Road tripping

As D.C. gets icy and cold once again, I’m taking the week off for my first real road trip since September. My first and longest stop will be in Nashville to visit Chad and other friends not cool enough to have blogs I can link to. The frequency of updates will be inversely proportional to the amount of Aerobie-friendly weather and the number of friends I can coerce into playing outside; I’m sure I’ll be at J-J’s enough to update at least a few times.

While in town I hope to get a look at the roasting side of the coffee business and plan on meeting with a craftsman who builds well regarded performance tables for magicians. I may even get a chance to finally try Krooner’s, the sushi bar/motorcycle supply shop in Lebanon.

On Friday I’ll leave Nashville for the Research Triangle to visit my friends Jeff (who has a blog), Ben (who should), and some of the Grier family. I’ll also be attending an IHS day seminar at Duke University. I’ll return Sunday evening to a hopefully warmer and drier D.C.


I said what?

The Vanderbilt Hustler ran an op-ed today asking the all important question, “Are Libertarians and Communists any different?” By describing grossly impoverished versions of both philosophies the writer concludes that they’re not. For example:

Like communists, libertarians have an essentially economistic worldview that tends to dismiss cultural and moral issues as unimportant or irrelevant. I can recall, for example, reading an interview with a former editor of The Torch, in which he argued that all drugs should be legalized and sold in stores, because (I am quoting from memory) “its all just supply and demand.”

No, that wasn’t me. The quote is from a February 2003 interview in Versus Magazine with The Torch’s contorversial columnist Brett Austin. Here’s the full quote, which is a bit more nuanced than the author gives Brett credit for:

ED: What about legalization of pot or other drugs?

BA: I think all drugs should be legal. Drugs and prostitution. I think it is all supply and demand. People are going to demand these things. So, there is a market for it, obviously, and we might as well legalize it and regulate it. It is a lot better than to have a black market trade.

Cato also gets a mention in the Hustler op-ed:

Libertarian philosophy also is casually indifferent to what we might consider national issues. Libertarian think-tanks like the Cato Institute routinely publish papers extolling the virtues of massive, unrestricted immigration and global free trade, regardless of how such policies might impact a nation’s culture, sovereignty or security.

I may submit a response to this later but will let it pass without comment for now. Thanks for the tip go to Anne Malinee, current editor of that libertarian/communist rag, The Torch.

[Update 2/2/05: Kevin McNish writes a rebuttal.]


Quote of the day

Espresso consumption is an aesthetic experience, like tasting a vintage wine or admiring a painting. It is a search for beauty and goodness and improving the quality of our life. As it offers such subjectively ineffable ‘goodness’, devoid of defects, the only adequate reaction to it is astonishment — astonishment that can give birth to enthusiasm, and therefore intellectual and spiritual enrichment.

— Andrea Illy, Espresso Coffee: The Science of Quality, 2nd Ed.


Dining guide update

GMU economist and amateur food critic Tyler Cowen has posted the latest edition of his eminently useful guide to ethnic cuisine in the D.C. area. His page is the best site to visit when you’re looking for a great new place to try — and if it doesn’t work out for you, Tyler’s not taking the blame:

Remember, if you donít like these, you probably didnít follow my advice for what to order. Or you are to blame in some other manner, I donít know which one, there are many possibilities. The most likely are that you simply donít have very good taste, or perhaps you are not very bright. Too bad.

The best news coming out of this update is that he’s finally found a Mexican restaurant he’s willing to recommend. Having grown up in Houston, the Mexican food in this city has been the biggest culinary disappointment for me. The restaurant is called El Tapatio. Too bad it’s in Maryland.


Why I must not be allowed to have children

According to the Baby Center, whatever that is, Jacob is the most popular male baby name for the fourth year in a row in the United States. I can’t say that I care about that statistic one way or another, except that I’m glad I registered my domain name when I did. Now I don’t have to worry about some loser Jacob Grier getting the site and putting up something lame (as opposed to, say, this weblog). On the other hand, if some other Jacob Grier turns out to be really rich and successful I can sell the domain to him for large sums of money. You’ll know this has happened when you see more blog entries about really hot dates he’s been on and less about the challenges of making espresso. I come out ahead either way.

I will tell you this though: my kids aren’t going to have to worry about having the same name as everybody else. For instance, if I have a daughter I’m going to name her Wachel. I mean like Rachel, but with a W instead of an R. That way every time she introduces herself people will think she has a speech impediment.

I know that may sound cruel, but at least she’ll have a unique name and she won’t have to worry about having a dozen other Wachels in all her classes. She’ll thank me someday, I’m sure.

Besides, she won’t have things nearly as tough as her younger brother Thteve.


More worldly philosophy

Cato Executive V. P. David Boaz has written his own balanced obituary for economist Robert Heilbroner (see my post below). It includes a quote from an excerpt from an article Heilbroner wrote for Dissent in 1992 about the collapse of socialism:

Capitalism has been as unmistakable a success as socialism has been a failure. Here is the part that’s hard to swallow. It has been the Friedmans, Hayeks, and von Miseses who have maintained that capitalism would flourish and that socialism would develop incurable ailments. All three have regarded capitalism as the ‘natural’ system of free men; all have maintained that left to its own devices capitalism would achieve material growth more successfully than any other system. From [my samplings] I draw the following discomforting generalization: The farther to the right one looks, the more prescient has been the historical foresight; the farther to the left, the less so.

Friedrich Hayek couldn’t have asked for a better response to his wonderful dedication in The Road to Serfdom, which read, “To the socialists of all parties.” He could, however, have asked to see it sooner.


Libertarian Girl

Considering the excitement that one anonymous Craigslist personals ad from a self-described “super babe seeks geeky libertarian” caused within the local libertarian blogosphere, I’m surprised that this new weblog has remained beneath the radar.

Lonely libertarian men, put down that copy of the Ladies of Liberty calendar and drop your membership in the Atlasphere. Your search is at an end.

Site pros: prolific, thorough linking, libertarian. Cons: LP reference in subtitle, pro-war, uses phrases like “hate-America leftists.”


I <3 Google

Forgive the lame entry title because today Google has me swooning like a fourteen year old girl. One of the biggest inconveniences of maintaining a weblog (aside from having to keep it updated!) is deleting comment spam. These are the links to Cialis, cheap loans, and pornography that spambots automatically add by the thousands to comment sections. I use a frequently updated blacklist to keep the problem in check, but even with that i nplace it’s not uncommon for me to wake up to a dozen new comments I have to delete.

Google to the rescue. The smartest search company has realized that the best way to beat the spammers may not be to fight them in a software arms race. Rather, they can change the economics of the system to make comment spamming worthless to the spammer. The main reason comment spam is profitable is that the links embedded within it are read by search engines and counted toward those sites’ rankings. If search engines could ignore those links, that incentive would be removed.

The solution is the “no follow” attribute tag. From now on when Google sees a link with the tag rel=”no follow” in it, the link will be ignored. Yahoo! and MSN have signed on as well. That takes care of three of the biggest search engines.

Bloggers have to do our part as well by ensuring that links added to our comment sections include the tag. Unless a significant number of bloggers do this, the economics won’t change and comment spam will continue unabated.

Fortunately, this should be pretty easy with the support of the blogging companies. SixApart is implementing it automatically for TypePad and LiveJournal users; MovableType users will have to install a plugin. Lots of other companies are cooperating as well, so bloggers should keep an eye out for the appropriate updates and plug-ins.

This is a smart, creative idea from Google that could make the lives of bloggers much easier, stemming tide of spam for at least the short-term. If you’re a blogger running your own software, don’t be a free rider. Use the new tag in your comment sections as soon as you can.


Credit where credit is due

I’m usually critical of the Vanderbilt administration on this weblog, but today I can report some good news: the Dining monopoly appears to be nearing an end. Dining has initiated a pilot program for 300 students to use their Vandy Cards at several off campus establishments. Assuming it goes well, Dining hopes to extend the option even further.

Vandy’s dining monopoly was always one of my pet issues as a student and I’m glad to see change finally in the works. For years, the university dining services have been insulated from competion by Vandy’s debit card. The card could only be used on campus and it took about two weeks to withdraw one’s funds. This gave Dining a huge advantage over the many local competitors with whom students had to use cash or credit. Predictably, this allowed Dining to get away with lower quality food than would be acceptable at restaurants located just a couple blocks away.

Praise to Frank Gladu for implementing this change. The competition will give students more options and spur improvements in Vanderbilt’s eateries. It’s a good decision all around.


More news people should read

First Virginia removes one barrier, then the Louisville Courier-Journal provides some handy tips for hitting on your barista. I’d call this a red letter day.

Oh, and if you’re the guy I accidentally served the heart shaped latte art to the other day, please disregard this post.

[Hat tip to Nick, whose espresso brings all the girls to the yard. Or something like that.]

[Instant update: My former barista flatmate reminds me that she once posted her own advice on the subject, including the five worst pick-up lines she ever heard.]


Think tank envy

The American Constitution Society is a recently formed organization for left-leaning law students and others in the legal field, a “progressive” version of the Federalist Society. They maintain a good, frequently updated weblog. I’ve found it to be a good source for news the right side of the blogosphere often passes over.

Yesterday one of its editors, Joel Zuercher, had a bit of fun with the conservative movement’s well-funded network, poking fun of the Heritage job bank and the Leadership Institute’s training seminars. All joking aside, he noted that this network is one of the things that has made conservatives so effective at drawing talent to Washington. I’ve personally benefited from the smaller, less politically connected classical liberal network and have seen left-leaning friends suffer from the lack of one as they try to find policy work in the District.

That said, Zuercher links to a Washinton Post article showing how the conservative network was used to put regrettably unqualified young people in authority positions for the rebuilding of Iraq. I don’t mean that as a criticism of the conservatives who stood behind their ideas and accepted risky posts, but of the administration who planned so poorly for the occupation that it filled important jobs by mass emailing the Heritage job bank email list. Read the complete story for a look at how a group an untrained Washington “brat pack” [corrected] ended up running key parts of the CPA.


Who’s Qoo?

I mentioned that were two questions I was curious about regarding my latte art entry from before. The second question was, “Who’s Qoo?” One of the few captions I could read on the Japanese latte art page was “Qoo,” whom I assumed to be the barista’s dog. Google revealed his true identity.

Qoo turns out to be a Japanese beverage produced by the Coca-Cola company. It’s identified with a weird cartoon character named Qoo who apparently comes in many guises and manifestations. Go to the homepage and you can play a choose your own adventure game as Qoo. I ended up leading an entire orchestra of little Qoo drinks, which I’d say is a pretty good ending for someone who doesn’t read a word of Japanese.

The Urban Dictionary offers an additional usage for Qoo:

a person whose face is blue with panda eyes

sample of use:

Person A: What happen to you??? you look like Qoo

Person B: Of course i look like Qoo…after studying for 3 days and 3 nights without sleeping a single bit……


What’s nu?

My recent entry on latte art raised a couple of intriguing questions in my mind, the first of which was, “What is the domain .nu and why is a Swedish coffee site using it?” The answer turns out to be much more interesting than I’d imagined possible and reveals the fascinating story of how a couple of entrepreneurs brought free Internet access to a tiny Pacific island nation.
Continue reading “What’s nu?”


Why does Windows crash?

Maybe it’s because Microsoft programmers aren’t big on efficiency. For example, this is how their map program recommends traveling from Haugesund (in Norway) to Trondheim (also in Norway). Estimated trip time: 47 hours, 31 minutes. The directions also include a frightening number of roundabouts.


Link via the F’d Sites list in the new issue of The Slant.

[Instant update: Getting back from Trondheim to Haugesund is apparently much, much easier. Must be a lot of one-way highways in Norway.]


Incredible latte art

I’ve written briefly briefly before about latte art, the designs a barista can place into the steamed milk foam of a latte. While not strictly essential, these designs show that the barista cares about detail and give the job an added challenge. Too little foam and you have nothing to work with; too much foam and you can’t get enough flow to make a design. Of course, the goal of making perfect milk for latte art is complimentary to the goal of making a drink that tastes good or else we wouldn’t do it. Aiming for the former helps ensure the latter. Besides, it’s nice to give the drink an alluring visual presentation to match its wonderful taste and aroma.

The most well known form of latte art is the rosetta. Some excellent examples of this floral design can be seen here. After several months on the job I’m finally starting to get the hang of it, though I’m inconsistent and mine are often narrower than I would like. In time I’ll have it down. What then? Browsing the Internet today, I found a couple of sites showing that there’s plenty more to aspire to.

The first is Beige, a site promoting excellence in Sweden’s cafe culture (I’m told that Scandinavia is becoming quite the place for espresso drinks). The site is in Swedish, unfortunately, but the pictures speak for themselves. These amazing abstract designs aren’t poured directly into the cup. Instead, they’re etched into the surface of the latte with some sort of stylus or straw. The dark bands are where chocolate syrup has been added. If these lattes are as delicious as they look, I might have to take a trip to Sweden.

The second site is the photo gallery of a Japanese barista. Whereas most latte art is abstract, this guy pushes the limits of realism. (Is it any coincidence he’s from the same country that gave us hot dog sharks and other sausage sculpture?) He appears to be using almost entirely pours with just a little bit of etching on the facial features. My favorites are “Qoo,” the bunny, and the fish in the sea. The Rawlings football in the background is a nice touch, too. Link via Screenhead.


The first step of recovery is admitting you have a problem

Today I added my 100th Bloglines subscription. That’s 100 blogs and feeds I keep track of, not including the handful of unsyndicated blogs I still deign to read. I’d cut back but I’m afraid of the withdrawal symptoms. I go a morning without blogs and my mouse clicking finger starts to shake. My name is Jacob Grier and I have a problem.

The honor of being my 100th subscription goes to John Taylor’s new weblog External Reflection. John and I met at one of my IHS seminars this past summer and he recently came to D.C. for the graduate economics program at American University. Welcome to the blogosphere, John. Don’t let it suck you in.

See all 100 subscriptions here. If you read more than a few blogs and don’t already use Bloglines, I highly recommend it as a convenient way to get your fix. And if you’re a blogger and don’t publish a feed, then please get with it! You’re making my finger twitch.