Friday, March 31, 2006

John

Sometimes, I look at old women and wonder what they looked like when they were little girls. I wonder if they ever imagined that they would be old at all. I look at their faces and try to see the laughter that I hope was part of their youth, the kind of laughter that most people stop having about the time their lives start to transition into being adult. Its the kind of unaffected giggles that tell you, without looking, that its a kid laughing. I wonder if they ever think back to their youth, if they remember what it was like.

Today I found out that the daughter of a friend had died. The friend is more somebody that I used to work with, and so knew slightly. His daughter died while trying to come clean from an addition to heroin.

I just don't think of things like that happening to people I know. And I just don't think of things like that happening to once-happy little girls.

Batteries Kind of Included

This evening we made the rounds, hitting the ATM, post office, bookstore, and a store that sells a mess of different things. It was in the mess store that we got a bit of a surprise.

We've wanted a small food scale for a while -- we've been using one that my wife picked up at a yard sale about 25 years ago -- a little spring mechanism dealie -- for a dollar. The spring still works, but the tab for the pointer snapped off. I thought I could kluge together something that would approximate it -- we're not doing brain surgery here -- but when a flyer came from the mess store offering a substantial discount on one item, we knew what the item would be. And as it turned out it was a better deal than anticipated, because the price marked on the box was ten dollars less than it should have been, and the box price was what we got it for, minus the discount.

Got it home, popped it open, inserted the supplied battery. Hmm...wonder why there are slots for two batteries? Looked at the tri-language manual. "Insert the batteries...."

Ah, well. It's still a good deal.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Multi-Me

Doing a little multitasking at the moment. One of the sessions that I have up on this laptop is hooked into a computer system that I support. They're doing a product upgrade so several of us got to work on it. Fortunately for me, I'm one of the ones who gets to do it remotely -- I'm sitting at the dining room table at the moment, listening to the chiming of the living room clock. Another session has Google up where I was searching for blogs about beer -- a comment made to an earlier post mentioned beer, and I thought 'there must be blogs about that', and there are. I'm not a beer drinker, but there are occasional times when I wonder if I'm missing something decent. Of course, my taste buds aren't the greatest -- I've been known to drink Tab soda and actually like the metallic aftertaste -- but I think it might be fun to try one on occasion. I have the same philosophy about that that I have about eating something different for a change -- it should be very, very good, because I won't recognize the worth of anything less. I'm just not gustatorily capable of nuance. Its got to bowl me over. One blog mentioned a beer from Lancaster Brewing, which is probably made not all that far from here. I might look for it. So, anyway, this multitasking stuff has its moments.

I've been fairly wired, last couple of days, regarding this software product that I'm trying to install. I went out for lunch today (normally, I bring something), and took the opportunity to think about it in a relatively calm manner. I came up with an idea of a way to do some of the work that needs to be done even though the big stumbling block is still there. It means doing it in a way that I would really rather not, but its either do this or stomp and whine some more, which so far hasn't borne much fruit. But anyway -- after coming up with the idea, I found myself thinking about the product itself. Its difficult to put in, but it shouldn't be -- there are no major technical skills that are needed to do it, its just a little overwhelming -- okay, a lot overwhelming -- by the sheer mass of it all -- its got what feel like a zillion combinations and permutations, and the people who wrote their doc suffered from loggorhea -- they never found a succinct phrase that couldn't be lengthened. I found myself wondering if there was any financial opportunity in this for me -- could I get to the point where I really understood how to do it, and then quit and sell that service? It'd be a limited market, for sure, and perhaps only companies with lots of money and few programmers would buy it -- but still, it was an intriguing thought.

Tomorrow I'm working from home. Maybe I'll do a little cookie baking.

We're about to have some tea -- I'm having peppermint, which I really like, and which, to my surprise, requires almost no sweetening at all -- so I'll close for now.

Verbiaging

Reverbiage is an interesting site that I stumbled across while looking up a crossword item. The only thing its missing is that it doesn't seem to have an RSS feed, at least for the main page. But its interesting and novel -- I like it.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Evening

I'm tired.

Its not late, but I'm tired. Fair number of energy-draining things occurred today. Found out this morning that I'm on call for this week. Its NBD, as the group gets very few calls, but still. And the group mailbox is full, but they don't know what they want to do, and none of them seem to have the technical ability to fix it (one of the problems the group has is a reflection of the corporate attitude toward initiative, coupled with a fair amount of paranoia about being second-guessed.)

I spent some time today with a network guy trying to find out why my app doesn't connect. He agreed that its a firewall thing. Or not. Thats about what I expected, but what I need is an answer. I really don't like having to rely on someone else to solve my problems.

I spend time redoing a project plan that the owner had asked me to review. Its for my project, but he's a manager who likes project plans, so he made one so that he could demonstrate to his manager that he was doing something. The plan didn't make sense to me -- it reflected his lack of understanding about the components. I ended up chucking it and writing a new one from scratch. I'm sure he'll be delighted (g) What I did was to sketch out a series of flow charts to break the process into pieces -- critical path and ancillary stuff. It made a lot more sense to me that the one he'd made in Microsoft Project, which may be a tour de force technically but I think is a kludge. Needs way more than it has. For one thing, it needs a visual interface -- something to take a text plan and translate it to a diagram, and back again. And a ten-thousand-foot overview vs a ten foot detail view would be nice, too. Given the investment that Microsoft has made in it thus far, I doubt anything like that is coming down the pike.

Read a bit of Intueri's blog. Wish I could write that elegantly - she has a cool, crisp style. And I watched some TV, which is a good indicator of my level of intellectual activity tonight. Amazingly, it seemed to perk me up.

Not much bright thinking going on here today. Sorry!

And the Message is...

The organization that I work for likes to use the occasional code phrase -- words that mean more than the literal phrase. One is 'the story that we can tell', which is used as a succinct summary of something like 'the message that we want to communicate should make the following points'. Sometimes it comes out as 'whats the story' or 'what story do we want to tell'. When I first would encounter that, it sounded fake to me, as if they were saying 'what string of half-truths can we bunch up so that it sounds good to the gullible'. And, truth to tell, there is some of that. We don't lie, but we don't always tell the absolute truth, either. (One of the novels that I like, one in the Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian, has an exasperated admiral telling the captain something like 'Its not that I want you to lie in your report -- never that. Just don't indulge yourself in your apparent desire to shout 'stinking fish for sale' at every opportunity.') We don't shout stinking fish. A tad ripe, perhaps, but no more.

What brings this to mind is an article I read part of, this morning, from this past weekend's New York Times, about the trial of the person who is supposed to have been bin Laden's driver. I admit that when I had heard of this, I was a bit exasperated myself, thinking 'Is this the best they can do? What next, his grocer, barber, personal trainer?' Reading the article made it clear that the point is not so much this guy as the circumstances of his arrest -- to wit, that he was arrested and is being treated as an enemy combatant, and that his trial is intended to be within the stricter, less accused-friendly, military-oriented tribunal system. Now, I spent eight years in the military, and though I didn't get to pal with the powerful, sipping aged scotch as we contemplated global affairs, I did get a sense of what the military is generally like. I don't think there is anything wrong with treating terrorists, or those legitimately believed to be terrorists, in a less liberal environment than the average corporate criminal or double-parker. (Though the thought of Bernie Ebbers in a military tribunal setting does have a certain delicious feeling to it. Take that!) I think that the military is not overwhelmingly likely to execute first, think second, as some might feel. To put it another way, I am not opposed, and in fact somewhat in favor of the idea.

But the message of this trial, and the underlying tribunal system, isn't being told well. I get the impression that the system is being pushed as a way of ensuring a win -- that the Bush crew are saying that if they can just strip away enough of the effete liberal effect that's permeated the American judicial system, then by god -- literally, perhaps -- we will finally be able to try these people as they ought to be tried. And there is a certain deliciousness in that, too, considered the care and sensitivity that the Iraqi militants show in their own activities. The thing is, that's the wrong message. I think that the message ought to be that the tribunal system is not a faster path to conviction but one that is just as fair than the standard -- but bows to the exigencies of the environment. In other words, unlike the civilian equivalent, it doesn't get derailed when certain facts cannot be proven, certain witnesses cannot be identified. It's not as protective -- but its not vindictive. I think thats the message that needs to come across.

Of course it would help if that were true, too.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

This is not Me



...but it COULD be....

13?

Oceans Thirteen?

Going to give the number a bad name.

Blind Oracles

I just read a review in The Economist of a book entitled Blind Oracles: Intellectuals and War from Kennan to Kissinger. It sounds fascinating, and a good companion to Thinking in Time. I can't recommend Blind Oracles only because I haven't read it yet, but I will. I just love books like that.

F-Stopping

When I was at the color guard event, I rediscovered photography. I havent taken more than twenty pictures in the last ten years, and maybe that number the five years prior. No opportunities, no time. When I was retired, and when I was in the Air Force, I had the time, but not recently. I've mentioned that I am looking at the Canon S3 (and would like to be holding it, Canon!) but I've had mild reservations: Gee, Bill, you're going to spend all that money for the camera, and when exactly are you going to take pictures? Taking about 80 (yup) pictures over the course of three and a half hours reminded me of how much fun it can be. Most of the photographs were of people in the percussion teams doing their various routines, and a couple were color guard (weighed heavily toward, ahem, one particular unit), but several were taken in the interregnum between the end of the percussion and the start of the color guard, either of the percussion people lined up for awards, or people just milling around, laughing and joking (and in one case, doing an impromptu wrestling demonstration). The percussion people were particularly delightful, as the girls just in front of me were bopping around in place to the soundtrack of Celebration, as were the ones off to one side waiting to hand out the awards. Man, they were graceful (though they'd probably have been surprised to hear it.) I think that teen-age girls are way better at that than guys -- they're less inhibited, more willing to be spontaneous.

At one time I thought I wanted to be a professional photographer. I'd subscribe to the magazines, read the articles. Seemed to me that a lot of these people were fussy old men; perhaps their 'improved' versions of photographs really were better, but not nearly as great as they made them sound. And truth to tell, I half-thought of it as a creative career, and half as a chance to hang around with good- looking people (cute girls? Who, me?) and people who weren't so good looking, helpiing them look good. I didn't study this stuff, and mostly I did scenic photography, but when I had the chance to take someone's picture, and it came out well, I was secretly pleased. I don't have a great eye, but I've got a bit of one.

I surely wouldn't mind doing that again.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Writing

I don't put much thought into the background of the people that I've come to 'know' while writing and reading blogs, but you do build up an image of someone based on what they write about, what their picture looks like (if they have one), and the tenor of the things they say. Every so often you get a surprise -- one blog that I like, written by a woman who lives in Canada, has a warm, family-oriented tone -- I can almost see her baking cookies with the kids -- which is which I blinked when she referred to a digital picture that had been snapped by her child as showing the 'ass end' of a stuffed animal. Huh? Got to realign my image of her -- not better, not worse, just different. One site has a picture of the person who writes it, and after I'd built an image of the author, it was changed; the new picture is fine but its a lot different -- its older, which makes her almost a different person that I need to get to know. One site (geekymom) doesn't have a picture, but it does have a cartoon sketch, and to me, thats her -- smart, insightful, funny, and, oh yes, a cartoon figure. In a way, its like the difference between movies and books; in one, you get the image they want you to have; in the other, you get the image that your mind develops. I don't know, but I almost prefer the second. Less surprises.

And no, I don't ever intend to put my picture on here!

I am NOT desperate,,,

... for something to write about. But this is something I’ve wondered about for a while: what are the most commonly used English letters AFTER the (presumably) well-known ETAOINS?

I found this: ETAOIN SHRDLU CMFWYP VBGKQJ XZ at this site.

Now all I have to do it memorize them. Shred Lou? (And then it becomes a Czech spelling bee....)

Little of This, Little of That

We had some friends over for dinner last night. We don't do this very often ... okay, almost never ... but these are people that we really like. In a sense, they're just like us, at least in the important items - attitudes and values. Their oldest daughter was in day care with ours, and we've kept in touch. Whats particularly funny is that just about the first thing their mother ever said to me was a request to get my daughter to stop hugging her daughter .... which, bemused, I did. Then, about two years later, she asked if I'd ask my daughter to include her daughter in a group play event -- the kid was just standing and watching. I gladly did, my daughter gladly did, and they were off. Neither of us saw either daughter for more than ten seconds at a time for the next half hour.

Conversation ranged over the usual topics -- amazement at the cost of houses (I mentioned that we'd thought of having an elevator put in, but really aren't able to do the math on that with any equanimity), the progress of our offspring in school (their daughter was selected for a math program that we wanted for our daughter; they chose not to send her, and when we learned why, we breathed a sigh of relief that our daughter hadn't made it), the relative idiocy of our companies (they and my wife work for the same company, which is the one that I used to work for), PC configuration (my wife mentioned that her sister was pretty literate on PCs, and I said 'This would be the one who didn't know that Windows XP has a built-in firewall?', to which both visitors said "Windows XP has a built-in firewall?), baking (they said the bread was superb; it wasn't (and I'm not being coy) but it was good, and it looked good, right down to the dusting of cornmeal on it), and other matters. It was fun, and we all enjoyed it. I don't know of many other people we'd want to have over. One of the nice things about the person I'm married to is that she could have a pleasant evening with Attila the Hun (heck, look who she married), but with these folks, you hardly have to try.

Came across a blog the other day -- MINIMSFT.BLOGSPOT.COM -- which is written by a longterm Microsoft employee. What amazed me is that he really believes in the company, really wants it to do well, really thinks it can do miraculous and wonderful things. Must be nice to have that kind of belief -- and in Microshaft, yet.

Picked up a science fiction novel while taking the offspring to buy some books. Looked good, felt good, nice concept. Brought it home, realized a) I'd read it before, and b) I had liked only the first half. So I reread the first half.... and then I went and read some more of Geisha. I had forgotton how much I like that book.

Wonder if Bush really means (insofar as he can mean anything) what he's saying about illegal aliens? I understand that use of that phrase communicates my basic attitude toward the subject, else I'd say 'Friends You Don't Know Yet' or somesuch. I don't think its a black and white concept, but I do know that its not the 1920s any more. We can't handle immigrants as we used to be able to do. I suspect a compromise is possible -- limited citizenship? -- but I don't think anyone's willing to propose that. Just the usual heartstring-twanging sentiments...

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Vegan == Romulan Cousins?

This is an interesting article about a subject I view with some disdain.

French Frying

I've been watching with some interest the problems that the French are having. There seems to be a tendency here to smirk and say, in effect, that they had it coming to them, and that their problems are purely of their own making. The first isn't necessarily so, and the second is only partially true. Their style for addressing the problem(s) may be uniquely French, but it isn't unknown here.

As I understand it, the proximate cause for the unrest is a proposal to allow employers to discharge employees for cause within the first two years of employment (currently, apparently, that can't be done). Employers say that without it they effectively can't fire someone who hasn't worked out; employees (potential ones) say this exposes them to the possibility of gratuitious firing for no good reason. A related problem is a general sense of loss of power and prestige by the country -- a feeling that the things which are uniquely French are being lost to barbarians, and things which are not uniquely French, such as industrial strength, are being lost due to a feeling that the state is gripped by malaise and loss, hobbled by excessively generous social securities.

The leadership of the country is imploring the people to use reason and to come to their senses; instead, the people are using cobblestones and coming to the streets. The leadership seems adrift and unable to conceive of, let alone take, direct measures to address the problems of the country. The sole solution being proposed is to scuttle the employment law - a solution which would leave things at the status quo, if not a bit worse (since it would clearly demonstrate the strength of the opposition against the government).

Its always a pleasure to see other people's problems and reflect on the fact that they're not ours. It helps to distract us from our own problems, and its much more fun to point fingers and laugh than it is to solve intractable difficulties. That mode of government is particularly in favor with people who think that changing the names of French Fries to Freedom Fries is a demonstration of leadership. I would suggest, though, that our problems aren't that much different. In (countryX) there is economic stagnation and a liberal set of social support organizations which the country is finding increasingly difficult to support. They can either reduce the SSOs, address the causes of stagnation, or continue as they have been. The name of the country doesn't matter; the problems do.

We should watch what they do. At worst, it'll provide amusement. At best, we can learn from it.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

CEP

The other day, I was asked to accumulate some documention about our computing environment in order to prepare for an audit. The person who asked me to do this said that it was for a 'CEP'. I asked what that was, adding that the only CEP that I knew was Circular Error Probable, a measure of the likelihood of hitting a given target in the middle of a circule of varying width. I didn't mention that the reason I know this is that my former job used that acronym. That former job was as a Missile Launch Officer in the US Strategic Air Command.

Today, I mentioned to a friend that I had been stationed at a specific Air Force base, and when she said that she would occasionally find herself there, I said that she would probably never have seen me (though the temptation to say 'I was the guy in blue' was pretty strong), insofar as my job was done a couple of hundred miles away from the base, not to mention, sixty feet down, and behind a fence, barbed wire, guards, and an eight ton blast door. She said that this was enough information, and that I was getting into a scary area. This surprised me. Its just part of my past, after all. What could be scary about that?

Then I remembered that the first time I took a missile launch simulator run, I had nightmares the following night. I thought of what it would truly mean to do what my job description said. I can't pretend that my thoughts were particularly profound, but they were real.

We live in a scary world now, but at least the threat of Mutual Assured Destruction has abated.

Kids...and then some

I've always liked little kids. I think that time spent in their presence is like drinking at the Fountain of Youth. I used to wonder (prior to getting immersed in the world of kids with my daughter's birth) how teachers could stand to give the same class every year. Some can't -- they get stale, or just tired. But many can. I'm thinking of one in particular, who was my daughter's third grade teacher, and with whom we were so delighted that we'd gladly sign up for any course she cared to teach. But there are more than just her, and I think what motivates them is what I've come to realize: the material may be constant, but the flow of minds is ever-changing. Some of the eddies in that flow are constant from year to year, but most vary, swirling in new and unforeseen patterns with every new class.

Today I realized that that stream doesn't stop at fifth grade. Fifth had been my mental cut off. Past that, they're still kids, but they're not little kids. Although they're still fascinating, they're also a bit more -- ordinary. But today, I realized that I was wrong, there. Because as they get into the fifth and sixth grades, what they're actually doing is changing into young adults. (I happen to think that's a prim phrase, but I'll use it anyway.) Which means they're developing intellectually and emotionally. (Physically, too, but I don't have anything useful to say there. I did ask my daughter if she'd mind stopping that for about five years, but she seems disinclined to do so.)

The occasion of all of this abrupt awareness was a color guard event. I went early so that I could see the drum line portion, which immediately precedes the color guard. Drum line is a bit of a misnomer, as its more percussion than just drums. I watched several schools go through their routines, and then I watched a couple of the color guards, as well. In between, I saw a bunch of kids milling around, either done for the day or waiting to start. I saw them kidding around, laughing, breaking into little dance steps as the announcer tested the music for the second half, and walking quietly back and forth through the gym. What I realized -- what I should have known all along -- was that these kids were unique, every one of them. (Whats the old joke? You're unique, just like everyone else.) They might have looked alike in a number of ways, but they all were doing the same thing. Growing. Right in front of my eyes.

I think I want to see if I can get more involved in this environment. Not to try to recapture my own youth. But to see if I can help these kids, when they want it, with theirs. And even if I can't -- I think I'm going to like these years.

It’s A Good Thing That We’re Not A Software Company.

I sometimes say that when I’m thinking about something that people in my company have done, are doing, or even contemplating, because there are things that fall into those categories that, by god, would be done Better if we were a software company. I occasionally wonder if this attitude comes from my inherent desire to improve things, or experience, or some latent pool of snarkiness that only occasionally bubbles to the surface – you know, when I’m out hunting for food. (Apologies to anyone who doesn’t get the reference.) As always, there’s a Dilbert strip that encapsulates the concept: he’s talking with other engineers to their manager, and they say that for a project to be successful, they’re going to need coffee cups emblazoned with the logo for the project, and they’re going to need to build a database. “We like databases”, he adds.

Databases is what I was thinking about this morning. (Are what I was thinking about? Which for some reason reminds me of the quote from the US Senator who was being introduced to the concept of databases as part of testimony in some corporate malfeasance examination. He wanted to know what a database looks like – and how big. Would it fit into a shoebox? The hearing room? A football stadium? For those who know what a database is, this is a ludicrous question, but he was serious. He hadn’t a clue.)

The origin of the thought was a conversation my wife and I were having about an informational document that her company uses to let the systems programmers (used to be called ‘systems engineers’ but then the real engineers started complaining about the abasement of the term) keep track of pieces of information about the 70+ systems that they maintain – system name, location, file names, oddities - that kind of thing. This information had at one time been kept in a text document, and then transmuted into a spreadsheet, and then into an HTML document. That most recent transfiguration allowed lots more information to be there (a Good thing) but it also meant that the document was no longer compact, and therefore not easily printable. Well, expostulated the HTML advocates, its still a Good thing because it has all that info! Yes, retored the spreadsheet advocates, but the intent is also to be portable, and HTML format isn’t easily printable, so therefore not easily portable.

It brought to mind an argument in my company about the documentation we use to keep track of the systems we support, and the characteristics thereof. One is Marti’s List, which is owned (though not maintained; heaven forbid) by a senior manager, and lists system names, support groups, and that sort of thing. Another is The MVS Group’s List, which is owned by a different manager, and maintained by a person in the MVS support group; it has a lot more systems, and more contact names (though not all, not by any means). A third is the Security Group’s list, which has just the systems they support, and details of interest only to that group. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that there are other groups. I tried (reasonably; I’m always reasonable when people agree, or at least do not vigorously disagree, with me) to tell people that what was needed was a core list (here’s the systems) and then links to places with group-specific information. Or, for the Dilberts, perhaps a relational database? No, the response was. We Like Our Lists.

I think that it's an intruiging question -- is there a best way to organize data? Or, failing that, is there an optimal way, given disparite needs of users? And, of course, the needs vary by time -- I want it all by type; I want it all but just for this system; I want just this system and only these groups. I think you could spend years on the concept -- like a PhD dissertation.

It’s a good thing we aren’t a software company.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Blippity-BLOG!

Blogger comments seems to be weirding out again. Sometimes they give a verification word and don't accept it when you type it in; sometimes theres no word at all. On their behalf, sorry....

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Biorhythms

I don't believe in biorhythms, but if I did, I'd say today was a triple negative. It was not a pleasant day.

Lying here in bed, relatively late at night, still almost fully dressed, its a little hard to remember why it was so bad. Put objectively, the items that brought me down, again and again, seem minor. Perhaps, objectively, they were. But by the end of the day -- and it was a long day -- I was depressed, dejected, almost despondent. Not quite the third, but in the ball park. I called my wife to warn her that I was going to be in a 'take no crap' mood. At the time, it didn't even occur to me to hope that she realized I didn't mean her when I said that. And I didn't mean my daughter, exactly. I meant more a 'Dad's in a ticked off mood; let him alone until he works his way out of it'. Doing so took substantially longer than it normally does. I am not happy with how I acted this evening.

Some of the anger -- I think thats what it was -- of the day came when I realized that I was once again going to be the grunt point man in the acquisition of data for responding to an audit. For reasons that are more visceral than intellectual, I despise audits and auditors. Also, because I was doing that, I could not do any work on my software installation project, which is stalled. And then I got involved in a tug of war over the ordering of the software, when I thought that was all done and gone. And on, and on, and on. I don't need to bore you with it. I probably already have.

At the conclusion, I found myself once again --- once again -- thinking 'should I stay? Should I keep working here another three years?' That's my timeline, you see; stay three more years, retire at the end of it. I don't want to do that. I don't mean that I don't want to stay; I mean that I don't want to have to stay. I think that work should be enjoyable, challenging, rewarding, and the prospect of doing what I'm doing now, for another three years, is a bleak one. It could be a lot worse. But it could also be a lot better. One phrase that I've heard in the past, though never applied to me, is 'If you're so smart, why aren't you rich?' In my case, it comes out as 'If you're so smart, why can't you ....make it better...have profound insights....start a business'. And I can't. I've tried. Not much, not a lot. But I've tried.

I used to say, when people asked why I didn't stay in the military after eight years, that I didn't want to do a job where the best part of it was that some day I wouldn't have to. I still believe that. But I don't act on that belief. Am I afraid to? I think so. You;d think by now -- by now -- I'd be over it. When will I be -- when I die?

Sunday, March 19, 2006

What You Wear = What You Are?

Last night, at my daughter's event, I noticed a teen boy with a black T shirt that had this slogan: Don't be offended if I turn and walk away. I told my daughter that I thought it was a funny T Shirt, and said that if I liked it, and told the boy, he'd probably throw it away, but if I didn't like it, and complained, he might be pleased. After all, he's wearing it to make a statement.

In today's Washington Post, an article illustrates the experience of a Dutch woman who converted to Islam twelve years ago and now chooses to wear severe clothing -- in the article, an ankle-length skirt, head scarf, and black, rectangular face veil. She says that as a result, people treat her differently -- as an oddity, as a traitor, as a potential bomber and terrorist. She says "They don't have the right to treat me different...It's like staring at someone in a wheelchair. It's not polite. I'm human, even if you don't like the way I appear."

She's mostly right. People don't have the right to treat you differently based on how you look. But they do have the right to judge you by that, especially if its something you can control. And if you choose to dress in a way that evokes terrible memories, you cannot expect that people will assume that you're the exception. Like it or not, if you put yourself in that position, you have to make the effort to show people what's behind the image you've chosen to project, behind what she calls 'her identity'.

Is that fair? I think so. Not the way I'd like it to be, though.

Let 'em Eat Caviar

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I was once told that I seemed to think that writers who said things I agreed with were smart. Okay.
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Here's one.
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Confettied

This morning, I was confettied. It was pretty cool.

Here's the backstory. We were having a desultory Sunday brunch, talking over the events of last night, when my daughter was in another color guard competition. I came to it -- support the team, doncha know, plus, some of these teams are quite good -- and after about two hours, I came back home. The offspring was brought back home around 11, tumbling into bed immediately. This morning, I was talking about the ones I had seen, mentioning how creative I thought they were -- one team had a fake couch that they hauled onto the competition floor, the team clustered on it, and a camera on a tripod went off, signaling them to start their routine; at the end, they grabbed a 'frame' around six feet high and eight feet wide, and a support crew hustled it into place while the team rushed back to the couch: the 'picture' -- and my daughter got a big grin and dashed down the hall to her room, returning quickly. Cover your food, she said, so I laid part of the Post on it. Ready? she asked. I glanced at my wife, who was smiling, and thought What the hell...? Sure, I said -- and she tossed a handful of gold glitter flakes, cut up from gold foil, on me, the table, and the floor. Apparently, one of the teams that I had not seen had used the glitter as what was being 'shot from a cannon', and she'd seized a handful.

Confettied. At breakfast. With gold glitter flakes. What could be cooler?

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Where you Goin' With This, Howard Dean?

Last night, as I went to sleep, I thought about Howard Dean. Now here's a guy who is reasonably bright, who's obviously an accomplished fellow. He didn't get the job he wanted (though he did pick up a nifty nickname along the way), but he got a nice consolation prize. And yet he comes across as this bumbling guy who's just desperate to be liked, desperate to be taken seriously, blinking in the unaccustomed bright lights.

The occasion of these thoughts was the rebroadcast of a speech he'd given on, I think, Tuesday, about how Bush in particular and the Republicans in general are making a terrible mess of the health arena. I didn't hear him say that he of course knows this better than most, him being a doctor (unlike Bill Frist, who seems to like to waggle that credential in whenever he gets a chance), so with luck he did not. And he made a number of good points about how the Bush plan is biased in favor of people with a lot of discretionary income. (I don't know if Bush intended it as yet another goody for his pals in the River Oaks Club. I hope not.)

But though he made good points, he delivered them badly. He stumbled on words at times, he seemed to lose the thread of what he was saying, then come lurching back into line. He grinned and grew solemn by turns. (I know: doesn't this sound like Dubya?) Even his strained, elongated joke at his own expense came across lamely.So that all in all, the tenor of his message -- not the content, but the way that it came across -- was one of an earnest person in over his head. Now, heck, I don't know, perhaps this is what it looks like when someone is being honest -- not pretending that he knows all the answers, or that the answers will be taken care of when the time comes. But the feeling I got was that he was winging it, hoping that the audience would begin singing along, so that he wouldn't so much have to persuade them as just keep the beat going.

I don't expect eloquence, Howard. But I do expect better than that sorry performance. I think it goes a long way to cheering the Republicans that maybe, despite the odds, they'll hang on, after all.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Questionable.

Sorry about the question marks in the prior post (and maybe this one). Blogger's weirding out again.

Crispness

Ah, the magic of a crisp phrase. Like this one: Decision Support System.

Decision Support System. Who couldn't use something like that? It even sounds sexy, powerful, perhaps a bit mysterious. Decision - hard, crisp, no-nonsense. Support -? don'?t got to do it all myself, darn it; this thing is going to support me, take the load off me so I can focus on the key things, the important things, leave the clutter and the scutwork for the product to handle. And System - woh, now that sounds good, its not just a product, it'?s a System, all shiny and gleaming, sitting there by my right elbow, chuffing quietly, waiting for the word to leap into action.

You can tell I read management magazines, can'?t you? This one came (liberally altered) from an article in a magazine that'?s aimed at the managers of health organizations, but you can find the same kind of thing in CIO magazine, in the Harvard Business Review, and a myriad of other places. That'?s because the managers of organizations are just like you and me -? they'?re looking for the magic bullet, the tool that will take away at least some (they want ALL, they'll settle for SOME) of their problems, so that they can focus on the Things That Matter, the Important Things. Not all of them are like that, though. Some understand that no tool can do it for you; further, that the more complex the tool, the more likely it won'?t work the way you want it to work. It'?ll do things that you want to do, but you'?ll do a lot more adapting to the tool than the tool will be adapted to you,? regardless of what the vendor says. I suspect that'?s true not only of any complex piece of software, but any complex piece of anything -things are designed with straight lines and right angles, written precisely and in measured cadence. People don'?t operate that way -? they curve in and out and around, they are vague and contradictory, they move to lots of different beats. It'?s a bold piece of software -?or anything - that can hope to match up in any substantial way to the needs and desires (both known and unknown, voiced and unvoiced) of the average person, the average group, the average company. The best consumers learn to be very, very precise in what they want, segmenting that into what they absolutely must have, what they would really like to have, what would be nice to have, what they would like but won't pay for. And yes, since people are involved, thereƂ?s overlap there.

But crispness sells. Decision. Support. System. Hot damn, I'?ll take two.

Foodstuff

We just had breakfast, the three of us. The offspring is in a lazy mood, and sat quietly sipping tea and eating cereal. She particularly likes Honey Ohs, at the moment. My wife and I had our normal breakfast of white chocolate chip waffles and sausage. I realized while making the waffles that I am more and more a creature of habit -- the white bowl with the pouring lip on one site, and the rubberized grip on the other, is in the dishwasher, and as I mentioned elsewhere the whisk is gone, broken. So I mixed up the batter in a plain mixing bowl, using a fork to stir it, and for just a moment I looked at them wondering how I was supposed to do this. Was it even possible to mix batter if not using the Batter Mixing Bowl? Its okay, I got over it.

In our family, I make breakfast most of the time, and we split who makes dinner about 75/25 (I'm the 25). Its odd, in a way, because I don't like getting up early, whereas my wife does, but she doesn't like making breakfast, and I do. Its probably the only meal meal that I can make, other than something like spaghetti. I don't get the concept of making dinner -- most meals don't sound good to me in a way that would motivate me to want to make them myself. Eat, sure -- all I have to do is think about the meatloaf that my wife makes, or the bean bake, or the honey chili, and I start to salivate. But even those somehow don't fall into the category of 'things I make', or perhaps 'things I feel comfortable making'. And I really don't understand people who can make multiple different dinners, who seem delighted at the meals that show up in, say, Real Simple. These are not lavish meals, but they're considerably more complex than I'd think of making. I'm not too sure I'd even think about eating them. I like to say that I don't eat things I haven't eaten before, and that's more true than not. I'm more a tomato soup and crackers kind of guy. I would like to know how to cook more, but if the concept of the food doesn't move me, I kind of doubt that I'll make the effort.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Rssd

I'm RSS'd now. If you happen to use an RSS-capable newsreader (like FeedDemon) or browser (like Firefox), you can use the link up on the address bar to track changes to this site.

Aging (Junior League)

My daughter is growing up.

How do I know this? Two ways.

First, the other night, as we were sitting together at a color guard event, she leaned over at one point and whispered "Dad... don't embarass me."

And second, she just asked for help on a piece of geometry and I hadn't a clue.

Photoshop: Can You See It?

In a few months -- whenever it becomes available -- I plan to get the Canon S3 digital camera. It occurred to us that we'll probably want photo manipulation software. Since the gold standard for that appears to be Adobe Photoshop, we went to the Adobe site to check it out.

We were amazed, stunned, awed, flabbergasted.

But once we got past the price, the software seemed pretty amazing, too. Have to admit, we didn't actually uderstand a third of what was being pitched (Raw Support? Thats a .... good... thing, right?), and for another third, we suspect it is only true if a) you're a power user, b) you have a powerful PC (say, a Sun Work Station), and c) it isn't doing anything else at the time.

Which is not to say we won't buy. Heck, what's a piece of software that's about two thirds the cost of the camera between friends?

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Love is...

There was at one time a series of ultra-cute cartoons titled 'Love is...' and concluding with phrases like 'when she lets you have the very last bite of cake.'

In our case, love is when your wife listens as you lie in bed, talking about why a comment in a New York Times business article, on the need for acquisition as a primary growth vehicle for very large companies, was spot-on, and on the article's observationthat very good growth companies tend to be good at acquiring information about their environments and the trends shaping that environment, and then working that information into their plans, permeating the organization with it. And when you muse on why it might be that you haven't seen that in your own organization, and talk a bit about the communication styles of organizations, she doesn't groan even once.

Now, that's love.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Going Organic

I was just sitting out here in the living room, thinking that while I was enjoying myself -- I'm sipping flavored water, reading Hard Rain, and listening to the soft piano music coming from the CD player -- I really should be doing some work. That's not as intensely work-oriented as it sounds, because the work that I want to be doing is something that I really want to do -- something that I'd do for free, in fact, which gives a pretty good indication of how much I want to do it. But as it turns out I can't do it right this minute because I don't have the access authority to update one of the libraries I need to put something into. There's a bit of irony there that I won't get into. But I thought well, okay then, I'll spend some time leafing through the manual for this product. Only there isn't one manual, there's several, perhaps dozens -- the people who wrote the manuals dumped everything they could think of (which is not the same as 'everything you need to know') into the manuals, and they littered the landscape with all sorts of helpful references, some of which you really should look at, and some of which are only useful if you've never done this kind of thing before. You could spend months reading this stuff.

I realized the other night that the thing that freaks me about these manuals is not so much their sheer mass as that they are a reference, not a guide. They would explain airport ticketing codes by starting with Bernoulli's Theorem; they would explain economics by starting with the concept of trade in ancient times. What I want out of this is a fast guide; tell me the minimum that I have to know, and which I can be presumed not to know, and let me go from there. If I hit a problem, I'll back up, try it again, and then if it doesn't work, I'll look at the reference. But don't give me all that detail up front.

Another thing that makes these manuals difficult to use is that they're in PDF format. Now I happen to think that PDF (Portable Document Format, which I believe was developed by Adobe) is a very cool operation. But its not intended for people who write big honkin manuals, because you can't easily navigate in them unless the developer of the document put in not only hyperlinking (which some do) but a trail so you can go backwards in your hyperjumps (which no body does; if any one wants it, I hereby offer the phrase 'breadcrumbing' to describe the things you do to make it possible to go back out the way you came in). So if you go one or two hyperlinks in, or worse yet, if you search a couple of times and go to specific spots, you completely lose the sense of where you are in the manual. This isn't a big deal (well, much of one) if you're reading a reference because references are segmented; no one worries about losing track of the Bs when they're in the encyclopedia's Q section. But a guide builds; it assumes in chapter Q that you've read the material in chapter B -- or at least that you know that its there if you need it. Hyperlinks destroy that . In a way, this is why programmers hate GOTO programming, and like Object Oriented programming. OOP is segmented.

So what's needed is for this product to have a guide that takes you merrily along at, say, one thousand feet -- enough detail so that you can get stuff done, not so much that you get swamped with the history of coinage in Carthage, not so little that you get just a general impression of Stuff. I don't know of anyone who can do this, at least with printed documentation. But I do know of some search engines that are trying to change the -- for lack of a better phrase -- linear paradigm that says 'start here, go to end' into something more organic, something that dips and swoops as your attention level and needs vary. Some even try to watch the way you search and deliver a 'searching experience' thats tailored to the way you search, in addition to what you're searching for. I think its an intruiging area, one I know very little about, though I do suspect -- only a gut feeling -- that a lot of work is to be done before it's ready for prime time. Or whatever the Tivo equivilent is.

Until that kind of organic search experience comes to market, we're pretty much stuck with PDF. (Sorry, Adobe.) And I'm stuck with this big honkin manual.

Luck

One of the things that I really like about my wife is that she says nice things about me even when they're clearly not true -- or at least, not as true as she makes them sound. She says, for example, that I "don't suffer fools gladly", which is true, but putting it that way makes it sound almost like a principled stand when in fact it's frequently my version of a snit: I won't play nice, and you can't make me! Today, she said that I refused to compromise when it comes to buying things, and thats true, too; but again, not as true as it sounds, or as clear of purpose. Its more an atavistic reluctance to accept the way that things are.

We were out, driving around, after having dropping the offspring off at a birthday party. I asked if she'd like to go look for stereo equipment at a small stereo store not too far away, and she said ok. When we got there, we found that the SST was now a store for the purveying of instant signs; not a stereo in sight. She suggested going to the branch of Tweeters Etc where we'd bought the small Sony stereo we have upstairs; it is now a big empty building, right next to the big empty building where the Encore Books used to be (that was a serious loss; not only was it a large bookstore at a time when there were no other large bookstores in the area, but it was classy, with nice walnut and mahogany furnishings and the like). Reluctantly, we decided to go to Circuit City, or as I think of it, Big Screen TVs and Some Other Stuff. We got there to find that the SOT was even less than before; they had gutted the room that had had one large television and a bunch of high end stereo equipment so that it was now three large televisions and two small speakers. I walked over to look at a small plasma television, partially just to mute the blaring sound, and while I was standing there admiring the television's image, a clerk waddled up and starting fiddling with the volume controls. I asked him not to unmute it. He muttered something and continued. I left.


For the next five minutes I vented about how the commercial enterprise was dividing itself into two spheres: high volume superbox stores -- Walmart, Circuit City, Borders -- interested in pushing the product and in volume, and smaller stores interested in very expensive versions of what you want. No in between. And even at the smaller, expensive stores, the concept of customer service was virtually gone -- there, too, it was Push The Product. That was it.

Which is when she made her very nice comment, instead of pointing out how unfair and small-minded I was being. Partially because she knew I'd come to that conclusion myself. But mostly, because she's a wonderful person.

I'm very lucky.

Profiteroling

This is the dessert I made the other night. I've altered the recipe just a tad based on the experience. The original is here.


FLORENTINE CHOCOLATE PROFITEROLE

1 c. water
1/4 c. butter
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. flour
4 jumbo eggs
1 c. whipping cream
2 tbsp. powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg (or 1/8 powdered)
4 oz. semisweet chocolate
2 tbsp. water
1 tbsp. honey

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Grease and flour cookie sheet. Heat 1 cup water, butter and salt to rolling boil in 2 1/2 quart saucepan. Stir in flour. Stir vigorously over low heat about 1 minutes or until mixture forms a ball. Remove from heat. Cool 5 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until smooth.

Drop round tablespoons about 2 inches apart onto cookie sheet. Bake about 30 minutes or until puffed and golden brown. Cool. Cut off tops. Reserve. Pull out any filaments of soft dough. Beat together whipping cream, powdered sugar and nutmeg in chilled medium bowl until stiff. Fill puffs with whipped cream mixture and replace tops. Heat remaining ingredients over low heat until smooth and drizzle over puffs. Chill 2 hours or until dessert is firm.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Finances and Aging

I'm always fascinated to read articles wherein political figures make statements that are obvious. I find myself wondering if a) it's not at all obvious, but it is to me because I'm so astute (I like that one), or b) it's obvious, and they just realized it, or c) they have no idea if it's obvious or not -- it was just on the index card that a staffer gave them to read into the microphone, so they read it.

In this case, I was reading an article on the CNN site about aging and the workforce. The article noted that people are starting to bail out of the workforce before the normal retirement age, and cited the growth of private pensions, as well as Social Security and Medicare benefits. It goes on to make the point that reliance on those sources of income may be misplaced, and that, therefore, retirees may have to rely entirely on their own resources. One person says that even a million dollars may not be enough if you're planning on living another 20 or 30 years. Although that's an amazing concept, I think it's exactly right. If you expect to live another 15 years after retirement (the current life expectancy is 75 for men, 80 for women), and you require $60,000 a year to maintain an acceptable lifestyle, that's $900,000 right there. When you add to that $60,000 a year the need to fund expenses which were met before then by your employee, you might be adding an additional $10,000 a year - which bumps you over the million dollar number. (This assumes no growth of assets, which is of course not a realistic assumption, but rather a worse-case one without catastrophic loss. Catastrophe will cost you more.) So the idea of 'a million is just barely enough', though amazing, is realistic.

Pause while I think about tax cuts and presidential spending.

The phrase that got my attention, incidentally, was this one:

“If you leave the labor force thinking you have plenty, and then realize that you don't, then you are stuck."

Um...yeah, thats a good assumption. Not a lot of 75 year olds getting hired these days. But perhaps that should change. Will have to change. Perhaps we should be looking into retooling the econony so that seniors can continue to work if they need (or, god help me, want) to -- and do it without bagging or working as a floor sweeper at Burger King. And perhaps some thought should be going into why people bail as soon as they can -- why they find what they do so unappetizing that they would rather leave -- even with this financial question -- than hang around one more year than they have to.

It's a vital question.

Spending

Its a funny feeling to have money to spend and nothing to spend it on. Or, more accurately, nothing available that you want to spend it on.

I had said that I could think of two uses for the windfall that I received this week -- a new camera or a small stereo system. As it turns out, the camera that I picked will not be available for about two months. And I can't find a small, elegantly designed stereo. Even when I decompose the concept into pieces -- an AM/FM receiver; a preamplifier for turntable input; a device for transmitting output to wireless headsets; wireless speakers, some kind of remote connection to the PC network - I can't find anything that feels right to me. I much prefer quality to quantity, simple elegance to excess. I don't need or want extreme anything. But in this case, there is no quality available.

Eventually, I told the people giving me the money to defer giving me half until I retire. That's not so much for the tax benefit -- the windfall isn't that much -- as just to make it a smaller number to deal with. Okay, I think, if I can't find a useful use for X dollars, what about 0.5X dollars? And even there, I've flamed out.

It's quite an odd feeling.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Now I Need A Place To Hide Away

This is cool. Impractical as all hell, but cool nonetheless.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Stereo -- That's TWO Channels, Right?

I know very little about sound systems. I just barely know that stereo is a term so old it's likely new again. For almost a year I ran a stereo system on one speaker, and it sounded fine to me. When a friend harangued me into going out to get a second speaker, I did, and I could tell the difference....but it didn't seem worth the bother to me.

So right now, as I'm looking for someplace to spend my windfall of a few days ago, my mind turns to two things. A digital camera. And a sound system. The camera, we've identified -- the Canon Powershot S3 looks good to me. (Ask me again when it comes time to fork over the money.) The sound system, we're not sure about. A lot of that comes from my idiosyncratic (from the Latin Idio, meaning 'my way', and Syncrat, meaning 'dammit') method of evaluating sound systems, coupled with some requirements that probably aren't in the common vernacular.

The evaluation is as much based on what the stereo system looks like as what it sounds like. I have an old Pioneer receiver. Wooden case, manual tuning dial with the frequencies in blue and the tuning indicator in yellow. I like it. I really like it. I have been known to sit in a darkened room and just look at the colors of the dial, delighted. Eventually, I turn on the receiver, and then I sit back down and look at the colors some more. But now -- well, apparently receivers are all metal (or plastic made to look like metal), with digital tuning, for which read: push the button and watch the freq change. They're way big, with twenty inputs and twenty outputs, and if they don't put out 250 watts per channel, they're relics. My old receiver puts out 15 watts per channel, and that was (and is) enough for me. So no house blasters for me.

A new receiver has to be able to handle a turntable. Most amps cannot. In fact, from what little I see, only the really high end amps have a pre-amp stage any more -- and even there, its usually preferred to have a separate external preamp, so as to not affect the color of the music. (What exactly does that mean? Well, I have a guess....but not really.) And, of course, it should be able to handle CDs, MP3, cassette deck output, and whatever else comes along.... talk to our PC if we want (wirelessly, of course) -- and the TV, too. And while we're at it, a wireless connection to the speakers, and to a wireless headset -- and, of course, a remote control.

So basically, we want new technology in an old looking shell. I think it's gonna be a while. But what the heck. It's been a while.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Normality

Well, things are calming down a bit. Which, unfortunately, means being uncalm, at least as far as my daughter is concerned.

She's been trying to get together with her aunt for two weeks, partially to receive a birthday gift and partially just to see her. Every weekend since the birthday, she has had an after-school activity. She finally arranged for the aunt to come to the activity this weekend -- and then the aunt called back to say oh, sorry, forgot that her daughter has an event that night, can't come.

The daughter is not taking this well. No reason that she should.

Good Days

I have had two amazingly good days in a row. This has boggled my mind.

The details of why they're amazingly good don't really matter -- but here's a couple of things.

A piece of software that I've been trying to get for four months showed up this morning.

I found out a condition I have doesn't inevitably lead to blindness.

My group's manager called this afternoon and gave me a sizeable bonus.

My daughter got all As in her mid terms.

I found out that pi is not exactly equal to 22/7 -- in fact, past the first couple of digits, its wrong. And I've thought that since high school!

Wow. Double Wow.

Kings and Queens

From the CNN Instant Poll:

Should women be allowed to be homecoming kings and men be allowed to be homecoming queens?

No - 79% ....................... Yes - 21%


Why not?

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Big O

As in Over, By God, For Another Year -- the Oscars, the event you hate to acknowledge, the time when 'Hollywood Honors Its Own', aka, the time when Hollywood Preens For The Little People. And each other, have to admit. Ah, but the glitter, the glamour, the glory! The speeches, the spectacle, the her-boob-just-fell-out! (Did that happen? Don't know, but I'm sure that if it did, it will be tittered about for days to come.) And the dresses, oh, my, I'm sure they ranged from simply elegant to dowdy (well, dear, what did you expect?) to simply plain (she's sure enough of herself not to have to dress up, doncha know.)

And the gift bags, estimated to have a value (each) of one hundred thousand dollars. I was insensibly cheered by noticing that the IRS put out a statement reminding the actors that this is taxable income, even if they did add 'just like normal people', or words to that effect. Then again, what the heck, what well known actor under thirty is normal? (Or above, too, but I think they grow out of it, some of them.)

And wasn't there something last night about movies, too? Missed that part. But, hey, its a honor, nonetheless.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Getting Nuclear

From the google news scooper:

"Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani warned here on Sunday that Iran would resume a large-scale uranium enrichment if its nuclear case was referred to the UN Security Council."

Are we meant to assume that if it isn't, they won't? And if so, are we meant to believe this? Surely, no one -- not even Jawge -- could be that dumb. So if we assume that they are going to resume it -- in fact, may well have already started -- are we to allow them to continue, given that we've just tacitly agreed that India should have this capability? Granted, we did not give Pakistan our blessing, but that's hardly going to stop them from trying to achieve it anyway. Is the goal to encourage, or at least not discourage, nuclear parity in the subcontinent?

If so, why? If not, then what is the goal? (Note: I'm being nice. I'm assuming there is one, and moreover one that can be coherently stated.)

Kitchen Fun

So there I am, mixing the batter for waffles for our house-famous White Chocolate Chip Waffles, when suddenly there is this little click, and I am holding a whisk that is in two pieces. The top third of the handle. And the bottom two thirds plus whisk. And as I look at it with this vague thought that perhaps if I stare at it the pieces will magically merge back together, I begin to stir the batter again. A piece from the handle drops onto the counter. I look at the white batter. The white chocolate chips. And the white shard of plastic on the counter, and I think:

How lucky do I feel?

(On the plus side, this means I can get that teak and rosewood whisk with titanium blades that I've had my eye on, in the Williams-Sonoma catalog.)

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Excellence? No, Thanks

Poring over some house-building blogs - for example, this one -- I came across this site.

Seeing what they sell, and the obvious excellence and quality of it all, I realized again. I would like excellence and quality in my house, or one that I build. But I surely don't want to have to pay for it.

Jeepers.

Dinnertime

This is what we had for dinner. The original appears to have been in Gourmet magazine, as referenced here.

"Best in the West" Bean Bake
Prepare/Bake time: About 2 Hours

1. The recipe creates 20 side dish portions. We cut it in half and made a good 5-7 portions.)
2. Recipe calls for an oven-proof kettle. We used a frying pan, then the oven proof casserole.

1 pound ground beef ...........................Oven Proof Casserole
1 pount chopped bacon ........................Frying Pan
1 chopped onion
1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 cup bottled barbecue sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup spicy brown mustard
1/4 cup molasses
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground pepper
2 16oz cans red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
2 16 oz cans butter beans or lima beans, rinsed and drained
2 16 oz cans pork and beans

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. In the frying pan, cook the beef, bacon, and onion over moderate heat, stirring occasionally to break up any lumps, for 15-20 minutes or until the beef is no longer pink and the bacon is slightly crisp. (We cooked the bacon separately on a griddle while the beef and onion were cooking in the frying pan, then mixed them together in the pan to finish cooking.)

3. Transfer the mixture to a sieve and let drain.

4. Place the drained mixture into the casserole.

5. Add the ketchup, barbecue sauce, salt, mustard, molasses, chili powder, pepper, beans (and pork and beans, if desired). Stir until combined well.

6. Bake the mixture, covered, for one hour in the middle of the oven.


Pretty damn good -- and with hot garlic bread, superb.

Omega

If you read my other blog (which is much drier than this one-- I suppose that's not saying much), you know that I have been working on the installation of a piece of software. The effort has lasted several months, and, from all appearances, will last more than a year more, or, to put it succinctly, way too long. The effort has been filled with much irritation and grief; straining mightily for the most minor of results. But every so often, something amazing happens.

Now this part is going to be really boring.

When a computer system monitor 'alerts' on an event, it at the minimum puts up a big bright message that the computer system operator will presumably see, and upon which the operator will act. The trigger for the alert is the occurance of the event; more sophisticated triggers involve the lack of the event, or the length of time that the event took to occur. No triggers that I know of take into account what time the event took place (along the lines of 'if it happens now, tell me, but if it happens then, don't tell me'), nor do they take into account levels and times (if its high any time, tell me; if its low when its normally high, tell me; but whatever it is, if its around what it normally is at that time, don't tell me).

Yesterday I had a discussion with two non-technical people, and one of them was telling me what he wanted to see from the monitor. I replied 'Not only do you want it to alert on a problem, but you want it to alert if something unusual is happening, even if whats unusual isn't in and of itself unusual. You want it to tell you when something abnormal is happening."

And he got it.

I was very impressed. I don't usually expect non-techies to get concepts like that.

Working in the Garden

Gabriel's Garden, actually -- the title of the Wynton Marsalis CD that's playing softly in the next room. Its about nine now on a bright Saturday morning, and life is good. We've just had breakfast -- my wife had some of the bread I made last week, while I had sausage and French Toast -- and, more importantly, we had the chance to just sit and talk. My wife observed, years ago, that if we don't do that frequently, I tend to get out of sorts, and she was exactly right. I don't even realize that I'm missing it, but I am, and when I get the chance to do it again -- to just talk, as distinct from communication for the purpose of transferring information --- it reinvigorates me. Things which had been beating my psyche down before now seem, if not manageable, at least less overwhelming. Possibilities exist, again.

I finished reading Reviving Ophelia last night. It did get better at the end, enough so that I told my wife that I wished the whole thrust of the book had been changed -- tell me in the first one or three chapters all of the things that can go wrong, and then spend the bulk of the book telling me how to identify them, what I can do. Don't spend the mass of the book scaring the hell out of me, toss in the occasional gratuitous comment about how much of this is men's fault, and then spend a couple of pages on how families can nurture, protect, and grow their daughters. That's the part I want!
That's not to slime the book, incidentally. I am glad to have read it, as it exposed me to concepts and attitudes that are alien to me. And I do wonder just a bit about my reaction to the part about it being men's fault -- I read some of it to my wife, and she didn't say that she agreed with me, which says to me 'Maybe there's something to this part -- not as much as the author implies, but something.' It's nice to have someone you can trust with that kind of question. I don't know many othe people I'd ask.

So now films have turned up of the Bushman's part in the pre-Katrina decision chain. I cease being amazed by the level of indifference and imcompetence displayed by the federal government (don't cry, Louisiana; your representatives were inept, too, just not so gloriously) before, during, and after that disaster. Someone should tell Bush (or his interpreter) that expressing dissatisfaction with results after is not the same as leadership before.

Today is the day we finish doing taxes -- at least, it's the day that we plan to finish doing taxes. Shopping, of course, and possibly my family will head down south to visit with relatives for the afternoon. I may come, or not; I'm not sure. I really would like to get a haircut, but its a bit of a hassle to do that -- the closest barber shop is about fifteen minutes from here, in a mall. I mentioned a few days ago what my original image of a 'comfort station' was -- I have roughly the same image of a barber shop. I think it should be quiet, softly lit, some good classical music playing, with talented, expert barbers who don't -- as these do -- yatter about the Oscars, or the mechanics of changing the oil on a 93 Ford, or whatever. I told my wife I'd pay more for a haircut at a place like that, and she laughed, cluing me in that for women, paying more usually does not mean you get a good cut at a good place -- and even when you do, you can't assume that the next cut -- from the same person, even -- will be a good one. Last night I asked my daughter if I should shave my head, and she cocked her head, looked critically at me, and said, firmly, NO. Too bad.....

I am almost done with Memoirs of a Geisha. Wish I knew of a decent mystery to read. I think the best mysteries I ever read were the Ellery Queen ones, mostly because they were straightforward, and because the author made a point to give you all of the clues, without any 'then a miracle occurs' moments, and at the denouement, he'd stop the book and say 'okay, now you know everything that Ellery knows; who did it?' Though I almost never got the answer, when I did find out, I didn't think 'Oh, that couldn't have been it'. Instead, they made sense. I've read some mysteries other than that which were okay (none occur to me, but I'm sure there were some), but not a lot. In fact, the major reason I picked up Geisha was that I tend to read just science fiction or non-fiction, and I wanted something else. Okay, I'm almost ready, again.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Geopolitics

It's probably too much reading of Advise and Consent early in life ( I loved Allen Drury's stuff) , but the concept of geopolitics has always fascinated me. Whether the motivation of the actor is totally pragmatic (for example, Henry Kissinger) or ideologically pure (Jimmy Carter), whether its in keeping with the domestic persona (Ronald Reagan) or contrary to it (Richard Nixon), the image of someone pursuing an agenda which is more than ad hoc, more than 'us good them bad', fascinates me. Reading Kissinger's comments, particularly, is amazing to me, because his attitude toward the world was simply 'Take it as it is, not as you wish it to be, and deal with it in a way that optimizes your take from the transaction.' He would have substantially reduced US involvement in Israel, for one thing, and more than once I've wondered how the world would have been different had he been able to accomplish that. Similarly, thougn the image of the Paris Peace Talks relevant to the Vietnam War is mostly one of wasted time and a despised enemy being treated as an equal, the idea of 'end it now, however you can' rings true. Too bad it didn't work, but the concept was good.

So when I see Bush off to India saying how wonderful outsourcing is, I try hard to believe that he is doing it from the perspective of Kissinger. Not that I think Bush is in his league, in any way (though possibly Rice is), but if he is motivated by the attitude 'Outsourcing happens, you aren't going to make it go away, so optimize the response to get the best deal you can out of the situation', then it at least makes sense to me. I still don't trust Bush, but the comments and pronouncements make coherent sense.

If, howver, he's just saying it because thats what was on the index card they gave him to read, its not nearly so cogent an image.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Taglines

Like a lot of people, I use taglines on my emails at work. Usually, I put something funny there, or whimsical – the current one says “....with many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse.” (I’ve been waiting for someone to ask me what that’s all about, but no takers. Perhaps the interested ones just google the phrase. A while ago, I had 'I live to serve. And sometimes to volley.'; one recipient of an email told me he laughed so hard he almost fell out of his chair.) ,,A little bit ago, I came across a nice one in an article from the current Real Simple magazine. The article is about people in a chorus who sing to terminally ill people. One of the illustrations of the article shows a sampler hanging from a cabinet knob; on the sampler it reads “Life may not be the party we hoped for, but while we’re here, we should dance.”

On my wall at work I have a photograph that I took of a friend at a hospital, a week before she died. I don’t look at it all that much - I don’t look up at the wall at all, usually, except to grab a glance at the calendar – but when I see the picture, I stop for just a moment and remember her. She’s there to remind me that work is not all there is to life. For some people, life isn’t an option any more. So when I think about her, sometimes I think about endings, and about beginnings.

I am within three years of retiring from the job I hold now. I tell people that somewhere between this June and December 2008 I’m going to pack it in. The date varies according to how much I’m enjoying what I’m doing. The fact that there is an end date gives a pretty good indication of how much maximum joy there is, where I am, doing what I do; the fact that I’m still there (past the magical ‘vested in the retirement plan’ date, which occurred last year) is a pretty good indication that it’s usually at least a positive number. Usually.

I have an acquaintance who’s a doctor, and though her specialty is internal medicine, she has a number of sideline interests, focusing on women’s health issues. She told me the other day that she recently had the opportunity to pitch an idea to the script writers for the Desperate Housewives series; in the past, she’s jetted halfway around the world to give a presentation to a convention of sellers of a health product, and she’s written a book on health. I am impressed by her energy and intelligence, not to mention her considerable achievements, and sometimes when I think about my life, it seems amazingly drab compared to hers. I don’t usually compare us, but when I do, I wonder if I had worked harder, had more drive, more vision, if I would have turned out better at some things. I guess it's ironic, because I'm not really a competitive person, and I don't feel the need to achieve. I'm happy as I am.

Yet that feeling recurs. Sometimes, when it does, it helps to be reminded that life includes dancing !

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Bookmarks

The oddest things can set me off --- sometimes into a glum funk, and sometimes delight. I had one of the latter (for a change) last night, while looking into a problem with Live Bookmarks.

LB is a function of Mozilla Firefox. It uses RSS to allow dynamic updating of bookmarks. If the content of the site being bookmarked changes, the bookmark points to the new content. I don't think Internet Explorer supports it, though I don't know that; even if it doesn't, it likely will when the next ponderous version trudges out.

I had only one LB enabled -- the one that comes with the Firefox installation, pointing to a news feed from the BBC. You click on it and get a series of latest headlines from which you can select at will. Several days ago I had noticed that it wasn't working. Selecting the bookmark would yield a box with 'live bookmark loading', and that was it. I futzed around for a while last night, and even reinstalled Firefox (unlike IE, Firefox installs very quickly), but the bookmark didn't work. Then I created a new bookmark pointing to the same BBC site, and it didn't work, either. This time it gave me an explicit error: XML Feed Parse Error. Well, okay, consistancy is good, but what the heck? So I went to the BBC site and read their instructions for using their RSS feed. It said that I needed to click on the RSS logo on their home page, and if I had an RSS-enabled browser (which Firefox is), I would pick up the bookmark. So I did. And got a page from the BBC site with this: XML Feed Parse Error.

It's not me ! It's them! And I figured it out!

This made me feel good.