Sunday, December 31, 2006

Side by Side by Side

Four articles on the Google News Reader, roughly side by side:

Iraqis Ponder Lessons of............ Mourners Gather at Capitol to
History after Saddam Hangs .........Pay Respects to Ford

Clan plans "Saddam library" ... Muslims celebrate two Eids:
at Burial Site ................................. At A Glance

Interesting juxtapositioning, I thought....

By the way -- those mourners? Doesn't include Bush. Apparently, he's too busy riding his bike and chopping wood, down in Crawford, to flog it back to the Capitol. Nice guy, huh?

Later That Day...

Okay, I'm in a better mood. I'm not sure why.

I did just spend some time updating Quicken with our year end totals for 401K and such, and that was a cheerful exercise. It's actually overstated a bit, because it assumes that I will work till June, 2008, but contribute to the 401K till December of that year -- difficult to do! But thats not a big deal, because, either way, its a very healthy number. That's comforting. We could both quit if we really wanted to. Because we're financially conservative, we likely will not -- but we could.

Part of it is that I spent some time reading. That usually calms me down. Its light reading - very light - but whatever works. I still don't think I'll go to the thing tonight, but I'm not glum any more, which is something.

And talking things over with my wife helped. When we were at our friend's party (and I still envy his ability to have parties like that; neither of us is gifted that way), we met his parents, who had recently retired. I told them of our plans, and they advised that we take a 'test' to evaluate our compatibility for long-term in-your-face togetherness. We're not worried. We like spending lots and lots of time together, talking, even when, as in this case, it's a serious conversation like today, ranging from corporate behavior -- she said that someone in the superstructure of her company, Incredibobbly Big Computers, said 'Are you IBCers? Or are you just IBC employees?' and she thought 'I used to be the first, but when you people gave up on me, I gave up on you. Now I'm just the second.' The bad part is, they neither know nor care. (What an idealist I am. I still think 'Ah, but if Fidel only knew....' when I know better.) -- to financial planning -- we were on a bit of a high, noting where we are relative to our Ultimate Financial Goal (usual caveats on that), when suddenly we switched to: my mother. Apparently, she's starting to be just a little more nervous than normal. She's never liked surprises, likes them less as she gets older, but now, if she can't find something -- an old purse, a magazine she was reading -- she goes into panic mode alpha (to the point where, on a weekend, she called her caregiver, asking if she knew where the purse in question was, and was so panicky that the woman came over on her day off, just to calm her down). So we looked at each other, both thinking the same dread thought: Nursing Home. And what does that do to your little dream of financial security, mwah-hah-hah!!!!!

We have a saying: we will save each other. I rely on that. She does, too.

Not A Fun Guy

I'm not going to be much of a fun guy today, I think.

Part of it is that I'm tired -- long drive yesterday, and we were out fairly late. We enjoyed being there, but the net effect was that I got to bed later than I like to. Contemplating that I now (and for some time) have had a 'go earlier to bed' ethos is not thrilling to me.

Part is my blood sugar reading, which is abnormally high, and I don't know why.

Part is that reading ties directly to getting dental work done, which is kind of a trifecta of gloom -- I have to think about that reading, which has, dammit, been good for the last two months, and now, about two weeks before I have a test taken again, has decided to go ballistic; I have to think about the process of having the dental work done, which I think is going to take about nine months, start to finish, and its going to be awkward at best and painful at worst; and I have to think about understanding the Brand! Spanking! New! health care claim forms, which I hate having to do, so I can get them to pay some amount of the cost of this extravaganza.

Part is, believe it or not, the hanging of Hussein. He was an evil, vicious person, and he didn't deserve to be in power -- but hanging is right up there with being clubbed to death for methods of cruel and unusual execution. Well, C&E here. Still, it sickened me.

I doubt I'll stay up for the Great Ball Drop tonight. I'd rather get to bed, and sleep in tomorrow. Perhaps 2007 will be better. I could use some good news!

Saturday, December 30, 2006


Today was an amazing day, from a number of perspectives.

My daughter went to an exhibit at the Franklin Institute, in Philadelphia. The first one, on Charles Darwin, was pretty good, she says, but the GREAT one was on 'Animal Grossology' , about which, I told her to feel free not to enlighten me. Before the trip, she spoke for ten minutes with my in-laws on the subject of women and greek mythology, GM being a favorite topic with her. I was amazed, even knowing in advance that she was into it.

My brother in law and I compared arm stories, and I was amazed to find that with his surgery a month after mine, he is noticably further along in recovery -- for one thing, he has full range of motion with his affected arm, not the 60% or so that I've been stuck at for weeks. We talked about therapists, and it appears that mine were slackers, not doing half as much as his do. Which means I have to go on a personally funded therapist hunt.

And this evening we visited a friend's house for his pre-New Years party. This guy is gay, and all I can say is, he fulfilled every stereotype known about gay people being extremely creative and good at decorating. Multiple people, including me, said that we thought our homes were decorated until we saw his place. OMG, as they say. I was impressed by what he did and how he did it. Strings of lights throughout the house. Multiple trees, large and small, all decorated differently. Little knickknacks hither and yon. Dynamic colors on the walls and furniture. A gorgeous sleigh bed upstairs, plasma TV, comfortable couches, jazzy kitchen with high-end appliances, great food downstairs. All of it awesome, and amazing.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Armored -- what?

Anyone who's read the Amber Spyglass series by Philip Pullman is familiar with armored bears.

But this is the first time I've ever seen armored cats.

Papa and Me

I was thinking about dinner, and how I'd like some pizza. When I've been at my mother in laws home, in a resolutely Italian town here in Penns Woods, I've been amazed at the quality of the local pizza. Not to put it too finely, it's awful. Its as if they read about how to make pizza in 1945, fired up the oven, and haven't looked back. Doughy (and not in a good way) dough. Bland sauce. Toppings? Sure. Cheese. Pepperoni (pronounced pepperone). And thats about it. I think longingly of the Magpie's pizza I loved in Tucson; of the oven-fired pizzas I've had in Chicago and Boston. Not to mention that whole wheat pizza I had at California Pizza Kitchen, the other day, which was surprisingly good.

Which made me wonder: why doesn't Papa John's make whole wheat pizza? I don't expect Pizza Hut, a division of GiganticMegaFoodStuffs, to do it, or Little Ceasars (at one time, yeah, they might have, but they've become the low end provider), but PJs? Yeah, they might. But they don't. Hey, why not suggest it?

Ahem. From the Papa John's site:

Unsolicited Ideas
Thank you for your interest to share an idea for a product or service that you believe would be beneficial to Papa John's. Please know, however, that it is Papa John's company policy not to consider unsolicited ideas from anyone other than our corporate employees, franchise owners/employees, and our supply partners.

It’s not that great ideas cannot come from our valued customers. Each year, however, Papa John's receives thousands of unsolicited ideas for products and services. Due to the mass volume of these unsolicited ideas and the business challenge of determining what is truly a “new” idea versus a concept that we already have in development, being tested, or previously considered, we must adhere to our strict policy not to accept or review any unsolicited ideas that come from outside our system.

As a result, we must decline your invitation to review your idea, and hope you can understand and appreciate our business reasons for making this company decision. We do, however, greatly appreciate your interest in Papa John's.

Oh, I'll just bet they do. Now, where's that recipe I saved for whole wheat dough?

Wolfe Tracks

"Later, when Wolfe asked me the precise moment when the call had come, I knew, pretty much; three-fifteen, give or take. But to satisfy his need for precision (like so much of him, it was oversized), I brought up the log and read it off to him: Three-fourteen and twenty five seconds, and then the incoming call's number. He nodded and went back to his book - The Pleasures of Aristophanes, this week; he was on a Greek kick - while I went back to paying bills. The electronic ones were easy to do; the paper ones, just a little more effort, except when they didn't deign to supply us with a return envelope, meaning that someone - me - had to crank one through the printer, put in the address and all of that. It wasn't a bother, but he didn't like the sound of the printer running, so I had to go to the back office to do it. I didn't mind -- it got me out of that chair and let me stretch my legs. Plus, genius must be coddled, and that he certainly is, also in a big way: Nero Wolfe, thinker for hire, gourmet, orchid enthusiast, and owner of the strongest desk chair commercially available. Also my boss. Me? I'm Archie Goodwin."

Guess who's been looking for something to read?

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Coffeepot Logic

Our coffee maker is an old one -- a Procter Silex Mr. Coffee clone that we've had for easily a dozen years. From time to time we think about replacing it, but as our working model for just about everything is 'It still works, right? Then why replace it?', we're usually able to convince ourselves that doing so isn't necessary. We've replaced the carafe once, the carafe cover twice, and the mesh coffee filter is now replaced by paper ones. I imagine that if the coffee filter holder broke (it's already cracked), we might replace the whole thing -- or we might see how duct-taping the outside works. (I don't think we'd duct-tape the inside, though.)

It also helps our logic to see what the industry is offering as coffee-pot replacements. None of the new coffee technology thinks the way we do. Coffee pods? Commuter mugs? No, thanks. We do like the idea of something that holds the brewed coffee in a thermal tank, rather than on a heating stand (as ours does), but, just as our standing joke when we run late, usually exacerbated by getting behind a driver who does exactly the speed limit, if not below, is to imagine that person berating us (well, sonny, if yeh wanted to get theah soonah, yeh shoulda left earliah!), we think 'well, Bill, if the coffee tastes bitter because it's been sitting on a hot plate for the last two hours, maybe next time you should make less!'. After finding the pot on one day, long after we'd finished breakfast and gone our separate ways through the house, we adopted the habit of loudly announcing when the we'd shut it off --"Coffeepot's off! " That logic doesn't work, entirely, since its intent is to remind us that it's still on, announcing that we shut it off is more like announcing "Hey, I remembered something that I want to remember, and I'm congratulating myself". What we really want is something to remind us that its still on, roughly (conceptually) equivilent to Bill Cosby's doorbell story (Hey, somebody's at the door!) (Hey, the coffeepots still on!) that then shuts itself off after some interval. Now, that makes sense.

Some day, we'll replace it -- but its got to be as good, or better. Not sleeker, not niftier. Better.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Elegant Cambridge

Some day, when I get older, I'm going to be able to take photographs like this. They're awesome.

Amazing and Delightful

This has been an amazing and delightful period.

I was delighted to receive the gifts that I got -- a couple, I had hinted for, but one, I in no way expected; it was quite amazing -- and I was delighted to give the ones that I did. Each year, I hold back one or two, and as we went away on Christmas Day, I was actually able to give them two days later -- a chocolate brown turtleneck, and a tan suede-like blouse. I like surprising my wife -- and now she knows why I picked the necklace that happened to have those particular colors!

While visiting, I got to not only skim through a couple of novels -- eh, they were okay but not great -- but also to begin reading a book that my mother in law had, and found that I really enjoyed it. I'd read an earlier book on roughly the same topic by the same woman, and liked that, but its still a surprise to me to find that someone else is reading something I like. My tastes aren't unusual, but I don't run across many people who share them. In fact, a sister in law once said that she likes coming to our house because we always have something unusual to read -- and as she is a librarian (though a corporate one), I simply tell her that I'm stealing all of the good stuff from the local libe.

While we were in my MIL's area, my wife and I went to a Best Buy and generally agreed on the kind of big screen television that we're going to get. Not probably will get, but will get. Still dependent on needing one -- the current one's twenty-plus years old, and it's doing just fine, thanks -- but it was very nice to see that we agreed on what the replacement should be, when the day comes -- LCD, likely HD but ED is okay, about 36 diagonal inches, don't care if it has PC or other input. I think you have to make that kind of decision away from the showroom, or you lose track quickly on whats important and worth paying for, and whats trivial or of use only for the power user.

And I got an email from Muslim Apple. It was unexpected, and I liked it. She told me a little about her childhood.

So this has been a pretty amazing Christmas week.

Now, if it'd just snow.....

Monday, December 25, 2006


The leather jacket is quite nice. The all-cotton shirts are excellent; the cashmere socks phenomenal; the collection of writings by Teddy Roosevelt awesome.

But the one I've picked up the most, this morning?

The three inch wind-up F-15 that my daughter got for me. I really like it.

Wish I could figure out why, every time I pick it up, I hear that sound, though.

You know --

'nnnnneeeeaaaaaahhhhWHOOOSH ---- BOOMMM!!!!!'

Followed by an immediate aileron roll. Very strange.....

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Shake It

If you have some time to waste --- shake it.

Middle East Map

This interesting speculative map of the Middle East was found here.

RFI: #1703

Request for Invention: The Coffee Stabilizer

Description: A device to be attached to the bottom of a coffee cup such that when the coffee cup is in motion, a gravitationally active dampening field is applied to the top of the liquid, with the effect that the tendency of the coffee to slop over the rim of the container is significantly reduced.

Availability: About two hours ago would have been good.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Beginning to look like...

I don't know -- Monday? Because it certainly isn't looking like Christmas.

Part of it is the lack of even a trace of snow. I know that large parts of the world don't expect snow, and currently there are some that would be gladly rid of it, but I always expect a couple of inches on the ground, and preferably falling, come Christmas. Not this year. We're getting some rain, which for some reason does not engender the Christmas spririt.

Part of it is technology. We're having multiple concurrent failures -- the cordless mouse got a low battery warning, for the first time in two years (we think that it wasn't sitting in the recharger properly) -- plus the printer isn't printing right -- when we go to print the invitations to our January party, it prints with a two inch left margin, for reasons unknown. How many systems programmers does it take to fix a malfunctioning printer? More than two, apparently.

Part is just feeling rushed -- which I know is a common thing, this time of year. We both took next week off, but my wife is feeling guilty about it because she has a lot to do at work, but also a lot to do around here. Its tough to tell someone to slow down and relax when they're planning a trip on Christmas day that won't see us getting back till Wednesday, and then another on Saturday. I would like to spend the week at home, watching the snow fall, and occasionally baking, but that doesn't seem to be the way things are playing out.

One thing's worked out, though. I've been baking. I like that. In a Christian Science Monitor article on baking, a woman referred to Friday as her 'baking day'. When I retire, I might well adopt that phrase.

Friday, December 22, 2006


Teaching is hard. I just went through some practice SAT answers with my daughter, looking at answers to interpretations of essays, and for about two thirds, we agreed; for those where we did not, about half the time it was obvious to me what they were looking for, and the other half it wasn't. For the ones where it was obvious, I tried to explain why I thought a certain thing was right, and I was a little dismayed to realize how much of it was based on my own feelings. Some answers were not clearly right or wrong, but different. How can you judge someone on interpretation? Yet that's exactly what they'll be doing when she takes this test for real. I told her not to feel dumb, because a lot of this will be based on writing styles that she hasn't experienced yet, but even as I said that I wondered how the heck an experienced teacher makes these points. How do you get a kid to think about something thats so flexible?


I see where a guy who's going to be sworn in as a Congressman wants to take his oath using the Koran rather than the bible. I see nothing wrong with that. The idea of using the bible is that you're using something with meaning for you. If I swore something on the Koran, it wouldn't have meaning for me, and I could swear to anything. He wants to use a book that symbolizes his own beliefs. If he swore on the bible, he'd be swearing on the equivilent of me and the Koran. I think what the people who are arguing against it are really saying is that they mourn the loss of tradition, not realizing that the tradition is not the use of the bible but the agreement to be bound by belief (which happens to be based in the bible for most people). They might also, a little, be saying that they don't want a Muslim in office, though I hope thats not the case.


A guy who was elected to the Senate had what I'd call a testy exchange with the president (though others called it civil): the president asked how the guy's son, who is in Iraq, is, and the guy said he wanted them out of Iraq. The president said that wasn't what he asked, and the guy replied that that issue was between him and his son. I'm not a defender of Bush, and I think both men acted badly here, but in this case, the senator-elect started it. You can be civil without being friendly, and he chose to be combative instead. I don't agree with some comments afterward that they all have to get along, insofar as that implies that they all have to mute their opinions, but there's a time and place for open discourse, and this wasn't it.


Low blood sugar makes me punchy and disoriented. I had a very low number just before dinner (the result of swings induced by two nights (in a row, yet) of eating out), and I actually had trouble reading -- both in focusing on what I was reading and in understanding it . A most disconcerting experience. Don't do that.

That Ricotta cheesecake is awesome. Only thing is, it doesn't taste like cheesecake -- its almost like a flan. Which is not a bad thing! And the almond cookies are good, too. I had some time left tonight, so I thought I'd make that pudding. Put in a little more cocoa (to use a box up) and about 1 7/8 cups cream (which apparently is all there is in a pint; I thought it was equivilent to two cups; where's metric when I need it?), so the pudding is very thick, almost a mousse. Not bad. Is it even possible to have bad pudding?


This, from the Boeing site, shows the decor of the new 787 Dreamliner (which includes larger lavatories, though for some reason they don't seem to want to show those seats).

Doesn't it look like Starfleet's idea of passenger quarters?


I received this from a friend. I liked it.

Have you ever been guilty of looking at others your own age and thinking, "surely i can't look that old?"
Well.. You'll love this one!
I was sitting in the waiting room for my first appointment with a new dentist.I noticed his dds diploma, which bore his full name.
Suddenly, i remembered a tall, handsome, dark-haired boy with the same name had been in my high school class some 40-odd years ago.
Could he be the same guy that i had a secret crush on, way back then?? Upon seeing him, however, i quickly discarded any such thought. This balding,gray-haired man with the deeply lined face was way too old to have been my classmate. Hmmm! .....or could he??? (are you thinking Of about 3/4 of the guys at your last class reunion??)
After he examined my teeth, i asked him if he had attended Morgan Park high school."yes. Yes, i did. I'm a mustang," he gleamed with pride.
"when did you graduate?" i asked. He answered, "in 1959. Why do you ask?" "you were in my class!" i exclaimed.
He looked at me closely. Then, that ugly, old, wrinkled, bald, fat, gray, decrepit son-of-a-bitch asked, "what did you teach?"

Cookies and Crumbs

In a book about his experiences encountering the United States, Bill Bryson noted that a small town post office had a tray of cookies out for the pleasure of their patrons. In England, he noted, such a thing would have been incomprehensible. British Post would have been challenged to get the mail to him on time and unscarred. Cookies were out of the question. In the United States, apparently, things were different.

This morning, I stopped by my local library to drop off a book. I noted two things. On their counter was a tray of Christmas cookies out for the pleasure of their patrons. How nice, I thought. And on the wall, in multiple places, were signs that they were increasing the fines for overdue books. How wretched, I thought.

What is it about libraries and overdue fines? Do they really work? Do people really think 'Gosh, I'd better get this book back or I'll have to pay a fine' ? Are people really so unlikely to return books that they need to do this? And how often does it happen that people say well, heck, this fine is so large, I'll just keep the book? Of course, from then on you can't use the library card to check out books, which might not be an impediment, at least until they start putting scanners on the doors, and you can't interlibrary loan books from other branches -- which, given how poor the selection is locally, is actually something of a consideration. So maybe the fine does have an effect. Maybe. Seems -- cheap, though. Unneighborly. Perhaps I'm being unrealistic.

All I know is, the cookies were nice, but this -- this is crummy.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Dinner and Conversation

This evening I went out to a gathering at a local restaurant of several people with whom my wife works, and with whom I used to work before taking early retirement and moving on to work where I do now. As part of the conversation, one of the people asked what I planned to do after retirement, which I'd said would be some time between now and June, 2008 -- the date depending on my mood and how I felt about my job. Well, a couple of other things, too, but that's about it. I said that I didn't really know, and he suggested that I might want to think about working for one of the local non-profits, which he said, as a whole, had no clue about concepts like organization and follow-through -- long on good intentions and short-term action, short on everything else. I must say, the concept is intriguing. About the only problem that I could see is finding one where I wanted to work -- something supporting a cause that I feel strongly about. I don't tend to feel strongly about anything, as a rule. There must be something, but what?

Something to think about.

Amaretti Cookies Recipe

This is the recipe for the Amaretti Cookies that I made this afternoon. I found it on the excellent Joy of Baking site, here.

Amaretti Cookies Recipe

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Have ready a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) plain tip.

Using Food Processor: Break the almond paste into small pieces and place in bowl of food processor, with the sugar. Pulse until the mixture is very fine. Add the egg whites in three additions, processing well after each addition. Continue processing the dough until very smooth (about one minute).

Using Electric Mixer: Break the almond paste into small pieces and place in bowl of electric mixer along with the sugar. Mix on low speed until very fine. Add the egg whites in three additions, mixing well after each addition. Continue mixing the dough until very smooth, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Fill the pastry bag with the almond mixture. Pipe 1 1/2 inch (3.75 cm) mounds onto the parchment paper, spacing about 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart. After you have filled the baking sheet with cookie mounds, take a damp paper towel and lightly press the top of each cookie to smooth out the surface (you want to smooth out the tip of dough at the top of each cookie caused from piping). Lightly sprinkle a little sugar on top of each cookie.

Bake for 15 minutes, or until the cookies have risen, are a deep golden color and have tiny cracks. Remove from the oven and place baking pan on a rack to cool. When cool gently peel cookies from parchment. If they stick to parchment, turn the paper over, take a damp paper towel and gently wipe the bottom of the parchment paper to loosen the cookie.

Makes 3 1/2 dozen small ones.

kuniyoshi yashiro

I'm not a big jazz fan, but I'd like to point out a nice -- and also apparently unobtainable, at least here -- piece. Hear it on this page, under 'Music' - Hammond Bossa, The Kuniyoshi Yashiro Project.

Today, I Bake

Today's the first day of our Christmas vacation, and I'm baking.

I just put the crust of the Ricotta cheesecake into the oven. The recipe said to use Amaretti cookies, but I could not find any here (as distinct from my mother in law's neighborhood, where it can be found easily; something about being an Italian immigrant town), so I used graham crackers. I had to double the amount of butter before they'd hold together well to hold a shape on the springform pan; somehow I don't think extra butter is going to be a problem. In about five minutes, the crust comes out and cools for half an hour, then the mix for the 'cheese' part gets put in and the whole thing is baked. I'm going to try a simple recipe for almond cookies that I found while searching for Amaretti cookies, and I intend to make that chocolate pudding recipe, too. All of this stuff will be brought up to my MIL's home, if it turns out well. If not -- well, I'm sure that I can find someone who will eat it.

This afternoon, while my wife is out with my mother, I open up packages from Amazon, segregating out her gifts and those for my daughter, and I do some wrapping. Sounds like a fun day, hey?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

This Woman is Insane

...and she scares me, normally. But this time, she --in a weird way -- makes sense. She talks about how it's important for girls to know how to fight. Her father teaches her things I'm not sure I'd teach my own daughter (his key point? Stab and twist)but the concepts are good.

She's still a little crazy, though, I think. In a prior article, she talked about intentionally slamming on the brakes so that an idiot who was riding her bumper would smash into her car, doing considerably more damage to his tricked out vehicle than to her own (she called a friend just before, saying that she was going to be late, as she was about to have an auto accident). She deliberately drove slowly when a different idiot in a Hummer could not get past her, to the point that the other driver gave up in rage and roared off. She has a very combative attitude toward life, and I don't.

But this time, I agree with her. If my daughter needs to know how, I want her to be able to kick ass and take names.


A long time ago, when I was, I think, in my teens, I heard about a piece of legislation that people regarded as very important and quite wide-reaching, and recommended that everyone become aware of it. Well, I thought, sure, I'll do that. I wrote to my local Senator's office, asking how to get a copy of the legislation. They obliged, and sent it to me. It was just over an inch thick.

I read the cover, and the first couple of pages.

Now today I read a blog entry where the person said that Bush was essentially revoking civil liberties left, right, and sideways, including letting the US take over control of state National Guard units when deemed desirable -- for example, to send them to Iraq despite the fulminating of the governors who have to fund these organizations, not to mention, be voted for by them and their relatives. Gee, I thought, really? Well, let me look at the legislation the page mentions - the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act of 2007. I found a site that summarizes it, here.

Good golly. The summary is pages long. But yes, the legislation does seem to say exactly what this person says it does, quietly selling us right down the river.

Sometimes, apparently, the people crying wolf are right.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Epicurious Puddinggggggggggggg


It's the extra chocolate that enriches and elevates this dessert from the simple to the sublime. And it takes about 2 minutes longer to prepare than pudding from a boxed mix. What a difference 2 minutes makes.
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups light cream
3 ounces chopped bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan, whisk together the sugar, cocoa, cornstarch, and salt. Gradually whisk in 1 cup of the cream until smooth, then whisk in the remaining 1 cup cream. Set the pan over medium heat and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens and comes to a boil, about 5 minutes. Continue to whisk and boil for 1 minute.

Remove the pan from the heat and add the chocolate and vanilla. Let stand for 5 minutes until the chocolate is melted, then stir gently until the pudding is smooth. (Do not stir too much or the pudding might thin out.)

Divide the pudding among 6 small dessert dishes. Let cool for about 20 minutes to serve warm and soft, or chill for at least 30 minutes or up to 8 hours.


“We all have personal demons that we all have to face at some time or another.” - Tara Conner.

Funny how most of us manage to do it without publicity.

Patients Like Me

I have mentioned on occasion that I am an impatient patient. I want to be treated as an adult, but I want to be coddled. I want to know whats going on with my body, unless its bad, then I don't want to know unless it can be treated or fixed. I know that information is good, but I want to be kept in the dark (sometimes). And I definitely don't want to be talked down to, no matter how stupid I've been or how many if only I had's there are. That's asking a lot, but here's a start.

Patients Like Me doesn't talk down.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Real Time

In computer speak, real-time is 'live, as its happening'. A real-time display shows you whats happening at the same time aas you watch it.

The problem with real-time displays is that they use resources, and the more you ask them to do, and the faster you ask them to do it, the more resources they use. No free lunch, as Milton Friedman once remarked. If you want information to be processed, you're going to have to pay the freight. If you want that processing to occur right now, real-time, it's going to have to be a fast freight. And if you want that processing to include lots of details, it might have to be a bullet train.

We, however, don't do that.

In our company, we used what is probably the most sophisticated real-time display system available on the market. It is driven by technology that was first designed in the 1960s, and though its been upgraded since then, the upgrades are more structural than procedural. That is, where it used to tell you how busy a direct-access storage unit was, now it tells you how busy, who's using it, what the rate is, how busy the feeding channels are. What it doesn't do is what I think of as HAL9000 mode.

(CPU utilization over threshold. Engage H9K diagnostic mode. Show historical CPU utilization by fifteen minute interval over prior two hours; for plus/minus two fifteen minute intervals for this time of day over prior six working days; for plus/minus two fifteen minute intervals for this time of day for prior six same-day-of week. Forecast CPU utilization next one hour based on current and historical trend. Perform same displays for response time by transaction. Include outlier display.)

This product, however, doesn't do that. It's possible, its within the grasp of the technology, but to do so would be more than the market would pay for, more processor power and dedicated storage than could be justified for anything but a shuttle launch. It'd be a 454 cubic inch engine in a go-kart, a sumo wrestler on the other side of the see-saw, Steven Hawking helping you with your kid's math homework. It would be massive overkill, seriously underutilized for 98% of the day, impossible to cost-justify.

What it would be, though, is cool. Very cool.

And real-time? Heck, it'd be telepathic.


Anyone who reads these scribbles regularly undoubtedly knows that I'm quite proud of my daughter. She's not perfect, but she's close, and she's a source of great and unending delight to me. Yet a little bit ago, she puzzled me.

She had received a twenty dollar check from a generous aunt (one who routinely sends her five or ten dollars at most opportunties). We established a rule some time ago that any time she gets money, she keeps half, and half goes into her bank account. She knows that the half comes from us, because she sees us take it out of our wallets. What she doesn't know is that the entire amount of whatever she gets goes into her account; not just the remaining half. She's not flush, but to her, it'd probably be a pretty impressive amount.

This afternoon, we received her grades for this marking period. Impressive -- five As, one almost but not quite A. So, when she opened that card, and got the check, I was in a very good mood, and I told her that in recognition of her superlative work, and because it was the holiday season, she could keep the whole amount for herself. Eyes wide, she asked me if I was serious, and I said yes. She hugged me, then thought about it -- and refused. She said that spending money now when she didn't need it meant that she would not have money to spend later when she did need it -- and saving meant a greater likelihood of getting stuff she wanted. So, no thanks. I gave her the chance once again, about two hours later, and again she refused.

I'm impressed by her discipline, but also a little puzzled. Have we overdone it?

Plenty Potent

Years ago, in a book about sailing, William F. Buckley, speaking about the legalities of passage between certain Caribbean islands, described a scheme to facilitate such passage, and concluded the life would be ever so much simpler were he granted plenipotentiary powers in such matters. ( The book is Airborne; feel free to look it up. It's a decent book.)

The concept stuck with me, because it describes my view of many things. Even when I grudgingly admit that there actually are reasons -- defensible reasons, not that anyone's defending -- why the world acts as it does rather than as I think that it should, I still find my self thinking that life would be ever so much simpler, cleaner, more logical, more satisfying if things were just done my way. I honestly don't think that I'm being egotistical when I say that.

Here is the most recent example. I've known of this for a while, and I may even have mentioned it before, but my knowledge of it was refreshed today.

I work for a computer company, the Biggest Little Computer Company in the World. You've likely heard of it. If you think 'computer', odds are very good you thought of us. Its a decent place to work, but it's also very complex - - quite the anthill of activity, on multiple levels, from the most prosaic and basic to the most ethereal and theoretical. One of the consequences of this gihugic structure is that there are parts of it that exist purely to service the needs of other parts. Their customers are all internal. They are not, in the current buzzword, 'customer facing'. (I don't know what that means, not to be that; I suppose 'showing your butt to the customer' isn't a nice thing to say, so I won't. 'Hidden from the customer'? 'Customer-invisible'?)

Because people tend to use these services without regard to what they cost, organizations make up arcane 'internal billing' schemes to 'recover' what it costs them to produce their output. Vast ledgers are created to do this, and people worry about those costs incessantly. (I once knew of a manager who always moved all of his group's files from direct-access storage to tape, once a month...and then back, two days later. Why? Because he did not get charged for tape usage...and on that one day, the data center scanned the direct access storage to see who was using it. That his organization was impeded by this was immaterial; the point was to avoid those internal billing charges.)

One of the customer-invisible organizations in my company generates reports of change activity on our many systems. In order to recover their costs, they charge for creating these reports. If you want one that's already being created for someone else, there is a minimal charge; if you want a custom one, theres a big charge -- and not just one time, either, but forever. So when my group's manager's manager decided she needed to know how many changes are being done , and how successful they are, did she go to the group that would charge her? Or did she set up a scheme where many people in her organization manually collect this information, forward it in emails, transcribe it to spreadsheets, reformat it into presentations? Computerized, or manual? Automated or time-consuming? Extra-charge or people she's already paying for?

Does the Pope excrete in the woods?

Monday Madness

I just spent the better part of three hours doing two things:

-- looking at a customer system that was using a lot of resources (much more than normal)
-- trying to make my computer connect to a local printer

The first was our usual dogpile, where everyone who thinks they know what is going on offers an opinion, usually without telling anyone except the person they're talking to. While getting lots of opinions is a good thing, having some method of evaluating and working through them would be tasty. We don't do that. Instead, Everybody Tries Something, and then we're surprised by the results -- sometimes pleasantly, sometimes not. This morning, the result appears to be that the customer made some changes, neglecting to mention it to us (which they don't have to do) or to their own people (which they really ought to do), and we, in turn, didn't know to tell the people making the changes that we were having problems (because we didn't know who these people were, what they had done, or indeed that they had done anything at all).

The topic of information flow, as demonstrated here, is one that has intrigued me for some time -- how do you know who knows what, how do you alert the right people, how do you keep from alerting the whole world when thats not needed, how do you document your findings, doing so in a way that the information is later retrievable. That segues into the parallel questions of how information flows, and how do you 'tag' information, so that the information conduit knows who should know. Unfortunately, it also means that people who should know are sometimes prevented from knowing by others who think that those others 'really don't need to know' -- and sometimes, they're right, but usually not. There is an old phrase that I like -- 'Information Just Wants To Be Free' -- which isn't always applicable, but is always a good starting point, corporate security standards notwithstanding.

The second was particularly delicious because this was a problem that I had had about two weeks ago and resolved after pulling information from someone who knew it and wasn't particularly disposed to tell me. It took me about twenty five minutes to remember that this guy had sent me an email that included a file to reconnect the printers, and once I ran that, they were hey presto magically there again. Until, of course, the next time. I do so love not having a support group for this kind of thing (to which the official answer is: hey, you got it fixed, didn't you? Whats the big deal?)

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Card, Please

This may be the year that we send no Christmas cards at all.

Usually, I'm a bit anal about this stuff, pushing to have a list ready by Thanksgiving, getting them all out by the second week of December, and sometimes sooner. I'm no less anal this year, but the difference is that other events, ranging from a three day trip to Connecticut right after Thanksgiving, to dual simultaneous system upgrades, one for her and one for me, that got us both up early today(though she was up much earlier, and more often, too) have kept us from doing things to Prepare For The Holidays. We made a special effort to get a Christmas tree, doing it two weeks before we normally do it, and now we're thinking Good Idea! because it was a bit of an effort just to go get it from where it's resided out behind the garage (along with the roping that I still haven't put up) and bring it in and set it up. Fortunately for me, my daughter really likes putting the lights on, so she took charge of that, while I was upstairs trying to recover from my change yesterday morning. All of which means that we've been shorter than normal on time to take care of things that we'd really like to do, like sending out cards.

So you don't get one from us, this year -- this may be why.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Win, Lose, Draw

The win: We made the pizza with honey wheat dough. Not at all bad. Crust could have been thinner -- I think they must use almost no yeast in their dough, as mine was pretty flat but puffed up to about 3/8 inch after baking. But the taste was good. Its a keeper, unless the one from the CPK cookbook is better.

The lose: A change I made this morning failed. Well, technically, it worked, as all I had scheduled was the application of maintenance, and I did that. But the maint didn't do what I wanted it to do, and backing it out took several hours (!). So I'm kind of back at square one on that.

The draw: The Ricotta cheese is in the refrigerator, draining after being processored, and tomorrow we make the cheesecake. Alas, could not find Amaretti cookies to crush for the crust, so it'll be graham crackers. Oh, the agony....

Friday, December 15, 2006

Baking, Maybe

This is going to be a busy weekend, so I might not get to either of these, but if I can, I'm going to try to bake two things: first, pizza dough, and second, Ricotta Cheese Cake.

The pizza dough idea comes from having dined at California Pizza Kitchen on our ill-fated shopping trip. I had a pepperoni and pineapple pizza on honey-wheat dough. The dough was quite tasty, so I thought I'd see if I can replicate it. I know, my track record on pizza dough isn't that great -- but keep trying, right? CPK does have a cookbook available, but since I didn't want to pay for that, I am getting it through the library (amazingly enough, the local branch actually has it.) In the meantime, I found this, here --

1 1/2 cups water, warmed to 110° F
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (1 packet)
1 teaspoon sugar
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons whole milk

Lightly coat a large bowl with olive oil and set aside. Combine the water, yeast, and sugar in a small bowl and set aside. Combine flours, cornmeal, and salt and sift together into a large bowl. Add the yeast mixture, honey, and milk and stir until dough begins to form -- it will be slightly sticky. Transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead until dough is smooth but still tacky -- about 10 minutes. Form the dough into a ball and transfer it to the prepared bowl, turning to coat all sides. Cover with a clean, damp kitchen towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until the dough doubles in volume -- about 90 minutes. Punch the dough down, remove from the bowl, and let dough rest for 5 minutes. Divide the dough in half and turn one piece out onto a lightly floured surface and roll into desired shape and size. Lightly brush the dough's surface with olive oil, top, and bake at 500° F for about 10 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough

As for the cheese cake, it's from that Cooks Illustrated issue I mentioned earlier. It looks to be considerably more effort than my 'normal' cheesecake (I've made, perhaps, three, over the course of years), but -- we'll see. If time permits.....

Interesting Evening

Two interesting things occurred to me last night.

First, I went to a concert at my daughter's school, and it was surprisingly good. There were the usual why is this kid playing, again? pieces, but even they were clearly trying, and the good pieces were very good -- particularly the school's jazz band playing Feliz Navidad, which had people whistling, clapping, and singing along. It was delightful.

Second, I had a Scrooge's nightmare type dream, where people from my office took me out for what I thought was a dinner or meeting or something, and each of them set me up in some unpleasant situation so as to pay me back for being mean, unfair, or unkind to them. It was spooky.

More of the former, less of the latter, please.


My arm's getting better. Still a long way off from good, but I am starting to see benefit from a little exercise I've been forcing myself to do: to wit, when I put the dishes away, I force myself to use my left arm to put them in. It aches, but the ache goes away fairly quickly, and at that point I can pretty-easily put them into the lowest shelf, and with moderate difficulty put them into the middle shelf. Not the highest -- I'm doing good just to touch that shelf with that arm, and even then I'm faking it a bit, leaning forward, coming up on one foot -- but the other two, yeah, I can do it.

I try not to wonder why no one from the therapy place suggested this.

Christmas Baking

I was just out in the kitchen, eating a modest lunch and leafing through a copy of Cooks Illustrated. We used to get that magazine, and I only stopped subbing because I realized that I would rarely make anything from it. Its not that the recipes didn't sound good -- the ones that I understood certainly did, and even the ones that I didn't sounded interesting (what the heck is a ramekin?) -- its just that I never, ever made them. Well, once in a while, they'd have one like 'Chewy Oatmeal Cookies', and I'd try that, because I've been trying for years to make a decent one, without success -- but that would be about it. However, I was seduced --yea, verily, led down the golden path -- by this issue, which was about: Christmas Cooking. Shazam! And so I got it.

As it turns out, the issue is about Christmas desserts, but mostly about real deserts -- cakes and pies and croissants and whatnot -- and not about cookies and things. I realize that those are real desserts, too, but I don't tend to think of them that way -- they're just something that's fun to do. On occasion, I will bake something a little harder, like Rice Pudding (we have an excellent recipe) or Chocolate Cake (we have a quick, easy recipe that is good, though not outstanding; when we inadvertently added half-melted chocolate chips to the icing, though -- yowza! ), but I don't do croissants or Parker House Rolls or any of that. Though I'd like to.

So I leafed through the issue, and thought about how neat it would be to make one or two of these -- and then I put the issue away. Well, its on the kitchen table, actually; I couldn't stand to actually put it away. I want to make one. I don't want to eat it -- like I need a rich cream-filled chocolate cake or any of that -- I just want to make one.

We'll see. The issue is still, as they say, open.


I should not be amazed, but I am. I went down to Tyson's Corner, had a fairly grim shopping experience, came home, fired up the laptop, and got about 90% of what I want to get electronically -- and 90% of that via Amazon. Could have been 100%, but one thing, they said, could not be delivered until after Christmas . Ironically, I took the item number from the Amazon display, did a search, found a vendor who said they'd deliver it sooner, and when I clicked 'order', they said that they worked through Amazon, so they already had my shipping information. The only things I did not buy electronically are things I want to physically touch.

Now I just have to make sure that neither my daughter nor my wife are around when I am opening packages!

Thursday, December 14, 2006


A good one of these is truly nectar of the gods.

But an okay one's not bad, either.


This morning, I drove my daughter in to school. I wanted to give her the chance to talk with me about our desire to have her take a preparatory shot at the Scholastic Aptitude Tests. She didn't, but we did talk about fog, and where it comes from, which segued into a discussion of The Jetsons, and how they would just raise their house above the fog if needed. She speculated that they must be on a very long pole, or perhaps the house has thrusters underneath. I said no, it was lifted by anti-gravity, which we might actually have some day. She replied that if we did, we would need something to keep us from just floating away, and I agreed, saying that inertia could be a problem. What's that, she asked, and I said that it was like when you flicked a finger at a ball sitting on a plane, and the ball kept moving after you let go. There's a famous physical law about that, I said -- 'An Object Placed into Motion Will Tend To Remain In Motion' -- and she said 'Until Stopped By Another Force or Object'.

Damn. I almost went off the road, I was so delighted.


Fog seems to be the metaphor of choice lately -- and sometimes, not so metaphoric.

Fog was the reason that the drive down to the shopping malls of DC yesterday took just over three hours, roughly an hour more than normal. Traffic slowed from its average of 65 - 70 to about 20 for much of the route in southern Maryland. Thats the smart thing to do, of course, but after a while all you can think about is that this is time you'd planned to actually be at the mall, consuming vigourously.

Fog was also the reason that when I was at the mall, I didn't find a single thing worth buying. None of what I saw was of sufficient quality and individuality to make me think it was worth giving to my wife. Don't get me wrong, I am not thinking that its got to be fabulous, expensive, or one of a kind -- but it does have to reflect her magic and warmth, and nothing that I saw, did. After a while I simply stopped looking, but rather slumped into one of their area chairs, disgruntled and sulking.

And then there's the fog of politics, where ordinary decent people get transmuted into horrible monsters. How horrible? When I was contemplating the news that a Democratic senator has a serious, and possibly life threatening illness, which could result in the Republician governor of his state appointing a Republican to stand in for him until an election can be held, thus at least temporarily restoring the ability of the Republican Vice President to case deciding votes in cases where the Senate is tied, I actually found myself mulling over when it might be possible to arrange for a Republican senator from a state governed by a Democrat to have an accident -- nothing lethal, no, of course not -- just enough to require that he be replaced in office. Did I mean this? No, of course not-- but I did think it.

And then I came to work and found lots of emails about audits, and auditors, and how its very very important to give this just the tippy top attention you bet!


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Stories and Stores

I was sitting at the dining room table, once again leafing through my favorite book about politics, when I came across a reference to oligarchies. I turned to my daughter and said 'Now, I know this is an unfair question, but -- do you know what an oligarchy is?' She seemed surprised. "Sure", she said. "We learned it last year. It's when only a few people run the whole government." I tell her that it won't be long before she routinely tells me things I didn't know -- it already happens on occasion -- and that I for one am looking forward to it.

She already recommends the occasional story to me -- her latest was The School Story, by Andrew Clements. I'm glad she felt comfortable recommending it to me, and of course, I'm delighted to see her read so much -- even if, on occasion, we get exasperated when we buy her a book at Borders, and in the twenty minutes till we get home, she's finished about a third of it, waking up the next morning and telling us that she's finished it. (We've learned not to let her take a book into the bathroom when she's supposed to be getting ready for school.) And Clements books are easy to like -- they have a warm, comfortable feeling, even when they're dealing with sensitive or edgy topics. She's read five of them, and I've read two of those five. They're uniformly excellent.

Tomorrow we make a ground assault on the shopping malls in the Washington, DC area. Part of me says that a spending limit is fine, as I don't want much; part says a spending limit is a very bad idea, because I can't get all the stuff that I think my partner deserves. We'll see how it turns out. Good thing we're taking the van!

Walking and Talking

This morning, as we took a walk through the neighborhood, my wife tried to explain how 'health care' works to me, once again. She's done this before, and like watching a juggler or a street magician, I've gone away thinking Okay, I understand that, its pretty straight forward -- and then days later, as I stand with pieces of shattered crockery around me, I think '..or did he pass the first plate behind his head?' I really don't get it. For years, I didn't undersand what it was that orgs like Blue Cross and Blue Shield did. I knew that it had something to do with paying for medical services, and I even knew that one had to do with services from doctors, while the other had to do with services from hospitals (at least, I think so), but past that....

I was mulling the idea that I would have to continue to work (once we get to the magic hey I can retire now financial point) just to continue to 'have health care'. Of course, I know that you don't need to be a member of a group health care collective -- you can just pay it out of pocket, like everyone did when I was a kid -- but I also know that this is the most expensive way What I didn't know, and still don't know, is if there is a third option -- one that doesn't mean you had to be part of a working group, but doesn't mean you paid full freight , either. I need a kindly grownup to take me by the hand and explain all of this to me -- and to tell me how I can get this magic 'having health care' without having to drain savings, or continue to work.

Bill Gates probably doesn't worry about health care costs, but it seems like most everyone else does. I'd say it sounds like a great political standing point, but thats hardly new news, is it?

Monday, December 11, 2006

Carter's Book

Jimmy Carter has written another book. I know very little about its topic. Which is to say: I know the headlines, but, like the people who can't remember the difference between Sunni and Shi'ite, I can't always remember where Palestine even is, other than a vague 'someplace near Israel, I think'. And even less about its politics.

This is an interesting if brief interview, from the Los Angeles times.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

They've IPLd, And They're Taking a JCL Error

If you're a mainframe systems programmer, you know what that means. My daughter isn't that, but both of us are, so she's familiar with the phrases we use.

This evening, while my wife and I were in the kitchen, admiring the Christmas lights that my daughter and I had just put on the tree outside, the daughter was next to the teleconference line that my wife has been on since mid-afternoon (not to mention, most of yesterday and part of the night). She heard them use that phrase, and she came out to the kitchen and repeated it to us -- and my wife immediately bolted for the phone.

It's nice having a smart kid.

BTW -- IPL means you're shutting down and restarting the entire operating system and all of the components on the mainframe. Its a big deal. And taking a JCL Error, aka a Job Control Language error, on one of the jobs that runs to bring the system back up, is a sickening and disheartening prospect -- hence her rapid return.

Needs and Such

I began to read a review of Jimmy Carter's latest book, in the New York Times Book Review, but stopped abruptly when I came across a reference to Hamas as the 'Islamist terrorist organization'. They may well be such, but its such a fluid description -- what's clearly a terrorist organization to you is just as obviously a freedom-fighting organization to me -- that I immediately thought 'Aha, the person writing this is a supporter of Israel'. Well, I don't know that -- but I do know that the review's author's name is Greenberg, and he's a writer at the New Yorker -- so, probably. Which leads me to wonder, just a bit: is it possible that there are organizations and concepts so notably entrenched in the public mind that it's impossible to think of them without thinking of their accompanying adjectives? Could, for example, the author of the review think 'Hamas' without thinking 'terrorist'? I'm not asking if they are a terrorist organization -- though I tend to think that any group of people who exist to enforce the will of their political masters by blowing things up likely are, I admit that this also applies to, say, the US Air Force, at least until more qualifiers are applied to the phrase. I'm simply asking if its possible to think and speak of organizations neutrally -- judging them by their actions, not their history. Could the author have referred to Hamas simply as 'the Islamist organization'?

We thought it'd be nice to sit quietly and have some time together, a few moments ago, and to that end my wife made tea -- hazelnut for her, peppermint for me -- and a snack -- toast for her, English muffin for me. Just as we sat down, the phone rang. She muttered Please let it be not work, please let it not be work. It was her sister, wanting to talk about Christmas plans. Just as they started to talk, my wife's pager went off. Apparently, the gods have a sense of humour.

Speaking of humour: Guy Soup.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

My Saturday

This morning, I was Santa at a local hospital, where about 157 kids, more or less, sat on my lap over the course of about three hours, while we discussed the theory and practice of Christmas giving. Some were talkative, some terse; some had lists, others recited from memory, while still others had no clue about what they wanted. Some PS3s, some more Nintendos; multiple Bratz, Barbies, or Polly Pockets. The girls seemed to know better what they wanted than the boys, as a rule. None of the girls agreed to my offer of a GI Joe BattleStation; none of the boys liked the idea of the Barbie Dreamhouse (one boy actively recoiled at the idea) . Some brought their sibs, and one or two didn't want to be there at all. The oldest was about twelve; the youngest, barely a week old (and you can believe I handled him as gently and carefully as I possibly could -- there's something scary about a child that small, when your vision is obscured by wig overhang and fluffy beard). Only one attempt to pull down the beard, but three different very intruigued little faces peered up at me in their turn, each one not at all sure what this guy was all about. A couple of squirmers, a couple of criers. And one girl, about ten, with a big smile and bright eyes, looked at me very closely while we talked, and later she came back to talk to me some more. She was fascinated with Santa, I think, and she gave me not just one but two very big hugs before she left. It was awesome.

And this afternoon, I made moon pies. A challenging recipe -- the texture is quite different than the ones I'm used to buying, not to mention, the once or twice I've made them before -- these start with crisp cookies, while the others started with small circular chocolate cakes. (The cookies are actually worth having all by themselves, I think.) The marshmallow filling took two tries to make; the first burned, and I think I underdid the second while mixing it. And it was pretty messy, too -- I used about every small bowl and spatula I have, with drips of chocolate and marshmallow all over the place.

Still, I'm glad I did it. It was ... interesting.

And tomorrow -- burritos, one more time!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Things and Thoughts

I learned today about a site called Hyperwords, and another called Truecrypt. Both are worth looking into.

I like reading Kiplingers Financial Magazine, because its nicely written and has advice that sounds right to me. It has its flaws -- reading about how two doctors went from earning a combined $250,000 a year to about 85% of that, but are much, much happier now...or the woman who had to decide how to handle a totally huge surprise inheritance... doesn't resonate too well with me -- but its not bad -- not as dense as Forbes, not as lightweight as Money.

I got a giftie from my company today -- a 256M USB 'thumb drive'. Kind of cute.

Two days till I play Santa at a local hospital. Its only two hours, but I look forward to it all year.

Cooking for Engineers is an interesting cooking site, and its not just for 'engineers', but anyone who likes to think logically.

I really don't believe the Cheney daughter pregnancy should be a matter for public discussion. Thats a private matter. Yeah, like thats ever stopped us....

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


I learned a little bit about home networking today. It really is just a little bit, the most trivial of information -- but I didn't know it.

Here it is.

There is a set of standards that define the frequencies that can be used by wireless networks. These are described in the IEEE 802.11 documents, described in this Wikipedia page. Three that are common are 802.11(a), 802.11(b), and 802.11(g). The standards also document the data transfer rate that the wireless connection can use -- the higher the rate, the faster the transfer.

The reason I got interested in this was that I was trying to understand why, in the same home network, my Windows XP Professional/ Lenovo T60 Thinkpad could transfer data way faster than my Windows XP Home/Dell Inspiron 600M. Turns out, it's the frequency. The Thinkpad is using 802.11(a)(b)(g), which can transfer up to 54 megabits per second, while the Inspiron is using 802.11 (b)(g). The (b) can transfer up to 11 MBPS, while the (g) can transfer up to 54.

I asked myself the obvious question, and it turns out that yes, you can tell the laptop to use just the (g) protocol -- you go into Start/Network Connections, right click, select the wireless connection, select Properties, go up to Connect Using and select Configure, and scroll through the values there until you find one that looks like Rate or Data Rate. When that one is selected, a box to the right (at least, on my display) will tell you what data transfer rate you're getting -- and mine said 11. Going further down the values where the word Data was found, there is a Wireless Mode -- and mine was (b) and (g). I selected (g), and said OK -- and suddenly my network connection, far from getting better, just went away entirely.


Cause I can dial in whatever the heck freq I want to use -- but if the wireless router is only transmitting on (b), then (b) is all thats going to be there -- and I had just told the laptop not to use (b).


But at least now I understand it a little bit better. And, having reset the values, I'm connected again.

Do still wonder how the other laptop transferred faster, though, given that it had to be doing it at a max of the 11 MBPS (ie, the (b) ) rate. Wonder if one card is just faster?

Cnn Humour

From CNN:

The Iraq Study Group report gives a "tough assessment of the situation in Iraq," President Bush said today. Bush urged Congress to help find "common ground" on Iraq. "The country is tired of pure political bickering," Bush said.

That's a joke, right? Particularly the last part?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


An unusual evening.

I went to physical therapy, and for a great deal of it I had the attention of one of the young women who works there. Normally, I deal with one of two people -- a young man or a somewhat older woman; occasionally, a young woman. All of them (as indeed all of the staff) are therapists, but their styles (and, I suspect, abilities) vary widely -- the older woman is probably the most competent and most likely to show me different stretches and exercises, followed at a distance by the man; the younger woman is the nicest of the three (not that the first two are difficult, not at all), but is also the least likely to push any particular exercises.

But the women who work in the main part of the floor are different -- much more energetic, much more likely to push exercises. I was irritated to have this person's attention, as she demanded greater exertion in the exercises, with more attention to form, and for longer than any of the three I normally deal with. Yet I was also aware that although I did not like the experience, she was giving me exactly what I needed -- exercise, and a lot of it, focused on the muscles which are the weakest, and where I am having the most difficulty now. I found myself wondering why the people I normally deal with aren't this -- no other word seems appropriate -- pushy.

I still prefer 'my' people. But now I wonder if, in so doing, I'm shortchanging myself.

Star Wars

I knew that the crew in Star Wars spent a lot of time together.

This suggests that perhaps the future of the Empire wasn't the only reason.

Lying Abed

Its another chilly morning, but with a difference: we have a Christmas tree. My wife says that this is the earliest that we've picked one out for quite some time, and she may be right. I set my 'gotta getta tree' timer running by the occurance of Thanksgiving, which she tells me came early this year. Whatever, we got a nice one (we always do, or at least always think so; its only when you go late that you have to ask for 'the least haggard looking tree, please'). In fact, we got two; my daughter got, and partially paid for, a very small artifical tree for her room. I have hesitated to actually go into her room to see where it is, as I cannot think of any unencumbered flat spaces, so I fear that I'll see it teetering on the edge of an overloaded bureau -- or being nibbled at from underneath by one of the guinea pigs.

Ever have something that is so good to read that you can't stand to read it, because a) the concepts are so juicy, you have to slow down and savor each one, and b) because the act of reading is a destructive one that will eventually wipe out the article so that it is past tense, not future delight? I'm having that experience now, with an article in the New York Times on the growth of information sharing among US intelligence agencies. Its probably because I'm a bit of a geek, but the ideas that they are talking about, how to find and classify and retrieve disparate bits of information, how to link pieces to form a coherent whole, is so interesting, it makes my ruff stand up.

Last night we got a call from the husband of my friend who died three years ago. It was an enjoyable conversation; for all that he is a gruff sort of person who tends to think in the style that was popular when he was in school (which for him was the US Air Force Academy), and make the kind of heavy handed jokes popular there, we like talking to him and finding that he is okay. So okay, in fact, that he mentioned he is dating a woman he met last year. That took me back, a bit; I think of him as her husband, and always will be - in fact, it was a little difficult not to ask him how she was doing - so to see him in another role was startling. We talked for a while about his children - I remember the daughter running naked out of the bathroom at 3; and the son crying at the door because we were taking his sister out, and not him -- now she's out of college, and he's close. I shall not tell them that story. I also learned he had ten years of classical piano training, and can speak limited amounts of ten different languages. Amazing. When she was there, she was the person I was interested in, and he was just an adjunct. Now, he's the primary, and he turns out to have more depth and breadth than I suspected.

I didn't get to do any baking last weekend, so I'd like to get some done. We did do cooking; that recipe that I posted here for NSS Joes, which was a little bit of work but quite good. Last night we had more comfort food, something that we call Rice with Beef and Pineapple, which is simply flavored rice with browned hamburger and bits of pineapple. I love it. I told my wife that I think she is a better cook than me, but that I'd like to be better, and when the opportunity arises, I usually at least try. Neither of my parents were particularly interested in cooking; in fact, my mother said once that she never really learned how because her mother used to chase her out of the kitchen when she was making dinner. Thats one reason that I like involving my daughter when I bake -- so that she can be comfortable with the concept.

Another is simply because it's fun.

Monday, December 04, 2006


"Dad, do you know about a software package called Audacity?"
"Yes, I downloaded it, but I haven't unzipped it yet because I don't know how to use it."
"Oh, you just put it on a thumb drive and plug it into the USB port. It's easy."

Sunday, December 03, 2006


Words have always been important to me, ever since I had a high school English teacher who so loved talking about books that you could almost hear the capital B when he said it: Book. I don't mean to imply that it was a Mr. Chips environment; as things go, his class wasn't anything remarkable, but there was something about the way that he said that word, and something about the way that he revered the concept, that stuck with me ever since.

It bothers me sometimes to see words used badly. I admit, my definition of 'badly' would likely not make anyone else's list of Egregious Use of the Language. But there are some common uses of the language that make me cringe, just a bit. One of them is use of the word 'fight'.

We're fighting against cancer.

We're fighting for your rights.

We're fighting mad.

No, you're not. No, you're not. And no, you're probably not.

You're doing research to find the causes of cancer, so that you can develop treatments which are effective against cancer, and which may reduce or eliminate the instances of cancer.

You're instituting litigation to uphold or deny a specific political or legal position in order to forward or retard specific or generic political or legal actions which you feel strongly about, one way or the other.

You're unhappy, but you probably aren't about to break out into fisticuffs.

I got to thinking about this while reading an article on the Boing! Boing! blog regarding the Barenaked Ladies group, and specifically on how they're opposed to the Digital Rights Management legislation. The blog said that in addition to being an excellent group, BNL was 'fighting the bad guys'. See, I don't think they are. (I'll ignore 'the bad guys' part; there's something to be said for DRM, though not much, but even if there were nothing, 'the bad guys' is just a little too cutesy-poo for me.) They're opposed to it; they're taking actions to invalidate and eliminate it. But 'fighting it'? No, not really.

I know, I know. To most people, that is fighting. Just, not to me.

Now, about that word "disrespect". Guys? It's not a verb, okay?


I just tried to convince my daughter that the Nutcracker ballet, which she is going now to see with her mother, grandmother, and aunt, would be much better received if it were performed by the cast from West Side Story, complete with finger snapping and black leather jackets. I even broke into a verse of When You're a Mouse King (When you're a Mouse King, You're a Mouse King all the way, From your first cigarette, to your last dying day...) but it did not suade her. She said that this was a classic, and you couldn't mess with the classics. I said that of course you could -- it was called making them current, making them relevant. She merely stared at me.


Saturday, December 02, 2006


Quite the day.

I didn't feel well last night, so I woke up a lot, and slept late. That tossed my schedule off for the day. When I got to the point of thinking about baking, the offspring insisted that it had to be thick pretzels -- and not just any thick pretzels, but the ones in the mix we'd bought as part of her fund raiser. Well...okay. But that blew the thought about doing some interesting baking.

Tthis afternoon, I took a nap, and when I woke, my wife had gone to church, and the offspring bounded into the room to announce yet another way that we, meaning me, could implement a wonderful way to surprise her mother. Well, of course, you don't want to step on that kind of enthusiasm -- hey, its the Christmas season!!! -- so you go along -- only to find that this time the plan is to put out some Christmas lights -- say, on the twenty foot evergreen in the back yard. Kiddo, I point out, that requires a ladder, and its dark, and cold out, and did I mention that I can't really reach all that well? I could help... comes the wistful response. Oh, crap. Okay, what if you do it in the front of the house? Yay! and moments later Done! Done? So fast? Well, yes, she took one string of lights, draped it over the bushes directly in front of the house. All set to plug in. did it backwards. I need to have the -- hesitation; can I call it the 'male end' to her? -- plug end with the prongs facing out to be up on top, where the extension cord can reach it. Oh. Glum face. Well, let me see if I can do it with what you did. No. Three electrical cords later, no. Has to be that way. So out she goes into the cold and dark, flips them around. I plug them in, they light up. I stagger back into the kitchen to finish dinner.

And did I mention that she and I seem to have the sniffles?

Working Out

For the last couple of months, I've been doing predominantly weight and flexibility exercises at the orthopedic place. That means three things -- using the Body Blade , which is not as easy as it looks, at least with my left arm; using the fixed weights (and its amazing how little I can pull with that arm; about ten or twelve pounds seems to be normal, but that arm gets whacked if I do more than two pounds for a couple of minutes); and an 'exercise bike' where the 'pedals' are hand-cranked. For this, I've been giving them thirty dollars a shot. Thats down from the (apparently) two hundred dollars a shot that my insurance company had paid. I also occasionally get my arm stretched by one of the therapists; thats of varying effectiveness, but it does help, and I'll never say no to having my hand held by an attractive woman (sadly, only one of the three; she's firmly married (okay, me too!); and its for medical purposes).

So now I'm thinking: sixty bucks a week, two hundred forty a month; two thousand plus a year. I could buy a membership in a decent health club for that. I wouldn't get the stretching, but.... should I switch? Going to the local YMCA doesn't thrill me; even though they've just finished an extensive remodel, its going to be the same people with the same 'you again?' attitude that I noticed when I went routinely during my year off from work. But there is a brand new LA Fitness opening soon. On the one hand, they're hiring from the same labor pool as everyone else, so the staff won't look like 90210 material. But it'll be brand new equipment....

New equipment ... multiple exercise venues...BUT..nobody pushing me, which I know I need.


Pope Redeemed

I occasionally see articles saying how out of touch the Pope is, and how ticked the entire Islamic world is with him.

Well, apparently not all of it.


The temp's dropped from the low seventies yesterday to the low forties today, after a day of gusting wind that helpfully took the pile of leaves that my wife had put at the curb and cheerfully distributed it all the way down the street. We used to have a neighbor who was civil but not particularly friendly, and when our leaves (we had one large tree in the front yard; now we have two) would blow onto his lawn, I'd make an effort to get them -- at least, for about ten feet into his property. No sense being manic about it. Now we've had a different family in that house for the last ten years, and they planted a couple of trees -- still pretty spindly, but definitely trees. Last year, when I was raking, I remarked to the husband how I was amazed how many leaves on his property had been generated by his treelets, and he said with some humour that the identical comment had been made by my wife the very same day.

The offspring and wife are out doing things -- the offspring volunteered to work at a Christmas workshop, which she does like to do, but which also gets her some 'service hours', required by our church. She was a bit grumpy this morning when she realized that weekends are not infinitely elastic; having committed to an event last night, this one this morning (in addition to her normal 'weekend stuff' of cleanup for her pets), and then going to see her cousin in the Nutcracker (I used to like that play until I thought about the actual plot; now I think it's just weird, and I've seen quite enough of it), plus, of course, homework, she is now effectively back at Monday morning. Welcome to the real world, kiddo.

I got up late this morning. I wanted to, anyway, but not this way; I was sick in the middle of the night, and it took me an hour before my body would calm down and I could lay back in bed without being sure that there was a clear path between me and the bathroom door. The aftereffect is that for some reason I'm not really hungry! I still don't know what I'm going to bake; as I think of it, the profiteroles, though fun, are too lightweight. I feel like doing Baking, not just baking. I need a challenge. Not, he hastened to admit, that I am a Master Baker or anything even remotely close; I just don't feel like making The Usual Stuff.

So we'll see. Maybe I'll spend some time rereading The Adolescence of P-1. Or maybe I'll just goof off!

Friday, December 01, 2006


I just had an odd thought. I was doing some searching on the topic of, well, searching (talk about self referential phrases) and I came across an interesting page here. I thought 'I'd better save this page -- download it -- so that I can look at it later'. And then I thought 'exactly why do I need to download it? I'm going to use Firefox to look at it later, whats the diff between searching and saving the bookmark and saving the whole page?'

I'm sure this thought has occurred to others, but its new to me.

Chicago Miami Day

Why? Because it's windy as hell out there...and its 72 degrees. On December first!

This has been a tumultuous day. On the one hand, I found why a product was having a problem. It was pretty satisfying to find it... but irritating that the product didn't just come out and SAY it was having this problem. Still, thats why they pay me the big bucks.... and the error messsage WAS easy to figure out. Well, it gave me a pretty big clue, anyway. So now I just have to figure out how to fix it. Having wasted many hours reading the doc, I now cut to the chase, with this product: I immediately call their help desk. They already know what I think of their doc. I probably don't want to know what they think of me!

And I filed some recipes that I'd emailed home. My golly, you'd think I was a baking fool -- five of them, with names like Best Gooey Brownies and Turtle Pecan Bars and Simplest Apple Pie and Biscotti (only the last of which have I actually made). But my need for Sense of Order is now happier. Well, except for the two that are still on this laptop.

I got up early, for a change. Perhaps it has something to do with swearing a mighty oath last night that I by God would be in bed by nine -- and was actually in the bed, albeit reading, by 8:30. My wife has observed that she now seems to need more sleep than our daughter. So also for me.

I can't get Network Magic on this PC and the desktop to acknowledge the existence of Network Magic on my new laptop. They both recogize the desktop, and the router, but not each other -- and the laptop thinks the old work PC is still around. This is irritating. I have posted a question on NMs web site, and, to my non-astonishment, got an automated reply saying that they'll get to me Real Soon Now. I want this product to work. I think its a Good Product, and I don't want to be proven wrong.

I heard a recording by a Thom Rotella -- yet another version of Little Drummer Boy. Not at all bad. I was talking with my wife the other day about Christmas music -- how no one writes new ones any more. And the old ones are -- well, pretty damned dusty, for the most part.

This weekend we go out to get the Christmas tree, I hope. My daughter wants her own, too -- a small one. And after salivating at seeing how spiffy my sister in laws house looked with multiple trees, I may acquiesce. Does she have me wrapped around her little finger? Well, heck, isn't that her job?

Baking this weekend? Probably. Not sure what, though. Either rolls or profiteroles, something like that.

And I went for a blood test today, which I did NOT want to do, because I hate letting people judge me (since I am sure I will come up wanting in their estimate), and the damned person who wrote out the order put 'fasting' on it -- but not in English, so I didn't know. Dammit! Now I have to go back again. Clearly, Health Care Delivery does not necessarily incorporate the concept of Customer Satisfaction.

But, overall, not a terrible day.... and the weekend is coming!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

I Didn't Take This Picture

...but I really like it. I found it on Flikr, here, and it was uploaded by someone who calls him/herself Thrumycamera.


I installed a package called Network Magic to help me understand how my home network is performing. It's not free, but it's fairly inexpensive. And I've learned something quite interesting.

In a nutshell, it told me that the download speed from the router to the desktop (which is hardwired to the router) is about 3000 K per second. The download speed from the router to this laptop is about a tenth of that. I had thought it wasn't all that bad, but seeing that comparison makes me think well, okay, loss in wireless transfer is pretty high. But today I installed NM on my work laptop. Transferring from the same router, same network, same transfer type (ie, wireless) it says the transfer rate is almost identical. Not to this laptop's rate -- to the desktop's rate. Put another way, the work laptop transfers ten times faster than this laptop.

Shazam. Why? I have no clue. But at least now I know there that there IS a problem. And knowing that, maybe I can fix it.

Btw, I really like that new work laptop!

Road Skill

This is a trivial problem, but its one that I like to think about. For some reason, it soothes me.

Here it is.

Take your average two or three lane highway. Think about it as traffic is streaming down the lanes. At some point, the average speed begins to drop. Cars become more tightly packed; the spaces between cars lessens. Every so often, traffic comes to a halt, or as close as makes no difference -- and then it starts up again. Sometimes it slows back down, other times it opens right up again.

How would you model that kind of changing activity? How detailed would the model have to be? How would you cause the model to accurately reflect how people actually drive, and how would you manipulate the model to reflect how they would drive in circumstances that aren't easy to reproduce -- rain, say, or a blocked lane?

I like thinking about stuff like that. I'm not knowledgeable about it (though I'd like to know more, I don't know of any traffic engineering journals aimed at the public), but I like thinking about it. I think it's fun.

Recipe -- Not So Sloppy Joes

Not sure if I mentioned this recipe before -- from Real Simple magazine, it's pretty easy, and pretty good.

Not So Sloppy Joes

1 T olive oil
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 pound ground beef
6 oz tomato paste
1 1/2 t chili powder
1 t cumin
1/8 t ground black pepper
1/8 t cinnamon
1 t kosher salt
4 hamburger buns
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/2 cup sour cream

Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat
Add onion, garlic, pepper
Saute until fragrant, about 3 minutes
Add ground beef.
Brown the beef, about 5 minutes
Stir in tomato paste, chili powder, cumin, black pepper, cinammon, salt
Simmer, stirring occasionally, until mixture thickens slightly, about 12 minutes
Toast hamburger buns (if desired)
Spoon mixture onto buns; top with cheddar cheese and sour cream.