Thursday, July 29, 2004


I just watched the Democratic campaign video. Most of it, I wanted to like, and I did. Some, I wondered about -- it was more than a little treacly, as if it would end with the Pope saying 'wow, I wish I could vote for that guy...What a saint!' . Once thing's for sure -- when I die, if they do a eulogy, I definitely want Morgan Freeman doing it.

I was surprised that it didn't mention that he had been divorced. There wasn't even a 'well, bad things happen' comment. His first wife was a non-person.  That bothered me. And I wasn't too thrilled to find out he has a brother. Bad history with presidents and sibs.  Though I did like the hamster story.

In a couple of months, Bush will be up there, same kind of stage, nodding, smiling, and garbling the language, but through it all  extolling what a wonderful job he's done.   And he has done some good things. He's done some stupid things, too, but he's hardly unique in that. The Democrats will likely start their own attack ads about the time he's coming to the podium, trying to make him sound completely clueless and totally inept.  Which he isn't, usually.  I used to wonder why politicians wouldn't at least offer the occasional nice comment about an opponent.  Growing up cured me of that thought.

If it weren't so serious, it'd almost be funny.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Creative Writing

My daughter is in her room, writing.  This is a remarkable event. 

Last week, after doing some complaining about the the journal we've been requiring that she keep during the summer (the legacy of her problems last year), she asked if we could try her idea -- we would give her a topic, and she would write about that topic. Dubious, but willing, I agreed. A little bit ago, we all came back from having dinner out with my mother -- it's her eightieth birthday in two days, imagine! - and I reminded her that she hadn't written anything.  She picked the topic 'Why are books better than TV', and came back with a short, well written, correctly spelled, and nicely organized paragraph on the topic.  I was flabbergasted.  This is a kid who doesn't like to write two or three sentences, and she just dashed this out.  In fact, when she was done, she pointed out that she hadn't written anything yesterday, and asked if it would be okay if she wrote today what she might have written yesterday. And thats what she's doing now. She says it's fun.


Monday, July 26, 2004

Community of Thought and Effort

One of the key, if underlying, themes in the Commission's report is that of the need for a community of thought and effort.   They speak of the need to share information; to have players be able to know when information is available, to be able to link disparate pieces of information in order to perform analysis and to create a coherent whole, and to be able to keep abreast of what is happening in other locations that's relevant to their own efforts.

This is not limited to anti-terrorist activities.

Years ago, I worked for a large computer company that attempted to implement a knowledge sharing activity.  It was a technological marvel that was only intuitively obvious to the people who built it.   I currently work for a large computer company that has been promoting the idea of resources on demand, and as part of that they have been encouraging us to create on-line profiles so that anyone who wants to know something that we know can query the system and, if desired, contact us.   That works fairly well, though you do have to get someone who is both knowledgeable in the field that you're interested in and able to speak coherently about it to people who, obviously, know less.  That's not a common ability, made less common by the tendency of people who understand technical details to look down on those who know less.

Its an interesting field, and I wish that I knew more about it.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

The Commission

An amazing group.

I don't know of a better way to put this than to ape the words from the movie The American President -- these were serious people working on a serious problem, without quarter for political posturing or personal gain.  I felt better knowing that people of that stature were speaking for my country.

I've only read the summary of their findings, and I was startled and dismayed -- even just listening to the presentation where they spoke about them, floored me.  The magnitude of what they said, and the scope of what they described!  

Yet I would bet seriously that most of their recommendations are not implemented fully, that some are not implemented at all.   Having seen -- faintly, with no special insight -- the political turmoil that creation of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration brought, I have little faith that professional politicians can muster enough guts and force to bring about anything like what these remarkable people have pointed out as required if we are to have even a chance of combating these evil, vicious vermin.  Where can we find people of stature enough to lead us in this mighty struggle?

Trivial note: I love the voice of the governor who ran it. His cadence and phrasings were eloquent and memorable.  I'm sure I'm not the first to notice the resemblance between his voice and that of FDR.

But far beyond that is their message.  As Americans, we want -- I want -- a happy ending.  Doesn't look like one is in the offing, any time soon, if at all.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Why Tests Don't Work

From the About:Political Humor -- Bush Loyalty test
Your score is 3 on a scale of 1 to 10. You can't stand George W. Bush. You don’t hate him with the same writhing passion as many liberals do, but you believe he is a smirking, arrogant doofus. You will vote for Anyone But Bush.

From the About:Political Humor -- Kerry Loyalty test
Your score is 4 on a scale of 1 to 10. You believe that John Kerry has some redeeming qualities, but not enough to entrust him with running the country, much less the nuclear launch codes. It's possible that you might change your mind about him, but at this point, you are leaning against him.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Le Grand Fromage

One of the people where I work likes to refer to her boss's boss as Le Grand Fromage.   I smiled when I finally translated it.  Nice to know a little bit of French comes in handy. 

Machine-Augmented Translation

This article, from Dan Gillmor , concerns a coupling of machine translation with human interpretation. I think it's a fascinating concept, with obvious application potential.

One of the big problems in the American presence in Iraq has been a wall of misunderstanding and ignorance brought about by lack of language skills and a lack of information. Machine translation is getting better all the time, and we're seeing some of the results of that improvement here. The gear in the picture is a piece in the puzzle. From a satellite dish outside this tent at the Strong Angel II exercise, it's capturing and recording the Al-Manar TV station, a Hezbollah outlet in Lebanon. U.S. military and aid workers -- not to mention officials in Washington -- may find abhorrent what this and other Arabic stations are broadcasting, but they need to know what's being said; they need to understand what prominent Arab news outlets are saying about the U.S. occupation of Iraq and other issues. Audio is extracted from the news broadcasts, and converted to text in a speech-to-text program. Then the Arabic text is translated, also by a machine, into English. The results, twice removed from what the announcers have said, are rough approximations. But they capture the gist of the reports. The video, audio and texts (Arabic and English) go into a database. Sean Colbath, senior engineer at the BBN Technologies Speech and Language Processing Group, pulls out items -- short video quotes -- that look especially interesting or relevant to the key topics of the day. He bundles them into a file that goes to a human translator on the mainland, who gives an accurate rendering of what the broadcast snippet actually told the audience. This is a blending of human and machine translation capabilities, and it's a smart one. The machines get us part of the way. Humans capture more subtlety, but machines can winnow out a lot of the dross first. At the heart of the machine translation activity here is technology from Language Weaver, a southern California company. Impressive stuff, and it's barely at the beginning of what's possible. Colbath's gear is just one element in the translation tests here at Strong Angel, where people from the military, civilian, governmental and non-governmental spheres are testing new ways to communicate and collaborate in the aftermath of great human tragedy. Another experiment, which I have yet to see, sounds amazing: a chat in which you input in one language, someone gets your input in a different language and replies in his or her own tongue, which then comes back to you in your language.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Thinking About Thinking

I've been thinking off and on about about how hard it is for me to think through difficult concepts, or even to come to a point where I feel that I'm making progress in understanding difficult concepts.  For the longest time, I think I subconsciously believed the Heinleinist view that any problem could be solved with enough attention.   Perhaps thats the case, but if so, then the candlepower necessary to burn through the muck and get to a point of clarity is now frequently beyond me.  Maybe it always was beyond me, perhaps I used to think I had arrived at the POC when in fact I had not, perhaps I've just gotten dumber or more easily distracted,  or maybe the problems have just gotten tougher, but now it seems that I have to accept that there are things that I Just Won't Get.   I cannot easily say how inadequate this makes me feel, but it seems that, inadequate or not, I have no choice.  The only question is whether I'm going to give up entirely on understanding these difficult things, and accept Fox News and the like as my source of information and viewpoints, or generate my own, knowing that it will be full of contradictions and lacunae.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Mirror Dance

Which is actually the name of a novel by Lois McMaster Bujold, and one which I think is pretty good, but today is the name of the dance that I have found myself doing, once every hour or so.  I go into the bathroom, turn on the light next to the magnifying mirror, and try to convince myself that the swelling in the surgical area has gone down a little bit more.  And it actually has gone down some, both subjectively -- looking in the mirror -- and objectively -- when I push my chin out, it - mostly - doesn't feel odd, whereas before I could feel some stiffness there even without trying.  The stiffness is the sort of numb feeling (is that a contradiction?) you get when the dentist has zapped you with Novocaine, or Lidocaine, or Michael Caine, and for a while you don't want to drink anything that doesn't have a straw, lest you dribble furiously all over yourself.  Things are improving, but not as quickly as I want.  Of course, until the stitches come out, I'll look like the aforementioned monster, and the dark red around the stitches, outlining them like blood-colored Magic Marker,  contributes to the look. I've started growing my beard back, the better to cover whats happening here, but its going to be several weeks before there is any appreciable coverage.  At the moment, its just at the vagrant-stubble look, enhanced by the fact that my beard comes in at about 95% gray. Oh, hell, 98%.
Today was a slow day.  I worked from home -- to my surprise, I am really tired of working from home, having done it all week; I would have thought I could do it forever, but apparently not -- and there wasn't all that much to do.  I did get to sprint up to the Pizza Hut office and pay for those pizzas that I had delivered; the person who was supposed to go pay for them clean forgot, and the urgent pages that I left never got delivered.  Bet that would have done wonders for my rep -- here's five pizzas for all your hard work; you owe use $45 plus tip. Sheesh.

Thursday, July 15, 2004


One year from now -- perhaps a bit less -- there will be a strong-man in power in Iraq, he won't much like the United States, and certain publications in the US will be featuring articles titled 'Who Lost Iraq?'  And, who knows, maybe some will even be talking about 'regime change' and similar sterile phrases.

That's FRAHNKenstein, to you.....

Took the big honkin bandage off this morning. Sort of squinted at the chin, just in case it was...hideous.

Well. Frankenstein's monster has nothing on me.
Big ragged T shaped scar with many sutures, the whole area swollen and pretty numb. I look like I've been in a bar fight. At least, my chin does.  And I thought the idea of going to a plastic surgeon was so that the scar wouldn't show as much. Relaxed Skin Tension Lines, and all that.   Pretty prominent, at the moment.

But its okay. It'll get better.  The scar will fade, the swelling will subside, the discolored parts will return to normal.
And its still done, done, done.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Words are Cheap, but Pizza -- ah....

I'm a big believer in telling people when you think they've done well.

So on Friday morning at 11AM, I'm having five large pizzas delivered to the Outpatient Surgical area, for the delight and gobbling of everyone there. As a way of saying thanks, tangibly.

I know, I know, they didn't do anything for me that they don't do for every person who gets rolled through the doors. But they were effective and efficient, friendly when they had the time to be, and they made me feel like they cared, at a time when, frankly, I was scared.

They earned it.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Post IT Note

I survived it.

Doc said he did a 'sliding door' rotational graft, taking the skin from the side (and by the name, I'm guessing some from each side, but I don't know, can't find any literature on it other than stuff about 'repair of midline incisional hernias'; the key buzzword appears to be 'tensionless'). Said he'd be willing to discuss it with me when I next see him. Big thick honkin' bandage on my chin, three inches wide, stretches almost all the way down to the notch in my collarbone. Heavy enough to drag my chin down a bit. Comes off in 48 hours. I can't open my mouth very much, and my throat is sore (they said they intubated me). One cold mother of an operating room -- I was happy with just that flimsy gown and a sheet right up till when they brought me in, then I started to shiver -- which is apparently common; they had a stack of heated blankets ready. Got there at 5:40, prepped by 6:40, rolled into the ice chamber arund 7:30, woke up in recovery (whuzzat? Tawking t'me? hmm....lemme sleep some moah...) around 10, and out of there by 1.

Met an 'extern'. Never heard that word before.

Done, by god.

Monday, July 12, 2004

One Day, and Counting

Not exactly sure how many more hours -- the hospital is supposed to call me tonight to tell me when and where to show up. I'm told that they will want me to hang around for a total of 23 hours, so I guess I'll have to bring my jammies. Or wear one of those butt-baring gowns! I'd rather have it done in the morning and go home that evening, but I guess afternoon, perhaps late afternoon, will be more likely.

I did some more reading up on plastic surgery skin flap techniques, and it looks like what this guy is going to do is most likely an 'Advancement Flap". Here's a quote from one site:
The term advancement flap usually refers to a flap created by incisions, which allow for a “sliding”movement of incised tissue. The movement is in one direction, and the flap advances directly over the primary defect. The basic design of an advancement flap is to extend an incision along parallel sides of the defect and then directly advance the tissue over the defect.

which sounds about right (like I'd know!). I suppose the non-technical term would be 'Cut some, grab some, sew some'. What a great party trick!

Saturday, July 10, 2004

A Chance to Be Cut is a Chance to Get Cured

...which is a title I stole from another blog, and modified. But its a mindset that I'm working on keeping upfront, these couple of days. In three days, I'll be checking into a local hospital for an excision of a large skin cancer to be followed by a skin flap, aka skin graft, slicing skin from my neck (leaving one end attached) and stretching it up to cover the site of the excision. I'm still freaked about it, don't know why. Three days ago, I was quite calm about the concept, and now it begins to worry me a bit. I've done the math, working down a list of what might be troubling me --

Think he might not get all the cancer?
No -- I think he probably will, though I also think its possible that he might find other, unsuspected damage which will result in a much bigger operative area. I'm a little spooked that other than feeling my chin, he's done nothing -- no probing, no x-rays, nothing. He did ask if it has been biopsied, and he did look in my mouth once. Is that enough for a confident assessment?

Think I'll be in a lot of pain after the anesthetic wears off?
No -- though I am apprehensive about how much pain will there be, I believe it will be controllable; my track record with pain meds is that I never have to take them all, and usually only take a couple -- but that's for major dental surgery, not something like this. Plus, I'll be in a hospital for the first post-operative period, and I suspect that they don't spring right to giving you meds for things that they regard as minor surgery. Well, it's major to me.

Think I'll end up looking hideous after the surgery?
No -- there will be a period of bandages and sutures, but it won't be The Mummy-like bandages or Frankenstein-like sutures. One of the reasons for having this done by a plastic surgeon is for increased attention to the cosmetic quality of the result. Afterwards, I will have an obvious scar on my chin and a set of parallel ones on my neck; they won't be attractive, but I can compensate by growing my beard back, though that does take time. But there will be that initial garish period, and I don't know how long it will last.

Its not that I have nothing to worry about; I think I do, but the things are addressable and most likely controllable. I just want this to be over. And pain-free. And not hideous.

A chin like Kirk Douglas's would be nice, too.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

In for a penny, in for a pound. Actually, several.

I just spent, on an annual basis, two hundred and eighty million dollars.

To put it more precisely, in fifteen minutes, I spent $8000, which is the cost of three round trip flights via Virgin Atlantic to London, plus hotel costs and incidentals. (I don't normally think of numbers with three zeros after them as being 'incidental', but when you start with about six thousand dollars right off the bat, that tends to happen.)

Now that we've committed (as Virgin puts it, non-refundable, non-transferrable, non-just about everything), its time to start thinking about exactly what we're going to do while we're there. This will be our Great Trip, having backed off from the Australian idea. We know when, where, name of the hotel, and what the local tube stop is. And even what it means when someone called you a 'facking muppet'.

What else is there to know?

Saturday, July 03, 2004

July 3rd

I suppose it's a good thing that days don't have personality or emotion, or July Third would have a bit of a complex because it's not really known for anything other than being the day before the Fourth. Something like one of the groupies known mostly for hanging around really well known people (what was the name of that guy who lived at OJ Simpson's home?) I imagine December 23rd would be one, too (since the twenty fourth is The Night Before Christmas, but no one ever wrote a poem about The Night Before The Night Before Christmas, so the 23rd is a 24th groupie.) Someone, I think it was George Carlin, did a bit once about 'why don't we have a special name for the day after tomorrow the way we have a special name for the day after today', and that made sense to me.

Its getting warm out. I was just at the store, getting the week's groceries (though by the total you'd think I was getting the month's groceries; I suppose getting the pork chops and two pounds of bacon and sausage helped that total right up there) so I got to stroll in it for a while. I find that I've been a lot more aware of warmth, and of the sun, since finding out that I have this skin cancer. Having it scares me, and even just knowing that I have it scares me, which makes no sense -- why should the knowledge of something scary be in itself scary? Don't know, but it is. I have the surgery to get it cut out a week from this Tuesday, and that scares me, too. Not the cutting so much, but the graft - actually, a skin flap, which means they take more than just the surface of the skin; its going to be left attacted at one end and stretched to cover the site where the cancer is cut out. I'm apprehensive -- will I end up looking hideous (probably not) or have lots of bandages, like The Mummy (initially, maybe, though only around my chin and neck). I tell myself all of the things you'd tell a kid in similar circumstances, which is appropriate since I'm acting like a kid, but it isn't helping. I still have the complete order of the anti-anxiety med that I asked for, and two or three times I've thought 'maybe I should take some', but I've not been as totally spaced as I was about two weeks ago, so I just suck it up. Not that I'm against taking meds; I just don't think I need them. Yet. But I still want this whole thing to be over.

One thing I've noted in the supermarket is that elderly people (and some not so elderly) tend to stop about three feet just inside the door, to change from sunglasses, look for shopping lists, and all of that. The people who built the supermarket put a couple of those electronic checkers at the door, though I've never heard them go off, but they do a dandy job of constricting the flow of traffic; when someone is stopped in the far end of that flow (before it starts to spread out to various aisles and whatnot), and maybe you have someone waiting to get out, then you have all the makings of a mini-gridlock. Which led me to think about Paco Underhill's pretty interesting book, The Call Of The Mall, which spoke a bit about the design of malls and stores, but, alas, I had no answer. Just as well. Our supermarket is not known for being cheerfully receptive to customer comments, no matter what their ads might say.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Geek Tools

I never thought I was a capital-G Geek, but I did like to think I had more than a twinge of geekishness about me -- mostly manifested by the things that I think are cool, or interesting, or just worth hearing about. Lots of stuff in that category.

We just bought this last night. And I think its really cool -- stainless steel exterior, indicator lights, jet black interior -- the whole bit. Can't wait to try it out.

But I'm not sure what it says about my geekishness.