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.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


We have recipes in four places. Not counting cookbooks.

We have a small plastic index card holder. It contains the things we make frequently, or things we thought we'd make and never did. This last classification is not unique to that holder. The holder sits in the cupboard with the cereal, flour, and general baking stuff.

We have a white binder with seven or eight recipes we make fairly often; though the definition of 'often' varies, the concept doesn't. Each time we make something from that location, it feels like a familiar dish. The binder is on the shelf with the cooking magazines we've saved, as well as the cookbooks, in the kitchen bookcase.

We have three manila folder binders containing recipes we've torn out, been given, or otherwise acquired. I'd say we've made about ten percent of these -- but the others all sound so good! (Well, usually.) They're next to the cook books.

And we have the 'recipes' directory on the desktop PC. Some of the material there has been printed and put in the first or second location. Much of it is also things we haven't made, but think it would be fun to do. The desserts subdirectory is the largest, then the breakfast one and the baking one. The main meals one is pretty skimpy. Hard to find a main meal recipe that we don't already make, thats makeable by us, that I'll actually try, let alone eat. It does happen.... but not too often.

Every so often, we come across a recipe we've saved and say hey, lets do that. Sometimes we say we're going to do this routinely. We almost never do. We try one or two, say wow, that was good but it sure did take a long time to make, or wow, that sure did take a long time to make and it wasn't really worth it.

Sometimes I think that I really should put all of these into one place, and sometimes I even try. And then I say 'why am I doing this?' Since owning up to a sometimes compulsive need for order would expose my vice (well, one of them), I stop. Until the next time.

So -- with all of that, you'd think we have a rich culinary life, wouldn't you? Instead of Pizza Hut on speed dial?


I like popcorn. When we went to see Casino Royale (a flick I enjoyed so much, I'd go to see it again, and not just because, to my amazement, a current flick was actually showing in my area), they had samples (big honkin' canisters) of popcorn salt from Kernel Seasons; it was good enough that I ordered some from their web site, NoMoreNakedPopcorn (and yes, the name was catchy enough to remember all the way home, just as they intended). It made okay theater popcorn into Excellent Popcorn.

In my mind, there are only two kinds of popcorn worth mentioning: regular, with lots of butter and salt, and caramel. I would be reluctant to mention my reaction to caramel corn, except to say: Giant Sucking Sound. I love caramel popcorn. So, since we got a catalog from The Popcorn Factory, I thought What the Heck, and went to their site. After meandering around for a while, trying to find anything I could buy that did not include Cheddar (an abomination, in my mind), I found that they would sell paper bags of their stuff. Hey, cool. Two big bags of caramel popcorn. Check that off. Send it to me.

Um, we can't accept your abbreviation for your city, select one from the Approved List. You've got the freakin' ZIP CODE you morons, figure it out! I should be able to say Vatican City, Pluto, and the right zip code, and have it get here. But... okay. Here. Now, go order it.

Um, we need an email address so that we can send you confirmation of the order. Ah, crap. Okay. Here. Now, go order it.

Um, we need a ship date. Here's the next possible one. Type one in, or pick one from the calendar. So I typed one in. THATS NOT A VALID DATE. What, why not? Do it again. THAT'S NOT A VALID DATE. So I go to their calendar. Oh, look, the date I picked happened to be a Sunday. Well, duh, what do you think I'd want to do? You have a fifty percent chance of getting it right. But OKAY DAMMIT...I picked a Valid Date. Now, go....

Um... we need.....

Frack it. Click escape. Go look at other web sites.

Why can't everyone make ordering as simple as Amazon? Or use them as a front end for their ordering system? (I think this is actually what Microsoft was trying to push with their NET PASSPORT idea, but nobody trusted them enough to make it feasible. Amazon, though, I trust.)

Hmmm....wonder if they've got caramel corn?

Foggy Day

This has been a foggy day, in multiple ways.

We all got up late -- around 7, which is when we normally finish breakfast. I staggered outside, checked the time, woke up the daughter and found out what she wanted for breakfast, and got her going. My wife woke about ten minutes later, and we had a minimal breakfast. The drive up to the highway was very slow due, I think, to the dense fog that blanketed the area. That turned a ten minute drive into about a thirty minute one. The first part of the highway was uneventful, then I encountered a massive backup on the highway due to a traffic accident, and exacerbated by the fog. After about twenty minutes, I was able to get off the highway, got lost in some side streets, and finally got to the office about twenty minutes later. That was about nine thirty, so it took me a little over an hour to get in for whats normally a twenty five minute commute. I got into the office, and immediate heard people laughing and telling jokes, which normally doesn't bother me, but when I'm having a bad day, its like nails on a blackboard. So I grabbed the laptop and came home.

Now I'm sitting in the big chair in the living room, working wirelessly. Its quiet. This is much nicer!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Sometimes I wonder about how to do something that I think ought to be possible, and get dejected when I realize that I don't know the smallest thing about how to do it.

Take the Windows XP menu system. I don't agree with the layout that it's in when you first unwrap the product. It doesn't appear to be in any order or classification -- just a bunch of stuff thats tossed in there. No 'the Microsoft stuff in this menu, the Adobe in that'; no 'the writing tools here, the numerical ones there' -- nothing like that. So one of the things that I do is move them around until the order makes sense to me.

For example, on this laptop, I have about ten categories. One is 'Work related', and its whatever software I use to connect to my work network, or to do work once I am there. Another is 'Microsoft related', and that's pretty obvious. Another 'Writing tools', and a fourth is 'Startup'. There are about five that could be characterized as part of something else, or fall into another category, but I haven't gotten around to it -- things like Windows Defender, or Feed Demon, or Network Magic. Then there's Media Players and Displays, and Norton System Works (which is the only one I won't move -- I think it 'remembers' where its start member is, and gets snarky if you move it.) Almost everything else falls into Accessories -- Entertainment, email, Moneydance -- things like that. I see the things I want to see, quickly (the really important ones, of course, are 'pinned' to the Start Menu). The other stuff is available, no more than two clicks away.

It takes me about two hours to jigger all of that around. Part of it is moving things inside Windows' breakup into different userids (we only have two that we use, but Windows has made at least five; go figure). And part of it is removing the duplication -- I don't want pointers in multiple places; I want just one, and I want it in a common place. (Exactly why that bothers me, I'm not sure; I just know that it does.)

So it occurred to me that all of this could be done programmatically. After all, all that it involves is moving files around, which is basic DOS commands! What I'd want is something that could go into a virginal system, identify all of the entries for every single menu entry, eliminate the duplicates, categorize the remainders according to my scheme (which of course would vary by whomever was doing this), and rearrange them accordingly. How hard could this be?

Have I done it? Have I even tried to do the littlest bit of it? Umm.... You know, I really should spend time learning Python, so that I could do this. Really should....


Monday, November 27, 2006


Aside from her other sterling qualities (and she has a lot), one thing that my wife does that nobody else does: she has thea-conversations with me.

The name comes from a comment that my wife made to her sister about how we communicated, shortly after we were married. She said that we liked to talk about a range of things, and she said 'Doesn't your husband like to have theoretical conversations?' Her sister laughed and said that they did just fine not having theological, theoretical, or thea-anything conversations. For us -- for me -- they're critical. I have observed, and freely admit, that I get grumpy if I am deprived of my wife's sheer presence. But what puts the shine on it is when we talk about theoretical concepts. Now, these aren't deep, philosophical conversations -- in fact, sometimes they're nothing more than diatribes about how incredibly stupid the management of our various organizations, or sometimes the government, can be. But other times, we really do try to come up with some kind of explanation about why what they're trying to do is so stupid -- or, at least, what it is that they're trying to do with their stupid policies and plans. Because we do understand that even though what they're doing is stupid, the people themselves are not -- in fact, they're usually quite bright. So we try to think of how we'd do it differenty -- or at least, why it is that they're doing what they're doing the way that they're doing it. Why did they chose this way?

This evening, we talked a little bit about organizational quality standards, and how they just do not work with software companies. And I came up with a succinct way of putting it, which I will now inflict upon you.

You can get a small group of people to implement a complex procedure, whether they believe in it or not. You can get a broad group of people to implement a simple procedure, whether they believe in it or not. But you cannot get a broad group of people to implement a complex procedure unless they really believe in it.

Such is the case for organizational quality. In small doses, small groups, it can be seen to be effective. In large doses, its not possible. There are so many players, so many variables, that the only way to understand and validate the process is to track it at a global level, and to put a lot of effort (people, mantime) into it. Think global, act local. Keep the big picture, understand what the overarching goal is, but track and implement at the local level, keeping an eye on making each piece demonstratably better. Not just different, not just tracked within an inch of its life, but better. Understand how the pieces fit together, and how they affect the global goal. Otherwise, you're just assuming it works (a little bit works, a lot must work). You can't actually prove it. You can show is that a lot of effort goes into implementing standards (for which read: working on passing the audit) at the lower levels. You just can't prove that it bought you anything other than that. To prove it, you need to put lots of effort into it. Lots of non-product-producing effort. And no one is going to do that, are they? Not in our lean, mean world.

I really enjoy thinking and talking about this kind of thing. I'd like even more making it work in the real world.


I want a button.

The button that I want is essentially the same button as I want when I get back from vacation -- one that says that people should take it easy on me because I am not up to speed on all of the crises de jour and current manias, because I am just back from vacation, you see, so back the hell off, and by the way, I'm going home early today, and maybe tomrrow, too.

For the first day back from Thanksgiving, and a long road trip, and time spent configuring a new PC because my employer doesn't sem to find it worth their time to have people do it for me, I want that button.

Tomorrow, too.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Up and Down

We're back. Long drive up, long drive back.

Many, many people at the reception -- at the Mystic Seaport, no less; quite classy. Much cleavage by the bridesmaids and guests (not that I noticed!). I'm always surprised to find that someone who's so on display can be a friendly, normal person. Then again, I'm not in the running, if I ever was, so its 'safe' to talk to me. The offspring, a junior bridesmaid, looked good. From the front, a normal kid in a nice gown; from the back, a well-dressed, well-coiffed young lady -- tall and slender. That's my daughter?

Much, much food. Good music. Big open bar. Glittering decorations. Shazam.

Not being a party type, I left the reception early, went back to the hotel, watched TV while the wife and offspring cavorted -- and barely 90 minutes later, they called for pickup. We all slept late, and this morning, there was again much food, this time at the sister's house. Lots of cookies, and four (!) Christmas trees already up and decorated. Amazing. We do well to put up one tree and a string of lights in twice the time!

Drive back was uneventful until we were within an hour of home, at which time the excellence of PennDot's planning once again manifested itself where two highways merged, and congealed. We read every word on the back of a semi's trailer, including the license plate.

Glad we went. Tiring, but fun.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Various Things

A grandmother blew herself up in the Gaza strip, and its just another normal day in that part of the world. Argh. I understand -- well, I think I understand -- why its virtually impossible for either side, or any side, in this kind of conflict to stand fast and not be provoked by events like that (not to mention, events like the shelling that preceded it). But what do you do when apparently anyone can take that kind of destabilizing action? Is there a threshold where, before it, you won't react, and after it you will? And if so, how much? Kind of like saying how many innocent people are you willing to imprision to be sure you get some percentage of the guilty ones. I'm sure theres a cute sociological name for the concept, but I don't know it.

I read over the weekend that things are calm in Mogadishu. Apparently a stern Islamic government is in control, and they cut no one any slack. The people aren't happy.... but they aren't dying, either.

Long drive tomorrow. Long drive on Sunday. Between, though, a rehearsal, a wedding, a reception, and I hope time in the hotel pool. My shoulder hurts, a little. Some stretching and exercise would be a good thing.


Today I went from not even knowing the concept of a Bluetooth personal area network to concluding that it was a dream that developers have, with no apparent value in the real world. Personal Area Network, yeah. Bluetooth, yeah. Together? Can't see it.

Thanksgiving Day 2006

A pleasant day thus far.

It actually started last night, to my mind; we went to see Casino Royale, which we thoroughly enjoyed. Daniel Craig did an excellent job as James Bond; the plot was believable; even the bad guys were good -- smart, not caricatures. A couple of minor quibbles about the pacing of the film, but only a couple. It was excellent. A good reason to get a plasma tv! (Of course, my daughter would say that the existence of Cartoon Network is a good reason, too.)

After we got home, I spent about an hour messing with the new laptop - rearranging the menus to be the way I like, mostly. This version of XP (professional) is different than the one we have (home) in that there seem to be only two values for users -- administrator, and 'all users'. I am, of course, the administrator (he said, buffing his nails modestly). I like that -- the 'home' version seems to spawn users, which is messy and non-useful. Once I've gotten the customization completely done, I will switch to being just a standard user, which I gather is a good idea, generally; that way, if some malicious program tries to install malware, it won't be able to do so under your authority. I know that the time will come (assuming I'm employed there long enough) when I think this laptop is a kludge and a pig; right now, it is sleek and elegant, and I like it a lot.

This morning, I awoke to the aroma of coffee and frying sausage, and then my daughter and I (mostly her) made an apple tart, for which she had found the recipe. Nothing special (not that I could handle it if it were), but a delightful experience to see her doing it carefully, using the methods she's learned from us and from her school Consumer Sciences classes. It's baking now.

For the remainder of the day -- sloughing off, reading, packing, and more pc-messing-around. And then tomorrow, we're off to Connectidotts for three days. A long drive, but one we've done multiple times.

A pleasant Thanksgiving to you all.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Long Day

It started around 3AM, when I got up and found that the file transfer which I'd initiated four hours before, at which time it said that the estimated time was three hours, was still running...and estimating about four and a half hours more. I messed with it for a while, but after about half an hour I gave up and went back to the 'System Migration Aid' that my company provides. I won't say that this is a lousy tool -- it frequently works -- but my track record with it is pretty poor. What fascinates me, in a dark and evil way, is that it could not communicate between my old and new PCs, but an older package that I had, which performs the same function, could do it just fine -- but took hours to run. I opened a problem record, giving them my home number, and damned if they did not call at 8AM, saying that they were ready to look into this for me... and eventually they did figure out why the two sides of the product weren't talking to each other. But the bottom line was, they said, it would be easier just to make the two PCs share files and move the stuff manually. I think that the underlying problem is twofold: first, the product is written by people who have current software on their PCs, and when there is something radically different in an older release, the software doesn't handle it. And second, they assume that everyone's PC is clean and neat, and of course they aren't.
So now, after about four hours of dorking around, the new PC is about 60% usable, and I think I know how to make the rest usable, too. All of this because my company doesn't believe in having people around who specialize in this stuff. Well, in a way they do -- the guy I spoke to this morning was in India.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Morning Thoughts

This morning I woke up early, with two thoughts.

To cook bacon for breakfast. And, Eritrea.

Its bad enough when I wake up from a dream of death and destruction... and unfortunate when I wake up from a dream of lusty Amazon maidens (which I don't dream of nearly often enough)...

But when I wake up with the name of an obscure North African country in my thoughts...

I'd better knock off the jalapeno and caper sandwiches at bedtime.


On another note: Sara Horowitz is doing some interesting things with the concept of trades unionism. Fairly atypical for a Harvard grad, I suspect.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


Sometimes I like to look through the archives of this blog and see what I was thinking about one or two years ago. I am frequently surprised to see that what I was thinking about is pretty consistant with what I am thinking about. Whether this is consistancy or just not thinking too much about a range of things, I'm not sure.

Here's some thing from November 2004:

One of the computational tasks that's intrigued me for quite some time is how you teach a computer system to solve a problem. For basic problems, the path is pretty obvious -- make up or determine an algorithm, code it, and then apply it to problems for which it's suited. As problems become more complex and textured, it becomes a question of finding out which algorithm is suitable, or which is more suitable. At some point, it starts to evolve into a system for the creation of algorithms, because you can't make one for every possible situation. At some point after that, the system starts to do interesting things, like claiming that the AE-35 unit is about to fail. And we all know where that leads.

Last night, as I was putting the new PC away, having finally gotten it to work, I thought about this a bit. In retrospect, I could have shaved hours off the resolution time if I'd realized that the migration software tool that I'd used had carried along certain registry settings, and then second, with the modem, where it somehow trashed (I don't know exactly where) the ability of the system to use the perfectly fine connection. The Dell people seemed to be working through a checklist, but not a particularly good one -- at one point, they said they'd replace the system, but I thought this seemed overkill, given the results of some experimentation I'd done, and eventually, they suggested that I just do a system restore. They recommended the Dell version, but I chose to do the Microsoft one, which says it won't mess with your program files (mostly true) . The Dell one says that it most certainly will. And it worked. Registry looks fine, modem connects with no problem.

It would have been nice to have a software solution that could help me to that solution, though. I tried thinking backwards -- okay, here's the solution, now how could I have best gotten here, and done so in a way that didn't rule out other, equally viable, options -- but I didn't get very far. I've used some of the Microsoft canned solution engines that are in the Help function, and they almost uniformly are too lame to consider as an actual 'engine'. They probably do work for people who need to be reminded that in order to work, the modem (if its an external one) must be plugged in. But past that level of abstraction, they tend to flame out. I get the sense of an infinite loop. Since my own patience is considerably less than infinite, I can't swear that if I'd Just Stuck With It, it wouldn't have eventually come up with the answer. But I don't think so. An experienced person usually knows when to try quick fixes first, and my sense it that the software wouldn't do that. It tries easy stuff.

Basically, I want a bright little AI engine popping up, advising me what might work best, next, and why. Something that learns over time, and can be downloaded and upgraded at will. (For a nice example of what an AI service can do, see the Twenty Questions site I mention in the post just below this. What's particularly interesting is that it shows how it got the answer. Some of its suppositions are totally hosed -- yet they work. Intruiging.) . I'd buy a service that helped me with this kind of question -- even a subscription service. (Now, there's an idea...hmmm....) .

Of course, if the tool were built by Microsoft, it would sneer at any software on the PC that was more than six months old, and simply recommend replacing all of it. The hardware, too.

Hey, what TIME is it?

Chrono Lisa time, of course.


One of the things that I've been doing, in trying to improve my blood sugar numbers, is keeping a spreadsheet. Its got multiple columns -- two for breakfast, depending on whether I ate during the night or not, two for before and after lunch, and two for before and after dinner. I track what I had for dinner, and if I took any insulin -- actually, which and how much; I always take it.

I just decided to turn that into a chart, because a visual representation is easier for me to understand. Also, as it turns out, because I can easily skip over the bad numbers on a spreadsheet, but its harder to do that on the chart. The conclusion? I'm not doing very well. I thought I was, but the chart makes it clear that there is a lot of room for improvement.

This is not a good thing, but knowing is. I have to keep tellling myself that. That, and reminding myself to always write down what the numbers are. One of my unwritten mottos is that the numbers do not get better just because I 'neglected' to record what they were.


The biscotti's done. Excellent texture, not too hard. And being dipped in white chocolate doesn't hurt, either.

Here's the recipe, from, I believe, Bon Appetit magazine. We didn't do it exactly this way, but pretty close.

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon whole aniseed
1 cup dried sweetened cranberries
3/4 cup shelled natural unsalted pistachios
6 ounces imported white chocolate, chopped

Preheat oven to 325°F.
Line 3 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
Sift first 3 ingredients into medium bowl.
Using electric mixer, beat butter and sugar in large bowl to blend well.
Beat in eggs 1 at a time.
Mix in lemon peel, vanilla, and aniseed.
Beat in flour mixture just until blended.
Stir in cranberries and pistachios (dough will be sticky).
Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface.
Gather dough together; divide in half.
Roll each half into 15-inch-long log (about 1 1/4 inches wide).
Carefully transfer logs to 1 prepared baking sheet, spacing 3 inches apart.
Bake logs until almost firm to touch but still pale, about 28 minutes.
Cool logs on baking sheet 10 minutes.
Maintain oven temperature.
Carefully transfer logs still on parchment to cutting board.
Using serrated knife and gentle sawing motion, cut logs crosswise into generous 1/2-inch-thick slices.
Place slices, 1 cut side down, on remaining 2 prepared sheets.
Bake until firm and pale golden, about 9 minutes per side.
Transfer cookies to racks and cool.
Line another baking sheet with waxed paper.
Stir white chocolate in top of double boiler over barely simmering water just until smooth.
Remove from over water.
Dip 1 end of each cookie into melted chocolate, tilting pan if necessary; shake off excess chocolate.
Place cookies on prepared sheet.
Chill until chocolate is firm, about 30 minutes.
(Can be made 5 days ahead. Store airtight between sheets of waxed paper at room temperature.)

The Myth of Excellence

Its about three on a somewhat chilly Sunday afternoon. Emanuel Ax is on the player, my wife just woke up (she worked in the wee hours this morning), and I am sitting here drinking flavored water and reading The Myth of Excellence, which has as its central premise the concept that companies cannot and should not try to compete on multiple criteria -- that consumers tend not to believe a company that says it has, for example, both the best quality and the lowest price. It also seems, at least initially, to want to talk about the sociological implications of a materialistic society, saying that regardless of how many or what type of possessions people accumulate, regardless of how much better their lives are objectively, people are finding that subjectively their lives aren't as good as they used to be -- that something is missing. And, they say, business can exploit this feeling to become more required, perhaps even indispensable, to consumers. Have to admit, that thought didn't sit well with me, but the book is young; we'll see how it goes.

I'd like to take notes while reading, but I don't have an easy way to do it. I read a post on the Geeky Mom blog about that concept just the other day. I said that for me, 3x5 cards still work best, which is probably a reflection of what I grew up with. Then again, my daughter consumes them by the packet.

The biscotti is in the oven for the first bake. I'm guessing it'll take about another hour, with cutting, rebaking, and then dipping into the melted chocolate. That last is going to be tricky; we want to waste the minimal amount of the chocolate, so simply dipping each cut piece into it seems not the best way -- but we don't know of a better one. We do have a tall, thin vase that I suppose we could fill with chocolate, then use that as a dipping chamber, but somehow I don't think that's a good solution either.

Bean bake tonight -- classic comfort food for me. Not that I need comforting at the moment, but I'll never turn it down.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Bread Update

The bread's not bad. Nice crust, decent (though not outstanding) crumb, somewhat bland flavor -- though, given how easy it was to make, it's obviously easy to play around with the recipe -- overall, a good package. The 'no-kneading' didn't really mean much to me, but the amazing part was that it went, in the pot, from a ten inch wide, about two inch thick slab of dough to a ten inch wide eight inch high loaf of bread with good color and flaky crust, in just under an hour. I think that with better dough, and more rise, this could be outstanding -- and even without, it's pretty good!

Doing the Consumer Thing

I went to the store and bought a jacket and a belt. The jacket was to wear to the wedding this coming weekend; the belt was so I didn't have to keep taking one of my two belts from one of my three pairs of khaki's that I wear to work whenever I needed a belt for my jeans. My wife helped me get the jacket. Though we teased about it on the way in (Honey, what color do I like?), I really do rely on her opinion. I wouldn't pick plaid or madras but my sense of color is not as good as hers. After we were done, I went to pay for them while she went off to look for something else.

At the payment station, the elderly clerk, not realizing that the woman he'd seen standing near me, looking at clothing, was actually my wife, asked in some surprise how I was able to pick out the jacket by myself. I told him that my wife had helped, and he nodded. "Makes sense", he said, satisfied.

Scary part is, he was right.

Goin' to the Mosque

I was reading an article this morning about a computer simulation being used by the military to evaluate tactical situations in Iraq (it was actually pretty interesting, which proves I'm a geek), and one sentence caught my eye: the simulation designates certain people as 'religious', and those are shown going to the mosque five times a day to pray.

Well, heck, I don't know a whole bunch about it, but I'm pretty sure that although you can go to the mosque to pray the required five times a day, you don't have to -- you can be religious and pray wherever you are, when the time comes. (There's a thought: if in Arab countries they have that guy, I forget the title, who plays the come-to-meetin' call over the loudspeakers at the requisite times, what do you do if you're someplace where they don't have that functionary? What about a service: we'll page your beeper with a special code, five times a day... I think that could work, right?)

But anyway, I don't think you have to go to the mosque to pray, every day. At least, thats my hunch. But if I'm right, then what other bad assumptions does this massive simulation make?

Mr. Breakfast and Jazzbo

This morning, we had waffles and frozen burritos for breakfast. We're out of sausage, you see, except for whats in the freezer, and I thought well, heck, if I'd have to thaw and heat something anyway... so I pulled out the frozen burritos, and that's what we used. I took a bite, looked up at my wife, and said Please don't buy these ever again. They were terrible. Possibly something to do with being in the freezer now, for, oh, three months, but still -- they were terrible. Even with Emmanual Ax playing in the background, they were terrible. Yuck.

So, since I had the laptop out, I did yet another search for a burrito recipe. I found one on a site called Mr. Breakfast. It was your average recipe, but what got my attention was the comment at the end:
"Mr. Breakfast would like to thank Jazzbo for this recipe."

Mr. Breakfast and Jazzbo! Doesn't that sound like a mid-sixties cartoon show? Mr. Breakfast is the stocky proprietor of a greasy spoon breakfast place, someone who's always gruff and blunt, but has a heart of gold when its needed. 'Don't you go tellin' no one, hear?' he'll mutter as he hands over the rent money/rare comic book/new pair of sneakers for the homeless orphan. And Jazzbo is a whip-thin black kid, always snapping his fingers, dresses wildly, always has a boombox with him. He's the pipeline into what the cool kids are thinking, and he likes to call you Man -- but, you know, in a respectful way. Mr. Breakfast and Jazzbo!


In the middle of that discussion, we came up with another recipe for BB's (eliminate the potatos, put in spicy Italian sausage), so I think that soon, we're gonna Try It Again.

Oh, and speaking of food?

Bread dough's rising nicely.


I just found this quote, said to be from Bill Hoest:
I just need enough to tide me over until I can get more.
I like it -- it reminds me of one I heard years ago -
I don't want much -- just a dollar more than I'll ever need.
A dollar's not much, is it?
Btw, in case you're wondering who Bill Hoest is --

Friday, November 17, 2006


By the way, Standby is working again -- I did yet another System Restore, back about two weeks, and I reloaded Firefox, which was acting a little oddly. I have not reloaded StumbleUpon (I miss it!) nor have I reloaded Network Magic or Windows Defender. Basically, I want two or three days of flawless operation before I'll reintroduce those. And I'm not sure I'll get those days, either; I notice that that yellow shield with the Downloading symbol is there again. I had thought that perhaps the problem with Standby was that the system could not shut down because it was doing something it deemed critical, and this feeling was buttressed when I could not get it to accept a shutdown, either -- I ended up leaning on the power button to make it shut down. It was plausible that a download might be considered critical. When it came back, the yellow shield was gone, so I thought it might have been Defender (it won't tell me what it is!), but when I went to Standby again, I noticed that it had the cute little notice that there was a critical operation in progress. Finally, it did shut down, and I thought Well, thats over with -- and now it's back. Curiously, every time I see it, its at a different number, always higher, but retaining that number for a long time. Almost makes me wonder if somehow its waiting for the PC to be inert before continuing the download. Quite irritating, whatever it is. As to whether its the source of the problem -- I shudder to think.

The bread dough is slowly, slowly rising.

Tonight, Quiet

Our house is normally quiet anyway, but it is more so at the moment, as my wife is in at work. She's been there all day, and expects to be there about another hour. This really is 'part of the job', as we say, and not one of those things that non-technicians like to assume that we're more than willing to do, just for the pleasure of the action and the greater glory of the company; at one time, it might well have been true, but reductions in staff and increases in workload have not only made us less likely to feel that way about the extra work, but to feel that way about the regular things, too. Last Sunday, for the first time, I think, ever, I shut off my pager, which had just gone off, thinking 'I'm not on call; no one should be trying to contact me.' And I only felt a little guilty.

We had a bachelors meal -- my daughter had a Stouffeurs French Bread Pizza, and I had a Flatbread Pizza. She had a tiny slice of mine, and chewed it thoughtfully, offering the opinion that it was different, but nice. I asked if she'd want it again; she said probably not. While she was doing homework afterward, I offered her a small chunk of Perugina chocolate with raspberry filling; unlike me, pretty much just popping it into my mouth, she looked carefully at it and then asked if that was, in fact, a gryphon embossed on the chocolate. And decided that yes, it was. We're different in some other ways, too -- I had a CD of Emmanual Ax playing softly while we ate; afterwards, she asked if I would mind if she switched to one of her CDs, as Ax was getting a little 'annoying'. Emmanual Ax, annoying -- imagine that! But we did get the chance to talk about CD players as a result, and I recalled that I had promised to buy her a new portable player if she did well, this marking period, and she did: first honors, again. So, tomorrow morning, while her mother undoubtedly and deservedly sleeps in, we'll off to Circuit City -- and possibly to the pet store for some GP food.

I can't wait for her mother to get back.

This weekend

a) this biscotti

b) this bread

No-Knead Bread
Yields one 1 1/2 pound loaf

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 1/2 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

c) Satiated satisfaction.


I would dearly love to meet some of the people who devise office environments. I think that they are some of the brightest, most innovative people around. Also some of the most whacked out, craziest, totally unbelievably stupid. As an example of the latter, I offer the people -- I think it was Hermann Miller, but don't hold me to that -- who came up with the idea of the 'desk in a box' -- all your office possessions in a large wheeled box that you would move around as needed to 'meet' with other people. Wow! Edgy! Slick! Stupid! The guy who came up with it later said that it had been a great idea, but the environment wasn't ready for it. And the poor schmucks who had to live with it? And for the latter -- what about the Aeron chair? Its ugly -- and works like a champ.

The concept of how you make an environment 'work' is and has been for quite some time interesting to me. Great work, I think, doesn't require great surroundings to be productive -- but if you're not a great worker, then great surroundings help you get to the point where you're better than if the surroundings were standard office blah. This guy has some interesting observations, as do the people who commented to what he said. Oh, I know -- none of the cutting edge insights are going to make themselves known to the cube farms. And they vary -- where I work is substantially better than the cube farm where my wife works -- I have about 40 square feet of space, plus about fourteen linear feet of desk, and lockable bookshelves; she's got a quarter of that, or less. She once observed that the more they gave her to do, the less space they gave her to do it in. But still, its interesting to see what people think about what workers need (which is usually a superset, sometimes a supersuperset, of what they get) in order to do their best work.

Cool stuff, and fun to think about.

Customer Service

I am always a sucker for stories about outstanding customer service. This blog entry, from a fellow who is, I believe, a motivational speaker, about his experiences as a valet car park attendant at a Ritz Carleton, is interesting and amusing.


Yes, I said it, and I won' take it back, either.

I was so tickled when the StandBy feature started working on this laptop after I updated the video driver. It worked for weeks. And then, about a week ago, it -- stopped. It didn't disappear (grey out) as it had before the fix; it's still there, still selectable -- but when you select it, nothing happens. Oh, the image changes to indicate that the button's been pressed, but thats it. Nothing vanishes from the desktop, and it certainly does not go into standby. Except sometimes -- it does.


I did find that on the power options, I have 'go into standby' if the case cover is closed, and that isn't working, either, so what I think is happening is that it is trying to go into Standby, and failing. I even looked at the Event Log, which displays system events (on XP, its under Administrative Tools and, I think, Component Services), which helped me fix a perplexing problem on my work laptop (which is actually about to be replaced, mirable dictu.... which means I have hours ahead of me dedicated to moving files and applications, because, you see, my employer, the Biggest Little Software Company In The World, doesn't see it as necessary to have people dedicated to that function. Why, the CEO himself personally moves his files onto his new PC....yeah, right.) but even that didn't help. And doing a web search for 'XP Stand By Doesn't' will not elicit anything useful. Somewhere, there's an answer.... and I think its 'so, when you getting a new laptop?'


On the other hand, we've had a quiet breakfast, the sun light is shining golden on the house I can see at the far side of the farmer's field (he cut down the corn two weeks ago), today we're each going into my daughter's school to take a class with her (my wife gets Tech Ed, I get French), and this weekend we're going to make a) Chicken Piccata, which I've never made before, and b) a recipe for chewy biscotti dipped in chocolate, which likely won't come out as great as the picture, but should be pretty good.

So there!

Thursday, November 16, 2006


Which stands for More about Muslims. I'm a little gunshy at the moment, so I don't want to be really obvious about using the word.

This is the result of receiving an intense response (more like a diatribe) to my earlier post. I was seriously glad that this person didn't know my actual name or address, once I read what he wrote. He didn't threaten me, exactly -- but he did mention the idea that things might be different if as many people died here from violence as have died in Iraq, and the laundry list of countries he said we'd invaded. He rambled on about how Americans view the world as nice, and it isn't, tough, live with it. He ended his note by saying Peace, but somehow I doubt he meant it. At least, to me.

I asked two people I trust what to make of his response. One said that this was why she never argued with fundamentalist Christians, because so far as they were concerned, either she wasn't a good enough Christian, or she didn't truly understand what the bible said. The other said that this was a young, zealous Muslim, and sometimes they go over the line just to see if they can push you around in an argument. I didn't like learning that. I appreciated the honesty, but knowing that this was even possible made me feel like a sap for being a moderate.

A little gunshy.


Today, my daughter learned that three boys from her class were in the habit of sneaking out of class a little bit early at the end of the day. They asked her not to tell the teacher, and she agreed, but she did tell another student -- and the teacher heard her telling of it. As a result, the three boys are in trouble -- not major trouble, but still -- exacerbated by the fact that one of the kids is a bit of a handful anyway, so this was another rap on the knuckles for him. They're not happy. She sees them every day, at least twice a day. She's not happy.

I told her that I think she did the right thing, and that they would benefit from being caught, even if they didn't feel like it -- and this would not have happened had they not been doing something they knew was wrong. She knows all this. Still....

Tough to be a kid, sometimes.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


In about a week, we'll be taking a Road Trip. As part of that, my daughter will be in back, riffling through video CDs. She likes the Hallowe'entown series, and Robin Hood: Men in Tights (We're men - MANLY men!). And this one, too. Its not the shooting script -- but it's pretty close. And its funny.


So here's the deal.

Years ago, I read Lee Iacocca's autobiography, and he mentioned getting a really great hamburger in the Ford Motor Company executive dining room. He went to ask the chef how it ws done, and the chef said that it was easy: start with steak, grind it up.

Is it really that easy? ie, can I take just about any cut of steak, have it ground, and get pretty-much-guaranteed great hamburger from it? Or is it yeah, but really, any non-lean hamburger would do?

Any thoughts?


What Should Happen to Illegally Parked Cars?


Getting Letters

After I saw that image of Rick Santorum's child crying on the stage when he was conceding, I wrote to him to say that while I wasn't a supporter, I regretted how he was shown, and that I hoped he would succeed in future endeavours.

This is what I got back:

Thank you for contacting me. As always, I appreciate hearing from you. As you may know, the United States Senate is currently in a period of transition. Accordingly, your concerns may be better met by contacting your new Senator, Bob Casey, Jr. You may call the Capitol Switchboard for Senator Casey's contact information at 202-224-3121. I also recommend that you contact Senator Arlen Specter or your Representative in the House.
Thank you again for contacting me.
Sincerely, Rick Santorum United States Senate

No thanks for the sentiment, no thanks for not sliming my daughter, nothing.
Is it just me, or is that a little cold?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Slow Movin' Mornin'

I had one of those nights where I slept, I know I did, but I also know that I woke up several times. And I know why I woke up, too -- I was worried about what my blood sugar reading would be this morning, and I was mad, mostly -- okay, entirely -- at myself, because the higher than normal number meant that the dental work I was going to have done won't be done until it comes down. So I'm lookig at a mininum of a three month delay, which blows the hope of getting part of it done this year. In the grand scheme of things, thats not all that big a deal, but this is something that I've wanted to have done and gone, and, like a kid who kicks the ball he's trying to grab, I keep doing things to push it off.

In our bathroom, there's a sign I taped to the cabinet, months ago: Every Day is a Chance to Make It Better. It refers to blood sugar levels, and was put there when I routinely had the kind of trouble I've had in the last twenty four hours, but it generally refers to anything that is slowing me down -- and sometimes, it seems, theres a lot of things with that effect. I have to force myself to remember that much of what affects me is under my own control. The bright eyed believers in certain California concepts would say that even for the things that are not, I can still perk up my response to them, so that I don't get all glum and grouchy; I've tried to do that, but never with any success. I think that you have to start out on a higher plane of -- what, self-awareness, self-control? -- before you can do that. So the sign is there to remind me to take a deep breath, and focus. It doesn't always help, but sometimes, it does.

This morning's number, incidentally, was excellent. The track record is that an excellent number, after a day of truly abysmal numbers, will frequently be followed by bad ones, even if I've been careful in what I ate that day. Don't know why, but I know it based on experience. Its how my physiology operates. So for the next day or so, I'm going to have to be pretty careful, and take lots of readings, and be prepared to take drugs frequently. I will be grumpy about that, because every time that I do it, when I normally wouldn't have to, its kind of an admission of failure. What I have to focus on is that it may be that, but its definitely an action to get control. And control is very important to me.

Monday, November 13, 2006


Sluggy Freelance may be one of the strangest comics I have ever seen, barring, perhaps, Zippy Pinhead, or The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, so I of course think it's pretty nifty. You might not want to let your children read it, though.

Deep Blue Funks

When I get into a deep blue -- one might say, cerulean -- funk, much like I was in today, when I feel actively stupid, and angry with myself for being such a -- well, only a couple of things have a chance of making me feel better.

One is eating, usually something that makes noise -- that is, eating ice cream, or a sandwich, isn't going to do the trick, but something crunchy, like those chocolate chip cookies I made the other night, or stick pretzels, much like the bag of which I have next to me now, will usually work. Or losing myself in a novel -- one where the hero is usually forthright and clearheaded, much like myself/not; for example, the Vorkosigan novels, or the Star Trek novels. Nothing dense, nothing I have to think about. Just something where I can imagine, fake myself out, that I'm that person -- not the dumb one I feel like.

What I would like to do is learn how to induce this state of, I don't know, not angry at myself, not tense, not stressed - ness? , without the use of food, and without books, either. A little touch-reset button, right behind my ear -- that would be nice.

Well, Guh.

Which is actually about right -- since a hug is usually good, the way I feel at the moment is the opposite of that.

I won't go into details. But if you happen to have a dark hole, or a closet, that you don't normally go into, check before you do. I might be hiding in there.

Monday Notes

We made the intense hot chocolate last night. We'd already dropped the amount of chocolate by fifty percent, down to twelve ounces (mixed with two quarts milk and a cup of heavy cream); tasting it, we cut the recipe again down to ten ounces. This is very good stuff, but my golly, it's like gargling with Ghiradelli chocolate. As a side note, its very hard to keep warm, which is bit of a problem, as using it to get warm is the reason for making it in the first place. I wonder if there are, essentially, classy 'thermal commuter cups' that we could use? Not that I intend to get special cups for it; thats just curiousity.

A blog that I read on occasion is written by a woman in a specific medical speciality. I noticed that she had turned off commenting, and I asked her, via email, why. Her answer surprised me -- people tended to use her blog as a forum to vent about their experiences with her speciality, and to ask medical questions of greater detail than were really appropriate. As she more-or-less put it, "I'm a doctor; I'm just not their doctor". That wouldn't have occurred to me as a reason for doing that. Something, obviously, about the comments was irritating, but I would have guessed volume. (Me, too, only when I shut it off, its because there aren't any!) She also said something that squared with things I've read - people who write emails to her tend to be thoughtful and courteous, whereas the same people's blog comments can be snarky and curt.

I see where the Democrats are intending to resurrect an agency charged with illuminating waste in the Iraq war effort. I think thats good, though I had just the tiniest bit of angst; what would happen to the sense of comity if the Republicans (who had tried to terminate the agency) said No, we don't want to do that -- would it become a Well, we're doing it anyway? That doesn't appear to be the case. But the part I liked in the article was when a White House spokesman said they had no problem with extending the life of the agency -- they had a history of working well with inspectors-general. Ah... okay.

And now, Monday!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Real Estate

(I wonder -- is the opposite of Real Estate, Virtual Estate? Unreal Estate?)

We're figuring on a new house in about 7 years.

New house prices are dropping. Which is not to say that they are low, just - lower than they were going to be till the slump started.

Should we be thinking about buying/building now?


Thank You.


Read This Quickly

I tend to write short posts, mostly because I don't have a lot to say about most things; just a couple of stray thoughts here and there, most of which show up in this blog. Given that I've been writing it for a couple of years, there must be, oh, four or maybe even five paragraphs of worthwhile things in there. (Which brings to mind the Mark Twain quip about asking to leave work early one day, while working as a newspaper reporter; his editor replied Sure, just write half a paragraph.)

That translates into not wanting to read a lot, either. I'm not talking about books -- that's different -- but magazine articles; really, articles of any type. Here's an example: I found this article, about our feelings regarding wealth, while StumblingUpon through the web. I read the first couple of paragraphs, and liked it. I thought the writer made some good points, and some that hadn't occurred to me. (Thats how to get my attention: say things that I agree with, and then ease into the other stuff. I think that's the technique used by used-car salesmen, too, come to think of it.) I don't think about wealth a lot, other than wondering how long my money will hold out if I quit Right This Minute, And My Wife, Too, but I liked what he had to say.

Like chess or painting or writing novels, making money is a very specialized skill. But for some reason we treat this skill differently. No one complains when a few people surpass all the rest at playing chess or writing novels, but when a few people make more money than the rest, we get editorials saying this is wrong.

So I skipped ahead to see how long this article was. It turns out that it was about fourteen screens deep, plus notes. Fourteen screens! Forget it! And yet, I like the material, and if it were in, say, the New York Times Magazine, I'd read it. Or if I had ready access to a printer (this is being written on the laptop; for some reason, the connection to the desktop PC, into which the printer is plugged, is verrryyyy sllloooowwww), I'd just print it, read it, and toss the pages. But making the committment to read multiple pages, on the screen, feels like too much work. I'll read the abridged version, or the comments at the top -- or if there are comments from others, I'll read them to get a sense of what the article was about.

Thats weird, I know.

Hope this wasn't too long.

Rainy Day Thoughts

It's drizzling right now, and that's expected to last for the next day or so. Good day to make that hot chocolate recipe I'd planned for a couple of days ago.

And maybe something else: I picked up a copy of Cooks Illustrated magazine this morning, as it was entirely about Christmas cooking. I don't come from a background where families put out lavish or varied displays of Christmas cookies -- usually, its cookies freshly decanted from a plastic bag of Stella D'oro or the like -- but I've always liked the idea. I can make about three different kinds, four if you count biscotti (though never as good as the chewy kind made by a small company in Maine that has, alas, gone out of business) and I'm always a sucker for anything that promises to show me how to make something new. I think that in a way I'm always trying to make something that evokes the feeling of the soft round chocolate cake - like pastry that I got as a surprise from a local baker when I was about eight -- it was so good that I remember it even now. So, when I saw that the magazine promised to show me how to make really good butter cookies, not to mention, a chocolate mousse cake, well, I was hooked.

Sometimes I wonder why baking is so satisfying. I think it's because its all under your control (well, pretty much), and when you're done, you're done; there is a clear end point. And its part of you on that tray -- not a big part, sure, but something that you obviously liked enough to make. I always feel a little bad for people who bring home-baked cookies to events and at the end of the day see their offerings mostly untouched. I usually take a couple, because I know it'd bother me.

Rocky time sleeping last night; my wife was on a conference call from 11PM on, and I got woken up three times by the phone ringing, even with the two doors closed between the bedroom and the library. I finally got to a sound sleep around 3 -- and got woken up by people from my job to fix a problem that they'd known about two weeks ago but never got around to fixing. But this morning, they were up to check out a product upgrade, and suddenly it was a Big Deal that had to be fixed immediately.

I finally finished Redemption Ark, by Alastar Reynolds. I really enjoyed it, though I did find that if I stepped away from it for a while, I had to back track several pages to get back into the flow of the story. Still, I usually prefer that to a story where the print in big and the concepts are small. I'm not saying I like reading heavy duty novels -- hey, this is for amusement! -- just that there are times where a story with some meat on it is much appreciated. It turned out that RA was the third of a trilogy-plus-one (no idea what you would call that). I may go find the first two and read them -- but right now I want to read the Queen's Dragon series (which is lighter than RA, though not as light as, say, the Star Trek novels I so enjoy) and get back to Team of Rivals. Talk about having to backtrack: on that book, I may have to start again from scratch!

Lots of articles about politics in todays papers. I don't plan on becoming a student of politics, or any of that, but I do want to read them carefully -- weeding out the persiflage (boy, how often do I get to use that word?) for the substantive stuff that will illuminate what went wrong for the Republicans. Two interesting ideas and one bizarre one that I've come across -- first, that the Republicans planned on energizing their base, targeting them with issues that mattered locally, and found to their dismay that what most people (not all, but many) cared about were the national issues, and second, that the swing votes mattered a lot more this election than before, and many of them went Democratic. The bizarre one: perhaps Rove wanted to lose, to give the Republicans a breather, give the Democrats a chance to screw up. I don't believe that, but I guess in the world of politics anything is possible. I like what I've heard Pelosi say so far, especially about not disenfrancising the Republicans. I hope that they can follow through with that.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Self Preservation Society

You probably think that phrase has got something to do with politics, or selfishness. In fact, it's part of the theme from the original The Italian Job, which we rented from Netflix, and which we finally got around to watching the other night. The phrase "You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!" is a line from there, too; apparently, it's considered a classic line. We rented the film because we really enjoyed the other The Italian Job. When we heard that that one, which was quite good, was actually a remake of an earlier film, we wanted to see if that was as good.

Our conclusion? Michael Caine was outstanding in the first one; Benny Hill didn't get enough screen time, and the plot sounded as if they'd made it up that morning. The film's charming, but it has a kind of loopy sixties quality. In the second, Mark Wahlberg et all are excellent; plus, the production values are far superior. Both films are good, but, truth to tell, if I were to watch one again, it'd be the second. That Charlize Theron is in that one has only a little bit to do with it.

Bridger! Bridger! (You'll have to watch the first to understand that.)


I know that radio and other media don't go for the quiet, understated commentors; they like people who'll mix it up, a little bit. I do know this.

Nevertheless, when I heard a woman on NPR this afternoon mention that as a conservative she was feeling a bit glum at the moment, and the guy she was talking to chortled (there is no better word) that at least she still had the presidency; wait two years so that she could experience the full taste of being out of power, I grew just a bit hot under the collar.

Please tell me that this was a fluke, and that the idiots haven't already assuming they'll be in office for decades to come. Please tell me that. Because that kind of mindless , stupid comment just begs for the owner to be kicked out of office.

Think, you people. Focus. Plan. Deliver. Get elected when there isn't a war on, orchestrated by a dim President. Do that, and then you can carp. But until then: keep a lid on it!


I am not a Muslim, and I'm not a Muslim scholar. My knowledge of Islam is sketchy and based more on my impressions of the people who write Muslim blogs than on anything else. What I get is that these are real people living their lives pretty much in accordance with their religion. That's pretty awesome,actually.

So's this. Their religion isn't telling them to kill people. It is telling them to do things and act in ways that I don't understand, use phrases I don't understand, but it isn't telling them that to be saved they need to kill me. The ones who want to kill me, the terrorists and the bombers, may be Muslims, but they're not getting that from Islam. A distorted view of Islam, perhaps; one that's hundreds of years old, from a different world and time. Or their own hate agenda, camoflagued with a coating of Islam to make it appear respectable. But the real deal, the real Islam? I don't think so.

I do wish that Muslims would speak out forcefully against the terrorists and the killers, though. I think I understand why they don't, but I wish they would. It would help. Its not all thats needed, not by a long shot, but it would help. I don't think that having a lot of different and diverse groups condemning them would make the terrorists back off -- Abdul, did you know that these people didn't like us? -- but I think it would help to de-legitimize them, and thats got to be a good thing. For the Arab and the Muslim world to hear that people they respect are rejecting the terrorists would, I think, carry more weight than the United States saying the same thing. So, I wish they would, loudly and publicly.

But that or not, I don't think Muslims want to kill me. Just thought I'd mention that.

Wondrous Woman

I've never been much of a fan of the Wonder Woman comics, but I liked this site. Would that I could draw a third that well.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Bose Woes

Why are Bose audio devices so expensive?

I know, I know - - superior engineering, fine design, plus not really, when you compare them to the cost of a new space shuttle -- but man... I'd like to get some of their stuff, but there is just no way I'll pay $350 for noise cancelling headsets, or $500 for a cd player and stereo, I don't care how good it sounds.

Course, I am the guy who ran a stereo with just one speaker for a year and thought it sounded okay....


Christmas is coming, which means I want to buy Stuff. Hopefully not $tuff, but maybe... We make a run to a major shopping mall once a year, right around now; as it happens, we're going to travel up to Connectidots the day after Thanksgiving, which is when we normally do the mall haul. On the other hand, there are a lot of cute little stores up near Mystic, which is where we will be.

One gadget that I saw and liked is a combination Swiss Army Knife and 1GB USB memory stick. USB memsticks are popping up everywhere; many are useful, some (like the one embedded in a Barbie doll; you rip off the head to use it) are bizarre. I like this one, and its not really expensive. It would not have occurred to me, did not I get a free one a bit ago which was immediately glommed onto by my daughter.

I'd like to get a portable music player. MP3, I think; not CDs (too big), and probably not cassette (though, maybe). USB compatible would be nice. Doesn't have to be tiny, but less-than-pocket sized. Say, about $200 or so.

I saw some red silk pajamas that look good for my wife, did she not already have a pair, but they do have other colors. Course, she also likes warm and fuzzy ones. If I go this route, I have to be sure it fits, and it really, really has to be of good quality. Maybe a camisole? Not Vickie's Secret, though... too mass market.

And, of course, there's always chocolate covered pretzels. Crate and Barrel always sells that, and now Red Envelope does, too. I don't usually buy it, though -- too easy to spend too much for a very transient pleasure - but at the moment food is on my mind: I'm baking choc chip cookies, using a new dark chocolate (Nestle's Chocolatier). Not at all bad.

Now what?

I've been giving some thought to what ought to happen now, politically. I've been giving more thought to the immediately pressing issues of the day, such as getting a new light socket for the pole lamp in the living room, wondering where my socks are, contemplating whether I should make french toast in the morning, thinking about how I can I get through the boring team meeting (and remembering to pronounce the names of the Brazilian attendees correctly; boa tarde, y'all), but in the intervening moments, I've thought about politics.

To that end, I jotted down a quick list of the Things I Ought To Be Thinking About, or at least Have An Opinion On -- things like What should we do in Iraq et al, What should we do about the economy, How to make health care affordable, Is Pizza Hut still having that two for one deal (oh, wait, that goes in the first list), Is immigration a big problem or a red herring, What to do about lobbyists and their power -- that sort of thing. Its not that I think I'm going to have Great Thoughts, and even if I did, its not like I think its going to make a difference. Its just that I think that as an adult, I ought to have some kind of opinion on these things, and therefore that I ought to occasionally think about them. At least, for five minutes or so, until something more pressing comes up.

I've been pleased to see a couple of articles saying that in their opinion (all of two days old now, for example, here), the Democrats are not likely to propose sweeping changes, for two reasons: first, they may be running the place, but that doesn't mean they can do whatever they want -- unlike the Republicans in the mid nineties, they don't have an overwhelming majority, plus, they don't have a president of the same party. Both are going to put brakes on any (or at least most) wild eyed idea. And second, there's a major election in two years, at which time the big question will be, How much better are things now that the Democrats have been in power? It won't matter that they've had the constraints I mention, or that they've been in power (by then) for two years, whereas the Republicans had ten years -- the assumption will be that two years was plenty of time, so: how are things? That kind of time pressure should help to keep them focused on delivery and less on ideological dreaming.

I saw in more than one place that organizing the Democrats is like herding cats; they're all independent, to varying degrees, unlike Republicans, who prefer order and conformity. Independence doesn't mean better, and some R's have that, too; order and conformity doesn't mean dull, and some D's have that characteristic as well. But generally, Democrats like to go their own way, and it will take a forceful presence and a clear message to keep them on track. To that end, I was tickled to notice that several -- not all -- of the winning Democrats said that they were focused on providing a New Direction for the country. Made me wonder if that phrase was used at a meeting of the Democratic high command, oh, six months ago. But catch phrase or not, it's worthwhile -- even if it gets superceded, it provides focus. This is what we're going to do, generally. This is the yardstick we'll use as a quick evaluation of whether what we're doing is worth doing. Not the only yardstick, and things that go against it aren't necessarily bad or out, but still -- that's the Big Picture High Concept, that's the mantra. So, that's for the Now- what?

That still leaves the Now Who? question, but even though one guy has already leapt up to say Me, Me!, I don't think we need to worry about that quite yet. Certainly, I don't.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

GP's, continued

I mentioned that if my daughter ever gets another pet, it's going to be something small. Something low maintenance. Something unicellular.

But that was before I saw this.


A long time ago, I read a story -- more of a graphic novel, actually -- about the tragic love affair between a circle and a line. At first, it went well, but after a while the circle became a little bored with the line. Desperate, the line, which heretofore had just been there, nothing special, tried to keep the circle's attention, but nothing worked. The circle began looking at other lines -- thicker lines, dotted lines, lines in different colors. The line, now truly panicking, learned to move. It began to dart here and there, forcing itself into different shapes. From being a simple line, it had transformed itself from a directionless force into a vector. And it worked -- the circle came back. They were happy. Proving, once again, that old adage:

To the vector belongs the spoils.

Perhaps that explains why I liked this so much. Or maybe it was the music.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Okay, I'm a wimp.

I saw two sites that have a picture of Rick Santorum conceding. In both, some girl, apparently his daughter, is crying. Both sites say how funny the picture is. One says how ugly the girl is. The other said how ugly the whole family is.

Not even Rick Santorum deserves that kind of treatment. He may be an arrogant bigot, but not even that means that he deserves to have his family denigrated.

I know, he'll probably never see those blogs. And he'll certainly never seen this. But still --

I'm sorry it happened.

Call me a wimp, but I feel badly for him. Not because he lost. But because fools slimed his family, and thought it funny.


A Democratic official in Ohio said that their candidate gave the Republican senatorial incumbent a 'drubbin'. The Democrat won 55% of the vote, which, as NPR pointed out, isn't as overwhelming as that comment would suggest. Perhaps it was just post-win testosterone overload.

On the other hand, the article also contained an observation from a rank-and-file Democrat, there for the celebration, that made a lot more sense. He said that, having won, the Democrats would now have to demonstrate their plan, and then act on it.

Absolutely. I'm pleased that they won -- but now I want to see them put forth a plan. And act on it.


MANLY programmers

So the people in my office are mostly guys.Most of them just got their new laptops, which, of course, are not configured like the ones they have now.

Did any of them read the doc, or even ask for help, when things Didn't Quite Work?

What are you, kidding? These are GUYS! And Systems Programmers, at that!!! We don' need no stinkin' documentation! Gimme that hammer....

If You Voted, Thank You.

Change is worthwhile, even if, normally, the only person who appreciates change is a wet baby.

I like the results. Win one, lose one. That's not bad. Especially when its that close in the one you lost. Would have been nice to win both, but I'll take this.

Let's hope that this brings a return to rationality... to civility... and to a two-party system.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


This hopeful cartoon was found on KIWISBYBEAT.COM.

Political Cartoon

This cartoon by Toles was found here.

Monday, November 06, 2006

(Insert Pithy Sports - Oriented Metaphor Here)

You know -- 'down to the wire', 'gut check time', 'its all up to you'...those metaphors.

The thing is, if you're eligible to vote, it really IS all up to you.

Please. Remember to vote.

If you support the Democratic thinking, or you're opposed to how the Republicans have handled things, please vote.

If you're a Republican,
of course you can vote for that side... but I think that if you think about what you value, you'll vote Democratic. Lately, the Democrats are promoting more of the core Republican values - fiscal prudence, limiting the size of government, personal responsibility - than the Republican office-holders themselves.

But either way: Vote.

If how your country is run matters to you, vote.

If what your country stands for matters to you, vote.

It's the only chance you'll likely get to make a difference.

Thank you.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Silk Ilk

I've never worn a tuxedo, but I'd like to.

I was thinking idly about that while doing an image search on, what else, Google. That bit of funniness I posted a little while ago mentioned a 'red silk blouse', and I thought 'gee, my wife would look good in that'. She looks good in red, and she looks good in silk, so it seems like a natural match. I was just poking around -- I didn't expect to find anything, and I didn't (okay, there was a silk stole from India that looked nice, but until you can actually touch it, its not something I'm going to fork out money for) -- but while I was looking, I came across an image of a guy wearing a tux with a red silk cummerbund.

Now, there is absolutely no way I would look anywhere close to this guy. I mean: No way. But still, the image intruiged me -- starched shirt, dark tie, red silk cummerbund, dinner jacket. And glossy black patent leather shoes, I would imagine, too.

It'd take a lot more than this to make me appear debonair, but I think it'd be fun, anyway.

Iraq: public demand easier solutions

From Newsbiscuit:

A new poll has shown overwhelming support for the idea of one simple solution to the Iraq problem. A massive 78% of the public would prefer a quick and straight forward resolution to the situation, with only 15% believing that the best way forward was some complex, long-term process of painstaking reconstruction.

‘The politicians ought to get in there and bang some heads together’ said Maud Carter, a retired doctor’s receptionist whose analysis was typical of many of those polled. ‘They should stop messing about and sort it out’ said another.

The poll’s shock findings were welcomed by the Foreign Secretary who is now liaising with the US Secretary of State for Defense about the idea of ‘a bit less talk and a bit more action.’ Both governments will be alarmed to learn that voters are fed up with hearing about the complexity of the apparently intractable crisis, and would prefer one quick, cheap and simple act that would sort out the entire Middle East region ‘for once and for all’.

Phoney Zecks

I've never had any great desire to participate in phone sex -- seems kind of odd to me, not to mentionk, awkward -- but this probably does a decent job of demonstrating how it'd go if I tried.
Song update: I was just sitting here, flipping through the paper, and drumming on the table to: the theme from Hawaii 5-0 .... followed closely by the theme from I Spy, and the one for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. So, three more for the always-play-loud list. And lets not forget L.A. Law, either..... or, quieter but pleasant, The Wild Wild West.

There must be some movies with memorable, strong-beat themes, right?

Saturday, November 04, 2006


Other than the burn, it's not bad.

I found a recipe for garlic and asagio cheese bread in a cookbook that my mother gave me for my birthday. As it happens, my wife likes the asagio cheese bread we get at Panera, and my daughter LOVES it, so I thought to give it a try. The recipe is pretty simple, and the only problem (problems of the idle baker) was that the dough didn't really go through a second rise. The kitchen isn't warm enough for that, so I normally stick the dough in the oven with just the light on for warmth. This time, though, I was heating the baking stone. As a result, the bread is more like focaccia than a loaf, but thats not a bad thing. Also, my daughter tasted the first loaves, and said that while it was good, it wasn't as good as Paneras, which sprinkles cheese on top of the bread. So, about half way through the baking cycle for the remaining loaves, I did that -- which was how I got a small burn on my hand. Not bad, though -- and I was amazed to see the cheese literally melting into the bread as I slid the tray back into the oven.

So, good. We've got the tomato bisque soup cooking now, too; we'll have that for dinner with the bread. I didn't make the hot chocolate, or the rice pudding -- at least one of them will happen tomorrow, I think. Unfortunately for us, my wife is once again working from way early to late moring -- from home, but still.... so probably no Sunday brunch for us.

Have some bread!


I showed this to my wife, and she said "Oh, jeez....send these people my credit card!"

Guinea Pig

I swear, if my daughter ever gets another pet, it's going to be along the lines of an amoeba, or possibly a paramecium.

Chocolate the GP is sick again. The same thing as before -- loses the ability to move. Apparently, its due to some kind of swellling that affects her motor nerves. There are drugs to reduce the swelling, and manual manipulation that does who-knows-what, but does actually seem to have an effect. And now, it seems, the animal has a swollen front paw, for unknown reasons and with unknown effect. We have an already-scheduled appointment with the vet, and as soon as she sees that, I just know she's going to start talking about extensive therapy, mood lighting for the GP cage, perhaps a GP support group.

Gah. Or maybe ants. You can't get attached to ants, can you?

Friday, November 03, 2006

The Beat

What makes a song rememberable?

I was just thinking about that because a web site I was looking at happened to have an MP3 of the theme from The Munsters television show -- this one, done in a very 60's style by a group called The Firebirds. It brought to mind how there are certain songs or tunes that I will always stop and listen to. The classic, for me, is Pete Seegar and The Silver Bullet Band's Old Time Rock and Roll... but there's also the classic James Bond theme (even now, the first notes drift through my mind...dah dah DAH DAH dah dit dah....). And Kodachrome: I'll always turn that up loud, pretty much wherever I am. And YMCA, and I Dig Rock and Roll Music.

So what do these have in common? Part's got to be the beat, the rhythm -- something that lends itself to slapping on any available surface. And its got to be relatively simple, amenable to faking it if you don't actually remember all of it. But what else?

Several years ago, as a lark , I wrote down the names of seven or eight songs I absolutely loved, songs I didn't want to forget. Wonder where that list is now? Wonder what was on it?

This weekend's recipes: heavy duty hot chocolate (I mean, really dense; so dense, when we made it the first time, it tasted like we'd just nuked a Cadbury and drank it). We cut the chocolate from 24 to 12 ounces. We'll see how it goes. And, Tomato Bisque soup, which we've never made before. It sounds good.... And maybe some rolls, maybe not.

Staying on Target

Please, don't forget to vote on Tuesday. And don't forget why you need to. It's always a privilege, but this time, its damn near a necessity. We need to make how we feel, known.

I don't know who speaks eloquently for the other side, but as for mine, I can't say it any better than these guys.


Thank you.

Odd Results

I went off to therapy tonight in a pleased mood, because I was sure that I'd be at least in the ball park of where I used to be, rotational-measurement-wise. The measurement at the end was just about where it was last week, when I was at a low point. And yet I'm still pleased.

The reason: my arm doesn't hurt, after doing all of the exercises. I can lift it and move it without thinking about it -- no twinges, no aches. Well, very few. I think that taking the time off, not pushing it, was a good thing. And, as a side effect, I learned a couple of useful stretches. One, I flat couldn't do, for a funny reason -- it involves facing into a corner, putting your hands flat on the walls (out to each side), and leaning forward. My hand just would not lay flat -- it kept skidding down! But once I did a variant of the stretch, leaning on a door frame and doing a sort of push-up, using the weight of my body to put stress on my upper arms, it worked just fine. I could feel the stretch, but it didn't hurt. Plus, I did a couple of the exercises that tend to leave me with a bit of an ache, and they didn't. My arm felt just fine. I did skip the weights, though.

So I'm pleased. Can't reach as high as I could, but I believe it's coming.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

What a Joint!

Well, my shoulder appears to be almost back to where it was. I didn't do anything other than give it heat, and very gentle stretching actions. Its not as flexible as it was, and I have to work into it (can't just do it, say, right out of bed), but it seems to be not as bad as it had been.

No guarantees -- I see the surgeon on Monday -- but cautious optimism.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Tau Factor

That title has absolutely nothing to do with this post. It's simply a phrase which I liked that I just came across in a novel, and for which I found a nifty definition here. But it's not what prompted me to write.

I heard a bit on NPR this evening wherein women in Pennsylvania were asked their views on what's important in this election, and, I guess, globally. None of these women sounded like professional thinkers, people who spend their days mulling over the great ideas of life. They sounded like real people. And though I agreed with most of them, I particularly liked the comment of a woman who identified her political affiliation as Libertarian. That's a party I've always associated with the radical fringe; though I'm not likely to change affiliations, I'm getting more respect for the Libertarians lately, in large part due to other people saying what she said: that it was time for a return to the middle of the road, to a position where neither side overwhelmingly dominated the discussion, where there was give and take. I liked that a lot. She went on to say that she was pro-choice, and supported stem-cell research, among other things, which got me to thinking: what do I support? We've got billions of dollars in the budget - what would I spend it on, what do I think is most important?

I know that much of the budget is locked in and untouchable; my off the cuff estimate is that maybe a third of it is up for grabs each year. Of course, there are limits; though I'm always taken by the bumper sticker you see on occasion to the effect of What if they had to pay for bombers by holding a bake sale?, no one's going to go from umpity-billions of dollars this year for defense to zero next year; similarly, I doubt the budget of the National Park Service is going to find itself flush with cash where today it's barren and sterile. Still, some fooling around is possible. Some game-playing might help.A game, perhaps, like the National Budget Simulation. Materials on the budgetary process and players such as these help, too.

I just played the Simulation's short form, and you know what? It makes you think. What's more important, agriculture or regional development? Should veterans affairs get more money? If so, should transportation lose the money, or should it come from aid to low-income families? Or should the whole budget increase?

Even the simple choices are difficult, in this game.