Saturday, April 30, 2005

Post - Baking note

The bread turned out well. A little lumpy on the outside, but the texture was good, and the glaze, which was made with egg white and water, was excellent. My daughter proclaimed it the best bread she ever ate, which of course raised considerably my opinion of her culinary evaluation capabilities.

When I rolled out the dough, I used something thats a little special to us: a board, about two feet wide and three feet long, that was made for my wife's grandmother by her grandfather. Its got a scar on one side where a hot pan was apparently placed on it, and the woodwork on one edge is a little ragged, but we treasure it. My wife told me yesterday that she likes to see me using it.

Tomorrow, the daughter and I will make more chocolate chip cookies, and I will try to eat less than half of them.

I'm poking around, reading everything I can find about basic, basic networks (I have this conceit that I can understand anything well enough if I just read enough stuff; I know its not true, but this is how I learn some interesting things, even if not what I started looking for in the first place), and I came across this site. I'd been there before, looking for information on something else, and this time I found some basic network configuration info. It doesn't answer my question, but it's a start, and its aimed at non-techies -- which at the moment includes me.

Soggy Saturday

It's a rainy Saturday, and its a TV Turnoff Saturday, and so we're poking around for things to fill the day. Amazing how much time TV takes. I suppose that's hardly an original observation.

Got a response back from a medical test I took, one that I have routinely and every time flunked ever since I found out I needed the test. I passed. Just by a hair, no future promises, your mileage may vary, but I passed. I was so delighted, I dropped a note to the woman who diagnosed it, lo, these many years ago, because she encouraged me to keep after it when it was obvious that I was just sort of hoping it would go away.

I read years ago a description of catalogues such as Crate and Barrel as 'yuppie porn', and I liked that description. Now I think that the things I read about bread baking, particularly if they use the phrase 'artisan bread' or 'signature bread', are high-budget yuppie porn. Me, I'm down here in the day by day, doing regular baking. At the moment, it's a loaf of French bread. I wonder what the difference is between that and Italian bread? In my neighborhood, not much. I just want it to come out with a dry, hole-y interior and a crisp crust. I'll leave it unsigned if I can just get that.

Virtual Monticello. Fascinating.

Reading more science fiction by the guy who wrote Chindi. This one, Engines of the Gods, precedes that one. It doesn't move along as crisply, and the person who was the lead character in that one has a continuing but not as forceful a presence, but I like it nonetheless. A little bit of that is that its keeping me from reading the terrorism book, which I want to Have Read. I guess thats immature of me, but what else is new.

New Star Wars coming out. Big whoop.

Looks like we're actually going to get the additional guinea pig for the daughter. Though she's had some problems lately, she's also been trying hard to make up for them, and the other day, she brought the subject up again. We made a scale model of her room, and it appears that by shifting some things around, we actually could squeeze another cage in. I know we're going to regret this.

She has the chance, by the way, to take a test to qualify to take a test to qualify for algebra in sixth grade, rather than eighth. Odds are, she won't make it -- only one out of four do -- but on the other hand, she likes math and scores in the 95+ percentile in testing. And either way, she'll end up in an advanced program in middle school. We are quietly giddy.

Still can't figure out why the damn laptop and desktop won't talk to each other. Found about five things that it could be, along with a nifty comment to the effect that sometimes networks just fail for reasons that have nothing to do with the network per se. Oh, joy. For someone who is a big believer in the concept that persistance will out, and a sneaking hunch that I know enough to be able to fix it, this is a serious downer.

Wish blogger had a syntax checker.

Enough for now. Back to the spaceship.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Gift

We just bought our neighbor's piano.

They're happy, because they wanted to sell it.

We're happy, because it cost less than four month's rental of a piano.

And the daughter's happy, because not only does she have a piano again, but a) she knows we bought it, so there is no chance that we'll say 'practice or the piano goes back', and b) there are no lessons on the horizon, so she can just mess around whenever and however she likes.

Life is good.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Loutus Notes

I know, that's not the name. But that's how I feel about Lotus Notes.

According to what I read, Lotus Notes is one of the premier collaborative tools available today. (Fill in appropriate yadda yadda phrases here.) Yet despite its sheer elegance, which is so great that it brings tears to Steve Jobs' eyes ('Oh', he must whisper late at night, punching his pillow in frustration, 'why cannot the Mac be just a little like Lotus?' ), it has some serious flaws.

Its not a database. The doc likes to use that phrase, but what it actually is is a series of documents flying in close formation. There's no clear and unambiguous index.

This leads directly to flaw two: its search capabilities, which are abysmal. I've actually had documents displayed in the summary list, done a search using keywords visible from the display, and been told that none were found. According to some documentation I found, thats likely because Lotus has three different kinds of searches -- one, that just searches titles; one, that searches content, and one that I don't know what it does. Now, I know that searching isn't easy... let alone, when you could swear that the email used a word, and it turns out it used a different one (but it means the same thing!)....but still, it ought not to be this hard. In the words of anguished searchers everywhere, GOOGLE can do it !!!!
Bottom line is, be VERY consistent in how you file things, because the odds are two out of five that Lotus won't be able to find them again.

And that leaves to flaw three: bloated files. Now, I have to admit, this could be just me. But I cannot for the life of me get the damn archiving facility to automagically move files from the live database to the archive backup. According to the 'support group', archiving only moves stuff that hasn't been viewed. (Which is so dumb, I assume this person was on drugs when they said it). So, unless I want to get continual nastygrams from the administration: Warning Your Mail File Exceeds...., I get to manually go through the folders, looking for where all of the space is being used.

Which brings up flaw four: no space display. I can't get Lotus to tell me how big its files are. Surely I'm not the first to think this might be a good idea?

But this is one of the Premier collaborative tools ...... Yeah.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Garlic Bread

I think that a good piece of garlic bread is like nirvana come to town.

I don't know how to make it. I wish I did.

This morning, I brought some bread home from the store, and my wife made some GB: butter, garlic powder, oregano, something else that I forget.

Umm.... garlic flavored bread. I liked it, but it wasn't the rich, soulful taste of Garlic Bread.

Gotta find a decent recipe.

Musing About Marriage

A blog that I read occasionally has been talking a bit about proposals and marriage.

I have an image of the woman who writes it as bright, forthright, and determined; not hard-nosed, but supremely realistic. She's an engineer, and I think I mentioned, a few entries back, what I think of engineers. I would have expected that if she had thoughts about pursuit, engagement, and marriage, they'd be black and white, and calibrated to several decimal places. And indeed, they are the comments of someone who has given this serious thought, and knows both what she wants and what she does not want.

To tell the truth, I was a bit daunted by it.

All other considerations aside, I doubt I would have made the cut to her standards. I'm not all that exceptional a person. Not particularly good looking, not especially fluent with words or gestures, and I can be pretty selfish, sometimes. For all of those reasons, I consider myself to be very lucky to have met someone who liked me as much as I liked her; just meeting someone like that, I think, used up a great deal of the pot of luck that we all have. That she agreed to marry me used up most of the rest, and that we've been married for a couple of decades now -- well, that required that I get a bigger pot.

I think about it on occasion as I contemplate the idea of my daughter growing up. I don't have -- not yet, anyway -- the traditional view of fathers throughout history, which can be summarized as 'If you make her cry, I'll castrate you, and then I'll hurt you". I know that the odds are good that she will cry; that she will have crushes which will feel quite real to her, and that I will have to be very careful not to suggest that their end is anything but a life-ending crisis (if that how she perceives it). One way for her to get through it, I think, is for her to have a strong sense of her own worth -- stronger than I had at her age -- and if I can help her get that, I want to do so.

That's in addition to The Other Stuff: be just a little more athletic than you want to be, learn to size up people, speak one or maybe two foreign languages, gently resist authority, learn to cook, take a defensive driving course, be playful, study one of the martial arts, sign up for tough school courses on occasion, travel, buy things of good quality.

But the self-worth thing: I think that's key. I want to help her get that.

I'm not exactly sure how, but I'm working on it.

Sunday Notes

A lot of interesting stuff in today's paper.

One article speaks strongly in defense of Bolton, the guy who'd like to be called Mr. Ambassador. People who've worked with him say he's just a great guy, perhaps a little tough, but heck, thats what you want. People he's worked for say that he is just manifesting a different management style. People who've worked for him say he is abusive and tyrannical. I see nothing in the confluence of those statements that suggests any of them are wrong, just as I see nothing to suggest that he isn't competent at what he does. I hope he bombs in his confirmation hearings, though, just because I want George W. to not get what he wants (he's gotten way too much of that already, as indicated by our burgeoning deficit and body count), but heck, sir, it's nothing personal.

Another article, on a poll conducted by the Democratic National Committee, said that they received good news and bad news. The bad news was that a large number of the people who voted for Bush did so based on their religious beliefs. The good news was that a significant number of those same people have serious economic concerns, which is traditionally the province of the Democrats. I like the idea of the Democrats winning, but I can't say I'm overly thrilled by the idea of doing it by slicing and dicing the demographics. Yet another indicator that I'm over the hill -- and as the saying goes, I don't even recall the view from the top.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Muffins and Networking

This morning I made corn muffins from scratch, and I tried to figure out a networking problem. The muffins turned out well, especially with strawberry jelly, and the network problem is still intractable.

The problem is that our laptop and our desktop have lost the ability to communicate. I think that its because something is blocking communication, but its hard to tell, because the communication tool doesn't say 'I was blocked', let alone 'I was blocked by xxxxxx', but rather 'Unable to access...." and "You might not have authority....". No clear statement of problem, no clear path for resolution. Now as it happens I do like problems of this type, but what I really mean when I say that is that I really like when problems of this type are solved, and I've learned something in the process. I enjoy that. But its not actually all that much fun when the problem is still there. How do we get into these predicaments?

Because the tool is more powerful than the controls; it can autodrive itself most of the time, but when it can't, then you either live with it or you open the hood and start flipping switches and drawing conclusions. If you can; the conclusions aren't always obvious, and sometimes they're contradictory. (Are you thinking of Nomal Accidents yet? ) Put another way, communication between PCs needs five or ten or fifteen things to work, and they don't all have to work, just most of them, because they're redundant, and they don't have all yes/no values, some have if this is yes then if that one is no, fine, but if this one is no then don't check that one but go look over here.... and it goes five or six layers deep. There is no clear path of 'when this happens, look here, and here'. So it makes problem recognition, let alone resolution, an iterative process. And sometimes, the iterations lead you into the weeds. I swear I've passed that tree before !

So, since I know little about networking, I spent about an hour, trawling the net, looking for phrases that describe the problem I'm having, and cutting and pasting the text I found in various chat rooms and the like into a document. Now I'm going through the document, extracting the common suggestions, and noting the ones that contradict. (This is what the Acme AI will do, once its publically available for prices of less than a zillion dollars: Find the Literature. Read the Literature. Draw Conclusions. Summarize. Recommend. ) For example, most of the suggestions that mention 'workgroup' say that all of the computers need to be connected to a common workgroup, but one suggestion said no, thats not necessary. Well, is that person wrong? Maybe. Or maybe they're right, but for a specific instance or a specific computer or a specific problem. Prior to doing this research, I wouldn't have realized that. Another example: most suggestions say that the 'node type' for the computer should be Hybrid or Mixed or Peer to Peer, but not Unknown; however, some say that Peer to Peer is bad, don't use it, and some say that Unknown is actually okay. So, is this something to look at first, to look at eventually, or to ignore? Don't know, but it goes into a category of Things To Think About.

That's why they call it learning. And when its all done, and this jewel is working again (with luck, because of something I do, and how I hope that in the process of getting there I don''t break something else), I'll have a clear path : 'when this problem occurs, check this and this', and I'll have forgotten the other things. I'll summarize it, mayube draw some general conclusions. Which is how you remember the important stuff, but I think its also how you forget things that don't matter this time, but might, the next time. And I don't know how you fix that. Perhaps thats part of the biology of learning, like when the planaria do it? They hardwire the important stuff, chuck the rest.

Tracking down a problem is fun, but its not wildly fun.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

No, We Don't Need Stronger Gun Controls

(CNN) -- A 9-year-old Arcola, North Carolina, boy shot and killed his mother before taking his own life, according to the Warren County Sheriff's Department.

Tyler Jones apparently killed his mother, 38-year-old Glenda Pulley, shortly after midnight Saturday morning, the department said. He left a suicide note in which he apologized for her death.

Authorities have not been able to determine a motive.


I know that people who support private ownership and housing of guns would say that this was likely a case where the people who owned the gun did not take proper care of it -- left it out, or stored in an accessible place, or with an accessible key, or in a less than totally secure location. Therefore, it was their fault that the gun could be misused, and they paid the price of that failure.

They would likely also say that while they were sorry that this had happened, it does nothing to persuade them that tighter control of guns is warranted, because they feel that the right of self determination, as manifested by gun ownership, overrides the right of a person to sleep through the night.

And, of course, they would mention the Second Amendment, in terms that suggested it was clearly a black and white endorsement of gun ownership by the masses. They might nod approvingly toward Tom DeLay's recent comment at the NRA convention regarding the usefulness of having armed friends.

They are sometimes the same people who say that the best defense against a hostile armed person is the unsuspected presence of another armed person.

Amazingly, the members of this alien race have the same DNA that I do.

Monday, April 18, 2005

The Clear Choice

Don't Pick A Dope
Get BILL for Pope !
(And remember, I look good in white !)
Simony Rules!

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Financial Thoughts, Cont'd

I had written an entry here a bit ago, scoffing at the implicit assumption in an article about the economy to the effect that the economy was sputtering because consumers were overloaded and afraid. After I wrote that, I felt a little smug, because I'm not one of them -- certainly not -- and I am not either overloaded nor afraid. Well, not very afraid. Seeing the stock market drop to 10K+ from about 10.4K was a little scary. So I think that perhaps what I was doing was whistling through the graveyard, just a bit.

Its ironic that consumers should be regarded as worthy of note in an article such as the one that I cited, because it wasn't that long ago that consumers were considered almost not worthy of notice at all. It was the titans of industry who were the people driving the economy, under the loose guidance of the government and the gentle oversight of the securities industry. The consumers were out there doing five and ten dollar investments -- equivilent to when you give your child an allowance of five dollars, and they think its a fortune.

But when the economy was stubbornly refusing to tank, about two years ago, you began to see articles suggesting that while no real financial analyst would want to rely on this as a source of continuing support -- certainly not -- it did seem that the economy was being maintained by, of all things, that same humble consumer, who was refusing to bail out of a market where all of the bright people had already left, and who was continuing to buy in an economy where clearly the smart thing to do was to hunker down and ride out the storm. And it wasn't too much longer after that when you began to see articles suggesting that it was natural and right -- in fact, to be expected -- that the consumer would be the steadfast supporter of the economy, the provider of bedrock when the winds blew and the financial mavens scurried for the tax shelters of the Bahamas and South American coffee futures. Their steadfastness, the articles suggested, was constant and unyielding, and though perhaps it was a bit naive, it was a touching naivete. The traders could smile.

So it is probably to have been expected that now, articles feel comfortable in suggesting that perhaps the weakness in the economy -- while not the fault of the lowly consumer, certainly not -- is becoming apparent because the shielding functions aren't being performed as consistantly by the consumer. And while its not their responsibility to handle the reins of the economy -- that would be the aforementioned titans and mavens -- its their currently inability or reluctance to stand up and spend, spend, spend that is demonstrating the need for adult guidance.

How long until the articles come suggesting that consumers should not pay attention to the financial pages, but just spend, spend, spend, do you suppose?

Financial Anthropomorphism

Consider this, from an article on the Washington Post web site about the current financial mood, as reflected in the dismal performance of the stock market:

That bullish mood has instead given way to one of intense anxiety in which all news is viewed negatively and not even strong earnings reports, such as those this week from Pepsi, General Electric, Citigroup and Apple Computer, can overcome fears of a slackening economy, a bulging trade deficit and a worn-out consumer struggling to keep up with higher energy costs.

If anthropomorphism is the tendency to attribute human motivation to the actions of non-humans, what would be the right word to describe the tendency to attribute coherent behavior to the consumer who rarely gives thought to macroeconomic issues, who - collectively -- doesn't save squat, yet is presumed to be the linch pin of economic recovery?

No, actually, I think 'lunacy' is already spoken for. And, to be fair, I know that the summary above isn't a fair assessment, but is rather a glib summary, meant to appease those (like me) who want a quick, easy answer. The only thing missing is a scapegoat.

Perhaps those who own 'lunacy' would give up their claim?

Saturday, April 16, 2005

We Were Pacified

Went to see The Pacifier last night.

Funny stuff.

Predictable, but funny.

Our take was that it was Major Dad meets Rambo..

Systems Failures

When I was at the college used book sale, I picked up a copy of Normal Accidents, by Charles Perrow. I have mentioned that I am delighted by the concept of 'systems', so it would stand to reason that I am also interested by system failure -- failure as a result of the system itself, not as a result of a flaw in a system component. This, from the introduction, makes the key point:
We start with a plant, airplane, ship, biology laboratory, or other setting with a lot of components (parts, procedures, operators). Then we need two or more failures among components that interact in some unexpected way. No one dreamed that when X failed, Y would also be out of order and the two failures would interact so as to both start a fire and silence the fire alarm...Next time they will put in an extra alarm system and a fire suppressor, but who knows, that might just allow three more unexpected interactions ...

Exactly. The joining of two components brings another layer of complexity and opportunity for interaction, once which is not always immediately apparent, and some times not apparent at all. I am always fascinated, in a minor way, when people are found to be injured now by something that for quite some time was considered to be safe, and perhaps even desirable. Take the use of asbestos in schools, or nuclear power plants, which were to have created power so cheap that it would not be worth your time to meter it. While each of those stands alone in the condition of now being seen as a danger, each is also a component of a system which was to have been better than that which came before. We don't think that now. And I suspect that if you turn your mind to how we used to think of these things, and how we think of them now, then some of the comments -- dare I say ravings -- of people on the fringe, people who refuse to accept the utter usefulness of society's interlocked systems, might begin to make just a little more sense.

Of course, in Oath of Fealty, they're the idiots.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005


This afternoon, I bought a used book.

The path to doing so was a little out of the ordinary. We were on our way back from a parent-teacher conference, at which, once again, the school had a book fair, and at which, again, we ended up funding some purchases for our daughter. Its a weak spot; neither of us can easily resist a request to buy just one book -- the best we can do is negotiate (Okay, but its expensive, you have to pay half) and I'm sure that people who teach negotiation tell you that if your opponent is starting with the assumption that he's going to have to give something up, then you're ahead of the game. I don't say that our daughter does this consciously, but does it she definitely does. We expect that we'll come away with two or three more books than we expected.

The PTC was as usual. Her grades were pretty consistent -- As and Bs. One had gone from A to B, and one had gone from B to A. She freely admitted getting distracted easily in class, and promised solemnly to pay strict attention to the teacher's every word. I think she meant it, just like the last time, and I doubt it will happen, just like the last time. I did find myself wondering if her difficulty in paying attention came from a lack of fiber in her constitution -- what my mother would have called an inability to Sit Up Straight and Pay Attention -- or whether it might come from being smart enough to grab the concepts and then become bored as they were repeated for the Other Kids. No points for guessing which I thought more likely.

On the way home, I thought of the local college that had had a used book sale over the weekend. Today was the final day, and it was their Two Bucks a Bag day -- fill up the bag, pay two bucks. As a friend of mine used to say, you could buy the books as doorstops and still come out ahead. So I was noodling around, poking through the half-empty tables, thinking Theres a damn good reason these particular books are still here, when I found a section of science fiction. I pawed through them, half heartedly, and came across a couple I'd read before. And then I found one that I thought hey,isn't that -- yep. One I'd read, and liked, and had occasionally looked for, so as to get again. My golly, there it was. Oath of Fealty.

OF (or would it be OOF?) revolves around the creation of a massive cube structure in the desert near Los Angeles -- an arcology, to use a word I didn't know before I read the book, with about a quarter million people resident in its multiple levels. The city is named Todos Santos, so the residents are nicknamed Saints. And like the other place where there are saints resident, there are those who don't like the concept, and want to bring it down. The book has lots of touches that delighted me then, and still do. The coffee makers were bought en masse by the bright woman who is their financial genius, because they make good coffee, which makes the people working there happy, and that makes financial sense. The advertising signs in the massive central Mall are all of much the same style, so that rather than jarring, they are pleasing to the eye. The security force is regarded as working for the residents, not against them. The heads of the corporation have implants that allow them to talk directly to the main computer. The building is powered by hydrogen pumped up from Mexico, so it pollutes almost not at all. There's a diving board off the roof.

I don't know much about city planning, and I'll bet the book glosses over a lot -- after all, its intended as entertainment, not a tract on how to do it -- but I liked it then, and I like it now.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005


I received a comment on an earlier post (you get so few comments on posts yet to be made) which pointed out that I had written a sentence of 94 words. That amazes me. Its no where in the league of the seriously loquacious -- Henry Kissinger, for example, whose doctoral dissertation was so long that the college thereafter imposed a maximum on the number of pages, or the all-time champion, Marcel Proust -- but its still a lot more words in one row than I would have guessed. And many of those have, y'know, actual meaning.

I have a minor interest in semantics. My knowledge is almost entirely of the Sunday Parade magazine or Readers Digest variety (I get to read the RD every so often when my mother's Large Print edition shows up, complete with ads of cheerful people using video systems to combat the effects of macular degeneration; now, thats a scary image. I notice that RD seems to have stopped publishing articles such as I am Joe's Heart or I am Jane's Ovary, which were just about the right speed for me; I guess they got tired of the jokes about doctors consulting those more than their own texts. Though, proof of the concept that you can find someone to defend anything, I recall reading an article years ago which said that for all their simplicity, the RD articles had the advantage of being digestible quickly, which was what a busy doctor sometimes wanted). I am not so much interested in how languages work -- there are people with blogs that go into incredible depth on that, and I'll bet they're just being casual; not doing, you know, serious writing on the concept -- as in how they're used, how they affect the way you think. I guess I put that badly; though language does affect the way you think (and even what you can think about; thank you, George Orwell), I would bet its a side effect of how you think to begin with -- ie, your comfort with words is a reflection of your ability to cogitate, not the other way around.

At least, thats what I think.

Sunday, April 10, 2005


I suppose that's more of a category than a title, but what the heck. Between the time that I thought to write this post and now, there was a bit of a disagreement that distracted me. Sapped the creative juices, you might say.

My first thought was to write something about the Blogger add-on program, Hello, which apparently allows you to add photographs to your blog. I'm not a 'technology guy', but I did think of myself as unphaseable by programs like that -- programs that non-techies have mastered!-- but I was wrong. I tried four or five times over the course of a couple of days to fire that jewel up, each time muttering and finally giving up. Finally, about an hour ago, I discovered that when their instructions say to 'add a caption, then press Publish', they meant to say 'add a caption (this is required), then press Publish'. Why they feel that photographs need captions, I don't know -- but they clearly do; if you don't write a caption, the Publish button will remain hidden. Put a single letter in the caption box, and hey, presto.

One of the things that we've heard for years, to the point where it is an accepted part of the mythology of life (mythology is probably not the right word; I need a word that means 'stuff everyone believes, or almost everyone, or at least me and a couple of other people, and it might not be true, though it probably is), is that kids adopt technology easily because they are fearless (not so much that they're literally intrepid as they don't know that they should fear it) and because they're willing to bang around until something useful happens. In this case, I finally thought 'okay, dammit, I'll write a damn caption'...and you know the result. I know, that doesn't fit the description of being fearless or of just banging around, but I'll take it, because now I know the secret. But it led me to another transient thought. I wondered if the reason that people have trouble with software packages is because the people who write the packages essentially think in a certain way, making certain assumptions (well, of course the user will know this, well of course the user will know that, well of course the user will) when in fact no, the user doesn't, no the user didn't, and no the user won't. And the software, 'thinking' that the user will proceed along this 'clearly defined' path, becomes all flummoxed when the user doesn't.

You know how people will occasionally gripe at the idea that a software prompt will come up with a question and the button you push to get the prompt away is labelled 'Ok', when what you really want is one that's labelled 'OK, DAMMIT!' ? Well, in the case where the user gets sufficiently flummoxed, I think that the software should 'detect it'. How? Gee, I don't know -- though one possibility would be for it to 'know' that it takes the average user thirty seconds to fill out the screen, so if the screen is still being displayed after two minutes, maybe there's a problem == and at that point, perhaps it should pop a 'Hey, are you well and truly ticked off?' button. And if you pressed 'Why, YES', then it would do something useful, like showing you what the screen should look like, all filled it, or tell you where the info that you enter is supposed to come from, or define what it means, or something. Hey, I'm winging it here, but you see where I'm going.

Maybe that would help when people (like me, in this case) are ready to just give up.

Saturday, April 09, 2005


I really like the idea of 'systems'. The concept appeals to me, on a couple of different levels.

One is the idea of divergent, different things organized in a way that they product a useful output. They don't even have to be all that divergent. I remember being fascinated first time that I finally understood, in an almost visceral way, how air transfer happens -- and what the structure of the lungs actually is. Finally, I had a clue what they were talking about in The Hunt for Red October when the guy who got shot had a 'left tension pneumothorax'. And having a passing understanding whats going on when you get bronchitis, or pneumonia... wow! Okay, I do remember being just a little ticked that it took me this long to find this stuff out ( I'm a cherrypicker; I grab concepts, and often know nothing about the underlying rationale or infrastructure) but still: cool!

Another way that I like the idea of systems is as a way of saying 'a way of doing things so that you get the output you want'. Not as tightly structured or tightly coupled as a physiological system, or as formal as, say, the American banking system, it means 'this is how things work'. I like the idea of knowing how things work. I like it so much that it has taken me years to realize that just because I understand the concept of some system does not mean thats how it works in reality. Sometimes I see systems where they don't actually exist.

Take the system of management in a large organization. For years, I've believed that the idea of being a manager means working in a methodical, systemic manner to promote the welfare of your organization. It means that you worry about how your people are doing, that you believe that if they are doing well -- happy in what they are doing, adequately compensated, have a sense of belonging to the organization -- then that means that whatever they produce is being produced as well as it could possibly be. Oh, sure, you could possibly drive them harder, pay them less, hold their opinions in low or no regard, but not for long: they'd leave at the first chance, and then you'd be screwed, you betcha. I believed this. Until finally, one day, I thought: well, Bill, if this is true, how come you never see it? Or, when you do, its so rare as to be remarkable? Doesn't this suggest that it is not, perhaps, as prevalent as you thought? That the system of management is nothing of the sort?

Well, yes.

But I still like systems.


That isn't a word I have the opportunity to use all that often, but today, I do. This morning, so far, is idyllic.

We were sitting at the dining room table, eating breakfast, talking casually about the coming day. My partner is going over to a local college library to assist them in their used book sale; I'm going to do some grocery shopping; our daughter is going to do some work on her journal, and other things. As we spoke, I looked into the kitchen, where I could see the curtain over the sliding glass door wafting gently in the breeze from the open door. In the distance, I could hear the quiet sounds of birds chirping. And in that dining room, I had a fine breakfast, a crystal vase with freshly picked daffoldils, and a new book to read -- Chindi, a science fiction novel by Jack McDevitt, which, ten pages in, is a delight.

I thought of how tense I've been at work lately, and how badly I have taken the actions of other in my group, in their desire to have more meetings, and longer meetings. I thought of how, for the moment, none of that mattered.

Idyllic says it.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

I am not an addict

I really am not. I can give up baking at any time. It means little to me; almost trivial.

Of course, I did just acquire The Bread Bible, a inch plus of seriously cool bread and related reciples, with clear directions and lots of opportunity for creativity and experimentation.

But I could stop at...any...


Just let me leaf through it a little more......

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Ketchup Philosphy


It's what makes us think that what's coming which is good is going to be really, really good, and what's coming which is bad is going to be really, really bad. Further, the good stuff is going to make our lives better, if not forever, then for a very long time, and the bad stuff is going to devastate us, plunge us down into a pit from whence it will take decades to return, if ever.

Not true.

Neither good nor bad is ever as phenomenal, or the effect as long lasting, as we think. There's a very rapid dropoff in the stimulation of a new gadget, toy, or accolade, or of a death in the family, loss of a prized possession, or failure to achieve a cherished goal. The first is good, the second is bad, but neither lasts forever. Which is why we seek excitement in the newest toys, gadgets, and possessions, and why we can go on after the loss of a loved one or the destruction of a possession.

Probably a good thing.

You may now resume hitting the end of the bottle.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Proms and Single Payer Health Care

Okay, this approach is probably way too simple to actually work, but still this video, on the Over My Med Body web site, is gripping...

North by Northwest

Last night, I saw a really interesting program. Don't know what network it was on, though I think it might have been Turner, and I don't know what the name of it was, though it was probably something like 'The Making of North by Northwest'. In fact, the bare description would likely sound tedious and boring -- but this was anything but that.

The program was narrated by a number of people, including Eva Marie Saint (who I gather is now known as Eva Kennon, or something like that), and others whose names I never caught but who sounded like the film's writer and camera director. There were others, too, including Martin Landau, who as it turns out does a wicked Alfred Hitchcock impression. All of them spoke at length about the making of the movie -- what it was like to work with Hitchcock, what the Department of the Interior thought of them planning to scramble over Mount Rushmore, how they got that plane so close to Cary Grant, and why the boy put his fingers in his ears.

It was a fascinating show. Once again, I find that listings wouldn't have clued me in that I'd have enjoyed it. Tivo couldn't have told me either, I'd bet. All that would have worked was a personal recommendation.

So I'm recommending it.


I get a lot of pleasure out of cooking breakfast for my family.

Its not a big effort. There's just the three of us, and we like the same things, pretty much. Just this morning, I made sausage and French toast (wonder what they call that in Paris?), with plain coffee. Sometimes it will be sausage and waffles, or there will be Ghiradelli coffee. I've also made very plain breakfasts, such as cereal or English muffins (which I now know can be found with that name on English menus, though whether it's there to appease the tourists, I don't know), and when I do that, its still good, but not quite as satisfying. Still, I like it. We all do.

A little of that is because food helps us get started -- we talk to each other in the context of eating -- can I have the syrup? do you want that last piece of sausage? Coffee taste okay to you? -- and that naturally segues into talking about the day. This morning we talked about a Girl Scout meeting where they were discussing the proper way to fold the flag, and I was hot into doing an impromptu song about that topic, bouncing around in my seat and drumming on the table, when my daughter smiled, got up, and gently placed her hand over my mouth. And that was fun, too -- we were teasing, which we like to do.

It's cool.

Saturday, April 02, 2005


Rainy days give rise to rainy day thoughts. Funny how that works.

For years I thought that the Spanish for Its Raining was Esta lloviendo, and now I find that its not. So much for multilinguality.

The Pope is dying, triggering thoughts of mortality. I doubt strongly that 'the world waits', as the newsmen like to say; I don't think that the world collectively or even substantially ever waits for anything. As a friend of mine used to say, no matter what happens, there are a hundred million Chinese who don't give a damn. Nevertheless, it is a momentous occasion. I am sorry for him. I am sorry for anyone who is dying; with feeding tubes and hovering doctors, its even more distressing. When my father died, at home, he just didn't get up from taking a nap. People that I've mentioned that to have invariably said 'that's the way I want to go'.

In some cases, there is a strong apprehension that death will be preceded by much distress, physical and financial; they think of years of increasing fragility, doddering along, being afflicted by cocky pharmacists, impatient medical staff, harried 'social workers' , and other people who deal with the messier parts of life. I share that apprehension. I have even found myself wishing for a quick death sooner than a slow death later -- though not, you understand, too much sooner. I was amused by the title of one of Dave Barry's books, which I remember as 'Stay Fit and Healthy Until You're Dead'. As someone else put it, what's the point of keeping healthy if that simply means you spend more time in the Alzheimer’s ward? I wonder -- will my opinion change as I age?

On a different note --
Having some problems with my Lexmark multifunction printer, which is unable to do what I regard as a simple task -- print a fifty page document from beginning to end. I know that I should be pleased that it works at all; that is, that I can take a document which was created by someone at a customer location, emailed to someone in my company, stored in a Lotus database, and then pointed to by a pointer in a document which was pointed to in an email which was sent to me. I should be thrilled, amazed, delighted. Years ago they would be crying huzzah, dancing in the streets, roasting pigs, shooting off fireworks, all of that. But I am not, ingrate that I am. Instead, I bitch and moan about Word 2000 (which really does suck, in my not so humble opinion), and how it does not seem able to format pages correctly, and about the printer, which cannot get through ten densely formatted pages (the aforementioned 'someone at a customer location' did dearly love formatting) without either a) skipping a page entirely, b) printing just the last couple of lines on the pages, or c) stopping entirely. I want it to Just Work, and though legions of diligent people have toiled, yea, verily, through the ages to make it work At All, still, it does not, and so I am grumpy and irritated, and I know that it is the fault of This Damn Printer.

I've been going to a physical therapist for a problem with my shoulder. I dislike the concept of physical frailty because it means that I have to rely on someone else to fix a problem of mine, and while there are problems of mine that I'd love to just give to someone to fix -- here, take it, its yours, go away -- there are others that I can't do that with - I have to Be There while it is getting fixed, which means that I have to admit that I actually have a problem, and that it is one that I can't fix. I hate that. I don't think that I have much of the traditional guy thing of not being willing to ask for help (the classic 'won't ask for directions' thing isn't a problem of mine, or at least not much of one), but I don't like admitting to failures, even ones that I can't be blamed for. I feel like any problem with my body is somehow my fault, I should have foreseen it, should have kept it from occurring. It doesn't help that that sometimes they really are my fault, either.

I may -- probably not, but may -- get to go to England on business in the next couple of months. I know that if I do, it won’t be nearly as much fun as when we went the last time, and there will be actual work to do, not staying in a fine hotel, getting up late, toddling around to the Tower of London and Parliament, plus there will be the problem of food, picky eater that I am, and the flight accommodations will likely be Steerage Class -- but still, you know what? I hope I get to go.

Bought a new CD of piano music. Boy, does that phrase sound clunky. Pianner music.

I finished Walk on Water the other night -- a great book, it delighted me from beginning to end, with very few slow parts and a couple that were just magical -- and I read most of The Art of Literary Journalism, too, and that was fun, mostly. So now I'm looking for something else to read. My local library is pretty poor when it comes to finding interesting stuff on their shelves; I'm no highbrow, but I think of their stuff as being pretty much at the 'You Can Transform Your Life Through (fill in the panacea)" and Danielle Steele level. Its for that reason that I keep a file of books that I want to read, and I am surprised to find (why Mr. Webster, I am surprised....No, Madam, you are astonished, I am surprised) , as I look through the list of fifty or so books that many of them no longer grab my attention. Much of it is because a lot of the list is fiction, and I'm not much of a fiction reader -- I want fiction thats memorable, fiction I will care about after I've finished it, and I just don't find much of that. And I don't know anyone who likes to read the kinds of thing that I do, so I have no one to ask, either. Which is why I tend to reread books. Sigh. Po' me.

Maybe I'll do some baking. I like it. I'm no great shakes at it, but its fun, its creative, kind of, and when you're done, you can eat the results. Wonder if there is something Freudian in that?