Rants & Ramblings

random commentary about culture, media, politics, technology and whatnot.


The Scissor Dance

Musical Instrument Museum

While Rob and I were in Arizona for Christmas, my mom took us up to Phoenix to explore the Musical Instrument Museum, devoted to musical instruments and traditions from around the world. The museum was full of wonderful cultural artifacts …

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(Bonus) Photo of the Day: Invasion of the Domos

This is getting out of hand. #domokun

My desk collection of tiny Domo-kun figures is getting a little out of control. But they’re so fiercely cute!

Photo of the Day: Daffodils

Spring bloom.

We’re getting into one of my favorite times of year here in D.C., where the weather starts to warm up (albeit in fits and starts) and daffodils bloom en masse along the George Washington Parkway. I picked up a small bouquet of daffodils this weekend at Trader Joe’s to brighten up my kitchen.


The people scurry by in comical little hops and starts, cups of coffee in their hands, cellphones at their ears, ID tags slapping at their bellies, a grim danse macabre to indifference, inertia and the dingy, gray rush of modernity.

— From “Pearls Before Breakfast,” by Gene Weingarten of The Washington Post (source)

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At Work in Syria, Times Correspondent Dies | NYTimes.com

Rick Gladstone writes, “Anthony Shadid, a gifted foreign correspondent whose graceful dispatches for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and The Associated Press covered nearly two decades of Middle East conflict and turmoil, died, apparently of an asthma attack, on Thursday while on a reporting assignment in Syria.” What a tremendous loss. The Post has a collection of some of his Pulitzer-winning work.


Damaged Snowman (Plus Frosting Palette)

Photo of the Day: Christmas Cookies

This was taken while decorating Christmas cookies with my siblings in late December.

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NPR GOP Delegate Tracker

Looking at GOP delegate trackers from different news organizations, you might notice that they often have different numbers. There are a lot of factors to consider, including whether to factor in projections / estimates, how to interpret state / party rules, or whether to keep tabs on how independent, unpledged RNC members are going to vote (and whether they change their votes later). There’s no one canonical delegate list to refer to.

This week, NPR launched its own delegate tracker. It’s likely among the most conservative out there in terms of delegate allotment (right now we have MItt Romney at 73 delegates, while the New York Times has him at 93, and the AP at 112), but the goal is to tally up only those delegates that have been officially or unambiguously apportioned — no estimates or projections based on what’s “likely” to happen, no unpledged delegates whose vote could change at any time.

NPR Delegate Tracker

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Who Pinched My Ride? | OutsideOnline.com

When thieves stole his beloved ­commuter bike on a busy street in broad daylight, Patrick Symmes snapped — and set out on a cross-­country plunge into the heart of ­America’s bike-crime underbelly.”

My Dinner With Clay Shirky, and What I Learned About Friendship | Media Decoder | NYTimes.com

David Carr on online / offline interactions and relationships. “As it turns out, Mr. Shirky became very good at bread eating at a young age, so his mother decided that he should also be good at bread making. We all chewed on the bread as Mr. Shirky told the story of learning how to make bread as a 10-year-old. Now, he could have told that story in a blog post or in an e-mail chain, but it became a very different story because we were tasting what he talked about. The connection in an online conversation may seem real and intimate, but you never get to taste the bread. To people who lead a less-than-wired existence, that may seem like a bit of a ‘duh,’ but I spend so much interacting with people on the Web that I have become a little socially deficient.”


Photo of the Day: Morning Commute

Morning commute.

WMATA Yellow Line. Friday morning.

Halftime Show

All the talk about Super Bowl halftime shows brought back memories of my all-time favorite: U2 in 2002. It was a strong performance made all the more powerful by the strong emotions of that time. It was perfect for that moment and, watching it again 10 years later, still makes me a little teary-eyed.

(If you can’t see the video above, it’s available on YouTube.)


Cottages at Sunrise

Delaware Cottage Weekend

Rob has been musing aloud for months about wanting to rent a cottage by the beach in Delaware and spend a week away — perhaps using that time to dig in on a subject he’s especially wanted to study or …

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The iEconomy

If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend The New York Times’ new series about the economics of Apple’s supply chain and working conditions at the Chinese plants that manufacture Apple products. Stories so far:

  • How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work” (Jan. 21, 2012)
    Building Apple’s iPhone in the United States would demand much more than hiring Americans — it would require transforming the national and global economies.
  • Video: “The iPhone Economy” (Jan. 20, 2012)
    Apple’s iPhone is a model of American ingenuity, but most of its components are manufactured somewhere else. The decline of manufacturing can lead to the loss of other kinds of jobs, a factor in the American economy right now.
  • In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad” (Jan. 25, 2012)
    A staggering manufacturing system in China has made it possible for Apple and other companies to make devices almost as quickly as they can be dreamed up, but for workers, it can be dangerous.

Year-End Campaign Finance Reports

Yesterday, in addition to being the date of the Florida GOP primary, also was a major Federal Election Commission deadline for candidates and political action committees to submit their year-end financial disclosures. Candidates had last filed at the end of the third quarter. Possibly more interesting was what might be gleaned from superPAC disclosures: Most of the ones that we tracked were not particularly active as of the last superPAC filing deadline (mid-2011) — if they even existed — and this would be the first chance to really see the kind of money going their direction.

So, during lulls in election night coverage, I haunted the FEC website (and former Post colleague Derek Willis’s Twitter account) for new filings, adding data to this table as it came in:

2012 Money Race: Battling For The Bottom Line

2012 Money Race: Battling For The Bottom Line” (NPR, Feb. 1, 2012)

This table built on what we set up for third-quarter campaign disclosures, adding corresponding superPAC info for each candidate. I couldn’t necessarily add the candidate and superPAC totals together — legally, the two are independent and non-coordinating — but we did want to draw a visual connection between the two, grouping them together in the table.

My NPR colleagues Robert Benincasa and Peter Overby did an analysis of the various filings and, among other things, parsed out funds raised by the campaigns / superPACs by week. I fed those numbers into an interactive chart, built using the jQuery graphing library Flot. I set up this template a few months ago and have used it many times — including the third-quarter financial disclosures. This time, I modified it slightly so that when the user selects a candidate, the graph displays the weekly data for both that candidate and the superPAC that supports him.

Interactive: 2012 Campaign Cash, Week By Week

Important note about these graphs: We’re not able to graph small-donor contributions at the weekly level, as campaigns are required to itemize contribution info only for donors who have contributed over $200. So while these graphs may give an idea of the general trend of a candidate’s fundraising, they are not a complete picture.

2012 Campaign Cash, Week By Week” (NPR, Feb. 1, 2012)

NPR stories that have come out of this round of FEC disclosures so far:


Wrangling Election Data With Google Tools

WNYC developer John Keefe has some great tutorials on how to use various Google Tools to process / display elections data. Instead of building a database, he uses Google Fusion Tables.

  • When the Data’s Free: For the Iowa Caucuses (and this Saturday’s Nevada Caucuses), Google worked directly with the state GOP to get live results and then shared them via Google Fusion Tables.

  • When the Data Comes from AP: For the other primaries to date, Keefe has used data from AP’s subscription election results service. This tutorial outlines his process for getting data from AP’s FTP site to Fusion Tables (and then refreshing it every few minutes).


Photo of the Day: Secure

A favorite NPR sign, in the parking garage. #nprlife

A favorite NPR sign, in the elevator lobby off the parking garage.


Going for a Ride

When you select something for purchase at photo / video superstore B&H in New York City, the salespeople, instead of the item to you, will put the item on a conveyor belt that runs overhead throughout the store. When you're done shopping, you can pick up your goodies at a kiosk by the checkout. Here, take a virtual ride on that conveyor belt.

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Farewell To An Unlikely Hero: Why 'Chuck' Packed Such A Potent Punch | Monkey See | NPR

Linda Holmes writes, “Against overwhelming odds and in spite of eternally low ratings, Chuck’s life and death speaks in surprisingly potent ways to how television is changing. More than anything, Chuck is a story about the rise of the fan … And Chuck fans, in their businesslike enthusiasm, sold themselves as a product.”