Sunday, July 31, 2005


The New York Times magazine last week had an article on the concept of 'framing' as applied to political maneuvering. The concept basically says that you can dramatically enhance the likelihood of acceptance of your position if you 'frame' your observations -- give them a common, acceptable, resonant theme. Framing, as practiced at the moment by Democrats, is the brainchild of George Lakoff, who popularized the concept in 'Don't Think of an Elephant'. (The article closed by noting that however much framing had contributed to the success of the Democrats in blocking some Bush actions, it alone is not sufficient; they need ideas.)

While we were at my sister-in-laws house, I spoke admiringly to my wife about the china that they had -- a cross-hatched pattern from Villeroy and Boch. My wife informed me in a surprisingly crisp tone that the reason she had preferred plain white china with a gold trim for our pattern was that it was classic, would not go out of style, and could be replenished at will. The V&B I'd admired was out of stock, she noted, and had been for several years.

I don't know why, but those two episodes -- the concept of framing, and 'our china is classic' -- ring the same bell for me.

"Does the name Pavlov ring a bell?"

...teach the teachers

From the New York Times Education Life supplement, July 31 --

"I'm afraid that in the real world I will be so overwhelmed with bureacucracy that I won't be able to teach freely. When you teach geography, history, government, you can go off in so many directions. What if I can't go off on a lecture about Kennedy's assassination, or a discussion of parallels between the Iraq and Vietnam wars? I don't want my students to have to worry that they didn't remember the year Napoleon was exiled. I want them to remember what Napoleon was like."

Amanda Smith, 21
Social science/education major
University of Northern Iowa


Blogger's Hosed

I found the other day that I could not get the word 'terrorist', or variants thereof, to appear in a Blogger post. I thought some kind of automatic word purger was involved. Then, in a response to a comment, I was able to get the word in there.

Today, the phrase 'i m a g e.. s e a r c h' disappeared from the post below this one (and even this one; unlike the last time, even spacing it out doesn't always work. The phrase in question means 'to search for a graphic using the second of Google's search options'. Let's see what disappears this time.) When I bring the post back up in edit, it's there.

Go figure. Or, put another way --

WTF, Blogger?

The NotSoVeryCheap House

I have come to realize that when I think about potential new houses, I don't want so much a small house as a big house that's all on one level. I'm not saying it has to be large enough to require a Segway to navigate it...exactly. But I like big houses -- or at least some things about big houses.

Take Great Rooms. If you do an image search in Google using that term, you get a lot of images that aren't so much Great Rooms as Big Rooms Without Much Character. And some of them aren't all that big, either. But every so often, you find one that is very nice, like this one, which I found at

I think that's a very classy room, and I would be delighted to live there. The only catch is, from the looks of things, I'd have to blow pretty much the entire budget on just that room. It'd be a very nice Great Room... and an outhouse. I don't think that'll fly.

Take kitchens. I like big kitchens, preferably with a decent eating area. No counters for me, thanks. The layout has to make sense -- I don't get the feeling that a lot of thought goes into that other than the classic 'kitchen triangle'. Unless it involves the cook, the scullery maid, and the serving wench, I don't want to hear about the kitchen triangle. I do want the kitchen to work well. Some basic thoughts -- the refrigerator should be placed such that someone using it, or just standing there mulling the selection (Close the door, you'll let all the cold out!!!) won't be in the traffic flow, and won't block access to cabinets or work areas. My sister in law's house has a refrigerator that's placed on the other side of the pathway through the kitchen. I don't like the kitchen, as its more a wide spot in the hallway than a separate room, but by god no one standing at the refrigerator is near any of the cabinets. At the same time, you can take something from the fridge, turn, and immediately put it down on an island. This is a good thing. One of the things we like most about the kitchen we have was done via an oversight by the builder -- he mis-measured for replacement cabinets, so we ended up with a tall thin base cabinet that's now used to store cookie sheets and similarly sized implements of baking. Works very well. On the other hand, he put the microwave over the kitchen stove, which is a classic placement -- and which is a killer if two people are cooking and both want to get at the work area at the same time. Not to mention the wheelchair access problem.

Hallways. I like hallways. They provide transition space, and a simple way to isolate the bedrooms from the rest of the house -- close the door, and the bleary eyed visitor doesn't find themselves in the living room while they're hunting for the bathroom. They let you put the quiet parts of the house off from the noisy ones. Plus, they're a natural gallery -- we have three or four favorite photographs in the hall, placed so that you see them each time you come out of our bedroom. I like that. But you have to watch it -- a relative noticed on a blueprint, just in passing, that the builder intended to have a stairway door open into a busy hallway. He pointed it out, asked that the door be rotated ninety degrees into a cul de sac in the kitchen, and saved a congestion point.

More later, maybe.

Baking Follies

Last night, I tried a new recipe for a chocolate cake.

It was an absolute disaster -- rose nicely in the oven, dropped like a rock when I took it out. Limp, pale, watery, even.

What the hell?


Why does my oven require you to press 'start' after you've already dialed in a temperature? Isn't that sort of -- redundant?

If I'd wanted to bake by the heat of just the lightbulb, I'd have gotten an EZBake oven.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Stemmed Debate

The statement of support by Senator Frist for stem cell research is a good thing. It's probably just motivated by a desire to recoup his political fortunes, which were scrambled by the general derision cast his way by his pronoucements regarding the Terry Schiavo case, but in the conservative atmosphere pushed by the Bush White House, I'll take what I can get.

I sometimes read a number of medically oriented blogs, and when they talk about stem cell research, their comments generally fall into the category of a) we're doctors, so of course our opinion counts for more than yours, and b) stem cells aren't proven, so anything but the most minor research efforts is unwarranted. They don't go so far as to say that since stem cells are of dubious value, they should not be researched, nor do they say that regardless of the value of stem cells, they should not be researched because it's against conservative ideology to do so. But the thoughts do appear to be there.

I don't agree with either one. The opinion of trained personnel is important in determining the effectiveness of a course of research, but not its value. And doing or not doing something simply because of its worth to either the conservative or liberal viewpoint is just silly.

Friday, July 29, 2005


Which is to say, pre-birthday -- about a week from now, give or take. My daughter has some plans to amaze me -- she's told me that she is going to finally give me what I've been saying for a while that I wanted -- a big screen television.

Now, truth is, I don't particularly want one -- we don't watch enough television that the need is there to immerse ourselves in the Ultimate Viewing Experience. If the UVE were inexpensive (and I don't mean cheap, just not thousands of dollars), and were a drop in, not a 'run cable A to electrosynch jack Omega-4' -- well, sure. I like my sloth as much as anyone.

But as she's still a kid, I think that the chances of having a SWAT team from Circuit City shot up to Make It Happen are nil. And that's okay. Because what I really want is to be with her -- and her mother, of course -- and that's what I'm getting.

But I am curious what she's got in mind....

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Atom Feed

I don't really understand how this works.... but -- apparently Bloggers supplies an RSS-like feed, automagically.

Here's mine:

I tried it out in Feedster, and it worked just fine. I gave it to FeedMap and got back that nifty little map. So that's where I am !

Leaping Lizards

We were sitting at the breakfast table (which bears an uncanny resemblance to the dining table). I was leafing through a glossy book of illustrations from homes that are so lavish that my home, and any home that I could build, would barely serve as an outbuilding. Not to say that they were not lovely homes -- they are; just not likely to be seen on any planet I might visit.

At one point, I read the description of an architect's technique of building houses as a series of small interconnected houses, each having one or two rooms, so that you could experience a sense of delight moving from room to room. My wife asked our daughter, who was deep into reading Dragonsinger as she munched on a French toast stick, if she ever felt delight moving through our house. She held up a finger as she delicately bit off half the stick, put the book down, got to her feet, and sprang into the living room, saying "Yippee! Yippee!" as she bounded around the circle through the living room, into the kitchen, and back to the table. Whereupon she nodded solemnly, sat, and resumed reading.

Is this a great kid, or what?

Wednesday, July 27, 2005


Something odd going on with Blogger. It doesn't seem to want to display a certain word that starts with T and rhymes with error. When I type it, and then display the entry, that word just isn't there.

Lets do an experiment. Twenty six words.

aerror berror cerror derror eerror ferror gerror herror ierror jerror kerror lerror merror nerror oerror perror qerror rerror serror uerror verror werror xerror yerror zerror.

Is the one right after serror and before uerror, starting with 't', there?

Sunday, July 24, 2005


This has been a mostly-fun weekend. We did some financial planning, of a modest sort, and I spent some time on a health spreadsheet.

The financial planning: We've kept track of expenses over the past four years on a month-to-month basis. I take in numbers from our monthly bank statement, as well as from a financial listing of the checks we've written, and categorize them into about twelve categories. Over time we've gotten a pretty good sense of how much we spent each month, and we can see when there is a significant variation. The totals from that go into another spreadsheet that projects income and expenses for the next twenty years. Its a very simple spreadsheet, conceptually, but it lets us feel that we know where we are, financially, and where we can expect to be in ten and twenty years. Ceteri paribus, as they say. The addition this weekend was what we called an 'estate planning' spreadsheet. It's nothing more than a listing of all of our banking accounts, insurance accounts, health accounts, and so forth: where they are, what the key account numbers are, and where the papers related to them are filed. We hope that it's never used, but we know it will: its intended for when one of us has died and the other needs to get a quick handle on what's where. Its a morbid concept, but we're glad to have done it.

The health spreadsheet: over the last seven months, I've kept a detailed history of what my blood sugar readings have been, at least three times a day (morning, before dinner, and before bedtime), and sometimes more. Over the last four months, I've expanded it to include a summary of what we had for dinner, and amounts of insulin taken during the day. The intent has been to get a sense of what foods tend to trigger high sugar values, and of those, which ones tend to persist -- some go down pretty soon after taking insulin, and others do not. I'm familiar but not comfortable with the idea of 'glycemic index', but that describes what I'm trying to get a handle on. Professional health people will say that of course there are foods you should not eat; the best I can do is know that when I do -- and I will -- I need to keep a sharp eye on what my body's doing, afterward. I can't accurately forecast, yet, but I feel that I'm doing a good thing, and so I'll continue to do it.

Saturday, July 23, 2005


I was just over at the Meetup site, which I learned about the other day. I'm not much of a joiner, but I've heard enough about people getting a goodly amount of satisfaction from meeting other people with similar likes and dislikes that I thought to give it a try. Granted, the possibility of finding anyone else who likes to know how anatomy works, enjoys reading about business theory, artificial intelligence, microeconomics, and occasionally sociology, architecture, or science fiction -- well, that seems pretty unlikely, sometimes. And almost no one likes to think about all of that stuff. Most people, I gather, focus on a couple of areas and go deep. I look at a bunch of areas, and stay at the shallow end. I don't know details about many things, but I know pieces of lot of things, and I like that.

When I got to Meetup, I poked through a couple of interest areas, and found one that sounds possible: a group of people who got together as a pro-Kerry group and stayed together as an anti-Santorum group, specifically, and a Democratic party organization, generally. Nothing wrong with any of that, and a great deal that's right. But it brought me to thinking a bit about politics, and about the current debate regarding the offering for Supreme Court justice. I think that if I didn't know that this guy was picked by Bush, I'd be in favor of him. He's got a lot of good qualities, and even the ones that I don't like -- most notably, he's for strict interpretation of the Constitution, which I don't like because I think its a code word for 'roll back all you can from the liberal years' -- well, even those aren't terrible. The court should reflect general political feeling, and right now, whether I like it or not, that's more conservative than liberal. He's a capable person and so far as I can judge, he'd be a good choice.

And when I find myself thinking that, given my own choice in the dichotomy of Democratic or Republican, I wonder if it makes Karl Rove chuckle. But then: do I really care what Karl Rove thinks?

Why Does It Always Have to be Snakes?

In this case, actually, it's a python. Or Python, to give it the proper name. It's a programming language, and I'm going to try to teach it to myself. For some time, I've been wondering if there is a language that works under Windows (which I guess knocks out many of the cool languages, not that I'd understand them anyway), is straightforward to learn (because, truth to tell, I was never that great a programmer at my best, and I'm a long way from my best, these days), and can be used to do text manipulation. The specific task I have in mind is to take in a text file, alter it (adding some records, deleting others, merging or otherwise altering still others), and then put it out. A decent programmer could do it like that, but as I say, I'm not. The closest language that I know that can be used for that kind of thing is Rexx, and although there are PC versions, I've never had much luck with them. But the other day I saw an article about a comparison of Rexx and Python in the area of string handling, and I thought Hmmm..... plus, its a free download. So last night I did that, and today I'm looking at it. It sort-of feels like Java or C++ (again, that's to my neophyte eyes; a decent programmer might gasp and splutter at that observation), but simpler. We'll see.

I've mentioned that I occasionally give thought to whether its time to retire (why does that sound like a line out of a drawing room comedy? And where did the phrase 'drawing room' come from, anyway?). Usually, these thoughts are most frequent when I'm being reminded that the group I work in is the one that's generally charged with Maintaining Logical Security; not exactly, but close enough. As I told someone the other day, I'm a security atheist. Actually, it occurred to me later, a better phrase would be a security agnostic; I do believe in the need, but not the specific manifestations that I see. Either way, its not an image that goes over very well with the guy who manages my group. We've had Discussions. Well, the other day, I received an email from a woman whose sole job, so far as I can tell, is to ride herd on other people as they do things to make auditors happy. None of these things in any way has value for making the company more profitable, or better at what it makes. Its all audit stuff. In the last line of her breathless email, she said that it was very important to do what she wanted done quickly, so that we 'could maintain an audit readiness posture'. Yeah, I've got your posture right here.

We acquired a book for my daughter the other day - a friend had recommended it to her, and so she wanted to read it. Picked it up late yesterday, and she glommed onto it. Finished it late last night. One hundred twenty pages. No pictures. I love seeing her find things that she likes to read.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Dignified, Civil

It appears that the president would like a dignified, civil process for the hearings on his Supreme Court nominee.

So would I.

The Republicans would like to have a speedy process.

So would I.

They both would like to end up with the nominee being found acceptable.

I hope so. Not because I share the values displayed by the nominee, but because I'd like to see something happen in Washington that doesn't degenerate into a shouting match.

I won't hold my breath.

Monday, July 18, 2005


This was the Weekend of Heavy Driving.

I had promised my wife that we would drive from our home in lower-central Pennsylvania to her sister's home in far eastern Connecticut so that she could attend the surprise shower for her nephew's fiancee. We would go up on Saturday, come home on Sunday.

I know it would be a long drive -- it's about six hours, nonstop, portal to portal. I did not know that it would be seven hours going up, including a stop for lunch. And though I knew that traffic going back down 95 on Sunday would be heavy, I did not know that that meant intermittant dead stops, coupled with torrential rains that slowed us way down at times. Listening to the truckers on the CB helped keep us awake, but still -- seven hours up became almost eight, coming back. It was a tough ride, and a long weekend.

I did get a pizza from Mystic Pizza that was pretty good. Some gelato, too.

More important, the trip made my wife happy, and that made the weekend great.


We've been thinking about upgrading the stereo system.

We have two -- the small Sony bookshelf system that sits in the living room and has our entire collection of CDs, numbering in the tens, and the Pioneer amp/Marantz turntable/Sony cassette deck system downstairs. Its the one downstairs we're thinking about. The amp is pretty old -- I bought it about 35 years ago -- and it doesn't work all that well -- though it does work better than the cassette deck, which doesn't record any more, and is jittery on playback. I like the amp. Its operation is easy to figure out, it has a gleaming wooden case, and several different lights -- ie, unlike most of the amps sold today, it isn't all black. And it accepts inputs from the turntable, which most amps don't, today, either. The turntable is in good shape -- it ought to be, considering that we never use it.

As I've watched the flow of information go by about the new, marvelous audio opportunities, though, its occurred to me that it might happen soon that audio could become something useful in our lives again. I'd like that. I have records -- yes, actual records -- that I have had for years, and I'd like to heard them again -- but I want to hear newer sounds -- MP3, podcasts, and streaming audio. Just as color and texture enhance our lives, sound can, too, and I want to make that happen.

Implementation will not be straightforward. I feel more than a little out of it when it occurs to me that the phrase I'm thinking of is I don't want to have to learn the whole damn technology, I just want a better sound system. But learning is the price of admission, and I find that repetitive forays into the battle help you learn which sites are delivering good information, and which just want your money, thanks, here's your stuff. So I'm learning. And someday, the Pioneer amp will be history, and we'll have something useful down there. Something that can talk to the PC, can talk to the car. Something portable, selectable, retrievable.

I'd like that.

Strawberries and Salad Dressing

One concept that I've never understood is the idea of 'foods that go well together'. I'm thinking particularly of people who say that certain cheeses enhance the quality of certain wines. I've always been of the opinion that these people need to get a life -- food is food, and it tastes as it tastes. Though I know some foods are particularly appreciated as certain times -- the classic cold beer on a hot day -- and some foods just cannot be improved on -- a slice of watermelon; I don't think I've ever had a bad one -- the idea that the particular desirability of some foods is improved when they're eaten together -- no, no, just foodie nonsense.

Then I happened to have a salad which had some strawberries on it.

The salad was coated with a honey-mustard salad dressing, and some of the dressing got on the strawberries. The effect was magical. Somehow the astringent flavor of the dressing offset the sweetness of the berries, leaving a perfectly delightful combination. I have never turned down a ripe strawberry, but now I have to judge -- put it in a salad? Or wash and eat it as is?

A wonderful problem.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Understanding Understanding

I wonder on occasion if I am getting too old to understand technology.

Culture, sure- I haven't understood culture since the 1960s, when I asked a friend what that song 'Angel Aquariums' was supposed to be about. I've never been much of a music freak, even then, and less so now, when I rarely hear anything on the radio that sounds worth hearing. But technology, sure, I get that. Ones and zeros, astronauts and microwaves -- sure, no problem. I've had the same feelings as many of my peers in wondering how in the world anyone could not understand how to program their VCR, even though, when I went to program my mother's, it made no sense to me. A brief moment of humility ensured, but then I was back to understanding technology. And even the things outside of what I normally do for a living were accessible to me: it took me a while to understand the scale at which nanotechnology works, but I got the basic idea, and even though I still don't really understand the idea of the Human Genome Project, I get the general idea --its something to do with DNA, right? Heck, yes, I knew that. And television displays, plasma vs LCD vs CRTs -- sure, I understand that. I get it.

But something has flipped off inside me lately. It isn't major --its not as if I look at articles about podcasting and don't understand the concept; its not as if I read an article about pattern recognition and don't understand what they're trying to say, or one about economic theory and don't see where they're heading with it. (Granted, all of these articles are written for the general public; they're not coming from the densely written things that show up in journals and theses. But still, I do understand them.) But this flipping off is almost a sense of It just doesn't matter. I don't have to understand that. Its not the same as saying that I don't want to understand all these things; I like knowing concepts in disparate fields, and being able to understand them, even as the most superficial level, pleases me. I'm still tickled to know what the difference is between translumenal and transluminal.

But for the first time, I begin to get the feeling on occasion that I don't have to understand all this stuff. Its okay to focus, to limit what I understand to what I want to understand.

Is that maturity... or senility?

Tuesday, July 05, 2005


After buying a book of house plans and leafing through it, I'm beginning to think that about a third of thedesigns -- were done by people who liked straight lines and square boxes. No whimsy here, few curves, and precious little ingeniousness. An overlapping quarter were people who liked phrases such as 'keeping room', 'hearth room', and the ever popular 'great room' -- though I did see one 'grand room', which I assume was a great room with some extra gilt.

Not to say I didn't see any that I liked -- I did. Two, to be exact.

I'm beginning to have new appreciation for A Pattern Language.

Monday, July 04, 2005


In sickness and in health, with rogues and villains and people of courage and integrity --

Happy Birthday, America.


What's This Fire Thing All About?

Okay, I'm not that far behind the power curve. Yet clearly, based on something I just read in the Sunday Time's Business section, I'm nowhere near the leading edge when it comes to podcasting.

Prior to reading the article, I thought it was what many people apparently think it is -- ie, broadcasting directly from or to iPods. Having no interest in buying an iPod, I would ignore anything I saw on the topic. Silly frippery.

Now, however, I see that quite to the contrary, podcasting means being able to get audio on demand, with or without an iPod. And it means getting audio both from painfully sincere amateurs (Um, okay, so this is the Boys, who are like really cool...) and slick professionals. What, I think? Audio from WGBH? An update on happenings in the field of expert systems? Really good music from people I've never heard of before?

Free? And for a bearable fee, books, magazines, newspapers?

Gee, I thought....hook it into my car's audio, it could provide on-demand sounds I want to hear during my commute, not what the local stations feel like broadcasting then. Hmm, the good ones I could save and relisten to. Wow, you could even listen to something you missed on public broadcasting, first time out. And free? Zounds.

Hey, you know, this fire thing could just catch on.

Sunday, July 03, 2005


I'm not a particularly introspective person, so it's always a surprise to me when I realize something about myself that isn't what I would have guessed.

This morning's New York Times has a page one article about the recent Live Aid concerts in support of the concept of aid being given to African nations. I don't think anyone can doubt that they need it; even though I wonder why it always seems to be us that is supposed to lead the charge, I realize that someone's got to do it. And how would I feel if we found ourselves following the leadership of, say, France?

Though they do make very nice towers.

The moment of insight came when I looked at the picture that accompanies the article. Its a shot of a mass of people in, I guess, Central Park, all emoting in some way. In the right corner of the picture are two people standing up out of the crowd, next to some kind of post or stanchion -- a thin white woman and a thin black man. Seeing it, I wondered if they were staged there for the impact of the picture. It was of course possible that they'd come together, but I was willing to bet that it was a staged photo. Hey, you two stand up there and I'll take your picture!

And then I noticed that the black man had his arm around the white woman's waist. It bothered me. And then it bothered me that it had bothered me.

A generation of appropriate concepts and sentiments flickered through my mind, studded with qualifiers, taglines, and images. Some of my best friends are.... He ain't heavy, he's..... You can probably sing along if you're of my generation. Prejudiced? Me?

I knew pretty much why the picture bothered me -- heck, I probably know exactly why, but I can't bring myself to admit it without a bunch of hedging. I'm surprised to realize that I feel that way. Or that I'm not sure if its something I should do something about. I know the PC answer to that question; I don't know the personal one.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Sight Lines

I was thinking about houses a little bit ago. We went out for a walk while some brownies baked (they're cooling now, and I promised my daughter that I would not touch them until she got a chance to have one tomorrow morning); while we walked, we talked about house design. We're continuing to kick around ideas about what makes a good house -- what we like about what we have now, and what we'd improve.

One of the Not So Very Big House (which I think ought to be called Not As Big A House As You Thought It Would End Up Being, but NABAHAYTIWEUB doesn't trip lightly off the tongue) concepts is that of sight lines. The idea is that if you want a space to feel cozy, border it with things that restrict your view -- walls, most notably, but also partitions, hanging tapestries, and the like. If you want the space to feel big, open it -- use half walls instead of full ones, put windows at the end of a vision run so that you see what's beyond, and that additional area becomes part of the 'sense' of the area's size. The concept sounds right to me, but I'm coming to think that its only a rule of thumb -- if you don't have a concept you want to implement, then here's a good one to keep in mind. But its not the only one.

Years ago I read a description of how the interior of ballistic missile submarines is laid out. The article said that in some places it was feasible to create a straight run of decking, but the designers intentionally broke up the run with one step up, one down, or zig zag around a pillar, because they felt that when you couldn't see all the way to where you were going, you still had a sense of a 'travel' and 'movement'. Something like traveling a given distance in the Rockies and the same distance in Kansas -- there's less sense of movement in Kansas because there's less to judge it by.

One of the house designs we like for the possible house is a roughly U shape, inverted, with the bedrooms along the right side, a center corridor terminating in a central fireplace, beyond which is a large living room, and along the left, a garage, utility room, and nook. The dining room is along the central corridor, on the left, and the kitchen is to the left of the living space, connecting the living room with the nook. I like it because it incorporates the idea of movement -- you can't see all of the rooms from one place -- but it wasn't until I was thinking about it as we walked tonight that I realized it didn't have much of a sightline. And that, therefore, a design didn't have to incorporate a rule of thumb if you had a good reason for ignoring it.

If and when we do build, we're going to see if we can have a virtual reality version of the house constructed so that we can 'walk' through it before the first board is nailed. Don't know if thats possible for less than multibucks, but I like the idea. I totally do not know how to communicate the level of quality that we would want in the house, though. We aren't looking for posh -- we'd be looking for good. The best description I've come across is 'like houses used to be built'. But how do you illustrate that to a skeptical builder? The best we can do, thus far, is details and descriptions -- thick doors, not hollow, for example; openable clerestory windows to contribute to natural air circulation, and so forth. Those are good, but they give only a passing sense of how the house should feel. . I thought of a comment I read years ago about how designers in Detroit would spend hours and days making the 'thunk' of a slammed car door sound right, because that was how most people judged the quality of the car. (And still do, probably - though I'm tickled each time I see some of those Vehix commercials -- the oriental woman asking to see it in a different color, the woman bobbing up and down in the second row, peering intently at the car's interior as she rotates. Priceless. )

Quality.. How do I 'thunk' the house before its even built?

Friday, July 01, 2005

Random Chaos

...which I suppose is a redundancy from the department of redundant superfluosities.

Its been a source of continuing wonderment to me that as technical jobs get more difficult -- not so much difficult due to technical content as difficult due to having to do more because we've laid off people or because we want to keep the auditoids happy -- the tools available to do the jobs have not kept pace, nor has the training to do it. I'm not talking training as a techie would, either -- that being, training that tells you interesting stuff that might eventually be useful. I'm talking survival training that tells you what you need to know to do the job today. I guess the assumption is that you'll learn as you go, and hopefully not sink the customer as you do it.

I know that we're not alone in that predicament, but that doesn't make it easier to swallow.

I'm dammed if I know what we should do about Iraq. Waist deep in the Big Muddy.... I despise the idea of staying for no useful purpose, and despise the idea that the only useful purpose that comes to mind is for us to guarantee a source of oil. Not that I think we can guarantee it, not if we had ten million troops carpeting the ground. Plus, though I can secretly think 'it'd be worth it' if somebody else's kid died for the goal of readily available and inexpensive gas, I wouldn't give a scratch on my own daughter's skin for it. No one would.

I am frightened by the idea that the White House is now being advised by experts in opinions on wars, the result of which is 'people are more likely to support you if you project the image that you expect to win'. Just how dumb do they think people are? Course, we are talking about the people who voted for him in large numbers.

And then there's Donald 'you go to war with the tools you've got, and when I visit, I get the heaviest steel-reinforced rolling stock that Halliburton's got' ..Rumsfeld.

I think that we could install a properly functioning democracy in Iraq with apple pie and brass bands (or whatever the Iraqi equivalent is) , march out with all flags flying, and two days later the place could be in chaos again, burning flags and giving the finger to us.

I do not believe that we are dishonoring the people who have died if we bail out on that country, yet I the thought of giving up -- anywhere. By which logic we should still be in Vietnam. I guess my gut feeling is that there is no upside to staying, and lot of downside. Or is that the idea -- that we can't make it better, we can only keep it from being worse?

I want a grownup to tell me what to do. Someone who's smart, forceful, and direct -- like Dick Cheney -- but who has scruples.

More money doesn't always buy better stuff, and even when it does, it doesn't buy proportionately better stuff. This is Bills Hotel Room Rate Theorem, upon which I've expounded before. Most current example: my wife bought me a beard trimmer a couple of years ago. I liked it, but it would not keep a charge. I went out looking for a replacement. All of the replacements have many many attachments and cost many bucks, but they don't do the basic job any better than the old one.

We're going to be looking for a replacement car in the next twelve months, probably, and we want to keep that theorem in mind. We can afford a very nice car, but we don't want to get the best we can afford, because we don't think it'd be worth it. We know what we want -- preferably hybrid engine, sunroof, room for four me-sized s. We don't think a given vehicle will make us ier, more desirable, slimmer, or cooler (thats an offshoot of my thoughts about why certain cars sound 'powerful' or 'muscular'. Pshaw. ) and we don't care who we buy it from. Saab, GM, Volvo, BMW. Though I'm a little leery of names like Hyundai, still.

Same thoughts apply to the house we'd like to build. We don't want to best we can possibly get, because that last fifty thousand dollars won't buy fifty thousand dollars of satisfaction. More like a thousand or two, if we're lucky. We know what we want, and we've prioritized that list. I know there are ten thousand things we didn't even think about (what kind of roofing material? what flooring in the bathroom? How many lights in the hallway? Where does the mailbox go?) so what we want to do is list The Big Stuff and hope that the others follow logically.

Saw another article about pharmacists who won't dispense legal meds because they don't agree with their use. If I try hard, I can understand their point of view, but not their action. The latest spin was that they 'want the right that doctors have had to refuse to take actions that are contrary to their personal beliefs'. I think they'd better stock up on malpractice insurance -- I seem to recall that doctors are required to provide emergency care even when they don't want to do it -- not continuing care, but emergency care. The morning after pill fits that description.

I guess what irks me about this sort of thing is that it feels like people pushing their beliefs into my face, changing my life because of what they believe. Similar to the people who believe that religion should be part of everything, and a prominent part, too. I don't agree with that view -- I think that if you're religious, it should inform and instruct your life but should not be something that you expect me to follow or be affected by. (Though I did get to use that kind of rigid religious intolerance in a joke yesterday -- after I saw a marketing packet for my company that said we were 'all evangelists for the company', I asked a coworker if he was an evangelist for us, and he said no, he was a contractor. To which I replied 'Then you must be a heathen. ') I want a way to push back on these people, but I don't want it to be Howard Dean, whom I regard as a self righteous pompous maniac. I want someone I can respect. How long has it been since I've seen a politician I respected?

Looking for stuff to read. The latest issue of American Scholar arrived yesterday -- some nice writing about the Pope and the papacy, and an article about Social Security that I'd swear I've seen elsewhere, but still interesting to read (mostly because if I did see it elsewhere, I didn't read it all.) I dragged a couple of books down off the shelf that I bought and never read. They're books I want to Have Read, and some -- Shelley's Heart, for example -- are very well written, they just didn't grab me. I found an interesting list here. Makes me think my own list isn't nearly so overwhelming.