riding anywhere off the sidewalk is dangerous, even more so since my father was recently clipped by a hit-and-run driver while riding along the shoulder of a local road, knocked out and left with wrist and hip injuries.

Statistically, without accounting for the health benefits of exercise, cycling is about twice as risky per mile, but only half as risky per hour compared to driving. If you drive as often as drivers normally drive and you bike as often as cyclists normally bike, you're much more likely to die in the car. The reason for the fear is not a rational assessment of risk: it's partially because you're small compared to a car, but it's not insignificant that a large fraction of the people in control of cars range from careless to psychopathic.

Just before she gave up on road biking, maru_mari and I were riding on Cameron Ave, a two-lane residential street with a double yellow line. We were about to turn left onto a side street, were making clear left-turn hand signals, and were riding at the far left of the lane. Three cars in a row saw this and responded by crossing fully into the opposing lane to speed past us on the left and line up at the red light half a block ahead.

Drivers did this kind of thing to her a lot, but they rarely do it to me when I'm riding alone. This is not mere inattention or lack of awareness of traffic: she's small and female and looks harmless and rides slowly, so they see her as weak and bully her, while I ride fast enough to catch up to them at the light and look big and mean enough to put a U-lock through their windshield.

Bullies are cowards and the only thing to do about it is confront them. That's why I will be riding in Critical Mass tomorrow, and that's why I will be both corking and carrying a camera. (To decent and careful drivers: happy Friday, and we'll be out of your way in a minute.)

Join us. Tomorrow, 5:30 PM, Copley Square.

OK, moving to India

Bite me again, Jon Stewart

Shout this from the rooftops. (You may recall that Jon Stewart pissed me off earlier by staking out the same inane "moderate" position between religion and science.)

Jon, the right answer isn't always "split it down the middle": that's the ignorant answer, the modern journalist's answer, and the coward's answer; and it's the answer that is easily manipulated by whichever side is able to put on more of a display of extremism.
It has come to my attention (via elynne) that former Senator Rick Santorum, long ago crushed and removed from office in a wave of backlash against his bigotry and corruption and the embarrassment he brought upon the great state of Pennsylvania, would like to be President of the United States. For your convenience, I link to his official 2012 campaign page. For those who may not be familiar with him, former Senator Rick Santorum is the frothy mix of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex.

Since the machine that indexes the tubes is sometimes insufficiently perspicacious, it falls to us, the tube-folk, from time to time to contribute HTML links to reinforce its inferences about the relationships between real-world topics and web sites; it would be helpful if everyone could make sure to link to former Senator Rick Santorum's official 2012 Presidential campaign page in order to prevent incorrect links from bubbling to the top of the rankings.

As a friendly reminder: to avoid the unattractive sights and smells associated with former Senator Rick Santorum, it's best to wash your ass before you let anybody fuck it (especially when demonstrating your wide stance in an airport bathroom).

About what percentage of books on your shelves have you read?

Mean: 66.25 Median: 80 Std. Dev 24.21

What is the most a date's or acquaintance's answer to that might matter to you?

a lot
a little
not at all

In the scenario where it matters the most, what answer would you like most?

Mean: 72.31 Median: 80 Std. Dev 18.46

What is the most you think your answer would matter to a date or acquaintance whose opinion would matter the most to you?

a lot
a little
not at all

In the scenario where it matters the most, what answer do you think they would like the most?

Mean: 76.92 Median: 80 Std. Dev 15.38


tl;dr: 3.5 mi run + 5 mi walk = a good nightCollapse )

Anybody know what happened at Mass Ave & Alewife Brook Parkway last night between 6 and 8:30? The scale of it was like there was a water main break or big manhole fire or something, but there was no sign of fire or water. The street was normal when I got there the first time but was depaved and covered in metal plates by the time I got there the second time.

Anyway, I've got a great idea for a party:

1. go to farmer's market
3. go home
5. go to sleep

special finite cardinals

Zero is special because it's the number of things you have if you don't have anything.

One is special because it's not zero.

Two is special because an alphabet of two symbols allows exponentially shorter representations of objects than an alphabet of only one symbol.

Three is special because an alphabet of three symbols allows infinite non-repeating (EDIT: square-free, to be precise) strings, but an alphabet of two symbols does not.

Is four special?*

* other than for being the smallest number not otherwise special, smartass

Aug. 17th, 2010

1. This and that came from probably some of you people yesterday, I forget.

2. The other thing came from vvalkyri today. Why yes, the "no internet at home" experiment is going quite well, thanks.

3. "sui generis", you heathens.

Invisible Cryptic Crossword

We'll start with an easy one: giving pig is one of a kind (3,7)

A successful comment will:

(1) solve the clue in the post or in a successful comment that has not yet been answered successfully
(2) supply an additional clue whose answer:
(3) crosses the previous answer; and
(4) if it crosses any other answers, does so legally.

Extra love for

(5) creating or maintaining symmetry
(6) advancing a theme consistent with clues solved so far
(7) puns like fingernails on a blackboard.
For every joke, there are one or more deadpan antijokes. Give me your best.

Hissy fit!

This is great:

Dear en_ki

Yesterday (August 4), U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn Walker single-handedly overturned California's Prop. 8, which elevated protection for one-man, one-woman marriage to its state constitution.

In doing so, he frustrated the express will of seven million Californians who went to the polls to shape their state's public policy on marriage.

Since marriage policy is not established anywhere in the federal Constitution, defining marriage, according to the 10th Amendment, is an issue reserved for the states. Judge Walker never should have accepted this case in the first place.

Under Judge Walker, it's no longer "We the People," it's "I the Judge."

In addition, Judge Walker is an open homosexual, and should have recused himself from this case due to his obvious conflict of interest.

What can be done?

Fortunately, the Founders provided checks and balances for every branch of government, including the judicial branch. Federal judges hold office only "during good Behaviour," and if they violate that standard can be removed from the bench.

Judge Walker's ruling is not "good Behaviour." He has exceeded his constitutional authority and engaged in judicial tyranny.

Judges are not, in fact, unaccountable. They are accountable to Congress, which can remove them from office.

Impeachment proceedings, according to the Constitution, begin in the House of Representatives. It's time for you to put your congressman on record regarding the possible impeachment of Judge Walker.

—American Family Association, to their mailing list today

One good quote demands another:

J'ai toujours fait une prière à Dieu, qui est fort courte. La voici: Mon Dieu, rendez nos ennemis bien ridicules! Dieu m'a exaucé.
(I always made one prayer to God, a very short one. Here it is: "O Lord, make our enemies quite ridiculous!" God granted it.)

François-Marie "Voltaire" Arouet, letter to Étienne Noël Damilaville (1767-05-16)

Aug. 5th, 2010

As you've surely heard, Prop 8 was overturned yesterday in Federal district court (two steps below the Supreme Court); chipuni has photos and quotes from the courthouse.

The case, Perry v. Schwarzenegger, has some interesting quirks I hadn't been aware of:

- It's the second challenge; the first was filed wrong and thrown out.

- While the defendants named in the case represent the state of California, Schwarzenegger and the state AG (Jerry Brown! of all people) have declined to defend the case. The judge allowed Prop 8 proponents to step in and defend the case instead, and it's they who are going to be continuing the appeal.

Still to be argued is whether this will allow people to get married again while the bad guys continue to appeal.

Shopping Guide

According to the American Family Association, Sears has posters on sale with scantily-clad women, including a safe sex poster. Get them while they're hot!

Jul. 27th, 2010

Found this again on Rhapsody just now. It's been a while.

I'm told the movie is terrible, but I adore the soundtrack.

more like the NEVER show

Somebody else watch this (skip to the third segment) for me: I stabbed out my eardrums around minute 17. It was a real challenge to find a pencil while rocking back and forth in a fetal position screaming WHAT THE FUCK, JON

Jul. 23rd, 2010

[Titanic] Dark City Memento Primer Eternal Sunshine Malkovich Malkovich? Kobayashi! Matrix Requiem Fountain Leave Me

I think that about covers it.

Jul. 21st, 2010

The internets are amused because a bunch of mentally deficient Tea Party types are circulating a three-year-old video from the Onion as real news. The version being circulated is some Twitter asshole's self-promoting repost on YouTube; here is the original, straight from the Onion:

Pursuant to the previous entry (deliberately omitting some keywords), today I wrote a thing to find the nth permutation of a list in lexicographic order. I started by thinking about how to enumerate all the permutations. In Knuth's fascicle on the topic (, there's a multiparagraph description of a procedural algorithm, and it feels really clunky, as procedural algorithms often do. Trying to squeeze this into Haskell (or indeed write it at all) hurt my brain until I took a moment to experiment with a naive recursive approach, which was correct immediately and didn't hurt at all.

First, some utility functions. Given a list, the "breaks" function does a break at each possible place, and the "plucks" function uses that to shove each possible element to the front of the list in order.
import List
breaks list = zip (inits list) (tails list)
plucks      = map (\(a,(b:bs)) -> (b:a++bs)) . filter (not.null.snd) . breaks

Once we have plucks, the recursive permutation generator is (almost) a one-liner:
lexPerm [] = [[]]
lexPerm list = concatMap (\(a:as) -> map (a:) $ lexPerm as) $ plucks list

nthLexPermNaive list n = (lexPerm list) !! n

(With "nth" counting from 0, of course.) For purposes of the problem at hand, this is plenty fast enough: I'm supposed to solve the problem in a minute, and I can get the millionth permutation in 10 seconds on my Mac. But 10 seconds is on the order of 10 billion operations with today's computers, which makes that pretty cheesy in the absolute sense, so I took a walk to grab some coffee and thought about it.

Of course we don't have to create the Library of Babel; we just want to index it. (Literally) exponentially better is, rather than generating all the permutations before the one we want, counting our way down to it:

facs              = scanl (*) 1 [1..]
nthLexPerm []   _ = []
nthLexPerm list n = (a : nthLexPerm as r) where                       
                       (q, r) = divMod n $ facs !! (length list - 1)
                       (a:as) = (plucks list) !! (fromIntegral q)

That is, we divide the permutations into buckets according to which list element goes first, count the size of the buckets with the factorial function, and figure out which bucket n is in; that tells us which list element is first (or next), and then we do it again with the rest of the list.

Here any reasonable-sized problem is done in a quarter of a second, and we can find the 2913-digit random numberCollapse )th permutation of the first paragraph of Moby-Dick in two seconds.

(If we wanted to permute the whole text of Moby-Dick, this might run into trouble: in the process of figuring out the first letter, we have to spend at least quadratic time computing the factorial of the length of the remaining part of the list. For the earlier permutations, we could trim this down a bit by doing the factorial mod n.)

This entry was originally posted at http://adb.dreamwidth.org/1238.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

*deep voice*

moose, moose, moose, moose and squirrel
moose, moose, moose and squirrel
moose, moose, moose and squirrel

moose, moose, moose and squirrel
moose, moose, moose and squirrel
moose, moose, moose and squirrel

in which new words for pain are coined

So last night the Miss and I are biking back from Tufts, right, and we take Simpson St, which has one of those towable radar sign carts that tells you you're going [foo] MPH and the limit is 30 MPH1. There was a nice long straight flat clear run up to the thing, so I sprinted on the fixie to see what I could get (252) and she did the same on her 87 lb of squishy-tired comfort bike (18).

It's not-quite-dark, but dark enough that I'd have been running lights if I had managed to replace my last set any time in the last 6 months or so. But no! Nothing goes horribly wrong, we slow down to a mellower pace before hitting Holland St, and head up to Cameron Ave. Nice gentle roll down the hill toward home, and

drama!Collapse )

Anyway, if anybody wants to come by with margarita inputs and console me on the porch tonight, there's tequila.

footnotes!Collapse )

on being twelve years old again

Today I rode the motorcycle up Wachusett Mountain and thence to Northampton, where I purchased an inspirational bumper sticker, some post cards, a simulated discarded paper coffee cup made of porcelain and silicone, and a "magazine" in DVD format containing short films. Along the way, I found my state's digestive system, taking US-202 across central MA from Athol almost all the way to Belchertown. All in all, a quintessential New England experience.

Jun. 28th, 2010

[You need text explaining your question]

"crepuscular" is the temporal analogue of "pelagic"
Lady Gaga is the Madonna of the aughties
"pelagic" is the spatial analogue of "crepuscular"
Madonna was the Lady Gaga of the eighties

Just thought I should mention

for a few months now, my computer's hostname has been the look of disapproval:


It works OK.

holy shit.

There is a solid wall of water full of pieces of trees flowing sideways across my skylights. For the record, I did not authorize this.

Dear weather: you've made your point. Please move along now. Pretty please?


Tuco Benedicto Pacífico Juan María Ramírez

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