Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Free Speech

We were reading through the material sent home by the school regarding use of their computers. One of the phrases caught our attention. It said, essentially, that if your child finds anything on the internet to which you object, it's not the school's fault. I remarked that I would hope they at least have some filtering software on their PCs, and then thought that given that some people object to having such software on library PCs, they'd likely object to having it on school PCs, too.

My wife pointed out that in a library, a librarian can refuse to shelve certain books, or shelve them only in a restricted location, so it ought to logically follow that a librarian could place limits on what was accessible via other media. I said that I agreed, but that people argued that this was a restriction on their right of free speech. I went on to say that I thought that this right was an abused one, and that it had popularly become a right to say whatever you want, wherever you want, without consequence. Further, I thought that a number of people took it to mean that if you wanted to express yourself in a way that others found offensive, you did not give up the right to be paid -- that is, if your movie is offensive to me, I cannot refuse to show it; if your comedy is offensive to me, I cannot censor it. I said that I thought this was wrong -- that if you have the right to speech, it does not mean the right to unlimited speech.

To my surprise, my wife disagreed, saying that it meant exactly that, and that the owner of a medium -- the television station, the source of funds for the art show, whomever -- could not censor what was shown on their medium.

I'll have to think about that, because I respect her opinion.

Bush Flies over New Orleans

Air Force One carrying President Bush flew low over New Orleans today while bringing the President back two days early from his vacation. The president was observed to have his face pressed hard against the window as the plane flew over the devastasted area, and was heard to comment 'Man.... look how we're leaving a wake in the water. That's really cool.' Upon arrival in Washington, he promised to fly back to the city soon, noting in passing that as primary user of Air Force One, he is not affected by the current surge in oil prices. "What the heck", he said, grinning, "I might just flog it back to Crawford just to see if I left my toothbrush there."


Its not nearly -- not even close to -- the devastation wrought in the New Orleans area, but we had our own swath of destruction last night, as what appears to have been a tornado microburst touched down in our area. Trees are uprooted, including one in our yard, and major limbs are either severed or hanging, all across the area. So far as we know, no one was hurt, and there is no major damage to houses -- though two cars had limbs fall on them.

And it didn't sound like a freight train, either -- though it did sound weird.

An interesting night.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Bush: U.S. Must Protect Iraq From Terror

(08-30) 14:05 PDT Coronado, Calif. (AP) -- President Bush on Tuesday answered growing anti-war protests with a fresh reason for American troops to continue fighting in Iraq: protection of the country's vast oil fields that he said would otherwise fall under the control of terrorist extremists.

If he'd said that going in, he likely would gotten hate mail....and then support, because we do like our oil, and we could easily convince ourselves that this would stick a thumb in the terrorist's eye.

Now, it just looks like Karl finally told him that people don't like gas prices, so its time for Hi, I'm George Bush with another of my eighty three reasons why you should support me in Iraq.....

Monday, August 29, 2005


I suppose that if the policy of building many large but virtually identical mansion-like structures in one area has come to be called McMansions, then the somewhat new policy of building splendid retirement homes with all of the posh and elegance that the former offered could well be called MicroMansions. And that's what I'm seeing in our local buildings offerings for what one article called 'boomer homes'. Which happens to be a phrase I despise.

The idea is apparently to merge two concepts: the Not So Big house, which should have a decent amount of elegance per square foot, but less square feet than the alternatives, and homes that allow you to get around in a walker or wheelchair -- while sacrificing none of the posh luxury that of course you deserve in retirement. I'm not sure what to call that, so I'll stick with MMs.

One company's web site shows photographs of their offerings, and I am amazed at how luxe they are. I don't know anyone who casually places a French provincial tray with delicate wine glasses and crisps on the artfully tossed covers of the bed, and I'm startled by a room that has windows reaching high into the cathedral ceiling, and furniture covered in rich fabric, but no dividing walls into the dining room and kitchen, no steps, and wide aisleways throughout. It is all very pretty, but in a way, it seems almost sad. I'm reminded of a film that was out when I was a teen, called Wild in the Streets, where the parents are reduced to denying their aging as time passes, using more and more artifice to do so. If my home is lavish enough, then I still matter, right? Even though I'm old?

Aging happens. Aging gracefully, in a graceful environment, is fine, even desirable. But it doesn't have to mean tarting up the house with elegance d'jour, or looting the stock fund to pay for it. Simple elegance comes from integral style, clean lines, warmth and function.

And, you know, a big screen TV with Bose stereo. Yowzah!

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Bushster strikes again

CRAWFORD, Texas (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush on Sunday praised Iraq's draft constitution as a step towards full democracy and sought to play down the extent of Sunni opposition, but he predicted an upcoming referendum would spark a new wave of "atrocities."

So you-all jest stay the course there, and Ah'll jest stay the course here at the ranch, and we'll all be jest....fine.

The Value of Sacrifice

I have seen several articles of late concerning the attitudes of people toward the Iraq war.

It seems that people support the war, and the presidents actions, if they think that the war is a good idea, or if they think that they should support the president because he's the president, whether or not they support his specific actions. They don't support it if they think it's a bad idea, or if they lost a relative in it -- though not always.

One man, quoted in today's Times, said that he felt no need to burden Bush with his grief, saying that 'The man's got more important things to do than take care of me.' He went on to say that 'You have to accept it and go on with your life, and thats what she's (Cindy Sheehan) failing to realize.... I've accepted that my boy's gone and there's nothing I can do about it. Causing traffic jams in front of the president's ranch is not going to get that young lad back. Heck, if it were going to get him back, I'd be out there with her.' A woman said that she is proud of the war and her son's role in it. "I read that she (Sheehan) questioned whether her son died for a noble cause, and I totally disagree with her on that. ... Her son died for the most noble cause: human rights."

I have to admit, those thoughts gave me pause. It was easy enough for me to say that the man was right about the ineffectiveness of any action now in getting his son back, but wrong in assuming that action was therefore ineffective. But it wasn't so easy to disagree with the woman, because, though I think she's being simplistic, she did have a point. The idea of the war is noble. It's the rationale that's faulty.

It brought me back to a thought I've had more than once, and for which I don't have a simple answer: for what cause would I sacrifice my child's life? What cause could be so compelling, what leader so lucid, that I could contemplate the death of my child and say that it had been worthwhile?

Certainly not this cause. Certainly not this leader.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Bag the Web

Okay, lets face it, the web is useless.

All I want is to find some software, preferably free, that will read a text member and tell me what non-trivial words predominate in the text, so they can be used as keywords.

Nothing shows up in the first two pages of a Google search. Well, okay, articles about stochastic, bayesian, random multi-linear non-chaotic fivverpudlian search algorithms and the like, all of which are interesting, and a couple are even comprehensible to me. I've been interested for quite some time, in a layman's way, in the general concept of text classification, so I have a vague sense of how hard it can be to do it well. But I don't want it done well -- more accurately, I don't need it done well. What I want is something along the lines of Text Keyword Generation for Dummies.

Do I expect too much?

(You betcha.)

Ways and Means

Last night, we informed my daughter that as of the start of the school year -- effectively, today -- we were making two changes to her weekly routine.

First, when she does her weekly cleanup of her room, she must clean up her materials from the kitchen table, which has morphed into being her work table. She doesn't have to clean it off, but it has to be neat. She took this information glumly.

Second, we're increasing her weekly allowance by a dollar.

She jumped from her chair, ran in a circle through the dining room, kitchen, living room, and back, three times, without stopping, laughing wildly the whole time.

I think she likes the idea.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Note-taking software

This doesn't have all of the amazing bells and whistles that my dreamware wish list has, but its not at all bad, and the price is decent:


I was just looking at a web site which offered the names of designers and others who are aware of, and sensitive to, the general precepts of the 'Not So Big House' concept. One caught my eye, but I couldn't imagine why -- they're not even in my state, but rather headquartered in Damariscotta, Maine. I've been to Maine several times, but never there.

And then I remembered. That's where the hospital is located in which my friend, Marion, died.

I don't think of her often, but when I do, it is frequently because I've glanced at a picture of her that I have on my wall at the office. We were in the hospital where she lived for the last full week of her life. I and her husband had brought her down to a sitting area, in a wheelchair. Moving her was a two-person operation -- I pushed the chair, and her husband manipulated the morphine IV drip and its associated paraphernalia. She asked to see a new car that he had bought, and while we were waiting for him to bring it around so that she could see it from the window, I took her picture. She is wan and drawn, leaning slightly on the arm of the wheel chair, and wearing a faded hospital gown, with a plastic barf-basin held ready on her lap. Yet she has a slight grin just the same, as she did during most of the time that I knew her. She was a sexy, smart, whimsical woman, and I miss her.

The picture is on my wall to remind me that there is more to life than work...

Thursday, August 25, 2005


As Daffy Duck would say. But, kidding aside, it really is. Bush is willing to be seen with a mother who supports the war in Iraq, but not with one who doesn't?

Despicable. Hardly surprising, yet despicable, none the less. The man truly has no shame.


This is a good blog, but what I really, really like is the title.

Incidentally, I had had a problem writing that prior line -- the last word kept disappearing when I posted, and when I would go back to the source, that word was gone. I discovered that apparently the child--proofing software that I'd put my my PC was eating it. When I turned off CyberSitter, the word 'girl' would stay there when I saved the post.



I don't subscribe to as many magazines as I used to.Once, several years ago, we took an inventory, and we had fifteen of them coming in more-or-less every month. I've pared that some, and now we have about eight. I frequently look for more -- I'd like something that talks about applications of artificial intelligence, or gives information about medical practice (anything from how to optimize the functioning of the medical office to how do you keep up with findings in your field(s) of interest). No luck on either,but I like to hope. Until then --

MIT's Tech Review is the most likely to have an article that interests me, but about the least likely to have more than two or three of interest. The Economist is very likely to have an intriguing article (it helps that except for the two or three 'big pieces' in the back, the articles are normally about two or three columns, maximum); it has so much material that even when I skip two thirds of the issue, I still feel satisfied that I've gotten something out of it. American Scholar is an oddball, because the articles really are written for people smarter than me, but every so often they have one that is written down to my level, or is so good that it's worth puzzling out, even if I do have to read verrrryyy slowly. (Its from the Phi Beta Kappa society, of which I am certainly not a member; one of the trivia from our Williamsburg jaunt was that PBK was started at Williamsburg.)

Some magazines started coming as part of school fund-raisers. I like Real Simple, which I think of as 'Martha Stewart-less Living'; its aimed at women, but much of the information is generally useful. Family Handyman and Kiplinger also come our way via a school fund drive; I don't really care for FH, since their idea of 'simple construction' or 'simple repair' has gotten progressively more involved over the years; it may be simple from professional standards, but for me, the classic weekend warrior, it can be tough stuff. Kiplinger is a money management magazine that always manages to have something of interest -- I find myself folding pages over 'to reread some day', pretty often.

We also get CSO magazine and Health Management Technology, which are both freebie mags aimed at enterprise security and medical tools and practices, and we just started Inspired House, a house designs mag, which is good, though not at good as I thought it would be.

The last actual magazine we get also came into the house via a school fund raiser -- Wired Magazine. I slot that as conceptually similar to Tech Review, because the odds are good that it will have at least one article that is interesting, even though you do have to work your way past the breathless prose to find it. Wired's aimed, I think, at the 22-30 market; people who think that upgrading to new pda's, phones, and pc's should happen routinely, and who can easily see themselves building a thirty foot robot in their basement ( even if they don't have a basement, and wouldn't if they did). Sort of the Huck Finn view of the world -- I could (build the robot/reprogram my TV's remote control/digitize all my photographs/bone up on Linux) but instead I think I'll take a nap.

This issue has a couple of (predictably breathless) articles - one, about how the Yahoo! site will become the nexus of all forms of video information, totally searchable, infinitely retrievable. And there's an interview with Jon Stewart which is funny and has some interesting insights into the future of television.

Whuff....I'm tired. Think I'll go take a nap.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005


I made this dough this evening for the first time, and it turned out pretty well -

1 cup warm water... .2 T Honey............½ tsp salt
2 T yeast...................3 ½ Cups Flour...¼ cup olive oil

Combine water, honey, salt, yeast, 1 cup flour; mix well.

Add olive oil and remaining flour, mix until a ball forms.

Put on floured counter, knead for 5 minutes

Put in covered container in warm place, let rise for 90 minutes

Punch down, let rise again for 45-60 minutes.

Preheat oven to 475; if using pizza stone, put it in the oven.

Divide into two parts, flatten each into thick disk.

Flatten each disk to about 8 inches wide and ¼ inch thick (rim should be thicker)

Just before baking, apply toppings

Bake for 12-15 minutes

Sitting Like The Sultan

I am, at the moment, sitting like the Sultan of Oompapamowmow, to lift a personage from a commercial of John O'Hurley's that I like very much. The commercial, which is for Drive Insurance, has the character talking in a proud manner about how well his insurance company treats him, remarking at the end that 'they treat him like the Sultan of Oompapamowmow' (or however the country would be pronounced). I liked the title so much that on our recent vacation to Williamsburg, I used it repeatedly when I was happy about something, to the point that my daughter informed me that it was okay for me to be the Sultan on the trip, but once we were home, I would not be the Sultan. Which I thought was fair.

The reason, incidentally, that I am sitting as the Sultan is that I am in a comfortable chair, playing with the laptop, while the cleaning crew swirls around me. And in a few moments, my personal chef will prepare lunch for me. How Sultanish is that?

The playing with the laptop involved downloading Firefox again. I had tried it a few releases ago, and thought it was okay, though not phenomenally better than IE, and in one respect, it was not as good. Alas, that one respect, though minor, happened to be something that I really like to be able to do, and IE lets me, whereas FF does not. But I was reading about some plugins that are available for FF, and thought I would give the product another shot. Anything that negatively affects the hegemony of Microsoft can't be all bad.

This afternoon, we're going over to the school for an open house. Not sure what the content will be, but I like the idea of exhibiting support for my daughter as she makes the transition to middle school. She already has one change: she just found that she needs glasses. She's been complaining off and on that her vision gets blurry at distances, and this was confirmed. She's not happy about it, but we made a strong case for why this is a Good Thing, and I think she accepts it. But either way, the transition to middle school is a moderately big step for her, so we want her to know that we're behind her.

Monday, August 22, 2005

CD Recommendation

For my birthday, my wife gave me this CD. It's pretty good.


Vacation, Continued

We're back, and to my amazement, I'm glad that we went.

Don't get me wrong, any time that we go on vacation, I'm always glad that we go, but whenever we get back, there's this large THUMP as we get back into the normal swing of things, especially if the day we get back is the day before we have to go back to work. Didn't happen this time, for two reasons:

We took two weeks off instead of just one.

We left in the middle of the first week and came back in the middle of the second week.

So although we have the normal tons of laundry to do, bills to pay, and all of that, there isn't the overhanging nimbus of doom saying You have to go back to work tomorrow. This is a good thing.

The vacation was good for another reason. I got the time to think about what I want to do with my job and, to a certain extent, the rest of my life. I am not good at all about thinking on things like that. When I try, I get into a tight loop very quickly, and get frustrated very shortly thereafter. I can read as many self help articles and books as I like (and I have read a couple, from time to time) but I can never make the conceptual jump to all-seeing clarity. I have to struggle just to get a basic concept.

Fire. Should not stick...something....hand....should not stick hand in fire.

Anything beyond that is beyond me. So although I was 'thinking' about my job and what I want to do - stay, retire, change jobs - while we were in Williamsburg, I wasn't actively doing so. Mostly, I was thinking about the intense heat (average temp at 2PM: 96 degrees Fahrenheit), the price of gasoline, and if there was any place to sit down, preferably indoors, preferably cool. What that localized fixation did, in some weird way, was to 'center' me, to use a buzzphrase I've heard. I didn't think about work. I didn't think about the house we want to build. I just thought about the historical recreators, all but one of whom were good (at Williamsburg, they do this all the time) and the material that they were presenting. Much of it was interesting, and some was captivating - we actually went to one venue three times and heard three different people present the same material. One was a good, if simple, presentation of Colonial politics, one was a erudite discussion of the political and military forces involved and why the British governor did what he did, and one was an astoundingly good mix -- the man was by turns, fiery, humourous, and thoughtful, and above all, passionate and accomplished.

I thought about these people, and how they were doing something that was important to them. I don't know what they get paid (most of them are paid, a few are volunteers), but I doubt it was much. And yet they did it, tramping around in the heat, having casual conversations where you could overhear them, talking about the British and what the news was from Boston, and the outbreak of illness at Jamestown. I didn't draw great, weighty conclusions from it, and there were still plenty of times when I 'came back to reality', but every so often, I was just in a place surrounded by people who loved what they were doing. It was a novel experience, but, as it turns out, not the only one that I would have this week.

After leaving Williamsburg, we spent two days visiting with my wife's cousin, her husband, and their four children. Three of the four are adopted, one is a foster child that they'd like to adopt. Cute kids, too, from the oldest, a young girl from India, to the next two (an eight year old girl from China, a ytounger boy from Korea) to the youngest (a small bright eyed American boy who can run like the wind). The parents are, each of them, bright and interesting. They’re also deeply religious. They speak easily about God guiding their lives, and how they trust that He will look after them and help them when they need it.. Soon, this may not be just a theoretical observation.

The husband, who is a computer scientist, is taking night courses so that he can be certified as a minister in their church. I don't know if that event will mean that he will have to give up his job, but I do know that it will mean, most likely, that they will have to move from their charming home to wherever a parish needs him. They were obviously concerned about the financial impact of any potential move, and they were doing what they could to prepare for it should it come to pass, but they weren't consumed by it, the way that I can be consumed in thinking about retirement and finances. They really believed that if they did their best, they would get aid when they needed it. They said this simply, almost matter-of-factly.

In most cases, this would creep me out, big time. I don't like people who are that comfortable with religion. I feel as if when they talk about it, they are trying to one-up me, pitying me in their hearts because I clearly don't see the Light. They make me nervous, and I usually nod and smile and edge away when their paths cross mine. I don't want to give them an inch because I'm afraid they'll try to Save me, and I let almost no one that close to me.

I was more than a little surprised to find myself very comfortable, most of the time, with this family. I didn't go to church with them, and when they formed a hand-holding ring to say grace before dinner, I was about ten feet away, but I didn't feel threatened by it, as I usually do. In fact, I felt just a bit honored that they felt comfortable doing that while I was there. I know that they didn't even think about me or the effect on me - they just did it, as naturally as washing their hands or asking for the salt to be passed. Just a little bit, I envied them that surety.

I thought about that mixture of things -- the recreators and the religious people; people who do what they love and believe in; people who can be both intelligent and deeply religious -- off and on, all the way home.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005


I find that the older I get, the more I am likely to become quietly (and sometimes, not so quietly) angry about bad service. And its taking less to make me think that service is bad, too.

I know that I'm pickier than warranted, most times. And I know that overall you have to pay more to get the same level of service as was common a decade ago. On the other hand --

I've been a member of a specific credit union for over 25 years. I knew them when they had one branch, and you knew most of the people there. Now they're big time, and though they aren't huge as banking setups go, they're way bigger than they used to be. Its been ten years since they started charging for things they used to do for free, and dropping things that they used to do which never made money for them.

So I shouldn't have been surprised when, after an account funds transfer to cover a larger than normal level of check writing, it turned out that the transfer seems not to have worked, and they charged me for an overdraft. I didn't like it, I didn't understand it, but I wasn't all that surprised.

But when they charged me that fee, transferred the exact amount, got another check, charged me another fee, transferred another exact amount, got another check, charged me... then I lost it. Wrote them a furious email, copied the new CEO (who'd been so unwise as to send out his email address, even if he personally never looked at it). Taking my money out of your damn bank, you bandits ! And its not a trivial sum, either, though relative to their total deposits, probably not much to cough over, either.

I got a call, asking if I'd like to talk about it.

Hmm.... rage? Cutting off my nose to spite my face? (My wife still has an account there, and it can be awfully convenient at times.)

Not sure. Think I'll go take a four day trip to Williamsburg and mull it over.

Back in a few days.

Sitting in a Rowboat, Watching Tugboats

is not what port scanning is all about.

Ports are how your computer talks to the world, and the world talks to it. Since its how punks can get in, too, port scanners can tell you if your ports are open to anyone strolling by.

A nifty little free port scanner is located here, on a site called HackerWatch.Org. It seems to be anti-hackers (hackers in the evil sense, not the creative genius burn the midnight oil to produce technical wizardry sense). I think that they're legit, though I don't know -- I've thought for some time that if I was a black hat , I'd write free software to check for virii and such, using them as a sneaky way of getting my own stuff into people's systems.

Not suggesting that happens here, just being mildly malicious....

Nota Bene

Some further comments about notetaking, and tools for the furtherance thereof.

I found an excellent freeware product called AM-Notebook that is very easy to use. Each note gets a title, and the product displays all notes in sequence. Not bad. A cost version has expanded functionality.

I tried it and thought Yeah, this is cool, but wouldn't it be nice if... the tool let me both give the notes a title, or not, AND categorize them? For example, say that I read an article about the costs of housebuilding in the New York Times, and I decide to write a note about it. The product could let me title the note, if I want, and then file it under Houses, Economics, and Newspaper Articles (maybe even Newspaper Articles/New York Times). Later, when I'm scratching my head, wondering what note I wrote about houses, I can call up all the notes under Houses or Costs, or I can just search the notes files, asking for any notes with the words House (and variants) and Costs (and synonyms) written, oh, in the last 72 hours. (Sort of a combination of full-text search, heuristic search, and keyword serch).

And while I'm in Dream Mode Alpha, the product should let me 'stack' the notes like a pile of Post it notes, moving them around on the screen so that I can juggle thoughts together visually. Color-codeable, of course. With the ability to scroll through all of the notes in one stack, tagging some as you go. Linkable to email and the web, and with an alarm function to pop up the note at a given date and time. And perhaps port-able to MySQL or MsAccess.... Would I pay for that? You betcha I would. (And then, after a bit of use, I'd think Yeah, this is cool, but, wouldn't it be nice if.... not to mention where did all this dammed feature bloat come from?)

The killer, of course, is that such a tool might well be out there now. Try and find it.

I recalled reading about software that let you do 'sticky notes' on your screen (one was cool; it could be invoked if the screensaver was on, so that people could leave you messages on your unattended PC). Did a quick search, found about ten right away....but none were quite slick enough.

A few days ago I wrote about an article I'd read about improved tools for note-taking. One that I thought was particularly slick was Net Snippets. It can be found here. While I was trying to remember where I'd seen that, I did a search, using the wrong term -- I remembered it as Web Snippets. Turns out thats a product too, as seen here.

And finally, a comment on the same subject from a nicely done site titled Law4PDA.

Thinking versus Remembering

I just went out for a haircut, and in the chair leafed through a recent issue of Fortune magazine. The intellectual content of that magazine has dropped substantially over the years, and this one was mostly ads, including some that did their damnedest to look like articles. One was given away by the title, which said something about the Excellent Management Tools Used by Sony. Something about the title just didn't ring true.

But the interesting article was about the state of the US economy's competitive ability, which, as Tom Lehrer said in his Lobachevsky piece, stinks. Solutions were offered, ponderous thoughts pondered, despair averted. I kept looking for the comment I expected, to wit, We'd all be better off if the American workers would just give up those damn pensions, but I didn't see it. Driving home, I was mulling it over, and, as has occurred to me in the past, I wondered how often people have those Aha! moments that they lose before they get anywhere that they can do something with them. Not that I think most people do, but still, there's that possibility. How do they remember the thoughts for later, and, once its later, how do they do something with them? Because I think that good ideas come along pretty often, and frequently start with the phrase Wouldn't it be nice if.... like this one - Wouldn't it be nice if you could record thoughts on the way home and then feed them into some kind of filing system to remember them, so that once in a while you could call them up and mine them for usefulness at a time when you had time to do it?

How would this work? Well, the initial remembering part would be audio -- say, a record feature in your cell phone. Optionally, you categorize it (record, press the CAT button, give it a title). You then dump the accumulated recordings to the PC. The PC organizes by category, or, failing that, generates one based on the words found. The audio is then transcribed so far as possible into text; both are saved.

I think even just jotting down that much can help. So, this was my contribution.


I find it difficult to believe, but apparently too much knowledge, or the availability of too much knowledge, is not an unabashedly good thing.

Take this:
"The connection to the server has failed" "Socket Error: 10061. Error Number 0x800CCC0E"

Starting about four months ago, I began to get this message routinely on my Outlook Express connection. I found through trial and error that only a restart of the operating system would make it go away.

Doing some reading, on the assumption that there is One Known Error, leads me to believe that it is another example of an error message trying to be helpful by not speaking in gibberish, and so instead it speaks too broadly. Error messages have that as a problem when they want to translate something that means something to the person who understands the code into something that will mean something to the person who does not. I would bet that the actual, original error is the Socket Error and Error Number; further, I would bet that what they actually mean is 'I tried to make a connection within a certain amount of time, and it didn't happen. No specific error was received, it just didn't happen, so I quit."

The assumption in what I read is that it is a transient condition which can be corrected by fixing where the transient error originates. Aye, but there's the rub. Where is the error? So far as I can see, there are three possibilities --

a) the antivirus software is intercepting the message
b) the mail package itself is corrupted in some way
c) the logical connection between the PC and the server has failed.

There is a great reluctance on my part to turn off the antivirus software 'just to see'. What if it works -- does that mean I'm going to turn it off every time I want to receive mail and get this error? Of course not. As for the corrupted files, it's possible that a file is corrupted, but if so then it is a file that gets rebuilt when the operating system gets restarted. Not impossible. And the third, which an additional message suggests as the probable problem ('server timeout') seems the most unlikely, unless it turns out that it really does time out, and in so doing leaves something set up that can only be corrected by refreshing the environment.

I thought of an article I recently read in the Times about people who have to search for medical information on their own because either they have no one who can make recommendations for them, either because they literally have no one or because the people they have either are overwhelmed and simply cannot give the time to them that such assistance would need, or because their support people simply don't know -- there's too much undigested information out there, too much changes too quickly, no gold standards exist.

I have been moderately interested for some time on how good diagnosticians become good -- is it nature, nurture, or what -- but up to now, I've always thought of that as purely a medical question. Now, it appears, it's more.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Fust Day Vay Cay

First day of vacation, and its not that bad.

We got up late, and at mid day went to do something that I had little interest in, but seemed like it'd be fun for the daughter and a friend -- went to a local hands-on science museum. And it was moderately interesting -- a little lame at times, but not all that bad. Then we saw the IMAX presentation, and it was awesome.


What else is there to say?

Well, how about this: my daughter was moved almost to tears when she heard about the number of people who died. We were all astounded by some of the items that they've recovered -- hell, just the items they found, let alone took away. We even were gratified when they recovered Elwood.

My wife commented that the theater crowd was the quietest that she had ever heard, exiting. Somber, almost -- as if they were all thoughtful about what they'd just seen. I know I was. Makes me want to read up on it.

You know, you just know, someone is going to find a way to put a dome over that jewel, and make it a Destination for wealthy people. I hope, not soon.

Our sedan is going to die in the next two years, we think, so we off and on think about a replacement. A relative has an Audi with Quattro drive, aka All Wheel Drive, and it seems quite luxurious. But we also want to do the hybrid thing, now, with current gas prices, more than ever. However, we don't want to be an early adopter -- we'd like to have the technology mature a bit, first. So we're going to look into leasing the Audi, or something like it, for about 3 years, and then checking the state of the market. We know, the overall cost to us will be greater. But it seems like a good idea.

Found a couple of interesting blogs -- Young Female Scientist and Living the Scientific Life . What can I say, I'm a sucker for smart women who write well.

And I read a bit more in A Spectacle of Corruption, a novel I stumbled across and am quite enjoying.

Thus endith the FDOV.


The goal of this vacation is to end it without feeling as if I need another vacation in order to recover from this one. I give myself a two out of five chance of making it. I already feel a tad guilty because I won't be around to 'support' three significant activities that my company is doing; I put it in apostrophes (wonder if the second part of that word comes from the same root as 'trophe'?) because my support is minimal; I just hang around to see if something breaks. And I feel guilty because on the very first day of my vacation something actually did break and they had to call the backup to fix it. Well, okay, thats what backups are for, but this is MY system, and I don't like other people touching it. And then the next day it took me about twenty minutes to dial into a system from my mother in law's house, so that by the time I was in, the damn system was already up and I couldn't see what I wanted to see. Plus, when I was IMing with one of the people on site, they told me I'd forgotten to do something as part of a change last week, and it caused them a problem. Not a big problem, but I don't like making mistakes, particularly ones that other people can see. Bad enough when only I know about them.

On the other hand, the system that I was dialing in to watch came up in 11 minutes, which is pretty phenomenal, as it had been coming up in 14-19 minutes. We had speculated that it needed more capacity, and so we did it, and hey presto. The buzzword is 'took the cap off'. But then we put it back on because the customer insisted that we do it. It drives me crazy when we do things we know are stupid because the customer tells us they want it. Who's the computer geeks here, us or them? Not that I'm as much of one as I want to be, and I probably never will be, either -- this may well be my last job, or at least, my last moderately well paying one.

So I needed a vacation. Thus far, 65% of it is booked with Activities, some of which involve the massive use of gasoline. Argh, what timing.

I need a vacation.

Thursday, August 11, 2005


It's good to know that the Bushman is taking a vacation while gas prices surge and Americans die.

We've already seen how bad things can be when he's working. Keeping him away from the office may be a seriously good thing.

Speaking as one who voted to give him this option for four years, I say: Let him stay home.

Hey, maybe he can putter out to the gate and meet the woman who's been waiting to talk to him face to face. You know, the one whose kid died in Iraq to further the Bushman's ambititions. The one who was told by the local cops to walk in the ditch, not the road.

I'm sure that was the local cop's direction, not the Bushman's, though.

Which is all the slack I'll cut him.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Ocean's Twelve

This evening, we rented a couple of videos to watch while the kidling is off to camp.

Now, having seen Ocean's Twelve, I wish I had gone with her.

How good was it?.. Hmm.... give me a minute.

I know, I know.

Ocean's Twelve is an example of the film makers art the same way that George Bush's exit plan for Iraq is an example of thoughtful statecraft. Same foresight. Same meticulous planning. Same excellence of execution. Same superior support. Same satisfactory result.

Yeah, that's it.

Web-Based Research

Excellent article in the Sunday Times about doing research on the web, and tools to make it more effective and less painful.

Saturday, August 06, 2005


Today is my birthday.

I was delighted, busy, furious, sleepy, hungry, and pleased at various points during the day.

Some because I had to solve serious and pressing problems at work, some because I have a wonderfully creative daughter with a great smile, and some because of miscommunications.

But I spent the last half hour sitting and talking quietly with my wife.

So it's been a pretty good birthday, after all.

Dead literature

I became aware many years ago of a novel titled Death Comes for the Archbishop. Somehow, I got the impression that it was some kind of murder mystery, probably English, with an elderly Anglican or Roman Catholic minister meeting death in a mysterious and probably violent fashion. Country manors, sherry at twilight, vast cathedrals, all of that. Sounded musty and interesting only to those who prefer Agatha Christie.

I was wrong in every respect but one: it's a novel.

Specifically, it's a novel about a man and his companion, both French priests, who have come to the mostly-untamed portions of the American West to establish their faith, and to minister to those of that faith who are already resident there. They have successes and failures. They affect people and are affected by them. Death does eventually come for the Archbishop, as it does for everyone, as part of their life.

A satisfying book.


I am not a photographer who thinks that newer, better, faster, sexier equipment will make me better at what I do. This is evidenced by the fact that we don't have a digital camera, and no pressing plans to get one, either.

Nevertheless, the idea of getting a digital camera is attractive. We were talking at breakfast this morning about retired people, and how, if they haven't had anything to occupy themselves prior to retiring, their days can be long and tedious. I pointed out that when I work from home, on days when there isn't that much to do I might spend an hour or two just surfing the net. I don't want retirement to be that way. I'd like to 'have a hobby', and as I enjoy photography, it leads me in the direction of digital cameras.

One significant downside, though, is that digital cameras seem to be still evolving. I don't have a Theory about this, but it seems to me that we've moved from the 'Wow, this is cool' phase to the 'Well, its okay, but this would be better' phase. You used to see articles about how a new camera had one point five megapixels, hot damn, and now you see articles about 'Don't assume that more megapixels means better pictures'. They're still a ways from being a commodity, but the lower end is almost there.

Until things flatten out, though, and move into the commodity phase, I think we'll be analog. Could be a while.

Friday, August 05, 2005

What Price is Right?

Listening to the news about the spate of dead Ohioans in Iraq....

Thinking about the price we're paying for an amorphous goal....

It makes me want to sing.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005


Last couple of days have been maximally busy. I worked from home yesterday because I didn't want to drive in the heat, softie that I am, and, except for one break and lunch, was at the desk for about seven hours. I had the work laptop and the home desktop both on, one dialed into systems I was doing work on and one just going through emails, answering instant messages, and the like. It wore me out, but you know what? I liked it. I was doing things, getting stuff done, helping people, answering questions. Very good stuff.

Despite the baking fiasco, I do want to try again. I'm not a great baker, so I try to find One Good Recipe for whatever I bake and stick with it. I was astonished to find that the frosting for the disaster cake wasn't any good either -- mixed up okay, but had way too much sugar. So, I'm hunting through files to see what I can find. Used Google Desktop Search to find it, but I had to uninstall it again -- something about it messes up Outlook -- Outlook said it couldn't open the address book, so of course it couldn't create a new email. Thank you, Microsoft.

I am slowly, slowly coming around to the thought that Something Must Be Done about this desktop, which seems slower to me every day. I know that some of that is a function of my desire to get things done, but -- fifteen seconds to bring up Outlook? When nothing else is running? Seems a little extreme, to me. I can't believe there are no readily available pieces of diagnostic software for PC performance, a la Omegamon for MVS or RMF.

Finished one book tonight -- Critical Mass; very well written but not the casual linkage of events that I expected. This guy is apparently very well educated and so delves into lots of fascinating areas. At least, the ones that I understood were fascinating. I have a couple more that I am reading, and I'm going to try to finish at least one of them before ordering anything more from the lib.

I really like performance, and I've complained that I never get the chance to do it (assuming I can actually do it, which, after five years of doing this job, is questionable). Today, someone asked me to analyze the performance of a system and tell them why it runs so slowly at startup. Its not a difficult question, but it sent a chill down my spine, not the least because the next two weeks are going to be hectic, anyway, and thats about two hours of hunting and thinking. Time I can't really afford, and thinking -- well, I've sort of forgotten that, too. A lot easier to bitch than to do. But I will give it my best shot.

Still thinking about houses. Looked into local custom builders. My golly, where did all those decimal places in their house prices -- in their low end house prices -- come from?

Got to get some sleep.

Bump the Rich

I understand that some airlines are now instituting separate security lines for their premium customers. The lines, you see, are administered by the airlines, right up to the point where the scanner is working. The airlines have been looking for a way to compensate their premium users, especially as service has declined, and this is what they've come up with.

It says "Pay more, get through the line faster". The logic is that it doesn't slow down the other line -- quite the contrary -- and the premium users are happier.

I think it's wrong. Security lines are a hideous necessity of our time, and going through them -- trudging through them -- builds a sense of solidarity. Its not much of a burden. But apparently, too much of one for some. So here's my idea. First class people generally board first, right? Noghing inherently evil in that, but you get to pass them as you trudge to the back of the plane, where the smaller seats are. Okay. As you do that --

Bump the rich.

As you pass, let your possessions casually nick the edge of their personal wide-seated airspace. Allow the occasional light item -- wouldn't want any long lasting contusions -- to caress them. Let that magazine, grabbed hasily from the stack, fall into their lap, possibiliy disarranging that report, the Wall Street Journal, or their fresh latte.

Nothing major. Just a little nudge.

Bump the rich.