Saturday, February 26, 2011

Big Mama Is Delicious

While we're on the topic of chickens, I wanted to share this yummy recipe that I found. I made it last night for some friends, and it's a good recipe for entertaining if you don't have much time because it's delicious but you can also throw it together quickly.

Chicken Enchilada Casserole

Adjust oven rack to middle position; preheat to 400 degrees. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Finely chop one onion and cook until softened. (The recipe calls for "about 5 minutes" but I always find it takes longer to soften an onion.) Add 3 tablespoons chili powder and 2 teaspoons cumin and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in 2 (8 oz.) cans tomato sauce, 3/4 cup chicken broth, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Simmer until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.

The chicken used in this recipe is a rotisserie chicken. It's tasty and also cuts down on cooking time. You just throw away the skin and shred the meat into bite-sized chunks.

Now toss the chicken with 1/4 cup of the sauce, plus one cup shredded Mexican cheese and 2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro in a big bowl. (I added more cilantro because I really like cilantro.) Spread 1/2 cup of the sauce in the bottom of an 8-inch square baking dish. Layer 4 corn tortillas in the bottom of the dish and cover with half of the chicken mixture. Top with 3 more corn tortillas (I ripped one in half to make it fit better) and 1/2 of the remaining sauce. Cover with remaining chicken mixture, 3 more corn tortillas (again, with one ripped in half) and 1/2 cup shredded Mexican cheese.

Wrap with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional five minutes. Serve with sour cream.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Chicken Drama of Big Mama

About six months ago or so, my friends (let's call them J and D) talked their parents (who live in Woodinville, Washington, a pretty rural area) into getting chickens. Actually, they got chicks--the chicks grew up and started laying eggs like crazy. Fresh eggs are different from the kind you can buy in the store. They are lots of sizes and colors--they can be pink and green! Sometimes they can have multiple yolks.

They named the chickens Clara, Big Mama, and Nugget. Big Mama is sweet and stupid; Clara is mean and will peck you; I'm not sure what Nugget's personality is like.

Anyway, Big Mama broke her leg! At this point my friends' parents had become very attached to the chickens, so instead of landing on the dinner table, Big Mama, inarguably the luckiest chicken in the world, was rushed to an exotic vet where the doctor put a cast on her leg to the tune of $300! Lucky, lucky chicken.

Now the family has a dark secret that they have to hide from their uncle, a farmer, whose head would probably explode at the news.

Get well soon, Big Mama!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

"I For One Welcome Our New Computer Overlords"

Ken's surprise Simpson's reference during Final Jeopardy last night threw me into a fit of giggles.

CAN A COMPUTER DO THAT? Well, maybe, but Ken definitely got the biggest laugh of the night.

Here's Ken's take on the whole Man v. Machine thing (from Slate, February 16, 2011):

My Puny Human Brain

by Ken Jennings

When I was selected as one of the two human players to be pitted against IBM's "Watson" supercomputer in a special man-vs.-machine Jeopardy! exhibition match, I felt honored, even heroic. I envisioned myself as the Great Carbon-Based Hope against a new generation of thinking machines—which, if Hollywood is to be believed, will inevitably run amok, build unstoppable robot shells, and destroy us all. But at IBM's Thomas J. Watson Research Lab, an Eero Saarinen-designed fortress in the snowy wilds of New York's Westchester County, where the shows taped last month, I wasn't the hero at all. I was the villain.

This was to be an away game for humanity, I realized as I walked onto the slightly-smaller-than-regulation Jeopardy! set that had been mocked up in the building's main auditorium. In the middle of the floor was a huge image of Watson's on-camera avatar, a glowing blue ball crisscrossed by "threads" of thought—42 threads, to be precise, an in-joke for Douglas Adams fans. The stands were full of hopeful IBM programmers and executives, whispering excitedly and pumping their fists every time their digital darling nailed a question. A Watson loss would be invigorating for Luddites and computer-phobes everywhere, but bad news for IBM shareholders.

The IBM team had every reason to be hopeful. Watson seems to represent a giant leap forward in the field of natural-language processing—the ability to understand and respond to everyday English, the way Ask Jeeves did (with uneven results) in the dot-com boom. Jeopardy! clues cover an open domain of human knowledge—every subject imaginable—and are full of booby traps for computers: puns, slang, wordplay, oblique allusions. But in just a few years, Watson has learned—yes, it learns—to deal with some of the myriad complexities of English. When it sees the word "Blondie," it's very good at figuring out whether Jeopardy! means the cookie, the comic strip, or the new-wave band.

I expected Watson's bag of cognitive tricks to be fairly shallow, but I felt an uneasy sense of familiarity as its programmers briefed us before the big match: The computer's techniques for unraveling Jeopardy! clues sounded just like mine. That machine zeroes in on key words in a clue, then combs its memory (in Watson's case, a 15-terabyte data bank of human knowledge) for clusters of associations with those words. It rigorously checks the top hits against all the contextual information it can muster: the category name; the kind of answer being sought; the time, place, and gender hinted at in the clue; and so on. And when it feels "sure" enough, it decides to buzz. This is all an instant, intuitive process for a human Jeopardy! player, but I felt convinced that under the hood my brain was doing more or less the same thing.

Indeed, playing against Watson turned out to be a lot like any other Jeopardy! game, though out of the corner of my eye I could see that the middle player had a plasma screen for a face. Watson has lots in common with a top-ranked human Jeopardy! player: It's very smart, very fast, speaks in an uneven monotone, and has never known the touch of a woman. But unlike us, Watson cannot be intimidated. It never gets cocky or discouraged. It plays its game coldly, implacably, always offering a perfectly timed buzz when it's confident about an answer. Jeopardy! devotees know that buzzer skill is crucial—games between humans are more often won by the fastest thumb than the fastest brain. This advantage is only magnified when one of the "thumbs" is an electromagnetic solenoid trigged by a microsecond-precise jolt of current. I knew it would take some lucky breaks to keep up with the computer, since it couldn't be beaten on speed.

During my 2004 Jeopardy! streak, I was accustomed to mowing down players already demoralized at having to play a long-standing winner like me. But against Watson I felt like the underdog, and as a result I started out too aggressively, blowing high-dollar-value questions on the decade in which the first crossword puzzle appeared (the 1910s) and the handicap of Olympic gymnast George Eyser (he was missing his left leg). At the end of the first game, Watson had what seemed like an insurmountable lead of more than $30,000. I tried to keep my chin up, but in the back of my mind, I was already thinking about a possible consolation prize: a second-place finish ahead of the show's other human contestant and my quiz-show archrival, undefeated Jeopardy! phenom Brad Rutter.

In the final round, I made up ground against Watson by finding the first "Daily Double" clue, and all three of us began furiously hunting for the second one, which we knew was my only hope for catching Watson. (Daily Doubles aren't distributed randomly across the board; as Watson well knows, they're more likely to be in some places than others.) By process of elimination, I became convinced it was hiding in the "Legal E's" category, and, given a 50-50 chance between two clues, chose the $1200 one. No dice. Watson took control of the board and chose "Legal E's" for $1600. There was the Daily Double. Game over for humanity.

IBM has bragged to the media that Watson's question-answering skills are good for more than annoying Alex Trebek. The company sees a future in which fields like medical diagnosis, business analytics, and tech support are automated by question-answering software like Watson. Just as factory jobs were eliminated in the 20th century by new assembly-line robots, Brad and I were the first knowledge-industry workers put out of work by the new generation of "thinking" machines. "Quiz show contestant" may be the first job made redundant by Watson, but I'm sure it won't be the last.

But there's no shame in losing to silicon, I thought to myself as I greeted the (suddenly friendlier) team of IBM engineers after the match. After all, I don't have 2,880 processor cores and 15 terabytes of reference works at my disposal—nor can I buzz in with perfect timing whenever I know an answer. My puny human brain, just a few bucks worth of water, salts, and proteins, hung in there just fine against a jillion-dollar supercomputer.

"Watching you on Jeopardy! is what inspired the whole project," one IBM engineer told me, consolingly. "And we looked at your games over and over, your style of play. There's a lot of you in Watson." I understood then why the engineers wanted to beat me so badly: To them, I wasn't the good guy, playing for the human race. That was Watson's role, as a symbol and product of human innovation and ingenuity. So my defeat at the hands of a machine has a happy ending, after all. At least until the whole system becomes sentient and figures out the nuclear launch codes. But I figure that's years away.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day, Everyone!

Guy and I usually just celebrate by making a nice dinner. Tonight we're making pasta with peas and prosciutto, and hot fudge sundaes for dessert.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Guy's New Product Idea

It's a toilet cleaner (similar to the one shown), except instead of making the toilet water blue, it makes it yellow.

It's for uptight hippies!

Would you like to 'let it mellow' but you just can't? Now you can! All your friends will call you Mellow Yellow....quite wrongly! etc.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


The same author has another book called The Devil's Teeth which is really good too. It's about great white sharks.