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Here's A New Game To Explore: "Messin' With Alexa"

I will acknowledge that when “Siri In A Can” – the Amazon Echo – first came out, I was one of the first to buy it. And it was fun for awhile, until it dawned on me that in order to answer when I said “Alexa”, it kind of had to listen all the time. What it did with what it heard all the time wasn't something I felt great about, so about two years ago, I just unplugged it and put it on a dresser in the guest room.

But no more. I’ve discovered a new use for it as more and more of these revelations about Alexa and her listening habits make the news. Remember those Jack Link beef jerky commercials about “Messin’ With Sasquatch”? Well, in my house, it’s now “Messin’ With Alexa.”

I started first by placing it somewhere that anything it heard wouldn’t be very useful: The guest room bathroom. After years of my wife and I being in each other’s way getting ready in the morning, I discovered a few years ago that you can shower and get dressed over there and nobody critiques how you hung up a towel, or complains if you miss the clothes hamper by a few inches with an otherwise near-professional toss. Why not put it there?

As an Echo is also a decent speaker for music, the product is also a handsfree tool that you can say “play Channel 311 on Sirius XM” or “play WJFK on Tunein” and it will do so. That’s helpful in the morning when you’re rushing around, so to a degree it has been useful.

But now it has evolved into part of a game. Every morning I have questions for Ms. Alexa. When it was reported this week that some family in Portland had its conversation recorded by an echo and emailed to someone else, I started by saying “Alexa, do you talk to the CIA?” While most of the time Alexa answers with “sorry, I didn’t get that” she did immediately respond to that with “Amazon takes privacy very seriously”, which I took as an admission that Siri in a can gets that question a lot, so programmers gave her an answer.

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It's Time For Memorial Day BBQ. You Can Do This...

Every time about this year, I run into younger friends who say how much they love barbecue. Each time I hear it, I usually counter with “if you love it so much, why don’t you make it at home so you can have it more often.”

This is usually quickly followed by a look from my younger friends that suggest I’ve just asked him to go dig up some uranium in the back yard.

So let’s go over this. One. More. Time.

Making pulled pork barbecue is about as easy as it gets. It’s only about a quarter step up from boiling water. And when it’s on sale, you can make as much as you could probably eat in a month for 10 bucks.

The cut of meat you need to make barbecue from is called either a pork shoulder of a Boston Butt. It normally sells for between $1.79 to $1.99 pound and around holidays like Memorial Day, it’s usually on sale. Harris-Teeter, for example, is selling a Smithfield pork shoulder/Boston Butt for 99 cents a pound this week (what you should see at Harris Teeter should look exactly like the picture above), which means WE are having barbecue this weekend. For you folks who skipped math, that means a good sized 8-pound shoulder is going to cost under $8. Or about what you’ll pay for one barbecue sandwich at a Nationals game.

After you’ve purchased one, you need to allow two days before you plan to serve it. I bought one today, will follow this process, and we will have it for lunch on Sunday. Here’s what you do:

A shoulder tastes best when slow cooked with a dry rub applied, so you need to make one. There are a lot of ingredients you can use, but they usually fall into three categories: something sweet, something salty and something savory. The something sweet is easy: brown sugar. The something salty is pretty easy too: salt. The savory includes things like garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, paprika, maybe even cumin. Add equal parts of the sugar, salt and the savory ingredients you like and mix together.

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Will $$$ Buy Happiness In College Football For Northwestern?

I couldn’t help but notice that Northwestern has just built the Taj Mahal of practice facilities on its campus, spending $270 million on something that is pretty incredible. The headline on Pete Thamel's story about it on Yahoo.com says "Move over Clemson, Oregon and Alabama ... Northwestern's ridiculous new practice facility is on another level." Then Pete gushes about it even more.

The story raises certain questions (like why didn’t Northwestern invest the money in that dump of a stadium they play in) but will also provoke questions at other schools (like "why don't we have something like this?"). The whole concept that spending that kind of money will gain a competitive edge in college football is something I’m not certain is always true, and many alumni when they’re not winning rationalize the lack of success by saying it’s because other folks have more money, more alumni, more “something we ain’t got.”

So I've gone back 12 years in the world of college football to test a theory, because I believe that no matter how well you've figured anything out in college sports, every 12 years another generation of athletes enters school and there's no guarantee each generation will look at things the same (if you've ever been a parent, you pretty much can guarantee they won't look at things the same). Thus by going back 12 years, you can compare the power players of the last generation to this generation. And I think you do see a trend. 

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Good Morning, Good Afternoon and Goodnight Tampa Bay!

Some sound bites need to be preserved. For example, the call by Charlie Slowes and Dave Jageler of Jayson Werth's walkoff home run in Game 4 of the 2012 playoffs for the Nationals is still on my cellphone. If I ever need a smile or a few goosebumps on my arms, I play it. It just never gets old.

John Walton's call last night of the final seconds of the Caps Game 7 win over Tampa to return to the NHL Finals for the first time in 20 years qualifies for that sort of preservation as well. True, it wasn't as dramatic since the score was 4-0, but Walton has seen the good, the bad and the ugly of this franchise and blended all of that in to his final call.

"The pain and anguish that so many of us have felt over the last 20 years and throughout the Ovechkin era," Walton shouted, "...the puck drops...and that is gonna do it. Good Morning, Good Afternoon and Goodnight Tampa Bay, The Washington Capitals are the 2017-2018 Eastern. Conference. Champions!"

Pure poetry.

I only listened to him say this about a dozen times this morning. So click on the video to hear it a few times yourself...

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Even The Squire Is Probably Celebrating Caps' Game 7 Win

It's been about 45 days since I last posted anything, and a lot of it had to do with the Washington Capitals. They were taking us all on an emotional roller coaster ride, and quite frankly, I was at the superstitious point of thinking anything I said would jinx them one way or the other.

Well, the strategy worked, and you can thank me later.

The last few years I have had reasonable hope the Caps would get past the second round and finally win a Stanley Cup. Obviously that didn't happen, but this year I KNEW not to get emotionally involved, thinking this team just wasn't all that good and no chance at the Cup.

Wrong again.

Now we will be playing hockey in June in Washington. And the story lines are springing forth like lies from a politician's mouth. My favorite is that after years of hearing George McPhee (former Caps GM) say he's working hard to put together a team that could win a Stanley Cup, he's actually going to be involved in doing so for the Caps, although it's because he's the GM of the opponent in the finals.

But that's for next week. For today, it's a great day to be alive and bask in the glory of finally not losing a crucial Game 7. I feel so good, I think Jack Kent Cooke has temporarily taken over my soul :) 

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Today's Caps Headlines Aren't Exactly Inspiring Confidence

Well, tonight it starts.

The Washington Capitals open the National Hockey League playoffs at home in just a few hours against Columbus. The Washington Post has already filled me with tremendous optimism thanks to such headlines as “Caps Goal Is To Exceed Reduced Expectations” and “Trotz Isnt Secure and He Might Need A Deep Run To Stay”, although they almost got to the glass being half full instead of half empty with “Caps Changed Their Approach and They Might Have a Shot.” Nothing fires up a fanbase like knowing they "might" have a shot.

Even the Columbus newspapers know the torture the Caps have put us through, as the headline on their lead columnist’s story is “Capitals fans know all about playoff pain.”

Yes. We. Do. And no, the columnist is not dressed like Captain Obvious. But he could be.

My goal is to just not end up like the crying kid in the Caps jersey you see in the picture like I do every year. That might as well be my avatar the last 20 years as I start out so optimistic, then we lose games we shouldn’t, lose series we are favored in, and God forbid a game go into double or triple overtime. All that means is I’ll stay up until 2 AM, then go to bed cursing “why did I stay up this late to see this? You KNEW this would happen.”

But enough about the past. This is a new season. A clean slate. I’m putting on the Caps sweater at 7 and will start my delusions immediately afterward. In fact, I’ve already started them, interpreting Pittsburgh’s 7-0 shellacking of Philadelphia last night as a trend that will lead to the Pens being so overconfident when they sweep the Flyers, they will be ripe for the taking in the second round.

Drink with me, folks. It could happen. Stanley Cup or bust…

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Recent comment in this post
Dave Scarangella

Update: The Caps blew it, losi...

There is a noticeable lack of optimism now among the Caps faithful....
Thursday, 12 April 2018 22:54

Welcome To National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day....

Since every day is apparently national SOMETHING day (yesterday it involved pets), today we honor melted cheese between two slices of bread: National Grilled Cheese Sandwich day.

I always wondered who decides these things, because there’s a national day for just about every kind of food, animal or occupation imaginable. And there are far more than 365 foods, animals or occupations, so clearly there’s some overlap.

I struggle with grilled cheese because if I’m going to invest a lot of cheese, a flour-based product like bread and grill/bake it, I’m going to  make a pizza. It’s is nature’s perfect food, and why mess with what God has already perfected?

But there are times when a toasted grilled cheese sandwich – served with a mandatory bowl of tomato soup – can be pleasing. My issue, as is the case with everything I cook, is I use too many ingredients. I have to have significant amounts of American cheese, swiss cheese, cheddar cheese, and if I have any in the refrigerator, provolone. As a separator, I will put a thin slice of ham between the various types of cheese, and occasionally will even add a few thin slices of pepperoni.

See? I end up making a pizza again.

I Googled the topic to see just how serious people take this manufactured holiday, and the answer is pretty serious. The first story to pop up is titled “9 ways to honor National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day on Thursday.” Of course it’s from a newspaper in Milwaukee, and in Wisconsin they do take their cheese extremely serious. But with that kind of reverence, you’d almost think they have a “Tomb Of The Unknown Cheese Curd” or something there too.

So enjoy National Grilled Cheese Day...until tomorrow...when it's National Peach Cobbler Day...Blame Someone Else Day...International Skeptics Day...and Friday the 13th...

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Hey FB: Forget Artificial; Show Some REAL Intelligence

Following Mark Zuckerberg the last few days testifying here in D.C. has been entertaining to say the least. A lot of it is just political theater, but there have been moments that make you think this is all the plot of some bad, bizarre science fiction novel.

Take for example, these three situations where Zuckerberg struggles to give any sort of a direct answer (which generally means “I know the answer but I don’t want to tell you”):

  • When a user deletes their account, does the account actually get deleted and completely wiped off the server? Twitter users described Zuckerberg’s response as similar to the way Chester Cheetah stutters in answering questions in commercials. I’m going to take that lack of a direct answer as a “no, the info does not get completely wiped off the server.”
  • When a person logs off Facebook, does this mean Facebook is no longer connected to a user’s browser? Zuckerberg’s tapdancing on this was really interesting because if a program I have terminated still stays in my browser and looks around, it’s not a program. It’s a virus. And since it’s Facebook, all users have already allowed it to come through the firewall and anti-virus protection. There’s nothing to stop it. Don’t think it happens? Search for something when you’re logged off. Then notice how Facebook miraculously shows you an ad for the same thing the next time you log on.
  • Does Facebook accumulate information on people who have not even signed up for a Facebook account? Zuckerberg gave an answer that is basically “yes,” saying they need to do so for various reasons. As an example, if you allow Facebook to access your contacts, they’ll build what Zuckerberg calls a “profile” of each whether they have a Facebook account or not. Click on a link to a story on Facebook and you don’t have an account? They’ll grab info on your IP address, computer, phone, etc. and eventually match it up to other information they’ve gotten. Why? Because it’s what they do: gather and sell personal information.

But the part that really made me think of Zuckerberg as more like “Dave” in 2001: A Space Odyssey, was his insistence on Artificial Intelligence saving Facebook and the world. Indeed, there is actually a headline in The Washington Post this morning that says “Zuckerberg says AI will solve Facebook’s problems.”

Which is kind of frightening.

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National Pet "Day"? How About National Pet "Year"?

Today, I have been informed by social media, is National Pet Day. Which is kind of strange to me, because in my house, every day is National Pet Day.

Our house is owned and operated, 24/7, by two criminals named Doodle and Schoodle. They are bichon frises, which I can only guess is French for “stubborn and hungry.” They do what they want, when they want, and are blessed by being in the same house with the world’s greatest enabler, my wife.

These dogs are treated so well, my goal in life is only to be treated as well as the SECOND dog. I’ve long given up on ever obtaining lead dog status.

My wife and I have always been dog people, so we’ve always had one in the house most of our lives. Before moving here in 2000, we lived in High Point, NC and had the greatest dog of all time, a black lab named Butch. In his youth, there was no dog more obedient, as I could tell him to stay, go upstairs and be gone for a half hour, then return and Butch was still patiently sitting.

This, however, all faded away when the requirements of my job called for me to travel more and more, leaving my wife and Butch home together alone. Somehow, someone started teaching Butch the rules were for other animals. I’d be sitting on a sofa watching a show and Butch would just take a “don’t mind if I do” attitude and help himself up on the unoccupied space. Commands of “stay” turned Butch into the RCA Victor dog, as he turned his head and gave a quizzical look as if to say “you talking to me?”

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broken clouds

53.3°F

Ashburn

Broken Clouds

Humidity: 87%

Wind: 2.71 m/h

Tue

few clouds

47/53°F

Wed

sky is clear

41/60°F

Thu

sky is clear

37/53°F

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