Posts with mood hopeful (46)

Ridiculously worthy cause: help KIPP students learn writing skills on laptops!
Mood: hopeful
Posted on 2013-07-29 11:07:00
Words: 132

My friend Lelac Almagor is a teacher at a KIPP school in Washington, DC. If you haven't heard of KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program), the short version is that it's a free charter school system that targets kids in traditionally underserved neighborhoods, and sets very high expectations for them. The program is tough, but they've shown that it works - kids that go through the program score higher on tests and are more likely to go to college (see more of their results/studies)

Anyway! Ms. Almagor has won a number of awards, but her high-school kids have to do research on photocopies and write their papers/essays on notebook paper. This is both inefficient and doesn't give the kids the computer skills they'll need in college and beyond.

Donate and help her kids succeed!


New government data on hospital pricing - somebody please make an app!
Mood: hopeful
Posted on 2013-05-08 22:22:00
Tags: windowsphone
Words: 117

Today the government released a bunch of data about how much hospitals charge for various procedures - there's good coverage by the New York Times and by the Huffington Post. It seems like a big step for health care pricing transparency. (see the health care pricing articles from February)

But of course, the data itself is in a giant Excel/CSV file, and it's hard to know what to make of it. This would make a great app! Somebody please make a good app out of this - the tricky part will be aggregating the data and giving each hospital a "cost score", but after that you can just the hospitals on a map with their score.

Somebody do this!

1 comment

Italy recap: Day 10 (Archaelogical Museum, Accademia)
Mood: hopeful
Posted on 2012-10-11 19:22:00
Tags: pictures travel
Words: 263

(click for more)

Tuesday 9 PM
David's allergies were pretty bad today so we hung around the hotel this morning for a bit before going to the Archaelogical Museum. It was pretty meh - few things were labeled in English and the museum itself didn't seem terribly well kept up. Afterwards we had a late lunch and sat for a while - we had tickets to the Galleria Accademia at 3 so we had time to burn (why did I make those so late? Oh well...) then got in line for the Accademia. (which houses Michaelangelo's David)

The street outside the Accademia is pretty crazy - long lines to get in (although the line with tickets is much shorter!) and a ton of street vendors selling art and whatnots. The gallery itself is pretty good (and not too big - a plus!) but of course the highlight is the David statue. One thing that pictures don't convey is how big it is - I believe it's around 15 feet tall, and so it's very imposing. It's an amazing piece of art and I'm glad I was able to see it again.

Not much else today - had a late dinner because tonight is Fashion Night in Florence, so a lot of restaurants are full or have weird menus. Tomorrow we're going to see The Dark Knight Returns which should be fun.

Oh, and apparently Mitt Romney said something about the 47% of Americans that don't pay federal income taxes. I feel like I've written about this before, but if not: write about it, future me! [Ed: Done, past me!]


Windows 8 - PasswordHash now available, getting excited!
Mood: hopeful
Posted on 2012-08-24 13:19:00
Tags: windows essay windowsphone projects
Words: 281

PasswordHash is now available on the Windows Store! This is particularly nice for me as I've been using Windows 8 more and now I don't need to keep a browser tab up to the PasswordHash homepage. The port was pretty quick since it does so little (and I like the brown :-) ) - one feature that I did add was auto-clearing of the master password and generated password field. Since state for apps tends to stick around in Windows 8, now you don't have to worry about explicitly clearing those fields or closing the app.

(there's also a new version of FlightPredictor which makes the text more readable and fixes a crash when you purchase the app - whoops!)

I'm starting to get more excited in Windows 8 the more I learn about it. (just yesterday I learned that Windows+X or right-clicking the space where the Start menu used to be brings up a bunch of useful shortcuts) It seems like apps are flowing into the store at a good rate - I saw an estimate of 50-100 per day somewhere.

The developer experience has been quite good over the last few months. The new app hub for Windows 8 is very functional (and they even upgraded the Windows Phone app hub, which fixed a bunch of my complaints), and the four times I've submitted apps they've gone through the entire review process in under 24 hours, which is pretty amazing.

I'm hoping downloads of FlightPredictor pick up - it would be nice to have a review or two when Windows 8 releases "for real" in late October. Until then, I'm working on porting the same-sex marriage map to Windows 8 - it's coming along quite nicely!


bleg: help stop an anti-gay amendment in North Carolina! (and a few links)
Mood: hopeful
Posted on 2012-05-04 10:50:00
Tags: activism gay links
Words: 174

Give to stop an anti-gay amendment in North Carolina! They vote on Tuesday!

The amendment would ban same-sex marriage and civil unions - in marriage map terms that would turn North Carolina from beige to the darkest red. Unfortunately, it has been looking like it's likely to pass, but polling has been turning towards the "No" side.

(if anyone out there is in North Carolina: please please please vote against Amendment 1!)


- Are Apple's Tax Games Bad for America? - the summary says it perfectly: "The great global tax maze deprives the United States of revenue and jobs. But there's not much we can do to prevent it."

- A new study shows all-white juries convict a higher percentage of blacks, and having just one black person on the jury is enough to eliminate the effect.

- Bruce Bartlett (who served under Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and on the staffs of Jack Kemp and Ron Paul) shows yet again that lowering taxes probably won't increase employment, and the US's taxes are among the lowest in the world.


links: Goldman Sachs, Santorum v. Romney, rubber ducking
Mood: hopeful
Posted on 2012-03-16 09:55:00
Tags: links
Words: 185

- Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs - written by a guy who was high up and seemed to really believe in the company. As Lawrence Lessig points out, this is not surprising given the market incentives - once Goldman Sachs went public and a bunch of regulations were removed, it's a race to the bottom. Related: Why I am leaving the Empire, by Darth Vader.

- A cool triangle viewer of who voted for Santorum and Romney - most of this stuff is fairly obvious (rich people tend to vote Romney, "true conservatives" tend to vote for Santorum) but it's a neat way to visualize it.

- Rubber Duck Problem Solving - at NI we call this "lamp-posting", and it works. Is there something about programming in particular that makes this work, or does just saying other sorts of problems aloud help too?

- The Browser You Loved to Hate - Even Microsoft is making fun of old versions of IE now! (and, yeah, IE9 and 10 are definitely steps in the right direction)

- What America Sells To The World - a lot of stuff!

- Flying people over NYC! That is some clever marketing.

1 comment

webOS lives!
Mood: hopeful
Posted on 2011-12-09 16:52:00
Tags: palm
Words: 49

webOS will be open-sourced (including the awesome Enyo framework), and HP says they'll make webOS tablets again at some point. I'm very surprised they committed to that, but it seems like webOS's future is a bit more stable now.

Best of all, the webOS employees still have jobs! Hooray!


FlightPredictor for Android followup
Mood: hopeful
Posted on 2011-11-29 14:33:00
Tags: projects android
Words: 231

After my last post about FlightPredictor for Android (thanks for the feedback, everyone!), I've decided to take the following steps:

- Submit it on the Amazon Appstore - the terms aren't great, but the more exposure, the better. The app makes much more sense to me on smartphones than it does on tablets, but it's sold pretty well on the TouchPad so I want to give it a chance on the Kindle Fire. It's currently going through the approval process and will be available...well, at some point.

- Free version: Last night I finished up FlightPredictor Lite, a free version with ads and a limit of 6 flights to add. Hopefully this will give people the confidence to upgrade to the real one.

I'm going to wait a bit to let things settle in (and make sure there are no more major problems to fix), make a few improvements, and then go on the attack trying to market it. The "build it and they will come" approach isn't really working - I've sold around 16 so far, and two of those were to family members :-)

Speaking of which, it is kinda cool having an app that people I know in real life can use. (well, more than one person) I guess that's one advantage to writing apps for a more popular OS...

Probably going to move on to Windows Phone stuff soon, modulo holiday goings-on.


My email to Sprint re the Veer/Pre3
Mood: hopeful
Posted on 2011-02-13 02:07:00
Tags: activism palm palmpre
Words: 342

(sent to Dan Hesse, CEO of Sprint, at

Mr. Hesse -

My name is Greg Stoll, and I'm a happy Sprint customer. I joined the Sprint family in 2009 with the introduction of the Palm Pre, which I purchased in August, shortly after its introduction. The reason I switched to Sprint from T-Mobile was the availability of the Palm Pre - the webOS operating system was compelling enough for me to switch to a new network.

But, once I joined, I was pleasantly surprised - the Sprint coverage in my area has been great, and the customer service I got has been superb. I have sadly had to deal with this more than most as the first-generation Palm Pre's had some hardware difficulties, but every time I came back to the store I was helped by friendly and knowledgeable people who dealt with my problems quickly and fairly. For this reason, I recommended Sprint to my partner, who switched from AT&T just a few months ago to get a Samsung Epic 4G.

I'm sure you've seen the presentation by HP about their new smartphones Veer and Pre3, which are scheduled to come out this spring and summer. I am writing you to ask you to please seriously consider making these devices available on Sprint at launch. I know that Palm had some rough times with the Pre and Pixi, but more experience with similar form factors with the vast resources and marketing of a company like HP will make the Veer and Pre3 much more likely to succeed in the market.

It seems like HP is gearing up big time to promote these phones as well as webOS, and I think Sprint would be a great fit for their reintroduction after the absence of the Pre/Pixi Plus and the Pre 2. I know that personally I will be getting a Pre3, and while I'd like to stay with Sprint given my good experience with y'all, if it's not available I'll be forced to switch to a competitor.

Thank you for your time!

-Greg Stoll


Big HP/Palm announcement day: recap
Mood: hopeful
Posted on 2011-02-09 17:46:00
Tags: palm essay palmpre
Words: 338

So...quite a mixed bag!

They announced two new phones: one is the Veer, which is a tiny phone (the size of a credit card), and the Pre 3, which is like the Pre but bigger. I want the Pre 3, but it's not coming out until summer. Which would normally be a bad thing, except that odds are it won't be on Sprint, and my contract isn't up until August anyway. But, we'll see!

They also announced a tablet called the TouchPad, which looks pretty sweet but again isn't coming out until August.

So my plan is to probably get a Pre 3 and a Touchpad, but they didn't announce any pricing, carriers, or release dates (other than "summer"). This is a little frustrating, and I'm willing to bet that if they're not saying now we're not going to be happily surprised later. Or maybe it's just because the release is so far off there's still time for the price to bounce around. (or maybe they're waiting on the price of the iPad 2?)

Other not-as-terrible-as-the-internet-says-but-kind-of-annoying news: there will be no over the air update to webOS 2.0 for current phones other than the Pre 2. Hopefully there will be doctors available for all phone/carrier combinations so you can manually upgrade the OS, but this means a lot of people probably won't do it since it's much less convenient. And then it makes targeting particular versions of the OS hard for developers.

So, overall the stuff still looks good, but the wait is gonna kill me!

A few external links:
- Engadget compares the TouchPad to the iPad and other tablets and it holds up well...for now.
- Here's a good hands-on video of the TouchPad.
- John Gruber seems to like the looks of the TouchPad.
- Kindle app for the Touchpad - yay! (but it's unclear whether it's coming to the phones or not)
- Pre 3 hands-on with video
- There's this neato Touch to Share feature that lets you touch the TouchPad and Pre3 together to pass a URL (demo video).


Quick DADT update
Mood: hopeful
Posted on 2010-12-17 23:25:00
Tags: gay politics
Words: 64

After last time, things have changed. Harry Reid (bless his soul!) scheduled a vote on DADT tomorrow. The four Republicans who supported it then said they wanted a resolution to fund the government to be passed first. And then the Senate did pass something to fund the government for 3 days. So...looking good maybe? Hard to believe, but we'll see tomorrow. Cross your fingers!


Don't Ask Don't Tell update, and some fun links to make up for wall-to-wall DADT coverage
Mood: hopeful
Music: Zero 7 - "Destiny"
Posted on 2010-12-16 15:11:00
Tags: activism gay politics links
Words: 761

So, yeah, sorry about all the Don't Ask Don't Tell stuff. But hey, some neat links after that!

The big news: The Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal bill passed the house 250-175 which is better than the previous bill did. Apparently it now has at least 61 votes in the Senate, which is one more than is necessary. Now the question is whether a vote can be held in time before the recess. Here's hoping!

Senator Cornyn emailed me back about DADT; here's his response:

Dear Mr. Stoll:

Thank you for contacting me about current Department of Defense (DoD) policy regarding sexual orientation and military service. I appreciate having the benefit of your comments on this matter.

As you know, in 1993, Congress passed legislation to codify the existing military “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) policy, which governs homosexuals serving in the Armed Forces. This policy has served our nation well, and I oppose any effort to repeal it. The readiness of our Armed Forces must always be the foremost consideration in any decision regarding military personnel policies, especially as our troops are serving in harm’s way in two active theaters of conflict. Now is not the time to increase the level of stress on our force through such a dramatic policy change.

Moreover, as you may know, three of the four military service chiefs recently testified before Congress as to their clear reservations with repealing the policy at the present time. I believe that it would be a profound mistake to disregard the informed opinion of these military leaders, and I am deeply concerned by the blatant disregard that some members of Congress have shown to their concerns by including provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011 (H.R. 5136; S. 3454) that would repeal this law. For these reasons, I opposed the motion to proceed to consideration of S. 3454, and I will continue to oppose the attempt to repeal the DADT policy.

The United States Government has no higher purpose than keeping the American people safe from harm. Our national security depends on the ability of our Armed Forces’ to maintain military readiness at all times. The linchpin of military readiness lies in maintaining cohesive units consisting of competent, fully trained personnel who share a sense of common purpose and confidence in their unit’s ability to accomplish its mission. Our Armed Forces recruit the finest individuals possible and help them develop into world-class Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines.

My father served in the military for thirty-one years, and I was privileged to grow up around men and women dedicated to protecting our country. As such, I remain committed to ensuring that our military is the best-trained, best-equipped force in the world and able to maintain a strong national defense. I appreciate your thoughts regarding current military policies, and you may be certain that I will keep your views in mind as these matters are discussed. Thank you for taking the time to contact me.

United States Senator

Comparing with Senator Hutchinson's response, it's interesting that he doesn't even mention the study the military conducted to see how repealing DADT would affect them! Instead he talks about "reservations" that three of the four military chiefs had...


- The ten best visualization projects of 2010. One thing that's missing is the Facebook friendship map, which is my new background at work. Here's a view of what's missing from the Facebook friendship map and why. (mostly other social networks that are popular)

- A long piece on income inequality and whether it matters. He makes a good point that the "inequality of personal well-being" is down compared to one hundred years ago. The second half of the essay is an investigation into the finance industry (where a lot of the very very rich come from these days) and ways to make them stop taking huge risks knowing that the government will bail them out. The depressing conclusion: we don't really know how. A response points out that although some things (big TVs, etc.) have gotten cheaper and more accessible, health care has not.

- "Homosexual activity" is illegal in Qatar, the host of the 2022 World Cup. The FIFA head honcho has a solution - gay people don't have sex there! And they got picked over the US...sigh.

- A great interactive map to explore Census data - similar to the city maps of race I posted a while back, but interactive and you can plot income, etc.

- A followup to the Peter Orszag leaving for Citibank story I posted before.

1 comment

tax cuts, Don't Ask Don't Tell
Mood: hopeful
Posted on 2010-12-08 14:02:00
Tags: activism gay politics
Words: 239

President Obama cut a deal with the Republicans to extend all of the Bush tax cuts for two years (the Democrats had wanted to just extend the ones on the first $250K of income). In return, he got extending unemployment insurance for 13 months, cutting the payroll tax (a regressive tax) by 2% in 2011, boosts to some various tax credits that generally help low income families (Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, a credit for college tuition). Here are the details.

I understand how some people feel that this is terrible messaging on the part of Obama - the tax cuts above $250K affect the richest 2% of Americans, and they're generally not stimulative. But I think he got a decent deal given the hand that he was given, and the fact that Republicans were going to filibuster extending the tax cuts if they only covered income under $250K. From the Atlantic: 5 Ways to Look at Obama's Grand Bargain (which makes the point that a lot of these cuts will be stimulative) and A Good Deal for Democrats on Tax Cuts (admittedly written by a Republican).


Word on the street is that Don't Ask Don't Tell may come up for a vote tonight in the Senate to try to break the filibuster. Here's a list of swing Senators - please contact yours if he/she is on this list! You can follow along with coverage at AMERICABlog Gay today.


Repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell!
Mood: hopeful
Posted on 2010-12-01 11:17:00
Tags: activism gay politics
Words: 231

The Pentagon's long-awaited survey on Don't Ask Don't Tell came out this week - you can read a summary here or see the full Pentagon report. Basically, it found that most servicemembers don't care one way or another and there's little risk in repealing DADT.

The House has already passed repeal, and so it's a race to get the Senate to pass it before the end of the year. Here's a list of Senators that are pivotal - especially if you're in one of these states, please drop a quick note to your Senators urging them to vote for repeal. Here's how to get in touch with your Senators. And here's the quick note I wrote to mine:

Now that the Pentagon study has been completed regarding Don't Ask Don't Tell, I would respectfully urge you to vote for repealing the policy. The study shows that for the majority of troops it makes no difference who they're serving with, and requiring gay and lesbian servicemembers to lie to stay in the military opens them up to discrimination and blackmailing. For the sake of fairness, equality, and national security, please vote to repeat Don't Ask Don't Tell!

In related good news, the Illinois House of Representatives passed a civil unions bill, and the governor is in support, so it just has to pass the state Senate. Here's hoping I can turn another state green!


Don't Ask Don't Tell vote this week!
Mood: hopeful
Posted on 2010-05-25 10:47:00
Tags: gay politics
Words: 31

Congress is expected to vote on the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell this week, and it's unclear if they have the votes. Email your representative! It'll just take a minute...


LJ for WebOS update
Mood: hopeful
Posted on 2010-04-16 10:11:00
Tags: lj for webos palmpre projects
Words: 297

The good news: Since my last update, I'm up to 132 copies sold. I've added some new features, including the heavily-requested thumbnails in posts, and I made a video walkthrough of the app that's linked to from the App Catalog. (which is a cool feature - thanks Palm!)

The bad news: The rate of sales is really slowing down - this last week I had three days in a row where no copies were sold, which is the first time that's happened since I've been tracking the daily numbers. Pushing the update helped a little, but I'm getting a feeling that the market may be somewhat saturated - the intersection of "people who own a Pre" and "people who use LiveJournal enough that they're willing to pay a few bucks for a good client" probably isn't that big to begin with. Or maybe it's just a blip; I suppose time will tell.

I was hoping that I might squeak in to the Palm Hot Apps competition, but looking at the leaderboard I'm a ways out from the #200 slot. Right now I'd have to sell 51 more copies to get on the list, and that's only going to go up over time. Oh well!

In any case, I've had a lot of fun working on LJ for WebOS and I'm glad that people seem to generally find it useful. I'm hoping to publish my next app (the FlightCaster-based one) within a few weeks - it's mostly ready to go but I'm waiting on some API changes before I call it done, and then I have to make a video, etc.

A post by someone on Palm's developer relations team sums up well why I like WebOS so much and why I'm going to be a sad panda if it goes away.


Our planted tree!
Mood: hopeful
Posted on 2010-03-25 19:55:00
Tags: pictures house
Words: 0


daily weight tracking - one year later
Mood: hopeful
Posted on 2010-01-12 13:39:00
Tags: weight
Words: 144

I've been weighing myself every morning (give or take) for a year, so it seemed like a good time to look at the results:

Here's the graph:

Overall, I lost ~11 pounds in 2009. Optimistically, that's around a pound a month, which is nothing spectacular but not bad considering I wasn't on any diet in particular. Also, the overall trend was downward and I never got even close to my original weight.

Pessimistically, one pound a month is pretty darn low, and I seemed to stall out around September/October, and I'm not at my goal weight of 180, which is really above where I should be, according to BMI. And yeah, I know BMI is kinda arbitrary, but I'm not sure how else to find a healthy target weight.

Hopefully resetting the graph will help me focus on getting down to 180 and beyond!


health care optimism?
Mood: hopeful
Posted on 2009-11-24 17:17:00
Tags: politics links
Words: 84

Based on the fact that the Senate health care bill barely got to the floor, and the fact that it sounds like 4 Senators (Landrieu, Lieberman, Lincoln, Nelson), were going to vote against it if it contained a public option, I was pessimistic!

But now after reading this article, I'm more optimistic that even if the bill that passes doesn't have a public option, it could still make a difference in health care costs. Also, that article is required reading in the White House!


early voting happening now
Mood: hopeful
Posted on 2009-10-22 12:43:00
Tags: politics
Words: 70

Believe it or not, it's time for another election. This one is fairly boring, but there are as always some TX constitutional amendments on the ballot. One of particular interest is Proposition 11, which would forbid eminent domain (the state taking private property) solely for economic development. (vote For!)

League of Women Voters Guide (.pdf)
Austin American-Statesman endorsements

Early Voting locations and times (.pdf) - they're open until next Friday.


Respect for Marriage Act introduced!
Mood: hopeful
Posted on 2009-09-15 13:27:00
Tags: activism gay politics
Words: 345

This bill would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and allow married same-sex couples the same federal rights as all other married couples. This is a big deal. Here's a fact sheet about it. (.pdf) Right now, it only has 91 cosponsors (out of 435 representatives) so drumming up support is important!

Here's what you can do:
- Find your representative and senators and write them asking them to support the bill. The email I wrote is behind the cut:

Representative McCaul:

I respectfully urge you to support the just-introduced Respect for Marriage Act of 2009. This act will repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and restore the "Full Faith and Credit" clause of the US Constitution to allow states to determine who is married, not the federal government.

Right now, 5 states allow same-sex couples to marry (see for a detailed breakdown), and in 3 of these states the couples were given this right through a legislative process. However, married same-sex couples in these states don't have the rights under federal law that other married couples do, such as Social Security survivor benefits, Family Medical Leave protections, and fair federal taxation.

As you probably know, Texas currently does not allow same-sex couples to marry (indeed, it is forbidden in the state constitution), and this bill would not change that. It would just give the same-sex couples that are married in states that have chosen to allow it the same rights as any other married couples. Marriage laws have always been left up to this states, and this would restore this practice as the Constitution intended.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. I look forward to hearing from you.

-Greg Stoll

(a little tailored for Texas, obviously - change that part if you use it and you're not from here!)

President Obama supports repealing DOMA but it's going to be hard to get it through the House and Senate, and he's not investing any political capital in doing so. If you support repealing DOMA, please take a few minutes and write your representatives!


Mood: hopeful
Posted on 2009-09-02 10:33:00
Tags: gay projects links
Words: 133

How many times have you had a log file with lots of pointer values and wanted to quickly see which values were equal, and even rename them with a meaningful name?

Wow. Really? Never? We lead very different lives.

Anyway, I wrote a little log colorer to do that, which has been helpful trying to track down a race condition. (and inserting a breakpoint tends to make it not happen) Also, colors!

Ben & Jerry's is celebrating that gay marriage is legal in Vermont effective yesterday (yay!) with Hubby Hubby ice cream.

In Maine, gay marriage is legal but it will be on the ballot in November. The Catholic Church, in a disappointing but not too surprising mood, is contributing $100,000 to try to repeal it even as they have to close local parishes.


Hello New York friends!
Mood: hopeful
Music: Evanescence - "Lithium"
Posted on 2009-05-13 14:06:00
Tags: gay politics
Words: 88

The New York state assembly passed a gay marriage bill last night, and Governor Paterson has said he'll sign it if it gets to him. Before that happens, it has to pass the state senate, where a gay marriage bill has failed before.

If you could take a minute and write or call your state senator and ask him/her to support the bill (the number is S4401, although I'm sure they'll know what you're talking about!) you could make a difference. And it would make me very happy!


marriage in Iowa?
Mood: hopeful
Posted on 2009-04-02 13:36:00
Tags: gay links
Words: 64

Andrew Sullivan notes the Iowa Supreme Court will hand down its ruling in a gay marriage case tomorrow. Really hoping I get to update my marriage map then!

If you haven't seen the Extreme Sheep LED Art, you really should. I saw it mentioned somewhere but wasn't that interested so I skipped it until today. But it's awesome!

Apparently Sweden voted for gay marriage!


early morning links!
Mood: hopeful
Posted on 2009-02-17 07:31:00
Tags: politics links
Words: 256

I took quijax to the airport this morning and am now at work, so here are some links so I don't fall asleep!

- George Will writes a column saying global warming is bunk. (and then I had to check my nonexistent watch to ensure that it was still the year 2009) Nate Silver and Talking Points Memo point out the crazy inaccuracies.

- I was grabbing breakfast and caffeine at Starbucks this morning, and happened to see this story in The USA Today: Supreme Court case with the feel of a best seller. The lede:

In a small town, a local resident claims wrongdoing by a big corporation and wins a multimillion-dollar award after a jury trial. The corporation's CEO then pumps enough campaign money into a judicial election to get a new judge on the state supreme court. During an appeal, that judge casts a critical vote siding with the corporation — and reversing the resident's victory.
It's a Grisham novel and West Virginia, all in one! That is some terrible...something.

- Michael Lewis (he of Moneyball fame) writes a basketball piece about Shane Battier of the Houston Rockets. (go Rockets!) Despite his terrible "traditional" statistics, he does a lot of things that make the people around him play better, especially defense. I haven't watched a game of basketball in a few years but still enjoyed the article a lot.

- 10 Privacy Settings Every Facebook User Should Know

- Nate Silver predicts the Oscars - he's kinda the golden boy of predicting things now!

- Magenta Ain't A Color - neat, weird.


giving it another go
Mood: hopeful
Posted on 2009-01-06 11:30:00
Tags: essay weight
Words: 162

I am overweight. This displeases me.

I weighed myself every week through 2006 and 2007, and then my record started getting spotty in 2008 (to be fair, we bought a house and stuff). Keeping a log as to how well I was doing seems necessary to actually losing weight, but in the past it would just depress me because the fluctuations seemed random, independent of how "good" I thought I was that week. When I was in Weight Watchers in college I did lose weight, but counting points for every single meal and budgeting them and stuff made me pretty miserable.

So! New plan. Back to weekly weighings. At most one soda a day, and not at lunch. Exercise more, somehow, even though it's difficult when we don't get home until 7. Stop mindless snacking.

Unrelated: I'm no fan of Rice's tuition increases, but I'm glad they're at least raising the no-loan threshold and lowering the cap on loans in aid packages.


new poll on gay marriage
Mood: hopeful
Music: Bear McCreary - "Battlestar Operatica"
Posted on 2008-07-17 17:13:00
Tags: gay politics
Words: 62

The results of a new gay marriage poll - although Americans oppose it 55%-36%, they also oppose a law in their state banning gay marriage by 49%-45%. And when the civil union option is added, 32% say marriage, 33% say civil unions, and only 29% say no recognition. Also, amending the Constitution to ban gay marriage is opposed 56%-38%. This is good news!


habeas corpus is alive and well, barely
Mood: hopeful
Posted on 2008-06-12 16:37:00
Tags: essay politics
Words: 289

Today the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of habeas corpus for detainees/enemy combatants, which means that people held at Guantanamo have the right to challenge their detention in a civilian court (as opposed to a military tribunal where defendants can't have a lawyer or see all of the evidence against them). This, to me, seems like a huge step towards rolling back all the Orwellian things that have taken place in the US recently. Here are some excerpts from the decision.

The 5-4ness of the decision is a little more frightening - unsurprisingly Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Alito were the dissenters. And, from the article:

Three of the five Justices in the majority -- John Paul Stevens (age 88), Ruth Bader Ginsburg (age 75) and David Souter (age 68) -- are widely expected by court observers to retire or otherwise leave the Court in the first term of the next President. By contrast, the four judges who dissented -- Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts and Sam Alito -- are expected to stay right where they are for many years to come.

John McCain has identified Roberts and Alito as ideal justices of the type he would nominate, while Barack Obama has identified Stephen Breyer, David Souter and Ginsberg (all in the majority today). It's not hyperbole to say that, from Supreme Court appointments alone, our core constitutional protections could easily depend upon the outcome of the 2008 election.

Just a reminder that who we elect in November can make a huge difference to the future of our country.

Unrelatedly, happy Loving Day! (thanks for the reminder, amorphousplasma!) Someone pointed out that were it not for this decision, Barack Obama's parent's marriage (is that correct apostrophication?) would have been illegal in 16 states.


a collection of links that suddenly accumulated in my firefox tabs
Mood: hopeful
Music: Radiohead - "15 Step"
Posted on 2008-01-29 13:04:00
Tags: activism programming politics links
Words: 245

5 attributes of highly effective programmers - the title is cheesy, but it's a very good article, and it quotes The Screwtape Letters which was a nice surprise. Also on that site is The Effective Software Developer's Book List which is an impressive collection.

For Gay Democrats, a Primary Where Rights Are Not an Issue, This Time - the headline says most of it, except for this gem:

In an address last week honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at a black church in Atlanta, Senator Obama made waves by lecturing the audience about homophobia. “We have scorned our gay brothers and sisters instead of embracing them,” he said during the speech at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Dr. King served as co-pastor with his father.

Joe Solmonese, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay lobbying group, said he thought Mr. Obama’s speech was the first time a presidential candidate had brought up gay issues in front of a nongay audience without being prompted to do so. “This is dramatically refreshing,” he said. “It’s a great day when we can look at a field of candidates and determine that we are comfortable with all of them on gay rights and move on to other issues.”
Awesome! (via dailykos)

I saw this press release from the National Organization of Women (NY chapter) about how Ted Kennedy betrayed women by supporting Obama instead of Clinton. It made me angry, until this rebuttal made me feel better.


the saga of the phone!
Mood: hopeful
Posted on 2007-12-13 15:03:00
Tags: phone
Words: 378

(this is what passes for a saga these days)

So after yesterday's post, I decided to go with the RAZR (especially after seeing you can transfer stuff from it to your computer without paying $50 for Motorola's kit, which means I can back up phone numbers and stuff which is wicked cool!), and while I was out running errands I stopped by a T-Mobile store.

The online price was $70, which seemed a little high since I bought my last phone in May of 2005, but I figured if that's the price, that's the price. I got to the store, told the guy I wanted to upgrade my phone, etc. He looked me up in the magic computer and said that it would be $87 after fees and taxes or whatnot (so I'm guessing it's actually the same price as online), but if I waited another month it would only be $20. Said I, "buh?". Turns out I've only had this phone for 21 months, whereas to get the full discount one needs to wait 22 months. I pressed him a little, but he said he couldn't get any more info and to call Customer Care, they may be able to help me out.

Back home, I gave them a call and talked with an enthusiastic-sounding young woman. We went through the song and dance and again she told me that it was $70. I asked about the extra month and said that I had bought my phone in May 2005 and so it had been more than 22 months, but she said that she couldn't tell how long it would be until I got the full discount. She sounded like she couldn't get at that information either - maybe I should have asked to speak to her manager or something? I wasn't feeling very bold at the time.

Honestly, the lack of a working alarm on the phone is pretty bad, but even I can't justify spending an extra $60-70 to get a new phone a month early. I did send an email explaining my situation, saying when I bought the phone and asking whether I could get the discount. The automated email promised a response within 24 hours, so I should hear soon!

The Google 2007 Zeitgest


beckham doubtful tonight
Mood: hopeful
Posted on 2007-08-09 13:19:00
Tags: soccer
Words: 71

So I was hanging out in Gmail when I saw a link Beckham might make MLS debut Thursday. Hey, we have tickets to that game! Unfortunately, as the article points out, his ankle is still questionable, so he might play 10 or 20 minutes at best. Also, we just had lunch outside and it started pouring rain. So I guess we'll see how that goes tonight.

I miss the World Cup.


heroic mechanar, and facebook
Mood: hopeful
Music: Avenue Q - "It Sucks To Be Me"
Posted on 2007-06-14 11:20:00
Tags: facebook worldofwarcraft programming
Words: 455

The day off yesterday was really nice. We watched some TV - BSG season 1 finale (shocker!), Lost season finale (also shocker although hard to figure out what's going on!), and I worked on getting a Facebook app working. I partially succeeded, and started to try to hack around the problems with the Friend of a Friend application before deciding that, even if I could get it to work it wouldn't be very reliable. So, my new idea is to have a Daily/Cool Links app which will be kinda like Digg/Reddit except you only see links/votes from people that you are friends with. I don't know how useful or interesting it will be, but at least it's technically possible. I'll let y'all know when it's done :-)

Another thing I did yesterday was run my first Heroic instance! Details behind the cut for you non-WoW people...

After an abortive attempt with djedi earlier (we didn't even do one full pull before the tank said he had to leave :-/), I got in with a different group, and after some trouble (some people don't realize you have to be keyed...) we got going. It was four people from Daggerfall - two paladins (one tanking, one healing), a warlock, hunter, and me (mage).

One thing I had always heard about heroic instances is that the trash hits hard. This is incontrovertibly true. The normal guys were OK, but the big guys (guardians, maybe?) consistently one-shotted me if I pulled aggro. One time we were running away to the elevator and he killed me without even stopping. We wiped I think five times just pulling one of those guardians (to be fair, the healer was having lag issues, but yikes).

The first "interesting" boss was the guy that in normal mode, turns green for spell reflect and red for melee reflect. In the heroic mode he does something totally different! Every so often he will cause each person to be either positively or negatively "charged". If two people with opposite polarity stand near each other, every five seconds they both take 2000 damage. If two people with the same polarity stand near each other, both of their damage is increased by 100%. So we had the rule that the healer would stand still, and depending on your charge you'd run up to him or away from him. Not too difficult but kinda neat :-)

We killed three bosses but couldn't kill Pantheon the Calculator - got him down to 20% a few times before giving up. I collected my three Badges of Justice and went home happy. It would be nice to run an easier heroic first, but I still need to rep grind with Thrallmar, Cenarion Expedition, Lower City, and Keepers of Time.


Mood: hopeful
Posted on 2007-02-08 13:23:00
Tags: microresolution snow referrer links
Words: 242

It snowed yesterday morning! We got a few hours off from work (which we promptly converted into sweet, sweet sleep) so I'm feeling pretty good in general. It's also starting to warm up a bit - only got down to 19 last night!

My last microresolution was to finish the auctioneer lookup, which I'm declaring myself done with. There's possibly some more data that could be gathered if I did a lot more digging and the web service took a lot longer to respond, but I'm pretty happy with what it does now. I haven't decided exactly what my next microresolution will be, but it's probably either something related to taxes or addressing/sending letters. Or maybe playing around with Adobe Flex.

A few weeks ago I bought and installed Mint for my web site - it's a web site analytics program, much like Google Analytics, but with a much nicer view and more options (or at least, the options are easier to figure out). I'm pretty pleased with the results - you can see what a Mint install on another site looks like. It's also fun to see what searches people are doing that lead them to my site, like "working at national instruments", swat ride, texas shaped sunglasses (hmm, where's my result on there?), etc.

Yahoo! released Yahoo! Pipes today, but it's currently down. Here's an O'Reilly article about it, though, and I'm looking forward to playing with it when it comes back up!


NJ marriage decision tomorrow!
Mood: hopeful
Posted on 2006-10-24 17:31:00
Tags: politics
Words: 55

The New Jersey supreme court is going to announce their decision about gay marriage tomorrow! The ruling will come down at 3:00 EST, and it will be here after that, although the Lambda Legal site may be a friendlier place to check (I'm not even sure of the name of the case offhand). Here's hoping!


does the program exhibit the buddha way?
Mood: hopeful
Posted on 2006-10-04 07:37:00
Tags: netflixprize programming
Words: 402

I was trying to track down a particularly odd bug at work yesterday and I suddenly realized I was effectively playing a game of Zendo with the program. I had my theory about what sequence of events made the bug show up in the program (i.e. what koan of events had the buddha way), and I pretty early on got a repeatable koan that always exhibited the buddha way. After some time trying to look at the code to figure out what was going on, I had my theory about what made a sequence of events exhibit the buddha way and I started trying to make it happen some other way. Just before I left I discovered something completely unexpected that seems to determine whether a sequence of events exhibits the buddha way based on something entirely unexpected. That's the thing about debugging versus Zendo - the rules are a lot looser! Anyway, I miss playing Zendo, but I guess I can have my own little game at work :-)

I spent some time working on Netflix Prize stuff last night - I tried to parse all the data but it ran out of memory, so I closed Firefox, tightened up my class that was representing each rating (12 bytes to 8 bytes makes a big difference...), and got it to successfully parse all 100 million+ entries. The only slight concern is that that doesn't leave a whole lot of memory to do any sort of analysis (I only have 1G, 800M or so of which will be used up by the ratings), but I think I can do just O(n) stuff in space and get by. Or, I could buy more memory (woot!), but the last time I tried to put more than 1G of RAM in my computer, bad things happened. Maybe I'm just being superstitious.

The other problem is that it takes around 40 minutes just to read in all the data. I had it calculate the average rating over all ratings last night and it gave me something reasonable, so I was thinking of writing some code to do the ratings on the test set and just rate everything the average and submit that. This would give me a good baseline - although they give you that baseline already, I think, it would be nice to have an official entry submitted, even if it's crap. So maybe I'll get to that tonight...


brain dump
Mood: hopeful
Posted on 2006-05-15 09:56:00
Tags: ruby palmtogooglecalendar politics
Words: 957

Man, I have a lot of things on my mind!

So Prop 6 passed here in Austin (allowing the city to give health benefits to same-sex couples). I gotta say, it feels really good to finally win on a gay issue here in Texas. Yay!

djedi and I went to his brother's graduation in College Station Saturday morning. It was nice, although the ceremony itself was fairly boring (naturally) and it was fairly chilly inside. We went out to lunch afterwards and we got to meet his girlfriend, who was nice. I also took a toooon of pictures that I need to sort through at some point. A&M wasn't too scary - they say "Howdy" a lot (I could get used to that!), and there was some whooping, but it's all good. wonderjess graduates next weekend, so I'll be flying up to sunny (and hopefully not too cold!) Rochester on Friday.

So, going into the weekend the backend was written mostly (I could update my google calendar by running a ruby script from the command line), so I needed to put a web interface on top of it. This was tricky for a number of reasons.

First of all, the way I have to do authentication with Google right now, I have to ask for the user's Google username and password. They're working on a different way to do this, but for now this is what's required, so I wanted to make sure the page was using HTTPS to collect that information. I set up a certificate (that I signed myself - not worth paying $50 or whatever it costs to have someone else sign it) and after a few hiccups, got things working.

Then I started thinking about how this was actually going to work. The problem is that deleting and adding the entries will take at least 30 seconds, and sometimes much more, so I wanted an asynchronous way to do it. I had read some stuff about Comet, which is a bleeding edge application model. Basically, the idea is that the client opens a long lived connection to the server, and because of this the server can push back data whenever it wants (which isn't possible under normal HTTP). This sounded perfect, because I could connect to the server when the user pressed "Upload", and the server could send back progress updates while it was working, and have the client close the connection when it was done.

So, great. There are some problems. One is that web servers that aren't aware of a Comet-like approach don't scale this approach very well - having lots of connections open for a long time. That's OK for me, I'm not worried about too many people using this thing all at once :-) The other problem is that apparently it's hard to get working correctly. It was hard to find easy to understand examples that actually use this approach, and the one that I did find and understand relied on having the server basically return a text stream that gets progressively updated. I could not for the life of me make this happen correctly - it would wait until the whole thing was done, then display the whole stream, which obviously wouldn't work. I looked around for some other way to do this, and found a Mozilla/Firefox-only solution which was no good. So finally I threw up my hands and gave up on Comet for now. Maybe I'll take another look at it in the future.

So, I decided that the request to upload would finish quickly and return a session ID, and the client could call a script to get the status of that session every few seconds, which would simulate the same effect. This required some way to share session data across ruby processes, and CGI::Session turned out to be perfect for me - it by default stores session data in a file, so I can just read that file when I receive a request to get status.

Another problem was uploading the Datebook file itself - it's easy to do this using a normal HTML form, but because of security restrictions, Javascript can't read files off of the local drive (which makes sense...). So I couldn't use my normal trick of having the "submit" button have an onClick handler that sends the request, because that handler couldn't get the file data. Instead, I found out more information about the hidden IFRAME technique (which was used to do XMLHttpRequest-like things before XMLHttpRequest existed), so I'm having the form do a POST with its target set to the hidden IFRAME. This works well and I can receive the file on the other end - now I need a way of getting the session ID returned to the IFRAME to the parent document (the link I found this morning and looks like it will work well).

I was also baffled for a while that I was receiving the file correctly, and processing it with pilot-datebook, but the resulting file in longtxt format wasn't showing up. After butting heads with the problem for a while, I realized that I was using Tempfile to generate a temporary filename, but it was deleting the file as well, so that was an easy fix.

So most of the hard problems have been solved - I still need to do the processing and integrate that with status reports (and abstract that part out so I can still use the command-line version), and I need to handle errors better (at all :-) ), but I'm very happy with where things are right now. short, things are going well.

Apparently having the NSA intercept domestic phone calls was Dick Cheney's idea, and NSA lawyers were against it.

51% of people disapprove of the domestic spying.


lists are kind of a cop-out post format
Mood: hopeful
Posted on 2006-04-10 09:52:00
Tags: computer
Words: 207

Recently, I:


cute math song and "V for Vendetta"
Mood: hopeful
Posted on 2006-03-29 12:59:00
Tags: movies music
Words: 321

So I'm cleaning out my inbox (down to 10 emails!!) and I stumbled across a video that theoyaung sent me a long time ago. It's a cute math love song - "Finite Simple Group of Order 2" (link is to a video). Good stuff!

I liked the movie, more than I thought I would. I like movies with dystopias. I could see England going that way (what with their increasing limits on free speech, etc.), although the fact that it was a theocracy seemed pretty weird to me, since England is a lot more secular than we are. (especially the fact that they locked up gays seemed pretty incongruous since they're more socially liberal over there, but I'm willing to give it as pass since the graphic novel was written in 1985ish)

The whole Evey getting kidnapped by V and in a fake prison camp rubbed me the wrong way. After arguing with destoyerj about it afterwards, I can't come up with any inconsistencies in how it was presented, but it still felt weird. I guess they implied there was a lot more to the camp that you didn't get to see, but in fact there wasn't any more than you saw. Or something. Meh.

So how did Evey escape capture between the time she was gone and November 5? I mean, it's a police state, right? There are presumably cameras everywhere and stuff, but this was never really explained. Unless I forgot that part.

The parts with torture and secret interrogation places struck a little close to home.

The end was pretty good, although it sure was convenient the many many bullets that were shot didn't kill V quickly enough that he couldn't kill everyone. And he seemed fine while he was killing everyone, but after he was done he was certain to die. I guess adrenaline is good stuff.

Anyway, I liked it. And now to donate to the ACLU...


Bits and piece o' my weekend
Mood: hopeful
Posted on 2006-03-06 11:52:00
Tags: computer
Words: 458

The weekend: all in all, not bad. Watched Beetlejuice Friday night with a few people - good stuff! Very campy and whatnot, but I enjoyed it. Also watched the last 4 episodes of Arrested Development again - while they are good, it puts me in the mood to rewatch season 2 (and I haven't seen most of season 3, either).

Saturday djedi and I did our taxes. That It actually wasn't as bad as I had thought, but I ended up owing a fair bit, which I kinda expected. That's a little irritating, but I also feel like I'm doing my civic duty and whatnot. (speaking of which, I'd like to serve on a jury at some point!) But I'll be sending in my check in early April...

Sunday was a busy day - we and wildrice13 helped onefishclappin and krikwennavd (man, I can't spell backwards!) move some stuff to their new house. Got to see the place and took some pictures which I'll put up at some point. Then we went to the Zilker Kite Festival - unfortunately by the time we got there things were winding down, but it was nice to walk around outside and see the kites and whatnot. I took pictures there, too (apparently 25000 people attended!)

We then went to Fry's and got me a new motherboard (details below), had dinner at Fuddrucker's, then wildrice13 went home and we played WoW.

As previously detailed, my computer is not terribly happy. The freezing 1-3 times when playing WoW is, well, livable, but I tried playing some Civ 4 this weekend and it would freeze up every 15 turns or so, with no signs of stopping. Not to mention it freezes sometimes just in X, without either of the two running. So djedi convinced me to get a new motherboard, since mine is pretty old and it's really the only part of the computer I haven't upgraded since I built it almost 4 years ago. Serendipitously, onefishclappin had a spare Athlon 64 3200 lying around at home, so I'll be using that with the motherboard I bought. Hopefully I'll get a chance to put it together tonight or tomorrow night, and we'll see how things go. I'm not expecting too many problems because I'm just going to take my existing Debian i386 install and run it on there (so the processor will run in 32-bit compatibility mode, which will be a little slower, but oh well). It'll just take a while to disconnect everything from my motherboard and swap the new guy in.

On an unrelated note, I'm irritated Brokeback Mountain didn't win Best Picture. I haven't actually seen Crash, but djedi wasn't impressed by it (although I'm not sure how impressed he was by Brokeback...). Grr.


mostly computer stuff
Mood: hopeful
Posted on 2006-02-26 14:06:00
Words: 405

So destroyerj was invited to the Where 2.0 conference to talk for 5 minutes about He's trying to score me an invite as well, which would very much rock :-)

Another WoW player found out about my guild information table mod, and they now have an information page up. Good stuff!

I got a random email asking if I wanted to interview for a 2 month job in California. I don't, of course, but it was kinda neat to get that sort of an email.

Don Knotts died! That's sad - I really enjoyed The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.

So I'm working on an interesting computer/math problem - if you're interested,

I have lots of markers on a map of the US. I'd like to have an interface such that you can click on a city name and have the map move to that city. (I started out doing this for major cities, but the process involves finding it on Google Maps, getting the coordinates and entering them into a file, which can take quite a while, and I'm sure not doing that for all cities)

Now I'd like some way to automate this. Each marker knows what city it's in, so the simple idea is to, for each, city, find the markers that are in the city and take the mean of their latitude and longitude, and center the map there. This seems like it will work, but I'm a bit concerned about markers that have their city wrong (for example, if the city we're doing is Austin and there's a marker that's in Pennsylvania mistakenly saying it's in Austin, the map will be centered way off from Austin). So what I really want to do is reject outlying points. djedi had the idea of taking the mean, calculating the standard deviation and throwing out things more than 1 standard deviation away. (Presumably I'd do this in the latitude and longitude dimensions) My statistics book talks about finding the interquartile range (difference between the third and first quartile), and rejecting anything more than 2 or so interquartile ranges away from the median.

Anyway, I'm gonna cook up a script to try both these approaches, and hopefully at least one will turn out well. I'm going to have it spit out which markers it's rejecting, too, to hopefully get some idea of the rate of false positives here...

I'll post with results once I figure them out :-)


Reminder: vote tomorrow!
Mood: hopeful
Posted on 2005-11-07 12:53:00
Tags: activism
Words: 38

Just a reminder to vote tomorrow (and vote against Prop 2 if you're in Texas!) See my previous post for more info. If you live in Travis County, you can go to to find your polling place.

1 comment

I'm addicted to WoW...
Mood: hopeful
Posted on 2005-08-18 13:12:00
Tags: worldofwarcraft
Words: 157

...installing it, that is! I tried many times to get it to install under Linux, only to fail (eventually I just copied files and registry entries over). But then it ran horribly and crashed all the time. So after fiddling around with lots of random settings, I decided to bite the bullet, install Windows, and do that. Never did I imagine that it wouldn't install under Windows either, in much the same way that it didn't install under Linux (but it did). So now I'm thinking that it's a memory issue, since I just got a new stick of memory and sometimes it complains about checksum errors. That would be sweet, because then I could just return the new memory (I hope...) and everything would all work and stuff. Trying to install now...

A man was arrested for using a bot in a MMORPG to mug a person and then sell those items for real money. Crazy!


-verb agreement
Mood: hopeful
Music: Revels - "The Butterfly (Irish Slip Jig)"
Posted on 2005-06-09 09:47:00
Tags: referrer
Words: 144

Howdy all! I think I'm finally caught up on sleep from the trip and stuff, which is nice. Work is going decently, although it's definitely frustrating at times (i.e. right now).

Rick Perry - "Texans have made a decision about marriage and if there is some other state that has a more lenient view than Texas then maybe that's a better place for them to live" (via Andrew Sullivan). Ugh. This just in: apparently Perry was talking about gay war veterans (thanks to Andrew Sullivan). That's freakin unbelievable. Kinky for Governor!

Neat stuff done with Google Maps. One of the neat things is a script that generates a satellite image that can be any size. I might play around and make it a background at work. Good stuff :-)

If you search for pictures of sinkholes on Yahoo, an image of mine comes up fourth. Neat!


Help sunset provisions of the Patriot Act!
Mood: hopeful
Music: Dan the Automater - "Relaxation Spa Treatment"
Posted on 2005-04-06 09:31:00
Words: 370

Some of the provisions of the Patriot Act are up for renewal, and so Congress is debating whether to renew them or not. I'd like to see them expire, so I wrote a letter to my Senators and Representative, which is actually pretty darn easy to do and makes me feel more involved in the government. You should do it too!

First thing to do is to do a little research and write your letter. I found information about this at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which led me to a coalition of groups opposed to the Patriot Act (Patriots to restore Checks and Balances). Looking at these sites (and a few news articles) led me to write the following letter:

I would urge you to consider supporting the Security and Freedom Enhancement (SAFE) Act introduced by Senators Craig, Sununu, and Durbin. This act would add some checks and balances to some provisions of the Patriot Act and would help protect the civil liberties of all Americans. When the Patriot Act was passed in 2001 (a mere 45 days after the terrorist attacks of September 11), Congress voted to make the most extreme provisions expire in December 2005 so that they could be reviewed, and now is the time to review and curtail them. The bipartisan group Patriots to restore Checks and Balances (with members such as Grover Norquist and Bob Barr) is in favor of this bill and other efforts to maintain our civil liberties in the face of the Patriot Act.

I would be most interested to hear your thoughts on civil liberties and the Patriot Act. Thank you for your time.

It's not a great letter, but it gets the point across. After that, it's easy to go to and to find your representatives and write them (they all have email forms to contact them). My representatives are:

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison
Senator John Cornyn
Representative Michael McCaul

(anyone in Texas has the same senators, but probably a different representative, unless (for example) you live in my apartment complex :-) )

So take 10 minutes and write them. Maybe this isn't important to you, but when an issue that is important comes up, let them know!


Poll tested, mother approved
Mood: hopeful
Music: DJ Danger Mouse - "99 problems"
Posted on 2005-03-23 10:04:00
Words: 7

Let's give this poll thing a shot.


Raise the minimum wage!
Mood: hopeful
Music: DJ Danger Mouse - "What More Can I Say"
Posted on 2005-03-03 10:03:00
Tags: taxcenter
Words: 312

I just wrote an email to both of my senators asking them to raise the minimum-wage (the issue is coming up for debate soon), and I would encourage you to do the same. It's really very easy - you can find your senators websites from, and most of them have a contact form where you can paste in the text of your letter. Here's my letter if you want a model:

I would urge you to support increasing the minimum wage. The minimum wage is currently $5.15, and in fact has not increased since 1997, which means that, in effect, it has been going down since then. A full-time worker earning minimum wage would make only $10,712 a year, which is well below the poverty line for a family of three. An increase of the minimum wage to even $7.00 would help to eliminate this disparity.

On a more personal note, I have been volunteering with Foundation Communities in their Claim + Save Community Tax Centers ( to help low income people and families in the Austin area do their taxes. I can assure you that many of these people do make minimum wage, and an increase of the minimum wage to $7.00, while still a relatively low amount, would boost their incomes by 36 percent. Not only that, but it will also help to stimulate the economy, as lower income workers tend to spend more of their income.

I would be delighted to hear your thoughts on raising the minimum wage. Thank you for your time.

Feel free to use it, except for the personal part, unless you do volunteer there :-) There's some information available at and

Keeping in touch with your elective representatives is a great way to stay involved with what's going on in politics and the world around you, and it's pretty easy to do. Go democracy!


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