August 11, 2008

If the Food Channel Did Business News

Although I did not actually buy shares of Apple Computer last spring when I should have (now up 57.52%--dang!), I am tracking AAPL's progress on my Google Portfolio page, so I get the company's news feed every day. Last Thursday, the headlines looked like this:

Mmmmmmm...waffles! They say that like it's a bad thing.

August 5, 2008

Letter to Neiman Marcus Customer Service

I should preface this posting by saying that a couple of years ago, I started doing research about animal cruelty issues, especially with regard to farm animals.

I received an email asking me to participate in an online survey regarding my shopping habits in exchange for a chance to win a $2,000 NM gift card. I did participate in the survey, but was bothered by the question about whether I was more comfortable buying fur at a "bricks and mortar" store or online. There was no way to answer "I do not buy fur."

As long as there are no laws that require fur to be labeled with the country of origin, and while furriers buy from "producers" who kidnap and slaughter household pets for fur trim (China), and engage in the extreme cruelty of skinning gray foxes alive (for the love of God, why?), I will neither purchase fur nor wear the vintage furs I inherited from my grandmother. I wish that NM would be more proactive in refusing to carry fur until such laws are in place, or leading the way in insisting on humane treatment of fur-bearing animals.

Thanks for listening.

August 2, 2008

Random Peeve

Random pet pronunciation peeve:

I hate it when people pronounce the title of the movie "Amélie" as if it rhymes with "homily," and with the emphasis on the first syllable. I wonder how many obnoxious tourists accost Mlle Tatou and say, "Aaaah gist luuuuved yew in that movie 'Ommily.'"

It's ahh-meh-lee, if you please, with a broad, light "ah," not "aww."
There now, I feel a lot better. Which reminds me of a spelling peeve. "Alot" is not a word. It's "a lot." Two words. Count them. Thank you.

July 20, 2008

Cat Tear Stain Removal: It's Weird, I Know

The internet is a magical tool for some things--finding step-by-step instructions for opening a port in your firewall, for instance, getting an up-to-date exchange rate from Euros to Fijian dollars, or locating biological relatives--that sort of thing. You would think that there would be a page somewhere on removing even the most obscure stains, but alas, it's just the same five or six stains over and over again.

But at my house, one of the stains that bothers me the most is cat tears. That sounds really weird, as if I'm torturing my cat, or she has emotional problems, but that isn't it. Diana just has tear ducts which are blocked and don't reabsorb the overflow, so lacrimal excretions accumulate on her little face. I've tried getting them unblocked, but the only way a cat will really let you cannulate the ducts is under anesthesia, and even then, the expensive procedure often doesn't work. According to my research, the tears start out clear, but the normal bacteria and red yeast on animals' skin causes the tears to turn reddish brown. And because Diana likes to hang out with me at night, those reddish-brown tears end up as spots on my sheets and my clothes, especially in winter, when she likes to get under the covers with me. I have had some disasters with stains. I tried using Oxyclean on linen to get out the teeny flea-"dirt" bloodstains that the cats left behind. Catastrophe. It ate huge holes in the beautiful Italian linen; luckily, my mom is an artist and a genius, and she mended the holes by embroidering beautiful flowers over them.

Now, there are products made for removing the tear stains from your pet's face, but nothing for removing them from fabric. Except for a couple of pillowcases, all my sheets are colored, so bleach just won't do. It was rather late to go to the pet store and try buying a pet product to use on the laundry, so I looked for other household remedies for removing the stain from the pet's fur, and hoped it might do the trick on cotton. I tried wetting the area, spraying on hydrogen peroxide, and then rubbing the stain with a lump of baking soda so that it formed a pasty layer. I let it sit for an hour or so while I fiddled with downloading an audio book. When I returned, the nice chambray duvet cover was back to light blue, with no brown circles. Hooray. I treated the rest of the pillowcases the same way, and between the soap, the peroxide, and the baking soda, pretty much everything came out.

Maybe this post will now show up if someone searches for "pet tear stain removal." Perhaps it will work for you.

May 17, 2008

Technical Difficulties

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote part of a post about SXSW and added pictures and video, and then I went back and wrote even more detail about a particular showcase, complete with nifty links to YouTube clips from the movies I was reminded of. Unbeknownst to me, Blogger was having a problem with posting video and photos, and when I hit the "submit button," it didn't post all my text, and it hadn't done any interim saves of the new writing. I could have resubmitted the photos and video, since those were on my hard drive, but the text, which I usually write in Word so as to have a saved copy, did not survive. And Blogger doesn't seem to have any direct customer service email; rather, they encourage you to post to the Google/Blogger online forum and try to get your answer that way.

The very next day, I had a catastrophic OS failure with multiple .dll errors, and my computer was no longer able to boot Windows XP. I had a long round of trying all sorts of things to replace the corrupted .dlls, but it's not as simple as just dragging them into your System folder. They have to be "installed," although you can "install" fonts by just dragging them or unzipping them to the Fonts folder. And Dell doesn't see fit to include the OS discs with your computer, so I had to get the customer service phone number from a friend (couldn't look it up on my computer, don'tchaknow), and have them mail me the discs.

They arrived a day early, along with the hope that the repair mode would fix the problem. No, after hours of trying every permutation and combination of approaches, it appeared that I would indeed have to completely reinstall Windows. I was worried about the documents on my C drive being overwritten, so I had to somehow copy my files off to an external hard drive before the reinstall. I bought a chassis that I could use to connect my HD to another computer, and then imposed upon my brother and used his computer to back up my files. After the big external HD failure last fall, I didn't want to again be faced with reconstituting my iTunes library and files from my iPod.

Once that was done, I put in the CD and went through the tedious process of reinstalling Windows and then all of my programs. The "transfer files and settings" wizard did not seem to work. At all. So now I have duplicate user accounts in the "Documents and Settings" folder. Joy. Thanks, Bill. There was some more complex stuff I wanted advice on, so I called a professional to oversee port opening and other configuration details. It seems to be running well now, although I still haven't gotten all the programs reinstalled.

And then on Wednesday this week, we had a massive hailstorm here in Austin, with the biggest hailstones I've ever seen. I took lots of photos, but since it almost immediately knocked out power, including my cable modem, I couldn't exactly live-blog the hailstorm, however much I might have wanted to. I saved a few of the biggest ones in the freezer--they were four inches long, and some were cracked in half like geodes, so you could see the internal structure--a solid-packed opaque center, surrounded by an aggregation of smaller stones. Of course, since the power stayed off for a day and a half, my hailstone samples didn't survive. Boo. But I will post photos soon. I think that was one for the record books.

March 5, 2008

Raucus Caucus

I looked on the web for video of crazy Texas caucuses, and believe it or not, found one of our Precinct's gathering! That's me in the green sweater, furiously writing down names and addresses.

Non-Texans might be wondering why it's taking so long for Texas to count the votes from the caucuses. I was both the Temporary and Permanent Convention Secretary for Travis County’s Precinct 274 (that's in Austin), and we had 385 people sign in for the Democratic Caucus, not counting the ones who left early. We used 33 sign-in sheets, whereas just one was sufficient in past years. Even with four other people helping me, it took more than two hours just to get everyone's name, address, and candidate choice written down. Luckily, our Precinct Chair was smart, ethical, and experienced, and followed the rules with no protest. But it still took another twenty minutes or so to count all the participants, count the number of people caucusing for each candidate, and do the math to get the delegate apportionment.

There were party platforms to be discussed and voted on, and then people had to volunteer to be delegates and alternates--and all those people's names had to be found on the 33 pages, which were not in alphabetical order. Even then, there weren't enough people still present at 11:30 p.m. to account for all the 37 needed alternate delegates for Obama. By the time I asked the precinct chair if he had remembered to call in our results to the party, it was after midnight. And we were well organized.

Some precincts had open Chair positions, so whoever grabbed the caucus packet first was the one who became the Temporary Chair. You'd think that these eager beavers would have taken time to read the basic rules or the script provided, but some were more zealous about not letting another candidate gain a perceived advantage, even when it meant disenfranchising their own candidate's voters. I have read about all sorts of abuses and rule breaking—shutting the doors before everyone had gotten a chance to sign in, or insisting on looking up every voter on the rolls instead of just accepting a stamped voter registration or caucus card. But whether or not it went perfectly, it was really thrilling to see hundreds of people willing to wait in line because they were so passionately interested in taking part in our democracy, no matter whom they were supporting. That is what this country is really about: our votes are our voices, and if we don’t vote, we are only muzzling ourselves.

March 3, 2008

Don't Forget to Vote and Caucus!

You'd have to have been living in a cave not to know that Texas has a primary Tuesday, but just in case you're still scrambling to find your polling place, or don't know about the caucus, you can find the info here. Click here to look up your polling place. And here is a .pdf you can download that has all the pertinent information on it. I also have a description of the caucus process in my Feb. 23 posting.

In case you'd like more specifics about the Senator's policies, here's a link to his Blueprint for Change.

I also thought I'd include a video about Barack Obama's grassroots movement here in Texas.

February 23, 2008

Spider-House Party for Obama

As a Precinct Captain for Barack Obama (Travis County Precinct 274), I have set up a House Party today to reach out to voters, talk to them about the candidates, and educate people about the primary and caucus voting processes in Texas.

The details:
Host: Julia Spencer
Time: Saturday, February 23 at 12:00 PM - 2 hours
Location: Spider House Cafe
2908 Fruth St.
Austin, TX 78705

Directions: Spider House is north of the UT campus on Fruth St., just a block east of Guadalupe, and between 29th and 30th St.

I did snag a "blueprint for change" booklet at the rally last night, and also got a few lists of Travis County early voting locations and a candidate list when I voted yesterday. I have found that one-on-one contact with voters is very persuasive, so everyone is welcome to join me and talk to people about Barack, and about the primary and caucus processes in Texas. I will try to grab a table or two right at the front of the garden just inside the entrance so we're really visible to people walking by on the street.

View and RSVP for this event at any time by going here.

Here's the deal on primary voting and caucusing in Texas:

Your party affiliation is determined by whom you vote for in the primary--Republican or Democrat, so you don't have to have registered as either one. You can do early voting at any of the early-voting locations in your county from February 19-29 (highly recommended), or vote at your precinct's polling place on March 4th. If you do early voting, your name will be on the rolls as having voted, and you can also get your card stamped then. If you vote on the 4th, make sure you get your voter's registration card stamped so it's easy to show it later on.

Then, all you need to do to caucus for Barack is to arrive at 7:01 after the polls close and show that you have just voted in the Democratic primary, either during early voting, or earlier in the day (whip out that stamped voter reg. card) and then you sign your name on a card in support of Barack. You can stay for the meeting after that, or just turn in your card and leave.

After signing cards to caucus for Obama, the rest of the evening of March 4 is given over to what is called a Precinct Convention, where party platform issues and resolutions are introduced.

This link is general information about the Texas Primary/Caucus.

This Burnt Orange Report link has fairly detailed information about how to introduce resolutions.

And yes, I am having an Oscar Party on Sunday, but with all the election excitement, I just haven't gotten around to sending out invitations.

February 20, 2008

Green Technology and Diplomacy

There was an article by Mona Charen posted a few days ago on about Barack Obama called "Old Wine, New Bottle." It made a lot of false claims about his policies and intentions, so I posted the following comment to refute a couple of the most troubling misstatements.
First of all, Obama isn't advocating subsidizing environmentally friendly or "green" products. You're right, if there's a market for them, there's no need for subsidies. He's advocating investing in researching and developing alternative energy sources and technologies, and countering the recent influence of big oil. Big difference. When oil companies put all their considerable resources behind eliminating competition--as they did in the early 20th century by encouraging cities to get rid of streetcars and use buses instead--it can have a significant effect, and Obama wants to make sure we stop being so dependent on fossil fuels.

Also, I would say that the war on terrorists has been sorely neglected by President Bush, who stopped focusing on Afghanistan and the border areas of Pakistan, where Al Qaeda is actually based, in order to invade a country previously entirely unconnected with Bin Laden. Obama's stated goal is to refocus on finding Bin Laden, and eradicating his organization.

You also imply that Obama is unwilling to use military force in any situation, and will instead rely exclusively on diplomacy, the way that you claim Jimmy Carter did. First of all, Obama has said that he's not categorically opposed to all use of military force or all wars--just "dumb wars" and "rash wars...based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics." If you will remember, Carter hardly had a "diplomacy-only" approach. But his attempt to use military force to rescue the hostages in Iran was disastrous. It was his skill in diplomacy that finally secured their release.

Try telling the families of the 4,000 American dead and 29,000 wounded that the rush to invade Iraq was a good idea and that diplomacy is "misguided" and "senile."

February 18, 2008

Austin American-Statesman Endorses Obama

Just this past week, I signed up to be a Precinct Captain for Obama in Austin, Texas. My precinct is 274, and our polling place is the First English Lutheran Church. I'm excited about getting out the vote for Obama and making a difference in Texas.

I've been practicing articulating why I support Obama, and what the differences are between him and Senator Clinton. A lot of Texas newspapers have endorsed Obama. Sometimes local newspapers are long on earnestness, but short on eloquence. I was happily surprised by the Statesman's thoughtful endorsement of Senator Obama to be the Democratic nominee for president. I'm including the full text here:

February 2, 2008

Time is right for his unifying vision: Yes, Obama can

Look closely at the two Democratic front-runners for president and you will see similarities in how they address challenging problems confronting the country. Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois both talk about strengthening the middle class, expanding economic growth and lifting sagging wages. Both offer solutions for the crisis in our health care system and global warming and support ending the war in Iraq. So the key differences between the candidates are in their leadership styles and visions for the country.

Obama presents a view of governing that is inclusive and relies on Americans to work with their government to solve sobering problems at home and abroad. Obama’s familiar refrain on the campaign trail is, “Yes, we can.” By contrast, Clinton promotes a self-centered governing style that drives home what she would do as president. She asks little of Americans and discourages opposing views. Clinton has moved from her position as first lady that it “takes a village” to solve problems to "it takes only Hillary (and maybe Bill)."

Those contrasts offer a clear choice: Barack Obama. His optimism, unifying vision and ability to inspire are the kind of healing balm the country needs at this moment in history. In two days, on “Super Tuesday,” 22 states will hold Democratic primaries and caucuses. The outcome of those contests might determine a winner. If not, the battle moves to Texas on March 4. Obama is the best pick Democrats could make.

Resolving the big issues confronting the nation requires a leader who can attract support from independents and Republicans. Of the two front runners, only Obama has shown the ability to bring divergent interests together. He did that as a state senator in Illinois and as a U.S. senator in Washington. And he has staked his presidential campaign on doing that in the White House. In endorsing Obama, the Chicago Tribune recently wrote this about his tenure in the Illinois Legislature: “In the minority party for all but his final two years in the Statehouse, he tempered a progressive agenda with a cold dash of realism, often forging consensus with conservative Republicans when other liberals wanted to crusade.”

Obama brought that style of leadership to Washington. He worked with Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., to sponsor and pass legislation that would assist taxpayers in tracking government spending - including earmarks and federal grants - with a Google-like search engine. Obama showed courage in opposing the Iraq war in 2002 as a candidate for the U.S. Senate, years before that was the popular position. He backs aggressive diplomacy in dealing with America’s adversaries, including talking to our enemies.

But he isn’t against the use of military might and continues to support the war in Afghanistan. We also believe that Obama is more electable than Clinton, who would no doubt energize dispirited Republican voters. That makes Obama a stronger nominee for the Democrats going into November. In another election, we might look for the kind of experience Clinton brings from her role as a U.S. senator and tenure as first lady. But these are different times. Abroad, the country is at war. The terrorism threat remains alarming. America’s moral standing has been diminished by Guantanamo and the Iraqi occupation. At home, we’re divided into red and blue camps. Democrats and Republicans have stoked divisions to advance their party’s interests. Meanwhile, Washington is stumbling along with its red leg moving right and blue one lurching left.

Along the way, elected officials - and the public - have forgotten that those legs are part of the same body. It’s not surprising, therefore, that we’ve danced in place, failing to make progress on the big challenges that confront our country. Young people, disillusioned and disheartened with their government, have tuned out. No other candidate except Obama offers a way out of that rut. He has articulated a vision that would allow the legs of government to again move fluidly in a natural motion that takes the country forward.

Young people hungry for purpose have flocked to Obama rallies in rock concert numbers. They’re not just cheering but volunteering. Older people, especially African Americans, send small donations and passages from Scripture as they look to him to fulfill America’s promise. Like a veteran slugger on deck, Hillary Clinton has campaigned principally on the logic that it is her turn at bat. Democrats must resist the instinct to select the next in line and grab instead the best hitter on the bench. That is Barack Obama.

February 15, 2008

Oscar Party 2008

The writer's strike threw the Oscarcast into question this year, and now primary election frenzy seems to be gobbling up all my time. The official invite is below.

For the first time, I will be showing the Oscars in High-Def TV on my new giant screen. Yay!

The red-carpet part of the broadcast starts at 7, but I encourage everyone to come around 6:30, get a drink and a bite to eat, and finish filling out your ballots.

I will provide cocktails, as usual, and this year will serve Helen Spencer's Famous Chili and some snacks, but not the insane spread of years past, so please feel free to bring munchies to share.

P.S. Don't forget to vote. Early voting in Texas is Feb. 19-29, and then the regular vote is March 4. It's an open primary, so your vote determines your affiliation. Also, there's a caucus on March 4th that will determine additional delegates for the presidential election. All you have to do is show up at your polling place at 7:00 p.m., show that you've voted in the primary, and sign a card for your candidate. Ask me for details.

February 12, 2008

Obama-Related Links

I was looking at Obama's website tonight, and it had a link to call voters in Virginia. That made me think of my friend and Wellesley classmate Leslie G., who lives in Arlington, so I thought I'd call her and see if she were voting tomorrow. She went to an Obama rally at a high-school gym yesterday, and they got there early, but there was a very long wait until the man himself showed up. But she said that everyone was very much "fired up" for the Senator. She sent me a nice photo:

She was inspired to donate money to Obama's campaign, but because she is a registered lobbyist for MetLife, she couldn't donate, even though it was a private donation, not in her capacity as a MetLife employee. A bummer, but I'm glad that Obama refuses corporate and lobbyists' donations. This is a bottom-up campaign, not top down.

I had mentioned some Obama-related links to my friend, so I sent them along, and will share with y'all here:

Frank Rich's column in the NYT today quotes a Latino L.A. Times columnist who claims that the Clinton campaign is trying to "sow misinformation and racial division." Even though there are a lot of commenters protesting what they claim is Mr. Rich's "biased personal attack," I think he makes some valid points about character. Bill Kristol's NYT column, also interesting, especially coming from a conservative.

You've all seen Obama's "Yes We Can" video; here's the link to the McCain parody video. More like "No, We Can't."

Here's a link to a Laurence Lessig video on why he's for Obama. Here's a link to a transcript, which might be quicker if you just want the ideas and not the whole 20-minute video presentation.

And a verrrrry interesting Op-Ed piece from the notoriously conservative Wall Street Journal, written by none other than former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan, saying that in the general election, Obama is "bulletproof." And also, "The Democrats continue not to recognize what they have in this guy. Believe me, Republican professionals know. They can tell."

Oh, and I was looking for yard signs online the other day, and there was this huge comment thread on Obama's website blog, and I discovered that the online store is backlogged by several weeks, and so someone used Ning to set up a new online group called "Obamacycle" where people who live in states with upcoming primaries can post asking for campaign signs and gear from people in states whose primaries have passed. I have posted a request on there for yard signs, but haven't gotten any specific offers, except for someone around the corner who said that if he gets extras from out of state, he'll give me one. [Update: I did get a sign. Yay organization!] I was just going to say that if you have any friends, neighbors, or coworkers who have extry signs (not the stakes, just the signs) I'd love to have them.

David Cay Johnston has written a new book about the ways the rich get richer at our expense. Terry Gross did a really interesting interview with him on Fresh Air a few weeks back. The title of his book is: Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You With the Bill). It's great to have all the evidence in one place.

February 5, 2008

If I Can Donate, You Can, Too

Tonight, I'm watching Barack Obama speaking at a rally in Boston the night before the Super Tuesday Primaries.

I continue to be impressed by his ability to bring together diverse audiences with his positive message, while not being afraid to tell people (like oil companies and teachers' unions) the hard truth. I'm still unemployed and living off my savings, but I felt compelled to contribute a little something to his campaign effort. Whether you do or not is up to you, but if you're not currently a supporter, I hope you will seriously consider his candidacy. Check out this viral video of his speech from New Hampshire; perhaps it'll inspire you to join his movement for change.