Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Olympics thoughts.

Like most people, I'm currently wrapped up in the Winter Olympics.  Of the 6 gold medals the US has so far, five are in sports that were considered vandalism when I was a kid.  This makes me very happy.

I'm a little disappointed that the US doesn't do better at the sports that involve shooting things.  I guess ammo is probably pretty expensive in some of those countries so they have to conserve. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Dear Facebook and advertisers: We know.

I "liked" Time Warner Cable on Facebook today.  I do not in fact actually like Time Warner Cable, although to be fair I also do not dislike them.  They give me a reasonably fair service at a reasonably fair price.  I wish their internets were a little more stable but it's unclear to me whether the fault lies with them, with my router or with the fact that I've got about 200 neighbors all trying to use the same router channels so it's hard to place the blame on TWC.

So they're meh.  I don't like them they way I like a local restaurant.  I'm not rooting for their owners to succeed, I don't hope their waitresses get more tips, I wouldn't tell a friend, "Ooh, you've got to go to Time Warner Cable."

I "liked" them because they paid me to.  In this case the payment was a one-in-a-zillion chance to win a trip to Paris, which trip is apparently themed by the new Mr. Peabody movie. (warning: sound at that link)  So yeah, my threshold for placing a company on my like list, at least temporarily,  is pretty low.

The threshold is very low for a lot of people.  And everyone on Facebook knows it.  Everyone knows that if one of their friends "likes" BigCo Corporation, it's because they're having a discount or a contest or something.  There's no benefit to the company.  No one on the planet is going to sign up for Time Warner Cable or go to WalMart or put their resume on LinkdIn because their friend shows up on the sidebar as having "liked" the business. 

What the fake "likes" do do is dilute the value of "likes" to smaller businesses which might actually benefit from people knowing that their friends "like" the business.   Facebook says it wants both local and national advertisers.  They should realize that these fake "likes" reduce the value of real "likes" and require that advertisers stop requiring "likes" to enter contests, etc.   At the same time, they'd find a way for businesses, large and small, to offer special deals to people who have already liked a page.  Say, for 10 days or more.  Yerba Buena (warning, more noise at that link) and yes, even Time Warner Cable should be able to offer a special deal to people who have liked the page already but not to extend a deal to people who like the page just for the deal. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Bread and milk! Milk and Bread!! Bread and milk! Milk and Bread!

As our area and perhaps your area hunker down for yet another batch of snow (I don't care what that big dot-com weather site says, winter storms don't have names unless they have high winds and are shaped like spirals) I'm seeing yet another batch of stories and posts about milk and bread. 

Lately it seems that most of the stories about milk and bread are not actually about people stocking up on milk and bread in advance of a storm but rather about people snarking on people stocking up on milk and bread.  Doubtless you've seen this Youtube video about the phenomenon:

In the past few years there have even been articles attempting to explain the run on milk and bread in advance of a storm.  This story ably, if uncritically, recounts some of the hypotheses.

These theories are bunk.  Bread as a symbol of the staff of life?  "The compulsive desire to stockpile perishables" as the subconscious desire to believe that the storm is transient?  Are these people insane?  Have they never actually been faced by a big storm approaching?

People are actually pretty rational most of the time and because of this the explanation is very simple.  Milk and bread are the things people will run out of if they can't get to the store for a few days.  People don't stock up on non-perishables because they already have a huge stock of them in the pantry.  They don't need canned soup or dry pasta and jarred sauce or even ground beef because they've already got enough in their kitchens to wait out a storm.  Milk and bread are highly perishible items which people buy frequently.  At any given moment, most people are almost out of milk and bread and they are planning to buy more within the next half a week or so. Provided with the knowledge that going to the grocery store may be impossible or even inconvenient for the next few days, they buy their stuff now instead of later. Most of those people also probably buy other things too, but they all buy different things.  You may low on canned soup, I may need some pasta, that guy over there may need to restock his beans and rice.  But we all need milk and bread because we all always need milk and bread. 

Life usually pretty simple and interpreting people's motives is also pretty simple if one merely assumes that other people are at least almost as smart as you are.  Unfortunately, common sense rarely makes for a good story or a good blog entry.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Gender Identity times 50.

According to the Wall Street Journal's blog, Facebook has added over 50 different terms one can choose from for one's gender.  People who make a choice other than male or female can then choose whether they want to be referred to by masculine, feminine or neutral (if plural) pronouns.

Facebook's hearts are in the right place, even if they went a little overboard in the department of redundancy department.  For example, if you want to identify as a cis man rather than the old-fashioned man, which some people do, you can choose from cis man, cis male, cisgender man or cisgender male.This seems a little much, considering that people not choosing the "cis" beginning cannot choose between male and man.

Still, it's a good thing Facebook has done.  However, I can't help but wonder if the change is simply a way to further segregate people for advertising purposes.  I can imagine a future marketing presentation in which potential advertisers are informed that people who identify as cis male are 20% more likely to click on an ad for hybrid cars as people who just use male as an identifier, whereas self-identified males are 60% more likely to click on an ad for pickup trucks.  (all statistics produced from the same place as farts). 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Wow! New Cambrian fossil discovery!

OK, it's actually an old Cambrian fossil discovery.  If they were new, they wouldn't be fossils yet.  Duh.

At any rate, there's been a discovery of a massive new Cambrian fossil field right near the Burgess Shale. Apparently there are a lot of soft-bodied organisms and 22% of the fossils appear to be of newly-discovered species.

The Cambrian fascinates me and I love this discovery.  I hope they discover a better-preserved example of my favorite Cambrian animal, the anomalocaris.

This blog will try very hard not to get you killed.

When reading a blog it's pretty easy to come to the conclusion that the author is an expert in the blog's subject matter. That's particularly true in blogs more focused than this one. Even if the blog is about something you don't believe in or agree with one is tempted to believe that the author is at least an expert in the subject from his or own perspective. If someone wrote a whole blog about nothing but Balrogs you'd think that the person were a Balrog expert, yes? And even if you disagreed with the blog author's conclusion about whether Balrogs had wings(1)  you'd at least expect the author to be an expert on the arguments for and against his position, yes?

No.  Few blogs are written by real experts.  They exist.  Harold McGee is a real, live food and science expert whose blog you should follow and whose book you should buy. But most blogs are started by everyday people who have a layman's interest in their subject.  And those laymen are just as prone to the myths, errors, and misconceptions of their interest as anyone else.  

No where is this more apparent than cooking blogs and no where more important than on the subject of food safety.   If one goes to a proper culinary school one will get a good grounding in food safety, and if one cooks for even a very brief time one will learn about basics of sanitation and the "danger zone" between 40F and 140F at which bacteria like to reproduce.  But unfortunately it's really very easy to become an expert cook and even an expert recipe writer without learning much more than that about safety.

I'm thinking about this because I want to roast some garlic and store it.  I came across this blog which cheerily recommends that you can "(s)tore them in a jar filled with olive oil.  So basic and simple but so good, too."  You can't.  As one of her commenters points out, storing garlic in the anaerobic environment provided by an olive oil cover you're basically begging for botulism.  Botulism is actually vanishing rare among adults in the US.  There are something like 20 cases per year, one or two of which is fatal.  If you store garlic in olive oil and put the jar in the cabinet, you will probably be one of those cases.  When informed of this, the blogger breezily thanks the commenter and adjusts the storage advice to something only a little less bad.

You'll find similar errors from bloggers on other food-related subjects including potentially dangerous subjects like raw milk.  Of course you'll also find a lot of paranoia and errors on people opposed to things like raw milk.

All of this is to say that finding a blog or website which seems authoritative is not sufficient for you to conclude something.  Seek multiple sources, seek information which has been subject to peer review or other scrutiny, and most importantly seek for information which concludes something different from what you originally thought about something and see if that makes some sense.

(1) Yes.

Disclosure: Greg Miller is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. This post contains a link or multiple links to Amazon with additional code for the purpose of earning a fee. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Dumb Starbucks people.

You've probably seen a story today about the Dumb Starbucks store which has opened up in Los Angeles and is currently giving away free dumb coffee products.  It's probably only designed to be there for a day or two and to bring publicity to a movie, a website or a particularly well-funded cause.

On the off chance that they have plans to be a real business, they say they're counting on the parody provisions of fair use law to protect them from Starbucks' presumably well-caffeinated legal team.  There are limits to parody, however, and I seriously doubt you could clone an entire business simply by sticking the word "dumb" in front of copyrighted and trademarked elements. 

But Starbucks isn't helping themselves.  According to that article, SBUX is "looking into" the store.  The company's representative, Megan Adams, adds, "It's obviously not a Starbucks."

Oops.  One of the elements of a successful trademark infringement lawsuit is if the allegedly offending mark is "likely to cause confusion."  I hope Ms. Adams' remarks don't come back to hurt her. 

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Saturday, February 8, 2014


As one of my commenters points out, one can't speak of avocados for very long without thinking of guacamole. 

How do you make a great guacamole?  Guac is a lot like chile.  Everyone seems to have immutable rules regarding what makes the One True Guacamole or the One True Chile and the truth is that you can throw almost all of those rules out in both cases.  Guacamole is a Spanishization of the Aztec words for 'avocado sauce' so you should probably have avocados in your guac.  And that's it.  Everything else is optional.  Chicken? Edamame? Sriracha?  Go for it.  A great guacamole is one which has avocados, is vaguely sauce-like and which you and your guests enjoy.   Heck, don't even make it sauce like.  Serve your guac ingredients separately and call it a deconstructed guacamole.  People will go nuts over it.  Actually, I think I'm going to do exactly that next time. 

That said, I usually like a classic preparation.  For every three avocados, I dice an ounce of white onions and a pound of tomatoes (remove the liquid and seeds).  Then mince a clove or two of garlic, one jalapeno and one-quarter to one habanero peppers and a quarter cup of cilantro.  Sometimes I roast some or all of the tomatoes, chilis, and garlic.  Other ingredients are a tablespoon or a little more of lime juice, a quarter teaspoon salt and small splash of apple cider vinegar.

Buy this molcajete

Mash the avocados and then fold in the other ingredients.  That's it.  I have a cool authentic basalt molcajete which makes me very happy whenever I use it but the truth is you can mash avocados just fine with a fork in a sufficiently big cereal bowl.  The rocket-science rating is pretty low.  I like it kind of chunky but it's your guac, mash it as much or as little as you want.

To make it even easier, the astute observer will notice that a lot of the ingredients match those of a pico de gallo or a simple tomato salsa.  Since an occasion calling for guacamole often also calls for a pico and/or a salsa, just throw some of that into the avocados, add any ingredients which are missing (most likely some of the chili pepper, the lime juice and the garlic) and you've taken out even more steps.  It's rare that my refrigerator doesn't contain some variation on Rick Bayless' Fire-Roasted Tomato Salsa.

Disclosure: Greg Miller is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. This post contains a link or multiple links to Amazon with additional code for the purpose of earning a fee.

Your Title Here.

This blog's name, Miller's Musings, is exceeded in how boring it is only by this blog's URL, http://placekeeperblogname.blogspot.com.  Both are temporary, I hope, and will be changed when the blog acquires enough of a theme and personality to suggest a good name.  In the meantime of course I'd welcome any suggestions.

Posts with pictures are more interesting than posts without them so here's a picture of a bunch of dried chili peppers just before they got toasted and re-hydrated for a proper Texas Red. 

Avocado's Number

Earlier I expressed skepticism about the Hass Avocado Board's estimate that 104 million pounds of Avocados would be consumed around the Super Bowl, an event the Board refers to as the Big Game.

I emailed the Avocado Board asking where the estimate came from.


Friday, February 7, 2014

Telling the world's smartest company how to run their business.

Because why not, right?

At any rate, Google's navigation tool is terrible and they should invest a ton of money to retool it.

It knows where you are, which is a good start.  And when you tell it where you want to go it knows how to get there, which is nice.

But if you want navigation, it opens up a whole new app.  That should be integrated with the maps to make it much easier to toggle in and out of navigation.

However, that's not the problem with Google Maps/Navigation.   No, the problem is that the other functions of Google Maps don't understand the concept of "on the way." 

Say I'm in New York City (I'm in New York City).  And say I want to go to Amish country.  I can pick my destination or my origination or any point along the way and find gas or a restaurant or antique stores.  But there's no way to tell Google to find gas "on the way."  Not only should I be able to do that, Google should ask me how far off the selected route I'm willing to go for gas and then it should reach into one of the cheap gas apps and tell me the optimal place to stop. 

And that's just the basic stuff.  I should be able to tell Google that I'm going to Amish country because I'm antiquing and I'm planning to visit.  Google should then identify antique shops and visitor-friendly farms which are "on the way," again defined by me. 

If you're traveling with your kids, you can ask Google to identify kid-friendly restaurants near your location.  What you should be able to do is ask Google for kid-friendly restaurants that are along your route and which you can get to within the next 40 minutes or whatever. 

Just in case it's not sufficiently arrogant to tell the world's smartest company what they should be doing, here's one way how they should do it.  If they don't feel like developing the expertise in house at least the beginnings of it already live at Garmin.  They've been doing a version of this for years.  For $12 billion Google can pay a 20% premium to Garmin's current stock price and exceed the 5-year high, two important triggers to get board support for a friendly deal.  Along with the "on the way" ability, they'd pick up a lot of great topographic data and other things useful for non-car GPS devices. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

On the corner of Doing the Right Thing and Full of It.

CVS has decided to stop selling cigarettes as of later this year.  You can't tell exactly because they're cagey about the timing but it looks like cigarettes provide somewhere around 4 percent of their earnings.  I imagine that number has been declining and I also imagine that CVS' management foresaw a day when total cigarette earnings will approach zero and they decided to get ahead of that day as they reposition themselves as a health care company and try to increase their share of all those sweet, sweet Obamacare revenues.

So good for them.  But...

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A belated thought about that Coke advertisement.

This is a thought for the fans of the Coke advertisement which ran during the Super Bowl.  You know the advertisement I'm talking about.  The "America is Beautiful" commercial. 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Don't you believe it!

Skepticism is one of the subjects I hope to address often with this blog.  I'm not going to go the route of "God didn't flood the whole world but there was a regional flood in the Black Sea" or "you should vaccinate your kids" (though you should).  I don't sense that there's a shortage of such blogs in the world.

I'll be addressing everyday information that people use to make decisions or just to better understand the world around them.  I'll be addressing the facts (or not), how they spread, and how they matter if they do.

Today I came across a claim by the Hass Avocado Board that Americans will consume 104 million pounds of avocados in events surrounding the Superbowl.

I'm not buying it.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Why you should watch women's soccer.

We've recently become big fans of soccer in this household. It's a pretty fast-paced game, there's strategy involved, and even in the most commercial European leagues it still feels like it's mostly a game and not merely a vector by which large companies reach large audiences. Although I'll admit it's kind of funny watching some of the world's best athletes running around with the name of oil-state airlines and gambling operations. It's like the bottom 10th of NASCAR, where the drivers are sponsored by funeral homes and scam Viagra substitutes.

At any rate. Soccer. We like the game, we like the national teams more than the club teams and we like the women's game most of all. You should also become a fan of women's soccer, both of the national team and of the Phoenix-like US pro league, currently called the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL).

I already know your objections. The women aren't as fast as the men. They don't kick as far or as hard. You're right. But soccer is about so much more than that, and enjoying a sport is also about so much more than that. Let me explain the advantages the women's game has over the men's, at least in the United States.

The USA is really, really good at women's soccer. The USA won the Olympics. We were runners up at the World Cup. We've won the World Cup before. Twice. We're the favorites or co-favorites at every tournament we enter. What that means is that if you see a US Women's National Team match or take in a NWSL game you're seeing the very best athletes in the game. It's like being a Barcelona and Brazil fan on the men's side. However, there are other very very good teams.  You don't get to take victories for granted like the men's basketball Olympic Dream Team.  There is legitimate competition, it's just that the US is the best at it. Just for fun, here's a picture of striker extraordinaire and general badass Abby Wambach setting the record for international goals:


And there's more: