Afternoon reading

The price of ice cream might be going up as the global price of vanilla spikes.

In turn, that’s seen 40 per cent of the world’s current stock of vanilla—around 1,000 tonnes—shipped out of Madagascar recently, and as a result the markets have gone crazy. After six years hovering at around $25 per kilo, the price has jumped to $40 in single day.

A bunch of Redditors talk about how they became rich. (via Stellar)

What I’ve learned/realized:
Acquire an education, secure a stream of income, put it to work intelligently, and live with self-control.
Don’t get divorced.
Never trust your business partners; never treat them like you don’t trust them.

A demographic historian has determined the death toll in the Civil War is 20% higher, 130K people, than the currently agreed upon estimate. (via @davidg)

He counted the number of native-born white men of military age in 1860 and determined how many of that group were still alive in 1870. He compared that survival rate with the survival rates of the men of the same ages from 1850-1860, and from 1870-1880 – the 10-year census periods before and after the Civil War…He controlled for other demographic assumptions, including mortality rates of foreign-born soldiers, added the relatively small number of black soldiers killed, and compared the numbers with the rates of female survival over the same periods.

Here’s an interview with H.R. of Bad Brains.

The New York Times has a writer live like a billionaire for a day because that IS IMPORTANT NEWS.

After breakfast, I rush back to the car for a high-speed trip to Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, where I’m meeting a real-life billionaire for a trip on his private jet. The billionaire, a hedge fund manager, was scheduled to go down to Georgia and offered to let me interview him during the two-hour jaunt on the condition that I not reveal his identity.

Afternoon reading

Homemade Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food Ice Cream Recipe

I’ve been making ice cream the last couple weeks trying out different flavors. I made Blueberry Chocolate Chip (Total Failure), Cayenne Cinnamon Chocolate Chocolate Chip (kinda success), Raspberry Chocolate Chip (kinda success), and Mint Chocolate Chip (success). Today I tried Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food and it’s great. If you like lots of junk in your ice cream (leading to more junk in your trunk), give it a shot.

I didn’t use a recipe, but I’ll try to recreate below what I did:
Start by putting 2 cups of cream and 1 cup of whole milk in a saucepan on low. Stir regularly to heat evenly without growing a skin on the cream and to avoid that heated milk taste. At the same time, whisk 2 eggs and 2/3 cups sugar for a while. Then do it for a couple minutes longer.
When the cream/milk is hot enough (you’ll know) pour it on, eh, let’s say 6 ounces of semi-sweet dark chocolate. If you want to make a different kind of chocolate ice cream, use different types of chips. Mix the cream/milk with the chocolate and stir it well so all the chocolate is melted and folded in. Pour chocolate mix into egg and sugar mix and stir well. Chill this mixture in the fridge for about 25-30 minutes, or until cool. I run the ice cream maker in the fridge to keep it extra cool, if you live in Alaska, you might consider running it outside. Put the mixture in the ice cream maker and turn it on for about 25 minutes or so. When there’s about 3 to 5 minutes left throw in chocolate chips to taste. You might want to use chopped up chocolate chunks instead. Prepare caramel and marshmallow sauce. (I used Fluff this time, and it’s great, but it gets hard in the freezer, so I’m going to check out marshmallow sauce the next time.) I folded this into the ice cream as I put it into the Tupperware, basically 2 big scoops of ice cream, one small scoop marshmallow, one drizzle caramel. Repeat until out of ice cream. Put some wax paper on top of the ice cream and sit on your hands for 2-3 hours after putting it in the freezer.
Eat a lot.

Homemade Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food Ice Cream Recipe

Free Barcelona Travel Guide – Day 7: Sitges and Montserrat

Thanks for clicking on the Free Barcelona Travel Guide. There are 10 chapters total, listed at the end of this post. Check out the introduction for more information.

About an hour and a half from Barcelona/Sitges is the monastery Santa Maria de Montserrat on top of the mountain/hill Montserrat. We decided to go there one of the days we were in Sitges, and instead of having to take a train back to Barcelona and then one up to Montserrat, we decided to rent a car. For some reason, I had the same irrational fear of driving in Europe that I have of sharks. I wasn’t sure what could go wrong, only that something would, and I’d be less able to deal with it than usual. Renting a car in Sitges was something of a chore. We went into a travel office last night that suggested the Avis down the street. We went into the Avis office and the guy said he might have a car sometime this evening for 80 Euros, but we should check back today. We went into a travel agency at the end of Sin Street (across from the hamburger stand) and they rented us a car for 40 Euros. We picked up the car from a garage this morning and we were off, haphazardly finding our way out of Sitges and onto the highway.

We were cruising along pretty well, following our directions, until suddenly, none of the directions made any sense. (It turned out there were two exits with the same name, though we couldn’t have known that at the time.) This was it, in my mind, and I was ready to take this driving adventure back to the garage and read trashy novels on the beach. But J insisted we persevere so we stopped at a gas station where she acted as interpreter. “Estoy perdida”, she said to the romantic truck driver. “Todos estamos perdidos en la vida”, he responded with a twinkle in his eye, “Sigame, le muestro la carretera.” (“I’m lost.” “In life, we are all lost. Follow me, I’ll show you to the highway.”) The truck driver had us follow him for about 5 miles until he got us back onto the highway we needed to be on and we never strayed again. This interaction was my favorite of the trip.

Montserrat is actually the city below the mountain. Once you get there, you can take a train to the top, or drive up on a steep, windy road that reminded me of some roads in Hawaii. I took it slow as there were folks driving down and also a good number of bikers riding to the top (psychos!). The monastery is beautiful and literally cut right into the side of the mountain. In front of the entrance, there is a circular pattern in the stone where several people were getting their picture taken with their arms out, eyes closed, and shoes off. Everyday at 1, the choir sings, so either try to be there for that, or avoid it because that’s when the most people are there. I’d never heard the term funicular before going to Spain (it’s a type of train that goes up steep inclines), but we took one up to a higher part of the mountain. From there we were able to hike for 20 minutes or so to get to a 500 year old hermitage that that formed a hamlet of sorts with other dwellings carved out of the side of the mountain. The hermitage was a replica, because, interestingly enough, the original had been destroyed about 200 years earlier by marauding French. We went back down to the visitor’s center where we lunched on Cornetto. All in all, Montserrat is great and worth seeing, but I suggest taking the train from Barcelona. It runs every hour and takes you all the way up to the monastery.

On the way home, we took an alternate route that hugged the beautiful coast for a time. I was relaxed enough about driving in Europe at that point that we checked out Spanish radio. This was unfortunate because we happened on to that cursed Umbrella song. By the grace of Sitges, we made our way back to the right part of town and parked the car a short walk from the rental office. We found out later that I had left the lights on, but they didn’t seem to mind. After a brief respite in the hotel, we napped on the beach in the dwindling sunlight.

We couldn’t decide where to go for dinner, which resulted in us wandering aimlessly until we ended up at Restaurante Taiwan across from Al Fresco. I have a thing about trying Chinese food in various locales and tasting their Peking Raviolis. I’d like to say you can tell a lot about a city from the raviolis, but that would be silly. Restaurante Taiwan’s version are called empanadillas and receive passing marks for tastiness.

After dinner we went on a hunt for gelato. In attempting to determine which of the four places to go, we asked the girl behind the counter if they were selling ice cream or gelato. She asked the difference between gelato and ice cream. For the record, gelato has less fat and no air added for a creamier taste.

There are 10 chapters in the Free Barcelona Travel Guide. I hope you find them useful.
Introduction
Day 1: Barcelona to Boston: Plaça de Catalunya
Day 2: More Walking: Santa Maria del Mar, Picasso Museum, Ciutadella, Euskal Etxea
Day 3: Gaudi and Eating: Casa Milà
Day 4: More Gaudi: Parc Guell, Sagrada Família
Day 5: Sitges and Birthdays: Barcelona Cathedral, Parrots Hotel, The Beach House
Day 6: Sitges and Beach
Day 7: Sitges and Montserrat: Montserrat
Day 8: Sitges
Day 9: Too Hot to Shop: Aparthotel Calabria, La Boqueria, Tapaç 24
Day 10: Montjuic: Montjuic

Map of where we went or wished we had.

Free Barcelona Travel Guide – Day 7: Sitges and Montserrat

Memo to myself

To: Brain
From: Stomach
Re: Lactose, and the tolerance thereof

Dear Sir,

In light of the recent ingestion of two scoops of ice cream with several cubic centimeters of whipped cream, I feel obligated to remind you that we are lactose-intolerant. The discomfort that you are feeling now was entirely avoidable; you have brought this on yourself.

While we appreciate the report from the taste buds that the ice cream was delicious, we feel it is not unreasonable to expect you to keep in mind the fact that the ingestion of all dairy products must be either accompanied by the appropriate over-the-counter lactase supplements, or foregone altogether.

I thank you for your consideration in the future.

Reginald Stomach, Esq.
Solicitor for the Digestive System

CC: Intestines, pancreas

Memo to myself

How Continental Raised the Price on ALL Their Tickets, (at least to me).

I’m back from JR’s Family’s Lake Erie Reunion. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, and indeed, I actually had a little fun. However, the major excitement was Sunday when we arrived at the airport to fly home. Somehow, I made the colossally idiotic mistake of buying my ticket for Monday the 18th instead of Sunday the 17th. I’m not quite sure how it happened because I AM quite certain I never entered the 18th as an option for flying. I do take responsibility for not confirming the information on my ticket was correct before buying it and for not checking it sooner to make a change.
I hoped the flight hadn’t sold out and that I would be able to sweet-talk my onto the plane at minimal extra cost. At worst, I figured, I’d pay the industry-standard $100 change fee. When I went to the Continental counter, the woman told me Continental has a strict policy of not allowing people to fly standby until the day of their original flight. She also informed me it would be $320 on top of what I had already spent in order to change my ticket to fly that day. Flabbergasted, I asked her how much it would cost to skip my original flight and buy a new ticket on the flight I had planned on taking. Incredibly, buying a new ticket and forgoing the next day’s flight would only cost $280. I didn’t understand how buying 2 tickets could be cheaper than changing my old ticket and if I was going to buy a new ticket, I wanted to do some comparison shopping.
First stop was Southwest Airlines where the woman was shocked Continental wouldn’t change my ticket or allow me to fly standby. She seemed genuinely offended as an employee of the airline industry that another airline would have such ridiculous policies. She informed me that the best she could do was a flight from Cleveland to Baltimore to Providence for $185. She even reserved the ticket for me without making me pay so I could check with some of the other airlines. She also suggested I call Continental to try to talk to a supervisor. United was $611 and Independence was $250.
Having collected my facts, I dialed Continental’s 800 number and waited on hold for several minutes before reaching Helen. Helen told me the same thing the woman behind the counter had, that there is a strict policy against allowing people to fly standby unless it’s the day of their original flight, that the cost to change the ticket would be $320, and that a new ticket would be $280. Helen didn’t seem to care when I argued that it didn’t make sense they would charge me so much (or charge me at all) since they obviously had seats available. I mentioned that Southwest was willing to fly me for $185 and told her that they may get the $280 out of me because I was desperate, but I would never fly Continental again. I also mentioned I would spend the next month telling everyone I knew how stupid I had been to buy the wrong ticket, but especially how greedy Continental had been in trying to take advantage of it. Helen told me there was nothing she could do and something to the effect of “You should probably fly on Southwest if you don’t want to pay $280.” She then suggested I try to get someone at the airport to do something about it.
I got back in line steeling myself for what I knew could be an epic battle. The problem as I saw it was my total lack of leverage. Continental didn’t need to do anything for me because I had already paid for a ticket for the next day’s flight. They didn’t need to do anything for me because they had their money and that was final regardless of what I decided to do. I had a minor scuffle with the woman directing people to the counter after she was offended I was talking on my phone while in her line. I don’t remember much about the incident, but I include it as further proof that Continental needs to focus harder on customer service.
I approached the woman at counter 19 tingling with trepidation and excitement. I felt excitement because I envisioned an intense match of verbal sparring where I could pontificate loudly on issues involving efficiency, logic, customer service, money, and right and wrong. I felt trepidation because the last thing I wanted was to spend $280 more than I had already spent.
And then nothing. I explained to the woman behind the counter that I had mistakenly purchased a ticket for Monday’s flight when I really wanted to fly today. She nodded and told me she could change my flight, but she’d have to charge me a $100 change fee. I quickly handed her my credit card before something happened to increase the price of my fare and walked away stunned after telling her she had made my day. I think she really appreciated me saying that. I had never been so happy to spend $100.
I don’t know if Continental thought someone else was going to rush into the airport 25 minutes before boarding willing to pay the premium price they had assigned to the ticket. That can be the only explanation for not allowing me to fly standby on a flight that clearly wasn’t full. And I don’t understand why 2 different employees refused to let me fly standby or pay $100 to change my ticket citing strict company policies before a third employee did so without pause. You’d think Continental and every other company would try to fill up every plane all the time and would willingly sell tickets to people at some small margin above cost 25 minutes before the plane boarded. Much like an ice cream store giving out ice cream in the event of a power outage, giving it out in exchange for good will and nothing more, Continental should have welcomed me aboard in an effort to fill up every sellable bit of space on that plane. (Empty seats are giant tubs of melted ice cream, as it were) In the end, the flight took off an hour late further lowering the value of the service Continental provided me. As far as I’m concerned, every flight I take on Continental leaves at least an hour late as my flight from Boston to Cleveland took off an hour and a half after it was supposed to.
In the interest of full disclosure, what I said to Helen about never flying on Continental again isn’t totally true. At this stage in my professional career, I can’t afford to be so stubbornly principled. The next time I’m looking for flights, I’ll fly on Continental if it’s significantly cheaper than any other option. This means that the Continental flight will have to be direct and cost at least $40 less than the next lowest option. So in reality, what I should have said to Helen was “You may get your $280 out of me, but it’s going to make each of your flights appear $40 more expensive than they are for the next 5-15 years. However, I will certainly stop flying Continental as soon as I make enough money to base economic decisions on terrible prior experiences.”

How Continental Raised the Price on ALL Their Tickets, (at least to me).

Girlfriend Vacation Running Journal 2

4:35 AM Got awoken by bad cat who was trying to climb on my bedside table. Normally, only JR is afflicted by them. Kicked both cats out and realized one had knocked my water over onto the carpet.
8:50 AM Cursed my job for conditioning my body to wake up early.
9:15 AM Decided to start my day. But to show my disapproval and reluctance, I’m going to spend the first 2 hours of the day in bed.
11:49 AM After reading a good deal of , Boston.com/globe/sports, and the RSS feed of slashdot.com, I got up to bring Another State of Mind (Netflix) to the mailbox. Instead of leaving it in our mailbox for the mailman to pick, I decided to enjoy the cloudless day and walk it down the street to the box. Hey, that could be all the going outside I do today.
12:05 PM Got back from my walk, so I’m now reading an article about The Birth of the Notebook on MobilePC. Why do I care about the history of mobile computing? One interesting fact is that portable PCs originally referred to the idea of being able to use what we now refer to as desktop computers anywhere.
12:21 PM Finished reading an article on Business 2.0 about how Apple is going to use the iPod and iTunes brand to continue kicking ass in the coming years.
12:42-1:42 PM I spent about an hour looking into discount online brokerage houses. I’m convinced there is an “Online Brokerage Association” that mandates every member must keep their fee schedule murkily confusing and make it difficult for interested investing novices to spend their money. I imagine that through an agreement between Federal Regulators and the OBA, online brokerages stay out of the regulatory spotlight by making a concerted effort to confuse and repel idiotic and impulsive consumers like me. Right now I see myself as a bleeding dolphin in the middle of the ocean. I’m being circled by sharks dressed as discount online brokerage houses. They’re just waiting for me to make a decision so that they can eat me alive with hidden fees and surcharges. Individual sharks keep making a run at me, woosh, there goes an Ameritrade hammerhead, swish, a Scottrade great white. With whom will I invest? I don’t know. But for now I’ve been sufficiently scared off. But I will swim again.
1:46 PM My arcane and indisputably geeky New Year’s resolution was to track every cent I earned and spent this year. In that name I updated my Quicken records.
1:53 PM I need a new password system. I continually forget the passwords on my credit card site.
2:15 PM I Tried to figure out the difference between audio files in MP3 format compared to audio files in AAC format. I think I might have been going about things all wrong for the last year by ripping everything into 128 MP3. I don’t ever really hear a difference, but I guess AAC takes up less space?
3:00 PM Took a shower to prepare for going to the grocery store.
3:34 PM The productivity begins right now. I’m going to throw in a load of laundry, go to the pet store and the grocery store and then clean. Or at least the laundry and stores.
5:22 PM For proof to the old adage don’t go shopping on an empty stomach see AC’s Shopping Trip on the 26th of March, 2005. Talk about bleeding dolphin in the middle of the ocean, I didn’t stand a chance. I bought 3 of everything that I don’t need. I see a sale on things I eat and buy a lot of it. This does keep me from having to go to the grocery store, but did I need 4 pints of Ben and Jerry’s? I still haven’t eaten the Ben and Jerry’s I bought when it was on sale a couple weeks ago.
Let the productivity continue.
6:15 PM Cleaned toilet, bedroom, coffee table. Started working on spreadsheet again. Watched West Virginia totally blow a lead and lose to Louisville and Rick Pitino. I don’t even like the Celtics very much, but I hate Rick Pitino. He wrote a book called “Success is a Choice” and that may be true, but if it is, why the F would you choose anything except success? And if you know it’s a choice why would you make the decision to sign Travis Knight? There’s only one explanation: Rick Pitino chose to fail while coaching the Celtics which makes his tenure here even worse, because he failed on purpose.
8:15 PM Started cooking and cleaning the kitchen. Pasta and chicken in different forms make up the majority of my diet, so I’m making a pound of chicken sausage, a pound of pasta and some sauce. I’ll make several meals out of this that I can bring to work this week. Or else I’ll just leave it on the stove and eat it until JR comes home tomorrow, it’s probably what I should have done yesterday. Up until this point all I’ve eaten today is a banana and some ice cream. I’m pretty hungry.
9:34 PM Finally sated. It didn’t come out as well as I would have hoped, but dinner is finally eaten.
9:38 PM Starting Outfoxed (Netflix).
9:45 PM Decided to work for an hour and paused Outfoxed.
10:45 PM Back on Outfoxed.
12:10 AM Outfoxed is over. It was pretty good. It seemed to me it was the film version of “Lies and the Lying Liars who Tell Them.”
1:00 AM I’m going to get into bed and watch a little bit of Closer, my second Jude Law movie in two days.
3:15 AM Damn it! I watched the entire thing. What was I thinking? Closer was pretty good, but I happen to hate most movies that were plays first. There is something different about dialogue written for the stage as opposed to the screen. People in plays and movies of plays tend to say stuff you wouldn’t hear in real life and the conversations are almost always between two people only. Also, the timing always seems off, like the characters wait an extra beat before saying anything at all, which is what drives me craziest about this genre of film. Next time you have a conversation, try to get the other person to agree to count to one before responding to anything you say and you’ll know what I mean.

Girlfriend Vacation Running Journal 2

Girlfriend Vacation Running Journal 1

JR is in NY this weekend, which means I’m on Girlfriend Vacation. Every time she goes away I have high hopes of really getting some stuff done. Why can’t I get this “stuff” done when she’s here? I don’t know. Why can’t I ever get this stuff done when she goes away? I don’t know, but I think it has something to do with heaping too much onto my plate. But without fail, it always ends up Sunday night and I wonder what I actually DID DO over the weekend because I haven’t realized a quarter of the goals I set out to achieve. This weekend, will be different, though, not because I’ll achieve any higher percentage of my goals, but because I’ll at least have a record of my actions. To do this, I’m going to keep a running journal of my weekend.
But first a listing of goals in no real order of priority:
Use up gift certificates to Smalldog, Amazon, Borders.
Purchase iPod case and external harddrive (perhaps with gift certificates).
Shop for groceries.
Watch movies and basketball.
Laundry.
Finish a few blogs I’ve been working on (not the GF Vacation Journal).
Clean around the house.
Extra goals will be added as they are realized.
Sleep a lot.

Without further adieu:
4:40 PM Got home from dropping JR off at the bus station. I forgot I would be driving when we left and I didn’t bring my wallet. Luckily, I didn’t need it.
4:50 PM Read Salon.com’s political blog, War Room. It was dominated by different stories about the Republicans unsuccessful efforts to politicize Terri Schaivo. More than likely, her name will be all but forgotten in a month. I don’t feel positively or negatively about that, I just think the news cycle is so fast that stories don’t stay around for very long. Remember the tsunami? Remember the elections in Iraq and Palestine? Remember steroids?
5:25 PM Worked on complicated (for me) Excel spreadsheet for work.
7:00 PM Shooed bad cats off of kitchen table and continued working on spreadsheet.
7:09 PM Shooed bad cats off of kitchen table again and decided to start watching Another State of Mind, a movie about a tour across the country in 1984 with Youth Brigade and Social Distortion. It’s supposed to be one of the first and best punk documentaries. Still working on spreadsheet.
8:30 PM Another State of Mind is over. I wish it had been better, but it was interesting seeing Mike Ness so young and seemingly healthy. Although, Youth Brigade put together the tour and seemed to headline, it seemed like Social Distortion was more popular. At least it seemed like they had more money than Youth Brigade. SD all ended up flying home from DC when the bus broke down for the umpteenth time, while Youth Brigade and the road crew drove home in the back of a UHaul truck.
8:31 PM Fed cats evening snack. They’re on a schedule now where they get a small meal in the early evening and then a big meal in the late meal. This should keep them from crying for food in the morning and waking us up. Unfortunately, they wake us up anyway, but not because they’re hungry. I think it’s because they’re bad cats.
8:32 PM Back to work on the spreadsheet.
9:45 PM Quit working on spreadsheet. Major problem was coming up with a solid formula to calculate the percentage of change (both positive and negative). I was able to get it to calculate positive growth and also to calculate negative change, but not at the same time.
10:00 PM Ate my new favorite ‘easiest meal ever’. Poached egg and cheese wrap. It takes about 3 minutes to make.
10:14 PM Scooped poop from kitty litter box. One of the bad cats hasn’t learned to cover his poop and therefore fills the entire house with a terrible smell twice a day.
10:21 PM Started watching Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. UNC-Villanova is on the muted TV, though my bracket is in absolute shambles.
10:58 PM JR calls to check in and say good night. She had really good Indian food, I’m going to have some ice cream.
12:06 AM Finished Sky Captain. It was OK. I liked how it seemed like I was watching a comic book the entire time. It seemed to black and white with a little blush on the cheeks every now and then. Silly plot. You just don’t expect movies to have only one major problem for the heroes to solve. This one did.
1:00 AM Fed the cats and went to bed.

Girlfriend Vacation Running Journal 1