Saturday, December 31, 2005


How quiet is it at our house?

I just reheated some hot cocoa and as I write this am munching on an oatmeal cookie that my wife made.

My wife and offspring are downstairs watching a situation comedy featuring an amazingly talented just-ordinary-kid.

And I'm thinking of hitting the sack -- once I take drugs, that is -- Robitussen and Nyquil.

Not that it was a complete washout. We all three of us sat in bed together for a while, just quietly reading. That was pretty nice.

....and to all a good night.


"Either a thing is genuine or it's not. People can spot it. Lincoln was right. One thing he didn't say, though, is what happens when some of the people find out that they've been fooled some of the time. When that happens, they won't believe you on anything."

-- The Wanting of Levine, Michael Halberstam


One is, next year we're all going to be really, really healthy.

Its just as payback. Because right now, I'm on day ten of a cold, and my wife and daughter woke up this morning with the sniffles.

Another is, I'm going to focus energy next year on things that are important to me. I won't be solipistic, or ignore those who are precious to me, and I won't even ignore things that don't really matter to me but which I've agreed to do. But I will pay attention to things that are important. Health. Sanity. Possibly even community.

And I'll try to figure out how to actually relax.

Take care of yourselves, this coming year.

Friday, December 30, 2005


This evening, the three of us went out to dinner. It was in the way of a celebration -- the hospital where I'd been Santa surprised me with a gift card to a local restaurant -- and we even got to see a show on the way -- a tractor trailer had seriously rammed another one on the main highway through this area -- flashing red lights and EMTs all over the place. So far as we could see, no injuries, but a whole lotta shakin' going on.

At dinner -- tortellini alfredo for the offspring, who specified 'no alfredo' to the bemusement of the server; walnut-encrusted salmon for my partner, and my usual elegant fare -- a burger, but hey, I had tiramisu afterward -- we talked about this and that. I got onto the subject of how I'd really like to know what I'm going to be when I grow up (a song so popular my wife knows all the lyrics). It comes down to confidence, I said. I truly believe that, professional certification aside, if you have confidence, you can do anything.

But the getting of the confidence -- ah, there's the rub. How do I do that? Let alone, at this late date?

I'm thinking. Nothing's coming, but I'm thinking....


I would say that Narnia (the movie) is a kid's movie.

An exceptionally intelligent, visually gifted, and terifically appealing kid, that is.

It's a movie that's made for rewatching. Visually stunning, graphically intense.


Wait, Wait, I'm not Ready!

We just learned that a neighbor is canceling their traditional New Years Eve party because they didn't realize that New Years Eve is.....tomorrow. Apparently, like us, the fact of the day itself being on Sunday threw off the internal chronometer. The 'hook' that we would have pegged as a day of note was already taken - Oh, Yeah, That's Sunday, right - and so that it was also New Years Day, and hence the day after New Years Eve came as a bit of a shock.

I must say, this has been a fairly glum holiday period. I've spent most of it nursing a cold -- last night we actually resuscitated a cold remedy from my childhood -- Vapo-Rub, which for all I know is just pressed sweet bark and Vaseline -- and my daughter, who started the cycle, is now starting to sniffle again. Both of the neighbors kids have been sick, and now we lose our only recurring holiday party. (Well, okay, one neighbor does have a recurring holiday one oriented around football, but the schedule has thrown him for a loop, too; apparently, its going to be on Monday, January 2. We usually go, but because we like them, not because we follow football. I'm not entirely sure I even understand the game. I guess mentioning to my wife that I thought the cheerleaders had great tight ends didn't help.)

Today we're going to go see Narnia, bout which we've heard decent things. Though I do understand there aren't any great chase scenes -- no whooping sirens, no snow speeders, no Imperial Thudders, nothing -- so I'm not sure how much to expect.

Lets get it TOGETHER, people !

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Block this Mail

I just installed a trial copy of SpamAssassin on this laptop, on which I use the Mozilla email client, and so far I'm not all that impressed. I had expected to be blown away by it, as I've heard great things about its effectiveness.

Right out of the box SA told me that it could be integrated with a third party virus scanner if I wanted; however, when I told it to do that, it couldn't find the Norton AntiVirus driver. Call me snarky, I don't think I should have to tell it where the scanner is. (Didn't help that apparently I don't actually know; I picked three executables from the NAV subdirectory, and the scanner in the SA didn't like any of them).

Then, when I started SA, it found the original installation of Outlook Express, but not the Mozilla agent, and when I did what it said to do in order for SA to work with it, not only didn't it work, but Mozilla's email wouldn't start. I suppose thats one way to keep things safe!

But clearly something more is needed. Comcast seems to be catching less and less of these things (not entirely their fault; some are quite slick). And for the first time, I'm getting a couple a day to my primary, personal email box. Which is not at all acceptable.

So we'll see.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005


Last night I had a dream which had as a key component references to the process of sintering. This is not something I normally think about, and I had to look it up. Turns out that it's a method for making things from powder, using heat to cause the powder particles to bind to each other.

My dream didn't have it quite right, as there my job was to determine if a particular piece of steel should be ordered 'sintered' or 'powdered'. I had this job because the small company that I'd worked for, composed of people who did what they thought needed to be done, as and when they thought it should be done, had been purchased by a much larger organization, and the members of the smaller company had been scattered through the large one. The purpose was so that the members of the smaller one would learn how the large one worked, and also so that they would, through example, instruct the larger one in how to act creatively rather than by 'what the book says'.

Didn't work quite that way. By the end of the first day, I was hopelessly at sea, with no idea of what people were asking me or what they wanted from me. At five thirteen PM, when they all leapt up and began putting on their coats, I felt, smugly, that I wasn't a 'wage slave' and would not bail out exactly on the stroke of five fifteen, as they did -- yet two minutes later I found myself putting on my coat, too, and joining the tail end of the mob.

Another strange thing: I learned at the end of that first day that every day you were supposed to pick up a long white pole. As you did things during the day, you got to have the pole cut down, so that when it was time to leave, you could demonstrate that you had worked by the fact that your pole was minescule. Although, come to think of it, it also meant that you did what you were supposed to do, but no more.

I don't think that dreams have 'messages', but if this one did, I think it was kind of about how people in large stodgy organizations -- like mine? -- really do know what they're doing, even if just at the collective level, and knowing your little bit may be all you get to know. And that somethings initiative isn't a good thing.

It was a very strange dream.

Monday, December 26, 2005


A few days before Christmas, while I was in my daughter's bedroom commiserating with her on her illness, she diffidently asked me if it was true that the rib case protected part of the body. I agreed that it was, talking a little about the structure of the chest and internal organs. Then why, she asked, do breasts grow out and not in? To an adult, this is a silly question, but she was serious, so I led her through a short chain of logic regarding the function of breasts, and how they need to be as they are in order to do what they do. She seemed satisfied with that.

She's still fairly young, and though there's been some obvious growth in that area, its nothing major. I don't know how big she will get. Her mother's measurements are actually pretty large -- which is fun for me when I go shopping for Christmas gifts, as the sales clerks don't know whether to be startled that I know the right numbers and letters, and am comfortable knowing, or to be bemused --'oh, sorry, we don't carry much in that size, here, sir'. Some of these stores seem to assume women are all straight up and down, or as close as makes no difference.

Her aunts have a range of sizes, so I imagine she'll likely have about the average amount of growth for them. (And no, I didn't ask.) She doesn't seem concerned about size yet, but I know that the chance is there. I therefore took the opportunity to toss in a little propaganda about how guys used to think it was important that a girl have large breasts, and how good it was that they didn't think so now -- at least, the smart ones didn't. We agreed that they weren't all smart, not yet, maybe not ever. I hid my knowledge of how I felt when I was growing up... or that, in some ways, I still am. I don't want her expectations to be polluted by society. I know they will be, to some extent.

I do what I can.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Santa and The Elf

Just in case anyone wondered what makes him so jolly --

That's me and her, at the local hospital where I've been donning the red suit for the last few years... This morning, while I was lying in bed, awake but with my eyes closed, she crept in and climbed up onto my chest. I opened my eyes, and there she was, smiling right at me. I was delighted. I hugged her hard and said 'I don't need Christmas presents, kiddo -- I've got you.'

Kaff Coff-Coff Hack

I am sitting in the dining room, listening to the March of the Toy Soldiers from the CD player, and hearing the sounds of my wife and daughter mixing icing in the kitchen -- the icing is for the Italian cookies my wife made last night; we're giving them to neighbors, along with some torrone and some rum balls that one of us plans to make this afternoon. And, I am shivering, just a bit, despite the two cups of coffee and breakfast -- the aftermath of the cold my daughter was gifted with at school, and which she then regifted to me so that I spent much of Thursday night coughing and hacking, great fun. I was in pretty good shape last night, but this morning I awoke and found that at least a trace remained.

I for a long time wondered what the lungs actually looked like, also, what phegm was -- not the composition, but where it came from. About six months ago, I found a marvelous diagram that showed me what the lungs looked like in great detail -- I was surprised to find that I actually already knew many of the words, such as alveoli, but I had not clearly understood the concept of air exchange. Not to say that I really understand it now, but I have a good handle on it.

I think I understand phlegm, too, but not really. But you know what? I'm ready to stop having this as a primary source of interest. I want to be in the Christmas mode, lights and 'nogg and all of that. And I want to imagine the look on my wife's face when she gets the 'extra' gift, tomorrow night. A few years ago I told her that I thought it was unfortunate that we (not just us) tend to think of Christmas as predominantly being the gifting period in the morning. I wanted the magic to last just a bit longer. So we started our personal tradition of 'the last gift', which we give each other that night, just before going to sleep.

This year, she's getting something a little extra special. Let's hope she doesn't remember what we said the budget would be, when she opens the small black box with the silver Apple logo.

She's worth it.

T'is the Reason

I write this blog for my own pleasure, but I've been pleased to find that on occasion others like what I've written, too.

For all those who have dropped me a line to wish me joy of the season, and for all those who have not (yes, even you, Tricky Dick), I'd like to say just this:

May your days be merry, and bright. And may your New Year be filled with magic and happiness.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Hot Stuff, Baby

I like hot chocolate. It just sounds luxurious to me. I think of people sitting around a fireplace, sipping it as they listen to holiday music and have quiet conversation ....or sitting at a fine restaurant, drinking it slowly from elegantly designed china cups as they nibble on fine pastries.

I like to read things like this, which I found here:

Angelina’s Hot Chocolate

The Angelina Cafe in Paris, open since 1903, serves a thick hot chocolate version in demitasse cups with a tiny dollop of mascarpone and whipped cream....It is incredibly easy to prepare by mixing chocolate shavings with hot water. You can serve it in small cups or in 17th-century style chocolate pots and demitasse cups.

6 ounces fine-quality semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup water, room temperature
3 tablespoons hot water
3 cups hot milk, divided
Sugar to taste
Whipped cream, if desired

In a double boiler over low heat, combine chocolate and 1/4 cup water until melted, stirring occasionally; stir until smooth. Remove top of double boiler. Whisk in 3 tablespoons hot water. Pour into pitcher or divide among 4 individual mugs. Either stir 3/4 cup hot milk into each mug or serve milk in a separate pitcher. Pass sugar and whipped cream in separate bowls; add to taste.
Makes 4 servings.

However, liking and doing are entirely different things. I like to read over recipes like that and contemplate what they'd be like to make... but I usually don't actually make them, because when I do, they don't turn out anything like the article's illustrations. I think of it like those people who really do go forward with non-traditional sexual acts, like being into bondage, or fetishes: I can't believe that inside they aren't thinking Man, do I feel silly. I'd have the same feeling as I gazed down at what was supposed to be a finely made and elegantly presented hot chocolate with grated nutmeg and chocolate shavings: Man, I could have just gotten out the Ovaltine.

Thats the mix of choice at our house. When I was but a lad, it was Nestle's Quik (my cousin always pronounced it Nessels, but we knew that it was supposed to be Nest-Lees); as I got older, we switched to Ovaltine (the crunchy granules in the brown glass jar) and then the powdered version. The method of mixing was immaterial, though my daughter -- charming child -- insists that I made the best hot chocolate because I mix in the chocolate, then heat the whole thing, adding a bit of cold milk at the end, whereas the Other Parental Unit heats the milk first, then adds the chocolate. She'll drink it either way, of course.

Ovaltine is cool, but I admit it, guiltily: from time to time, I still think about those chocolate shavings.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Action Heroes

This morning, I was standing in the kitchen, making desultory motions toward the getting of breakfast, when I thought of a phrase I had used in responding to a very nice comment by a person who does life coaching. I had said something like 'While we're contemplating the imponderables....' This morning, I thought 'Doesn't that sound like a new action hero team?' Right after the second episode of The Incredibles, they could issue The Imponderables -- a group of fearless philosophers who spring into action from the PsycheCave at the first sign of unrest in the intelligentsia or ennui in the populace, striding boldly, capes flowing, to the latte bar at the local bookstore and settling comfortably into the deep chairs to think the deep thoughts.

I think it could fly.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Star Trek Ethics

I thought about Captain Kirk this morning, while reading an article about torture.

An argument I’d read a few days pitted two people, one of whom said that of course you could torture if the moment warranted it, and if it was reviewed and approved by someone above you in your structure, and the other of whom said that of course you could torture if the moment warranted it, so long as you understood that what you were doing was morally wrong, and you were willing to be punished for doing it. Therefore, torture was okay so long as you could find someone to take the blame for doing it. Other articles say no, that’s completely wrong – that there are no conditions under which torture is acceptable. Even if you knew that doing so would prevent a massive loss of life, you could not do so and still call your society civilized. Which led me to wonder how the people whose lives were being saved would feel about it. Would they, en masse, be willing to die so that their society could continue to call itself civilized?

I found myself remembering a moment in one of the early Star Treks wherein Captain Kirk sternly says that he is willing to die in order to prevent information from being given out which could imperil the planet in question; further, so are all of the members of his crew. I remember thinking even then that this was remarkable. Did they really did feel this way? Every one of them? Most of them? The bridge crew? Spock? I think that, perhaps, they were willing to die so long as they didn’t have time to think about it - so long as it was an abstract danger. But if they had to contemplate it – then, perhaps no-so-fast, Jim, lets see what the alternatives might be.

I think most of us are opposed to torture, regarding it and its practicioners as barbaric. Thats part of the reason that we regard terrorists as barbaric. When its our life on the line,though, that assessment might change, and what in moments of quiet contemplation would be found unacceptable would likely become rapidly less so (particularly if the torture subjects are people we don’t particularly care about, or even actively dislike).

But we'd look the other way. We wouldn't do it ourselves, and we'd just as soon not be asked for permission, either. We'd rather someone else took care of it and didn't tell us until it was done -- if then.

I don't want to have to make this choice, but I know which way I'm leaning.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Can you hear me now?

I think that I'm edging nicely towards codgerhood. I do not understand telephone pricing.

I thought that there were two ways of paying for a phone. You either go in and pay them a set fee, and you have a phone (just the phone, not the service), or you go in and pay them less, with an additional monthly cost for a service. Like the old deal of giving the razor away and selling the blades, this made the company their money through the phone service.

Apparently, the first option either doesn't exist, or exists only if you are willing to pay an extremely high price. Case in point: the Samsung D357. After years of being fairly happy with our existing phones, we've decided that we'd like to get something with a speakerphone. The D357 looked pretty nice, so we looked into the cost.

If we're willing to scrap the discounted plan we have now, which is twenty bucks a month for both phones, and go with the minimum plan's cost forty bucks a month, we can get two for a hundred dollars. Otherwise, we can get two for five hundred dollars.

Okay, lets do the math.

Four hundred dollar difference up front versus twenty bucks a month. Twenty months to reach equivilence. We own the phones, we have the cheaper plan rate.

On the other hand, with the offered plan, we could drop one of our two landlines. Okay, whats that, ten bucks a month? So the net additional cost is essentially about ten bucks a month. We still own the phones.

Update: Over the last two days I've spent about two hours on the Cingular web site, trying to take their 'Premium' Buy One Get One Free offer.

They lie, big time.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Feeling chURLish

The older I get, the more I wonder: why can't I have an option to make the URL line on a browser pop up with much bigger type? I don't want to blow up the whole screen, and using the little magifier app makes me feel really old, but being able to blow up the URL would be nice.


Sometimes I have to stop and remind myself that I'm not the only person who isn't particularly in love with his job -- whose view of how things ought to be is subtly askew, as in the spelling of the title of this piece. And sometimes not so subtly.

I work for an unusual organization, even by 'normal' matrixed management standards. Specifically, I'm part of a team that delivers a particular service to organizations who are overwhelmingly located in one area. The people in the team almost entirely only deliver that one service -- its their focus, their reason for existing as an organization. I, on the other hand, mostly deliver that service to an organization that's physically down here, where I work. And I don't deliver just that service -- I also work on another one, almost completely different. No one asked me to do it -- I agitated and grumped and moaned until they let me. The organization that is actually charged with delivering this other service is staffed by people who are also predominantly in one area, and who also deliver almost entirely just that one service. They're the ones who are regarded as the 'official' purveyors of the service. Me, I am viewed as just doing it on the side.

That irks me. For years, I've been trying to cut them out of the loop, to get myself regarded as the sole -- or at least primary -- purveyor of the service. And for years, they've kept saying well, sure, Bill, but you know we pay for those people's time, and so since your REAL job is to do this other thing, we'll just ask them when we need help. Which drives me right up a wall, and leads me to mutter that I'm just as qualified as they are. Which, actually, isn't true. I'm as qualified as they would be if they only saw one account's systems routinely, and only looked at the systems on occasion, when there are problems or curiosities. Okay, thats a hell of a modification to the original statement, I agree.

About a month ago, I learned that there was a pretty good chance that they'd let me move over to this other group (hurrah) and stop doing what is now my primary job (double hurrah). But about two weeks ago, I learned -- um, maybe not. Organizational shuffling, doncha know. Don't give up, could still happen, but -- umm..... maybe not. So I go back to grumping and moaning about how much I really want to move, really don't like doing this, want to do that... The thing is, this kind of grumping and moaning has never proven to work, at least for me. But its the only way I know to express dissatisfaction. Cogent, reasoned appeals don't seem to work, and don't make me 'feel better'; whereas grumbling at least does -- even though I wonder if it also has the effect of making people think ' well, hell, then, screw it -- let him stay where he is.' Dammed if I play the game, dammed if I don't.

The thing is, I would bet that the vast majority of people are in that kind of position. They're not particularly enchanted with where they are, or what they're doing. But they manage to suck it up, and to get their pleasures elsewhere. I persist in thinking it ought to be possible to be happy and satisfied from what I do at work. Despite the lack of real-world proof, I persist in believing those articles that say its possible.

Damn you, Fast Company! Damn you, Wired!


I don't like the Patriot Act, but I like it more than I dislike it. If my choice was to keep or toss it, I'd keep it; if my choice was to keep, amend its most egregious provisions, or toss it, I'd amend it.

Based on what I see on CNN, the White House would say that this clearly showed I was in favor of it, and smoothly elide into a statement that therefore not only should it be kept as it exists, but it should be amended to expand those provisions.

From the CNN site:

The Senate on Friday rejected attempts to reauthorize several provisions of the USA Patriot Act as infringing too much on Americans' privacy and liberty, dealing a huge defeat to the Bush administration and Republican leaders.

In a crucial vote early Friday, the bill's Senate supporters were not able to get the 60 votes needed to overcome a threatened filibuster by Sens. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, and Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and their allies. The final vote was 52-47.

President Bush, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Republicans congressional leaders had lobbied fiercely to make most of the expiring Patriot Act provisions permanent, and add new safeguards and expiration dates to the two most controversial parts: roving wiretaps and secret warrants for books, records and other items from businesses, hospitals and organizations such as libraries.

Feingold, Craig and other critics said that wasn't enough, and have called for the law to be extended in its present form so they can continue to try and add more civil liberties safeguards. But Bush, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and House Speaker Dennis Hastert have said they won't accept a short-term extension of the law.

If a compromise is not reached, the 16 Patriot Act provisions expire on December 31.

Frist changed his vote at the last moment after seeing the critics would win. He decided to vote with the prevailing side so he could call for a new vote at any time. He immediately objected to an offer of a short term extension from Democrats, saying the House won't approve it and the president won't sign it.

"We have more to fear from terrorism than we do from this Patriot Act," Frist warned.

Politics is really amazing. You're against something, so you vote to retain it as it is. You're for it, so you vote against it so that you can call for a new vote. Paging Alice in Wonderland......

And yet...and yet. We do need this. We even need the NSA monitoring communications that it never did before, because we have a dangerous, elusive enemy. So how can we trust the people who are doing it to use what they find correctly? Not just Republicans, not just Democrats, but everyone? How can we believe in the basic honor and decency of people whose job it is to peek and pry, and the people who would ask for it secretly? How do we keep focus on what's key while remembering what's important?

Makes you want to go back to 'Gentlemen do not read each other's mail', doesn't it?

ADDing Up

Several years ago, in an article about people's activities when they're not happy with how their environment is working, I came across a word for the action of pushing the elevator button two or three times on the implicit assumption that it will make the elevator come faster. The word was 'elevaccelator'. I know that feeling, and its many brethren.

My work PC can be maddeningly slow. I think its a combination of not enough memory and bloated applications (yes, Lotus Notes, I'm tawkin bout choo). Of course, what it takes to be maddeningly slow varies according to how quickly I want to get something done, but on average I find that if it takes more than two seconds to do something -- run a calculation, switch applications, bring up a web page -- I start rocking back and forth in my seat, glaring at the screen, drumming on the plastic shell of the laptop. Right where there is a crack, for some reason.

Whats particularly infuriating is when I make matters worse by thinking that well, this spreadsheet is taking for-freakin-ever to update, so I'll just go look at email....and it takes thirty seconds to switch to email (extra points when the calculation completes and then I get whipped away before I can see the result). Sometimes I'll think well, hell, email isn't starting, I'll go look at the web...which then has to wait for the task switch to occur, which has to wait for email to finish loading, which has to wait for...

And they say kids are the ones with ADD.....

Thursday, December 15, 2005


I have had a good impression of Costco for quite some time. Its not because we go there routinely -- the closest one is about thirty minutes from our home. Instead, it stems from comments made by their CEO to the effect that he pays decent wages so that he can get decent people. I like that. My wife and I don't tend to shop at Wal-Mart. We're not opposed to it -- last year, we darted to one three days before Christmas when our tree stand flat gave up the ghost -- but we don't like what we hear about their salary policies. I understand that their image is taking a beating over that, and they're trying to fix it. Not by increasing salaries, but by clever PR. Thats not right, in our book.

But the thing that nailed my image of Costco was food. A holiday party at my office, where a person brought in a rich four layer eight inch high dark chocolate cake. We were agog over it, wondering which of the local high end bakeries had made it. "Costco", the supplier said, grinning.

If they can deliver that level of quality in a cake ....

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Demon Tools

There can be no doubt that when the roll-call of demon tools is made, lurking there between the biological warfare instruments and the genetic devices which will figure so prominently in the Clone Wars of 2083 will be: the alarm clock. If beer, as Franklin once observed, is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy, then I submit that the alarm clock proves that the demon sits grinning, waiting for us, in the pits of hell.

When Adolph Eichman was tried at Nuremburg, and the world saw a thin, innocuous man peering myopically through thick glasses, the phrase suggested itself: the banality of evil. And so it is with the alarm clock, whose sole purpose is to disturb restful slumber, knitting the raveled sleeve of care, as Shakespeare put it so eloquently, and thrust you abruptly into the icy waters of reality. You thrust out a wildly protesting hand, slapping furiously for the snooze button -- whoops, there goes the bedside lamp, damn, my glasses just fell down into that sygian pit between the table and the bed, who cares, shut that damn thing OFF!

Professional chronosympathists will have you believe that the alarm clock is simply a simple tool providing a much needed function. And it is true that it must do it well, perhaps elegantly, while hemmed in with multiple strictures. It must be small, so as to not take up excessive space on chronically crowded bedside tables. It must be easy to set but virtually impossible to mis-set (who among us has not set the alarm thinking it was the clock, or the reverse), and that should occur quickly, not a click-click-click as you repeatedly punch the button to urge the setting forward. It should have a pleasant yet urgent tone to its alarm (even the name grates); if it plays music, the sound should be loud enough to wake, not so loud as to startle. And the music, if there, should vary. No starting at the same damn piece every time the alarm goes off. What marvel of technical mastery can do all of this?

I'll tell you what.

A tool of the demon.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Grim Tidings

At the moment, we have Haydn piano concertos on the CD player. This is good. This morning, I can use some tranquility.

Last night, I read a popular account of what avian flu is about, the likelihood of mutation to human-infectable status, and the worst case death rate, if so. It scared the bejabbers out of me.

This morning, I read an article from the Sunday paper about a chamber music quartet who, splitting up, may end up losing everything they own, including their homes and their instruments. The article was so distressing that I could not read more than four or five paragraphs.

The waffle's didn't turn out well today. Neither did the coffee.

Even the knowledge that I am now vested in my company's retirement plan (five years - imagine!) -- or that its possible that the people with whom I work might hire me to do some work that I want to do -- could not cheer me.

I need some quiet, and solitude, and serenity.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Tunes to Play REALLY Loud

Old Time Rock and Roll

Time Warp

Dueling Banjos



Inspector Gadget Theme

Johnny B. Goode

La Vida Loca

La Mararena

Saturday, December 10, 2005


Last weekend, we went out and bought a Christmas tree. To my delight, we did it as I like to do shopping: Get In. Get It. Get Out.

We walked in, saw an acceptable tree, stationed a guard on it while scouts checked out the others, a sales rep came up, the scouts returned and pointed to the tree already found, and we were done. We took it home, stuck it in a bucket with tree nourishing gunk in it, and put it outside to stay fresh (well, as fresh as something could that is, after all, dead) until we were ready for it.

This evening, I stepped outside, lifted the tree out of the bucket, hauled it by main force into the garage (which we keep mildly heated), and leaned it against the wall. Stepping away, brushing the snow off my shirt, I looked down at the trunk and saw: the bucket, firmly attached.

Good thing we weren't planning on putting it up today !

Thursday, December 08, 2005


This morning, as I was making my feeble efforts on the exercise bike, I watched a CD of the first season of The West Wing. I'd gotten it from Netflix as an inducement to get up at an ungodly hour (which for me is any time before eight AM) and exercise, which I do truly dislike doing, but which I reluctantly admit is something I need to do.

So there I was, peddling languidly, and listening to Jed Bartlett waxing righteous, arguing, laughing, and at the end, sitting to give a serious, thoughtful broadcast regarding military actions that he had just ordered. And as I listened to him, I thought: Geez, why can't the real president sound that good?

I know, Bartlett's got all the advantages -- no need to list them, but they're apparent in an ad that Martin Sheen does, looking a bit hurried,'lets wrap this up in one take'. No or little makeup. He sounds -- almost -- like a normal person would sound. But when he's Jed Bartlett, he sounds -- there is no other word for it -- Presidential.

When was the last time we had that in real life? I was thinking about that once when I was listening to former New jersey governor Kean giving the presentation at the 9/11 Commission summary. His rolling, measured cadence commanded respect.

Substance counts, of course, much more than style. Still -- shouldn't the words of a sitting President have that same power, that same majesty, that same gravitas?

Shouldn't the President be eloquent?

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Silver, Wood and Ivory

SWI is a piano-flute duo with a very classy sound.


If the odds against winning a three hundred million dollar lottery are substantially worse than for winning a three million dollar lottery, but the odds for winning a three million dollar lottery are bad to begin with, at what payout level is a purchase of a lottery ticket economically justifiable? FWIW, my guess is that the answer is: never. The probability of payout is so distant that the odds are effectively the same.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Is Free Speech Just Speech, or More?

From today's Bloomberg News:

During a one-hour argument session in Washington, the Bush administration said it has the power to withhold millions of dollars in aid unless universities give military recruiters the same access to students as other prospective employers. An attorney for the law schools argued they have a free-speech right to refuse to help employers who discriminate.
``You're perfectly free to do that if you don't take the money'' from the government, Chief Justice John Roberts told the law schools' attorney.

I agree with the concept, but not the execution.

I think it's perfectly okay for a law school to express the opinion that the military discriminates. The right of free speech clearly covers that opinion. And I think its perfectly okay for a law school to refuse to host certain recruiters, for whatever their reason. What I don't think is okay is the linkage -- the statement that their refusal is based on, and therefore protected by, free-speech rights. My gut feeling is that free speech covers declamatory acts -- acts that you say about how you feel or what you think -- but not substantive acts -- things that you do -- even if they are based on the opinions stated in the declamatory acts.

Additionally, in the Chief Justice's example, I don't think that its right for the government to insist that you agree with everything it or its agencies do in order to receive funding from them.

Of course, getting money from the government is usually a Faustian deal, anyway.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Two Good Sites

This site -- -- is well written, thoughtful, and pretty much exactly what I'd write if I were smarter, more lucid, and more well rounded. And I'm not talking about the reason I don't need padding when I play Santa at the hospital every year.

On that site, a reference to this site -- -- which is also quite good...And its powered by AudioScrobbler. Bet you don't know of any other sites that can make that boast.

What Would Martha Do?

Every year about this time I find myself wondering why we can't do Christmas cards better. I've given up on looking really good in a Christmas photo (my strategy is to edge toward the shadow and let the wife and offspring carry the image), but it'd be nice if we could get our act together and get the cards out more rapidly.

It isn't as if we have thousands of them, either. I am sure that people who literally do have hundreds and thousands of cards have a System for getting it done (perhaps, simply, turning to an assistant, waving languidly, and saying Take Care of That).

For us, it always comes down to four steps.

a) cut and paste the Access table that has miscellaneous address information into an Excel spreadsheet, sort by the YES in the Christmas card? column, and then print the selected rows.

b) hunt around for where the Christmas cards that we bought last year on sale went to. We don't always do that, but when we do, we put them into a Safe Place. A Very Safe Place. Divide them into The Pile You Sign and The Pile I Sign. Sign them. Try not to scrawl too badly.

c) Fight with the Lexmark printer to print the envelopes. This year, the small envelopes fell right down into it, necessitating use of two hemostats to put them out, then the next batch jammed, and the third batch shifted down five lines for no apparent reason. What is it with printers, anyway? Is the flow of envelopes so alien that like the dancing elephant they're doing well just to do it at all? Or is it that better printers are possible but are way out of the normal -- ie, me -- person's cost range?

d) Search for stamps, get gluetongue, and mail them.

I like doing it, I really do. It says 'Christmas!' to me. But sometimes I want to just wave my hand languidly.....

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Christmas Wishes

From the Washington Post article about a survey run by ABC News:

"What does America want for Christmas? Perhaps a better qustion is, what doesn't America want this holiday season?......One 74-year-old simply "would like for someone to stop by to say hello".

Friday, December 02, 2005

Are Lawyers People?

Regardless of what you may think about lawyers generally, the question of whether they are actually people has never, to my knowledge, been a point of contention. Apparently, I was wrong.

In an article in the Wednesday Washington Post, wherein a response by the Justice Department to the Post's article on the use of National Security Letters was outlined, this section appears:

"(Assistant Attorney General) Moschella said the article incorrectly implied that the recipient of a letter cannot consult an attorney about it. The article quoted one recipient's assertion in a court affidavit that he was afraid to seek legal help because the letter forbade disclosure to "any person." Currently, the law is silent on whether "any person" includes a lawyer."

How about that?


Neither my wife nor I are in any sense traffic engineers, but on a casual walk this morning, we talked at length about turbulence in traffic flow, traffic calming techniques, patterns of traffic, and roadside-area design.

It was great fun.