Last week all the temperatures were in the upper 70s and we even had a couple of days in the mid 80s! The plants really took off. I noticed the first tomato forming. It was about the size of a marble and has grown to about the size of a ping-pong ball. You can also see small buds on the pepper plants where the first peppers will grow.

Yesterday, one week later it was in the mid 50s , got down to 37 degrees last night, and is supposed to stay in the low 60s for the next 4 days. Can’t imagine worse timing. I should have least brought the small pots inside but the only herb that seems to be damaged is the basil. Its top leaves are hanging like a wet dish cloth. The ones lower down seem to be fine but I’ll probably have to prune it back.

The pepper plants don’t look as bad as the basil. They are droopy but still have some firmness. Not quite to wet dish cloth levels. We’ll see. The tomato plants don’t seem to have any adverse effects but the proof will be in the fruits themselves. Not sure if any of the 8 or so flowers on it had already been fertilized and starting to form fruits.

I’m totally bummed. Things were going so well.

In the back yard I’ve planted some vegetables, and herbs in containers and pots. In addition we had raspberry and blackberry growing in pots already. I think they were planted 2 or 3 years ago.

We had a metal cooler that we used at our wedding 3 years ago. I drilled a dozen holes in the bottom and filled it with topsoil, sand, and moisture control garden soil. It seems to drain quite well so my silly mistake of forgetting to put a layer of gravel on the bottom hasn’t had any negative effects. I also mixed some Osmocote 14-14-14 fertilizer into the top half.

On the left, in the back, we have a Heinz “beef” tomato . In the back middle there is a jalapeno pepper plant and on the right a hot banana pepper. In the front are two broccoli plants. All are from Bonnie Plants bought in peat pots. This is probably too much for this container but we aren’t looking for huge harvests so I hope they at least produce. It should be about 5 gallons of soil for each plant.

The tomato plant is already fruiting. One tomato at least and several (8 or 9) flowers.


In another container, which I forget the name brand of, I have planted cucumber seeds. It is a bush variety cucumber plant by Burpee called “Picklebush”. Growing cucumbers and making pickles was the main driving force behind trying to garden this summer. My daughter and I both love a good dill pickle. They are actually up now but I only have this picture of the empty container right now.


There are several things I don’t have a picture of yet. One is a San Marzano tomato planted in an 8 gallon pot. We hadn’t purchased this pot when I took the first pictures so I don’t have anything of this plant yet. What surprised me the most about this one was the planting directions. I guess tomatoes are the exception to the rule and when you plant them you are supposed to bury the lower branches. In fact the directions said to bury 2/3rd of the plant! I guess the lower branches will grow roots and make for a strong root system.

I also planted five different herbs in small pots. Bonnie Plants peat pots were on sale so we went this route instead of growing from seed. We have basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, and cilantro.

One major constraint on my gardening efforts is price. I mean, after all, we aren’t very good at this so why spend a bunch of money. So, instead of buying trays of flowers we are growing from seed.

We have a few existing plants in the porch bed.
Porch Flower Beds

I don’t remember what the ornamental grass is. The other plants are Hostas. Those things are more or less indestructible. I’ve dug up that bed twice. Turned the soil over and chopped it up with a shovel and still they live! In the spaces between them, in the empty bed, and around the tree go the seeds. We are planting two flowers from the morning glory family and some violas.

Convolvulus Blue Enchantment
First are the Convolvulus Blue Enchantment with seeds from Burpee.

They are a bush variety with morning glory shaped flowers. They only get about a foot tall. I tried to grow these once before and literally none of them came up. This time though they came up great. I tried to get a shot of them around the tree but the seedlings are a bit too small still. Squint! (and click to enlarge)
Blue Enchantment Seedlings

Stupid thing I did: These need to be covered with soil about an inch deep, so I used a pencil to make hole and then wiggled it around to widen it. Knowing that not every seed comes up I then dropped about 3 seeds in each hole. Obviously I should have made different holes grouped close together. Kind of silly. Since they germinated so well I had two and three seedlings coming up through the same exact hole. You are supposed to thin these out anyway but normally you’d want to wait until they grew some true leaves first and see which is doing the best. I had to go ahead “pick a winner” early and snip off the extra seedlings.

Johnny Jump-Ups
These flowers are related to pansies. They go by the name Johnny Jump-up Violas or Helen Mount Violas. Our seeds are from the Livingston Seed Company. They’re beautiful flowers with an interesting shape. I’ve read that they also follow the sun during the day.


I’m not sure, but I think a few of these have broken through the soil. They are incredibly small seedlings and I’m not 100% sure that’s what I’m looking at or if a few weeds have sprouted up.

Weird story: We first bought these seeds from Burpee, at Home Depot. None of the packs had any seeds in them! I thought I must be stupid or something. Turns out the entire batch at the store was empty. We got our money back and luckily found them at another store.

Blue Picotee Morning Glory
Steph went to get more Viola seeds and saw these and had to have them. If they look like this when finished they will be quite impressive!

They are a true, vining, Morning Glory. To get these to germinate I scuffed up the seeds slightly with an Emory board and then soaked them in a dish of water overnight. Wow! The taproot was coming out of the seed by the next morning for some of them. They came up quick in the peat pots I germinated them in and they are looking great!


Steph wanted to plant them around the mailbox. I didn’t really care for how that looks when it works. Instead we decided to use a plant stand we have out back that we don’t use. The plan is to bury the legs of it in the bed beside the porch and let the morning glories climb it.


Before I go one final picture, of our tree bed.


Neither my wife nor myself would be considered plant savvy. Despite this we try to grow things. Just for kicks I thought I might document the effort this year, as pathetic as they might be.

The Landscape
We have three main areas where we are planting. In the front of the house we have a flower bed around our front yard tree. Now this tree loves water so already we might be on shaky ground, but we are planting flowers around it. There are also flower beds outside the front door, around the walkway. There are a few potted plants on the front stoop as well. Finally on the back patio we have set up various containers to grow fruits and vegetables. Steph has also been growing herbs, in pots, out back for a few years but we haven’t done anything with that yet this year.

We live in a pretty average suburban housing project. This means the soil sucks. In both the flower beds and even the yard you don’t have to dig down very far (3″-6″) before you are hitting a soil/gravel mix. This year and two years ago I’ve added soil.

Given what we have now, even adding regular topsoil is an improvement. About half to two-thirds of what I added was just regular old Earthgro Topsoil that they sell at Home Depot and Walmart. It has a lot of negative reviews but I think that might be because what is in the bag varies by region. What I bought was great. Not very much clay, and only the occasional small rock or tree branch.

The remainder of what I added was Miracle-Gro Moisture Control Garden Soil. I added it as the entire top layer around the tree, mixed it with the topsoil in the flowerbeds, potted plants and vegetable containers. This seems to be pretty nice stuff to me. It is moist but crumbly black soil that obviously has lots of finely composted organic matter. It also contains a 10-10-10 fertilizer. Technically it isn’t for use in containers, I think because it holds moisture so well, but I also added some playground sand with it, and the topsoil, in the containers and they seem to be draining just fine.

We’ve been making this recipe for a while now and it’s one of my favorites. It’s a little spicy with a nice mix of flavors. We call it Italian Chicken Stew but on most sites it is called Sister Ria’s Lazy Chicken. I’ve sometimes seen it claimed it is a Rachael Ray recipe but I’m not sure if that is true.

I enjoyed this interview with George Martin in Rolling Stone magazine. We get to learn a little about his background and hear his insights into the characters and nature of the books.

Source: George R.R. Martin: The Rolling Stone Interview

Both Jaime and Cersei are clearly despicable in those moments. Later, though, we see a more humane side of Jaime when he rescues a woman, who had been an enemy, from rape. All of a sudden we don’t know what to feel about Jaime.

One of the things I wanted to explore with Jaime, and with so many of the characters, is the whole issue of redemption. When can we be redeemed? Is redemption even possible? I don’t have an answer. But when do we forgive people? You see it all around in our society, in constant debates. Should we forgive Michael Vick? I have friends who are dog-lovers who will never forgive Michael Vick. Michael Vick has served years in prison; he’s apologized. Has he apologized sufficiently? Woody Allen: Is Woody Allen someone that we should laud, or someone that we should despise? Or Roman Polanski, Paula Deen. Our society is full of people who have fallen in one way or another, and what do we do with these people? How many good acts make up for a bad act? If you’re a Nazi war criminal and then spend the next 40 years doing good deeds and feeding the hungry, does that make up for being a concentration-camp guard? I don’t know the answer, but these are questions worth thinking about. I want there to be a possibility of redemption for us, because we all do terrible things. We should be able to be forgiven. Because if there is no possibility of redemption, what’s the answer then? [Martin pauses for a moment.] You’ve read the books?

A major concern in A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones is power. Almost everybody – except maybe Daenerys, across the waters with her dragons – wields power badly.

Ruling is hard. This was maybe my answer to Tolkien, whom, as much as I admire him, I do quibble with. Lord of the Rings had a very medieval philosophy: that if the king was a good man, the land would prosper. We look at real history and it’s not that simple. Tolkien can say that Aragorn became king and reigned for a hundred years, and he was wise and good. But Tolkien doesn’t ask the question: What was Aragorn’s tax policy? Did he maintain a standing army? What did he do in times of flood and famine? And what about all these orcs? By the end of the war, Sauron is gone but all of the orcs aren’t gone – they’re in the mountains. Did Aragorn pursue a policy of systematic genocide and kill them? Even the little baby orcs, in their little orc cradles?

In real life, real-life kings had real-life problems to deal with. Just being a good guy was not the answer. You had to make hard, hard decisions. Sometimes what seemed to be a good decision turned around and bit you in the ass; it was the law of unintended consequences. I’ve tried to get at some of these in my books. My people who are trying to rule don’t have an easy time of it. Just having good intentions doesn’t make you a wise king.

The folks over at A Wiki of Ice and Fire have a great collection of chapter summaries for George R.R. Martin’s book series. Since they are made available under a Creative Commons license, I took the liberty of making an ebook out of them. It wasn’t easy but thankfully I know how to program.

There is a table of contents, which will lead you to individual indexes for each book that list all the chapters. After each index is a short summary of the entire book, followed by summaries of each chapter. There are something like 350 chapters! It even includes summaries of the pre-release chapters for the next book The Winds of Winter, and the short stories about Dunk and Egg.

The links in the table of contents, indexes, and at the very top of each chapter summary, are to other locations within the ebook. Be aware though, the links in the body of the summaries are to the wiki itself, so clicking on them will open the browser on whatever device you are using.

So, here’s the ebook in both epub and mobi (Kindle) format:

A Song of Ice and Fire – Chapter Summaries (epub)

A Song of Ice and Fire – Chapter Summaries (mobi)

“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

The quote is one Nate Silver is fond of. It can be found in his 2012 book The Signal and the Noise as well as in an article at his new site FiveThirtyEight. Silver says he wants to be a fox but some are, rightly, questioning whether he needs to know his subject matter a little more in depth.

Silver made a name for himself during the last few election cycles by predicting the outcomes through the use of statistics rather than the gut feelings, and wishful thinking most media pundits use. Before that he created a system of using baseball statistics for projecting player performance. In The Signal and the Noise he branched out a bit and covered several topics like the financial meltdown, weather forecasting, global warming, and even terrorism.

The book was pretty good I thought, if looked at as a primer on how statistics are used in various fields, and how they often fail. As investigative reporting however it wasn’t quite as good. The notion that there might have been malfeasance at work in the financial meltdown got merely a short mention before moving on to discuss faulty financial models with no relevant historical data to draw on. He drew the ire of global warming researchers by too easily falling for the critiques of deniers. He was clearly out of his element in either of these fields.

At the new site it appears that he is unaware of his shortcomings. The new site intends to delve into many topics outside his expertise. The thing is though, election prediction isn’t all that difficult a task, comparatively. You have lots of polls that are conducted by mostly competent firms. You can track the history of each firm as to their reliability. Throw in a few social factors (state of the economy, etc.) and you have a pretty robust model. Not everything is so clean cut.

The word model is fairly important there. If you don’t have a model how can you know what data is relevant in the first place? Paul Krugman:

Source: Tarnished Silver

It’s not the reliance on data; numbers can be good, and can even be revelatory. But data never tell a story on their own. They need to be viewed through the lens of some kind of model, and it’s very important to do your best to get a good model. And that usually means turning to experts in whatever field you’re addressing.

Unfortunately, Silver seems to have taken the wrong lesson from his election-forecasting success. In that case, he pitted his statistical approach against campaign-narrative pundits, who turned out to know approximately nothing. What he seems to have concluded is that there are no experts anywhere, that a smart data analyst can and should ignore all that.

Similarly, climate science has been developed by many careful researchers who are every bit as good at data analysis as Silver, and know the physics too, so ignoring them and hiring a known irresponsible skeptic to cover the field is a very good way to discredit your enterprise. Economists work hard on the data; on the whole you’re going to do better by tracking their research than by trying to roll your own, and you should be very wary if your analysis runs counter to what a lot of professionals say.

The link embedded in the Krugman quote offers a good example of just blindly looking at the data. Roger Pielke Jr. is the man in question and he wrote an article questioning the notion that more extreme weather is causing more damage to society. His data was that the increase in damage costs tracks the increase in Gross Domestic Product. Therefore, there hasn’t been an increase in damage, just an increase in wealth. Sounds pretty straight forward right? Well maybe not.

It turns out over the same time some of that increase in wealth has gone into building things that can better resist disasters. Because of that should we be seeing a decrease in disaster costs relative to the increase of wealth? Probably so. Researchers in the field seem to think so. At any rate it should show you why the model you use is so important. It tells you want data you need to pay attention to. It seems to me factoring in how well your buildings can withstand storm damage is something that belongs in the model.

Krugman is not the only critic. Long time Silver fan and libertarian(ish) economic commentator Tyler Cowen, along with several others, has been critical as well. Krugman points us to an article by a staffer about corporate cash hordes.

Source: The Piles of Cash That Never Existed

One of the early narratives of the economic recovery was that companies were “hoarding” cash. The story line made sense: Companies, burned by the credit crisis and cautious amid economic and political uncertainty, were stockpiling money. The data backed up the story: The Federal Reserve in 2011 reported that American companies had more than $2 trillion stashed away in overflowing vaults (or, in most cases, bulging bank accounts). As a share of all assets, cash holdings were at their highest level in nearly half a century.

Then the Fed revised its data. New figures released in early 2012, based on more complete tax filings, showed that American companies actually had close to half a trillion dollars less cash than previously thought. Companies did hoard cash in the early months after the financial crisis, but only up to the point that they had rebuilt savings they’d had to spend during the credit crunch. After that, cash holdings as a share of assets leveled off and have remained pretty much flat since. The revision didn’t just change the numbers—it undermined the whole narrative.

As Krugman points out, it is silly to say that it destroys any narrative. Why should a revision from $2 trillion to $1.5 trillion refute that narrative? What did the corporations spend the money on? Was it on their own businesses? Did they invest in Treasury bills? The article doesn’t say.

We’re told that the “whole narrative” is gone; which narrative? Is the notion that profits are high, but investment remains low, no longer borne out by the data? (I’m pretty sure it’s still true.) What is the model that has been refuted?

It seems to me that Silver has overestimated his ability to just jump into any field and look at a few numbers and give us all the “straight scoop.” There is a reason people go to school for years and years to master fields like climate science and economics. He isn’t dealing with a bunch of hacks that are paid to say stupid and controversial things on a TV news program.

He’s in way over his head and should stick to political forecasting which he’s good at and where things aren’t looking so great for Senate Democrats in November.

So Senator Mitch McConnell made this cheesy PR video and The Daily Show discovered that you could play just about any song with it and come up with something funny. They called on their fans to make their own. I picked a dozen of my favorites from Buzzfeed’s Top 30 .

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