Wednesday, September 28, 2005


We occasionally think about upgrading our electronic equipment, and part of that is thinking about taping. We don't record very much -- in the last three years, its been consistently West Wing and House -- so its not that big a deal. But we do like the idea of services such as Tivo, to the point where I looked into getting it, once. I didn't, for the same reason that we dropped Netflix -- we just don't watch enough television to make the cost worthwhile.

Tonight I actually did watch the tube for a while, though, waiting for my wife to get back from an errand. I saw a little bit of E Ring and Criminal Minds. I think I see why disparaging comments have been made about them. E Ring's dialog was implausible as all get out, and Criminal Minds was just tough to follow -- very, very bright people talking very, very fast, with lots of glitterry camera angles and shots. Too bad, in a way, because it looked decent. Last night we taped, but didn't watch, Commander in Chief. I find it hard to believe that show will survive, because the premise is implausible. The role would be tough to pull off -- the woman playing the lead has to be smart, soft, forthright, coy, commanding, and non-threatening. Last person to try that was Kathryn Janeway, and she at least had a Vulcan and photon torpedoes.

Truth is, though, I never know what I'll like till I see it. I tuned in to House because of the consistently good word of mouth about it; ditto West Wing, but other shows, I just happened to find. Gilmore Girls, for example; I don't look for it (whats the buzz phrase, 'destination television'?), but if I come across it, I'll stay and watch for a while. I just like the acting of the lead women there -- they're believable. But I have to see a program to know that -- can't believe any of the hype. Heck, I saw tonight where ABC was saying that Commander in Chief was already the hit of the season. After one show!

Course, I guess they lucked out on the name. Given how insightful TV people can be, bet somebody wanted to name it Commander in Skirts.

Monday, September 26, 2005


I do not build. I am not a builder, not a craftsman, not a carpenter. I cannot do magical things with wood; I cannot do basic things with wood. I can, on occasion, do clumsy things with wood.

If this seems odd, I offer it as preparation for a day dream that I have, one which I would like very much to bring to life, but which, like programming a file read in PCOMM, I think will forever remain a daydream, because I do not think I can bring it to pass. I do not think that I can make it happen.

My daughter's bedroom closet has a hatch in the ceiling. This is how you get into our tiny attic -- actually, more of a crawlspace than anything, and not a comfortable one, either. Whenever someone comes that has to get into the attic, we have to take all of her clothing off the clothesbar, and we have to clear off the shelf. It all gets dumped onto her bed, and later it gets laboriously put back. All this so that you can get a ladder close enough to the wall so that you can climb up into the attic without smashing your head on the closet door frame.

She hates this. So do I.

This is the day dream.

I want to replace the shelf and the clothesbar with two tall thin boxes, each secured to one side or the other of the closet space. Sometimes I think they will have a short hanging rod in them, sometimes shelves. It doesn't matter. Each box would be as high as the closet shelf is now, and a tad wider than the space from the wall to the fully-open bifold door.

In the main space, between the two tall thin boxes, I see a strong, wide box with a hanger rod across it. The box is made of a clean hard wood, as are the smaller boxes. The top of the box is even with the tops of the two tall thin boxes. The box sits about two inches above the carpeted floor, and there is a covering of wood dropping down in front. Behind the covering are four heavy duty rubber wheels. So that when someone comes who needs to get into the attic -- in the local speech dialect, 'needs into the attic' -- you don't take anything down, don't put anything on the bed. Inside, you reach into either side of the tall thin boxes, release a catch, and -- pull the wide box straight out. No muss, no fuss.

I would like to be able to do that. I cannot. I don't know anyone who can show me how to do that. And I know better than to believe what I see in Family Handyman. Let alone, Fine Homebuilding.



PCOMM's scripting capability really stinks.

Which is to say, I don't know how to make it read in an external file. I'm sure its possible -- after all, its effectively Visual Basic, and I know that can do it, though its been years since I coded in VB and would not recognized a Get now if it fell on me -- but I can't do it.

And by my normal working defintion, if I can't do it, then its terribly difficult, nay, impossible.

Though if I ever do figure it out, it'll be trivial. Also by my NWD.

Deploring the Explorer

Once again, Windows XP (Xtremely Poor) has managed to piss me off. Because once again, Internet Explorer has informed me that INTERNET EXPLORER HAS ENCOUNTERED AN ERROR, AND NEEDS TO CLOSE. WE REGRET THE INCONVENIENCE.

Much as I'd like to believe that right now someone in Redmond is saying DAMN! We inconvenienced Bill!, I rather doubt it. More likely, they're doing the little HOO-RAH dance as they increment the xxxxxx BILLIONS INCONVENIENCED TODAY sign. And everyone's looking up, because, you know, they all have shares in the pool, so they want to see who got the closest in today's POed Count.

Whats particularly fetid about all of this is that the message lies. I have found that if you ignore it -- just leave the window up -- IE will keep right on chugging. Oh, perhaps it might die eventually -- but it never has. Not till you press the button.

And that 'Don't Send' button for the error report? Bet it sends one anyway. Just like the 'close doors ' button on the elevator, which does nothing, but makes you feel as if you're in control. Would Microshaft ever voluntarily give control to a - gasp - user????

Yeah. Right.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Stray Thoughts

Cookies are used to identify you to sites that you visited, so that you don't have to identify yourself again when you get back. At least, that's the non-malicious use. Sometimes you find yourself hitting the Purge button when trying to fix a problem, and sometimes the capacity of the PC to maintain cookies runs out (apparently, its 'only so many' files'). In these cases, there ought to be a way to say 'when I purge, don't purge these sites unless I explicitly say so'; and as for wrapping, they should be saved in a non-wrappable location. In that light, IE's Password Manager is a good idea, because -- so far as I know -- it saves passwords in some place other than a cookie. Okay, being Microshaft, who knows what else they're saving, but its still a good thing.

Why is it that when you put four or six sausage patties on a frying pan, one or two will cook notably darker or lighter than the others? I used to think that it was related to heat conduction at specific points, but we bought some new pans a few months ago, and the patties slide around quite easily on them -- so the odds of them just happening to be in a hotter or cooler than normal site are less. Unless the ones that cook up at an extreme just happen to occur because there's always variations, and they happened to be in the right place for that?


I read this morning that the federal response to Rita shows that Katrina was 'an aberration'. I don't agree with that. If Katrina hadn't happened, the effect of Rita would have been worse. Not as bad as Katrina, but worse than did happen. Put another way, FEMA and Bush aren't getting off that easily.


The King Arthur Flour Bakers Catalog is pornography for bakers. Its awesome. I leaf through each issue slowly, reading about all the wonderful things that I could bake if I bought their stuff. Not to say it can't be done without, say, their Double Rise Yeast, but with it, baking nirvana could be mine.

Antiwar slogan from an article today: "Iraq is Arabic for Vietnam."


I don't like the phrase, or even the concept, of 'protesting'. It makes me think of a three year old who is loudly proclaiming the injustice of the world as he is packed off to bed or make to eat green beans. Speaking out against disliked or hated actions, acting solely or in groups to vote for change, yes, by all means. Protesting, no. It needs a better word.

And as for the people who set fire to something to indicate their displeasure -- well, I don't believe in sympathetic magic.
A doctor complained that he volunteered for assistance in Katrina and found that, essentially, he and the tons of other medical people weren't needed. In true Washington form:

"I called one of my patients back in Washington who is chief of staff to a member of Congress from the Gulf region. Perhaps he could iron out any red tape. The next thing I knew I was escorted to the nerve center of the entire rescue operation. I met the governor's chief of staff, the head of the federal Health and Human Services team, the coordinator of the state hospitals and a FEMA representative. They were all trying desperately to find a place for a physician with my skills."

Poor baby. But isn't it nice that he had strings to pull?

Saturday, September 24, 2005


Which, to the best of my knowledge, is not the singular of Abacus or the double imperative hyperplural, or anything like that. It's actually the name of a group that we heard last night at a local college. One of the minor pleasures of the semi-rural area where we live is that we can go to a cultural event thats the equivilent of that found in major cities -- only without the parking problem. In this case, the group was part of a concert series held by a college thats about five minutes from our house. I can stand that.

The group was pretty good, playing a range from Handel to Townshend (aka 'Pinball Wizard'). Each of the five participants was notably talented, and each had the opportunity to demonstrate their string wizardry, from the double bass to the eight string guitar, to the violin and viola, and finally the mandolin -- actually, the domra, as the woman is from Russia. Her ability to pick at hyperspeed was awesome. I didn't care for a couple of the pieces -- Pinball Wizard didn't have enough umph, and Pavane for a Princess was a little too subdued for me -- but that's being picky.

I was glad we went.

Friday, September 23, 2005

I'm a Politician, And I'm Here To Help You

There are certain phrases that evoke a visceral reaction. One of them is "Fire!" in the middle of the night. Another is "We think you need new brakes", after you've brought your car in for an oil change and asked that they look into the question of why the brakes are squealing when applied at slow speed. You don't expect them to say that they need to be replaced -- a light featherdusting, perhaps a touch of cosmetic paint, at most -- and you certainly don't expect them to cost what they do. I assume they're being installed by Nobel Prize winners, using microwaldo technology, in a clean room environment, and that the brakes themselves are made of a composite of jewels and, most expensive and rarest, a professional politician's ethics.

I have not trusted professional politicians for quite some time. By PP I really mean 'well known national politicians'. I trust the local people (who for all I know are plundering the Sewer Fund so that they can buy mink curtains for their bathroom, a la Dennis Kozlowski), and I assume that not-well- known players on the national political scene, like the senior senator from North Dakota, or the junior senator from Nevada, or the entire Congressional slate from Rhode Island -- I assume all of them are doing a decent job. Its because I have no reason to think otherwise. But nationally known politicians -- ah, theres another story.

Though I try not to let myself get too influenced by what the press says -- sometimes they get inflamed at the dammedest things -- it does seem that in many cases these well-known politicians have elevated themselves into a Marie Antoinette-like aloofness where they truly do believe themselves to be different from and better than the mass of people, from which they offer comments about the teeming hoi polloi. Those politicians, I don't trust. I don't know of any nationally known politicians who seem to be in it for the common good. They all seem to be in it for their own good, for their party's good, for their lobbyists good, for their state's good, and then, if there's any left, for my good. Or maybe another helping of their own good, and then mine.

I accept that part of the reason that politicians seem to be grasping all of the time is that they are -- they're continually looking for funding, and this not being the perfect world (ever since Danny Kaye and Mr. Rogers died, a lot of the magic has gone away, or revealed itself to be dried glitter paint and sweat), the people with the money are unwilling to give it up without a substantial quid pro quo. And the more quid that they give up, the more quo that they want. A politician years ago (Everett Dirksen, I think, back when we thought guys like him were just good old boys and not the serious dealers in power and perks that they in fact were) was quoted as saying "A million here, a million there, pretty soon you're talking real money." Thats the league these guys deal in, and I suppose they become pretty coarsened to what they have to do to get that money pretty quickly. We haven't sent Mr. Smith to Washington in quite some time.

And, like a depressing number of the problems I see around me, I have no idea of how to fix it. The most I can do is try to work on the problems at my level, and hope that the fix percolates to the top of the system. In, say, thirty or forty years. To that end, I've contacted the local political group and asked about joining. We'll see what happens.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Forecast as the third worst storm on record.

Might lead to $4.00 - $5.00 gas.

Okay, I surrender.

Bush is no longer worst thing to come from Texas.

Oh, wait. Rita is headed toward Texas.

Never mind.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Competence, integrity and heart

New York Times. Frank Rick. Awesome.

Saturday, September 17, 2005


I think that tagging might be a solution in search of a problem. Its a nice idea, but I can't see it being something that 'normal people' would routinely use. Then again, that was one of the original comments about the telephone, I think.

Tagging is the concept of supplying information that describes something in a way that it can be used by a search engine. The geek-speak phrase is metadata (I will resist the chance for a horrible pun). Metadata means 'data which describes data'; one of its manifestations are keywords, aka tags. Documents with keywords are 'tagged'; that is, you can search for the document by using the keywords (and of course retrieve all documents with those same keywords, not to mention, if you've got a Bayesian search engine, documents that are tagged with words that often appear in conjunction with those words). Tagging is particularly of use when you are filing something that cannot be easily searched by a text search engine (as all are, I think; at the least, they are all character search engines). For example, I might want to ease retrieval of a photograph of myself by using tags such as Bill, Studly, and Hunk. (Though the person getting that picture back, having entered Studly as a keyword, might complain at the result. Smart search engines can (I think) bias their returned results based on that complaint.)

What brings me to all of this is an article in the current issue of The Economist which talks about the growing power of desktop search software such as the Google Desktop. And it really is powerful: I put it on my home PC and did a web search for a certain phrase; I was surprised to see it also return documents on that PC that contained the phrase. I didn't know those documents were there. But the article goes on to hyperventilate about tagging as the reason why the current directory/file structure is antediluvian and should be scrapped; just tag everything, the article (or actually Marti Hearst, a 'computer scientist at the University of California at Berkeley's School of Information Management and Systems) says, and your powerful search engine will find it -- no need to file it in a specific place. What the article doesn't say is that the current structure forces you to be methodical in where you put things; tagging doesn't, so when I tag that photograph of myself with the phrases Angkor Wat, Transistor, and Kumquat, that picture is gone -- I'm never going to find it again. If its in a folder marked Images, though, I at least have a chance of retrieving it.

I'm being picky, of course; tagging is done manually now, but software can and most likely will improve it (as an example, the article mentions that digital cameras automatically put the time and date, as well as exposure information, into the image file (my wife said, wryly 'Assuming you set the time and date right!') -- those values can be used to do some rudimentary tag searching.) I suspect that text creation tools will begin to have the ability to create their own keywords. I've mentioned already, I think, how I like a tool called Personal Knowbase, from Bitsmith Software; its a note taking tool that allows you to file information based on keywords that can be used for easy retrieval. One of my minor complaints is that it won't scan the text and generate its own suggested keywords. But that's okay -- no other text creation tools do automatic tagging, either. When that happens, tagging will take off. But not quite yet

Which reminds me of a story, one that I believe to be true. A man moved to Montana with his German born wife and when registering her car wanted to give her a license plate with the German phrase Guten Tag -- but that was too long, so he settled for GUTNTAG. Whereupon the fellow at the license bureau nodded and said 'She's a hunter?' At the mans bemused denial, the license fellow pointed to the desired phrase 'Gut? And Tag?'

Course, there is this, so maybe not.'re it.

Friday, September 16, 2005

The City of New Orleans

If they rebuild it, will it be worth it?

Like the people who rebuild their homes in flood-prone areas, it seems that the Pres is saying that we should rebuild New Orleans right where it got devastated....right where it gets smashed in the mouth every half-dozen years or so. We could do it. But would it be a good use of the money?

The estimated price tag on massive efforts has a way of being overrun by a factor of ten to twenty percent, at least, and frequently more. But let's assume that the two hundred billion dollar price tag is correct. Is it worth it to rebuild New Orleans? With the Iraq war leeching money (and blood), and with the economy still on the fragile side (would it surprise you to wake up tomorrow and find that as a result of some catastrophe, the price of gas had doubled and the Dow Index had halved?), to take this on at the same time smacks of hubris.

I'm not suggesting that we leave NO alone. I am suggesting that we rethink the idea of a major port city in a climatologically intense area. I am suggesting that if we are going to rebuild any of it, we do so in a thoughtful, restrained, financially responsible manner. We rebuild smaller, smarter. If lower Manhattan were devastated, do you think they'd insist on rebuilding all the cute little streets, right down to the cobblestones? If your house was destroyed by a hurricane, would your insurance company pay for complete replacement of every last widget and gadget?

Our stash of cash is, despite George's frat boy enthusiasm, not bottomless. And some desirable things simply aren't worth the cost.


Additional : From an article in today's CNN web site:

"In the end, we can work this out. It is $200 billion in spending for a $12 trillion economy," said Mark Vitner, senior economist with Wachovia Corp. "It's just a matter of how we finance it, not whether or not we can afford to do it."

So anything that can be financed can be done. An interesting philosophy.

Real Simple

One of the magazines we get is Real Simple, which is oriented toward women, but contains enough general purpose articles that I find it interesting to read. And I don't linger for an excessive amount of time over the underwear ads.

In the current issue, there's an article about a woman who had been diagnosed with breast cancer and had had some radical procedures done during her treatment. The article says that she and her husband were both private people, and not likely to let others know that it was even happening, let alone detail the exact nature of the malady or its current state. But one of the woman's friends happened to be a woman who cheerfully describes herself as an in-your-face person, and that friend, once aware, organized a troupe of friends in the area to act as a support group for the woman undergoing the treatment. The friend arranged for two or three of the troupe to do something every week -- so that some gesture of support and affection was delivered or performed every week over a long period of time, yet none of the troupe felt as if they were being asked to 'do it all', or being asked too often to pitch in.

I admired that. I have never been good at making friends (curiously, I find it easier to make friends with women, not that that ever helped me when faced with The Dating Question), and the idea of having a large number of them, let alone people who are willing and enthusiastic to demonstrate support in a crisis -- well, that just amazes me. I know that other people, possibly even most other people, think little of the ability to make friends, but as for me, its right up there with speaking fluent Mandarin.

Which is to say, apparently possible, but not for me.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Magical Phrases

I didn't hear the president's speech -- I think I was doing something major, like eating one of the sweet rolls I baked up last week -- but let me guess what some of the magical phrases were.

"A terrible calamity has befallen our country, but we are recovering from it, and we will be the better for it."

"Some mistakes in judgment were made, as they would be in any crisis, but overall we responded forthrightly and with determination."

"My heart goes out to all of those who have seen their lives devastated by this flood. Rest assured that your government hears you and is doing all that it can for you."

"I have directed that a full accounting be made of this event so that we may learn from it, improving our responses and honing our skills. "

"We will not let this event pass without noting the efforts of all those courageous volunteers and first responders who risked their lives."

"This wouldn't have happened if we'd just drilled in the Arctic Oil Refuge."

Okay, maybe not the last one.

Texas county bans parking near Bush ranch

From CNN:

WACO, Texas (AP) -- Two weeks after Cindy Sheehan left her anti-war campsite by the road leading to President Bush's ranch, county commissioners have banned parking along 23 miles of roads in the area.

Before the 4-1 vote Tuesday, McLennan County Commissioner Ray Meadows said about 80 residents had complained of blocked roads, loud music and public health and safety concerns during the 26-day protest near Bush's ranch outside Crawford, about 20 miles west of Waco.

"It's not a First Amendment issue. It's a safety issue," Meadows said, adding that "no parking" signs could be put up this week.

I'm shocked --shocked, I say - at the suggestion that this could in any way be an effort to restrict free speech....

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


I think this is a totally gorgeous car -- the Buick Blackhawk.

Set Chaos to ON

This is a chaotic morning.

Last night, we moved the dining room table and chairs, as well as the china cabinet, into the living room so that the dining room floor could be sanded. The crew to do the sanding was supposed to come on Monday, but they're coming today. But...

I have a teleconference at 9AM which they don't really need me for, but which, for purposes of appearing to be Responsive To The Customer, I need to attend. Okay, I could just do it from home, but....

I promised one of my coworkers yesterday that I would be in today so that we could huddle over a problem he's having. We were going to do this yesterday, but....

Yesterday my daughter was ill, and someone had to stay home, so I did it, with the idea that today my wife would, handling the sanders as part of that. But...

My wife has a recurring medical appointment, and it's today, at a place thats a twenty minute drive from here. She won't be back before the sanders arrive, and one of us needs to be here for that. She's coming back as soon as she can, but...

My daughter needed to be dropped off at school early for a musical event, at which we think she is just an observer but she could be a participant. So since my wife is going out anyway, she's going to drop off the daughter. The timing should not affect her arrival at the medical appointment. In theory.

So the plan is, I stay here till the sanders arrive. Some time in the next forty minutes I turn off my work laptop (which takes a long time to shut down) and disconnect from the corporate Instant Message network. I then pack up the laptop and put it in the van. At the same time, I turn on the clone of the instant message system that I've installed on this desktop PC, so I'm still 'there', although no longer connected to email. As soon as the sanders are set up, or my wife arrives back, I book - unless its past 8:30, in which case I stay here for the teleconference, because it takes 27 minutes to get to work, and I don't want to be late for it. ( don't want to dial in from the cell phone because it's a long distance toll call, and I'm not that motivated.) With luck it will end by 9:30, so I can get into the office by 10, assuming I did the call from home, just in time for a 10 AM conference about something that's going to happen tonight. And also turn over the on-call I'm on, which ends at 10, or so.

At least, that's the plan.

Monday, September 12, 2005

IE Here, Firefox There

I have Internet Explorer on the desktop PC, and Firefox over on the laptop. For about five minutes, I just had Firefox on the desktop, too, this evening, but I took it away again.

Why is it that in IE you can drag and drop bookmarks in the regular dropdown, but in FF you have to go to a 'bookmark manager' to do it? And why is it that in IE you can have a pointer to an Excel file as one of your 'favorities', but in FF, you can't?

And while we're at it, why does neither of them -
  • sort by name INCLUDING site names, so that the whole list is in alpha order, not alpha folders then alpha site names?
  • track bookmark use and import the 'most frequently used' concept of the programs explorer, so that I can say 'show just my favorite bookmarks', with an option to say 'show me all of them'?
  • have a 'search for broken links, and stick them somewhere out of the mainstream, with optional deletion of the not-founds'?

I know, these are problems of the idle rich... And I do like FF better than IE simply because its one small blow against the Beast From Redmond. ..I'm just sayin'.....


I'm not particularly big on ethnic humour, but I thought this was pretty funny. I came across it while I was trying to find out what gender a first name of. 'Sheetal' suggested.


BUBBEGUM n. Candy one’s mother gives to her grandchildren that she never gave to her own children.

CHUTZPAPA n. A father who wakes his wife at 4:00 AM so she can change the baby’s diaper.

DEJA NU n. Having the feeling you’ve seen the same exasperated look on your mother’s face but not knowing exactly when.

DISORIYENTA n. When Aunt Sadie gets lost in a department store and strikes up a conversation with everyone she passes.

DIS-KVELLIFIED v. To drop out of law school, medical school or business, as seen through the eyes of parents, grandparents, and Uncle Sidney. In extreme cases, simply choosing to major in art history when Irv’s son, David, is majoring in biology is sufficient grounds for diskvellification.

FEELAWFUL n. Indigestion from eating Israeli street food.

IMPASTA n. A Jew who starts eating leavened foods before the end of Passover.

JEWBILATION n. Pride in finding out that one’s favourite celebrity is Jewish.

JEWDO n. A traditional form of self-defence based on talking one’s way out of a tight spot.

MEINSTEIN slang. “My son, the genius.”

MINYASTICS n. Going to incredible lengths and troubles to find a tenth person to complete a minyan.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Wired Docs

Some years ago, I had the good fortune to get in touch with a woman who's a cardiologist on the west coast. It wasn't exactly a professional contact; though I was asking for her opinion, it had to do with the use of computer technology in the support of medical practices. Over time, we've exchanged other notes, and though we've never become as close friends as I'd like (something about being two thousand miles away figures into it, I suspect), I've valued our continuing contact nonetheless. She's a sharp, insightful person with a wicked sense of humour.

I recently asked her opinion on something that seems to be a growing condition without an answer: people who have serious, perhaps life-threatening diseases, and don't know where to go for information. Of course, the primary source for this is your local medical practitioner, but, short of coming into the office with a thick wad of prints from the internet (generally frowned upon) or calling them all the time (equally frowned upon: its not a money maker, interferes with other parts of the practice, and usually results in having to have an on-site visit anyway (if its a visit, why doesn't anyone bring presents, I wonder? A little hostess gift?)). So where does a person go for background information on their condition, implications, and cure?

Well, I thought, for starters, I'd ask someone who'd know for sure what she does when she wants to point someone to information -- where does she get it from? Experience surely plays a role, but is it purely or mostly that? (Because, if it is, the idea of getting information from outside that single channel would seem to be a nonstarter.) So far, the answer seems to be: yes. Its got to be vetted and massaged by a doctor, because no one else can interpret and apply the multiple sources of information. You need the medical training to do that.

I'm having a hard time accepting that. Training for diagnosis and treatment, absolutely. But just to know what its all about, what it means to you, what kinds of questions you ought to be thinking about, and where you go to start getting answers? I'm not at all sure about that. Some of that attitude, I suspect, is based simply on the fact that so much of what they do literally is life and death, and no sane person wants to take a chance with that. When they see computer based systems that are almost but not totally accurate, they cringe, and say that they need to be totally accurate before they can be used. Thats an awfully high bar to meet. And beyond that, they likely feel, you've got to apply a modicum of personal judgement based on your knowledge of the patient -- knowledge of where they fit in the general population, what their quirks are, whats unique about them. No computer can do that, so you're back to square one.

But doctors and their analogs are a limited resource. Computer systems have to be able to augment and supplement them. There's got to be a non-lethal first step. Got to be.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Open Mouth, Insert....

I'm not a fan of George, but I don't think you can hold him responsible for his mother's remark. Parents have been embarassing their adult children for centuries.

And given the lame remarks by Howard Dean, about the speed of the NO response being less because most of the remaining residents were black -- well, maybe its just a week for stupid comments. Howard's supposed to be a smart guy, but I've yet to hear anything out of him other than 'nyah nyah you too'. And this guy was almost President?

Course, considering what did happen, maybe.... hmm. Tough choice.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Odd Thought # 742

I wonder if 'retirement villages' have scaled down versions of major supermarkets, with delivery in the neighborhood. Or even 'order by television' systems. That would be cool, I should think.

Archive Needed

I'm not one for buying books that describe catastrophes in detail, but I hope that someone will come out with a lucid summary of what happened with Katrina. As I read stories of the horrific events, at both the macro and micro levels, I occasionally find myself thinking about how you put it all into perspective -- what kinds of problems (such a weak word) occurred, what could have been plausibly done to reduce or eliminate them.

I always think there's a solution.

Thursday, September 08, 2005


I don't imagine that any clear and truthful answer will surface in the matter of the defense of New Orleans against the ravages of Katrina. Though I haven't been reading the papers, I believe that positions are hardening, because that is what they do when the people involved are public figures. A public figure almost never admits failure, because to do so makes them look weak, and it encourages the opposing party or parties to attack them. While a 9-11 Commission approach to what happened, and why, and what can be done for the next time would be most appreciated, I don't believe that it will happen.

It is possible that given perfect foresight, the city could have substantially reduced the death toll, and given perfect foresight over years, the city, state, and federal groups could have buttressed the city's flood defenses so as to substantially reduce both the death toll and the devastation. But no matter what, this would have been an extraordinarily destructive event. I doubt any amount of foresight could have completely defended against it. It is to the shame (if they could feel it) of the leaders of this country, as well as the leaders of the state and city, that the redemptive measures which could have been taken were only executed after delay, wrangling, and miscommunication at all levels.

Last night, I woke up repeatedly, thinking of that one old woman, in her wheel chair, and I despaired for us all.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005


I was just reading some of the Sunday paper summaries of Katrina.

One man pushed a wheelchair with his infirm but alert mother in it. She kept asking for a doctor, a nurse, anyone who could help her.

He had to tell her that he could not help her, and that there was no one who could.

She died in the chair.
. .
At what point did we lose our ability to choose men of honor and integrity for positions of power? When did glibness surpass rectitude as a desirable trait?

When will it end? And how?


Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Raindrops on Roses

No, wait, this post is about my least favorite things. To wit:

Incompetence. I have a very rigid view of what that is. Basically, its anyone delivering a service and not doing it quickly and efficiently. I admit that I can be unfairly harsh in assessing that, which leads me to LFT number two.

Superiority. As in, acting as if 'This kind of crap is okay for other people, but dammed if I'm going to stand for it." I don't do that a lot, but I usually feel shabby after I do.

In this case, it was going to a local clinic for a drug screening, part of my company's getting the data processing contract for a company that is paranoid about who it lets onto its systems. Fair enough, its their data. Went there, read the sign on the wall 'Sign in'. Did it. Half an hour later, got called to fill out a form and wait some more. Much more? I asked. At least an hour, they said.

I booked.

Okay, what could they have done differently, given that they likely got the contract because they're the lowest bidder? Because I always think that something can be done.

a) change the sign to say 'Sign in, grab a form, fill it out'
b) post a changing sign -- wait is at least XX minutes. Or hours.
c) have scheduled appointments

Free coffee (of a decent variety) and lots of magazines would be nice, too -- what the heck, a WiFi hot spot, while I'm at it. But even I know when I'm expecting too much.


Monday, September 05, 2005

Labor Day

This has been a pleasant morning.

It started with coffee, sausage, and a new recipe for French Toast. It's a little bit of work, but it's excellent:

French Toast, Orange, Baked
8 slices French or Italian bread..1/4 cup butter or margarine
1/2 cup brown sugar..1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp grated orange rind..4 eggs, slightly beaten
2/3 cups orange juice..Powdered sugar

Melt butter or margarine in a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.
Mix together brown sugar, cinnamon and orange rind
Sprinkle evenly over melted butter.
Mix together eggs and orange juice.
Dip bread slices in liquid mixture and place in prepared pan.
Pour any leftover liquid over bread slices.
Bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes or until golden brown.
Turn out of pan immediately. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

While this was cooking, my daughter was marching around in the kitchen, singing songs from the soundtrack of 1776: The Musical, and I was chiming in with the parts that I remembered and liked. Her particular favorite was Richard Henry Lee's bold statements, sung with and at John Adams, Bejamin Franklin, and the rest:

The Lees of Old Virginia
Lee:My name is Richard Henry Lee; Virginia is my home
My name is Richard Henry Lee; Virginia is my home
And my horses turn to glue if I can't deliver
Unto you a resolution on independency!

For I am FFV, the first familyIn the sovereign colony of Virginia
Yes I am FFV, the oldest familyin the oldest colony in America
And may the British burn my land if I can't deliver
To your hand a resolution on independency!
You see it's here-a-Lee, there-a-Lee
And everywhere-a-Lee-a-Lee
Social-Lee, political-Lee, financial-Lee, natural-Lee
Internal-Lee, external-Lee, fraternal-Lee, eternal-Lee
The FFV, the first familyIn the sovereign colony of Virginia
And may my wife refuse my bed if I can't deliver
As I said a resolution on independency

They say that God in heaven is everybody's God
I'll admit that God in heaven is everybody's God
But I tell you, John, with pride, God leans
A little on the side of the Lees, the Lees of old Virgina!
You see it's here-a-Lee, there-a-Lee
And everywhere-a-Lee-a-Lee
Here-a-Lee, there-a-Lee
And everywhere-a-Lee
Look out!
There's Arthur Lee, Bobby Lee
And General Lighthorse Harry LeeWilly Lee, Jesse Lee
Franklin:And Richard H.! Lee:That's me!
And may my blood stop running blue if I can't deliver
Unto you a resolution on independency!
Yes sir, by God, it's here-a-Lee, there-a-Lee
Come on boys join in with me!
Here-a-Lee, there-a-Lee!
Franklin:When do you leave?
Lee:Immediate-Lee!Here-a-Lee, there-a-Lee!
Franklin:When will you return?
Lee:Short-Lee!Here-a-Lee, there-a-Lee!
And I'll come back triumphant-Lee!Here-a-Lee, there-a-Lee!
Everywhere a-Lee-a-Lee
Forward ho!

And then we spent some time mulling over disaster recovery plans -- what makes them work, what keeps them from working. Because the truth is that any decent DR plan is WAY HARD to do, requires a mix of excruciating detail and generous flexibility, and can only be satisfactorily tested by actually doing it. Again and again and again.

Which is not fun.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Trickling Down

My wife and I just came back from a walk. We were going to take a bit of a drive, but, you know, the idea of just driving around doesn't sound quite so attractive, at the moment.

As we were walking, we were talking about articles in today's papers, and I mentioned that one of the economists who was an architect of supply-side economics had died recently. The article noted that two times when supply side economics was tried, it didn't work -- more accurately, it didn't provide immediate benefits. The article therefore questioned whether supply side economics was worth it, and so they asked two economists. One said clearly, no, it didn't work, and should not be tried again. The other say clearly, it has begun to work; you just have to give these things time. It put me in mind of a quote, to the effect that if you laid all the economists in the world end to end, they still could not reach a conclusion.

In the case of the New Orleans fiasco, I suspect it'll be much the same thing. The number of people who have both the ability to compel an honest answer and the ability to sift through the contradictory and partial honest answers can likely be counted in the single digits, while the ones who simply want it clearly known that this isn't their fault -- well, let's just say: more. Way more. Getting one coherent, comprehensive answer will be quite a challenge.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Head to Toes: Are you there, toes?

So now the head of Homeland Security says there was no practice plan for a disaster of the type of Katrina....even as the head of FEMA says yes, there was. But lest the head of FEMA look too knowledgeable, that worthy had said that he knew nothing of people in the Convention Center in New Orleans, and was waiting for word, even as it was being supplied by reporters actually there.

CNN has a nice summary.

Regardless of how it turns out (and my guess it, it'll just peter out for what's been called 'newer and fresher outrages'), it does kind of make you wonder how much 'everybody knows that' information doesn't make it it through the squelch filters in the bowels and toes of an organization and up to the organization's brain... Sure, that's the role of squelch filters, but they need to be tuned, too. And every so often, turned off entirely.

This isn't a new thought for me: here's something I was thinking about a couple of years ago, much along the same lines:

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

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

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

It's Always Something

Several years ago, I started keeping a spreadsheet of where our money comes from, and where it goes. The initial steps were painful, because my estimate of costs was about 50% of what we actually pay on a routine basis, plus costs seemed to pop up every time I turned around. But after about six months, we had a pretty good summary going, and now I can easily show what our expenses have been, by general category, for the last three years, by month. One of the great surprises was that there's always something.

If we routinely pay out four thousand dollars in bills, and one month we pay out three thousand, I can count on something coming up that will bring the average up to about four thousand. If we pay six, I can count on some bills showing up late, so that the next month's payments are less than normal. And, of course, we do find that payments to things like -- oh, gasoline, for one example -- creep up over time, and so the running average climbs over time. Its something to keep an eye on, though our track record on actually doing anything about it isn't all that great.

But we're working on it.

Aboard the ARC

I just had a terrific experience, one that's left me wired and unable to sleep though its now 1:15 AM.

I spent three hours in a call center, taking call-in donations for the American Red Cross during the television specials aired last night. I spoke to people in Utah and Pennsylvania and California and Florida; people who gave ten dollars and one who gave fifteen hundred. A woman wanted to know where she could donate extra knives and forks, and if she could donate blood even though she had a cold; another wanted to know if we would accept donations via money order, another wanted to know how her church group could donate 'because this has been lying heavy on my heart'. They spoke clearly and with thick accents, slowly and hurriedly, hesitantly and firmly.

They were all generous, they were all wonderful, and I thank every one of them from the bottom of my heart.


Thursday, September 01, 2005

Remembering the Chair in Front

Its pretty easy for me to sit back and carp at the president (he's such an easy target, sometimes), and the director of FEMA, and all of that, but there's something I have to remember.

Years ago, I would routinely attend a morning meeting of the managers for the data center where I worked, and I always would think -- and sometimes say -- that the meeting could certainly be run more effectively and efficiently than it was. One day, the people who ran it offered me the chance to do that, and so I did -- sat in the chair up front, moderated the discussions, kept people on track.

It was some of the hardest work I've ever done, and I wasn't particularly good at it.

I need to remember how much harder it is to be the person who has to have the answers.

Silly Me, I Thought That Was What They Did

FEMA Director Brown ...responded to accusations that FEMA has been slow to respond:"This is an ongoing disaster. This disaster did not end the day Katrina made landfall. ... What happened is we suddenly had breaches [in New Orleans], and you cannot put rescue people in there because of the ongoing disaster." FEMA personnel's efforts were hampered by downed power lines, flooded roads and logistical nightmares caused by the storm, Brown added.

If what he wanted to say was that the environment was too chaotic and too dangerous to work in, and they needed at least some level of stability before they could do anything substantive, at the risk of simply adding to the death toll with his own people, he should say it, and not mealymouth around the concept. As it is, he seems to be saying 'we don't do major disasters' -- and surely that's not the case.