Thursday, February 27, 2014

Larks' Tongues In Aspic (Part 2)

It would be really nice to offer up a recipe for Larks' Tongues in Aspic but there seems to be a recently imposed ban on the import of Larks' Tongue and though the import of live Larks is not restricted the notion of creating a flock of mute Larks is somehow unappetizing.

We are left with little but to disclose more research on the goals of trolls. Based on lived experience harking back to the dark days of the internet when WAIS and Gopher were your friend, email might well take a day to deliver and files were shared using a rather inconveniently named File Transfer Protocol (who knew?) the crufty bastards amongst us know you just don't feed the trolls. And they know why--the scorched eyeballs and blistered fingers from flame wars are why enough. While they know why not to feed the trolls no one really knows why the trolls exist and where they breed.

Until now.

Canadian researchers led by Erin E. Buckels have been studying trolling and the Dark Tetrad of personality resulting in a very interesting report that is the first comprehensive study of the personality traits of Internet trolls. You remember the Dark Tetrad don't you? Well for those who just can't put their finger on it the Dark Tetrad of personality is narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy and last but by no means least, sadism.

Dark indeed.

The gist of this report is the revelation that self-described online trolls (so clearly you know who you are) score highly in these personality traits. It is also interesting to note the researchers found it worthwhile to independently study direct and vicarious sadism.


In fact the authors noted "It was sadism, however, that had the most robust associations with trolling of any of the personality measures..." and observed that this trait is so strong "that it might be said that online trolls are prototypical everyday sadists." Somehow "everyday" and "sadists" just do not belong in the same sentence.

Flipping the coin (heads you're a sadist, tails you're a troll) the researchers "found clear evidence that sadists tend to troll because they enjoy it. When controlling for enjoyment, sadism's impact on trolling was cut nearly in half". As the title clearly states "Trolls just want to have fun."

But wait! There's more!

The research also indicated a strong positive relation among online commenting frequency, trolling enjoyment, and trolling behavior and identity though causality is yet to be determined. The authors suggest that it is the antisocial nature of the troll that leads to higher usage rates of technology (and commenting) while other research suggests that it is the technology that actually causes the antisocial behavior.

And therein lies the rub: the research is inconclusive. If one allows for trolls (e.g., comments on a blog) does that cultivate the inherent sadism within the commenter? Or does virtual world sadism act as a relief valve literally and figuratively venting what might, should it remain bottled up, manifest itself not only in a more violent manner but bleeding over into the real world? Conventional wisdom falls clearly to the former and we just shouldn't feed the trolls.

With all apologies to true fans of King Crimson.

Monday, February 24, 2014


No, not the Red Shirters and their Red Letter foes, though we are coming up on election season so that should heat up Real Soon Now. This is about the Tiger Mom, Amy Chua and her husband Jed Rubenfeld who recently released a new book entitled "The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America" wherein they actually say what we all know: that some ethnic and cultural groups are far more successful than the otherwise norm. And they call a spade a spade specifically identifying Jews, Indians, Chinese, Iranians, Lebanese, Nigerians, Cubans and Mormons.  That's right, Mormons. If you're surprised you must not know very many Mormons.

And they identify underlying traits shared across these groups that support success including a seemingly contradictory belief in the exceptionality of the group juxtaposed with a feeling that they as individuals are never quite good enough. Kind of makes sense when you think about it. Oh, one other thing: impulse control which surely correlates with deferred gratification which is a well recognized form of investing in oneself or at least one's future self.

Of course this is all very non-PC but that's what Tiger Mom does and these authors have been blasted in the blogosphere not only for their statements of the obvious but also for shoring it up with facts and figures. Hate when that happens. And as Godwin's Law (Reductio ad Hitlerum) is as immutable as any law of physics these flames inevitably degenerate into accusations that these authors are calling out, if not for, a master race. Some folks way overcompensate. But facts being facts you have to wonder what it really is about these groups and their experiences as groups and individuals that yields these results. You know it can't be because they're hanging with the rest of us proving smart is no more contagious than stupid.

So here's a pop quiz. Can anybody point out a group that exhibits exactly the opposite of all three of the traits and perhaps offer an estimation of their ranking on society's scale of success? Thought you could. And just how do we as a society currently address that and as Dr. Phil likes to say "how's that working for you?" Maybe rather than kill the messenger we should examine this reality and see if there is something to all this that might help other groups within the broader community achieve to a higher level.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Larks' Tongues In Aspic

The cold weather must have caused some brain freezes or perhaps the silly season is simply upon us now but one member of The Other Dunwoody was witness to a bizarre sight right here in daVille. Seems that some poor bloke of a certain age and gravitas was approached in a local retail establishment by what turned out to be a somewhat ruffled pro-Dunwoody crusader. What ensued was described as indistinguishable from a verbal assault as the crusader opened a rather large can of Dunwoody Whoopass and gave the confused patron a super-sized portion. While clearly a case of mistaken identity this elderly gentleman fled the store and was last seen heading southbound in a Buick sporting Florida plates and an "Ask Me About My Shih Tzu" bumper sticker.

There does seem to be general consensus that this fractured fairytale that Dunwoody has become just might be getting a little out of hand. This matter was hotly debated at the most recent TOD editorial meeting and while the conclusion was this was most likely a spontaneous outbreak of cerebral flatulence caused by cabin fever it was decided TOD should do what little it may to bring the overheated rhetoric out of the real world and back into the realm where it is only the bits that bite.

To wit: a better blog.

Not that any content on this blog will substantially change. Oh no. But what TOD can do is re-affirm the observation that they really will give anyone a blog and offer a few helpful hints to get folks started.

Some say you need a theme to blog around. Perhaps. Perhaps not. If you want a blog dedicated to the Dunwoody Ship-in-a-Bottle Social Club then go for it. If you just want to publish the random drivel that spews from finger to keyboard that's OK too. Not particularly novel, but it is still OK.

What you will need is an account--probably on one of the two services that dominate the public blogosphere. First is Google's Blogger and the other popular alternative is Wordpress. Both are more than adequate, easy to use and supply a variety of themes. Blogger has plenty of cool gadgets and integrates to other Google offers (like calendar). Wordpress is big in academia, particularly where posting mathematical equations might come in handy. There is a JSMath gadget for blogger but this is not as well integrated or flexible as the Wordpress offer.

Both provide minimal analytics and with very little work can be hooked into other more powerful analytics systems. Most folks use Google Analytics but there are others if you have some philosophical opposition to Google running the planet. You probably won't need that at first since no one will be reading your blog. At least not early on and depending on what tortured souls actually visit you may wish for never.

Some consideration should be given to copyright of your material. You must decide if you want re-distribution (copying) or if you'd prefer back-links. You might want to look into the Creative Commons suite of licenses. None of this is enforceable without expending significant dollars but it does encourage the casual cut-and-paster to really read what they're copying before they republish. This can save everyone a lot of grief. Especially the poor SoB who copied your crap without reading it only find out that what it really says is exactly the opposite of what he thought.

Then there is the touchy subject of comments. If you've been paying attention to local blogs you've noticed some fairly recent changes in policy. One blogger dropped the gadget showing recent comments which had the immediate effect of dramatically reducing comment traffic. Others have moved to comment moderation where the blog owner approves any comment before it shows up on the site. Some no longer allow anonymous commenting though most still allow handles (like PollyAnne) which is not too far from anonymous. This tightening of the free-speech-free-for-all is most likely due to the inverse relationship between number of comments and total information content of those comments. Or it could just be that most commenters have gotten really nasty of late. Of course here at The Other Dunwoody this is not a problem because we simply do not allow comments. While this was initially met with cheers of enthusiastic support lately there have been some who would like to offer their witticisms using our bits rather than getting their own blog and the point of this post is to encourage them to exercise their right to free speech on a blog of their very own. Furthermore we suspect these folks may in some way be responsible for scaring that potential age-in-place taxpayer all the way back to Fantasy Land.

So are you a candidate to write that better blog? Well if you're reading this tripe you clearly have too much time on your hands--time that might be better spent writing than reading. And if what you read here really, really pisses you off, you owe it to yourself to point your browser over to blogger or wordpress and make a fool of yourself in the virtual world rather than down at the gas station.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Blood Lust

The chilly weather offered an excellent opportunity to forage thru the LDQ* Café's freezer in order to sate a growing blood lust. The Quad of choice in this case is lamb. Not just any lamb, but American lamb delivered from field to freezer to oven to plate by none other than the University of Georgia (no, this is not how the Vet School buries its mistakes).

This is not just any ole piece of lamb. No sir. This a prime leg of lamb.

Of course that picture is a lot like looking at the sign at the end of Dunwoody Parkway and trying to figure out what it will really look like. It is really much better than you would otherwise imagine.

This particular cut of meat was hand delivered and prepared by one of the best amateur cooks in Athens. Not one of the Four Coursemen---they should be so lucky. As with all good cooks this one starts with good ingredients and this is no exception. The UGA lamb is not just well priced but unlike a "lamb down under" this meat is lean. Very little need to trim any fat.

There is a need to season which in this case involves minced fresh rosemary and garlic spread liberally on the outside and pressed into deep but small holes cut into the flesh.

Now it is ready for the rack. This is roasted in a pre-heated oven set to the people's temp (350 F) until an instant-read thermometer inserted in center reads 120 F. After all this about blood lust not charring.

You gotta let it rest. Some folks are too anxious and don't want to let it rest. But you gotta let it rest. Then there are the folks who NEVER let it rest--they are the ones dominating public comment at Council meetings.They really oughta let it rest.

A properly roasted leg offers meat done to every taste. The slices from the outside are done (not over-done, just done) while the meat gets increasingly rare as you slice towards the bone. Were that people were equally accommodating.

Lamb, done just right is most excellent with roasted potatoes. You do know how to roast potatoes don't you?

* LDQ: Large Dead Quadruped.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Just Compensation

Since the City formed TOD has consistently observed that for the City's three top positions we hired in haste and have suffered in an increasingly uncomfortable leisure. In one case we endured a breach so great that nothing less than permanent separation was acceptable. The other two...not so much. Yet.

Though not a singularity, the bungling of the Schneiderman investigation did not carry the consequences it should have or would have in other localities. And for years now we've endured the comedy of errors commonly known as CAD-to-CAD as our City Manager slowly realizes that wink-and-nod deals that work with real estate development don't work so well with computer systems development. Turns out computers don't blink.

Now folks are calling for action mostly in the form of a new City Manager. Some consider this harsh whilst others observe that the City Charter allows for little more than a nuclear option. Even the current City Manager, when justifying why he should not be subject to ethics oversight, argued that since he worked at the pleasure of the Mayor and Council such oversight was unnecessary. True dat.

As surprising as this may seem firing the City Manager won't fix the real problem. Without more fundamental changes the next City Manager will likely be as bad as the one we're currently saddled with and may even be worse. We need a better fix.

There is an old saying "You get what you pay for." Bullshit. You pay for what you get. And if you're smart you make sure of exactly what you are getting before you pay. That's what we need in this City: a compensation system that rewards results.

It works like this. Top City staffers (that would include the City Manager, Police Chief and City Attorney and their direct reports) will receive  two thirds of their W2 compensation as salary with the rest in the form of performance bonuses. Plural. The next layer of staffers will receive an eighty-twenty split.

The bonuses are earned by delivering against tangible, measurable objectives agreed upon in bi-annual employee-manager work sessions. In the case of the City Manager, this would comprise agreed upon goals that are aligned with the policy direction established by Council. Long term policy initiatives require that Council establish intermediate milestones. Had this been done with the CAD-to-CAD project the City Manager would not have been able to pull the "it will take three months" wool over Council's eyes. It would also mean that failure to perform would come directly out of the pockets of those who failed to live up to their commitments.

Throughout the organization these goals must be aligned with Council's policy objectives and vision for the City. They must also be prioritized as should Council policy and vision. And they should be allocated in such a fashion that each employee has a clear understanding of what must be done to earn competitive compensation and what can be done (stretch goals) to earn more. It is a track record of achieving these stretch goals and nothing else that leads to increases in overall compensation. You earn your pay and you earn your raise.

By establishing this compensation plan and publishing the objectives, priorities, policy and vision updated whenever there is any change we will establish a level of transparency and accountability that will go a long way towards making Dunwoody a city that operates in the way we were promised.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Green Eggs. No Ham.

There are few things more therapeutic or more satisfying than making your own pasta. We're not talking about just boiling up that desiccated crap with a twenty year shelf life--no sir we're talking about raw ingredients and hard work. And we'll start with the basics before we amp it up.

For basic pasta you need three ingredients: one egg, one cup of flour and a bit of water. Get over yourself with the water already--you're gonna need the water. You're also gonna need that fork.

Now this is one of those activities you can share with youngsters. Preferably a grandchild and even better when you do this in your OCD daughter-in-law's kitchen. And just imagine the fun when that little nipper tells the pre-school teacher "we eat Play Dough at home and gramps showed me how to make it!"

You start by mounding the flour and making a depression in the middle. This is good practice for the paper mache volcano that is certainly in the near future. Now some folks reserve some of the flour to sprinkle on the egg, but that just seems silly. So don't.

Next you add the egg to the nest.

And then you fork that bad boy until you a dough starts to come together. Yum yum!

This is the point at which you might need to add water. You might not, but probably.

Then you just work the dough until it looks like this.

By this point you are beginning to understand the therapeutic value of pasta making. This can be some pretty tough dough. Once you get to this point you can wrap these balls up in plastic wrap for refrigerator storage. It is generally recommended that you let the dough "rest" in the fridge before you go to the next steps. While it can be saved for days or even frozen one of the key aspects of fresh pasta is that it is, well, fresh.

Now you're ready to roll it out and slice to suit your tastes and needs. Old school pasta makers roll and slice by hand. They're fools. We recommend using a handy dandy pasta machine.

This bad boy comes equipped with stainless steel rollers separated by an adjustable space. Works a bit like the rollers on your (great)grannie's old tub washing machine. Only this is food so it's more fun.

You will have to cut down the size of the pasta ball and flatten it down a bit by hand, but once it goes thru at the widest setting you literally crank it out. Once you have your desired thickness you're ready to slice.

These adapters slice in a variety of widths. Pick what you like.

Once sliced you will want to let the pasta dry. Well to be honest you don't really need to dry it, but you're probably not gonna eat immediately so you have to do something with it. Turns out if you just dump it in a bowl you get a mess. Turns out if you dump it in a bowl with a little olive oil you get an oily mess. They do make pasta drying racks but you have to be equipped with an obscenely large kitchen to afford the space for these limited use toys. You are probably going to eat this pasta real soon now so you might find an open cabinet door an adequate makeshift rack. Depending on how clean your daughter-in-law keeps her kitchen you might consider draping cling wrap over the door before you throw your fresh pasta over the top. Gritty pasta doesn't garner rave reviews.

Now that's your basic no-frills pasta. Did that look like bread flour to you? Good catch. There are "pasta flours" out there and some folks like semolina. Others like quinoa but that seems best reserved for what goes on or with the pasta. Others look for gluten-free flours though this seems a bit like veggie-burgers--asinine.

There is a place for adding flavour to your pasta even if that is only to clear our the fridge or freezer. Here is where the green eggs come in--pesto pasta.

When your back yard crop of basil goes all kudzu on you, what you gonna do? Make pesto of course. Turns our pesto freezes well. Also happens to make some pretty good pasta.

This starts like any other pasta excepting it is a good idea to beat together the egg and pesto before going to the volcano. The two eggs are italian for "super size me."

Green liquid chicken rules! This is almost as fascinating to the average four year old as the "spoon trick*". From this point forward you are just making pasta. Except it is green.

Bring it together. Well kneaded.

Portion control.
Let it rest.
When you are ready to eat you roll, slice, dry and cook just like any other home made pasta.

It should come as no surprise that pesto pasta is excellent with roasted tomatoes. You do know how roast tomatoes don't you?

*spoon trick. Requires a very clean, shiny spoon, preferably soup spoon sized. Have the child hold the spoon with the handle down (like a lollipop) and look into the concave side at which point you say "upside down". Turn the spoon around and say "right side up." Now turn the spoon so the handle is up. The average four year old will play happily with the spoon for hours. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Don't It Make Your Brown Eyes Blue?

What would you think if your neighbor down at the end of the cul de sac took their young child to an ophthalmologist to get the child's brown eyes converted to blue? And what would you think of an ophthalmologist who claimed the most important factor affecting eye color was a good ophthalmologist and he took their money to make them brown eyes blue? Not much, eh?

And just why would that be? Is it because you like everyone else knows that what determines one's eye color is genetics? In fact genetics plays a pretty big part in determining lots of things. Gender, physique, hair color--in fact it plays some role in almost every aspect of what makes a person an individual.

Except education.

Or so the education establishment would have you believe. For some reason genetics is something we just will not talk about when it comes to education. Instead we'd prefer to think of teachers as if they are the educational equivalent of the eye color ophthalmologist. Screw genetics--the most important thing is the teacher. At least until test results paint a picture of some pretty incompetent teachers in which case the most important thing is the parents. But if that becomes politically unpalatable we'll just chalk it up to society or a digital divide or haves and have nots.

But now we really can blame the parents. Turns out that heritability has more effect on variations in academic achievement than all other factors combined. That's right, whether your little darlin' is the next Feynman or Goober Pyle we can all rest easy because he was born that way. These revelations come from the research of Behavioural Geneticists Kathryn Asbury and Robert Plomin who have published a book, "G is for Genes: The Impact of Genetics On Education", providing an accessible overview (and some personal analysis) of their research into genetic influences of academic achievement. (Before anyone gets too hot under the collar this research was centered in England which being an island has long suffered from inbreeding and all manner of genetic issues thereunto appertaining. YMMV) But there is significant value in the material being presented (and for those truly interested the book itself should be given a read).

Everyone with more than one child or any siblings at all understands that genetic transference is probabilistic . No two sibs will learn to read at the same rate, with the same ease or to the same level of proficiency even though they draw from the same gene pool. Nonetheless it is each child's genetic makeup that is the single largest factor influencing their relative academic achievement.

Yet our education systems ignore this preferring instead to harp on the value of teachers, home environment, family makeup, income levels and supplied resources. Perhaps this is because of large interests who have much money and power at stake with the current system. If you've made your career selling the snake oil salve that "cures the academic ills of poverty" then you're not likely to be receptive to the notion that your snake oil is just that. Likewise if your constituency is the poor unappreciated teacher you will sing a chorus of "how great they art" giving a cold shoulder to any notion that their impact is as incredibly small as it really is.

Perhaps it is because speaking of genetic differentiation leads towards conversations that touch upon eugenics though for whatever it may be worth the term eugenics comes from the Greek roots for "good" and "generation" or "origin". While no one is recommending selective breeding or sterilization [ed: not yet] don't you think if you're going to do in vitro it would make sense to consider the implications of what you're doing?

Perhaps it is because genetics is poorly understood by the masses all too many of whom seem to think in simplistic terms and believe genes mean certain things are hardwired. Fact is there are so many genes involved that variations driven by genetics are probabilistic and not deterministic. It's still driven by genetics just not exactly the same way every time. Our gene pool has apparently dried up to the point that concept will not be widely understood.

Then there's the politics of the circumstances and let's be very clear--so long as governments fund and run our schools education will be first and foremost about politics. Politicians speak (and perhaps understand) in sound bites fostering an incorrect but politically convenient assertion that the role genetics plays in variations in academic achievement somehow drives policy. This obscures the facts regarding the role genetics plays in education and ignores the fact that policy is decoupled from genetics and is driven exclusively by our values. Using the same facts we could as a society chose to educate the best and forget the rest or we might decide that our values call on us to bring every member of our society to some minimal level of literacy and numeracy no matter what the cost. Or we could use what we know to provide the individualized education our technology can support.

As long as we ignore the single biggest factor influencing variations in academic achievement and we continue to elect school board members and other officials who focus on everything but this factor our schools will continually decline and our children and their future will be wasted.

Monday, February 3, 2014

SAWB...All Growed Up

A recent AJC article touched on the whitening effect of new cities in the Atlanta area (previously known as a Black Mecca). If citihood becomes a commodity product (which appears to be the case) it will surely be marketed by Clorox as it has the power to make things whiter than they ever were.

Regarding this phenomena the article quoted one of the most popular members of the blogger community, Dunwoody's own Farmer Bob:
"Forgive me if I don't sound shocked. [...] There's an easy trap when creating a city (to say) 'We want people to look like us,' I honest to God don't think it's a conscious decision. The people who founded these cities are arrogant, rich white guys. That's who they know."
Come on now Bob, let's be fair. They're not that rich.