Friday, December 05, 2003

What if you could click on a hyperlink in the newspaper?

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

I have a spreadsheet showing current and projected expenses and income for the next couple of decades. I use it to remind myself why I'm nowhere near retirement.

One of the columns is projected routine spending, which is current routine expenses like insurance, taxes, bread and milk, plus projected increases in routine spending (ie, things we don't pay for now, but I assume we will have to in the future, like health care premiums). Since costs rise, year to year, I add a percentage increase, just for inflation, each year.

A second column is projected extraordinary expenses -- new cars and the like.

Last night, I thought 'why separate out projected changes in routine from extraordinary? Both are money we expect to spend, and both are limited in how often we'll have to pay -- they don't go on forever. ' So I changed the projected routine spending to be just that, and changed projected extraordinary to be just projected one-time spending. Hey, what's the diff, right? Just cleaning up the spreadsheet.

Oh, my goodness.

It turns out that by combining the one-timers with the normal spending, I was making the implicit assumption that the one-timers would actually happen in whatever year they occurred -- and every year thereafter. Once I pulled them out, so that they don't get rolled up each year, the spreadsheet projected our total spending over the entire period to be about 70% of what it otherwise would have been. And the net effect is, our projected ending net worth is projected to be about 15% higher.

Maybe I will retire.

Saturday, November 01, 2003

I didn't write this. The person at did. It's terrific.

Mission Impossible - Dowbrigade Remix
The Dowbrigade has discovered that although busses and subways in Boston run much diminished schedules on Sundays, with meticulous planning and split-second timing it is possible to get from Malden to the tennis courts in under an hour, even on that Godly day.

As I waited for the first bus on my route, the 108, which stops right in front of our house, I popped into my cheapo CD player the disk I burned last night just for that purpose. Old reggae from the Heptones got me to the Malden Center stop on the Orange Line, then the sweet acapella of the Persuasions.

Finally, the train pulled into Downtown Crossing, the labyrinthine underground complex which unites the Orange, Red and Green lines and, as a bonus, features a direct entrance to Filene's Basement. I needed to navigate the narrow Orange Line platform, race down two flights of stairs, down an underground concourse, up a short set of steps and across two sets of Green Line tracks and dash down a final stairwell onto the Red Line outbound platform, within 2 minutes, in order to catch the 9:15 train to Cambridge, Central Square being the closest subway stop to the Just Don't Suck Tennis Club.

Just as the doors of my Orange Line train opened (I could barely hear the annoyingly androgynous announcer intone "Change here for the Red and Green Lines" with my headphones on) when the playlist I was listening to sprung up with Moby's techno re-mix of the theme from "Mission Impossible". It was perfect.

As I stepped off the train, I was instantly enveloped in a world of choreographed precision in which every detail had stark definition and significance. The soundtrack took over my Central Nervous System and I began moving in smooth and stylized unpredictable jerks, like a boxer bobbing and weaving to make a more elusive target. My eyes shot around the station in time to the music, cutting reality into diffuse shots, glimpses and quick cuts; a face watching out of the corner of one eye, a buff businessman holding too tightly to a slick atachee case, a suspicious bulge under the My Little Pony blanket covering an innocent looking baby stroller.

My feet moved to the beat of the tense techno strains of MI. I deftly sidestepped two clueless tourists studying the system map like Egyptologist trying to decipher previously unknown hieroglyphics inside a pyramid, lept lightly over the opened guitar case of an overtly gay bleached blond Rasta, and slipped adroitly between two concrete columns, disappearing from the sight of anyone who happened to be on my tail.

As the music's staccato pace quickened with tension I found my stairwell and bolted up two steps at a stride, still in time to the music. Emerging on the Green line complex my eyes chopped the scene into sharp, revealing shots, cutaways revealing a professors umbrella, an odd bag of fruit, a particularly repulsive hairdo, and plotting a path across the two trolley tracks between where I was standing and the stairwell to the Red Line.

Like a mad ballerina I dashed, juking and feinting, shooting glances left and right, searching for danger, the opposition, the unexpected, inevitable, ultimate sanction. The music was building to its dramatic crescendo. I was moving at a great pace now, my feet dancing over the tracks like Arthur Murray possessed, moving surely and lightly like the seasoned pro I was.

I was going to make it. I had a full 30 seconds to get down the stairs and into the Red Line train. 4 stops to Central. I'd be on the court in 15 minutes. As a finishing flourish to shake off any surviving tails, I faked towards the stairway to the left, then darted between a cement bench and a huge column toward the right stairway - and smack into an 87-year-old Chinese grandmother retuning from the Chinatown markets loaded down with boxes bags and baskets. We both went sprawling on the cold grimy floor of the station. Small white feathers had escaped from one of her many packages and lay on both our bodies, and the floor. A few still hung in the air.

Thank God she wasn't hurt or a lawyer! I helped her to her feet, apologizing profusely, and offering (stupidly) to replace her feathers. She addressed me at length in Chinese, and though understanding not a word I felt chastised and chagrinned.

Needless to say, I missed the train, and finally got to the courts still shaking from my close escape. However, had I not had that fortuitous run-in with the Nationalist Chinese agent, the highly-trained hit squad waiting for me at the foot of the right stairway disguised as a troop of highly decorated girl scouts might have done me in.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

An interesting comment in the Times today about what the effect would be if employers paid for car insurance. The conclusion was that a lot more cars would spend time in the shop, they would be in better shape and be around for more years, and the average cost of car insurance would go up. The analogy was, of course, to health insurance, and it was aimed at making the point that people will spend money that isn't theirs to the limit that they can, and that one way of reducing that expenditure would be to require copays of increasingly higher amounts. The problem then becomes, what level of copay would have the effect of limiting use, and would that level be higher than the poor could afford? If so, doesn't that mean you are rationing health care according to income?

No answers here.

Saturday, October 25, 2003

I just got through paying this week's bills. Nothing particularly shocking, but it got me thinking about the customization that ought to be possible with the credit card bill. When I enter total credit card charge into Quicken -- the old version, not the thrice-dammed ad-besotted current one -- I usually tell Q to split the bill, meaning that I take the total figure and run down the entries in the bill -- this much for books and magazines, this much for my PC backup service, this much for medical, and so on. About 70% of the items which show up are routine and recurring. I wondered -- why can't I buy a service from Mastercard to group those for me in the bill? Here's the three Books and Mags entries, and the total was this. I know, I know -- they would have to be able to categorize everybody's bill, by whatever categories they might use -- but still, don't you think that'd be a useful concept? Even just the ability to take the bill, electronically, into a spreadsheet would be nice..... Maybe thats a market for a client-side appllication.

Monday, October 13, 2003

Why is the Google news searcher so fascinated with the formerly conjoined twins? Or put more accurately, why are the news sources Google scans so fascinated?

Saturday, September 20, 2003

I like precision. I'm not a precise person, but I like it when things add up.

I just took our most recent bank statement and put the numbers into a spreadsheet I've been keeping of expenses for the last 13 months. I take the big numbers -- so much in and out from the ATM account, the deltas on the other accounts -- but I also take the individual ATM entries, categorize them -- books, cleaners, groceries, etc -- and give them a spreadsheet entry all their own. The net out is that I can see, overall and by category, how spending has changed over the last however many months I want to look. Today I added a small bit of sophistication to that. Our bank doesn't supply the ATM transactions in electronic format (at least, I don't think they do), so up to now I've typed them in. Today, I scanned in the statement and lifted the numbers from the scanned file directly into the spreadsheet. Nice. I still have to categorize them, and I did find that the OCR component of the package isn't 100% reliable -- but it was still faster and neater.

I like that. This is the functionality I wanted in Quicken, that accursed product. (The current version, not the vintage one I'm still using.) Now, if I could just automate the charting, and put some intelligence into it....

Friday, September 19, 2003

Some years ago, I recall reading a Doonesbury strip where a guy is talking to his son about getting a job, and the son says that he wants a job where (I'm making this part up from memory) the environment is relaxed, and his coworkers are an interesting, collegial bunch. The father replies 'So you're not getting a job.' and the son says 'I didn't say that'.

The phrase 'collegial' came to mind a bit ago as I was thinking about the people I work with, and the people that we do our work for -- a state organization with lots and lots of bureaucrats. I begin to suspect that their attitude to life is catching. Don't take chances, get approval for everything, take copies of everything. The reason I think its catching is that I see myself starting to adopt that protective attitude. I don't like it. I know that I'm not the free and independent thinker that I'd like to believe I am, and I know that what I call my inability to suffer fools is partially just a way to keep from dealing with stuff I don't want to handle -- but not all of it. Some of it really is an intellectual aversion to people who manifest the bureaucratic virus, and when I think about the idea that I might have caught it, I feel like I need a long, hot shower.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

I can hardly see this screen, at the moment, the effect of standing out in the cul-de-sac in the bright sun, watching my daughter and two neighbor's kids ride bikes and scooters round and round and round. Normally, our life being someone on the dull side, this would count as optional entertainment, but this time it was sort-of required, as our daughter breathlessly informed us that the dog's name was Lil Man, and that his owners weren't home. The owners, it turned out, were the family which recently starred in a police report which used words like drugs, gun, and felon (it is such a delight to drive home and notice three police cars in the neighborhood streets, just sitting and watching), and the dog in question, it turns out, is a pit bull. Very friendly, with big jaws and an oversized chest. And what look like mad eyes to me, but what do I know. Anyway, we thought it would be a good idea to stay out and watch the kids, the neighbor thought it would be a good idea to stay out, too, and another neighbor thought it would be a good idea to call the local cops and say hey, come lock this dog up somewhere. Of course, as I pointed out, we have very few cops around here, and right now there must be one saying 'dammed if I'm going after a pit bull by myself; I'm calling the ASPCA'. But right now we're all back inside, so we don't care what the dog is doing. Although what it was more recently doing was chewing on a fist sized rock.

I am probably certifiably crazy. Within a day of thinking occasionally about retirement homes and what they should look like, I have started to mull over have major renovations to this house -- this being the one which we would decamp from upon retirement, but heck, that's years away. I have often said that if we ever put in a pool, it would have to be in a poolhouse so that we could use it more than the two or three months of the year that our climate allows that sort of thing. Well, one of BH&Gs specialty magazines shows this cool little poolhouse cum patio, except that it isn't a pool but rather a hot tub -- southwestern motif, terracotta tiling, quite nice. I have heard some stories about hot tubs that make me a little reluctant to have one put in, but the image alone is enough to make me start mulling over having a wing put on the house, having the bedroom/bathroom bumped out oh, six feet, that sort of thing. Certifiably loony.

Saturday, September 13, 2003

From ABC News web site:

"Not all banned items are passing through security at U.S. airports. Since the TSA took over security at airports in February 2002, more than 8 million prohibited items have been intercepted or voluntarily surrendered. That number includes 51,408 box cutters, 2,453,039 knives and 1,498 firearms."

Okay, the knives, I can see. And maybe even the guns. But 51,408 box cutters? Didn't anyone wonder why these people were carrying these provably murderous tools around? Were they expecting to encounter the need to open a box? Or was it just a test to see if they could get them past security? Or perhaps it should be "security".

As one person said, the TSA is getting good at getting toenail clippers away little old ladies, though.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Would moving jobs offshore in the software industry be more or less prevalent if the people doing it

a) had to publicly announce that they were doing it, and why
b) had their own jobs subject to being moved
c) had thought about the idea that they were training their future competitors?

Didn't think so.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

Yesterday, I found myself wondering how an actual light saber would work.

I say this knowing that there are people who can actually put some impressive brain power onto that question and come up with something that might actually have a decent chance of working, with only a couple of 'then a miracle occurs' constructs to power it, whereas my own TAMOs are roughly the size of Albuquerque. And there are probably Star Wars freaks (I mean that in the kindest way, honest) who have given this some thought, and who have written scholarly articles on it. I mean, what the hell -- if there are people who've written about how warp drive must work, surely there are people who've written about how a light saber would work. So, I know my own contribution to the canon would be inconsequential. I do know this, but it doesn't stop me.

Activated, a light saber would have to have a cutting edge on all sides. Though I don't recall ever seeing anyone jab with one (or for that matter, with an actual saber), I would guess that there has to be a point, too. In fact, thinking about it, why a light saber and not, say, a light epee? Or a light foil? Heavy sabers are used for heavy slashing attacks, so they would have to have a lot of power in them, as distinct from lighter-weight weapons. I used to occasionally mull over whether light sabers had swapoutable batteries, or jumper cables.... I know, they're probably powered by the Force, and therefore unlikely to ever wear out, but still...

And there's the question of whether a light saber is tunable, or is it an all-or-nothing thing, either inert, or full furious power? In other words, could you use a light saber as a penlight? A cigar lighter?

I assume that the height of the 'blade' isn't adjustable, so the pulsating 'flame' that you see build when the saber is switched on probably comes from the internal power being translated into the biting edge of, say, an oxyacetylene torch, but controlled by some kind of shield that keeps the blade focused -- though obviously it couldn't be a 'protective' shield, else it'd be like fighting with a sword that is still in its sheath.

Well, that's it. More intro than main act, I guess. But I liked it.

Sunday, August 31, 2003

Tonight's the big sleepover, and the living is antsy.

My daughter's having two friends over. Both are qualified as 'her best friend' (despite her grandmother insisting that you can only have one best friend, my daughter says that she has two; my feeling is, have as many as you want, kiddo). One was over last week for a play date which went so badly that at one point my daughter was in the kitchen complaining loudly to her mother about injustices past and current perpetrated by the other girl, while I was in the living room holding the other girl while she cried into my shoulder. The other is the offspring of some well-off people, and so is used to a certain degree of pampering that we're unlikely to meet. She's a decent kid, though.

My daughter has a series of games and events that she wants to do because she saw them in American Girl, and the girls there were clearly having fun, so she is sure she will, too. We've advised her not to take their reluctance to play to her agenda as a personal affront, but that didn't fly with her. She's not a control freak but she does like being in control, which the other kids don't like. She doesn't know how to let that go, and neither do we.

We are holding our breath. My daughter's take is, if tonight doesn't work, she'll never do a sleepover here again.
I'm interested in distance learning.

From what I see in the ads, the elapsed time from thinking about a distance degree to acquisition of the degree is about thirty seconds, which certainly fits in with my schedule. Okay, that's dumb, but the original statement is true. I like the idea of being able to get learning without physically attending a school. Some things can't be taught remotely, I know this, but most can, with varying degrees of effectiveness, so I'm going to look into it. Anything that keeps me from having to go to one of the local colleges, where the staff is an average of one hundred and nine years old, and therefore regards me as just a kid who needs to be strictly controlled and coerced into doing things Their Way, is a good thing.

No courses in being a cowboy, though. Pity.
I haven't been blgging for a while == I know you've noticed == but a couple of events of late impulsed me to do it again, at least for a while.

In one of the Star Trek flicks, there is a scene wherein Spock gives Kirk a birthday present. I think that it's just a quick shot in the flick, but in the book, there is a moment where Spock watches a woman creating elegant package wrappings in an origami style, and purchases one; later, after Kirk has taken the present away, Spock stands and absent-mindedly folds the now-empty wrapping closed again. Most origami leaves me cold -- yes, a dancing mantis, how nice; oh, look, a hopping frog, how creative -- but the image of the wrapping folding silently back to the original perfection of the box has attracted me since first I heard of it. I was therefore delighted when a relative showed my daughter how, with a series of simple folds, and ordinary paper, she could create a cube. I searched for instructions on the Web on how to do it; I came across a number of pages that speak of it, each requiring some level of knowledge that was beyond me. The best of these was here, titled 'Origami for Everyone'. The page is not perfect -- at the end, my daughter had to point out to me where the 'hole' was that you blow into to inflate the structure -- but it's pretty good, and better than the rest. The cube -- now a little battered -- sits on this desk, and pleases me when I see it.

I'm still not going to make any hopping frogs, though.

Saturday, August 02, 2003

I've been doing a lot of reading of other people's blogs of late. I'm amazed at the quality of writing that is out there to be found. Some of it is good enough to be publishable.

Because I'm interested in the area, a substantial portion of the blogs whose address I've saved (in Ampehtadesk, if they have an RSS feed; in my favorites folder, if not) are medical blogs. About three fourths of those are written by people in the early years of medical practice; of the remainder, most have been practicing for multiple years, and a couple are in ancillary support positions -- transcriptionist, EMT, and so forth.

I like seeing the enthusiasm and intellectual curiousity of these people, even as I am irritated at their occasional presumption. Like the last 'new crop' of federal legislators, many of them come into medicine swearing not to become arrogant and unfeeling, but rather to remain sensitive and to listen more than they talk. Usually, they keep to that. Sometimes, they don't. Some have already made the leap to regarding patients as either interesting, meaning there's something wrong with them that's unusual or difficult to treat, or tedious, meaning this is the twentieth of this type they've seen today, how boring.

Interesting reading, though -- particularly folks like Doc Shazam and A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

I just learned about the DARPA plan today. I like it.

Oh, okay, there's lots not to like, but Wolfowitz said that they were looking (I'm paraphrasing here) for out of the box, brilliant thinking. Well, think about what they wanted. They were looking for ways to forecast what might happen, given that no one really seems to know how to predict where terrorists will work their evil. So you need a way to get people thinking about it, in a real-world way. Giving them the chance to earn money sounds like a decent way.

So far as I can see, the only problem was, they went with the blue-sky approach before anyone had a chance to round off the rough edges. And the blue skies turned out to be greyer than they thought.
Lazy day. Sometimes, that's not bad.

Monday, July 28, 2003

These Netflix people may have my number.

I don't watch a lot of movies. Mostly it's a matter of time -- I just don't have enough that I'm willing to commit to 90 minutes or more in a stretch, and watching in chunks tends to ruin the continuity - and as for going out, I usually don't want to pony up the tarrif. But there is a time when the price is right, and watching in chunks is perfectly okay, and that's when I'm on my exercise bike, looking through the channels for something to distract me as I pedal along. Not a lot on to do that, at 5:40 in the morning -- but a movie, ah, that's a different story. Plus, since I don't see movies when they first come out, usually, I can trawl through the older listings at Netflix, the ones that are always available because no one rents them anymore. I just ordered three for a roadtrip (all kids movies), and three more for when we return. I can already see myself slotting those jewels and peddling mindlessly.

I think I like this service.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

I take a while to learn things, sometimes.

For years, I have seen articles that say that if you're trying to address the problems of an organization, you should talk with the people who actually deliver the service. They see the problems every day, and they can tell you all about them. Well, okay, I knew it couldn't possibly be that simple, but it wasn't until this week when I abruptly realized that it was true -- but that you have to listen to a hundred (or a thousand, or ten thousand) bogus comments before coming across the gem -- and even then, you have to know what the gem looks like in the rough, and polish it before it's worth something. And sometimes, you have to see the unpolished gem multiple times before it clicks that this is a gem, and not just another piece of rubble.

Can't believe it took me that long to figure that out.

Sunday, July 20, 2003

I just checked, and I don’t have any emails from my friend in the land of granola. I didn’t expect to, but it would have been nice. I like hearing from her, even though... and that 'even though' is the reason that today is day 2 of my latest ‘lets see how long I can go without writing’ streak. That's my recurring effort where I see if I can wean myself from writing to this person so often. Like a compulsive dieter, or a lapsing drunk, I have climbed on this wagon before -- look, there are skid marks on the steps from the last time -- and I’ll likely fall off again, too. But for my own self-respect, I need to try.

I see where some dueling opinions are emerging regarding whether it’s okay for businesses to move work to other countries. The advocates say that this is a way for a company to make its product at a lower cost, thus helping it in the battle against other companies, and helping its stockholders. The opponents say that this manuever enriches other countries by boosting their economies at the cost of ours, thus weakening us economically and prolonging the recovery from the recession. I think they’re both right. It’s not the job of a company to take into account what the US economy needs; it needs to worry about its customers, stockholders, and employees (though that last seems pretty uncommon, these days). It’s the job of the US government to worry about and orchestrate control of the economy. But when the US government is so heavily beholden to companies, and so sensitive to their needs, it tends to adopt a 'whats good for General Motors...' philosophy. Bush says that the tax cut will spur jobs; in the words of one US senator, I’d like a world where Julia Roberts is going to call me, but that doesn’t seem likely. Either.

Saturday, July 19, 2003

This is a reading weekend. I picked up a copy of A Tribe Apart, a study of adolescence in a Reston, Virginia school, and it's fascinating. The subject's of interest because my daughter's going to be part of that tribe in four years (four years -- forever, right?), and like any parent, I want to be ready, or at least aware of what to expect. And I've been reading a lot of weblogs, the result of picking up a copy of Amphetadesk, a newsfeed aggregator (boy, there's a couple of words that only tell you what it is if you already know what it is). I'm still reading A Perfect Mind, the biography of John Forbes Nash, and the biography of Benjamin Franklin. All good stuff. And I found a recipe for strawberry soup that I hope to make today. I baked some chocolate chip cookies yesterday, just to get something that I thought my daughter might eat -- she's been sick-- and the soup will be fun. No pies lately, though.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

From the web site of the North Carolina Office of the Attorney General -- Kid's Section ( -

The Story of Jack and Jill in Legalese

The party of the first part shall hereinafter be referred to as Jack, and the party of the second part shall hereinafter be referred to as Jill.

The parties ascended or caused to be ascended an elevation of undetermined height and degree of slope. Their purpose was to obtain, attain, procure, secure, or otherwise gain access to a receptacle suitable for the transport of a liquid consisting of hydrogen and oxygen.

The proportions of which shall not be greater than nor less than two parts of the first mentioned element and one of the latter. This composition shall hereinafter be called water. On the occasion stated above, it has been established beyond a reasonable doubt that Jack did plunge, tumble, topple, or otherwise was caused to lose his footing in such a manner as to thrust his body in the downward direction.

As a direct and proximate cause of these combined circumstances, Jack suffered fractures and contusions to his cranial region. Jill is said to have fallen after Jack. Whether after is used in the spatial or time passage sense has not been determined.

Monday, July 07, 2003

From Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science:

"Medical malpractice suites are a remarkably ineffective remedy. Troyen Brennan, a Harvard professor of law and public health, points out that research has consistently failed to find evidence that litigation reduces medical error rates. In part, this may be because the weapon is so imprecise. Brennan led several studies following up on the patients in the Harvard Medical Practice Study. He found that fewer than 2 percent of the patients who had received substandard care ever filed suit. Conversely, only a small minority among the patients who did sue had in fact been the victims of negligent care. And a patient's likelihood of winning a suit depended primarily on how poor his or her outcome was, regardless of whether that outcome was caused by disease or unavoidable risks of care."

Sunday, July 06, 2003

As the prior post shows, I'm surprisingly inept at making cogent, forceful commentary.

I never thought of myself as a great orator, but this past weekend I discovered how poor my rhetorical skills are. I was talking with a relative about my irritation with the president's comments, and the best that I could come out with was, essentially, 'geez, what an asshole'. Which I realize is not commentary likely to burnish my reputation for language. I think I ought to be able to do better than that.

When I was in Mensa (briefly), I hoped that I would find that it was stuffed with people who could make lucid, penetrating conversation. I'm aware that unless you're a member of the Algonquin Round Table, or William Buckley, the chances of insightful conversation all the time are slim -- yet I was dismayed to find that they were, for the most part, conversationalists just like those you meet all the time. Dammit, I wanted to say, what is it with you people, that you can't be interesting and obviously bright in your conversation! Instead, this pedestrian garbage -- hell, I could do better than this! And I really did think so. I thought that the fact that I was (and am) interested in multiple disciplines -- medicine, programming, traffic control, architecture -- showed me to be someone who could make insightful, perceptive comments.

But apparently not.

Thursday, July 03, 2003

Bring it on? This must be what happens when Cheney lets Bush speak without checking with him first.

What an idiot.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

Where I work, you can learn stuff that has nothing to do with what we do.

I work for a little tiny piece of a really big computer company. We do some data servicing for a local government, but we're not the people who own the contract -- another computer company is. My little piece of real estate is very close to where the people who work for the other company sit, and stand around arguing, so I tend to overhear a lot of their conversations. I'm not particularly interested in anything they say, though I will admit that I perk up just a bit when I hear them mention my company's name, but what I notice is that they have the same kinds of complaints and problems that we do. This morning I heard one of their people arguing that they needed to make sure that their managers knew that a recent problem wasn't their fault -- it was the fault of a contractor who told them that all was okay with something, when, it turned out, it was not. The person doing the arguing was being told that no, this was not a good idea, because it would make it appear that they were not getting along with the contractor, and that would make their managers unhappy, and lead to more direct management intervention in problems, which no one wanted. At that point, I tuned out, but it resonated with me for a while. My partner works for yet another large computer company, and they have the same complaints and conversations. Sometimes, it seems that my company is but a branch of that company, or the reverse, and now, as a result of hearing the conversation this morning, it appears that there's another company which is pretty much the same as ours. The technology changes, the buzzwords change, but the concepts, the sociological strata, are the same.

Sunday, June 22, 2003

I can be happy again. I finally found a site that tells me what the deal is with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.

From the Blue Cross of Minnesota site --

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, also known as SSRIs or serotonin boosters, are thought to work by correcting chemical imbalances in the brain. Normally, chemicals called neurotransmitters carry signals from one nerve cell to another. These chemicals are constantly being released and taken back up at the ends of nerve cells. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors act on one particular neurotransmitter, serotonin, reducing its re-entry into nerve cells and thus allowing serotonin to build up. Although scientists are not exactly sure how it works, serotonin is involved in the control of moods, as well as other functions such as sleep, body temperature, and appetite for sweets and other carbohydrates. Somehow, drugs that prevent the uptake of serotonin improve the moods of people with serious depression, OCD, and some types of anxiety disorders

Time once again for that fun game, Whining About Email.

Yes, it's true, once again a lengthy amount of time has gone by without hearing from my perenially busy friend slash acquaintance in the Land of Sun and Granola, leading me to once again whimper to myself about how I never hear from her any more, she must not be a real friend, and all of that. It's pretty pitiful, really, and if it were anyone else, I'd advise them to just Knock It Off, already, no friendship that causes you -- well, not pain, exactly, but certainly discomfort -- is worth it unless there are other overriding considerations. Which, I have to admit, there occasionally are, but not that overwhelming, and none at the moment. Times like this, I feel like I'm definitely a C list correspondent. You know -- A list gets responses quickly, B list gets them within a week or so, and C list, just about when everything else is done, and you're feeling charitable. I like my F/A, but -- once again, come on, you know the chorus to this song -- sometimes, I wonder why.

Of course (goes the refrain), I know why. I like knowing smart, capable people, and my F/A is certainly one of them. Makes me feel good to know people like that. Course, it makes me feel stupid at times like this -- like, hey, what am I, chopped liver, that I shouldn't expect responses to emails? And if so, who's doing the chopping? Its a familiar face, can't quite place it.... oh. Yeah. Its me.

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. Thanks, Eleanor.

Well, the first try at make a pie shell didn’t work. Despite the warning that ‘even though the dough will look like it needs water, it doesn’t’, it did. Took it out of the refrigerator, let it warm up for about two minutes, and it immediately cracked upon application of the rolling pin. Back to the drawing board. But heck, even Mary Poppins said that piecrusts are easily made, so its no great donation of time to have at it again.

An interesting question reported on NPR this morning. The Kansas Attorney General is requiring abortion providers (and, eventually, by extension, gynecologists and obstetricians) to report if they have a client under sixteen. The logic is that anyone needing an abortion must have had sex, and if they had sex under sixteen, it’s likely child abuse. The retort is that if under-sixteens know that they’ll be reported, then they are less likely to have a legal abortion, which the pro-abortionists say would lead to problems of a different sort. Can’t argue with that, but the anti-abortionists say that’s okay, these kids shouldn’t be having sex. They use trigger words such as ‘pedophile’, which I don’t think helps rational discussion, but if its an older-than-16 guy involved, I suppose its true.

What’s disingenuous about the KAGs comments is that he says this will ‘protect young girls’. Hard to see how constraining abortion will do that, unless it’s the legal theory that used to hold you hang a horse thief to deter the other potential horse thieves. Would a rapist be stopped because he thought he might get exposed to scrutiny as a result of an abortion? I doubt it.

Saturday, June 21, 2003

This delightful piece of information is lifted whole and entire -- well, pretty much -- from's customer help number
I spent a good part of the late afternoon searching for a customer service number for It turns out that they do exist, but they're just not on the Amazon site-- which I scoured thoroughly. It turns out that someone else has had the same problem, and posted The Amazon.Com Customer Service Page.

It's amazing that they have a number, but don't put it up on the site. I can only guess that there's a law saying that they have to have customer service, but no rule about making the number known. Regardless of the reason, it's a pretty unbecoming move on their part.

The number, by the way, is (800) 201-7575.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

I would imagine that architecture is something that everyone thinks they can do. They'd be wrong. Architecture is an art based on a combination of science and philosphy. When it comes together correctly, you get something that will withstand the elements and may even lift your spirits. When it doesn't -- well, it'll probably still withstand the elements, but it won't lift the spirit. You might get something like the new middle school that came up in our area -- a massive, heavy structure, looks like it could be converted into a prison without too much effort, and inside, very dark walls, lots of stone textures, a main lobby with an Italian Fascist aura. Add a site placement that hides the main entrance (around the corner, not visible from the road), no signage, and an uninspired parking lot (two places where the main traffic flow feeds directly into a DO NOT ENTER) and what you get is a site that squandered the opportunity. It'll last through an earthquake, though....unfortunately.

Thursday, June 12, 2003

I rarely have much sympathy for doctors. I know a couple, and I like them -- they're accomplished and smart - but as a rule, the profession can't count me in it's corner. When they complain about malpractice costs, I grudgingly agree that they’ve got a point, and it isn't fair, and ought to be fixed, but they're certainly in a much better position to handle that problem than the vast majority of patients are to handle their own medical costs; if we can only fix one problem, I know which one I'd choose. And when I hear them talking about practices where you have to pay a fee just so they will turn their golden gaze upon you -- well, then I start even lower in the sympathy scale. I've no use for doctors who 'just want to practice medicine their way, darn it'... and oh yes. earn more for doing so. Practice their own way, free of insurance and HMO bozos, certainly; make more money at it, too, sounds like a shakedown. Of course, the answer is 'if you don't like it, don't go to them', and presented with the problem, that's likely what I'd do.

Finding out that doctors and their offices don't talk to each other, but expect that the person being treated will take care of any interoffice communication, is a great example of what drives me nuts about the profession. This week, I found that my mother, who had a chest xray done at facility A, at the behest of a doctor at facility B, and with the (thank you, HMOs) approval of her primary doc at facility C, has to get the physical film of the xray from facility D, where it was sent by facility A to be read and stored, so that another doctor, at facility E, can decide if she needs an outpatient procedure, which would be done at facility F, and which would require that the film be physically transported there in order for it to be done.

No problem in getting a 79 year old woman to handle this, right?

And medicine is the caring profession. Imagine if it weren't.


Sunday, June 08, 2003

Lately, I've been wondering how to build a stoop. Or a stoep, if you're Dutch.

Our house has a small to middling sized stoop in front of the main door, and a short flight of stairs comes down from it to meet a flagstone walkway. The stoop and stairs are bounded by a rusty iron railing, and on the house side of the steps are two plantable areas -- plantable only for things that don't require any water, as the overhang of the house's second story does an excellent job of keeping that area bone dry in all but the most furious of storms. Even the most recent set of storms in our area have left those spots dry, so that we've given up with the thought of planting something.

As a number of the bricks in the steps are showing the signs of wear, to the point where I recently got to play handyman with much more QuikCrete than a professional would have used to lay a whole row of brick, and this just to set one back in place, we're starting to think about having the whole thing replaced. Replaced by what, is the question. We'd like to junk the steps and put in either pressed concrete that has been imprinted (and colored?) to look like brick, or with slabs of stone that will match the flagstone walk. The iron railing would be replaced by some kind of plastic equivilent; it would have to be very high quality, even as I think high quality plastic? Surely that isn't an oxymoron?

That leaves the plantable areas. We're tending to think of making them (there are two, one above and two feet to the side of the other) into some kind of rock garden, with lighting put into the sides to illuminate the steps when the door's overhead light is switched on. For a while, I wanted to make them into a small waterfall, but gave up on that idea when I realized that it would of necessity involve plumbing, electricity, and masonry. Can you spell cost overrun?

Underlying all of this, though, is the stoop. How do you make one? I'm guessing that the square U (the fourth wall being the house foundation) is just concrete in a form until it hardens, possibly with some reinforcing iron rods. But how is the top, the part that forms the platform, put into place? My guess is, pretty simply, given that thousands of homes have one.

But I don't know how. Yet, anyway.

Thursday, June 05, 2003

Well, it appears that maybe I don't know what invagination is, but then again, maybe I do.

Don't recall where I came across the word, but wherever it was, it was so deeply mired in anatomical gobbledegook that I was clueless not only about what it was, but even if it was a verb, noun, or act of congress. Then I noticed what word was in the middle, and thought 'Could it mean some kind of pouching or something like that?', and promptly started looking down a series of references in Google, none of which helped me even get an image. Then I came across a reference to intussusception at, and -- even though I can't say it without a running jump -- I know what that word means, kind of a pouch fold in the intestines -- so, maybe I do.

I enjoy anatomical words and medical articles. I just don't always understand them.

Friday, May 30, 2003

So the Weapons of Mass Destruction aren't turning up? But not to worry, of course they're there....somewhere. And, and, even if they weren't -- but of course they are -- but even if they weren't, why, we needed to go into war with Iran, I mean, I mean Iraq, never can keep them straight -- anyway because those guys were Up To No Good, and part of the Quadrangle of Evil. But the WMDs are really there -- why, even Tony Blair says so! And the biological weapons, oh yes, they must exist, too -- somewhere. We found vans that could have been used to do that, and maybe had no other reasonable use except that, so of course, that is proof of intent -- and in the big bad world, intent is enough to convict. At least, if you're George, it is. Heck, Texas is known for its fine legal distinctions.

Geez. Why does the US President lie? Or maybe its an Alice in Wonderland thing -- he believes whatever he needs to believe to support what he wants to do. Yeah, probably that. And I thought that Steve Jobs had a Reality Distortion Field. This guy has a nuclear powered one.

Monday, May 26, 2003

Memorial Day Weekend. Like lots of Americans, I don't pay too much attention to it. I think remembering is a good idea, but I don't get tied up in knots about it. Though I did make a point of flipping to another channel when I realized that the president was speaking. I can't imagine any circumstance where he could be giving a speech on Memorial Day and say anything that I would want to hear. Its wierd, in a way: I think he's an idiot, and I didn't vote for him, and I wouldn't vote for him -- yet I admiire what he's done in the way of military response to 9/11. Well, most of it. Still not sure about this Iraq thing. But the idea that I can admire someone whom I wouldn't vote for -- thats an unusual thought, for me.

Sunday, May 25, 2003

I just had the pleasure of talking for a while about complex adaptive systems, and why small companies wither when big companies absort them. Don't misunderstand; I don't know much about CAS's, and I have no insights about the busines idea -- just some thoughts I've gathered from various places. You know, 'why would one company acquire another? What do they hope to get out of it?' And there are a fair number of buzzwords you can throw into the concept, but the basic idea is, to make the big company's earnings go up, either by just taking the earnings of the smaller company and tacking them onto the bigger company's (though not their debts, oh, no), or because the small company has a skill/ability/resource that the big one thinks would help its profit picture because now they'd have to pay less for the skill/ability/resource. Thats about it, nothing much more to say (unless you're, say, the Harvard Business Review.) But it was nice, for a while, to talk about them anyway. I don't often get that chance. I suppose that sounds arrogant. It's not meant to be.

Sunday, May 18, 2003

I'm still doing a lot of reading on the concept of pervasive computing, aka ubiquitous computing, for the semi-project that I'm on. I say 'semi' because we've had two meetings and nothings happened yet along the lines of saying what our deliverable is. Anyway, the idea of PC or UC is cool. Leaving aside the people who want to tie it to everything, or treat it like the Holy Grail (the people at MIT's Media Lab come to mind), the idea of PC as a way to augment your natural abilities to communicate and retrieve information is intriguing. The idea incorporates things like tools that start when you want them to -- a given time, or a triggering event -- without you explicitly saying for them to do so, tools that are aware of where you are and where the resources you want are, so that you can tell them to act on a resource without actually knowing much about the resource or where it is, and tools that are connected to each other, which are not now, so that they can share information -- your personal organizer talks to the car computer, cell phone talks to the address book in the car, point and click sends document to address in email address book. I'm trying hard to 'see' this functionality in the environment that I work in and that our customers work in. Its challenging because, of course, we tend to accept things as they are; the limits seem natural.

Sunday, May 11, 2003

Mother’s Day -- which I like to say is the day when mother’s should make an extra-special effort to do things for their family.

In honor of the day, but mostly because I’ve wanted to, I am baking a cake. Not being a great, or even average, cake baker, I’m not at all sure what it will taste like. Though a part of it has already gotten rave reviews: my daughter is now happily lapping through the remnants of the frosting in the mixing bowl. My family is so hard to please in these things.

Much harder to please is the US Senate, as Bill Frist is finding out, according to the New York Times magazine. It's hard to gainsay his goals, though the sneaky feeling is that while he means what he says, he's also a crafty politician who tries to cloak himself in an aura of disinterested purity by introducing himself to others as Doctor Frist, not Senator, and pointing out that he keeps a stocked medical bag in a cabinet near his desk. It's nice that he has these skills, but they have no bearing on his ability as a Senator, let alone a majority leader. Apparently, he's not as sneaky as his predecessors, so his deals don't work as well as theirs. Trent Lott was quoted as saying that he (Lott) at least made the trains run on time, which is the whole reason for being there. Then again, Frist's probably morally better than those predecessors, so is it a wash? Dunno. I'm glad Frist is the Majority Leader instead of Lott, though.

Hey, if Frist screws up, can I sue him for malpractice?

Saturday, May 10, 2003

I was reading a couple of interesting articles in the latest issue of The Economist. That's why I subscribe to it -- every issue is just about guaranteed to have something in it that will tell me something that I didn't know, usually about someplace or something or some one that I didn't even know existed.

One item, an article titled "cold killer applications", talks about how businesses are beginning to rate the probability of financial return from the Information technology projects that they undertake. Its been no secret for years that IT projects tend to be started and run based almost entirely on the desires of the people who work in that area. It was a big deal when people started pointing out, years ago, that it didn't make sense to let these people (of whom I am one) to decide what to do, without any business oversight; it would be like letting the people who maintain the automotive fleet decide what kind of cars and trucks to buy without ever finding out what they were going to be used for. Well, apparently, that basic concept is now serving as the launching point for a better analysis of IT projects, with projects subject to not only evaluation based on when they will earn back the money spent on them, but also being subject to competition for funding, and periodic reevaluation. This is a good thing, though like any other good thing, it can be overdone -- make a political football out of funding, and unsexy but necessary infrastructure work might never happen; do a periodic review and you might find that many projects start, eat some money, and are canceled. Its not a black and white good thing, but it is still a good thing -- and I'm amazed that its still not common. But it did get me to thinking - briefly - about my own job, and how I would justify the money spent on me. I've heard it say that if you don't earn back your salary every year, then you're a net loss to the company. I know that’s not true, because there are positions -- mine's one of them - that earn no money at all, yet they're needed. But at some point it must be true.

I’m not so sure about a second article, on the large and growing problem in underfunded pensions. The concluding point of the article is that companies should not have to worry about people after they leave the employ of the company. It’s the responsibility of someone else -- possibly the government, possibly the people themselves -- to make those long term decisions, or to hire people to do it for them. I tend to agree, but I see three problems with the ‘let the people do it’ philosophy. First, many people, certainly most in the bottom part of the net-worth and earning scale, don’t have much of a clue how to value pension schemes -- and given the recent and ongoing accounting problems, scheme is frequently exactly the right word. Second, these same people can’t afford to hire someone, unless that someone is very, very cheap -- and you get what you pay for, or, at least, if you don’t pay, you don’t get much. And third, if people do make these decisions, and fail, who will have to step in as fixer of last resort? The government. So it would seem to make sense that they have some degree of involvement up front.

Friday, May 09, 2003

I was just cleaning off the kitchen table, when an analogy occured to me. In fighter aircraft, one of the great advances in detection technology came with the advent of look-down radar, which let the aircraft scan the sky below it as well as what was in front. To evade this, a hostile aircraft might fly low, hoping that it became lost in the ground return, so that the seeking aircraft could not distinguish it. In my case, I almost left the milk out because it was right next to, and about the same color as, a box of cereal. The milk temporarily evaded my look-down, but since I'm sensitive to finding it (heck, the cereal won't spoil if its left out, but the milk will), I found it. It made me think of how the stuff that you want to do sometimes gets lost in the ground clutter of the stuff you have to do -- and how it helps to keep that first group in mind when you're looking over the radar return of your daily life.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

The French have a phrase for it, but since I don't know what the phrase is, I'll put it in English: Things change. The biggest one is that my mother's condition has markedly improved, to the point where 'feeble' can't really be used to describe her condition. Shaky, confused, and needing help, yes, but not feeble. I'm working at home two or three days each week, trading time with my partner, so that each of us works three days in the office, two at home. And tomorrow (maybe) we get a new visitor: a 'companion' that we're hiring one day a week from a local service, who will do what we do so that we can both go into the office at the same time. Who would have thought that we'd want to go into the office?

Saturday, April 26, 2003

Well, this has been an interesting week. I worked from home for most of the week, so that I could provide assistance to my mother. She lives with us, and at the moment, needs help with pretty much everything, from the moment she gets up until she goes to sleep. And sometimes in that midnight interval, too. She's not completely helpless, since she can move with a walker, but she's tied down to an oxygen tank, so wherever she goes, she trails a thin plastic line. She tires very easy, and can be freaked out by the most modest of problems. My partner and I have come to the realization that this is, in many ways, exactly what it was like when we took care of my daughter, after she was born. She got over it, and can handle herself just fine now. We're hoping that my mother makes the same transition.

Sunday, April 20, 2003

Last night, I turned to my partner at one point and said "If I ever get like that, just shoot me."

The occasion was the arrival home of my mother from her extended hospital stay after bypass surgery. She had done well in the hospital, and was then transferred to a rehabilitation hospital. At the time, we were perplexed, because she had seemed fine -- tiring quickly, and occasionally short of breath, but nothing that seemed unduly unsettling, given the circumstances. But now, at home, after two weeks in the rehab hospital, she seems frail, easily disoriented, and prone to panic.

Just shoot me.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

I came across this paragraph while reading an article about cognitive psychology on the Hershey Medical Center's page. Although it is specifically oriented to medical failures, citing comments by Richard Cook, an anesthesiologist, on the subject, I thought it was worth repeating as a general observation.

"Cook maintains that complex systems fail when a series of latent failures, each insufficient to cause an accident by itself, come together. He likens this to a pile of Swiss cheese slices: the latent failures are the holes, and when they line up, they form a tunnel through which safety falls. The result: an accident. No one person is to blame, yet all too often organisations respond to disaster by finding a culprit to blame, re-training the staff, issuing new regulations, and investing in "safer" technology. This sort of reaction is all the more likely because of what Cook calls "hindsight bias": the tendency to allow one's knowledge of the outcome to bias one's view of the events leading up to that outcome. But this reaction tends to obscure the complexities that actually led to the disaster, makes the system even more complex, and consequently introduces new opportunities for failure."

Monday, April 14, 2003

Cool words.

subterfuge factotum talon obfuscate growl puddle yurt gazebo solstice chartreuse spiral angst embrace cello cumulonimbus tawny penultimate penumbra petite viscous crone pensive lambent seraph complicity complicit delectable aether irascible kinetic crypt lithe tintinnabulation
I learned an interesting bit of trivia last night. The 'Ides' of March is an event that will actually occur every month. Four months of the year, it's on the fifteenth; for the others, it's on the thirteenth.

And in the newspaper on this month's Ides, unintentionally funny articles. One says that well, sure, Hussein was bad, but he would have died, eventually; this 'freedom' thing the Americans brought over will never go away. Therefore, we're in more trouble now than before. Another repors the lament of an Iraqi museum director that Iraqis looted his museum; the Americans should have provided security for it, therefore, its the Americans' fault.

What troublemakers these Americans are! Glad to be one.

Friday, April 11, 2003

One of the functions of an expert should be to filter all -- or mostly all -- of the details of an activity from the person for whom the activity is being done. They should be a black box, where all the recipient knows is that the function was done, and output was created.

I was just reading the documentation for a capacity planning tool. The tool was written by some people whom I'm gonna assume as smarter than me; certainly more experienced in what they do than me. The goal of the tool is to let someone of reasonable intelligence figure out some things about a mainframe computing environment -- things that would be really helpful to know, such as; if we continue to grow workload at the current rate, when will we run out of capacity? To a capacity planner, that's a 'it depends' question. (Actually, sometimes it seems like everything, including "What did you have for lunch today?", is a 'it depends' question to them). But in this case, it really is, because the question translates into this: If we continue to grow workload at the current rate, assuming that all of the components grow at the same rate, and assuming we know what we mean by 'grow', when will we get to a point where we either a)dislike the response time or turnaround, b) despise it, or c) have to stop running some things so that we have enough capacity to run others'. This is where the person asking the question starts making hand motions which are intended to convey disgust with this pettifoggery; just answer the damn question already! And so the expert does, using round numbers, shrugs, and the occasional muttered ' it depends'.

What brought all this on was that the documentation that I was reading seems to have been written for a bright five year old. It uses lots of complex concepts (the bright part) and says really obvious things (if you don't like the screen color, you can change it). Okay, perhaps that isn't so obvious, but there's something about the way they say it that makes me want to skip to another paragraph in search of immediately useful information. Just answer the damn question already! In this case, the expert (them) is not shielding the user (me) from the details. They might not be tellling me everything about what it takes to do the function, but they're telling me way more than I wanted to know. I just want to push the button, turn the crank, and get the answer.

Is that too much to ask? (I can hear the expert's resounding answer.)

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

I see where the color level for the assessment of terrorist activity may be dropped because the war in Iraq is going well.

That's remarkable.

Where is the direct causal link between success in a war and terrrorism? If anything, I'd assume an inverse relationship.


Sunday, March 30, 2003

How did the same word come to mean 'unpowered flight after powered boost', a kind of heavy duty nylon, and 'going totally crazy'?

I'm gonna go ballistic....

I am sitting in my kitchen, watching it snow.

This, in a place where it was almost seventy degrees, three days ago, and where the weather gnomes tell us that it will be, again, tomorrow. They speak glibly of Canadian weather fronts, and masses of cold air, but all I know is that the buds I had seen on a couple of the trees, yesterday, are now being covered with snow. They're probably thinking "Oh, this can't be good."

My mother is in a 'rehabilitation hospital', recovering from a heart bypass operation. When I first heard of a heart bypass, I thought it meant that the heart was actually being bypassed, and wondered what was doing the blood pumping. Now I know a little more about it, thanks to the Web. . Doctors like to complain about people looking things up on the Internet, and then coming in with this information, but based on my mother's experience, it's a good thing, and they're just going to have to live with it. No one in this process, since the operation, has been very forthcoming with information. I suspect its because to them, my mother is just another heart, just another elderly person. They don't mean her ill, but they're not particularly warm and compassionate, either. It will be good to get her home.

I'm amazed how inept our government has been in the battle for minds that has to correspond with the physical battle going on in Iraq. Whenever I heard official pronouncements, they sound as if they were crafted for John Wayne in a cowboy movie. I expect to heard Colin Powell say to Irag 'Aw, you made a bad move, pilgrim'. I'm particularly fascinated by the woman who's the Department of Defense briefer. She sounds smart and brisk, also impatient and weary of lesser minds. I'm also taken by her clothes. I think she's dressed by the Joker.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Like others, I'm neutral about this war. I don't know if it's right or wrong. I don't trust Hussein, and I think it's likely that he supports actions that are against our well-being. He probably would love to grab control of oil-fields, and he probably wouldn't mind seeing more planes ramming into buildings here, either. On the other side, I don't trust what I'm hearing from our president and his various flunkies. I think they'll say whatever they have to say to support what they want, and if that should change, why, they'll blithely change what they say.

Today I hear that perhaps this won't be a quick war after all. We've already learned that it isn't going to be an antiseptic one, and now sources say that it might take longer than they thought. American soldiers have surrendered, and may have been shot while doing so. This leaves a bad taste in my mouth, but not enough of one to make me say the war is wrong. Or right.

I just love being ambivalent.

Monday, March 24, 2003

The aftershocks from yesterday's system problem continue to rumble out. Small forest creatures are dashing for safety, while the larger ones rise up to paw the air and snarl defiance.

It turns out that the two problems were related to a command entered incorrectly, and to a failure to make a change that was needed to allow the 'real' change to work. I knew about the need for the supporting change, but I did not check to see if it had been made. It wasn't my responsibility, so, although I thought about it, I didn't check to see if it had been done. I feel badly about that. I have an index card on the wall over my desk. On the index card, it says 'Own the problem'. I didn't live up to that credo. It wasn't my responsibility to handle that problem, but I should have made it mine. I didn't own the problem.

One problem that I've had for years is that I always think that I can solve any complex problem. When I find out that it resists direct resolution, I get morose and down on myself. Today, I challenged myself to come up with a method that would be easy, flexible, transparent, and effective in catching things like that -- reminding us to make the same changes in production as in test. When I couldn't come up with one, I got pretty disgusted. I resent the idea that I can't solve things like this by myself.

Not such a good day.

Sunday, March 23, 2003

I despise incompetence.

This morning, I went in to work in order to assist a person with a problem. I identified the problem (which was luck, not skill), only to find out that the people running the system didn't know that the change had been made. We run change reports every week to tell them what's going to change over the weekend, so either we didn't create a change record, the record was created but it wasn't lucid to the technicians running the system, or they never looked at the report.

When we went to back out the change, we found that the person -- my ire wells up in me even now, two hours later -- who had made the change put the enabling command in a place where no one would have guessed. We had to call him to find out where it was. (I was glad that we woke him up.)

Then, restarting the system, we found that a critical subsystem would not start -- and the reason was that the same person had copied a module overe from the test system. Now, this was not a bad thing -- but once again, the people running the system didn't know about the change. See the above comments.

I despise incompetence.

Friday, March 21, 2003

Well, this is an interesting morning. Mostly good.

My mother's bypass surgery went well yesterday. The procedure is known as a Coronary Artery Bypass Graft, or CABG; I've always thought that was an inelegant name, but that has no bearing on the process itself. I was surprised to learn that the person doing the surgery could not (or would not) say how many bypasses would be done, but would rather make that decision once the surgery had started. Not that it matters, of course; one or fifty, the goal is the same. I got to see my mother immediately the surgery was over; she was mostly out, but did respond when my partner came to see her, about three hours later. I am very pleased.

Its a foggy day here. Coming across the bridge, I couldn't see into the water, or the small mountain that rises majestically (well, what passes for majestically around here) off to the north. I'm always a little bit fascinated to see the 'tunnel' that the moving traffic makes in the shroud of fog over the bridge. I'm sure there are people who can speak competently and at length about that tunnel; I think it's just a nifty visual effect. I had my Bering Strait CD blasting as I drove; I don't normally play music that loud, but I really like this CD, and it puts me in a good mood -- bouncing around in my seat, just like the goofs you see on TV who are listening to Eminem or whomever.

About the only downer today, in fact, is that I haven't gotten any email lately from a friend out in California. We're not close friends, but we keep in touch. Unfortunately, it's frequently a one-way correspondence. She's told me repeatedly that she is much better at responding than initiating. That's certainly true. Even responses are not as frequent as I'd like, though. Sometimes, a week or more will go by. As a result, I sometimes wonder if I’m just a B-list friend -- or even if my messages are sometimes being eaten by an Outlook agent upon receipt, disappearing into the void. Pop! Then a response comes, and I tell myself that I’m simply expecting too much from someone who spends her life on the run. Could be. Usually, the pleasure of her company is worth it. Sometimes, though....

But overall, its a good day. Glad to be here.

Saturday, March 15, 2003

Anyone want a brand new, only used and deinstalled once, copy of Quicken 2003? Cheap....

After years of using Quicken 6 happily, putting up with its occasional flaws, I upgraded to Q03. Two hours later, furious, I deinstalled it. The product is not much better than it was seven years ago -- but it's a lot glossier, a lot more complicated, and, the killing point, a lot more willing to intrude on the experience with ads for their other products. Go to enter credit card information on the special form? There's a non-deletable button to order the Quicken credit card. Try to view your check register? There's a non-deletable right column with ads for products you can buy from them. Try to maximize the screen? Theres a reserved line at the bottom that is used to run trailers about other products you can buy. And let's not forget the non-deletable buttons on the menu bar for other Intuit services that you can buy.

They fixed one thing that I had thought would be a nice-to-have, didn't put in one thing that I really wanted, and junked up the product, overall. I recall that Microsoft tried to buy the company years ago. Now I see why. They share the same you work our way, not the reverse, philosophy. Pity. I hear they were quite good, once.

But I did learn one thing out of this. When buying software, go to eBay to see how many copies are being offered there. If a lot, perhaps the product's not worthy of your money.

Maybe they could change the name to Sludge.

Saturday, March 08, 2003

You hear a lot about how the Internet will make/already has made a change in the shopping experience. Usually, the comments are either so qualified, hedged, and otherwise dense that they could stop neutrinos, or so airy, hopeful, and content-free that they make soap bubbles look rigid. But I just heard one a bit ago that brought this idea a little into focus for me.

My partner and I were talking about our copy of Quicken, which we've had lo, these many years -- at least six or seven, I think -- and how sometimes it has some quirks that might suggest that it's time to upgrade. Now, being a computer guy, I know that software packages don't just wear out.... but being a computer user, I know that of course they do. So we agreed that we would look to see what the least expensive version was of Quicken that would do what we wanted. It would be nice if it did a little more -- like let us download directly from our banks, rather than have to key stuff in manually-- and it would be nice if it talked to Excel, too, or at least had better charting ability than our old version had. But our primary bank (which is owned by a computer company) hasn't quite figured out how to supply friendly and/or effective service via its web site; suggesting direct download to them is equivalent to asking for the keys to the vault. And our local bank is very heavily into pumping every possible nickel out of every transaction, so the idea that they'll just let us pipe in and grab our records in any useful format without charging for the privilege -- well, neither of us thought that would happen. So, we'll go with Quicken Basic (which will still have more bells and whistles than we want, and more pop-up ads, too).

But the thing that crystallized the Internet shopping experience for me was when my partner looked at me and said 'We can get this over the net, right? We don't have to go a store and actually buy the box?'

Maybe this Internet thing is worth it, after all.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

The sky is a cool blue over the austere white of the snow still blanketing much of the fields near the house. Occasionally, the cows can be seen in one of the middle fields, but they spend more time in the barn, where it's warm.

The world continues to be a strange place.

One news article notes that the US Secretary of State is accusing Saddam Hussein of trying to divide the Security Council. Another article points out that Iraq seems to bend just a little just before a meeting of the Security Council. Surely this isn't a surprise, so why is it news?

The Supreme Court says that sending a petty thief to prison for life does not constitute unreasonable punishment. Granted, it was a 5 to 4 vote, but that's poor comfort. This is a clear case -- well, to me, if not to five members of that court -- where the rule of reason should be mixed into the rule of law.

Why would anyone believe that a tax cut would stimulate spending? It probably would allow spending by people who otherwise could not have, and by people who see no reason to be cautious, but when most people are subject to surprise firings by their company, doesn't that make it pretty silly to spend if you don't have to, and ifyou're not sure that your income is going to continue to come in? Surely it can't be that the people making this policy hope that everyone will throw caution to the winds, and just spend?

Nobody can control suicide bombers. But giving peace a chance doesn't seem to work, either. Is there a third option?

I think I'll go see if the cows will let me stay in the barn for a while.

Thursday, February 27, 2003

I've heard it said that people who try to see both sides of the issue end up with no viewpoint at all. I think that happens to me.

Take the ideas of bureaucracy and innovation. Because I work for a software company that does outsourced work for some state governments, I get to see the people who make some bureaucracies work. Seeing their web of organization charts, and the listings of their various responsibilities, I'm amazed that they function at all. A fair number of the people who work at these places are the classic bureaucrats, with not much motivating them except their next scheduled coffee break and retirement -- but not all, not by any means. A goodly number are intelligent and experienced at what they do. For someone to walk into their job and try to do it, or to redo it by 'reengineering' or ' improving the process' or any of the other buzzwords, is as likely to succeed as me being able to leap into the cab of a combine harvester, grab the knobs and levers, and run it smoothly down the lane. It's possible -- but not very likely.

Yet these same intelligent and experienced people are dead set against anything that changes the way they do business. Or if not dead set against it, at least dead set against anything but the most minor changes. They want to debate everything, and their favorite word is No, followed by their favorite phrases: We Can't Do That, We'd Have To Get Approval, and "We Need To Study That." The idea of Just Do It is anathema to them.

The thing is, if I had their responsibilities, I might well be that way, too. If I had a public customer that knows nothing of what it takes to do what I do, but knows 'they could do it better'; if I had no one defending me and encouraging me; if all the risk was downside -- I might become a coffee-break scheduler and retirement watcher, too.

How in the world can this be improved? How can we get these organizations to do what they are charged with doing, but do it with verve, style, and speed? How can we get them to embrace change when they soak every day in a culture that rejects it?

Is this why governments hire business people to enforce change?

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Some parts of anatomy and chemistry fascinate me. Others make me feel pretty dumb. A site that does a wonderful job of feeding the first, and doesn't do the second at all is: Neuroscience for Kids, at

It's worth visiting.

Monday, February 24, 2003

I spent most of today doing something that is quite boring to watch, and tedious to do. I wasn't exactly sure how to go about it, or how to tell if I was doing it well; further, I couldn't predict what a good outcome would be, except in the most general of terms. What I was doing is called Performance Tuning, and it is as much voodoo as art, and as much art as science. Steven King once said something to the effect that if you couldn't describe exactly what you were creating -- what the effect of your words would be -- then whatever else you were doing, it wasn't writing. Similarly, it's likely true that if I could not precisely describe how to do what I was doing, and what exactly the outcome should be, then whatever else I was doing, perhaps it wasn't Performance Tuning. Messing around, maybe. Nevertheless, it was great fun. Have I mentioned that I'm sort of a geek?
Some startling news in the paper today -- one good, one not so good.

The good: In the middle of the mess at Duke University regarding the transplant error, one surgeon has accepted fault for his part in the process that resulted in the girl's death. He assumed that an organ agency would have confirmed the recipient's blood type, which, in fact they did not. I am impressed by that acceptance. I don't know if he is taking the quick way out, but I would like to think that he is doing the honorable thing. It's been a while since I've seen anyone doing the honorable thing, so I don't really recognize it any more -- but I think this is what it looks like.

The not-so-good: The inventor of the Segway scooter says that he needs governmental assistance to make his scooter profitable, and he's hiring politically-connected follks to push the idea. This sort of bushwah is why its a lot easier to recognize the dishonorable in our society. At what point would he say 'no more goverment help, thanks' -- when the profits roll in? Reprehensible.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Every so often, during the spring or summer, I'll be driving past some people doing outside work -- gardening, road construction, telephone linemen, that sort of thing -- and issue a sigh, thinking 'Man, that looks like it'd be a heck of a lot more fun than what I do, sitting at a desk, staring into a laptop screen'. And then the snows come.... I just got my aerobic exercise, shoveling out the driveway. Always mindful of the warnings about sedentary people and sudden exertion, of course. There is a certain pleasure in seeing the blacktop clear again, knowing that we can get out, if only to where the township has inadequately plowed the main roads... but there is also a great deal of pleasure in working from the kitchen table, looking up to see a pile of snow cascading down the big evergreen in back, and stopping to take a sip of flavored water. Ah, roughing it...

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Several years ago, I read a description of someone who said that he read almost everything. A questioner went through the categories -- Do you read biographies? Science? Novels? Technical books? Books about finance, child raising, architecture,deep sea diving, gambling, automobiles? ... -- and the answer was that he read almost everything within a limited set of categories . I'm the same way. Though I've never boasted of being the omni-reader, it's only been in the last few years that I realize that my reading tastes look like a bell curve -- and right in the middle are science fiction novels. I can't even say that I read all of them, either. I like science fiction that at least makes a nod to hard science, and certainly ones that have a plot, and characters about whom I care. And like my finicky eating tastes, I hardly ever read material from an author I haven't read before.

To that end, I was delighted to come across the Vorkosigan novels, by Lois McMaster Bujold. The very first one I read was a handoff from someone who thought that I'd enjoy it. The title was 'Cordelia's Honor'. I read it, but quickly -- it was interesting, but it didn't grab me. Some time later, I came across a hardcover novel titled Cetaganda -- that being a planet and a race of people. To my surprise, it was a continuation of the Cordelia story, many years later. I was hooked -- it had a plot, an interesting main character, and strange people with alien viewpoints. Further, it had hard science deftly mixed in, and it was written well. Well enough that when I reluctantly came to the end, I went looking for the others in the series. And now I've read all but two. One really doesn't sound like something I want to read, but the other does, so I'm looking for it. In the meantinme, I'm rereading Cordelia's Honor. For some reason, it's better, second time around.

I occasionally wonder: does it irk a professional author that they can work years to turn out a body of work that an enthusiastic reader can polish off in a month?

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Since the furor over gun control has died down for now, I figure that this might be a safe time to admit that I’m a gun control advocate who supports the rights of gun owners. I think that people have the right to own guns, without harrassment. Where I diverge from the NRA is that I think that those guns should be registered, and their use should be controlled just like any other deadly device.

The NRA would likely say that any attempt to register the ownership or use of guns would be the first step to the end of life as we know it. I don’t think that most NRA members are idiots, though, so they probably don’t believe that. Maybe they do. Jackboots kicking open doors in the night, invading marauders, all of that. Got to admit, if I thought that scenario was likely, I’d want to be armed, too. Tactical nuclear weapons wouldn’t be out of the question. I figure, though, that most gun owners simply want to keep their guns because they like to hunt, or to target shoot, or because they want to be able to protect themselves if the need should arise. Some want to keep their guns not so much for what they are, but as a symbol of independence from governmental control. Some want to keep their guns simply because gun ownership is something they like - it’s part of their culture. Or maybe they don’t even use guns, but they like having the gun that their grandfather left to them, sitting up over the mantel. They’re not maniacs, and they’re not idiots. They simply like guns.

Guns are inherently dangerous, but not if they're used correctly. Got to admit that the NRA does a good job of promoting gun safety -- so good, it was even part of the plot of an episode of The Simpsons, once. Odds are, if you went to an NRA member’s house and asked to see their gun, they’d have to get it from a locked cabinet. And if they wanted the ammunition for it, that’d come from a second locked cabinet. No one knows what a weapon can do as well as people who use them. Ask anyone who owns and uses a gun. Especially the ones who’ve actually used their personal gun to defend themselves. They know the effectiveness of having a weapon.

Of course, so did the kids at Columbine. Remember Columbine? That's where you move from the gun culture to the effect of uncontrolled gun ownership and use. I can't honestly say that were guns to be registered, and their use controlled, as I wish, that Columbine, and all the other Columbines, would not have happened. But I don't think that registration and background checks would have been that big a price to pay for just the chance of preventing that massacre.

Unfortunately, the NRA leadership does.

Friday, February 07, 2003

One of my continuing interests is the use of information technology in hospitals. It’s a natural for me, because it lies at the intersection of two fields that I like -- medicine and IT. I’m particularly interested in technology that improves the way that medicine is practiced and delivered. One fascinating concept in this regard is the electronic medical record, or EMR. It’s also known as web-based patient data, electronic patient record, and the like. The motivating forces behind EMRs are their potential to reduce the cost of doing business, and their potential to improve the safety and effectiveness of the practice of medicine at both the individual and hospital level.

Getting EMRs operational is a difficult process. Techies don’t usually understand what doctors want from an EMR system, so it takes multiple iterations to get it right. That eats up time that most doctors don’t have. Further, doctors want different things from EMRs; they don’t like ‘one size fits all’ implementations. Finally, doctors despise anything that gets in the way of how they practice medicine; they can be the ultimate iconoclastic users. Since hospitals tend to cater to doctor’s needs, an EMR has to be exactly what the doctor ordered -- so to speak -- immediately.

An article in the current issue of CIO Magazine describes a medical center which has implemented such a system, and made it work. I was struck by how much the success factors sounded like the success factors for any project. First, the system had the complete support and financial backing of the local management team. It didn’t hurt that the management team was headed by a doctor, who spoke the users language and who understood what they wanted. Second, the system was sold first to the people who would get the most out of it right off the bat - the nurses, who often were stuck running errands for doctors, or doing documentation after the doctor left. Power users among the nurses adopted the system and promoted it with their colleagues; the nurses then sold it to the doctors, showing them by example how useful the system could be, selling it in the currency that matters most to a time-pressed doctor: efficiency.

Support, money, and functionality made the project work. It’s a valuable thing for techies to remember.

Wednesday, February 05, 2003

Sometimes, I feel like a fraud, just because I happen to know a concept or the right word, but I really don't know much more than that. For example, I was talking with a graphic artist once and I used the phrase 'negative space'. The guy was impressed, and I didn't see fit to tell him that that was about all I know about the concept. But there's a history of this kind of thought on my part. When I worked for another company, several years ago, they had a laudable effort to establish a corps of techies who would be able to speak knowledgeably on a range of subjects -- the term that the program originators used was 'deep conceptual understanding'. You wouldn't know exactly how the magic was done, but you would know what the magic did and how it might be used in any given environment. For example, there's a scene in The Hunt For Red October where one character is theorizing how the Russian submarine might be using a 'caterpillar' as a stealthy propulsion method. When the hero doesn't understand, the character says 'Magneto hydrodynamic propulsion -- you follow? Its like a jet engine for water'. That tells you virtually nothing about how it actually works, but you can take it and start to think about how you might use such a concept. Another example -- an article in the Washington Post, several months ago, spoke about traffic flow on the I495 Beltway, and how 'phantom accidents' occur that cause drivers to slow down, even though there is no reason to do so; this slowing causes a ripple effect, and what starts as a tap on the brakes becomes a full-fledged stop of a semi three miles back. The article used the concept of airflow modeling as an analogy for how this 'stop' was transmitted back through the traffic flow, and how models do calculations for 'chunks of space', determining the effect of the change to one space on the spaces around it. The machines doing this modeling used to have to work with fairly large chunks of space, so their predictive ability was good but not great; as computers got more powerful, the chunks of space that the model handled got smaller, and so the model got more precise and its predictive abilities got better. The equivilent for traffic flow is cars -- used to be that you could only model very small sections at a granular level, or big sections at a coarse level. Now, you can do both -- for air flow and for traffic models. Well, that gave me a general understanding of what might cause traffic to ebb and flow, not to mention how airflow modeling generally works. It’s not actual understanding, but its DCU, and it's fun. For a geek, anyway.

Sunday, February 02, 2003

I was thinking about malpractice insurance today. Here’s what I think:

The degree of risk associated with a specific medical procedure is based on the skill of the person doing it, the physiological situation of the person upon whom the procedure is being done, and some degree of luck on the part of the person doing the procedure and the person upon whom it is done.

Some procedues have bad results.

Some bad results are the result of error, incompetence, bad luck, unreasonable expectations on the part of either the doctor and/or the client, or some combination of the above.

Unreasonable expectations occur because the client did not understand the concept of ‘probability of success’, or because the doctor was wrong about the probability of success, or because the client didn’t understand what ‘success’ meant.

Some competent doctors make mistakes. Some mistakes affect the outcome of the procedure, and some do not.

Some doctors are incompetent to perform a specific medical procedure.

Some lawyers are greedy or unscrupulous.

Some clients believe that they are entitled to compensation for bad results. Some of them are correct.

Bad results that are primarily because the person doing the procedure screwed up should result in compensation to the client.

It's usually a judgement call whether bad results are due to error.

Hospitals and doctors will not admit error or bad luck because they beleive that to do so would place them in a weak legal position should they be sued.

Clients sue because they feel that they have no alternative, or because they believe that they are due more compensation and/or understanding as a result of a bad result than they have received prior to the point of submitting the lawsuit.

Saturday, February 01, 2003

The space shuttle just -- what, came apart, blew up? We don't know. The usual suspects -- how awful it is that we even have 'the usual suspects' -- are going to be blamed. And who knows, maybe they're right. Maybe right now someone evil is quite happy. The polished, glib talking heads, both media and governmental, are undoubtedly already gearing up the sonorous words, dipping into their stock of Phrases That They Hope Sound Like Winston Churchill. Well, here's my contribution.

The spirit of exploration and discovery is one of the few constants in our world that speaks against the spirit of hatred and acrimony (another of the constants). NASA may be an overblown federal bureaucracy that has as little in common with the spirit of exploration as the Concorde has with the Wright Flyer, but they are as close to a guardian of that noble spirit as we seem to have, these days. I hope that this tragedy -- that overused word that is precisely the correct one here -- does not cause their resolve, or the resolve of their supporters, to weaken. We need them. At times, perhaps, not as much as the ten thousand other things we need, but we need them.

Requiescat in pace, Columbia.
February first. Whatever happened to our inalienable right to months that lasted long enough to notice? The classic explanation would probably be that we're all so busy, we have so many distractions, so much to do, that day after day flies by without being remarked upon. And certainly that's true -- last night, before the weekend had even started, I was thinking about what it will feel like to be at Sunday night, facing the beginning of another week, wondering where the weekend had gone. In a perfect world -- Martha Stewart's, say, or at least the one that she sells -- weekends would last several days, and there would be multiple instances of delightful whimsy along the way, prepared by the hordes of staff and behind-the-scenes support people. You'd reach out a languid hand, and your drink would be there; you'd have a yen to ride, and the staff would already have saddled up your favorite mount. I'm sure that there are people who live in worlds, perhaps even dimensions, like that, but no one I know does. I know one wealthy person - a relative who started and aggressively promoted an engineering business; it's now international, and though odds are you've never heard of it, the people in the field know it -- and I know one almost-wealthy person - a doctor who earns a fine income, and who might be wealthy were it not for the fact that she lives in an expensive area, has to pay malpractice insurance premiums which I gather can reach a staggering level, and has two children of college age who don't plan on attending the local U -- and neither of these people lives a life of languid ease. In fact, they are both hard chargers -- interesting, intelligent, accomplished -- whose weekends likely rocket by faster than mine. There's probably a message in there somewhere. Carpe diem? I'm having difficulty with carpe mensis.

Thursday, January 30, 2003

The other night, my daughter was complaining because her mother had mixed butter in with her rice; she said, scowling, that she didn't want it. Seeking to defuse the situation, I asked her what she would have put in had we asked in advance, and she replied "NOTHING!" Well, then, I asked, what sort of Nothing would you have put in? The fine, powdered Nothing, or the chunky style? Or perhaps the liquid Nothing, always a pleasure? By now she was just looking at me with an expression of bemusement as I went on. And where would you get it? Personally, I like going to the better food stores for that sort of thing. I look for an aisle where the shelves appear empty, but just to be sure, I ask a clerk what's there, and when they say "Why, nothing!" (for some reason, they stare at me strangely as they say this), I smile and nod, because Nothing is exactly what I want. And I scoop up as much as I can. Of course, I pointed out to my daughter, you can go to the cheaper stores, and they have Nothing, too, but it isn't quite the same. She asked why, and I told her that if, for example, you went to a bulk foods store and asked 'What's on the loading dock?', and they said "Nothing's on the loading dock", you could go out and look, and certainly it looks as if Nothing is there, but if you get down on your hands and knees, you can see that in fact there is dirt and gravel and what-not -- so it isn't truly Nothing -- certainly not the fine Nothing you'd want. And then there's the question of storage. When you bring it home, the dirt and gravel get everywhere, whereas if you got Nothing from a better quality store, you can easily put it away, no problem with mess at all. Though you have to be careful when you do put it away, I warned her; if someone opens the cupboard quickly, then it might fall out. And if you ask "What fell out?", and they reply "Nothing fell out", then, of course, you have to go put it all away again.

By which time, she was smiling. And she'd finished the rice, without noticing.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Sometimes, when I think of one thing, it takes me off on a chain of thoughts about things that I don't understand, until I get to the point where I've wandered about so longI wonder how I ever get anything done. Here's an example: I am helping some people set up a new level of an operating system, and one of the metrics I'm watching is how busy the page packs are. (Page packs hold storage that's not currently in use by the system or applications, but could be at any point. ) I found myself thinking about what the gurus say the optimal utilization level is for a given storage device (hint: its a number that's so low, I frequently find myself wondering if the number was suggested by the people who want to sell some more). I knew that I had it written down someplace, along with an explanation of why it's considered to be an optimal number, and for about the ten thousandth time I thought that I need a system for writing down these notes in some kind of searchable format. Well, that of course reminded me of databases, but that means there has to be a way of searching the database. Brute force would be okay -- I'm not talking about archiving the full Encyclopaedia Brittanica or anything -- but still, it has to exist, so I thought about keywords, and how you can either pick the keywords that you think would best describe what you were writing down, or you could use some mechanical method of generating the keywords (I don't know much about linguistic tools, but I like to read about them, so I know a little about how a keyword generator might work, in very, very simple terms.) Well, that got me to thinking about an article I read the other day which was written by a very bright woman named Ellen Isaacs about a system she prototyped at Sun (along with other Sun colleagues); the system was called Piazza, and it was an tool to enhance collaborative computing. Anyway, her article had several keywords at the beginning, so I sort-of wondered how she came up with them. And that made me think, very briefly, about collaborative computing, about which my knowledge level is virtually nil... and there I stopped.

Like I said, sometimes I wonder how I get anything done.

Monday, January 27, 2003

Restaurants: I'm not a great person to ask about food. My wife likes to say that my idea of a great restaurant is an unstuffy place with quiet music, good china, sparkling crystal, solid-silver utensils, deferential waiters who don't pretend to be my pal -- and meatloaf. To which I which I can only add: But it has to be good meatloaf ! But there are one or two restaurants where I'd go out of my way to eat; if you're in the vicinity, they are definitely worth a visit. One is in Tucson, a city whose name I only learned to spell correctly by listening to a friend patiently repeat Tuc's Son, over and over. The restaurant is The Tack Room, and despite the opportunity for puns and bad jokes about the name (many of which I've made), its a great place to eat -- one of the few places I've eaten where the staff didn't seem anxious to hurry us out, once we'd paid the bill. Another is Fornou's Ovens, in San Francisco, just down the hill from the Mark Hopkins hotel. It's not as formal, but the food is great - a rustic French decor, and the blast furnace heat of the ovens (the tables closest to them seem to empty the fastest), couple with great food and wonderful service. I also enjoy any time I get to eat at a Schlotzsky's restaurant. No atmosphere to speak of, but when I would occasionally fly to Dallas on business, I used to make a point to pick up a Schlotzsky's original on the way back to the airport and carry it home, to be reheated and savored the next day. Excellent.