Monday, February 25, 2013

Update

Hello!  Hope you guys are doing alright!  Did anyone watch the Oscars?  We didn't.  I totally forgot that it was on, to be honest.
(wandering around Hyde Park in search of cake.
The sign is older than the girl in front of it)
Anyway, our weekend was pretty good.  Thursday night I grabbed dinner with Ryan and Jamie.  Amy had to work late.  Amy and I did, however, get to go to lunch together on Thursday, and afterward we picked up a cake from Quack's that she brought to the office to share with coworkers.  Thursday night Jamie, Ryan, and I went to Rudy's and had some barbecue.  It was good to catch up. 
Friday night we took it pretty easy.  Amy got out of work sorta late.  We ate dinner and watched the first episode of Homeland.  Then we sorta passed out.  Amy had a long week, and I've been pretty busy, too.
On Saturday Amy had to go in to go to work, and I went to the store and did some grocery shopping.  At lunch time I picked up Amy from her office, and we went to go meet my parents at Z Tejas.  It was really nice to see them, and we had a good lunch.  Mom and Dad stay pretty darn busy with various social groups, church events, and activities these days, so between their kind of hectic schedule and our own, it's nice to be able to take advantage of opportunities to get together.  We had a good lunch.
Saturday afternoon Amy and I went on a bike ride.  The weather was beautiful, and it was a nice ride.  We rode down Bouldin into downtown.  One of Amy's former instructors from law school (the director from an environmental law clinic) was out in her front yard with her family, so we stopped by and said hi for a moment.  Nice family.  Cool house. 
Saturday night we went to a birthday party that one of Amy's friends from law school was having.  It was a nice get together.  Amanda and Robbie are good people, and the other folks at the party were friendly.  We had a nice time.  Amanda and Robbie are moving to California in August.  Sad to see them go.
Sunday we got up and went and had breakfast at Kerbey Lane.  In general, I probably prefer breakfast tacos, but I had a pretty good omelet, and it was nice to change things up.  Late Sunday morning and into the afternoon Amy went in to the office.  Sunday evening I got together with Reed to play some music (band practice had been cancelled, so we just got together to rock out on our own).  Afterward, Amy and I ate dinner.  Then we watched another episode of Homeland before bed.
I'm still not quite sure what to think of Homeland yet.  I like certain things about it, but I'm wary of a few other things.  They've been doing a pretty good job of building suspense, and the acting has been pretty good.  There's something about the show's basic premise- the notion that a Marine POW has been "turned" by a terrorist organization in order to carry out a mission in the U.S.- that strikes me as a little implausible and fancifully paranoid.
I'm probably (hopefully) speaking too soon.  I'm only two episodes in, and there's still plenty of time for the show to explain how and why this guy ended up working for the enemy.  Also, hopefully the show will evolve into something that looks a little more spy versus spy.  In the first couple of episodes it was basically a show where they were just carrying out surveillance on one guy who didn't really know he was being watched.  But now the characters are in place and pretty well established, so it'll be interesting to see how things move forward.
I'm definitely still intrigued.
Just seems like the bad guys maybe should have just been people with purely mercenary motives, clandestine foreign operatives, or U.S. citizens who started out with ideological beliefs that made them susceptible to being recruited by terrorists.  I'm still a little skeptical of the "heroic soldier turned traitor" thing.  It's interesting, but it may border on melodrama a bit.  Maybe.  I'm not sure.

Well, that's it for now!
Hope you guys have a good week!  Keep springing into spring!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Update; Jazz Sundays at Strange Brew

The weekend was pretty good.  Amy's still working a lot, so we're really enjoying the free time that we have together when we can get it.
Friday night Amy got home a little late.  We didn't do a whole lot.  We had a fish dinner that I picked up at Central Market, and we just sort of relaxed.
Amy got up early Saturday morning and went in to work.  I went to the grocery store and did some shopping.  After I got back I had big plans to go for a lengthy bike ride.  Instead, I rode about two blocks.  A car came flying around the corner and I had to slam on my brakes pretty hard.  My bike skidded sideways.  I stayed upright, but I popped two spokes.  After that my wheel was wobbling badly, so I had to take it in to the shop to get it fixed.  Pretty much a bummer since there was beautiful weather over the weekend, and the bike shop said it would take a few days to get the wheel back to me.
I went back home and exercised on the elliptical.  When Amy got home we took Cassidy for a walk.  Then Amy wanted to go for a run.  It was very nice outside, but I'm not a runner.  I dug my old cruiser bike out of our storage closet, aired up the tires, and rode along with Amy while she ran for 5 miles.  I felt a little lazy on my bike, but I had already worked out, it was nice to be outside, and it was really great to have the chance to hang out with Amy while she ran.
She runs pretty fast, by the way.  I could never run that fast for even half as long.
Saturday night we tried to go out to Homeslice for some pizza, but it was slammed.  The line was nuts.  We ended up ordering a takeout pizza.  We had a beer and waited at the counter, watching while they made out pie.  We went home and had a glass of wine and ate our dinner.  Afterward we watched Moonrise Kingdom.
I liked the movie.  It didn't have the same sort of emotional impact as The Royal Tenenbaums, but it was a funny film with cool cinematography and an entertaining story.  I thought the performances were good.  Pretty classic Wes Anderson.  If there was a weak spot for me, it was in the fact that I didn't feel like the characters were developed much.  Sort of stereotypically alienated teenagers.  Maybe that sort of generic awkwardness was the point, but still- I didn't feel like the movie hit a home run in terms of giving the audience relatable protagonists.  But I still enjoyed the movie.  Some of the same supporting characters that probably detracted a bit from the development of Sam and Suzy had some funny and occasionally touching stories of their own.
In my mind, Anderson's movies always feel like bedtime stories for grownups.  They feel like gentle satire, contrasting the absurdity of life (both tragic and comic) with the sort of stoic seriousness that we often employ while living it.
That's how his movies feel to me, anyway.
On Sunday we got up and had breakfast at Central Market.  I like to go out for breakfast.  I like getting up and about in the morning.  Not sure why.
I'm not sure exactly what we did Sunday.  Amy did some work.  We did another bike/run thing.  I exercised.  Walked the dog.  A few chores.  There was some ukulele/guitar jamming.
Sunday night Amy made fish tacos.  Amy makes some sort of radish topping thing that goes on them that's excellent.
After dinner we went to Strange Brew, a coffee shop near our house.  Strange Brew recently started serving beer, and they also expanded their operation significantly by buying an adjoining space next to the coffee shop and opening a music lounge (called the Strange Brew Lounge Side).  It's a cool place to see live music.  They have signs up asking people to be quiet while the music is playing, which, as a music fan who's had to deal with loud, drunk people who were trying to talk over performances, I appreciate.  They also stock some local bottle and canned beers and also have a few local craft beers on tap.
Anyway, we saw the Jeff Lofton trio, and they were really good.  They played a number of different jazz tunes of various styles and eras, from original tunes to Cole Porter to Thelonius Monk to Miles Davis.  The place was about half full on a Sunday night, but the audience was enthusiastic.  I would highly recommend checking them out at Strange Brew if you get a chance.  They're playing the first and third Sundays of every month right now, inviting other jazz musicians to play in the slot after theirs, and they definitely deserve a following (and it was only $5 to get in ladt night!).
Lofton's a great trumpet player, and his rhythm section was excellent.
I like jazz.  It makes me feel relaxed and energized at the same time  If Strange Brew is trying to make a tradition out of bringing jazz to South Austin on Sunday nights, that's a tradition I definitely want to support.

I've had today off for President's Day, but Amy had to work.  I've got some chicken dinner in the crock pot, I worked out a little while ago, and I went to see Argo earlier this afternoon.  I liked it.  It's a really interesting story, and the movie was well executed.
Well, that's it!  Hope everyone has a nice week!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Tune-Yards

Saw these guys on Austin City Limits recently.  They've been around a few years, but I had never really listened to them.  Apparently mostly the brainchild of singer Merrill Garbus, they're definitely doing their own thing.  If you're willing to give the music a second to sink in, I think they're worth a listen...

Monday, February 11, 2013

Update

Howdy!  Hope everyone is doing okay out there!  Our winter has been pretty mild here in Austin, but I'm still excited about the fact that spring is right around the corner.  I hope they're just about done with the repair work that they've been doing this winter at Barton Springs.  I hear it calling!!

Well, it's been a busy week and a pretty busy weekend.
This past Thursday was Amy's birthday.  Amy's been working pretty hard lately because of the legislative session, so I really wanted her to have a nice birthday.  We went to Uchiko on Friday night and had a really nice time.  In the past I've been a little wary of sushi, but it turns out that the idea of eating raw fish is a lot scarier (and sounds a lot less tasty) than it actually is.  Plus, Uchiko has lots of cooked food, both seafood and poultry and beef, in addition to the raw fish.  I genuinely enjoyed everything that we tried on Thursday night.
Amy's probably better than I am about remembering the particulars of meals, but I know that we had sushi rolls with tuna and avocado, a really food brussel sprout dish, and an interesting and tasty sweet sorn sorbet dessert.  Also a chicken dish, I think (and a drink or two, which may be clouding my memory just a tad in terms of what we ate).
It was all very good.  Like Uchi, it's a really entertaining place (as well as being very tasty, of course) because you order a number of different things in smaller portions, so the process of picking and choosing is really fun.
At any rate, we had a very nice but relaxed dinner.  I think Amy ended up having a nice birthday.

During the day on Friday I rode my bike to work.  Normally it's pretty hard to do this because I have to wear a suit once I get to the office, and we don't have a shower in our building.  Friday was Travis County's "Work from Home Day" (supporting green energy), and I wasn't sceduled fopr court, so I asked my director if I could come in to the office but wear shorts.  He was cool with it (he's also a cyclist), so I rode my bike to work.  It took about 35 minutes to get to the office and and it was just under 7 miles.  The ride home involves more uphill riding and took me a little over 40 mintues.  The experience was good, though.  It turned my commute into my workout for the day.  I got home and I didn't really need to exercise (a 14 mile ride is just fine), and I had saved time because during rush hour it takes me about half an hour to drive back and forth, anyway (and a little longer on the bus). 
Friday night Amy worked a little late.  I can't remember exactly what we did, but I'm pretty sure we took it easy.   
On Saturday I ran to the grocery store while Amy worked at home.  I did a little work on adjusting some things on my bike.  Did a little laundry. 
(with this machine, Amy could
detect whether other people
thought her glasses were cool)
Later I went with Amy while she went and picked out some new prescription sunglasses.  They look pretty cool.  She doesn't have them yet, but rest assured that she will be looking great and squinting less this summer.

Saturday night we drove up to Southwestern University in Georgetown to see the Austin Civic Orchestra perform.  My friend and coworker, Laura, plays clarinet in the orchestra, so she's been telling me about it and encouraging me to go for a while.  They played Mahler's 1st Symphony, which I thought was a sort of unusual piece, and they sounded good.  Amy enjoyed it as well.  Afterward we ate some frozen yogurt.  In February.  Because we're Texans and that's how we roll. 
It was a fun evening.
On Sunday we got up and went to Juan in a Million for breakfast.  Then Amy went in to work at the office during the afternoon.  I went for a bike ride.  I rode down Congress and across the bridge and up past the capitol where I popped in for a moment to say hi to Amy at work.  It was sort of cloudy and cool and a nice day for a ride.

(some sort of egret-ish bird on Town Lake)
 
(Sunday afternoon break)
After stopping off at Amy's office I rode down to West 6th Street.  I stopped by this place called The Beer Exchange that I've been wanting to try out.  They sell craft beers of many different types, and they run specials, theoretically based upon how well the beers are selling (with beers that are purchased less selling for less- most places might just call this a special or a sale...).  Anyway, it was an interesting place.  They had a porch, so I sat outside and checked email and news on my phone and drank a couple of beers (a milk stout by Left Hand Brewing and a tasty and interesting new 512 Cascabel Cream Stout that's smooth but has a bit of spice to it). 
During this period of time, our evening band practice got cancelled, but Ryan invited Amy and I over to a cookout at their place.  Amy was still working, but I decided to head back down south.
I rode my bike over to the bus stop, threw my bike on the bus, and rode it down to Ryan and Jamie's house.
They were having people over, so I got to visit for a little while with Matt, Nicole, Julia, and Juan in addition to Ryan and Jamie.  I learned that scuba diving in a dry suit is an intimidating prospect and that the new My Bloody Valentine album is somewhat controversial (at least within focus groups appearing in South Austin on a Sunday afternoon).  I pedaled my bike back home after a while.  I took a shower, and then Cassidy and I watched Parks and Rec for a while with Amy while she exercised on the elliptical machine.
Amy had made some sort of chipotle chicken sloppy joe dish in the crockpot, which was really good (Amy was afraid I wouldn't like it because it was a little sweet, but I DID like it because it had smoky chipotle goodness in it), and we ate it for dinner with some salad.  Then we were tired.  I watched a little TV and she did some reading.
It was a nice weekend!
I hope everyone else had a nice weekend.

Peace. 

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

New Technologies and the Cost of Knowledge

Here's some rambling.  But it's been a while...

In general I'm the type of person who believes that knowledge is power.  I typically tend to think that the more facts that you have about other people and the world around you, the better your odds of successfully accomplishing your goals.  Having knowledge about the history and proclivities of the people in your life might help you establish more functional relationships.  Understanding the political intricacies of a large organization might help you avoid traps and find support for ideas or projects.  Understanding how various pieces of technology operate might help you make more informed choices as a consumer.  Understanding climate change might help avoid planting inappropriate crops or shape views regarding water conservation.
My belief that knowledge is power has led to another conclusion- the belief that the pursuit of knowledge, in and of itself, is a positive, beneficial endeavor.
In the last week, however, I've read a couple of things that have drawn that second assumption into question.
First I read an article about genetic testing in Time.  It was called "The DNA Dilemma:  A Test that Could Change Your Life".  The article described the explosion in genetic testing that's been occurring as a technology improves and the process becomes less and less expensive.  People are now capable of having their entire genetic code mapped for under $10,000, and the price is dropping fast.  Such testing is currently on track to become more and more pervasive.  Genetic testing allows patients to understand the root causes of mysterious symptoms so that diseases can be diagnosed and be treated.  Testing also allows people to know when they have a genetic predisposition toward developing particular diseases and conditions later in life.  Such knowledge may allow preventative measures to be taken which might decrease the odds of developing such an illness (e.g., dietary restrictions for people who have an increased risk of diabetes, avoiding contact sports might be a good idea for people with an increased likelihood of concussions).
Such knowledge sounds like a good thing to have, right?
Well, the down side is that conditions might be discovered for which there are no treatments, and sometimes such knowledge can be gained by accident when doctors begin testing for the causes of other, completely unrelated symptoms.  Children might go in for testing for some issue related to unexplained weakness or fatigue and find out that they're likely to develop early onset dementia in their mid forties.  People can find out that they have an impossibly high likelihood of developing untreatable cancer.
Alerting patients about conditions for which there is no treatment may cause anxiety and stress that can begin to take its toll on quality of life years or decades before symptoms start to develop.  Patients may be warned of a high statistical probability that they will develop an untreatable disease (genetic testing often conveys its information in terms of probabilities) and then develop anxiety and depression while dealing with this news only to never have the disease actually develop.  With prenatal genetic testing, parents may be forced to consider questions of financial obligations and quality of life for unborn children with genetic abnormalities many years before such conditions might or would ever manifest.   
I don't mean to get too ahead of myself or sound too alarmist, but the idea of mothers regularly getting genetic testing before deciding whether or not to carry children fully to term doesn't sound completely far fetched.  And judgments regarding what sort of genetic "abnormality" might warrant the termination of a pregnancy are bound to be a very slippery slope (things that will cause lifelong pain and suffering to the child?  a lower than desired IQ?  blue eyes as opposed to brown?).  When current law allows for termination of pregnancy solely at the discretion of the mother for any or no reason at all, is society in any position to tell parents that any one rationale is better than another when deciding whether to carry a pregnancy to term?
If those topics sound kind of unpleasant, I only bring them up because I think widespread implementation of this sort of testing is right around the corner.  How are people going to use them?  These questions are barely in the realm of the hypothetical (and for some people they already are reality).  We're at a point where we're soon going to have to start establishing some societal norms in terms of what sort of genetic information we should all be privy to and how that information can be used.
When polled, parents overwhelmingly have wanted to have access to genetic information about their children.  Doctors and care providers have been far less certain. 
Would insurance companies find ways to refuse coverage to people with a genetic predisposition toward serious (i.e., expensive) diseases?  Should parents spend their lives being hyper protective of children simply because there's a possibility that they might someday develop some sort of disorder?  Should parents be burdened with the knowledge that their children are likely to develop some sort of disease at some far distant point in the child's geriatric years?  
So....
As I said, I'm beginning to question whether it is genuinely always better to pursue all available sources of knowledge.

The second thing that I read this week that made me question whether it's always the best policy to gain as much information as possible came in the form of an article about drones.  Drones, unmanned aerial vehicles, have been used for quite a while now in foreign countries by the American military and our intelligence agencies.  Initially used solely as high altitude reconnaissance machines, drones (such as the predator) later gained the ability to be used as weapons either by crashing into targets while carrying explosives or by deploying missiles.
There have been a number of controversies regarding our use of drones in foreign combat theaters (e.g., Iraq, Afghanistan) and even in foreign countries where we're not at war (e.g., Pakistan).  Some of the controversies include acceptable levels of collateral damage (i.e., civilian casualties), the psychological toll upon civilian populations in target areas, the foreign relations damage that drone attacks may cause, and the legal and ethical dilemma created by using drones to attack countries in countries where the U.S. has not officially declared war or even announced a military presence.
So there are already some pretty big questions surrounding the drone program. 
Now the federal government seems to be seeking increased FAA clearance for the deployment of additional drones domestically, in U.S. skies.
Drones have been used for years along the U.S.-Mexico border as a means of controlling illegal immigration and enhancing border security.  Now the federal government is taking steps to increase the number of drones that can be used for everything from law enforcement to traffic control to farming to wildlife management.  Drones could be used to inspect buildings, search for lost backpackers, perform security at big events, track wildfires, etc., etc..
Of course, one of the things that drones truly excel at, one of the tasks which they were originally designed for and which makes their use in a domestic setting kind of troubling, is keeping an eye on the activities of the people below them.    Drones with night vision and infrared can watch people at night.  Almost undetectable, they can observe activities on the ground from 20,000 feet up or more.  Thermal imaging is said to allow some of them to see through walls, foliage, and other solid objects.
Drones are very good at gaining information.  They can probably spot smugglers and human traffickers and cattle rustlers (that last example sounds weird, but the first time domestic drones were used for a law enforcement purpose was to catch cattle thieves in North Dakota in 2011).
Also, of course, drones can see your lady sunbathing in your backyard or see you and the missus making out in the hot tub or, if the rumors about thermal imaging are half accurate, see you up to... whatever... in your bedroom.  They can keep an eye on who you're hanging out with and where you're going and where you're coming from.  They can spot you coming from your AA meeting or headed to a campaign event for that candidate who's running against your boss.  They can see people headed into abortion clinics and they can take snapshots of faces at political rallies.  They can spot you sneaking off to go to that job interview for a rival company when you're supposed to be at a doctor's appointment.  They can spot you going to see a shrink or visiting with a reporter.
It's bad enough to contemplate the prospect of drones in the hands of a government that might potentially abuse them, but it's perhaps even more troubling to realize that, at present, there don't really seem to be many plans for the restriction of private drone ownership or deployment.  Companies and private individuals might soon have access to some very powerful surveillance equipment, and there may be very little that the people on the ground can do to protect their privacy against these flying spies. 
So....
Drones are obviously pretty good at collecting information, but the ability to obtain that information sounds like it's coming at a significant cost.  Are we about to enter an age when people have no right to an expectation of privacy so long as they're in a place or situation that might be observable to the high tech surveillance equipment of flying robots?
I think we're starting to edge toward an area where the knowledge that we stand to gain might be outweighed by the societal costs that we're about to incur.
Just because we can do something doesn't always mean that we should.

I guess in the end I think that genetic testing and drones both probably have their uses.  The real problem isn't the fact that the technologies exist- it's the fact that we're rushing forward to implement and embrace them on a widespread scale without really having had much of a genuine societal discussion about how these things should be used.
I don't think doctors should disseminate all genetic information that they obtain on every patient.  Who should make the decision to release it?  I'm not sure.  Maybe we need some sort of new legal/medical entity who is authorized to make those decisions and release or withhold information in particular situations (i.e., when the information might cause harm or could be acted upon in some potentially effective way). 
I'm not sure.
I think we need greater restrictions on the use of drones by the government when they're used in the U.S. (judicial oversight and warrant requirements would be nice), and I think private use of drones needs to be even more restricted, with criminal and civil penalties in place for abuse of the technology.  Drones will certainly have some legitimate uses, but I don't want to live in a world where I can never feel alone when I'm outside.
Once again, I could be wrong about my solutions, but I feel certain that we need to have a greater conversation about the use of drones before they start becoming commonplace in our skies.

I guess that's it.  That's all that I have.
Thanks for bearing with me.  Kind of a random post. 
Hope I didn't lose everyone.
    
  
  

Monday, February 04, 2013

Update; Giant Squid

Well, the weekend went by pretty fast.  Amy worked for a while on Friday night.  While she was still at work I rode the bus home and went for a bike ride.  She came home and ate Indian food.  Afterward we watched a Discovery Channel special about the giant squid (I believe it was called Monster Squid:  The Giant Is Real).  I'm not exactly an expert on giant squid or anything, but I've been watching various documentaries for years in which scientists and videographers tried (and failed) to capture video footage of the giant squid in its natural habitat.  At most, they previously brought back a couple of blurry still shots.  There's something about the alien nature of the giant squid- its appearance, its deep ocean habitat, and its elusiveness- that I just find intriguing.  I was telling Amy about how long these scientists have been trying to observe the giant squid in the wild (some of them have been at this for many decades and never seen a living example of the species), and I think she got hooked.  Also, Amy will readily tell you that she finds the ocean large, weird, and sort of intimidating, so I think the giant squid sort of confirmed some of her deepest suspicions in terms of the sorts of things that she always suspected might be lurking out there.  On the other hand, I think she finds the whole idea of this animal pretty fascinating, too.  It's just strange to think that we share the planet with something that's so utterly different than us.
Anyway, we enjoyed the giant squid special.  It was really cool to see these scientists, some with ages ranging from their fifties into their seventies, finally get a look at video footage of a creature that they've been studying for a very long time.  It was literally one of the crowning experiences of a lifetime for some of these folks.
  
(the guy on this video describes the film crew as Japanese.  Turns out it was a crew of Americans and Japanese.  Actually a very expensive, international team effort)

On Saturday I got up and went for a bike ride while Amy worked.
Slightly later Saturday we attended a memorial service for Jamie's mom, Judy McBride, who passed away in the early morning hours of New Year's Day.  It was a very nice service at the Price Seniors Center (a very cool old building that used to be a church) in downtown San Marcos.  Jamie's family, family friends, and members of her parents' naturalist group were in attendance.  It was a nice event.  Jamie's dad, Dick, spoke, as well as Jamie's aunt and one of her mother's cousins.  There was also a slide show of family photos and some food.  I thought that it was a really nice way to remember Judy.  She was a very nice, intelligent, kind person.  I feel truly fortunate to have known her.
The rest of Saturday was filled with a trip to the grocery store and Amy's chilaquiles (one of my favorites!) for dinner.  We were both tired, and went to bed early that night.
On Sunday we got up and went out for breakfast.  Amy went in to the office after that, and I went for a bike ride.  I rode over to the Shaw house, and popped in for a quick visit.  Sloane and Meredith are growing like weeds (really smart, high energy weeds).  It was a fun visit.
I pedaled home and then took care of a few errands.
In the evening I went over to a Super Bowl party at my friend Mark's house.  Amy worked late and then went to the gym when she got home.  I don't really care about pro football all that much, but it was a fun party.  I skipped out on the second half of the game so Amy and I could grab some dinner.
After dinner Amy Skyped with her family while I played LA Noire, and then we went to bed.
A good weekend, but very busy and over very fast.
I hope everyone is having a good week!

Friday, February 01, 2013

Cover of a Cool Song

Here's a cover of a cool song that made me hear the tune in a different way.  Here's the original TV on the Radio version of Wolf Like Me (I've posted it before around Halloween because it's about werewolves):




Here's a very cool bluegrass version by Lera Lynn which, in its own way, still carries the intensity of the original: