Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Where you left your heart

I give up.

I can't write what's in my heart about Mardi Gras. It makes me too proud, and it hurts too much.

Besides, it's already been done better.

Editor B explains that it's a lot bigger than the chestbaring boozefest you see on TV.

The Krewe du Vieux parade says it all to me... check out B's post about it, and he points to a great pic at The Third Battle Of New Orleans.

And Robert Tallant said it pretty well in 1948 too.

Bill Joyce put it in a picture instead of words, but since the White House Press Corps got its knickers in a twist, you have to go there to see it.

The Post kind of gets it, God bless them, and they represent the spread of the loss too.

Public radio gets it too, from Morning Edition's story about Lundi Gras to Weekend America's painful soundscape of New Orleans.

Maybe the message is just that I hate, hate, hate, hate TV news.

Leave it here, cher: none of these Yankee Puritans with their incredulous tones on CNN or ABC can come to my Irish wake either. (Because that's a likely problem.) If you don't know why community ritual is vital to healing, well, hell Jed, I don't even want to know you.

(Which is not to say that I don't understand the people who don't have it in them to participate. I do. I hope that, if it hurts too much this year, it won't next year. And if you never do come back, I sincerely wish for you that it doesn't hurt to watch it from afar.)

Thursday, February 16, 2006

They can comfort you, some even try

Depending on semantics, there may or may not finally be a Mac virus out in the wild. Update your antivirus definitions.

Leap-A is a... let's call it a "program" for now... which you can probably find by looking for "screenshots of OS 10.5 Leopard". If you find it, and if you download it, and if you open it, and if you type in your admin password to install it, well, you got it, whatever it is. The program will then open up your iChat (an Apple program which uses the AOL Instant Messenger network) and send itself to all your AIM buddies. (So another way to get it is by clicking a link you get when somebody you know IMs you. I can't find the text of that IM, but I bet it's along the lines of "Hey check it out http://www.badsoftware.com/screwupyourcomputer/becauseyouranidiot/latestpics.tgz")

Some of the Faithful, having drunk the Cupertino Kool-Aid, are sending up a hue and cry that this is not a "virus" because it's not truly self-replicating. A virus, they claim, is something which exploits security holes in your system without your knowledge. What this is, they say, is a "trojan horse"... a piece of bad code masquerading as something good.

And perhaps, in the Halls of Power in the computer security world, this is a meaningful distinction. Maybe it requires a different macro-level response. Speaking as essentially a beat cop looking for broken windows, that is a bullshit, moronic, useless and indeed dangerous fine point, once it reaches the end user.

Let me give you my technical assessment: Leap-A is a nuisance crime. It doesn't seem to damage data, destabilize your OS, or eat a particularly high amount of bandwidth. I'm not going to lose sleep over this particular piece of malware. But like a nuisance crime, it's the right place to draw the line.

(There's a side argument here about whether compromising a communications channel constitutes "self-replication". I would argue that it does, but that's not the point.)

What makes me lose sleep is so-called "experts" who use this as an opportunity to trumpet their "Macs don't get viruses" speech. To the average computer user, all malware is lumped into one big category, which they usually call "viruses." So when a Very Informed Expert says that there are "no Mac viruses", what the world hears is that "Macs are immune to viruses, spyware, bad code, and hacking."

I know it's not what you said, Mister Expert Man, but that doesn't matter. The message actually received was "buy a Mac and stop thinking about security."

Don't get me wrong: I love my Mac. I believe it's a more elegant operating system than Windows. I wish more people used them because it would, in fact, make my job easier. I assert that OS X is actually built on a more secure set of assumptions than Windows, and that protects Mac users from the dominant malware paradigms currently in use. The average user can trust a Mac more than a PC. You should get one.

And the point is the "average user." Apple has to aim at the mass market. It can't survive as a public company if it only caters to the pointy-headed hobbyist crowd (the people who care enough to argue about "viruses" vs. "trojan horses"). That means that we have to debunk this stereotype that Mac users are somehow more virtuous, more intelligent, and better looking than PC users. (Of course, some are, like Lemming. Just not the whole group.)

PC users will go through an amazing amount of hassle to download bad apps they shouldn't. I've seen it. It is irresponsible folly to pretend that somehow you "Think Different" just because you go to the Apple Store. If we continue down this road, we will eventually have a massive outbreak of Mac (or, I predict, cross-platform) hacking. And the beat cops like me are going to have to clean up that stupid political mess.

Joe's security recommendation: whatever platform you use, never click a link or download a file through IM until your correspondent can pass a Turing Test. And update your virus definitions.

Monday, February 13, 2006

In the evening, in the soup

I got to do my favorite kind of cooking Saturday. Most of the time, I either follow a recipe mostly faithfully, or just wing it. Those are each fun in their own way, but what I really love to do is devote a night to researching different recipes for something, looking for the common threads, and coming up with my own version.

Years ago, as part of the quest for good frozen food, we bought something called an "admiral's pie." It was fish and cream sauce and topped with cheesy mashed potatoes, and it was real good. I can't ever remember seeing it in a store again, and it's been in the "we oughta make that someday" list ever since.

A quick Google search suggested that "Admiral's Pie" is a name used only by the manufacturer, Young's Bluecrest Seafood Ltd. I can't find it in the States, but apparently Admiral's Pie is the best selling frozen dinner in the UK.

So with screen after screen on Google showing a lot of fans but no recipes, I switched over to a generic "fish pie". Gold mine. A ton of recipes to choose from, similar enough to compare but different enough to get ideas.

And this is what I wound up with, named for a song that played while I made it:

Jack Hinks' Fish Pie

About a pound of cod
A tin of kippers plus a pack of smoked scallops
3/4ths pound of small cooked shrimp (41-50s?), peeled
A leek, sliced
About half a package of frozen peas
About half a package of frozen pearl onions
3 hard-boiled eggs, chopped large
6 or 7 medium-small potatoes, mashed
A mix of Gruyere and Machengo cheeses, grated, about a large handful
3 small cloves garlic
A bay leaf
Black pepper
About 3 tablespoons of flour

NEXT TIME: 2-3 leeks, no pearl onions. Proper smoked fish, not canned, if I can find it in my quiet mountain town. Might go down to half a pound of shrimp. Maybe a cheddar or some other more aggressive cheese.

Chop the fish into about 2-bite pieces, cover with milk. Add garlic and bay leaf. Bring almost to a boil, cover, and turn off heat. In 10 minutes, remove the fish, throw out the bay leaf, and reserve the liquid.

Rinse the oil off the smoked fish (sigh), and break into flakes. Break up the fresh fish too, and mix all the fish plus the shrimp in a large baking dish.

Sweat the sliced leeks in some butter. When the leeks are about done, add the peas and pearl onions, just to thaw them. Mix the cooked veggies into the fish. Remember the chopped eggs? Add them too.

Make a bechamel sauce. What's that? Apparently it's just a light roux and milk, with nutmeg (and black pepper). Who knew?

What's a roux? Oh, bless your heart.

Melt some butter (2 Tbsp?) and add a roughly equivalent amount of flour (3 Tbsp). Use medium low heat. Once it stops smelling of raw flour and starts to smell faintly of nuts, you got roux. If you're doing this "right", you want to whisk in warm milk when the roux is sand-colored. If, like me, you're using the pan you just cooked the leeks in, you'll shoot right past that stage. Mine was about peanut butter colored, which means the "bechamel" was too. Didn't hurt the flavor any, though.

Anyway, whisk in ladles of that poaching liquid until you have enough sauce to basically cover the fish. Mine was thickened, but not heavy like a pasta sauce. Add a little grated nutmeg and black pepper.

Remember the cheese? You can mix it in with the fish, or whisk it into the bechamel. (At which point, it's not bechamel anymore. Give it a foo-foo French name. I call mine Sauce Clouseau.)

(Herself is insisting that it doesn't need a foo-foo French name, since it already has a perfectly good name. She says it's called "cheese sauce." In French that would be "sauce fromage." I like mine better.)

Pour the sauce over the fish-veggie mix. Top with mashed potatoes. (I made great mashed potatoes last night, which is an accomplishment for me. If I can do it again, I'll tell you my secret. Needed salt, though.)

Bake for half an hour. Tell everyone it didn't come out right. Eat the whole thing yourself.


Thanks to:

Squander Two Blog's recipe for not having any amounts listed. Liberating, that.

Winterwolf's tip to poach the fish with only residual heat, and save the liquid for the bechamel.

Erdine's Fish Pie (from Maine, no less) for reminding me that I was going to want peas in this. And maybe pearl onions.

The Beeb gave me a real taste for smoked fish, and Annette from Kent suggested shrimp or other shellfish.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Born in the U.S.A.

ALA Radical Militant Librarian button At the end of December, the New York Times published an article about the F.B.I.'s desire to use its PATRIOT Act powers more broadly. Cited in this article was an email in which an agent complained about "radical militant librarians push(ing) us around."

Needless to say, this caused a lot of discussion in LibraryLand. OK, not so much discussion as crowd noise. To sum up, the three main points were "Wuh?", "Grumble Grumble!", and "Damn right!"

It was nice of the Times to release that column a month before the Midwinter American Library Association conference. That's just enough time for the ALA to throw together a red, white and blue button celebrating our new name. (This would be from the "Damn right!" side of the aisle.)

I looked at that button and thought... "yuk." I mean, we're the American Library Association. We give an award for the best American picture book every year, and all we can come up with is text on a white background? You can't pick up the phone and convince Jerry Pinkney or Tomie de Paola or Eric Carle to put something together for us?

Librarian Avengers Radical Militant Librarian Tote BagSomebody at Librarian Avengers agreed with me, so they put together their own design. At least it has an image in it. Plus, it helped me figure out what I disliked about both buttons.

They're retro-chic. Is that really the way we want to sell the First Amendment? As an ironic appeal to a bygone era? I feel like James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams: "Out! Back to the sixties! Back! There's no place for you here in the future! Get back while you still can!"


As it stuck with me, I found the whole message troubling. Are "radical" and "militant" really the words we want to celebrate? Is this a message worth subverting? We are clearly not going to win the fights for intellectual freedom out of the pureness of our hearts. We need to capitalize on our integration with our local communities. Hell, we need to get our bond issues passed just to keep the lights on. And "radical militant" (read "coastal elite") is never going to do that.

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund shop is doing a much better job of this. Perhaps that's to be expected, from an organization mostly made up of graphic arts professionals. It's easier to get a wide variety of art when you've got a wide variety of artists. But some of those artists are taking back the mainstream symbols... superheroes, the Statue of Liberty, bald eagles, the flag. They know where the battleground is, and they're going to it.

This all started with an electronic whine and cheese festival, and I figured it would be bad for my karma to only add to it. So I put something together. If I had the l33t Photoshop skillz, it probably would've taken 15 minutes. I don't, so this represents a couple hours of work (done in little bursts, followed by frustrated expletives, followed by beer and TV watching). But if I wanted to wear a button which said "you're damn right I'm a librarian, and what of it", well, it'd look like this.

Patriotic Library Symbol

And here's where I was going to say how I can't believe no one else has ever thought of this. And how I'm generously licensing this under a Creative Commons Attribution license, so you're free to try to turn a buck with it if you think you can, as long as you say you got the idea here.

But then I re-Googled it, and found out that the good folks at the Longview Public Library in Texas have already put together something snazzier. Oh well. I'm actually glad to know somebody else got here. Great minds think alike. If you like the idea, if you can improve it, if you can crochet it onto a hemp jumper, please use it.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Now who's gonna stand for me

TRW brake pads kill people. Don't buy them.

Over the last 6 years, at least 107 people who work for TRW in Mount Vernon, Ohio, have developed severe respiratory illness as a result of unsafe and negligent working conditions. The plant was designed by TRW with insufficient ventilation for the machining operation.

Then management turned off the ventilation fans in the winter, to save power.

Then they chained the doors shut.

So the workers wouldn't open them.

TRW says they've done nothing illegal, and perhaps that's true, since OSHA doesn't have any regulations regarding the use of metalworking coolant. But there's a difference between illegal and wrong.

When you chained those doors shut, after your workers cut the padlocks open, you knew you were wrong. You thought of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, or you should've. Either way, you knew it wasn't right.

As long as this stays a local problem, not one damned thing will change.

Make sure your mechanic knows what kind of shop TRW runs. If you hear the words "brake job" from anyone, tell this story.

Write to TRW and ask how they can possibly defend this policy to you, as a potential investor in their company. (You might even be an actual investor in TRW... my plan tomorrow is to ask TIAA-CREF about that.)

Patrick Stobb
Director, Investor Relations
12001 Tech Center Drive
Livonia, MI 48150

We also need messages to OSHA to ask them to prioritize the research they need to do in order to issue binding rulings on the use of metalworking coolant. TRW cannot be the only company which will refuse to do the right thing until it is also the required thing. Tell OSHA we know, and we care.

U.S. Department of Labor
Occupational Safety & Health Administration
200 Constitution Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20210

And if you run a web site, link to this page, link to Alison's page about TRW, link to the Columbus Dispatch story about protesting TRW workers and the one above, link to the TRW news site run by one of the protesters. If we get enough links to these pages, they'll rise in Google's rankings when people do relevant searches.

We need letters, on paper, to people who can make a change. But even a few minutes saying "read this" on the Internet will make a difference.

I hate to call for a boycott, because Knox County can't afford to lose these jobs. But Knox County also can't afford to become a source of disposable labor. And we can't afford 43-year old fathers who can't play catch with their sons.

No TRW. Spread the word.