Monday, September 29, 2008

Boy Band Reunion Tours

Lately, there have been many things that have made me want to vomit. But let's add one more to the pile:
The New Kids on the Block Reunion tour.

When I first heard the news that this was happening, I thought it was a joke. I mean, why would these five guys who had become successful doing their own things - acting, real estate, singing solo, etc. - feel the need to go on a new tour and sing silly songs from 15 years ago? They didn't even write those songs! They were a completely invented "boy-band," created strictly for a record company to make oodles of money.

Unfortunately, it was not a joke. Apparently, they just played a "reunion" concert in Boston, part of a national tour. And from the looks of the photos, it was complete with their old songs, stupid costumes (really - white scarves?), and an appearance by Paul Pierce of the Celtics. Ugh.

Are the New Kids on the Block out of money? But it seems like most of them have other careers. Do they just miss the adoration of pre-teen girls? But they've all got to be in their late 30's now. It just seems like that it would be easy to get tired to screaming girls. And it's even more pitiful now, since their audience now consists of screaming 30-year-olds who never got over their pre-teens, and those women's daughters. Yuck.

If anything, it seems like the reunion tour will make certain members of the group lose credibility. Take Donnie Wahlberg. He has actually had a pretty successful acting career. Can he really be taken seriously in that venue when he's practicing around in an all-white outfit with a matching scarf, singing "Hangin' Tough"? I don't think so.

In the end, it must be that they stand to make a boat load of money with this tour, and it must be more than they are making at their other careers.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Curtain Problems

JK^2 and I need professional help. Although we do a pretty good job of picking out paint colors for the rooms in our house, we are absolutely horrible at picking out curtains or in home decoration in general. As JK2 put it, on the scale of goodness at home decorating, where 1 is bad and 10 is fabulous, he gets a 1 and I get a 0.5. He's right.

Sometimes we get lucky and have some help. For example, my Aunt Ellen made us this beautiful stained glass window, which we installed this weekend:

It happens that the blue in the window matches perfectly with the paint colors we used (deep blue in the living room and very light khaki color in the hallway). It is perfect. Do you think we planned it that way? I know I didn't. I just like the color blue. :)

So now we have our living room. It really, really, really needs curtains because we live in an urban neighborhood and the houses are relatively close together. We need some privacy.

We love the colors in our living room - deep blue (walls), white (trim) and khaki (sofas). But today we went to try to find curtains and had NO luck! I liked this certain striped curtain at Linens 'N' Things, but Jim didn't think it would match. Jim liked other curtains, particularly dark brown ones, but I'm not a big fan of anything dark brown in the house. We went to LNT and Bed, Bath and Beyond. We left both places empty-handed.

Part of the problem is that it's a relatively big investment. We have 4 windows in our living room, and with drapes and sheers, that's 3-4 panels per window. Thus, although we fell in love with some silk drapes that we saw at Restoration Hardware about a year ago, that is just not going to happen at $200+ per panel.

I should add that we redid our bedroom about 1 1/2 years ago and still have no curtains hanging in there, even though we have curtain rods. We put up blinds until we could figure out which curtains to get, but now nearly two years have gone by.

So following is a photo of our living room. What should we do?? Drapes? What color? What style?

We are seriously thinking of trying to find an interior decorator. We are so bad at this.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Pistachio Cake

JK^2's birthday was on Monday. As usual, he was on his annual business trip to the conference in Orlando, so we did not get to celebrate. He's coming back tomorrow morning (Yea!) so I made him a cake ...

A pistachio cake.

What, pray tell, is a pistachio cake? Well, for those of you who grew up with JK^2 (ahem - you know who you are), you know that pistachio cake became JK^2's favorite cake. There is some dispute over that, but I will let that be for now.

Here is the cake:

You'll notice that it's green. But it really tastes good. :)

For adventurous cake-bakers out there, here is the recipe, courtesy of JK^2's mom.

1 Pkg. Pistachio Instant Pudding
1 Pkg. yellow cake mix (Betty Crocker)
1/4 cup creme de menthe
1/3 cup oil
1 cup sour cream
3 eggs (she uses 4, but I think it comes out better with just 3)
chocolate chips to taste

Preheat oven to 350. Mix pudding and cake mixes while dry. Stir in sour cream, oil, and creme de menthe. Add eggs, one at a time. Beat well. Batter will be thick. Add chocolate chips.

Grease a tube pan and pour in batter. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes. Optional: sprinkle powdered sugar on cake once it cools.

Try it. Maybe it'll become your favorite (or your son's favorite) cake too! :)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Gardening Journal

As everyone reading this blog knows, I really like to garden and have had a vegetable garden every year since we bought our house (8 years). Each year, it gets a little better. The first couple of years were really, really bad! Mostly because everything got overrun with weeds.

This year, I've decided to start keep a journal of the year's garden so I will have a record of things I tried, things that worked, things that didn't, etc. Hopefully I'll be disciplined enough to write every year! :)

So, dear readers, I give you my garden journal 2008.

Early Spring plantings:

Radish: "French Breakfast" variety. Had a real problem with slugs this year. Also, was on vacation when they were ready to pull, and they ended up too tough by the time I pulled them. Should've been more diligent about thinning out the seedlings.

Greens: "Asian Vegetable." These were spicy greens and they were really delicious and made for interesting salads. A lot of mustard greens and Chinese cabbage. Germinated slowly, and went to seed quickly. OK to still eat when they go to seed; they just get spicier! Might work better if planted along with a regular lettuce for mixing.

Parsley: This had over-wintered from 2007. Got enough for 2 full recipes of tabohleh before it went to seed in early July.

Summer Plantings:

Cucumber: "Sugar Crunch." Started from seed. Got only about 6 cucumbers from 6 plants because the cucumber beetle killed all the plants in July. Everyone in the neighborhood had the same problem.

Herbs: (Lemon basil, lime basil, rosemary, oregano, parsley). All did well. Cut basil back drastically on a routine basis. Did not kill plant; in fact, it made it stronger. It would be a good idea to plant a regular basis with the citrus basils to avoid pesto that is to acidic. Also, need to plant more than one parsley plant, because not enough for tabohleh until the fall.

Zucchini: "Sweet Gourmet Hybrid." A Lebanese variety, which we call "Coussa." I have planted the same kind three years in a row, and it is always a reliable producer. I am still getting much zucchini and there are still flowers on the plants. Excellent for stuffing and for zucchini bread.

Peppers: 1 sweet banana variety ("Bounty Hybrid") and one bell pepper variety (don't remember the name). I have never had any luck with peppers, but this year, both varieties have been fabulous. This may be attributed to the fact that we have gotten a lot of rain this year, the fact that I fertilized a little more than last year, or the fact that I've somewhat maintained control of the weeds this year. I think the key to happy pepper gardening is to plant a minimum of 6-8 plants. This gives you enough peppers for a good salad every night.

Tomatoes. In keeping with my interest in trying a lot of odd heirloom-variety tomatoes in the interest of getting tomatoes that you would never find in the stores, my mom and I started 5 varieties from seed.
Sprite: A slightly elongated cherry variety. Very prolific, very tasty. Were the first to ripen of all the tomatoes.
Mule driver: Medium-sized, red tomato. Bland taste. First non-cherry tomato to ripen.
Dwarf: A brandywine-type tomato (pinkish color, large size). Plants are very compact and manageable.
Black Krim: A mahogany or "black" tomato. Not as tasty as past years, and the plants were very weak.
Aunt Ruby's German Green: Not nearly as hardy or as nice as "Green Zebra," the kind I tried last year. Plants died midway through the summer; hard to tell when the fruit was ripe.

Late-Summer/Fall Plantings:

Broccoli: "Flash Hybrid." I'm not sure I'd say that these plants germinated in a "flash" or produced in a "flash," but I planted in July and am starting to get broccoli heads now. More later on taste, etc.

Radish: "French Breakfast." Much better crop this fall than in the spring. Quick germination and growth; no problem with slugs.

Lettuce: "Looseleaf Blend." Typical "mesclun" lettuce mix, with some Black-Seeded Simpson, oak leaf, red lettuce, etc. Very nice, but a little boring after the spicy Asian greens of the spring. Would be nice to mix these with the spicy greens. And 2 rows have not been enough to cover my salad cravings. :)


Yesterday was a pretty interesting day. It started out by me waking up, as I usually do, at about 6:00am. Of course, I couldn't go back to sleep. In fact, the more I laid in bed, the more agitated I was getting with all my thoughts about work (last week was very stressful), things to do, and life in general. As this usually goes, I started tossing and turning. I didn't want to wake up JK^2, so I got up. (He always makes fun of me, because usually by about 10 I'm tired again. I can't explain why I function like this, but I do. It's worth hours of teasing by JK^2).

JK^2 had made plans with our friend Nate to go boating that morning at 10. But it looked like it was going to rain any minute, and it felt damp in the house. JK^2 ended up getting up about a half hour later, and we ran some errands. As we were out, the weather kept getting better. Nate and his girlfriend showed up around 10:30 and we went boating.

Boating was beautiful. The sky was pretty clear, but no one was out on the water because it had looked like rain up until about 30 minutes before. We rode out to the Boston Light, which is always cool to look at. Then we drove into the Harbor to stop at the Barking Crab for lunch. This was the location of our latest boat break-down, so we were a little apprehensive about stopping again. But it was all good.

On our way back to Quincy, we rode by a boat whose driver had the top of his motor pulled up and seemed to be having engine trouble. We stopped. It turned out he had the exact same boat as us, except in red instead of blue. Crazy. Apparently he couldn't get the boat started. It sounded like a battery problem. So we ended up towing him back to his launch site. Interesting! We used a ski-tow rope and it worked out great. Pretty interesting.

After that, Nate and Jess really had to get going, so we drove back to our dock and they left.

Not long after they left, we left to meet them and some other friends at the Davis Mega Maze, which is a very fancy corn maze that is in central Mass., about an hour from our house. We had done this last year, and it was pretty fun. This year, it was a "moon-lit" maze (in other words, in the dark). It was not quite as much fun. The moon did made an appearance, but it was mostly dark, and because it had rained the day before, it was very muddy. In fact, JK^2 fell into the mud at one point, and was basically covered in mud for the rest of the event! We got finished with that around 8 and headed home.

Quite a busy day. Today JK^2 left for his business trip and I have to go grocery shopping (exciting). I'm thinking of making a "Tomato Basil Pie," a recipe that my Aunt Ellen just sent me. It looks good and, more importantly, easy. And I have about a ton of tomatoes, so it's a good way to use them up.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Optimal Lane Merging - Part 1

I spend a lot of time thinking about traffic; I spend a lot of time driving. Frequently, on multi-lane highway the following situation occurs. There are three driving lanes and the left lane is closed ahead. Cars in the left lane stay in the left lane until the last minue, then attempt to merge right. A driver in the middle lane then uses their horn, and may flip off the car in the left lane.

Why is the middle lane driver upset? They expect the left lane traffic to merge behind them. Often when you talk to a middle lane driver they say something like "Left lane people knew the road was closed up here, they should have merged "back there". Where "back there" is inevitably anyplace *behind* the middle lane driver. There is no specific place in mind (one mile back? 1/2 a mile back?), no just behind me.

Unfortunatly, when this happens, the optomal merger is infact right where the left lane ends, and the question should be, why didn't everyone stay in their lane until one lane ended? If they did the traffic would flow as smooth as possible. This is the optomal merger point.

In this blog I would like to try to prove that.

First, lets define some things:

An optimal merge occurs when all cars make it through the choke point in their minimal time. Obviously, if everyone in the left lane just parked their cars, the people in the middle lane could just go at normal highway speeds and they would be happy. The people in the left lane would be disadvantaged. That's not optimal. In an optimal merge the delay is evenly distributed to every vehicle. Evenly is the key, some vehicles can't get 2 units of delay while some get 1 or 0 units of delay.

To start, we need to define what decides how fast cars go on a highway. This is key.

Average Speed on a highway can be defined like this:

V = min{ Ds, L } where
  • V = Average Speed of cars on highway. This is the actual average speed of cars on the highway.
  • L = Law imposed speed. This is the speed a car would go if there were no other cars in its way. Its a function of the speed limit, weather, and other social conditions (how likely people are to get a ticket etc...) Typicaly, lets say its 75 for a 65mph zone.
  • Ds = Density imposed speed.

Lets also make some assumptions:
  1. Traffic is evenly distributed.
  2. These formulas are really geared towards a two lane highway, as opposed to a three, but with more math they apply to three as well.
  3. V[Left Lane] = V[Right lane] = V[all lanes]

Ds is important to understand. Ds is a function of the density [Ds(density) ] of the vehicles on the road.

So, lets think about the Average Speed formula above. When there is just one car on the road, it goes L, Traffic will continue to move at L speed until cars feel they need to slow down because they might hit someone in front of them. Then Ds takes over the equation.

Given this understanding of average speed, if Ds is higher than L, and more formally Ds(2 * lane_density) > L then there is no optimal place to merge lanes. Cars from the left lane can enter the middle lane and not effect road speed.

However, once Ds(2 * lane_density) < L, the optimal merger occurs at the end of the left lane.

This still needs some explanation, but from now on we will assume we are in the state where Ds(2 * lane_density) < L. I should also say I am assuming at some point before the merge all lanes have the same density, called lane_density.

So, the optimal merge occures when each left lane car merges between a right lane car. Such that through the choke point your procession of cars goes L M L M L M. Where L means a car formerly from the left lane, and M means a car formerly from the middle lane. Understand that any other ordering is not optimal.

For example, L M L M L L M L makes the last cars velocity through the system slightly greater than the seconds. Therefore we violate our rule for optomal velocity from above.

Simmilary, L M L M M L M violates our rule for optomal velocity. However, note that L L M M L L M M etc does not. If the cars through the choak point are evenly mixed then Optimal flow is acheived. There are several more complex ways to acheive an optimal mix, but I will leave that for your imagination.

Now, to get that mix you either need a traffic cop, or you need everyone to behave in a predictable way. Note that its only possible to behave in a predictable way if everyone can see what everyone else is doing. That only occures at the end of the lane. While it could occure before the end of the lane, all vehicles involved would need to agree that it must occure at exactly one point. Of course, that one point would then behave as the end of the lane. There would be no cars beyond that point, the lane would be de-facto closed, but unused by highway crews. Though the traffic flow would be optimal, the actual choice of the point would be ephemeral and may travel. Why not make it a little bit further back, how about 2 miles, how about 10? The only reasonable point is right when the lane ends.

This is where the argument becomes complex, and this is what I will finish later...

To Be continued.

Sunday, September 7, 2008


Yesterday I took part in making a Lebanese feast! We were going to a friend's house for dinner, and she asked me to make m'judra - the lentil, rice and onion dish. I hadn't made it in a while. I also made a tossed salad and made a lemon juice dressing that is in our "famous" Lebanese cookbook. Everything came out really well. To be honest, I really hate lentils, but I can tolerate them in this dish, since the salad is served on top of the m'judra. To make things even better, our friends got hummus, pita bread, and a really nice feta cheese. I felt like I was eating at Grandma's house! I should add that many of the vegetables from the salad were either from my garden or my mom's garden.

(We had watermelon and chocolate pudding for dessert. Not Lebanese, but still delicious. :) )

As we ate, the "tropical storm" was raging outside. Really, it was just some heavy rain, and it seems to be gone this morning. Most of my sunflowers even made it. We were pretty sure they were going to be blown over.

We thought it was going to rain all today, but it looks like maybe not. The Weather Channel just changed its prediction from "rain all day" to "mostly sunny." Perhaps it is a boating day after all. It is quite sunny at the moment.

In other news, we took Zeus to the vet yesterday and found out she was crawling with fleas. Yuck. That means that Solomon has them too, since Zeus is an indoor cat (unless she picked them up at our other vet's office, which is unlikely but possible). The vet prescribed a pill to kill all the current fleas, and a gel to put on her skin to kill the flea eggs. No problem giving Zeus the medicine, but Solomon is an escape artist (he is also good at escaping from the house to the outdoors when he wants to go outside. We have been calling him "prison break" for this reason). Jim volunteered to take him on, not knowing how wily Solly really is. He held the pill in his mouth and then spit it out as he escaped up the stairs. But we finally got him.

Jim freaked out about the fleas and now we are washing just about everything in the house. The funny thing is that growing up, fleas were part of having a cat, so I'm not quite as nervous. My mom kept the house pretty clean (Umm... I guess the correct word would be EXTREMELY clean), but it wasn't "freak-out time" when the vet announced that the cat needed to be treated for fleas. Then again, I remember we had our house "flea-bombed" at least once, and that wasn't fun. Oh well, hopefully we can eradicate the fleas with the medicine and washing everything.

And you know, I take back that part about it being a sunny day. It looks like it's clouding in again now. So maybe we are in for more rain.

Happy Sunday!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Things I'll Miss About Summer

Summer is slowly receding. Here are some things I'll miss:

1) Flowers, especially hydrangea, sunflowers, heliotrope, lily-of-the-valley
2) Frozen Freddie's
3) Not having to worry that a snow storm will hit on the day that we plan on driving to Buffalo.
4) Picnics
5) The smell of fresh-picked tomatoes
6) Picking all my salad veggies and herbs right from the garden
7) Wearing shorts! Not having to bundle up with 3 layers of clothes!
8) Green trees, green lawn
9) Having lots of options of things to do outside.

But at least we get fall before winter comes. I'm looking forward to apple picking and doing a corn maze. :)

Monday, September 1, 2008

Asylum decisions

In the last two weeks, I lost two cases at the First Circuit. Click HERE and HERE to read them. The decisions aren't too surprising, although the impact on the actual asylum applicants is substantial. It's really hard calling up the client and telling them that their cases are over and it's time to return to their home country, where they may very well face danger. I don't think the judges sitting on a court of appeals really understand (or have any interest in understanding) the human impact of their decisions.

(As an interesting side note, when I went to find links to these cases, I noticed that there are actually people out there blogging about these decisions. Check out this for example).

But, perhaps, it's not the job of the court of appeals to consider the human impact of a given case. Is it possible to decide a case based purely on the law? And should judges do it? Of course, when the law is on my side, I'd like the judges to stick to the law. And when the law is not on my side (and it usually isn't when it comes to immigration), then I'd like them to look at the facts. :)

That's the problem with immigration cases. The facts are often very compelling (just read the two cases above and I think you'll agree with me). But Congress didn't much like immigrants when it wrote the law; particularly, Congress didn't want immigration decisions to be subject to much judicial review. And this is truly unfortunate when you have a Department of Justice like we have now, who downsizes an incredibly overworked immigration appellate board; invents "streamlining" procedures so that there is less administrative review of decisions; and then appoints immigration judges not on the basis of their qualifications but solely on their political affiliation. A great system: incompetent judging, followed by little to no administrative review, and severe restrictions on judicial review! I really don't know what should be fixed first: a heightened standard of judicial review, an overhaul of the Board of Immigration Appeals, or a recall of some of the judges hired during the Monica Goodling era. The sad part is that none of that will happen.

In the meantime, we'll keep seeing decisions like those cited above.