Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Kathy Iverson, 1946-2014

It is with great sadness that I share with you that my mother, Kathy (Kathleen) Iverson passed away in St. Cloud, Minnesota on November 25th, 2014 of complications related to Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. She is survived by her ex-husband Bud and children Al and Liz. Born and raised in Minneapolis, she most recently had lived for a number of years with her ex-husband just outside of Litchfield, Minnesota with their dogs Roger and Elvis. She was cremated and no services will be held.

(I'm posting this notice here so that friends and relatives might find it while searching online for information.)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

So many miles!

We bought a new car back at the beginning of April. It's now the end of September and we've already hit the 10,000 mile mark on our new ride. And both my wife and I work from home. So I was sort of surprised to see that we ran up the mileage so quickly. But we love to go on road trips, and those miles add up.



Here's just a few of the places our new car has taken us.
  • Deadwood, SD
  • Wall Drug, Wall, SD
  • Sioux Falls, SD
  • Minneapolis, MN
  • Wisconsin Dells, WI
  • Milwaukee, WI
  • St. Louis, MO
  • Indianapolis, IN
  • Tulsa, OK
  • New Buffalo, MI
(On another note, we love our new car. But if the dealer, manufacturer, or some other third party sends us ANY MORE SURVEYS, I'm going to start giving everybody all zeros and F's. There are just too many surveys flung at you after buying a new car. My policy going forward that if you want me to answer your survey, it needs to arrive stapled to a $5 bill.)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Stuff to Explore in Minneapolis

Here's a few things you might want to check out when you're in Minneapolis. (Got others? Please add them in comments and I will update this post.)
  • The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. A beautiful garden park with outdoor art. Much of it modern/abstract. Is not too huge to rue walking around in. Also has a conservatory, so if it's cold out it's wonderful to go inside and warm up while looking at the greenery. If you walk there from a downtown hotel, you'll go through the beautiful Loring Park and across a walking bridge with a poem on it.
  • The Minneapolis Institute of Arts. A wonderful art museum. Worth a visit. In a neighborhood some consider ghetto, but it's not bad and I used to live right by there.
  • The Walker Art Center. Comparable to the MCA in Chicago. Bigger than the MCA, I think.
  • The Mall of America. You go here because you like shopping and it's cold outside and you need christmas presents. If that's not you, avoid. 
  • The Minehaha Falls are beautiful. There's a restaurant there called Sea Salt that is fantastic. (Expect a line. And save this one only for warmer weather.)
  • Drive or bike down to Nicollet Island and look at the cool homes and row houses. It's very small, so it won't take long. Then drive or pedal over to St. Anthony Main and have a beer at Pracna or Aster. Pracna is the oldest still-open bar in Minneapolis.



Some Good Twin Cities Restaurants

Compiled for a friend. Got any others? Leave a comment and I'll add it.

Downtown restaurants/pubs:

  • Bulldog Downtown, 11th and Hennepin. Good place for a burger. Part of a small chain.
  • The Local, 9th and Nicollet. Good Irish Pub. Not my favorite one in the world, because that would be:
  • Kieran's Irish Pub, 6th and Hennepin. Great food, great atmosphere. My favorite Irish pub in the world. (Both the Local and Kieran's are owned by the same guy and the both have good food.)
  • Brit's Pub, 11th and Nicollet. Best scotch eggs in town. Love this place. Go. If it's nice out, they have a huge patio.
  • Vincent, 11th and Nicollet. Great French restaurant. 
  • Barrio Tequila Bar, 9th and Nicollet. I actually haven't been here yet but it comes well recommended, so don't hesitate to check it out.
  • Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant. If you happen to see somebody you like playing there, it's a good venue. Like SPACE in Evanston. However, I find the food to be overrated, so I wouldn't bother going there just for food.
  • King & I Thai. You will see this on maps and the sign is still there, but this place is closed, so don't bother. Which is a bummer, because their food was fantastic.

Eat Street:

  • The Eat Street Area. This is Nicollet Avenue from 25th Street to 28th Street. Great Asian restaurants. Quang for Vietnamese. Rainbow for seafood. Pho 79 for pho noodle soups.
  • Icehouse. 25th and Nicollet. Farm-to-table kind of place. Good vegetarian options (like crispy tofu). Had a great meal here a few months ago.
  • Eat Street Social. 26th and Nicollet. This is one of those places where the have 15 kinds of bitters and it looks like an apothecary behind the bar. Good for fancy cocktails.
Elsewhere:
  • Travail/The Rookery. In Robbinsdale, a north suburb of Minneapolis. Kind of a long haul from downtown. I haven't been here yet, but everybody says it is fantastic and that it is a destination. Map location. North Minneapolis can be a little unsafe if you don't know what you're doing, stick to the highways if you go up that way.
  • French Meadow Bakery. 26th and Lyndale Avenue South. Great breakfast/brunch place. Haven't been for dinner. It looks worth checking out for dinner. Right next to a dive bar called the CC Club, which is a friendly space filled with lots of young people.
  • Bryant Lake Bowl. Lake and Bryant. Was a bowling alley for many years. Has eight lanes hidden in the back, still. Is now a restaurant and also has a performance space. Is unique. A Minneapolis gem.
  • Pazzaluna, in downtown St. Paul. My all time favorite Italian restaurant. Great gnocchi. Great asparagus and chicken pizza. Great almost everything else. Funny bartender (Steve) who tells horribly lame jokes that you'll love.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Interesting Fast Food in Minneapolis

I'm putting together a list of interesting fast food/fast casual restaurants in Minneapolis for a friend. Got one to add? Leave it in comments.

Minneapolis has a few local (or at least "not available in Chicago") restaurant chains that are worth checking out. Here's my favorites:
  1. D'Amico & Sons, multiple locations, including 22nd and Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis. Fantastic pasta salads. Great little pizzas. Great sandwiches. You can get a bottomless glass of wine when you dine in. I go here for pasta salad every time I'm in town.
  2. Punch Pizza, multiple locations. Neapolitan Pizza in 90 seconds. It's sort of Chipotle for individual pizzas. Pick what you want, they cook it in the big oven, and yum.
  3. Brasa. Northeast Minneapolis. It's meat. Rotisserie-cooked meat. A friend introduced us to this place last year. Everything is simply cooked and quite good.
  4. Pizza Luce. Multiple locations including downtown Minneapolis. Gourmet pizza. My favorite pizza place on earth. Try the baked potato pizza. Has a ton of vegetarian and vegan options, including vegan fake cheese. They will deliver to downtown hotels, great option if you're tired after a long day of convention going.
  5. Lee Ann Chin. Multiple locations. Minnesota's own asian restaurant chain. My wife says their food is "objectively terrible," but it's very much comfort food for me, with Chinese food that is at least the same every time and typically better fare than from most of the crappy Chinese places here in Chicago. Also, cream cheese wontons are better than crab rangoon!

Stay tuned for better restaurants and other stuff in another post.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Like Ikea for (Stuff)

I love Ikea, but it's so far away. It takes just over an hour to get there-- yuck. So I don't go very often. Which means I often think, well, where can I get something for almost as cheap as I can get it at Ikea?

So I'm starting a list: Where can I go that's like going to Ikea for ____ ?

Like Ikea for glassware? Dollar Tree has (among other things) wine glasses, beer glasses and martini glasses for one dollar each. Can't beat that. I'm almost waiting for my current stuff to break so I can replace it all with stuff from Dollar Tree.

Like Ikea for an inexpensive sofa? Home Reserve. We have two chairs from Home Reserve and they're great. They are shipped via UPS and you assemble them yourself. The boxes fit through the door easily and it's way easier than dragging a chair or sofa home from Ikea. After our next move, we're going to try buying a sectional from Home Reserve. We've always wanted a sectional, but we were terrified of dealing with moving one-- they're so big, you don't know if they'll fit through hallways, etc. And so expensive! Now that we trust Home Reserve, we know that A. it can be disassembled easily for moving, B. individual covers and cushions can be replaced as needed, and C. we can afford it.

Like Ikea for paper towels or toilet paper? OK, Ikea doesn't carry either of these things, but I'm not going to Wal-mart either, so I am lucky to have a Family Dollar just a couple blocks away that always has paper towel and toilet paper at very reasonable prices. Much cheaper than buying it from Target or the grocery store. I can usually get a giant package of rolls of toilet paper or paper towel for $5.

Like Ikea for kitchen gadgets? That would be Marshalls. They always have a big section of kitchen gadgets and utensils. They also often have dinnerware and glassware sets. The only downside to buying dinnerware from Marshalls is that their stock changes often enough that you aren't going to be able to go back and buy a matching set in six months. If you see it now and want it, you better buy it now.

Like Ikea for bedding? That would be Anna's Linens. It's sort of a smaller, budget version of Bed, Bath and Beyond. Which is a necessity, because it is easy to spend wayyy too much money on sheets and blankets at Bed, Bath and Beyond. We're lucky to have an Anna's Linens right in our neighborhood. If you've never been in one, you should check it out.

Like Ikea for GU10 light bulbs? 
Ikea. Our current apartment has a ton of fixtures that take these annoying, uncommon GU10 light bulbs. The prices vary a lot, but the cheapest place to get them always seems to be Ikea, where they're something like 4 for $6 or $9. They're always more at the hardware store or Home Depot, so there's no good substitute. So I try to stock up, buy a bunch whenever I can get out to Ikea.

Like Ikea for rugs and runners? Family Dollar. Once upon a time, we made a dedicated trip out to Ikea once and loaded up on area rugs for our whole home, all at once. Ikea's prices on rugs make it worth it. But then we got a puppy and then a grumpy, elderly chihuahua. We eventually potty trained the puppy, but the chihuahua still thinks door mats are fair game if we're not paying attention. We cleaned the nice rugs for as long as possible, but eventually they get gross enough that they just have to go. If you're dealing with puppy or elderly dog accidents, Family Dollar's $22 area rugs or $10 accent rugs are lifesavers. They don't look too bad, and when a dog has just totally destroyed one of them, it is easily replaced. I feel bad about treating as these as almost disposable, but you gotta do what you gotta do.

Like Ikea for bed pillows? Family Dollar. Yes, Ikea has nicer bed pillows and a much larger selection, but if you've got guests coming tonight and you can't get out to Ikea, Family Dollar's $4 bed pillow will do in a pinch. If you want to get fancy, you can upgrade to the $6 satin bed pillow. I've been using a $4 one for a while now. It gets a bit misshapen but it gets the job done.

What am I missing? Leave me your thoughts in a comment and I'll update this post with your expert guidance.

Monday, August 11, 2014

John Oliver on Payday Loans

I had a friend who got trapped in the repeating cycle that payday loans can become. And working in the email industry has exposed me to a lot of bad actors sending tons and tons of spam trying to induce consumers to apply for loans (or more loans). So I knew most of this stuff about payday loans and the companies behind them already. But if you don't already know all about these things, John Oliver's got you covered, with an epic sixteen minute overview from his show Last Week Tonight.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Another Useless Opinion on Burwell v. Hobby Lobby

Everybody else already expressed their opinion better than I could ever express mine, but I will take a quick moment to point out that some of the things Hobby Lobby is objecting against covering are actually medically necessary for some people with certain issues; this has included my wife in recent times. I am glad to work for an employer who hasn't decided to attempt to restrict what I spend my health care coverage on, so that these things were available my wife affordably, who did in fact have a medical need for them.

And let's be clear; it's my health care coverage. It's a form of compensation from my employer, and it's up to me, in coordination with my loved ones, in consultation with our medical professionals, on how we want to spend it. I don't believe it to be appropriate for the employer to have a hand in what they feel is appropriately covered based on moral grounds.

Hobby Lobby's 401k plan invests in companies that make and sell many of the contraceptive devices that they themselves object to. (As well as exporting great amounts of goods from China, where abortions are much less rare than in the US.) I've seen people call this a red herring. I disagree; it matters, and here's why.

We need to start with this reasonable explanation from Jeffrey Brown explains in Forbes that Hobby Lobby's hands are tied in this regard, in that it must comply with US pension law. OK, I'm with him so far on that point.

But then, allow me to call out the addendum added to the end of the article, which he uses to respond to critics. In it, he states:

"The primary objection that I am hearing from readers is not that my analysis of current U.S. retirement plan law is inaccurate, but rather that it is a prima facie case of hypocrisy that Hobby Lobby conformed to the 401(k) laws while challenging the health care law, even though both could be construed as violating the owners’ religious freedom.   I might agree with this line of reasoning if it were free to mount legal challenges.  But legal challenges are anything but free: a report on Marketplace last year estimates that it takes a minimum of $250,000 – and more often millions of dollars – to take a case to the Supreme Court.  Given the high cost, it seems perfectly rational for any person, company or organization – and regardless of the constitutional issue being argued – to choose cases that they believe have the highest chance of winning.  I would not be surprised if their legal counsel advised them (correctly, it turns out) that they could win the health insurance case, whereas they might not win a case challenging the fiduciary rules for 401(k) plans.  Keep in mind that Supreme Court cases are not debates about the relative merits of various public policy alternatives.  Rather, they are argued on constitutional grounds, and thus the details of the law and the details of the case matter enormously.  Given the outcome of the case, it is hard to argue that Hobby Lobby made a bad decision about legal strategy.  But their unwillingness to mount two expensive legal battles simultaneously rather than focusing on one does not necessarily imply hypocrisy."

His point is made in a reasonable tone of voice, but the logic is twisted. I strongly reject the implication of hypocrisy based solely on the potential cost to Hobby Lobby associated with mounting an additional legal challenge. If this is truly the most important thing to them under their moral convictions, and we know that they are financially secure enough to be able challenge one law, why would they not attempt to challenge the second law? Both laws, through the narrow, moral scope of the lens being applied here, require funds that started out in the accounts of Hobby Lobby, to be transferred to accounts for use to support devices and practices that they object very strongly to.

According to Forbes, Hobby Lobby's revenue was $3.3 billion in 2013. "It's too expensive to challenge" rings hollow in this context. The amount of money they would spend is, relatively speaking, pocket change.

And finally, from further up in Mr. Brown's article, I'd like to highlight this point: "It is individual employees, not the owners of Hobby Lobby, who make the portfolio allocation decisions."

I think that's fair, to be honest. In fact, that's all I wanted with regard to health care coverage, too. Sigh.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

George Will Sucks

The cover of Newcity as spotted in Hot Doug's today.
My wife is back in Newcity again this week, talking about rape culture.

My favorite part is the bit about George Will.

The article explains: "In his June 6 column in the Washington Post, columnist George Will, a Cubs- and bowtie-loving conservative who heretofore seemed to reflect an older, more genteel brand of right-wing ideology, set off a tempest worthy of Rush Limbaugh when he took on the growing activism on campuses around these issues, most notoriously writing “when they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate,” as if being raped was for social strivers like, say, wearing the football hero’s letterman’s jacket."

Kate's response explains why George Will's math is bad, but more importantly, applies some rational thinking to his theory. She explains, "Any emotionally healthy, reasonable person can see there’s very little upside to faking a rape [accusation]. The statistics and a mountain of anecdotal evidence tell us that women who report rape are often met with disbelief and derision; that perpetrators are rarely prosecuted, let alone convicted; that on campuses, the rapists are rarely kicked out and the victims often drop out. What’s the supposed benefit here? The warm embrace of your campus feminist group? You can get that by showing up with cookies and not being an asshole."

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Kate Harding is one of Newcity's Lit 50

Kate Harding Photo: Joe Mazza/BraveLux
Congratulations to my wife Kate Harding who was just listed #47 in Newcity's 2014 Lit 50 in Chicago. Find the whole list here, or click here to jump straight to the page with her entry.

Fun fact: Some people have a thing about the number 47. Including trumpeter Steve Kenny, who randomly ended up as #47 on a poster of jazz musicians that me and another guy put together back in 1999. I helped to configure the print layout and it was probably my pen that happened to assign him number 47 as we labeled all of the musicians. I had no idea that Steve was previously a fan of the number 47 prior to this. My wife and Steve will now have something to talk about if they ever meet.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Simple Apache2 Live Proxy

I help my friends at the corner bar set up a website using Google Sites. It works great. It's super easy to update and they have a lot of fun with it. I set up a frame-based redirect to map their domain name onto their Google Sites URL.

It worked fine for many months, but stopped working a short while ago. Why? Because Google started forcing all Google Sites pages to load over SSL -- over https instead of http. Loading them over http without SSL would just redirect you to the https version of a page.

Overall, a good thing. HTTPS Everywhere. I approve.

But, browsers nowadays want to prevent you from getting tricked into loading a site other than the one you've gone to. So if you try to do a frame-based redirect where part of it is https and part of it is not, the https stuff won't load. It'll just sit there blank, empty.

Thus, it broke the bar's website. The frame redirect wouldn't load the Google Site, it just sat there with a big blank screen.

The fix? Implement a quick-and-dirty live proxy on my linux box that will pull through the Google Site pages and display them (without using SSL) directly, as though they're actually hosted on my server. It turned it out to be pretty easy.

I configured the Apache virtualhost to allow *.cgi as a valid file type, an executable file time. I also configured the virtualhost to use index.cgi as the 404 error handler. This means that one simple little CGI will handle both the calls to the top level page and any subpages.

Here's what that index.cgi looks like:


#!/bin/bash
LYNX="/usr/bin/lynx"
cat << EOF
Content-Type: text/html; charset=utf-8

EOF
if echo "$REQUEST_URI" | grep -qi "[a-z]"
then
$LYNX -source "https://sites.google.com/$REQUEST_URI"
exit 0;
fi

$LYNX -source "https://sites.google.com/site/rogersparkoasis/" 

And here's what the Apache configuration options look like for that virtualhost:
<Directory "/var/www/oasis">
    Options +ExecCGI
    AddHandler cgi-script .cgi .x
</Directory>

ErrorDocument 404 /index.cgi

The proxy could be developed further to pull down and host images, or to rewrite URLs in the HTML output to link to the custom website URL instead of the Google Sites URL, but I think this is good enough for government work.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Lincoln SYNC with MyLincoln Touch

We recently bought a new car. Not just any new car, but a new new car, and a fancy one at that: a 2014 Lincoln MKZ. We love it. The car has the smoothest ride of any car we've driven or ridden in, and I can't believe how much pick up it has given that it's only a 2.0L V4 Turbo. Every time we go for a drive, we literally again think to ourselves, "we really love this car." And it has zero torque steer-- our last car had enough pull to annoy me regularly. Maybe that's just a side effect of moving from FWD to AWD, but regardless, I couldn't be happier.

It seems like there's never a great time to buy a car, if you want perfect iPhone integration. Apple's on the cutting edge, only recently announcing CarPlay, with automotive manufacturers rushing to implement it as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, our Lincoln has SYNC with MyLincoln Touch (aka MyFord Touch), a system that allows voice control over seemingly all of the music, GPS and environmental controls. It's worth nothing that Microsoft and Ford had a falling out over the system, and it's likely to be replaced by something else in a couple of years. (Blackberry? QNX? Are you kidding me?)

Reviews from 2012 and prior almost universally pan the SYNC system, something that unfairly haunts Google searches about the technology. Read a little deeper and you'll see that a major update in 2012 addressed just about all prior issues. People who have only had experience with prior, less well-liked revs of the software love to tell you how much they hate it. Or they'll love to tell you how much their cousin hated SYNC in their 2009 Ford Focus and what suckers we are for buying this and we're going to hate it. Because obviously how this works today and how it worked in a 2009 Focus is exactly the same. Thanks, jerk.

Forget about all of that noise. Truth be told, the SYNC with MyLincoln Touch system works quite well and we're happy with it. There's only a couple of things worth noting that I would consider to be limitations.

One, SYNC will read out loud text messages from your phone if you have an Android smartphone, but not if you have an iPhone. I'm not sure what Apple is doing differently here, but I wish they'd address it. I can't imagine it'd be hard to fix in an iOS software update, and I know a lot of people have vehicles with the SYNC functionality. (Oh wait, did this get fixed? Maybe. I will need to investigate.)

Two, programming the navigation system to give you directions is like taking a step back in time a couple of years, if you're used to Google Maps or Apple Maps, with their slick ability to say things as simple as "take me to the nearest Dairy Queen." The SYNC system's ability to understand voice commands is pretty limited, and you basically end up having to spell out house numbers and it usually ends up taking a couple of tries to get it to recognize the street name and city I'm looking for. That's not a deal killer, but it's not super slick, either.

Thankfully, there are more than a couple of ways you can work around it:

  • Use your iPhone for turn-by-turn directions instead. Sync the phone up via Bluetooth before you do tell it your destination. Then, after you tell it your destination, the phone will interrupt the music as needed (over Bluetooth) to give you verbal turn-by-turn directions. The car is a little confused; it thinks it's a phone call and will show "Call ended" on the screen after each interruption. This is harmless, however.
  • Use SYNC Services to help you set the destination for the car's navigation system. Push the voice button and say "Services." It'll use your Bluetooth-connected phone to connect you to the SYNC Services phone robot. After connected, say "Directions," and the phone robot will walk you through a much simpler and robust location-finding process. After it has found your location for you, it will ask you if you'd like to download the location to the car's GPS. You'll say yes, and it will silence the speaker for a moment, while performing a modem-like download over the phone, sending location information directly into your car's navigation system. This works pretty slick, and it's what I use most of the time. If you've ever had a GM automobile with OnStar, you'll see a lot of similarities here -- you can even connect to a real live human to have them look up a destination for you. (SYNC Services is a hidden gem; it is essentially OnStar for free, using your own cell phone instead of using a dedicated cell phone built into the car. I hope I never have to use the SYNC 911 Assist feature, but I'm glad it's there.)
  • Use the "Send to Car" iOS application on your iPhone. Trust me, spend the $3.99 on this app. If you have Ford or Lincoln SYNC, this app performs bridges Apple Maps and your car's navigation system capably. It works like this -- set up your Ford/Lincoln owner account login information in the app once. Then you go to Apple maps, find a destination, and choose "Transit" as the directions mode, inside of Apple Maps. Apple Maps will then ask you to pick which app you want to use for routing to this destination. Choose Send to Car. The Send to Car app will open, and then you push SEND to have it relay your destination into your Ford/Lincoln owner account. How do you get this destination into your car? Easy. Just push the voice button on the steering wheel, and say "Services." As soon as you connect to the Services phone robot will say (paraphrasing), "I see that there is are MapQuest directions waiting for you, would you like to download them now?" You reply with yes, and it will download the directions to your car, and you're all set.

That third option in particular is mighty cool, and I'm sure it's something I'll be using a lot in the near future. And it was hard to find information about it online, so I decided to write it all up here, with hopes that the next person looking for help stumbles across this info here and is able to put it to good use.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

HJR-3 is cruel

Gay marriage is already illegal in the State of Indiana. I consider this a flaw and it's near top of the list of concerns that have kept my wife and I from considering a move to the Hoosier State.

What's even worse, is Brian Bosma's attempt to get the state constitution changed to forever define marriage as between a man and a woman. Gay marriage is already illegal, mind you. This is kicking somebody when they're down; a second "screw you" making something that's already illegal double-secret illegal. You'd think the small government types wouldn't waste the time, money and effort to re-illegal-ize something that is already illegal. But it's a salt-the-earth kind of approach; making it so it'll be much harder for reform to grow in the future. It means that supporters of gay marriage will have a much more difficult and more costly fight to attempt to repeal the constitutional amendment in the future.

My wife and I are heterosexual. Our gay friends, some of whom are married, have enriched our lives immensely. I wish for them to have the same opportunity for companionship, cohabitation, and partnership that we enjoy. I wish for them to have the same rights when it comes to taxes, funerals, and hospital visitation. Their marriage does not diminish ours in the least, and I find the arguments to the contrary to be silly. My marriage is between my wife and I; it has nothing to do with your marriage, or what your church thinks of marriage in general or my marriage in particular. From where I stand, that's none of your business and none of your concern.

A ban on gay marriage hurts good people. Peter Monn explains it better than I ever could:

"While I’m reading this article about this person Bosma, who I don’t even know, who’s making decision about MY life, it feels like I’m hundreds and hundreds of miles away and I have no affect on the outcome. Do you know why we kiss before we say goodbye? Because we know that if we’re hospitalized we don’t have visiting rights unless our families allow it. We don’t have funeral rights or financial rights."

He's not trying to deny your marriage. Why are you trying to deny his?