Sunday, April 30, 2006

O diga puedale ve?

Which is a rough translation of Oh, say, can you see -- the opening words of the US national anthem. Apparently, some one has recorded a Spanish version of the anthem, entitled Nuestro Himno -- Our Hymn. It's not so much a translation of the original as a statement of solidarity. When I first heard about this, I thought it was literally O Diga Puedale Ve, and I was of the opinion that it ought not to be tolerated. But between then and today, when I found out what it actually was, I changed my mind.

What brought me around was thinking about the notorious flag-burning incidents of the sixties and seventies. There was molten outrage over those events. These people were desecrating a great and noble symbol, one that stood for my country. How dare they? How dare they? But over time I thought -- shallowly, but I thought -- about what it actually meant to be a symbol of something. And I realized that the reason you need a symbol is because the thing being symbolized is difficult, perhaps impossible to see. The spirit of my country could be manifest in many ways, but it could no more be boxed and presented than happiness or anger. The attitude that the burnings illustrated angered me (and truth to tell, still does) but that attitude existed independent of the action. The action was despicable, but it was also ineffectual, because nothing can destroy the American spirit except the American attitude toward that spirit.

It takes away nothing from the spirit and majesty of our nation's anthem (and though I mean that, I say it slightly tongue in cheek, thinking of the British origins) to recognize the spirit of Nuestro Himno. We are no less American because people who are, and are not, American chose a symbol for their solidarity. Yes, there is probably a point where the symbol becomes the point, and not just a symbol, and at that point it would deserve to be defended and its attackers defeated -- but this isn't an attack, and this isn't that point. To say otherwise -- to assume that the symbol is the actuality -- is equivilent to assuming that putting the phrase 'Mission Accomplished' onto a banner is the same as it actually happening.

And we all know how that plays out.

Home School: Materials

I like the concept of home schooling. And this fits right in, I think.


It's a good thing that my psyche isn't tied up with what I drive, or it might have suffered major damage when I parked my four year old minivan next to this:

As it was, I was afraid to even breathe in its direction. When I got home, I looked up the cost of a 2006 Jaguar 4.3 liter convertible. And now I'm really glad I didn't breathe in its direction.

Callling the Doctor

I read something funny and insightful in the local public television's magzine this week.

This was pretty unusual, actually. I normally don't read anything in there -- we get it because we support the medium -- but I do glance through it, on the off chance. Hey, sometimes they do. Like this time.

The guy writing the column said he doesn't like going to the doctor because he has this lurking feeling that if there is anything wrong with him, it will become actualized by going there. Don't go, it stays in the realm of the merely possible. He knows this is unreasonable. He knows that its better to know than not know, and, knowing, to act rather than just to hope. Nevertheless, this is how he feels. These people deal in bad news and are best avoided. Nothing good is likely to come of going, and a great deal of bad, might. Even if something good does come of it, they'll make some snarky comment, observation, or recommendation along the way. And you get to pay for the privilege. No, thanks.

That is exactly how I feel, too.


Sometimes, I can understand why people freak out about the use of new technology.

We're thinking about buying the Vonage phone service. That's the deal where you switch your phone service to a Voice Over IP service that's run through your Internet connection. The primary advantage is cost, which became of interest to me when I realized that we pay about $60 a month for local and long distance service. Actually, the cost didn't bother me as much as seeing the sly little statements in the phone bill from the phone company, saying things like 'this is the fee we charge you because otherwise we'd have to pay it ourselves, which we don't want to do, and since we can force you to pay it, we will'. (Okay, thats not exactly what it says, but thats what it feels like.) So the Vonage service, which starts at about $15 a month, looked good.

I went to their web site and was almost immediately flummoxed.

The site looks like it was just thrown together -- well, I guess we should say, like, what our service is, and, um, maybe something about the kinds of modems or something -- and oh, yeah, some scrolling text, and we gotta have a picture of a happy user -- without much thought to order (why do they list the users guide first, and only then say what it is that they do?). They have a cute little 'ask us' service, but what that is is simply a link to a database that looks for keywords, and then says well, golly, we couldn't quite figure out what you wanted, but you know, you can always call us. (My question was: does your service work with Lifeline (one of those 'I've fallen and I can't get up' emergency responder deals) which I don't think we're the first to ever ask.) They have a section about what modems work with their service, but its backwards -- if your modem isn't listed, then, they say, it works. That may be true, but somehow I don't trust it -- I can see myself calling them and them saying oh, yeah, we forgot to add your modem to the list, sorry, click. And they didn't say anything about 'what if you have two phone lines, what then', which I also can't believe we'd be the first to ask.

So we likely will default to staying where we are. Wonder if AT&T built Vonage's site?

Saturday, April 29, 2006


Google's newest offering, Google Sketchup, is kind of amazing.


There is something in my worldview that is endlessly intrigued by hearing of people doing nifty and unusual things with information technology. I find myself thinking Man, that'd be fun. Of course, it's probably hard work, and likely focused on specific areas, and requires all kinds of knowledge I don't have, so it just stays in the back of my mind (except for the times when I'm lambasting myself for not having drive, imagination, and all of that).

It just happened again. In an article in the Washington Post, a fellow was mentioned as having a job where he advised and assisted lawyers with computer related questions. I'm guessing its not 'how do I turn on tables in Word' and more 'how can we get this document over to that office super quick without paying a bundle for new technology', or 'what's the meaning and implication of the following info-tech buzzwords'. Whatever, it just sounded like fun, so for grins I looked up the guy's name in Google, giving it Washington as another search term, and it came up that he worked in 'complex case management'.

Does that sound like fun, or what?

Digital Digitalis

One of the parts of my job which is moderately interesting -- and this will give a good sense of how uninteresting much of it is -- involves the creation of a monthly report that's verbally presented to my group's manager -- what in my company is called a 'second line' manager. The content of the presentation was, when I took it, four charts and two graphs. The first two charts showed the number of problem records opened in the prior month and the number of problem records closed in the prior month; the first graph showed the same information, essentially, but including the last six months. The second set of three had essentially the same content, but for a different kind of information. After doing it a couple of months, I added one graph at the start of each section -- putting my imprimatur on it, as it were. About three months ago, the SL manager decided she wanted to get more, and for the last two months we've been trying to create it. I came up with a draft, and sent it to her, which she promptly sent to my group's manager; I had forgotten that my organization is rigidly hierarchical. [Insert snide comment here.] So, we're still working on that.

But lately I've been wondering. One of the things we like to push, as a Big Picture High Concept sort of thing, at my company is the idea of On Demand information -- which seems to have a very fluid definition, and surely involves a lot of arm-waving. To me, it means that data is gathered as it occurs and agglomerated into information, and then into presentations, as it's needed. I'm sure that some information is too complex to be agglomerated on the fly, but for much of it -- particularly things like my monthly chart -- it ought to be possible to just go out and get it, right now, real time. Why don't we do that?

Well, part of the reason is the chasm between what marketing people say and what technical people do. In technical discussions, this is sometimes abbreviated as YMMV, for Your Mileage May Vary, which in turn is shorthand for You may not get the same results, though they ought to look generally the same. In other words, it's possible to have On Demand information if (or at the mathematically inclined might put it, IFF) you've already made the infrastructure changes necessary to flow the information into nice limpid pools that are available on big honkin' servers which are connected by Way High Fast connection pipes to wherever your need for the data is. If you haven't done all that and have all that -- and we don't -- then you won't be seeing the On Demand stuff any time soon. Put another way, On Demand is more likely to be what's sometimes called Fedex response -- when you absolutely positively need tomorrow.

But another reason is that for all of the culture of sexy digital wonderment that my company likes to encloak itself with, we're just as likely -- at least, in the trenches -- to do things the way that we've done them for years. We're used to them, it works, it costs time and money to change, so why bother? We don't drink the corporate Kool-Aid. And the only thing that's going to get us going -- to give us the digitalis push -- is if someone arrives to run the organization who's seen it done better elsewhere, and wants that here. Otherwise, we'll stay as we are -- just good enough. And thats by our own definition, too. I wish we did better than that, which is why I make little changes where I can. I know its picayune, but it's the least I can do -- and as I like to say, I always do the least I can do.

Hammerin' and Drillin' and Blastin', Oh My!

I am not a handy guy. The 'handy' gene that my father's generation had completely passed me by. Oh, I can do minor things -- I'm dandy with a picture hanging so long as its a light picture -- but for anything else, I've learned to involve my wife. She has a better eye, plus, she's willing to stop and think about things where I want to just rush right in and start whamming and slamming.

So it is with some sense of delight that I announce that all three of us participated in the erection of two book shelves over my daughter's desk -- I drew the marks on the wall showing where the top screw on each of the supports would be, my wife checked that the two marks were in fact level (and reminded me to level the support when putting in the bottom screws); my daughter helped screw in the molly bolts and then attach those screws to the supports, and she and I together put the hangers on, tapping them into place with a hammer, and then put the shelves on them. She made my heart go pit a pat once time when she said that the top bolt on the right was actually coming out of the wall, but I screwed it in really tight (trying not to think of the time that I did that and the whole damn collapsed thing pulled out of the wall), and it held snugly.

It is now arranged as she likes it, with some of her many teddy bears on the top shelf, and various non volatile pieces of desk paraphernalia (including two boxes of Don't Touch Them They're Mine Thin Mint Cookies) are on the bottom shelf. Her desk is clear, clean, and neat. For the nonce, anyway.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

You Tubed

I don't watch many movies, and even less independently made ones, and even less than that ones that are short flicks.

Based on what this one looks like, maybe I should start.

(Takes about 10 minutes to play, plus buffering time)

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Day Three

Wednesday is the pivotal day. The week's chugging along, but the end is not in sight.

I had thought it might be in sight for a problem I've had for quite some time with a software product I'm installing. Yesterday, I had an insight which panned out, so that I found that the problem was actually two problems. I fixed one, and the system seemed to like it -- it still didn't work, but I got further along in the process than I expected. Tomorrow, for sure, I thought. no. In fact, seriously no. The change and my PC did not get along, so much so that I had to reboot five times (each reboot taking about fifteen minutes). I found what was nailing me, but not why. So I'm not quite as far along as I had thought I would be. On the other hand, I learned a little bit about using Safe Mode on a W2K PC.

On the bright side, I got a response from the company to whom, in a snit, I sent my resume, and they want to talk. My immediate reaction is What? Change? No, No, NO!!! I like it here! Well, actually, I do-- except when I don't. So though the odds are that I won't take employment with them -- should I mention that I want to work from home most of the time, only emerging to jet off to interesting places every couple of months? And should I mention that making more money is desirable, too? Well, that was a short phone call -- I will at least get back in touch with them. I'm nervous, but kind of tickled.

And tomorrow, we're having ice cream at the office. Guess who's idea that was?

Calling Bill

No, not me. But there's a phone number in this cartoon == and according to Google, it's real.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


I know little more about neuroanatomy than that it's usually unwise to expose it to the outside air, but this article, about neuroanatomy and the ability to understand sarcasm, was pretty interesting.

No, actually, I was just kidding.

Myers - Briggs

I took a personality test.

At first I thought I'd have to study pretty hard, because I don't really have a personality, but then I just went ahead and took it anyway.

Turns out I'm an ISTJ.

I'm thinking of putting it on my business card.

The Ace of Dweebs, I'm thinking.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Terra Galleria

While Stumbling Upon, I've come across a large number of excellent photographers. This one, though, strikes me as better than most -- the photographs have a warmth and humanity that nicely complements and enhances their technical excellence.


There is a well-known brainteaser based on the Lets Make a Deal show, wherein the contestant picks one of three doors -- one of which has a nifty prize, two of which do not. The contestant having picked one, but not seen if the prize is nifty or not, the host opens one of the other two doors, always opening a door that has a bogus prize, and then asks if you want to switch doors of the two remaining ones. (A nice description of this brainteaser can be found here.)

Having read that site, you know that the person tried a simulation, doing the exercise one hundred times, and found that the originally chosen door was the one with the nifty prize 35 times, while the second door (the remaining one - remember, the host has already opened one door) had the nifty prize 65 times. I read this to my wife, and we both thought Oh, that must be bogus. So we decided to try it ourselves.

Being impatient, we tried the same stunt ten times. One card was the prize card; two were the bogus cards. I picked one, she removed another, and I then switched to the third.

Three of ten times, the first card would have won.
Seven of ten times, the second card won.

What the heck is going on here?

Rumsfeld and the Officer Corp

An article in today's New York Times, entitled Young Officers Join the Debate Over Rumsfeld, has this quote:

These younger officers "are debating the standard of leaderhip," she (Kori Schake) said. "Is it good enough to do only what civilian masters tell you to do? Or do you have a responsibility to shape that policy, and what actions should you undertake if you believe they are making mistakes?"

I think that's a powerful concept, and I am particularly taken by the last phrase.

Breaking On Through

I normally like quiet music. Oh, sometimes -- as when I want to drown out competing sounds at the office -- I'll play something loud, usually the soundtrack from Top Gun, but usually I'm a quiet music kind of person. No great philosophy behind it. There's music that sounds good when its played loud, and I like some of it, but mostly, the music we like is played quietly. We have about fifty CDs, of which we play about five a month -- we put one in the player and it'll stay there until one of us says Okay, thats enough Diana Krall for a while, let's find something else. But at the moment, something a little different is playing. It's Break On Through, from The Doors.

The reason is that about twenty minutes ago I told my wife that this morning I'm feeling a little old. Partially, it's the weather -- cold and dismal, with rain threatening. Yesterday, it rained (what rained?) pretty much all day, including the hour we spent in a line inching forward to a computer and electronics recycling event. Today, I feel a little stiff, and, to add to the angst, I notice that occasionally, when I close my mouth, I can feel one of the two bridges that I have in there creaking, just a bit. It's not major, and I'm sure its not audible to anyone else -- now that would be interesting, in a scary way -- but it reminds me of my teeth, which reminds me that I have an appointment to go back to the dentist's office where I got so ticked, about two months ago. I've been having an internal debate on whether I should go, or whether I should a) never go again, relying just on the general dentist, or b) find a different periodontist, with one of the major search criteria being 'they don't make me feel guilty, even if I am'. I need someone who will give me forceful but gentle prodding -- enough to feel impelled to action, not so much that I go into a funk and shut down in a spasm of denial.

So all of this is making me feel old. And then I got a response to an earlier post -- the one with the RFI -- from a very nice gentleman who pointed out that what I was whimsically asking for did essentially exist now -- not the email part, but the phone to text part. I was startled by the information (not to mention, that the response came from someone in Oslo; I intellectually know that the net renders distance immaterial, but still! Oslo ! Wow ! There is one person who occasionally comments here, and who is from Norway, but somehow that's different -- I found their page first, so somehow (don't ask me to explain this) they're not far away -- but this one is out of the blue, and therefore 'from far away'. From Oslo! ) and so I went to the fellow's blog site to see who this person was that gave me this neat and nifty information. Turns out he's almost my age, and he describes himself this way: " A creative, enthusiastic, self motivated CEO with extensive experience in networking." And I thought, hot damn. This guy is almost my age, and he clearly has a focused, dynamic attitude. Maybe not every day, maybe not all the time, but still -- look at that! That is so cool.

And I thought "I'm not old, so why am I focusing on it this morning?" I need a distraction.

The Doors handle that quite nicely.

XP Event Viewer

I just came across a piece of information that might be of general use if you have Windows XP.

Xp creates a record of application starts, stops, and failures, including error information. This record can be viewed by doing a Start/Run and entering 'EVENTVWR'. The records aren't intuitively obvious, but they're not bad.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

RFI # 162

Request for Ingenuity 162:

Would someone please devise a method for me to call my voice mail and have an text version of my call created and emailed to me so that I don't have to scribble a note while driving?

Thank you.

PS: Yes, I know some phones have a message feature. Mine doesn't.

I'm Not Planning On Buying a Honda

but its a bit more likely now, since I've seen this.

Friday, April 21, 2006

As If I Needed Help Wasting Time... I stumbled upon StumbleUpon.

This is why I like Foxtrot

(Click to enlarge it.)



This afternoon I was complaining to my wife -- the usual stuff about work and how much fun it isn't -- and she said something that brought me up short. She told me that she gets as frustrated with the same things at her job as I do at mine, but unlike me she doesn't take it personally. Wish I could do that, I replied, grumpily, to which she said "You just do. You let it go. You move on."

Wow. That simple phrase had enough of an impact that I taped the message "MOVE ON" to a place where I would see it, every day. And this afternoon I looked at it five or six times, and each time it calmed me down.


Thursday, April 20, 2006

Not A Bad Day!

Today was pretty tiring, but the end wasn’t bad, as the conclusion was, basically, that the auditor problem which is about to occur isn’t my fault. I didn’t get an absolute absolution, as the manager involved seems to feel that if a problem occurred, then of course some one is at fault, and since I’m the only one in her organization that was involved, it must be my fault. And, truth to tell, some of it is. My reckoning puts that level of culpability at about fifteen percent; hers would likely be around forty percent. Whatever – its still less than the subjective level that I think could result in me getting fired. Course, that’s not the same as quitting. Still want to quit this organization. Mostly its because they deal with auditors, and I don’t like auditors or the auditor mindset. A little bit is that I don’t like the job overall, in comparison to the one I’ve been trying to move over to. And the rest is that I am not fond of the organizational style of the company – the attitude that all activity must be approved by a manager. I think that’s more appropriate to a McDonalds – and a not very well run one, at that.

This afternoon we Had A Meeting to discuss the project I have been working on. I didn’t expect anything useful to come out of it, and almost nothing did. I guess I don’t understand something, there. The two guys involved in the meeting are both relatively successful in being ‘managers’, but one of them doesn’t seem very forceful or organized. He does do a lot with Microsoft Project, and spreadsheets, and emails, and he holds lots of meetings, after which things do happen, but I can’t draw a clear conceptual line between what he does and the result. I think he does affect the things that happen; I just can’t quite believe that it happens because of him. It’s a mystery to me. The events would happen anyway, I think; just in a not quite orderly way. So if what he does is bring order to a disorderly process, why is what he is doing with my project so ineffectual? Or is it that it really is effectual, but in a slow, tectonic-plate-movement kind of way? Maybe that’s it.

But still...not a bad day.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


I've noticed over the years that I like to change the desktop wallpaper on my PC, and that sometimes it tends to reflect my mood. The wallpaper on my work laptop, for example, is an arctic landscape, with towering mountains of ice looming over the snow below, and a single human figure trudging across the plain. How do you think I feel about work, these days? So, as an attempt to modify how I feel, I'm going to use this for a while:

We'll see if the vibrant colors make a difference.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


I was doing a little reading on the Navajo concept known as Hozho, and came across this interesting article.

Decision Time !

"I'm the decider, and I decide what is best," President Bush said today.

Well, I feel better !

Monday, April 17, 2006

Voting For? Or Voting Against?

A fair number of people say that when the opportunity comes to vote, they're going to be voting against Bush. Their reasons range from anger over the war to despair over the economy, but their reaction is to vote against Bush -- and since he isn't on the ballot this year (and won't be, ever again), they're going to vote against people who resemble him. Mostly, this means Republican. This is good news for the Democrats, but its not a very good reason to vote Democrat. Don't get me wrong: picking one over the other, odds are I'll start out favorably inclined to the Democratic point of view, and it takes a strong presentation by a Republican to make me change my mind. But I almost -- not quite, but almost -- don't want to win if the reason for winning is ideology. Think of this as the anti-Rove attitude: winning is important, but winning for the right reason is almost as important.

I think that its possible that Democrats will see the attitude of these people and assume they're a given, in the bag. I think its possible that they will see the attitude of life-long Democratic-ticket voters, and assume they're a given, in the bag. I think its possible, and damned likely, that they'll target the attitudes and hot buttons of the people who are considered 'in play' -- not rabid Republicans, not in the bag people -- and that will be the campaign they will want to run. I think that attitude is wrong. It is disrespectful to the intelligence of the voters. It is disrespectful to the entire political process. I believe the people have the attitude that they know what they want, and they know what they'd like; if they have to choose between what they want (a person with a given style, a given attitude, a given level of grit) and what they'd like (that person being a specific political party), they'll go with the first. Both if they can; the first if they have to choose. A woman who writes a blog which occasionally talks about politics in my state says she does not like our junior senator -- that would be Mr. Santorum, and I won't even attach an adjective to it -- but that this does not mean she will necessarily vote Democratic. She says that she is looking for a good, decent Republican to vote for, and only if she cannot find one will she vote Democratic. I agree with this attitude. I come at it from the other direction -- I want a Democratic to believe in, and only when I fail in that quest will I vote Republican -- but I agree with the key point: Good. Decent. It's unfortunate that those words don't normally find themselves in the same sentence as 'candidate', because those are the words I'll be looking for first.

Other words are important, too -- competent, effective, insightful. But I'll start with those two. And thats who I'll start thinking about when I'm voting. Voting for.

Day Note

What kind of day did I have today? The kind where, when you find out that your daughter, skating down the driveway for the first time this year, grabbed the lamp post and knocked off the glass array at the top -- and it just feels like part of the day.

It started grimly --neither of us could get out of bed without groaning about it -- and then at work, started equally fun -- my PC would not start -- progressed through the sloughs of despair -- I was irritated about something that was my fault (which made it worse) and ready to quit -- as in, if there had been a 'click here to quit', that button would have been depressed eighty seven times in a three second interval -- then sludged through tedium -- I was asked to create documentation for an audit -- and finally arrived at lunch.

By an hour later, things were improving slightly -- my wife had prescribed eating, and damned if that didn't help -- and by the middle of the afternoon, they were almost bearable -- which is when I got the call about the lamp post. We spun it, telling her she did right to tell us the truth immediately about it -- my thinking being that while I was not happy, she's heading into the years where it is maximally important that she feel comfortable in telling us the truth, so this is a good thing. Then I gave someone information that turned out not only to be wrong, but exactly backward. Sigh.

Good thing Mondays only come once a week. I believe I'll go make myself a cheeseburger.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Max Story

They tell you that you should back up your data, religiously. Okay, thats a church we attend -- somewhat. Our desktop PC has a backup package that runs to an off site location, but my work laptop does not (my employer, the Biggest Little Software Company in the World, doesn't feel thats a priority), nor does our home laptop. So I went out and bought a Maxtor One Touch II, which several reviews spoke glowingly about. I got the 300GB version, which I figured would be enough and then some for my work laptop (40GB) and the home laptop (20GB). Heck, we might even work in the home desktop (20GB) too, and save some money -- though at the price of the Maxtor, it'd be a while till the costs equalized. But heck, this was a Good Thing.

But then the fun began.

I do software. But even I know that the hard drive is not supposed to intermittently make grinding sounds. And anyone would know that the software wasn't supposed to make the WinXP desktop hang. (Can I prove it? Well, no. It just started after I put the backup software on there and stopped after I took it off. ) And while I was at it, the elegantly designed easy to use interface, much improved over the One Touch I? Wow, that first version must have been quite the kludge, to say that the One Touch II was much improved.

So the box is on its way back to Amazon, which will, I hope, swiftly return the funds to my account.

Will I get another? Probably. . But not Maxtor, I think.

Easter: Happy?

We're at a relative's house, with all of the confusion that that suggests. (Why don't relatives keep the plates and glasses in the right place? Not to mention, stock Ghiradelli coffee and decent sausage?) But I got something to think about (briefly) last night.

We were watching Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone. In one scene, Harry awakens at Hogwarts on Christmas morning, sees a friend, and says 'Happy Christmas'. Happy? Yeah...I like the sound of that. Why do we say Merry Christmas? Isn't Happy better? I'm Happy that its Christmas -- but not as a rule so Merry.

(Apropos of that same scene, I screwed up, lightly: I wondered idly in the hearing of my daughter if anyplace had the kind of glorious Christmas morning as they had in that scene: huge fire place, roaring fire, great stone walls, overstuffed chairs, thickly falling snow. Whereupon my daughter asked 'Didn't we have a Christmas like that last year?' Well, no. But I was abruptly smart enough not to point that out.)

Happy Easter, everyone.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Charging, Over- and Under-

There's an interesting article in the April 15th issue of the Economist (unfortunately, not linkable; they deem it 'premium content') about the likelihood of getting over or under charged for specialist services. The article is based on a paper by Dulleck and Kerschbamer on the subject of purchasing credence goods when the purchaser doesn't know what they want or need -- for example, when you go to the garage and say 'its making a funny noise' or you go to the doctor and say 'my stomach hurts'. You're relying on their expert knowledge to diagnose and resolve the problem, but you're also relying on their honesty -- the noise could be a loose screw or a loose engine mount; the pain could be indigestion or an ulcer. When you don't know, how can you accurately choose, how can you accurately judge? The saving concept seems to be that overcharging tends to occur when the vendor is looking for revenue -- ie, needs to earn more. When they are busy, they have no need; when they are not, they do. The concluding sentence of the article says it: "If you are worried about being cheated by a taxi-driver or a mechanic, pick the busiest one you can find."

Friday, April 14, 2006

Chizboigah Chizboigah

Which is, of course, a reference to a skit on the original Saturday Night Live. I liked it, and I like cheeseburgers. I think that they can be classic comfort food.

Here's a recipe I found at Cook It Simply:

Cheese Burger recipe


1 lb (450 g) lean minced beef
2 oz (50 g) fresh breadcrumbs
4 tbsp (60 ml) milk
1 small onion, skinned and finely grated
1/2 level tsp (2.5 ml) prepared mustard
1 tsp (5 ml) Worcestershire sauce
salt and freshly ground pepper
3 Tbsp (40 g) butter
buns and lettuce to serve
slice's of Cheddar cheese


1. Combine all the ingredients, except the butter, and divide into eight equal-sized pieces.

2. Shape each into a 1 cm (1/2 inch) thick cake.

3. Heat the butter in a frying pan. Add the burgers, three or four at a time and fry briskly for 1 minute on each side.

4. Reduce heat and cook more slowly for a further 6 - 8 minutes, turning twice.

5. hen the burger is cooked, place a slice of Cheddar cheese over the top and grill until the cheese is bubbling.

Serve in a lettuce-lined bun.

Insert Snappy Title

Sorry, no snappy title occurs to me. But I did want to point out this blog, which looks pretty snappy in its own right. Actually, its a Journal Space site, which seems to mean that you can't link to it via RSS, nor send the writer an email -- which is too bad. Still worth reading, though.

(Maybe FeedDemon can find an RSS feed for it???)


I may have mentioned from time to time that I think the practice of auditing has gotten way out of hand. It has evolved from a comparison of how things are to how the organization's chieftans want them to be, and become a comparison of how things are to how the auditor wants them to be. It has become part best-practices review (which can be good, but usually isn't), and part witch hunt.

Now it appears that a third leg is being added to this axis of evil: inducement of generalized paranoia. The company for which I currently work is undergoing a Corporate Audit. It deserves that capitalization because apparently it is regarded by the managers in the organization with only slightly less glee than the arrival of the Spanish Inquisition -- and that only because they don't use the hot pincers so much any more, relying instead on pointed questions and sneering inferences. And lack of counsel: they now require people being audited to Come Alone, without benefit of assistance from people who know whats legal and whats not. Sort of like what might happen if John Ashcroft were responsible.

The organization is in a tizzy. As for me, I'm just keeping my head down. How nice it is to be an adult and feel that such actions are necessary.

Thursday, April 13, 2006


You know what still surprises me even though I've known it for years?

That spending twice what you normally do for something - some good, some service - does not guarantee, or even make likely, that the quality of what you get will have twice the quality. Sometimes, even half again as good. Occasionally, in fact, it's not even better at all (though usually thats not the case).

That surprises me, still.

Slow Day

That phrase usually implies a slow, languorous day -- walking along the beach; sitting in a chair reading a good book; scuffing along a country road to the sound of chirping birds or night time crickets. Today, it means rather less. Each of us is in a bit of a slump. My daughter caught her finger in a door, and this afternoon has a sort of test for which she's not ready. My wife is working on a massive project and just found that a previously unknown part of it failed and must be redone. And I am unhappy about the design of a web site that I use to re-order prescription drugs, as well as some other things. None of these is debilitating, but somehow they fed each other this morning, so that none of us is particularly cheerful.

I did come across an excellent book while at the local college book fair, though. It's Jeffrey Archer: The Collected Short Stories. Archer is apparently a British author -- the four that I've read thus far are set in England -- and each one is well written, with elegant phrasings and a satisfying or surprising twist at the conclusion. They're light fare, which is also good, as I'm not in the mood for lugubrious stuff.

In a bit, my wife and I will go out for a slow walk -- she needs to calm down about the uncertainties of her project, and I need to get moving, period.

Slow day, slow walk. Seems to fit.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Flight 93

From this site:

Sickening thuds, moans of pain, despairing pleas for mercy and then a final defiant "Allah is the greatest" resounded through a courtroom yesterday before a long silence as the heart-rending cockpit recording of United Airlines Flight 93 was played in public for the first time.

Keeping in Touch

I'm in the mood to buy a telephone....again.

We currently have about five models of telephones in the house. The oldest is the bright red Trimline phone that I've had for about 25 years. The only repair to it has been the cord from the handset to the body; it couldn't take the wear and tear that a certain then-three year old could dish out (Those little clips are not nearly strong enough!) Its in the room we call the library (a very small bedroom), where it is plugged into a phone line we use just for work. In that same room we have a set with speakerphone, memory dial (we don't use that), mute (very important -- in fact, the reason we bought that particular model), and a cordless handset with a headphone jack (also important). The handset has a speaker function, too, which is kind of neat, as when one of us is working from home and listening to a tedious teleconference (is there any other kind?) we can put the handset on mute, turn on the speaker, and just set it on a kitchen counter while making lunch or a cup of tea.

The phone which had been in the library is now in the kitchen -- its also a speakerphone, with redial and memory, but no mute (bummer). That one has the answering machine and a cordless handset with jack. Downstairs, there is a wall phone with a way-long cord, installed back in the days when we would periodically lug home a dial-up terminal that communicated at the ungodly speed of 300 baud. (Hey, we can work at home, don't have to go in for problems at oh dark thirty! Yay!) My mother has a big-button phone that is hooked into her Lifeline service. And to round things out, we have an aging cordless model in the master bedroom -- the phone used to be my mother's, she didn't want it any more, and we thought 'waste not'.

So why am I looking at a new phone? Specifically, the Panasonic KX-TG5110 ? For what I freely admit is a silly reason: none of the phones can accept an additional remote handset, so if the phone rings while we're in the living room, where there is no handset, we have to sprint into the kitchen to pick up. Or leave one of the cordless handsets lying in there, so that later we can say 'hey, where's the handset?' (BTW: Do NOT hit the 'locate' button on the base to make the way-loud beeper on the handset go off if your wife has just found the handset and is carrying it back to the appropriate room. After she picks up the handset again, she will NOT thank you.)

Ah, modern travails.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Religion and Partisanship

I am not a particularly religious person -- I like to describe myself as a 'retired Catholic' -- but I think the topic of the source of religion is interesting and useful to pursue, particularly when it becomes a part of the political discussion. To that end, I'd like to point out Garry Willis's article, Christ Among the Partisans, from the New York Times opinion section. He makes a number of good and thought-provoking points.

Thank you, Harry

Thanks, Harry. Thanks a lot.


It is an indication of the general level of confidence in the US President that the possibility of the use of nuclear weapons against Iran has to be denied.... and the possibility of attack against Iran, isn't.

Regime change: Its not just for breakfast any more.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

The Daydream, Again

We went for a pleasant walk this evening, the three of us, through a neighboring development -- the daughter on a scooter, the two of us alternately pulling ahead and waiting or walking quickly to catch up. Its not that we don't trust her to cross the street by herself; its that we don't trust her enthusiasms, which might lead her to dart out. Any parent knows the feeling, I suspect.

The air was a bit chilly, so I had a sweatshirt with the company logo on it, and a pair of jeans. As is her wont, my wife was dressed a bit more warmly. The daughter, halfway through, shrugged off her hooded sweatshirt and tied it around her waist and wore just a light Tshirt. Later, when she complained of being cold, my wife made the obvious and reasonable suggestion, and after a little bit more grumping, she did -- her change of mood facilitated by seeing a man walking a chocolate-and-white beagle.

We passed two or three available lots in the development. We were a bit surprised to see them, as the development has been there for a while. There were no obvious problems with them, not that we would notice anything more apparent than a heap of burning tires in the field or a high-tension powerline cutting through the lot, so when we got back, I went to the realtors site and poked around. I was not surprised to find that according to the realtor NOW is the time to buy, and that they have an EXCELLENT selection of houses. They offered house plans, too, none of which excited me in the least.

Still, the thought does linger. Came home and updated The Spreadsheet. Up to about 13o items now. Kind of wonder how many will ever make it into an actual house...and how many substantial I can't believe I never thought about THAT items aren't in there.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Two interesting blogs

I came across this one today. It's apparently quite well known. The woman who writes it is funny, though I haven't heard that much profanity since I was in the military.

The feel of this one is completely different --very cool, very crisp. An interesting style.

Dreaming of Business

One of the things that you might not suspect about me is that I really like happy endings, and I think that they're possible in actual life. I don't see them in actual life, actually; I just believe in them. I want to believe that they're possible. As a result, Barnes and Noble almost made some money from me tonight.

We had gone out for a drive, just the two of us, celebrating the rise of gas prices -- doesn't it just make you want to take to the open road, seeing those higher digits on the price placard? I know it makes me want to. Sometimes I just sit there in the garage with the engine running, just so I can go buy more -- or something like that, and thought to wander through B&N. While there, I came across a book talking about excellent small businesses. These are businesses that may or may not be profitable -- some make just enough to pay their way, others make just enough to buy a Lear Jet or two -- but they manifest a total grasp of the social ethic, a willingness to forego individual profit for the good of all. I had picked it up because I'm a sucker for such things -- as I said, I need to believe in them -- and opened to a story of a fellow talking about how he'd found that one of his employees was working a second job at night. We can't have this, he thought, and so the next day he called the woman in and told her that this would not do; they needed her fresh and alert, and so she would have to quit the other job. Which, he added, he understood paid her $75 dollars a week; so that she would not lose by the deal, they were immediately raising her pay by $75 a week...Aw..... I flipped to another story, and began to read about a fellow who'd turned down $120 million dollars for his company, deciding that it was more important to him that the company continue as it was, and looking for ways to make it more everyone's company, not just his. Okay, that settled it. I started carrying the book around as I looked for other books to get.

But I finally put it back. I really wanted to believe that it was possible. I wanted to believe that real people exist who can make this kind of egalitarian enterprise succeed; people who can bring humanity to the workplace. Hmm.... the workplace. I thought myself of the management books I've read -- the ones that say how you grow your business by growing your people, involving them, making them part of the fabric of the business, turning each one of them into an entrepreneur -- and I thought: how often have I seen that? Even a little bitty bit of it? Answer: Not very much, at all. So I put the book back. On the way out, I told my wife about it, and I joked 'So I said why yes, I do have a part time job, and it would be dandy if you could match my salary there. What do I do? Why, I'm a neurosurgeon." And so on. Because who believes in that kind of thing, anyway?


Thursday, April 06, 2006


I saw two cars today that amazed me. Well, actually, it was the combination of the cars and their drivers.

The first was a PT Cruiser. It looked something like this, except that it was painted a bright, glossy, candy apple red.

The other car was a silver-grey Jaguar sedan. It looked something like this:

So what's so amazing about these?

The first: I had seen the car many times, and from its sporty air I thought it belonged to one of the young guys in our office. Turns out its driven by a stocky elderly man with white hair.

The second: I thought nothing of the car until I noticed that it was being driven by a glossy-looking blonde woman, at which point I immediately thought: trophy wife.

With those kinds of reactions, what kind of car would I be?

Yeah, that's about right.

Shame? Not Us !

From the Washington Post:

WASHINGTON — The House approved campaign-finance legislation Wednesday that would benefit Republicans by placing strict new caps on contributions to nonprofit committees that spent heavily in the last election while removing limits on political party spending coordinated with candidates.

The bill passed 218-209 in a virtual party-line vote.

Lifting party spending limits would aid Republican candidates because the GOP has consistently raised far more money than the Democratic Party. Similarly, barring "527" committees from accepting large, unregulated contributions known as "soft money" would disadvantage Democrats, whose candidates enjoyed a disproportionate share of the $424 million spent by nonprofit committees in 2003-04.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Reading Smart

Sometimes I get the urge to read something by someone who's smarter than me. Fortunately, there are thousands of people who fit that description, but most of them aren't interested in things that I particularly care about. For example, you can see every day in the week, and twice on Sunday, articles about the mating habits of the Egyptian pygmy moth, the effect on monetary policy of Keyne's digestion, algorithmic permutations as a factor in the causation of triple tuples, and all that sort of incredibly literate and altogether incomprehensible-to-me stuff. Its everywhere, and whenever I get a bit of eye-glaze from having seen and quickly flipped past an article like that, I usually get just a twinge in the part of my psyche that tells me that I ought to care about that sort of thing. Exactly why I should care, the probing voice doesn't tell me, other than the darkly muttered comment that 'well, if you're so smart, why aren't you up on these things?' In bad moments I can get this abuse from the weirdest places: I was reading a Nero Wolfe novel the other day, and the hero is reading one of the many dense books he enjoys; I found myself wondering why it was that I never found myself captivated by the same kind of thing.

So I do try. And every so often I find a book that fits those descriptions -- I believe I mentioned Blind Oracles a few entries ago; that qualifies -- and then I try to get around to reading it. Because it seems to me that I tend to read -- actually slow down and read carefully -- very few types of things. Recipes for desserts, for example. Popular articles about economics (Ben Stein, whom I slimed here a while ago, does pretty good ones.) Some science fiction (though I will reread and reread old Star Trek novels before venturing onto new turf; I like hard science fiction, and most stuff doesn't have that.) Biographies on occasion, or books about science, particularly physics; I don't understand most of it, but I like reading it anyway. And articles on medicine and physiology are always fascinating to me. Not too much on the practice of information processing (CIO magazine is about as close as I get, and occasional articles in the paper), though what I'd really like is to understand (at a high level) some of the theory of the handling of information -- for example, are there theories about how to best present information? Other than Tufte's work, that is. Is the visual presentation of information at odds with making it searchable and retrievable? James Fallows occasionally writes on this kind of thing; I'd be happy if I could just formulate the questions that I'd like to know more about, instead of 'just wondering'.

But the only way I know to get close to any of this is to just look for hard books and try to read them. So I do that. Not often, not well, but I do it.

Wish there was a Book of the Month club for stuff like that.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

No Hops Zone

To my surprise, I seem to have a physiological reaction to the three quarters of a glass of beer that I had last night. I woke this morning with a slight headache and the taste of malt (for lack of a better word) in my mouth. So I guess I won't assume that beer-drinking is something you can ease into - obviously, I should have started doing this when I was in the military. Ah, well. It's back to the ice wine and such for me.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Le Grump, C'est Moi

Well, okay, it wasn't that bad. Not as bad as the really foul mood I was in last week. But still, took me a little while to cheer up -- and heck, I even had a beer, which is the second in like, oh, fifteen years. Source of the grump: the usual (Nobody values me, everyone gets support from their boss but me, I think I'll go eat worms). Instead, we went out to a California Pizza Kitchen clone. Not bad -- and the Bananas Foster cheesecake was good. (but...isn't Bananas Foster supposed to have actual bananas instead of banana pudding? Like, say, this? )

No mat. Turned out well. Tomorrow, back into the fray....


Had a bit of a strange dream last night. Thinking about it in the half-haze of awakeness, I wondered if it was about escape...or madness. That is, if it had any meaning at all.

The three of us were somewhere around here. It was winter, or at least cold, and getting colder. We found ourselves part of a mass of people trudging up a hill, everyone carrying some kind of baggage. At one point we passed a pile of discarded bags, and I thought that these were things that the people had wanted to take but could not muster the strength to bring up the hill. In the pile of bags, we saw some brightly colored kids toys, and my daughter darted over to pick up one or two, saying that perhaps we could come to the kid who owned them, and she could give them back.

At the top of the hill we started going down a long flight of stairs, with the mass of people ahead of and behind us still. Occasionally people with crazed or lost expressions would come up to us, right up to us, and gibber at us or stare blankly at us. We would step around them. Halfway down the stairs I took out a cell phone to see if the bus company we were going to use was still in business, and found that it was not -- under the press of events, it had dissolved. The woman on the phone wished us luck, and I wished her luck, too.

Then I found a doorway.

It was just off the stairs -- unmarked, nothing special. Nobody that I could see was going through it. I went in and immediately felt -- not better, necessarily, but not so burdened, not so immediately concerned for our future. I went back out and retrieved my family, and all of us went inside. We found ourselves in a tunnel that looked hand-excavated, but as if what it was excavated out had actually been a hallway at one time. We climbed a short flight of stairs, and found ourselves at two doors -- one marked Full Earth, and one marked Empty Earth. We chose the latter, and came into a room that looked just like the large room that had been at the bottom of the stairs, only this one was completely empty. In a few moments, we came to a small apartment, and we set up living there. It was very quiet. Occasionally we would meet other people, but we didn't so much interact with them as nod and smile. They were pleasant but a touch melancholy.

I don't believe in dreams, though I do think Freud could have made something of this. Or perhaps Ray Bradbury.

Update: My wife told me that she'd had a strange dream, too -- of a teenage boy who was systematically putting dogs into a chute that lead into a building. One dog would not go, and the boy explained that the dog knew that the chute lead to a furnace, but that the dog trusted him, and he'd eventually go -- which he did.

Last night, I told my wife somethign unusual about me, of a religious nature. Wonder if that was the source?

Sunday, April 02, 2006


I shall now tell you one of the sexiest phrases I know. You may wish to shield the eyes of young children and the easily impressionable. Ready? Here it is:

Custom. Made. Cabinetry.

Now I know, I know, that 'custom made' doesn't mean 'good quality'. If I were to whip out the Skilsaw and had a forest to work with I could probably create cabinetry that's suitable for use -- as kindling. And I know that it doesn't mean 'attractive', either. Some of the glossy pieces that I've seen for sale are elegantly made -- and ugly. And I know that it's possible to go too far -- I've seen kitchens with more cabinetry than counterspace. It was beautiful, but functional? No. Not what I have in mind.

Here is an example of what I have in mind:

And here's another:

Aren't they gorgeous? If there was one thing I could learn to do which I totally cannot do now -- and I know this is a gross simplification -- I would learn to create fine cabinetry. There is an elegance and sophistication, a blending of form and function, that is almost a sensual pleasure. It captivates me.


About a minute after I wrote the entry prior to this, I got a comment from 'Poll' saying that she really liked my blog. I was of course delighted, but wondered who in the world was responding at this time of the day. So I clicked on the name, which brought me to a blog profile for someone named Poll, from Poland, with a favorite movie of Poltergeist... and an email address of sexe-sex


Timing is Everything

So here I am at 3:50 (new time). I have been wating for fifteen minutes on the phone line they gave in the email. You know, the one with the words "Here are the final meeting minutes...our timeline is inscluded with the phone line information as well...Please plan to call in at 02:30 AM" ...Nobody there. Very strange.

So I see someone on the instant message system and ask 'what number are they using?'

And the answer is, a different number.


Oksy, people make mistakes like that all the time. But when you're rousting people out of bed in the middle of the night...not to mention, the one of two nights a year that you're changing clock times.... you'd think there'd be a little extra care, a little extra precision.

You'd think.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Blind Oracles (2)

I haven't yet read the book, but this extract, which I found here, is pretty good:

When we say that a decision was "political," or that something happened "because of politics" or was resolved "on political grounds," we mean to say that even if a good decision was made, it was not made on the basis of the merits. We often assume that there is such a basis, though it may be indeterminate. The contesting parties in the disputed election of 2000 sometimes resembled two packs of animals fighting over a piece of meat. Their spokespeople, however, constantly tried to provide legitimacy for the actions of whichever group they represented, despite the fact that they were partisans. Their inability to ratify the behavior of either side was not surprising. Metaphorically, they had a ten-foot ladder with which they were attempting to span a twelve-foot crevasse, and only miraculous or illusory techniques could be successful. There was an unbridgeable gap between the struggle of interests and the laudable. Even when the winner of the election was determined, the victory lacked authority for many. "Politics" had resolved the conflict--not justice but the structure of power....

Powerful stuff. No pun intended.