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By this red hair I rule

Ron E Howard answers your questions

While in the parking lot of the Kull O’Brien show, we spotted Ron E Howard, the adventure story author who turned TV actor who turned movie director. Ol' Two-Gun Opie graciously took some time away from pimping Backdraft 2: Black Stone of the Fire God to answer your top three questions.

How did you meet Andy Griffith?

I met Andy at a boxing match. He towered over me and had a wicked left with destruction writ all over it, but I mauled him pretty good with my twin sledgehammers. The bout became a lifetime bond, and I was honored when he asked me to play his son on his TV show.

What did you think of Fonzie's jump over the shark?

I despise people who tease animals. They are the scum of the earth.

Has your film success helped your writing career?

Success!? When the studio showed me the first draft of Apollo 13, I could scarcely believe it. There wasn't a single fight scene. This was supposed to be a story about cunning men of action in the face of annihilation, and all these characters are just sittin’ there taking it. I begged Universal: at least let's give Tom Hanks' character a sword, so that he can do something about the Picts’ rival lunar mission. They said, "oh, we hadn’t thought about that" and then took out the Picts. Don't even get me started on what they did with the screenplay adaptations of my own stories. Cowboy Coccoon, Da Vinci’s Codex Mortis, A Beautiful Axe, Frost/Conan: they still let me direct, but the movie plots are so butchered that I still can’t really think of them as “mine.”

It wasn’t until Backdraft 2 that I’ve finally been able to do things My Way. So we’ll see how it goes. Ask me again next year.

Note the maple sugar rim on the tasting cup (we weren’t the only team with a serving gimmick)
Todd Coffey

Maple Bacon Cider

It’s not just for breakfast

Late at night, at last year's New Mexico Brewer's campout in the Pecos, a legendary cider-maker voiced an opinion that I think most people share, deep down: everything is better with bacon.


Would even apple cider benefit from bacon? And if you're going to do that, why not make it a full breakfast drink? That exquisite essence of pancakes, maple, could play a part as well.

Thus was born the Maple Bacon Cider competition.

A year has passed, and last weekend the entrants reunited to submit their entries for judgment. I am pleased to announce that my sweetie and I won in the categories of Best Appearance and Presentation, Best Bacon Expression, and Best Overall. We didn't win the Best Maple Expression or Best Apple Cider, but I think we did fairly well in those aspects too.

Would you like to recreate our winning Maple Bacon Cider? Well, you can't. Even I can't, because I didn't take good notes on the final ratios of everything. But here's how to go about it.

You’ll need a hard cider as your foundation. Cider making is a whole topic on its own, so I'm not going to go into depth on that here. Look around. Apple harvest time is coming up in a few weeks, so now's a good time to think about sources. We used a blend, approximately a third consisting of store-bought Scrumpy's, a little over half being my 2008 cider (which I think isn't all that great, but I sure drain those bottles quickly whenever I open one), and the balance being my 2008 cyser (which is very sweet, suffering from a stuck fermentation at about 1.050 -- dunno what I'm going to do about that, yet) plus the bacon extract (see below). Really, any good cider base will do, although its dryness or sweetness might be influenced by your maple tactic.

For maple, there are a few approaches. I can tell you the one that does not work: putting maple syrup in your cider prior to fermentation. Oh, the sugar will ferment, but for some reason, the maple flavor doesn't really come through. You'll want to add maple syrup after fermentation, which means you're going to be sweetening, so means you might want to have a pretty dry cider to start with. Or save yourself some trouble and just use maple extract. I believe that the Best Maple Expression winner used an extract.

The hard part is the bacon. This is the true challenge and the real reason the competition happened. The president of the Dukes of Ale is going to blackmail me with a video of me drunkenly expounding my team's "two pronged approach" to baconating our cider, but really, it was a three pronged approach.

First, make a bacon extract. Fry up some bacon and eat it. Pour the grease into a jar, and add a distilled spirit. We used vodka, but bourbon is a great choice too. Swirl the grease and vodka together every once in a while for a few days. Then put it into the refrigerator. The fat will congeal, and you can skim most of it off. Pour the vodka through a coffee filter to separate the rest. Your vodka ought to now have some bacon aroma and flavor. Don’t bother trying to extract flavor from the meaty, non-fat part of the bacon. That doesn’t work.

Second, liquid smoke. Part of what we think of as bacon flavor, is really just the curing. If you smell hickory smoke, you can't help but think you smell bacon. (Go easy with the stuff, though. In a half-gallon batch, half a teaspoon is enough, possibly even too much.)

Third, and this is part of why we also won Best Presentation and Appearance, is to fry up some bacon immediately prior to serving. Each taster gets a stick of bacon dropped right into their glass. C'mon, you're looking at a piece of bacon, and it's putting a grease slick on top of your cider. Don't tell me you don't taste bacon, even if it's just psychological.

I was surprised and almost disappointed that all entries were drinkable. None of the submissions were gross. Fortunately, next year’s competition raises the difficulty and is more open to interpretation, so maybe some adventurous soul will go too far: barbecue beer.


No More Second-Class Citizens

the people have spoken

It's hard to believe that things used to be different. In some people's cases, the change has even happened in our lifetime.

There was an underclass who was constantly discriminated against. These second-class citizens used to not even be allowed to vote, and the idea of one of them winning such an important election was absurd.

But the voters have spoken, and made clear the will of the people: the artificial distinction that separates these fellow Americans from the rest of us, is something we no longer need (or should) to recognize. For many years, The Man has encouraged us -- no, taught us -- that we shouldn't respect "those people," but now one of "those people" is The Man.

The change has happened. The people have proudly spoken with deep conviction, and cannot be ignored: convicted felon Ted Stevens has been re-elected as Senator from Alaska.


Who is most accountable to you?

Where should the most power be?

Here are some population numbers taken from Wikipedia. United States: 305,312,000, New Mexico: 1,969,915, Albuquerque: 518,271.

From this, we can say that the president of the U.S. answers to about 305312000 consituents. A member of the U.S. Senate (2 NM seats) from NM answers to about 984957 constituents. NM's members of the U.S. House of Representatives (3 NM seats) answer to about 656638 constituents.

The governor of New Mexico answers to about 1969915 constituents. In the New Mexico state legislature, your representative in the Senate (42 seats) answers to about 46902 constituents, and your representative in the House (70 seats) answers to about 28141 constituents.

The mayor of Albuquerque answers to 518271 constituents. Each member of the Albuquerque City Council (9 seats) answers to about 57585 constituents.

Who do you have the best chance of reaching? At what level does your vote make the most difference? Who is accountable and who can most safely blow you off?


A Series of Gifts

Perhaps you have heard that the man infamous for explaining that the internet is not like a truck was finally indicted for corruption about a year after the FBI and IRS raided his home.

Lessig made an interesting point a few days ago, though: how is what Stevens did, really all that different than what we tolerate routinely? Does buying influence violate a basic principle, or is it just a matter of degree?

Romeo and Juliet

a few years later

JULIET (working at Hollywood Video in Commerce City, Colorado)

Poison and dagger hap'ly fail'd us then
And blessing came soon after tragic tale.
To feed my four year son, I toil all day
Now selling Video from Hollywood.
How I wish lov-ed Romeo would visit
That we might make plans, our son's future waits.
O, is that him I see now coming here?

(Enter Romeo)


Juliet dear! Your workplace, strange for such
a weighty conversation. Yet it must
be done. He must be raised Montague,
a Westside Baller, surely you agree.


No, that won't do. I know what's best for him.
Crip and a Capulet like me he must
be rais'd. It breaks a mothers heart to see
a child join such a weak and lesser gang
as Ballers. He needs strength which comes from blue
ID and nation'l franchise. Crip he be!


Foolish you are, and I am glad it's not
your call to make. As father I assert
my right to choose my son's gang, he will be
a Westside Baller. Mind your place, woman!


He will be a Crip!


He will be a Baller!




Take this, biatch!


Last week there was a story about census officials having trouble with the handleheld computers that they had planned to use in the 2010 census. What struck me was that there was a $600 million contract for the computers. I remember wondering: how can it cost that much to count people? $600 million is a lot of money. It sounds like a waste of money, to repay some contractor that funded someone's campaign, all in the name of flashy high-tech that probably doesn't work any better than pen and paper.

I was wrong about everything. Everything!

$600 million is not a lot of money; it's a drop in the bucket. And apparently, not getting to use the computers is going to increase the cost by two billion dollars.

Waitaminute.. increase the cost by? You mean increase the cost to, right?

According to this story:

Gutierrez said reverting to a paper-based census, in addition to other costs not associated with the handhelds, is expected to increase the cost of the 2010 census to between $2.2 billion and $3 billion through fiscal year 2013. That would bring the total cost of the 2010 census to between $13.7 billion and $14.5 billion. He said the bureau would need an increase of $160 million to $230 million for fiscal 2008 to cover costs associated with returning to paper, with an additional $600 million to $700 million for fiscal 2009. Gutierrez added that the majority of the cost increases would occur in 2010.

$13.7 billion total cost, on the low end. According to the 2000 Census, the US population was 281,421,906. Divide $13.7 billion by that number, and you get $48.68 per person. That's what it costs to count you.

Maybe I was too hard on Sequoia. Counting is hard.

In the Shadow of the Sequoia

or how I learned to love the black box

Sequoia Voting Systems is one of Diebold's competitors -- except that Diebold is now named Premier Election Solutions because nobody wants to walk into a voting booth and see the word "Diebold."

One of the areas in which they compete, is selling mysterious devices. We're not sure what these devices do, or how they do it, but we use them to count votes.

The other way they compete, is having their lawyers use variations on the Streisand effect to see who can draw the most attention to their shadiness. In a brilliant move that will leave Premier's PR team green with envy, Sequoia has pulled into the lead: they sent a threatening letter to Princeton CS professor Ed Felten and the state of New Jersey. The issue? New Jersey election officials had some problems with Sequoia machines on Super Tuesday, so they were planning to send a Sequoia voting machine to Felten for an independent audit. It's hard to program a computer to count button presses, but maybe a computer science professor can figure out the subtleties that eluded Sequoia.

The threat to New Jersey: "it violates their established Sequoia licensing Agreement for use of the voting system. Sequoia has also retained counsel to stop any infringement of our intellectual properties, including any non-compliant analysis." Apparently the machines were licensed to New Jersey rather than sold, and checking to see if they work, isn't one of the allowed uses.

The threat to Felten: Sequoia will "take appropriate steps to protect against any publication of Sequoia software, its behavior, reports regarding same." If he does get ahold of one of the machines and sees something wrong with it, he better not talk about it.

The result? New Jersey backed down. The machines will not be inspected. Take that, all you paranoid malcontents who complain about government trampling our [intellectual property] rights!

Senate: Yes to Telecom Immunity

House: No to Telecom Immunity

Current law is that telecom companies may not wiretap you unless they have a warrant, or are acting in good faith. That is how things are right now: if they obey the law or even reasonably believed that they were obeying the law, they are immune to both criminal prosecution and civil liability.

Some people believe the current law is fair. As long as the telecom company at least reasonably tried to obey the law, they deserve to be cut some slack.

Some people believe that is not fair, and that reasonably trying to obey the law, let alone actually obeying, is still too onerous. Furthermore, lifting this requirement that the telecoms try to obey the law, isn't good enough today. That requirement should be lifted for activities in the past, as well. Existing lawsuits should be immediately thrown out, before the courts make any determination as to whether or not the old law was broken.

There is a bill in the Senate, S.2248 (maplight) with a provision to grant retroactive immunity in civil lawsuits, to telecom companies that assist the U.S. Government with warrantless wiretaps. If this bill becomes law, telecoms will no longer need the "good faith" defense.

A few hours ago, there was a vote in the Senate to amend S.2248 by striking out the immunity. This has finally been voted upon, and failed. The immunity clause will remain in S.2248.

Senators of interest: Domenici, McCain voted against the amendment (keep the immunity clause); Bingaman, Obama voted for the amendment (strike out the immunity clause). Clinton did not vote.

Last November, the House passed its own version of this bill (maplight), which does not include the immunity provision. Now the two bodies will have to negotiate on what final version will be sent to the president. Some House leaders have condemned the immunity provision, but the president says he will veto the bill if it does have it.

Free Will Versus Parasites

The lancet fluke changes an ant's behavior so that it grabs ahold of grass blades to get eaten by cattle or sheep -- but only at night. When the morning comes, the ant returns to its normal day-to-day life. (Have you been feeling inexplicably tired, lately?)

This fungus changes an ant's behavior so that it climbs to top of a tree and waits to die. Then it splits open the ant's head to grow out. Cordyceps does the same thing to beetles.

Leucochloridium paradoxum makes snails climb up into the light -- to be eaten by birds.

Nematomorph hairworm makes grasshoppers go jump in a lake.

The Hymenoepimecis wasp injects larva into spiders, and then the larve make the spider weave a cocoon for them, instead of its usual webs.

The Ampulex compressa wasp makes a cockroach into its obedient zombie slave and then leads it to its doom.

The Sacculina barnacle alters the behavior of crabs to make them care for its own eggs, including making male crabs take on the necessary female behavior.

Toxoplasma gondii in cat feces make rats unafraid of cats and affects human behavior too, possibly on a massive (billions of people), culture-changing scale.

Ceti eels enter humans through the ear and wrap themselves around the cerebral cortex, making the victim extremely susceptible to suggestion. Later as they grow, follows madness and death. They can be used as pets by eugenically-bred leaders, though they're still not quite domesticated.