Tuesday, February 28, 2006


I heard a person use the phrase 'on a go-forward basis' today, which was depressing. Just to drive the nail in, I did a search to see how many places it turned up. My oh my oh my.

HST on seal pelts should only be applied on a go forward basis
HST on seal pelts should only be applied on a go forward basis. Tom Rideout, Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture, today said that it would be unfair to ...
www.releases.gov.nl.ca/releases/2006/fishaq/0104n05.htm - 7k - Cached - Similar pages - Filter

SAS 70: History and Timeline

... the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) will also issue auditing standards for public companies on a go-forward basis. ...
www.sas70.com/history.html - 5k - Cached - Similar pages - Filter

Investor Corner - Investor Corner - Cisco Systems

While the impact on a go-forward basis is affected by a number of complex variables including our stock price, and making predictions of future values is ...
investor.cisco.com/phoenix.zhtml?c=81192&p=irol-investorcorner - 33k - Cached - Similar pages - Filter

Mineral Rights Information Bulletin 98-3

Add natural gas to the definition of oil sands, on a go-forward basis (this would require an amendment to the Act). All future sales of oil sands rights ...
www.energy.gov.ab.ca/2526.asp - 60k - Cached - Similar pages - Filter

AMX - Press ReleasesOn a go-forward basis, the Company expects its effective tax rate to be closer to the normal statutory rate. For the three months ended December 31, 2004: ...
www.amx.com/nr-press-releases.asp?release=2005-01-27 - 22k -

Monday, February 27, 2006


I never wanted to own a bank, even though the image of foreclosing on the Widder Brown is an appealing one. But these guys have an interesting take on it....

Ben & Me

Okay, it didn't go quite that far. But yesterday, I had a surprising experience. I wrote to a New York Times mailbox to comment on the Ben Stein article (in words softer than I used here), and I got a response. From Ben Stein.

It wasn't lengthy, but that it happened at all impressed me.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Get Human

This is worth seeing. And the cause is worth supporting.


My wife and I have this game we play sometimes (no, not the one with the jelly doughnuts) where one of us will say something completely out of character, and the other will say 'Who are you, and what have you done with my wife/husband?' The other day, we inadvertently played it for real.

I was musing over the Great Television Thing, back when we were contemplating buying a plasma screen TV (before becoming a little wiser to the intricacies of HDTV; think we'll wait about two years more). It got me thinking about how I'd like to upgrade the stereo system downstairs (which likely dates me; I guess the current phrase is 'the audio system', though perhaps that's out of vogue, too), which led me to thinking about electronics generally, at which point I turned to her and casually suggested that we get another laptop computer, because having the one has worked out so well in terms of easing congestion. At which point she turned to me and gave the word, and I realized how very odd it was for me to offer to spend about a thousand dollars almost on a whim.

I offer as defense that I'd been thinking in rarefied zones while contemplating the cost of the HDTVs, so that my normal standards had gotten a bit out of whack. For about a week, a good salesman at Circuit City (their motto: Don't You Wish Our Stores Were As Good As Our Ads?) could have pushed me into buying the TV, but I got over it. I'm not breathing helium any more.

Unlike Ben Stein. I like him -- you may know him (I was about to refer to him by his initials, but that would be rude) as the guy on Win Ben Stein's Money, as well as a character actor and the guy who looks glumly at you through the Visine ads. He's a surprisingly bright guy (as distinct from one who just sounds bright with the right script) as can be seen in his occasional economics articles in the New York Times. But there are some issues where I think he's breathing helium, as in the current edition of the paper where he asks why people dislike large oil companies making tons of money. You can understand why he would dislike that attitude, being a Republican big-business sort of fellow, but in fact he really does seem to get it in many ways, and in that same column weighed in heavily against the huge endowment of his college, wondering why they still asked for money, and the huge personal profits that some CEOs now make for no corporate gains at all (not to mention, corporate losses). He sounds right. And then he says something like this:

"I can tell you, since I am close friends with a man who wrote speeches for a top executive, that they are not wildly well paid, particularly by Wall Street or Hollywood standards. Out of the 85,000 (employees of Exxon Mobil), only a few earn more than a million dollars in salary a year, which is training-wheels pay for investment banks or big Hollywood talent agencies."

Note the 'in salary a year'. So if I earn some number south of that, but earn a number north of it due to bonuses and stock options, I'm morally pure? And then there's 'more than a million'. Gosh, I'd have put the bar way lower. And finally, the comparison to Hollywood or investment banks (both not known for simplicity of life style and lack of self - aggrandizement). It must be like saying Well, sure, Katrina did do some damage to New Orleans, but its not like the whole damn ocean poured in there!

Maybe I should have used his initials.

Listening to the Music

I know I'm out of it. I usually am. In fact, I'm usually so far out of it that I don't even realize there is an 'it' to be out of. But this is something new. I didn't know that there was a thing called 'Gay Music'. And, listening to it, I don't understand the concept.

None of it is music I'd particularly care to hear routinely, but that's because what I like is old jazz, soulful blues, and DWM classics. But when I was selecting the music channel on my Yahoo IM, I noticed one of the channels was called Gay Radio. Well, shucks, I wondered, what's this all about? Theme song from Brokeback Mountain? So I listened to it. Its not my taste, as I said, but its not bad. And I sure don't hear anything 'gay' about it.

So is this a codeword thing, or is the fact that I don't hear anything gay about it because I'm not?

Medical Practice Mores

That last word is more-ay's, like the eel, not mores, like 'hey, that's good pizza, give me some mores'. Just thought I'd mention that.

I've been intrigued by the operation of medical practices for quite some time. Part of the reason is that medicine itself interests me; diagnostic skills fascinate me, to the point that I was actively disappointed to realize that the very best diagnosticians can't tell you how they arrived at their conclusions. Studying decision theory will give hints as to how decisions are raised (the articles on decision methodology which suggested that good decision makers have not only an alternative decision conclusion but a whole series of them amazed me; the way one article put it was that good decision makers come to a conclusion; great decision makers come to several) but the theory doesn't tell you how they make the leap from the same set of facts that stumped or misled the lesser diagnosticians to an accurate diagnosis. I'm charmed and fascinated by things like that. And knowing what the effects of drugs are on certain bodily functions borders on the mystical for me; I remember when I first found out what an SSRI actually was, and why inhibiting the reuptake of serotonin was a good idea (first reaction: if it was a good idea, why doesn't the body do it naturally?). And beta blockers -- though I have to admit, I still stumble on exactly what a beta blocker is, the concept of knowing that, having that level of fluency with the body -- it just delights me. Its that level of skill that almost -- usually not, but almost -- makes me willing to accept the level of superiority that some doctors exhibit. I think Well, gee, if I know that much about my discipline, I'd likely have more than a little arrogance myself.

But when you move away from the nuts and bolts of the practice of medicine to the practice of managing a medical practice is when you get into an area that for me is even more mysterious, in part because for years I thought 'well, what's the big deal? Make appointments, schedule things, keep track of charts, why is it so difficult?' It seems like its the same problems that the guys who schedule maintenance on my aging Buick have, or the painters who come to my house, or the plumber, or the electrician. But as articles like the one in today's Washington Post show, the practice of medicine is a lot more volatile because its a lot more personal. You're dealing with people, and the people aren't always what you expect, just as you aren't what they expect. It ranges from scheduling an appointment that they know they can't keep, but their attitude is that you Never say no to authority; better to accept the appointment knowing you won't make it than to do that, to understanding who actually gives the medical history when you're talking all at once to the whole extended family. Its a whole shift of mindset. To the credit of some medical practices, they're beginning to shift the way that they operate, and the way that they think, but there's lots more who haven't even contemplated the necessity.

Fascinating stuff.

Saturday, February 25, 2006


Its been a moderately turbulent weekend, thus far.

Yesterday, my wife went to Philadelphia to participate in a disaster recovery drill. Doing that is part of the job, and its expected that you will give up a weekend here and there to do it. She's fortunate, in a way; most of the drills she participates in are done remotely, so that she can do them from home, or from her desk at work. This one is a new customer, and new customers get extra attention -- at least until the company can figure out what their special needs are, at which point they join the pack. This isn't cheating, though I would imagine that the companies aren't thrilled when they find out. So its not a big deal, but when it means that I have to be without my wife, then it is a big deal, because I don't like it. Its just a taste of what life would be like without her, and its an unpleasant taste. On more than one occasion I've pointed out that the disparity in our ages, and just the general tendencies, mean that I'll likely die ten or fifteen years before her. She never likes that image. Can't say I'm too thrilled with it either.

I've been reading Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls, and I have to admit that its put me into a bit of a morbid frame of mind. My daughter occasionally says that she doesn't particularly want to grow up, and reading this book, and others like it, I can agree with her. Even though I believe they're talking, in the more graphic stories, about kids who are one or two standard deviations out from the norm, it's still scary stuff, and when I contemplate that actually they may not be talking that far out, its particularly scary. You want to give your daughter -- your child, male or female -- the strength and ability to handle life, and books like this seem to say Guess What? You might make it. You might not. No telling, Jack. Which is very scary stuff. Its deeply unfortunate that the training they do in middle school to defend against this disruption in the kid's life -- whether from peer pressure, alcohol, drugs, or any of the other apparently nine thousand possible ways to kick the kid off the rails -- is itself inherently scary. My daughter told me that she was actively frightened by a guy who came to talk about drug use, and a friend of hers actually left the auditorium, shaking, during the presentation. Then again, if I knew the truth of whats out there, I might, too.

Didn't help that halfway through reading one story in Ophelia, my mother called for help with her computer. When she bought it, she didn't ask for speakers, and it didn't occur to us to order them. We were going to use the speakers we got back when we got back an old computer that we'd given my mother-in-law. Ah, but when the speakers came back, the power cord didn't, and after trying all of the stray unmarked black power cords lying around, I finally said the hell with this, and just ordered a new set of speakers. Is that silly, stupid, and bizarre? Yes.

The bread is baking now. It didn't rise as much as I expected, but I think that the rise during the baking cycle will compensate for that, at least a bit. And hey, I finally learned why they call it a 'letter fold' when they talk about folding the dough. So the day isn't a total loss!

Friday, February 24, 2006

Tomorrow's Baking

This is the bread that I'm going to try to make tomorrow. The poolish is in the oven (with just the light on) now.... (from //foodgeeks.com/recipes/...
... recipe/18759,ciabatta_____sandwich_bread.phtml )

Ciabatta -- Sandwich Bread

1-1/4 cups cool water (60-70°F)
1/8 tsp. instant dry yeast
2-1/3 cups all-purpose flour

4-1/3 cups all-purpose flour
7/8 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. plus 1/8 tsp. instant dry yeast
1-1/3 cups tepid water (75°F)
3 tbsp. olive oil

Rising and Baking:
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/3 cup water, plus water in a spray bottle


Poolish: Place cool water in medium bowl; add yeast and stir in flour until well mixed. Cover and let stand at room temperature 10-12 hours or until the mixture is doubled in size, light and foamy with large bubbles.

Dough: In large bowl mix flour, salt and yeast. In a medium bowl whisk together tepid water and olive, then add to flour mixture. Add Poolish to flour mixture. With hands, mix dough until all ingredients are incorporated. Continue mixing, scraping side of bowl, for 8-10 minutes or until dough holds together and is slightly smooth (dough will be sticky, but resist urge to add more flour, dough will become less sticky as process continues). Scrape sides of bowl clean. Cover and let stand 20 minutes.

To develop gluten in flour, stretch and fold dough in series of 4 folds as follows: Turn dough onto floured surface; pat with palms of hands to flatten slightly. Fold side of dough nearest you to center, stretching dough as you fold. Stretch and fold dough opposite you to center. Stretch and fold right side of dough to center; repeat with left side. Slightly dust bowl with flour; place dough, seam side down in bowl. Cover and let stand 30 minutes. Repeat the 4 fold process 3 more times, resting the dough 30 minutes between foldings. After the last fold, oil the inside of the bowl, cover and let stand 50 minutes.

Final Preparation and Baking: Line a large baking sheet with a clean kitchen towel. In a small bowl, mix flour and cornmeal together. Sprinkle 1/3 of the mixture in a 12x4-inch strip on towel-lined pan. Remove dough from bowl and gently place on a floured surface (Be careful not to deflate the dough). Lightly flour and gently pat the dough into a 10-inch square, about 1-inch thick. Let rest for 5 minutes.

Cut dough into 3 equal strips. Stretch 1 dough strip in a 12x4 inch loaf; place on cornmeal strip of towel. Create fold in towel next to loaf; sprinkle with cornmeal mixture and stretch and place second strip. Another fold, sprinkle with cornmeal and stretch and place the last strip of dough. Cover dough with another kitchen towel (not plastic wrap), and let stand 45 minutes.

Place large baking stone in center of oven, with the broiler pan on the bottom rack. Heat to 450°F. Dough should spring back slightly, if too quick, allow to continue to rise longer. Lightly sprinkle tops with cornmeal mixture. Invert onto a transfer peel and slide onto baking stone. Repeat with other loaves. Pour 1/3 cup water into broiler pan, mist tops of loaves and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown and loaves sound hollow when tapped on bottom.

Cool on wire rack.

Mean Kitty


I like being married -- its brought me a lot of pleasure, and there have been very, very few problems caused by it (in fact, I can't remember any, but there must have been some). Its a very comfortable and comforting way of life.

The latter is on my mind lately because I've been in need of comforting .Nothing overwhelming, but when you're in a dejected mood, it doesn't take much. When I was very young, I thought that the little buildings marked 'Comfort Station' held very nice people who would give you cookies and hot cocoa and generally make you feel better.

I still think that's a good idea.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


The president says that the deal for the Arab company to operate major US ports has nothing to do with the security of the ports. The head of Homeland Security says there are provisions to ensure this, though, of course, he can't tell us what they are. (To be fair, perhaps he really doesn't have a clue about it. There's a track record for that.)

I don't think either of these people gets it. Operating a port may have nothing to do with its security, but you can screw it up just as badly with a spreadsheet as with a bomb. And all the secret provisions in the world won't help when a major port -- or a series of major ports -- are shut down. When our economy takes a hit because a port is shut down, all of George's pious speeches and scrunched up deer in the headlights looks won't help a whit. If John Kerry or Nancy Pelosi had suggested this, George would be on the horn immediately trumpeting how important it was to keep America secure, and handing over control of major ports was no way to do that. But he's not. He's in favor of the idea.

Wonder why?

Monday, February 20, 2006

Firefox Outfoxed

I wish I could say I figured this out for myself, especially given how simple it turned out to be, but I didn't. However, it works.

When I use Internet Exploiter, one of my bookmarks is actually a text file on the PC . Turns out that FF doesn't do text files. Further, the bookmark file doesn't open HTMLs, either (I tried just saving it as one). What to do?

Did a search, and found an answer. Open the file from FF using the File Open command. Select Bookmark This Page. Go into the Bookmark's Properties and rename it to something a little more user-friendly. Done.

Oh, yeah, that was easy.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Striped Hats and Algorithms

While I was at the opthamologist's the other day, squinting through dilated eyes at an issue of Forbes, and about fifteen minutes away from getting moderately bad news (I guess it's a good thing that we don't know its coming), I read an interesting article about improvements that Norfolk Southern had made to the way that they assemble and route trains. Of course, since this kind of magazine is oriented to financial people, decision makers, and the like, the description of what they did and how it was done was along the lines of 'and then a miracle occurred', but, in a nutshell, they hired a company (I think this is them, but I'm not sure) to chart the connectivity and usage of track between major assembling points. The company also was charged to develop a way to show which pieces of freight (at the boxcar level) had waited longer than the average.

One of the railroad men said that it was an epiphany (my word) to see what this piece of software could show them. He said that he came from the school of thought which said 'We're the railroad; we'll get to your stuff when we're good and ready.' For the first time, they had an objective way to show how long it took to assemble a train, play with what-ifs, and generally try to get the elapsed time down. And, of course, they did (hardly anyone writes about the failures); the average time between two nodes went from a day and a half to three quarters of a day, and freight which had to be expedited could be clearly seen in the master computer system. All of this, you'd assume, had been around for years, but not here. Here, it was fast, new, and sexy.

Computer systems are like that. They can pop up graphic images that amaze you -- not because the detail wasn't known before, but because the detail wasn't known to you before. If you saw The Hunt for Red October, you remember the scene wherein Ryan is on the aircraft carrier, fiddling with the tabletop display that showed where the US submarine fleet was; by clicking on one icon, he saw the name of the sub pop up. 'That's the Dallas', the admiral says. "Bart Mancuso's boat.'

Now think about how a computer system thats set up to execute jobs works. We tell it 'here's the general rules of the road' -- ie, this kind of job is more important than any other; this kind of job should be billed like this. Then we give it a list of jobs to execute, and we give it some more rules -- run these jobs start to finish, one at a time; run those jobs as time permits. We hand crank all that material in. Then we hit Start, and away she goes. The best monitors we have will give us snapshots of how things are going, will tell us when we are in trouble, let us know what work we're running when, and the best schedulers will let us know what we can expect to run in the coming hours, and, if they run as they normally do, how long they can be expected to run. Its up to us to figure out how to run them -- which runs in what order, or which one can be held to let the Cannonball barrel through. The system doesn't do that.

Why not?

Medical Alternatives

I don't know what to make of alternative medicine, but today, shortly after I jokingly (and maybe not so jokingly) told my wife that I was feeling so stressed that I needed some Zoloft (I think that's the name of one of the meds that advertises itself, followed by a prim notice to 'see your doctor'), I found a non-medical alternative that is giving me some tranquility without medication. It comes in two parts. The first is Baileys Irish Cream, in a small etched-glass vessel. And the second is bookshelves. You see, we're going to have the living room painted soon, and part of the preparation for that is unloading the bookcase so that it can be shifted away from the wall. I can't wait to see the dent this thing has left in the carpet after fifteen years!

But as I have been taking books down -- these get tossed, those get filed into the cardboard box -- I have been pausing on occasion to glance at them -- not so much reading them as glancing at the covers and remembering how much pleasure they gave me. One is Thinking in Time, by Richard Neustadt, subtitled 'The Uses of History for Decision Makers'. Another is John W. Gardner's On Leadership. Two more ' Shutterbabe - Adventures in Love and War' (literally), and 'Just Here Trying to Save a Few Lives - Tales of Life and Death from the ER'. And 'Moving Mountains - or, The Art of Letting Others See Things Your Way'.

Some books, you might never read again, but you're still glad to have them.

All I know is...

what I read in the paper, hear on the radio, view on the web....and I must say, its quite a jangled mess. This is hardly an original observation, but gosh -- what the heck is going on? We've got whales dying mysteriously, people who've trained for years to get to the Olympics literally missing the bus, minor hunting accidents turned into significant political flaps due to personal intransigence, groups of people rioting over cartoons, the results of a major women's health study being interpreted in two conflicting ways (as was the result of a review of economic data relating to housing prices, and also to economic productivity). What the heck is going on?

My off the cuff guess? We're deep in the trough of interpreting all that we read, hear, view through our own filters. There are no -- or very few -- unambiguous events any more. All them (just about) are susceptible to spin, and we're willing (not eager, but willing) to hear what the spinmeisters have to say. And it affects us -- even when we're willing to bet that we aren't hearing the real story, it affects us. So every event has an evil agenda, a hidden purpose, a Them behind it. Even when we can't believe that, we do believe that the Formally Constituted Authorities are no such thing-- like the minor gods of Olympus, they spend their time battling each other, and occasionally toying with us for their own amusement; they care only in passing for our health, safety, and lives. We can't rely on them. We can't believe them.

So....who do we believe?


I've been feeling pretty sorry for myself lately. Last night I got the classic wakeup call. I wish that I could say that it's turned me around; it didn't, but it had an impact.

I was at a competition in which my daughter was entered. The building was jammed with girls in various costumes and uniforms, practicing their routines, running back and forth, doing rolls, and all of that. In one corner of the gymnasium where the actual meet was held, I noticed a girl sitting in a wheelchair, watching. Well, heck, nothing unusual there. Nothing all that unusual. Noth --

She had no legs.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Building a Policitican

Two more characteristics for the ideal presidential candidate.

Knows the difference between principles and compromise; knows when to hold em and when to fold em. I think that in that position you have to give on some principles and standards that are important to you, in favor of keeping the other side and their constituency engaged. Better still that you can convince them to do it your way, but we don't have a lot of people with that eloquence and charisma, these days.

Reads. A lot.


It usually takes me about 36 hours to recover from a significant shock to my emotional stability, aka, my normal level of obliviousness. It takes longer if there has been more than one. In this case, there have been two over the course of ten days. It accounts, should you wonder, for the generally morose tone of what I've written lately. What I wrote was true, but I don't normally own up to it.
This morning for the first time in months I actually watched some Saturday morning television. I was startled by the high level of violence (and I do think cartoon violence has an effect) and advertising. I was so taken by it that I started noting the content of channels as I flipped past them. Roughly speaking, there was about 60% cartoons, where the cartoons were about 90% 'we're gonna blast them guys' and 10% were gentler; about 15% shows about becoming wealthy (its amazingly easy); another 15% about losing weight (also surprisingly easy), and 10% miscellaneous, ranging from a CSPAN political interview to movies -- Die Hard 3 was one; I forget the other. Pretty awful stuff, overall.
I was also amazed to see a program last night wherein they spoke of the Cheney thing in purely spin-control terms. Not whether he was right or wrong to act as he did, but why his response could have limited the political damage had it been executed more along the lines they recommended. They didn't touch on the ideas that Cheney and his puppet/boss basically blow off anything they don't want to hear, or that they never admit error, but even so, I was startled. No ethical conundrums here.

Ah, life. Better than the alternative, I suppose.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


I may have mentioned on occasion that I don't like doctors.

Its not that I dislike all of them. I know two that I like -- one local, one remote. The local one, I don't see any more since she left the practice where we go to get med stuff done, and the remote one is remote in more ways than one. But still, there are those two.

Overall, though, I don't. Mostly its because they tell me things I don't want to hear, and sometimes its because they've got this attitude which plays right into the old joke about God liking to pretend He's a doctor. A bit is because they make so much money. (And I know, not all of them do , and not compared to med school bills, and no amount of money is worth the stress, and then there's the whole malpractice mess. Right. I saw the letter in Forbes about the average salary for dermatologists. I weep for them, all of them.) And some is because they don't watch out for me -- they think (foolish medfolk) that I'm old enough to do that for myself, given the facts. In fact, I'm not -- I need to be hammered and coaxed. Sorry, thats how I am.

But some, I would like to know, because they sound human. Bright, interesting, funny, insightful. (Plus, since they don't know me, they don't give me bad news.) Like the woman who does this blog. It's well written, and its worth reading. She'd be fun to talk to, I think.


I was just pleasantly surprised.

I was noodling around, looking for information about housing prices in a given state, and stumbled across the site for the US Census Bureau. It's pretty nice. The layout is good, the graphics are good. Its not perfect -- few sites are -- but it looks like someone took time and effort with it. I dropped them a line to tell them it was appreciated. I hope it gets to someone who actually did the design.

I remember using some of their materials back in the dark ages of information gathering, when the slickest thing around was taking notes in different colors, and the storage medium of choice was index cards. I was always fascinated by just how much data was available, about how many things. I didn't really understand a great deal of it -- even now, I'm not sure what a SMSA is, though I do recall what it stands for -- but I thought it was damned impressive, nonetheless.

Seeing their site, I still do.

Republican TV

This morning I was thinking idly about additional defining characteristics for a desirable Democratic candidate ('intelligence' and 'eloquence' came to mind) when I found myself wondering what a Republican version of The West Wing would have looked like. Then I realized: its already been done.

They called it 'Dallas'.

Monday, February 13, 2006


This is the sort of amazing thing that makes me think 'It's fake, right?'. But apparently its real. Here, too.


What's the chance that this Cheney thing will suggest to certain Republican loyalists that the true mark of insiderdom with the Bush cabal will now be shotgun pellet scars? I can see a cottage industry of 'fake pellet tattoos' springing up in DC. "Oh, this, thats nothing, just Dick."

Wanna bet?
Update. Tricky Dick now says that that was the worst day of his life.

Sending our people over to Iraq, letting them get blown to pieces, no sweat.

Hiding the workings of the energy task force, piece of cake.

Being a foul mouthed SOB in the Senate, sweet stuff.

Shooting a bud, real sadness.

Geez, Dick, I had you all wrong....

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Keeping Track

On occasion, my mother, who is 'getting up there', will mutter distractedly that she has 'so many things to keep track of'. This is usually uttered when she is trying to remember something that she wanted to tell me. I have to hide a smile, because I think that she doesn't actually have all that many things to remember. I tend to forget that things which I might remember easily, she might not, leading to the feeling that she can't just 'recall' it from long-term storage; instead, if she wants to tell me about it, she has to keep it in active memory.

I thought about that phrase while reading the Post today. One of the articles was about something that I found intriguing, and something that I don't often think about. It occurred to me that while I doubted I'd want to routinely think about this topic, I didn't want it to slide completely off the table, down onto the floor, and off behind the refrigerator, either. I wanted to be aware of the topic, but not easily conversant with it. So many things to remember, you understand. Some time ago, I bought a piece of software called Personal Knowbase, a kind of database, to help me keep track of pieces of info that don't remain in active memory but are recalled often enough that I didn't want to have to hunt for them. For a while, I tried writing down a synopsis of interesting articles, so that later I'd remember having seen them (so that I didn't have the Alzheimers effect of looking at an article as if I'd never seen the topic before, when in fact I'd seen one on it two months before). That didn't work (I got lazy), but the desire is still there. What I need is an auxiliary memory.

I think they call that a 'secretary'.

Oh, in case you're curious: the intriguing article was about the Quadrennial Defense Review. And its already rolling toward the edge of the table: I thought the Q stood for Quarterly. And I just read the article !


I added a counter to the sidebar of this blog. I don't think its the best way to focus attention on the war in Iraq, and I don't agree with the concept that the key metric is it's cost, or how the site that the counter links to draws its conclusions, but I think attention needs to be focused, so this is how I'm choosing to do it. At least for a while -- it's a very depressing number.

Guess that indecision and lack of succinctness makes me a Democrat.

2006 + 2 =

I was leafing through The Economist this morning and came across another article mentioning how the Democrats could be in for some delightful things if they'd only get their act together. Although the article, and ones like it, don't put it this way, what they're saying is 'Why can't the Democrats.... be more like the Republicans?'

When the Republicans speak, they make the same points, frequently with the same words. (Not as much now as before, but still pretty common). They don't exactly pull out index cards with Things To Say Today on it, but you almost feel as if they do have them. (Who knows, maybe they do! Not index cards, but a daily email of Talking Points, sent out from the Republican bunker somewhere under Omaha? Not out of the question.) They pound on the same concepts, they offer not only the same solutions, but the same limited number -- ie, they don't say that Problem X needs to be solved, and here are ten alternatives, they say Problem X needs to be solved, and here is the primary best way to fix it, period.

Democrats frequently don't agree on The problem, and when they do, they don't agree on the solution -- and when they manage to agree on both the problem and the solution, they don't agree on how to implement it, or what it will cost. What comes out is a vague sense of unease and 'something should be done', but no focused energy. You get the sense (at least, I do, but maybe that's not common) that the Democrats care more about solving the problem (particularly if its a societal problem) than the Republicans do, but you also get the sense that the Republicans are significantly more likely to have A Solution, and a plan to get it implemented.

People want solutions. They've got enough to think about and worry about that they don't want to have to figure out if Social Security really is going away, and whether oil is going to go to ten dollars a gallon, and whether drilling in ANWR is the right thing to do, and whether schools are getting adequate funding, and what about the ozone layer. They have bits and pieces that they care about, sporadically, some more consistently than others, but what they want is to be able to hand the problems off to a bunch of people who look like they've got answers. And Republicans, more often than not, look that way, a lot more than Democrats do. So even if you don't particularly like the solutions that the Republicans come up with, at least you have the cold comfort (or dawning horror) that they are more likely to implement their solutions because they're more focused, more linear, more 'on-message'. They push things through and they get things done. If you want intellectual stimulation, you talk to the Democrats. If you want things done, talk to the Republicans. None of this has to do with the rightness or wrongness of what they're proposing for this problem or that. It just has to do with the question of whether the party can get what it wants implemented. Republicans can. Democrats can't. If tomorrow morning a white knight rode into town with the shield of the Democratic party on his or her hip, ducats to doughnuts by midnight the other Democrats would be pointing out why that white knight was off base and why their solutions were better. If the Republican equivalent showed up, someone in that bunker under Omaha would be waiting with oats for the horse and polish for the shield.

How do we fix this? Well, for starters, we answer this: Is it more important to be intellectually right or to be fairly right and electable? Me, I vote for the latter. I would much rather see Democrats in office (though with a strong opposition; I've seen what one-party rule does to either side) but right now whats more important is finding someone who has decent ideas and can get them implemented, regardless of which side of the aisle they come from. I want a Democrat with Republican organization; a Republican with Democratic attitudes. I don't want success at any cost, but I want success at a reasonable cost. The person who can do that -- who embodies those attitudes, those virtues -- must exist. I believe that. I want to vote for that person. I'm not sure where to find this person, but I'm looking.

Finding them is the question. Where do you start? How do you start? Because I've got Political Attention Deficit Disorder. I can think intently about how important this is....for about twenty minutes. And then its off to Gee, I wonder if we have any cookies sin the house, and Gee, I wonder what that sound was, and Gee, wouldn't it be nice to have a big honkin' television with a great selection of things to watch? And I don't come back to it for days, weeks, months. At which point I start again at the beginning, wondering which issues are important

Okay, here's one criteria: gun control and gun owners rights. (Did I just eliminate about 80% of the candidates?)

Here's another: fiscal prudence.

And a third: global warming. The candidate doesn't have to promise to always act as the Sierra Club wants, but should know what the tradeoffs are and be able to speak intelligibly about them.

(Oh, hell, why not say it: I want Jed Bartlett!)


Theres an old joke that goes ‘I love work – I could watch it for hours’. That’s how I feel about exercise. And there’s even a bit of the same love-hate thing in there, too. Though I like working more than I like exercising, still both can give you results that you love, results that make you think that the effort is worth it.

I was thinking about this the other day while reading one of the blogs that I came across back when I had time to read blogs – when I was actually looking for ways to fill my day at work. The blog is called Mamamusings, subtitled elizabeth lane lawley's thoughts on technology, academia, family, and tangential topics, which puts the content pretty well, though it conveys nothing of the woman’s intelligence and breadth of insight – reading what she’s written frequently feels to me like inhaling cool air after time in a smoky room. It’s a delight.

The content that got me thinking was from a posting titled ‘fitness update: the tale of the tape’, about her decision to switch exercise regimens to one that is more structured and more arduous. Here’s part of what she said:

Two weeks ago, I decided to shift from the more flexible approach to getting fit outlined in Pam Peeke’s Body for Life for Women book to the more prescriptive approach in Bill Phillips’ original Body for Life book. I did this after seeing how well the latter program was already starting to work for my husband.

At this two-week mark, I’m pretty amazed by the results. The scale shows a drop of only 3 pounds—from 136.5 to 133.5. But the tale of the tape (as they say in boxing) is more striking. I’ve lost nearly 2” from my waist, and 1” each from my bust, hips, and thighs. My arms have stayed the same, but I suspect that’s because of the muscle being added. I can totally feel the difference in how my clothes fit. Beyond that, I also feel more energetic, more balanced.

I don’t exercise much, for the usual reasons, and more than once (like so many other people) I’ve thought that I wish I could. I know, that’s a cop out, because no one has more time than anyone else, people who are way busier than I still manage to find the time, blah blah blah. Nevertheless, its true. I don’t act on this awareness, but I do think about it, and one of the things that I think is that people don’t exercise not because they don’t want to but because they don’t see any way to do it in any meaningful method, and still do the other things they need to do to keep their lives going. Unless you have focus and determination, most people (for which read: me) can’t get up every morning at 5AM to exercise for an hour, and if they don’t do that, then they see no point to doing it at all. Certainly, the health related articles don’t help much. It seems that about every 6 - 8 months, an article will come out that says ‘you know those things we said you should be doing? Well, a new study shows that actually that list wasn’t strenuous enough. So in addition to that, you should....’ I can’t tell you what comes after that, because that’s where I stop reading.

But I wish I could. I wish I did.

Inspired Homebuilding

We were notified the other day that the Inspired House magazine is going to cease publication. They're offering to fill out the subscription with Fine Homebuilding.

This is a good thing, for two reasons. First, though we found that each issue of IH had interesting and novel material in it, we also found that each one beat on the drum of Smaller (but just as Expensive) is Beautiful. That got tiring. Fine Homebuilding, on the other hand, is a magazine we'd gotten before, and we generally like it.

So we're pleased.

Snow Big Deal

As forecast: about a foot two hours east of here, and about three inches outside. No big deal. School won't be delayed, and neither will the birthday party. Not that its actually a party, per se; they will have cake and such, but then they're going ice skating. I guess we missed a bet there; if we had just laid down some water out in the street, they could have skated there. As could all of the cars that enter our little cul-de-sac.

The only bummer, really, was that I got called at 6AM for a problem, and the snow kept me from getting the papers. On the bright side, they together provided plausible reason not to go to church with the offspring this morning. I used the time profitably, though, downloading the OpenOffice suite of products from here. A good stand in for MS Office, and, since its free, the suite is sweet.

Oh, and the bread from yesterday turned out fairly good -- better than normal, actually, though not as mind-blindingly good as I'd hoped. Good enough that we used it for French Toast this morning.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Negative Thoughts

I like photography. I enjoy doing it, I enjoy seeing the results, and I enjoy getting the perfect shot. Sometimes, I do it by accident -- I've a photograph on my wall at home that I took in San Francisco bay years ago. The original was nice but bland. When I had it reprinted on canvas, the people doing it thought to burn in the image a bit -- and what was bland became spectacular.

Its my hope to do more once I retire. Until then, I'll just admire the work of professionals like this fellow.

Symantec Semantics

Just got a pop up from Norton AntiVirus that the subscription is about to run out -- better renew! Well, sure, I thought, and tapped the button to do that. Whereupon it said 'Enter subscription key: ' Like I have even a clue..... Do they ever think this stuff through? Or are they like the government, assuming that of course we have this stray info just lying around in case they want it?

Speaking of which, gotta get started on taxes this weekend. Groan....


It’s Saturday, and I’m baking bread again. Or at least I’m making bread; its on its first rising now, so we’re at least four hours away from anything edible. I got up relatively early and made some poolish. I’m still not comfortable doing that; it didn’t turn out as I thought it should – it does have the fermenting aroma, but its not all that soupy – from what I gather, poolish is supposed to be mostly water and a little flour. I may have misread the directions. But what the hell, its mixed. I’m in a bit of a grumpy mood today, grumpy enough that I didn’t want to go through the ritual of kneading the dough by hand, so I did it with the mixer. Part of that is that my arm hurts – actually, my wrist, but I think its referred pain or something like that from my shoulder, which has been stiff, last couple of days – but part was that I just wanted to sulk quietly somewhere, so I wanted to get the bread in and rising. I know that the books say that kneading the dough is one of the fun parts, and I’ve seen people say that kneading it helps them work out tension and whatnot, but I’ve never seen the charm of it. So I got that part done, and now I’m in here in the bedroom, munching on potato chips (which we got for my daughters birthday party; I’d better not eat too many or I’ll have to go out to get more) and doing some reading. And writing, obviously.

Potato chips – I know that its traditional to think that certain foods were better when you were a kid, but I really do think that potato chips were tastier then – saltier, for one thing, thoughts of blood pressure be damned. I remember the first time I had what were called ‘Hawaiian’ potato chips – thick, salty ones. Those were amazing – so much so that I don’t think I could eat a bunch of them, just a couple at a time. Not that stopped me from going back to them fairly often. I’ve seen articles where people talk about their favorites from across the country. None of them ever sounded all that amazing that I’ve wanted to order some up. Part of that, too, is inherent cheapness; I’d likely have to pay almost as much for the shipping as for the actual chips themselves. We do order some foods through the mail – Ghiradelli chocolate coffees, teas from Stash Tea, Goldwater’s Salsa – but that’s about it. For some reason we’ve been drinking more coffee of late, so we’re going through the stack of neat blue bags with the Ghiradelli logo fairly quickly. The people we buy from ship so that it gets to us in two or three days, so we don’t run the danger of finding ourselves without any. Having to survive on Starbucks Breakfast Blend, oh, the ignominy!

The one food that we’ve tried to order on occasion and never been satisfied with is jam – in particular, strawberry jam and elderberry jam. When we moved into this house, a neighbor gave us a jar of strawberry jam that they’d made, which was amazingly good (so good that when they brought some over a few years later as a Christmas gift, one jar for us and one for my mother, I gave passing thought to not giving my mother hers). And my wife’s father made elderberry jam from bushes in his yard which was also amazingly good – tart but sweet. We have a jar of elderberry jam in the cupboard that comes from a Trappist monastery; I haven’t tasted it yet but my wife’s sister, who recommended it, says it’s the closest to her father’s that she has ever tasted. So if that works out, we just have to find a truly excellent strawberry jam– one that tastes of sunlight.

Not that mail-order means we've short changed Giant, our local supermarket, whose unofficial motto is 'gee, they seem to like that -- we'd better stop carrying it'. We made our usual run to the store this morning and found hordes of people doing a BM&TP stockup before the Great Blizzard of 2006 that’s arriving tonight -- or so they say. Oh the travails of the weather. People around here really do space out about it. I have no feeling for how much snow we'll get -- the prediction is 5-7 inches, and we normally get half to two thirds of the low end of the spectrum. People at my office were actually freaking out and running to Lowes to pick up snowblowers that were on sale -- impulse buys! Whatever we get, the timing is poor -- not only will it likely affect my daughter's birthday party (such as it is) tomorrow, but it a) won't affect me going in to work, because I'm working from home on Monday, but b) might affect my bringing the van in for service, Sunday night. Somehow we'll survive. I do notice, though -- don't know if this is a growing-older thing or not -- that I tend to notice cold weather more. I like cold weather, but now, if the temp drops quickly, the first thing I think of is that disaster movie 'The Day After Tomorrow', about the virtually instant deep-freezing of the Northern Hemisphere.

Shiver. Maybe I'll go put on a sweater.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Biting Comments

For most of my life -- certainly, all of the parts that I remember -- my teeth have been a problem. Much of that has been my fault, and some of it has been genetic. I now have in my mouth just about everything that dental science can do, from fillings of various flavors and sizes to permanent bridges to an implant. When I had the second bridge put in, the cheerful oral surgeon commented that I really ought to have three other teeth pulled, too, as they 'weren't doing me any good'. I didn't, and that was about three years ago. Last week, the earnest dental hygienicist at my periodontist's office informed me that I had some very deep pocketing around one of my back molars, and she doubted that the tooth could be saved. She said that they would reevaluate me when I came back in three months.

The reason that I see a hygienicist at the periodontists office is because I know that I have very poor willpower when it comes to doing the things that I now insist that my daughter do, and which, I don't doubt, my parents insisted I do when I was young. I have the classic roller coaster slope of intent; very high immediately after being at their office, gradually slipping down over time, with the occasionally slight bump up at the twinge of conscience, and then ramping sharply up in the weeks prior to a re-visit. My expectation was that they would keep an eye on me which was sharper, more alert, than my general practice dentist. But when they didn't -- when they just did basic cleaning, and the periodontist would pop in, glance around in there, and leave -- I never pushed it, never said Dammit ! I want exhaustive dental writeups and evaluation!

So when the comment came, I wasn't overly surprised. Lose the tooth? I had someone planning on taking it out years ago. Sure, I don't like the idea, but I can live with it. But the attitude of the comment -- that got me. Because it clearly -- if not literally -- said This is your fault. And I don't think it is, not entirely. About 70%, yes, maybe even 80. But the reason I paid the higher rates of that office was to get protection -- an auxiliary conscience -- that it now appears I didn't get. I think it would have made a difference -- not a big one, but perhaps it would have put off the inevitable for another six months or another year.

So I'm going to write a letter to the dentist, telling him, in essence, that I think they let me down. I don't expect much good to come of it, and I am sure that their first reaction will be It's your fault, dammit, but if when I do go back, they don't have that attitude on display, it'll be worth it. Mostly.

Think I'll go tell my daughter to go brush her teeth again.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Houston Chronicle

From the Houston Chronicle -

WE will be out of Iraq and, for that matter, Afghanistan, by the end of the next fiscal year. No troops, no economic support of any kind.
The alternative minimum tax, that secret tax system ensnaring more and more middle-class families, will vanish without costing the government a dime in lost revenue.
The tax cuts that have saved some of the wealthiest among us hundreds of dollars a year will continue indefinitely. This, too, will cost the government nothing.
That spiffy alternative energy technology that President Bush said in his State of the Union speech last week will help end our oil addiction? It can be funded on a shoestring.
Those are just a few of the twisted fantasies you have to embrace if you want to follow the president down the rabbit hole of his latest budget proposal.
We have been here before.
It's the parallel universe in which difficult choices are put off in favor of mind-bending assumptions. When those assumptions don't come true, the White House will embrace its familiar retreat:

Blame Congress.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Jimmy C

I understand that Jimmy Carter took the opportunity to mention, during his oration at Coretta King's funeral, that she was persecuted by being illegally wiretapped.

From the LA Times article on the event:

Carter, who has had a strained relationship with Bush, drew cheers when he used the Kings' struggle as a reminder of the recent debate over whether Bush violated civil liberties protections by ordering warrantless surveillance of some domestic phone calls and e-mails.Noting that the Kings' work was "not appreciated even at the highest level of the government," Carter said: "It was difficult for them personally — with the civil liberties of both husband and wife violated as they became the target of secret government wiretapping, other surveillance, and as you know, harassment from the FBI." Bush has said his own program of warrantless wiretapping is aimed at stopping terrorists.

Way to go, Mr. C. Nicely done.

Clap Trap

Tonight my wife is attending a session at my daughters school, the topic of which is a two-year course in a world language that's being offered to certain students. Reading from the flyer, I asked my daughter if she had the approval of her current world language instructor, and she said casually that she was sure she did, as she had gotten honors in all three world language courses and could therefore take whatever follow on courses she wanted. I stared at her for a moment, then said quietly:... ' Think about what you just said. Now apply it to all of your courses. Doing well now opens up a world of possibilities for you.' She seemed thoughtful for a moment. I looked up, and my wife had a huge smile. We shared the Parent Look.

Course, I then blew it. My daughter has to give an oral report on her grandparent, and as I am going to be home tonight, my wife suggested she practice it with me. I said Yes ! And I suggest that for maximum impact, you do it in rap format.

(drumming and hooting)


uh HUH!

About then, I said, your teacher will likely stop you, but the class should be cheering, shouting, and generally going wild. It'll make your rep.

She seemed intrigued by the idea. No Parent Look, though.


I came across an observation in the paper that made me stop and say 'Huh! I didn't know that.'

The observation was that reduction of dependency on Saudi oil is not the same as reduction of dependency on oil, period. And that the price of oil from anywhere would be affected if something happened to the flow of Saudi oil.

Huh. I didn't know that.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Over There

I occasionally put notes into another blog that I write. The blog is oriented around a project that I'm working on, one which can drive me absolutely batty (no, even more so than normal). I started it because I needed to do something as an outlet, and since writing is about the most creative thing I do, that suggested itself. I can't say that its helps all that much, but its a bit amazing to look at it and think of all the time thats passed on this project, one that I really thought would be, if not done, then substantially done by now. Whereas we're not even started, to speak of.

The project involves installation of a piece of software that's relatively straightforward to install (I can say that with a straight face) and relatively complex to run. It will run without any tuning at all, but if you want it to do useful things for you, you have to tune it -- set values, configure it. Most people don't bother. Its not that they don't want it to do useful things for them; its that they have neither the time nor the expertise to do the configuration or the tuning. The product is not quite shelfware....but in some ways, it is. Its the kind of thing where you come into a shop and say wow, you have that? And they say Um...yeah. Why?

For years, I have been interested in the concept of artificial intelligence. I am embarrassed to say just how long it took me to realize how absolutely down to the gravel actual artificial intelligence was. Its not that I thought that the places which worked on it had secret devices that they'd gotten from crashed alien spaceships -- but I did think that they must have some programming techniques far beyond mortal man. Things that only truly amazingly superior people could do. With perhaps a little bit of alien science thrown in.

Finally, I came across Patrick Winston's book on the LISP programming language. I didn't really understand it, but for the first time I realized that artificial intelligence didn't actually mean 'intelligence' so much as it meant 'producing actions that are similar to those which could be produced by intelligence'. I was awed by this. I began to think that normal people -- maybe even me! -- could do this. And they can -- because, properly done, there is nothing amazing about AI -- its just a computer system producing output, like the payroll system or the traffic light controller. No big deal. All you've got to do is code it. Very, very carefully. With a lot of attention to detail. And multiple iterations, and prototypes, and trials. And a goodly amount of ingenuity.

Its like that great description of writing: nothing to it. Just sit down in front of the blank paper and stare at it until blood comes from your forehead.

Which brings me to the Omegamon product, the tool that I'm installing. Now, I happen to be an Omegamon bigot. I think its a marvelous tool. I think it can do things that no other tool in its field can do. And this is mostly (though not entirely) true. But the only thing that it cannot do is think. It cannot produce the effect of intelligence. You ask it a question, you get an answer. You don't get everything you wanted to know, or even everything it knew about the subject of your question, you get - the answer. And even to get that to any useful degree, you need to tune and configure it. There are about twelve gazillion knobs you can twiddle. Have fun.

I think it should be better than that. I want to make it better than that. I want Omegamon to not NEED the tuning, not NEED the configuration. I want it to observe my environment, make reasonable guesses, and then start running. And every so often, make useful observations to me. Like 'Hey, heres a problem situation building; I saw this last week just before the system cratered, and here it is, happening again.'

Is this possible? Well, no, not in a STAR TREK kind of way, it isn't. But AI is out there, and its making computer systems better. Its not making them HAL-like but its making them more intuitive, more graceful, less UNIVACy. And that's where Omegamon is now. Its a marvelous tool but its not an intuitive tool. I want to move it beyond that UNIVAC-like stage . And it drives -- me-- crazy that I can't do it. Because wanting is not enough. You need more. You need ability, you need a vision, and you need a way to get that vision down here into the real world. I can't do that. I don't know how. I don't know anyone who DOES know how. And though I may not be too old to learn, I'm too old to do anything really sexy with anything that I do learn, along those lines. And other than my wife, I don't know anyone who even wants to talk about it, contemplate it, try to shape the vision. Its just me, muttering in the dark.

Drives me crazy.


I just did something that I never thought I'd do.

One of the people I work with, who has a mildly raunchy sense of humor, sent me (and several other people) an email with soft-core pornographic pictures. From his work email id.

I'm no more moral than most people, less than some, more than others. But this bothered me. I thought it was tacky, and to do it with his work email really bothered me. I don't know why that put the cap on it, but it did.

So I sent him a reply asking him not to do it in the future, and to consider not doing it at all.

Why do I feel as if I should change my name to Priscilla?

Sunday, February 05, 2006


...which in this case is the Appalachia Alumni Association, a wonderful blog that I don't read nearly often enough. This, from their site, after the SOTU:

Bush: Lots of stuff I've said before. I was really hoping bin Laden would stay quiet in a cave. We're going to attack Iran. I flubbed that Social Security reform thing. My dad doesn't like Bill Clinton but he doesn't like me either. Wood chips and switch grass will save our country. So long, Justice O'Connor, don't let the door hit you on the way out. Things are going great!

Succinct, elegant and eloquent.

Philosophy and Bread

There is a story that one of the saints prayed for patience, adding that he would like it right now. That makes perfect sense, of course -- who else would have to pray for it but someone who did not have it? -- and it is something that I dearly understand, of late, as I have tried to expand my bread baking skills.

The recipes that I normally use take somewhere in the neighborhood of five hours to accomplish, of which time the vast majority is rising time. They have the bread rise twice, and then, into the oven. The recipes that I have been trying have a third rising, and they use a pre-ferment, as well. The third rising adds about one to two hours to the process, while the pre-ferment takes about ten minutes to make, but requires two to eight hours to do its fermentation trick-- longer if you put it into the refrigerator overnight, because you need to let it warm up the next day.

What all of this reduces down to is this: if I don't start the bread way early in the morning, or way late at night, there is no way it's going to be ready in time to have with dinner. And if I decide along the way that the dough isn't any good -- as I did just a few minutes ago with the poolish that I made yesterday -- then thats it; no more breadbaking today.

This patience thing is wearing me out!

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Dave's Thought

Dave Chappelle, an enormously funny guy, has a new joke.

He has said that he'd come back to work if he gets a sixty million dollar a year salary, half of which he'd donate to charities of his choice.

Oh, wait, he's not kidding.

Group Seven

This morning, the very first thought I had was (to the tune of 'Hollywood', no less) Its SAT-urday...which means it's doesn't MAT-ter-day.... Which is good, because the last dream I remember from the preceding night included the phrase "Group seven was headed to Russia."

I may have the words wrong, but that's a quote from a novel of the early 1960s named Fail-Safe, by Eugene Burdick. During a routine alert, an American nuclear-equipped strike force, Group Seven, is erroneously given orders to attack and destroy Moscow. The failure of a single electrical component in a complex piece of equipment has led to the generation of a false GO signal. The question then is: what next? Do they make it? If they do, will war necessarily follow?

I never saw the movie, but I read the book, and it scared the bejabbers out of me -- which made it ironic that years latter I went to work for that same organization, doing the same thing -- though my job was down in the hole, one of a two man crew for the Minuteman missiles. I remember being taught the real-world version of Fail-Safe (we called it Positive Control), wondering if there were any hidden glitches, bad assumptions, or the like that could lead to our very own Fail-Safe. I did see one of two 'that can't possibly happen' things actually happen, but so far as I know, we never launched, never struck, never sent our own Group Seven to Russia.

I had the opportunity to tour the NORAD headquarters in Colorado Springs -- the hollowed out mountain that you see as the headquarters for the Stargate organization on the TV series of the same name. I saw the huge blast doors, the thick steel springs under the buildings, the massive status displays. It was all very impressive. I even recall that they said that the blast doors at one location were in a pair, with one set always closed... except that while we were there they were both open so that a visiting television crew could trail their power cables through them. Ahem.

The organization I work for now is developing a concept that they call 'autonomic computing', also referred to as 'self-healing' computing -- computer systems and networks that can recover from a failure, so that functionality and effectiveness is not lost when a component fails. It may be degraded, but not lost. Of course, that could mean that a computer system which should have failed catastrophically instead continued to work, using bad data, making bad assumptions, taking bad actions. Well, no, of course not -- such effects are the realm of science fiction, not reality. In reality, systems work. In fact, we even have a phrase for it: "Working as Designed". Usually, that phrase pops up when someone is complaining about the output of the system, saying they don't like it, its wrong, or something like that. Well, yeah, but its Working As Designed.

I don't advocate packing it in and going to live in a shack in Montana, but there are times when I understand why there are people who do.

Friday, February 03, 2006


I tend to write posts for this blog in Word Perfect. I actually like WinWord better, but only because I'm used to it. Word Perfect's a better tool, with lots more capability and flexibility. I wish I could say that the interface in WP is obvious; its not, particularly if you're used to WinWord, and therefore have this prior mindset of how it 'ought' to be. But it's a good tool. The reason that I use it frequently is that the Blogger editor only gives you about 50% of the width of the screen to work with, and that just feels too tight. So I write the posts in WP, start up Blogger, and do a Cut and Paste. But no more. I'm writing this in Blogger, and I've got about 90% of the width of the screen.

The reason is that I just installed an extension to Firefox that's called GreaseMonkey, which is free, and which is advertised as letting you modify the way that screens are presented. (Possibly modify more, too; don't know yet.) So I went to UserScripts.Org and found one pre-written script called Blogger Large Post Editor. I looked at the script, said 'Install' -- and hey presto, a screen's width to write in. No tight feeling!

This is a Good Thing.


A news article on the Google site says that US intelligence officials believe that the possibility of a terroristic attack is greater than it has been despite successes against Al-Quaeda. I believe that statement , but not because of its source.

Why not the source? Because it's exactly the sort of thing that you'd say if you wanted to promote the idea that domestic spying is necessary while still pushing the idea that the war on terror is succeeding. And that's George's message. We're doing great, despite the body count, despite the lack of proof, despite everything. Doing great, just hang on, democracy triumphant.

Then why believe the message? Because it makes sense. These despicable people have not just gone away. Their supporters may or may not be dwindling, but they are still there, still virulent. Until a way can be found to neutralize, convert, or eliminate them, they're still a significant if asymmetrical threat, and we do right to be concerned and alert.

Sure would be nice to be able to believe our leaders, though.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

...or maybe not.

Circuit City, those creeps, are out of the TV I fell in love with. Imagine!

I had gotten all wired up about the thing, too. I had even gotten to the point where I could look the cost of the thing in the eye without wincing (much) -- and I was being good; I was looking at a 32 inch one, which apparently puts you in LCD range, not Plasma range, the difference between which is only vaguely understood by me. I knew that I didn't want a big one...though I didn't know just how big BIG is, these days.

I was even able to contemplate having to buy a piece of furniture to hold it, as the hand-me-down (and still quite nice) coffee table that we use as a TV table is 36 inches wide, including a ridge that is about an inch and a half in, both sides, and the TV in question is 36.4 inches wide. Oh, hell, okay, what can it cost? Well, for someone who is not a freak about it but does like nice wood, so that when I think about wood I think polished, gleaming, ebony, walnut, inlaid with silver -- hum. Maybe I am a freak about it. But I know that even the cheap TV stands are a couple of hundred dollars. But I was even able to contemplate that! Me, who thinks its silly to buy something just to hold something else you bought!

But they're out of it.

I am trying, with minimal success, to view this as: Look how much money you saved!


Now the Capitol police say they acted in error in the matter of the T Shirts. I suspect that someone said 'get rid of the chick with the T shirt', meaning Sheehan, and they got the wrong one -- hauled the politician's wife in, said 'oh, crap', and then couldn't let her go without being really obvious about it. Though Sheehan does say she was arrested, and the other was not. The thing is, I don't agree with either person's activity.

However bogus the Bushster's speech was -- some of it was, some was not -- the State of the Union is a change to listen to what the elected leader of the nation thinks is most important. It's an opportunity for him to display leadership. Whether he does or not, whether you agree with him or not, that presentation -- even one that's been clearly politicized and 'hollywood-icized -- is not the time for argument.

Free speech doesn't mean unconstrained speech.

Ideology and Truth

From this site, in an article titled Politics, Ideology, and Discourse, by Teun A. van Dijk of the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona ---

"The concept of ‘ideology’ is often used in the media and the social sciences, but it is notoriously vague. Its everyday usage is largely negative, and typically refers to the rigid, misguided or partisan ideas of others: we have the truth, and they have ideologies."

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Then and Now

This is something I wrote here in March, 2004:

We've agreed that when the television dies, we'll replace it with a flat screen unit that can display letter box format but is not necessarily high-definition ready. What I'd really like is the ability to mount the television up above the mantel, where there is a socket, though no cable or antenna connection. I understand that there is the capability to have wireless television connectivity; I don't know how to do that, though, and I certainly don't trust the people at Circuit City to tell me, no matter that I did once see an article about a person -- one person, one Circuit City -- who was quite good at it. If it becomes commonly possible, that's one thing. We're neither of us pioneers.

We'd also like to replace the audio equipment that's in that room. It currently consists of an amplifier that I bought when I was in Thailand with the Air Force (which is to say, 30+ years ago), a turntable, and a cassette deck. There's also a pair of speakers hung on the wall which were once connected, and now are not. The basic problem there is two fold; first, I detest the design of pretty much all amplifiers; they are black in black on black. I want something with elegance, style, simplicity, and color. Come on, it is possible. And second, the newer amps (which means, those built in the last fifteen years ) don't accept turntable input. I resent having to buy a module just to connect them. I know that that makes me sound like someone who resents that there are no decent buggy-whip makers these days.

An interface to the PC (or the local LAN) would be nice. A Tivo would be good, too, because we do watch television on occasion (why, just last night we watched Men in Black; how cutting edge is that?) , and hard drive recorders make more sense than tape, provided you can watch one thing from the hard drive while recording another. Can't do that with tape. Oh, and being able to watch something from the hard drive while the timer is set to record something else, or even starts to record something else -- that would be good, too. Can't do that with tape, either.

We vaguely know what we want. We vaguely know how it's might be possible. We just don't know how to put it together so that it actually works, and we know of no one we trust to guide us, impartially, on this.

And this is now. I just learned that my mother's television is dying, that she'd take ours if we gave it to her. And that means....

Circuit City, anyone?

Graphic Content

I like graphics. I think of them as applied art. Graphics are focused creativity. Done well, they say things, they move you, they give you a point of view that you might not have had prior to seeing them. Some are informative, some are fun, some are both.

I picked up a book this evening at the libe. Actually, three. One I saw referenced on the GeekyMom blog, and it sounded good. One's a collection of acceptance-winning (okay, okay, not by themselves) Harvard admissions essays.

And one's a collection of business cards.

Now, I have to admit, not all of the items in the collection are jewels. Some are even ugly. But most are attractive, and some are masterpieces of communication. They get their message across, and they do it with humour and with style. Some make me want to buy what they're selling -- and I'm not even sure what it is!

I came home a tad irritated, because the library charged me a fine for having a book out past their period -- I totally do not get the fine concept, totally do not -- but I calmed down pretty quickly, glancing over at these books on the front seat. And now that I've glanced through them, even more so.

Good stuff.