Thursday, August 31, 2006


I don't read Cooking for Engineers much, even though it's a good site; it just doesn't appeal to me all that much. I think it's because it's a logical site, as distinct from, say, food porn. But this article about Chocolate Chip cookies got my attention...

Surprisingly Good Day

I didn't get inordinately stressed by anything, I got through much of the backlogged email, and, mirabile dictu, I had a small victory in my ongoing fight in the project that will not end. It didn't prove much, but it did prove a little -- and in that project, I take what I can get.

So, an SGD....

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Stray Observation

I read the other day that Bush is still the Republicans best fund raiser, but now he doesn't make public appearances. He flogs it in, whips up the crowd, collects the checks, and flogs it out. More and more Republican candidates don't actually want to be seen with him, but as for his money, why, thank yew kindly.

We are SO screwed.....

Body Parts I Do Not Have

The older I get, the less it takes to flummox me, and the more likely it seems that something will occur to do so. After today, I went to bed early and just laid there quietly for a while, my head partially covered by the sheet. No kidding. Seriously stressed by the press of events, the least of which was --

My wife suggested that it might be possible that this repair to my upper arm would set off airport security scanners -- BEEEP! Freeze, you bastard! Flat on the floor! Spread 'em! Well, actually, um, sir, I had hemiarthroscopic surgery on that arm, so as a result it doesn't actually straighten all the -.....AIEEEE!!! It does now, terrorist scum! -- so we asked the doctor, who said yeah, possible, we'll Give You A Card to prove to the TSA that you didn't have a bomb inserted in your left upper humerus. Well, cool. I had something snappy in mind, something in glowing colors with my name in Gothic Script saying that I am cybernetic, so Scanners, Pass Me By.

What I got was a generic card with a space to write in my name, the 'prosthetic' warning in small letters on the front, and a huge warning on the back that, basically, any kind of medical procedure could result in me getting infected, with seriously unpleasant consequences to the arm. That wasn't bad enough, but one of the procedures that could seriously harm me, without appropriate prior administration of antibiotics, was: Vaginal Examination.

I'm gonna need a lot of antibiotics, I think.

Morning Thoughts

Had a talk with my wife this morning. I told her that I was sorry that I was not divorcing her. Because if I was divorcing her, I wouldn't feel bad about using our money to repair my mistakes. But since she is, in fact, precious to me, I feel badly about it. She told me, quite firmly, to remember why we saved money. And to quit thinking that I am wasting it.

How in the freakin' world did I ever get so lucky as to deserve her?

Side note: nutrition. I do truly believe that in less than ten years the acknowledged -- or at least heavily promoted -- wisdom will be that our diet should be 90% fruits, nuts, and berries. And then they'll come up with something *else* we're not doing that medical science now thinks is a damn good idea, implying that we're fools for not having been doing it all along.

Not to say they'd be wrong.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Royal Post? Or Pest?

Check this out....


Some things, I worry about too much. And some things, not nearly enough.

When something bad happens to me, I tend to think its terribly bad. I usually am wrong about this. Sometimes, not as wrong as I'd like to be, but still -- wrong.

I would like to think that when I grow up, this will correct itself.

But as a person I don't know said here, I seem to be growing up despite this.


This has been somewhat of a gloomy day, I'm sorry to say.

This morning, I talked with my wife about this project that I'm on, and got her -- well, not mad at me, per se, but mad and directed at me. She thinks I'm taking the project way too personally -- that I'm giving myself blame when I should be recognizing that I have done all that I could do to make it work. I suspect she's right. I just hate not being able to make this thing work. It makes me feel incompetent.

Yesterday, I bought two GoPhones from Cingular. One works fine.

And I just got back from a visit to the oral surgeon who was supposed to do my dental implants. He still can -- but now it appears I need a bone graft, and I need six, not four, implants. Which means that the cost just went to about $15,000, of which my insurance would pay about a third. Ouch, to put it mildly. Plus, if I go this route, its four months for the graft to take, then another four months for the implant to become solid. So instead of being done in six months, its more like nine or ten. Double ouch.

Guess I'll be working for a while more.

Oh, and the arm's getting better but the strain of the new exercises isn't getting any easier.

One amazing note, though. I told this to my wife, saying that I guessed I'd be getting a partial denture instead (which costs substantially less.) She said: Money is no object. She's as sensitive to cost as I am, but when it comes to my health, she simply does not care.

Geez. I should be that good to myself.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Bad Ideas

It is apparently a bad idea for both parents to go back to work on the same day that the child goes back to school. Much angst. Doesn't help that outside the sky is dark and gloomy, with drizzle. All we need is a mournful soundtrack.

One of the exercises I was introduced to on Friday is a 'finger walk', where you put your fingers on the wall and walk up. This is, no kidding, very difficult for me -- and it does not help that my fingers slip on the wall. I just tried it here at home, and got twenty seconds into it. Need a non-skid wall surface. There is a wooden deal that you can get (surprisingly, the therapy place doesn't have one!) called a 'shoulder ladder; it consists of thirty six ledges, an inch and a quarter apart, that you climb up with your fingers. I'd buy one, but they're about a hundred dollars, including shipping. Seems like a bad idea, though my wife says its certainly okay with her.

I told my daughter we're both quitting and going to use her college fund to live on. I don't think she believed me when I said I was kidding. Nudder bad idea.....

Update: Shoulder Ladder:

We have doors into the kitchen. They are louvered doors. The louvers are slanted, and are about an inch and a quarter apart. We just nailed a thin strip of wood above the top louver. In normal position, the strip is against the wall and invisible. In door-closed position, the strip is accessible. For the cost of one used nail and a piece of wood, we have: a shoulder ladder. Yes!

Brunch Philosophy

Here is my insight for the day: jobs like mine (and my wife's) became less fun when the people who run organizations cut staff, shortened deadlines, and added projects. I know, this hardly makes us unique, but I've always felt lucky to do what I do, and now I really don't.

This insight comes from my looking up at her at breakfast this morning and saying 'you know, why don't we both say vuck it, you clowns can take your ball and go home, we're not playing any more. We'll just live with what we have now; the stress of working for you just isn't worth the payback.' After a minute, she looked back and said You know, thats damned tempting.

We're not rich, but we're well off, I think. I read once that people will talk gladly about sex, but not money. Okay, I'm like that, too -- but here's a salacious peek: to me, well-off is when you have enough money that if you scale spending down to about 75% of what it is now, you can survive into the years when pensions, etc kick in. We're there now. As for rich, thats when you scale down to 90%, and so forth. Not there; don't expect ever to be there. (I heard the other day that Julia Roberts is worth two hundred and fifty million dollars. I question our culture, once again.)

So, at what point sanity? Remember: retirement is forever, unless you're damned lucky in your choice of professions, hobbies, or ancestry.

Okay, done philosophizing for now.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Late Saturday

I'm sitting in the living room. I was just in the bathroom, talking with my daughter. She's a little apprehensive, and though she says that she's worried that a clenched feeling in her gut is some kind of physical ailment, we think it's more likely that she's apprehensive about the start of school on Monday. Not that she dislikes it -- she's been looking forward to it for about a month -- but we've noted that any change, pleasant or not, takes her a little while to get used to. She asked my wife if she would call for a medical exam, and my wife gave her a rational answer (they're closed now, only emergencies, and so forth), but after she left I went in to give her an emotional one, telling her that she might well be right, and it was a good thing for her to tell us; if it continues, we'll definitely want to have that medical exam scheduled. Which comforted her, which was what I wanted.

I did some more reading in Team of Rivals this evening. Its really fascinating. Like a lot of people, I grew up with the standard facts of history (Lincoln was a better speaker than Douglas, slavery was a big question, Seward had something to do with Alaska, I think). What this book gives me that I haven't had before is the sense of this being real; these weren't people reading scripts, their actions foreordained; these were serious, major questions being debated by real people who were as interested in their careers and how to advance them as they were about the questions themselves. This wasn't abstract to them; it was their lives. They kept a wary eye on each other, doing an elegant dance to and fro, sometimes in concert, sometimes in opposition. The questions of the day were opportunities for demagoguery, but also for statesmenship. They were fascinated and consumed by those questions, and I'm beginning to see why.

Lincoln's story about Ethan Allen and the English outhouse was pretty good, too. Don't recall hearing that one in school.

Muslim Conversation

From the Christian Science Monitor, an intruiging article about a conversation between a liberal Muslim and one of more conservative bent.

Two Things

First -- I mentioned Feed Demon the other day. I've started using it again, and even did an upgrade to the latest version. Its really quite good. The interface is pretty easy to use (not completely intuitive, but not at all bad, and some of the features are surprisingly useful -- I'm talking about things that would not have occurred to me to add, were I designing it) and it works seamlessly with my web browser, so that I can view things inside the product or in the browser. It's worth checking out.

Second -- Here is our version of a well-known Raffi song --

It's mine, so you can't have some
With you I will not share it
Cause if I shared it with you
Then I'd have less!

My daughter was walking around the house, singing that this morning....

Friday, August 25, 2006

Hi, Jack

Hijack This is a free download that runs a very quick analysis of your computer system and tells you whats loaded and running. The problem is that the output can be tough to read. To make a first cut into good/bad/unknown, this site is pretty useful. This one is also good.

Waiting for the Technology

This afternoon, as I was coming back from my physical therapy session (incidentally, it is apparently a bad idea to tell a therapist that you would like some exercises to address things you can't do yet; they seem to take it as a challenge, and you will be very sore afterwards, and for quite a while, too), I was thinking about how I'm interested in a couple of areas such as artificial intelligence, electronic health records, and the like, but I rarely get the time to read up on them. Part of that lack of time is due to my StumbleUpon fixation, which has prevented me from using the excellent services of FeedDemon, the newsgroup aggregator, but part is because I really don't have the time to hunt this stuff down, let alone to listen to or read it.

Well, I thought, that sounds like a podcast question. So, when I got home, I did a search for 'podcast directory', and sure enough there are several services that say that they will point you to podcasts of interest. Turns out that the pickings for, say, CPOE (computerized physician order entry) are pretty slim (the first was from the Society for Critical Care Medicine, and while they sound like an intelligent group, they're clearly not targeting me in their podcasts, most of which have to do with, what a surprise, Critical Care, and only incidentally things like electronic tools for practice management).

But then I found the Yahoo Podcasts portal, and that looked pretty good. So I downloaded one podcast (still have to figure out how to get it into the iPod, and yes, I know you don't need an iPod to listen to it). Elated, I selected another -- and it started to play. No, dammit, I said, I pressed Download, not Listen. So I did it again, and then to another. Same result.

Technology's not quite ripe, I think.


Here's an example of the kind of programming that I'd like to do, and which I think I actually have the ability to do. Following through is the problem.

The local supermarket rearranged things in the store. They produced very broad statements of where things were moved to (though sometimes they moved more than once, in a massive game of checkers), and supplied printed sheets. Okay, fine. We have a spreadsheet showing what we buy, and where it is. This lets us go through the store pretty quickly. Our sheet is much more detailed than was theirs, but okay.

What would have been helpful would be an application on the store's web site (actually, the parent company), where you give it a product name or type, and it tells you where it is. What would be even better would be the ability to have the app download the items and locations to your PC. Instant shopping list.

How hard would that be?

Thursday, August 24, 2006

School Funding

I don't give much money to charities, but even I know that there are hundreds and thousands of worthy ones.

I Love Schools looks like one of them.

They're focused on private donations to under-funded schools. The requests range from money for arts supplies to used video players. But be warned --they play dirty. They have actual smiling kids in some of the pictures-- the kind where you just want to whip out your wallet and give them whatever you find in there. Like this one...

Take a look...

Photo Tourism

Though it is customary to bash Microsoft, in fact they do a great deal of fascinating work, either directly or in concert with others -- which this site, from the University of Washington, amply illustrates.

In a nutshell, the site demonstrates a process whereby multiple different images of a given object -- in their examples, the Trevi Fountain and the Cathedral of Notre Dame -- have a mathematical model built which segments each image into layers -- here's the background, here's the major focus, here's whats in front of the major focus. Then, the images are linked so that they all have the same focal point (obviously, this won't work if picture A is from the front of the cathedral and picture B is from the back they've got to have common features). A representative three dimensional model is drawn showing the key points that exist in all pictures, and you use that model to select a feature -- say, the main doors of the cathedral. The relevant portions of the pictures that show that area are retrieved and displayed.

The concept is simultaneously one that sounds absurdly simple and one that demonstrates an ingenious approach which, I think, likely has applications far beyond what's shown. I'm not bright enough to suggest what those applications might be, but I'd bet serious money on them. Tied in with image recognition, this could be awesome.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

New York Images

Shelter Island:

Raphael Winery

Pindar Winery

The Clan



I like to learn and to think about things that have nothing to do with what I actually do for a living. I think this is a form of fantasy, though when compared to others which involve whips, fast cars, and the manipulation of the federal deficit, it's probably harmless.

The way that I do it is this: once I find an area that I like, I read everything that I come across on the subject, to whatever depth I can understand, and for however long I can stand.

I still think that there must be a better way, but the only one that comes to mind is going to school, and that starts at too basic a level (they want you to have all the basic knowledge before moving on), takes way too long (years, when all I want is a good understanding) , and way too much committment of time and money.

I want knowledge, not a degree.


"Every one should believe in something. I believe I'll have another beer." - - old joke

I was just doing some random web-page jumping and came upon this comment at the Institute for Humanist Studies site, here:

Several weeks ago, a ground-breaking study on religious belief and social well-being was published in the Journal of Religion & Society. Comparing 18 prosperous democracies from the U.S. to New Zealand, author Gregory S Paul quietly demolished the myth that faith strengthens society.

I found the comment hard to believe. Not to say that its wrong; I just found it hard to believe -- as hard to believe as the comments I've seen holding that there is not and will not be any fuel shortage; holding that Mel Gibson is right in holding that Israel is the source of all iniquity; holding that there was no airliner impact at the Pentagon, and that at least one of the twin towers was brought down by previously stored explosives. Many of these observations were on sites where the writing is cogent and the layout serene; they are not, in other words, obviously wild-eyed fanatics. But as soon as I hit a phrase that I don't agree with, I find myself hitting the button to go someplace else. I don't hang around to let them try and convince me, because obviously they're wrong in what they hold.

Which raises the question: am I simply dense/incorrigible, or are these people talking to just to the true believers and those on the periphery of that condition? Why, if they use reasoned words and mellow methods, don't they convince me, or at least raise the specter of doubt in my mind?


Say what you will about silk neckties, satin bustiers, and the pleasures of four-hundred-thread- count sheets, there are few concepts more immediately seductive than this one: retirement. This past weekend, while I was visiting relatives (who gathered in gratifying numbers to meet my mother), one of them told me that he was planning to do so within the next six months. He did not, he hurried to add, mean this to say that he would be 'sitting on his duff' now, but fully expected to get another job shortly thereafter; nevertheless, he was going to retire.

This concept charmed me, even as my wife told him, correctly, 'you have no idea how my husband envies you at this moment'.

I retired once, around the turn of the century, when the company that I had worked at for twenty-plus years offered a generous early retirement package (and how pleased I am that the pension portions of that are still available, given the dismal performance of the stock market immediately thereafter). I took a year off, during which I spent a goodly amount of time with my mother's hospitalization, with exercising at a local gym, and with the renovation of our kitchen (overseeing, not doing: my home handyman skills are minimal). Nevertheless, I was retired, with no especial requirements laid upon me, and I liked it. I look forward with great anticipation to doing it again.

The trip was to Long Island, an extension of New York City (I'm never quite sure, but I don't think it's a legal portion of the city; simply an emotional one, heavily stocked with exurbanites living the American Dream -- and given all of the greenery, not seen in the city except for carefully maintained enclaves such as Central Park, I think that an apt description). We were only there for three days, but we saw all but two of my cousins (one has been missing and presumably living a life of crime, or close to it, for decades; the other dropped into invisibility on the abrupt death of his wife), as well as one distant cousin and my father's brother and his wife. And we took the time to drive to the far north end of the island, which is their wine region, picking up some ice wine on the way, and getting stuck in vacation traffic; apparently we were the only ones who did not know that Monday is when the vacation traffic returns from the Hamptons.

It was fun. And that seductive siren song still whispers in my mind.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Padded Sell

This is America, land of the free. Mostly free.

We're right next door to Canada, a nifty country with the right attitude about climate.

We're plugged into the world wide web, home of limitless shopping opportunities.

So why can't I find good quality padded dining table placemats anywhere?

You've Gotta Have....

This is an elegant, charming, and informative display of how the heart functions, done by an organization at the University of Utah called Knowledge Weavers. It looks simple, and perhaps it was to do, but I've never seen better.

Good? Goodness!

It is always a bit of a surprise to me when someone who is reknowned for doing something in the artistic line actually is recognizably good at it.

If you told me that someone was a reknowned cabinet maker, I'd expect elegant design, smooth functioning, and fine woods; if you told me someone was a wizard at Microsoft Excel, I'd expect that they knew many interesting and useful tricks and shortcuts in their use of the product.

But if you told me that someone was an excellent violinist, I'd be surprised if I listened to them play and actively wanted more. If you told me that someone was an excellent actor, I'd be surprised if I watched them perform and thought that they were, in fact, pretty good.

I think it's because so much of artistic endeavour is interpretation, not easily quantifiable, so that when it comes to me, who might not relish or savor the interpretation, all thats left is the actual product -- and I might find it dry. I don't know how often I've heard that a particular author is very good, gone to read their stuff, and thought 'well, I suppose this is good for some folks, but I don't like it'. Guess I'm just hard to please.

Which is why it comes as a surprise to realize how much I'm enjoying Team of Rivals. Guess Doris really *is* good.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

It's Not There

Really. It's not there. Where? Here.


I like the images I found at the David Vasiljevic site. They've got an unusual texture.

Morning Notes

It's about a quarter after seven now, Wednesday morning. I got up very early this morning -- I had difficulty sleeping last night for some reason -- and did a little bit of reading. I just read the introduction and the first couple of pages of Team of Rivals, and so far it's not bad. I didn't know that Lincoln played handball!

I also made breakfast this morning. Making breakfast is something I enjoy doing -- it doesn't take a lot of talent, it doesn't take a lot of effort, but it's almost universally appreciated. I say almost because sometimes my daughter will come out and look at my offering, then indicate that she really would have preferred to have something else. This morning I made French toast, which I had made yesterday, but this time I remembered to put butter in the pan prior to cooking, which usually results in a softer piece of bread that is better able to accept the butter and syrup. As it happened, we also had a shaker out with cinnamon sugar on it, so that made it pretty good too.

We're going to have a fair amount of work done on the house in the next six months. We need to have some electrical work done -- replacement of an outside socket, and having someone look at our circuit breaker box -- and we want to have the air-conditioning output in our kitchen improved. Because of the orientation of the house, on hot summer days, it becomes a fairly warm room. We're also thinking of having some work done outside -- I would like to replace the grass in front of the house with something that is thicker and more foot friendly -- and we want to have some damage control done on the weeds in the back, which are getting out of control. We're also thinking of having my daughter's room painted, although that's probably something will do ourselves, as we can. We're not sure when that will be.

Just did some two-handed stretches -- grab my left hand in my right, reached down and then up, and almost over my head. Felt good.

It's a little bit later now. I had had the whole house fan on to draw in some of the cool outside air, and after breakfast I suggested that we go for a walk. We live in a development, which means that there isn't a lot of pretty nature to look at, but the walk is pleasant nonetheless. Plus we get the chance to just talk, which is very important to me. My wife observed years ago that if I don't get the chance to just talk with her, just casual talk, nothing special, I get grumpy. She's absolutely correct.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Making Baking

I like to bake. I don't do it all that often, but its fun when I do. And I like to read recipes for baking. Ah, blueberry muffins, lets read that. Cappuccino cupcakes, you bet. Sourdough bread, its calling me.

So when I just saw a recipe for 'chocolate cake to die for', I had to read it, despite having two or three perfectly delightful, not to mention easy, recipes. But when I saw that the first two ingredients were a) a box of devils food cake mix and b) a box of pudding mix, I moved on.

Cause in my mind, thats not baking, thats mixing.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Good Healer

That was the surgeon's comment today, right after he informed me that the head of the humerus had been split into four fragments that would never have fused. Also, he said I don't have to wear the immobilizer any more. Or a sling, for that matter -- he wants me to use the arm as much as I can. Which, given that it's pretty weak, is a good idea.

I finished reading Chasing Daylight. It was okay. Now I'm going to start Team of Rivals. Wish that I could tear out chapters and read them one at a time. I may need a wrist brace from the weight of this tome. Yet its something that I want to read.I like this stuff.

An observation: Night tables are too small. I can never see the time on the clock unless I get partially up. Books and magazines are occasionally in danger of falling, as are any liquid-filled glasses. I know, problems of the idle rich.

But I am a good healer.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Stray Items

I'm sitting in the dining room leafing through the paper with a warm something on my shoulder. I'm not exactly sure how to describe it; it's kind of a large packet with aromatic things inside that you microwave until it's warm, and then put where it best suits you. I'm not sure that it is doing me all that much good; however, it does smell nice.

I wonder if we're going to see restrictions on flights coming from, and going to the Middle East, along the lines of what I understand happens when you are boarding an El Al flight, such that you essentially get a biography interview before they let you in the boarding area. And I wonder if we're going to see profiling, which says, if you match the kind of person who's been involved in terroristic activities, we're either not going to let you on the flight, period, or we're going to charge you more and keep you under some kind of restriction during the flight. And, is it possible it will come to a point where trans-Atlantic flight is reserved for the wealthy? Now there's a sick joke waiting to happen: a plane full of lawyers over the North Atlantic gets blown up...

Is it possible to have a system for the community to alert law enforcement of evildoers without having it be a vehicle for vigilantes and vendettas?

An article in today's New York Times business section says that plumbing fixtures supplier Moen evaluated the use of their new shower heads by actually filming people taking showers. The problem, they said was not getting people to let them do it; the problem was keeping the camera lens from fogging up. From the steam, one assumes.

I want a single headset that I can plug into the phone, and pleas for, and into my PC for dictation. Dual noise canceling earpieces a plus.

Telephones: There's an old joke about the elderly man who finally had a telephone put in his house. A visitor heard it ringing. Aren't you going to get that? he asked. No, the man replied. I had that thing put in for my convenience. In Robert Heinlein's classic novel, Stranger in a Strange Land, he has a switch that turns off the phones for the house, and the television is kept in the basement, only rolled out when needed. I think both are good ideas.

For any idea, you can always find an expert who thinks it's wonderful and a critic who thinks it's abysmal.


Today was supposed to be a quiet, peaceful day, but it doesn't seem to be working out that way.

It started out yesterday evening, when my wife was adding an entry into Quicken. Our copy of Quicken is about 14 years old. We had looked into upgrading the version of Quicken about three years ago, but it didn't work out very well. I was grossed out by the relentless self advertising that the product did. So we've been continuing to use the 14-year-old copy, and it's been working just fine. Until last night, when we apparently went over a threshold for the number of entries the product could have. Now the only way we can add new entries, what fun, is to delete old ones. I did some web searching, and on the site where I found the VLC software that I mentioned earlier, I found a reference to a product called Moneydance, a $30 Quicken clone. Unfortunately it doesn't have some basic capabilities that I really want, such as the ability to print a report, or to have standard recurring transactions. And it turns out that in order to use it to read in Quicken records, you need to have records in the Quicken Interchange Format -- which we didn't have. I thought that perhaps that benighted copy of Quicken 2003 might have it, so I took it down. opened that little jewel case -- and the CD promptly snapped in half. I did find a backwards way of creating the interchange format file, so we can get records out (the export function broke a couple of years ago; we're not sure why) -- but I'm not sure where we go from here.

Both of us had to get up early today -- my wife earlier and longer than me. She was supporting a system refresh that started at two o'clock in the morning, and I was supporting a product test at 430 in the morning. My plan to watch a couple of movies on the CD player did work out, for which I'm grateful. For one thing, I got to see the beginning of the Sopranos. I understand now why people are fascinated by it -- but I was quite put off by the amoral character of Tony Soprano, and the casual violence space (in one scene, he is grinning and laughing as he chases a man with a car, then gets out and kicks the guy bloody) I stopped watching it. I also watched part of Prime Suspect, a British detective series with a very gritty feel. I like to -- especially the character played by Helen Mirren -- but for casual watching on a Sunday morning, it wasn't quite the thing. I had a third CD, U-571, but I want to watch, but by then the battery on the laptop was starting to die. (We do have a fairly strong secondary battery, but it goes in the slot where the CD player also goes. Choose one or the other...).

After the battery died, I went to lever myself out of bed to go plug the PC back in to charge, favoring my shoulder just a bit -- and slid off the bed to the floor with a soft thump. I rolled over, using only one hand to lift myself (can't put any weight on the bad arm yet)-- and promptly got a Charlie horse in the leg that the laptop had been sitting propped up on. After I got myself up, I thought that perhaps I'd do a couple of stretching exercises -- and went from stiff to aching without any noticeable relief of the tension in my shoulder.

Oh, and the thing that I got up to support didn't work. Not my problem, not my fault -- but I'm still up three hours early. At least my wife's supported project just ended for the day, about an hour early. Let's hope things get better. So far, this Sunday feels like Monday.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Slick VLC

So I tried to play a DVD in my laptop's DVD-compatible player. No go -- got snarky messages about needing a DVD decoder. Bought Roxio Sonic. No go -- got snarky message about copyright configuration failure. Found a web site recommending a free video (and other) player from VideoLan.


War and Politics

I think this says it well.

Friday, August 11, 2006


Few things are more irritating than wanting to jot a quick note to somebody on their blog space or in this case Journal Space -- and have the system refuse to accept the verification word. Tried three times, no luck.Maybe I'm going blind.

Sorry, Class Factotum. No comments today, apparently.

B&N Buyin

This evening I did something that I don't believe I've ever done before. I bought myself a very expensive book ... and I did it using a gift card.

Whenever I go to a bookstore, the rule of thumb is that I only buy inexpensive books. Even if I see a book that I really want, the best that I'm willing to do is to write down the title and put it in my database of books thatI'm going to read.. someday. I've gone to the store a couple of times since receiving the very generous gift card, but each time I bypassed books thinking well, I'll look at a different one. Or well that's nice but it's not really what I want. When what I was really saying was, I don't want to spend the money. Only this time, I could!

Which is why on the counter in our kitchen, dominating almost everything else by its sheer size, is our brand-new copy of Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns book about Lincoln and his cabinet. It's a little intimidating -- OK, it's a lot intimidating, because it's so big -- but I'm given to understand that it's very well written, and very insightful.

And I get to read it for free.

Pikes (2)

I still feel that way. But I want to remember this, too -- from one of the news articles:

The suspects were caught after the Pakistanis nabbed some of the would-be bombers and alerted Scotland Yard that the other conspirators were about to do a practice run, with the attack to occur days later.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


So yet more maniacs have emerged to try and destroy the social order -- this time using liquid explosives on airplanes.

Tell me again why barbaric execution of vile criminals is no longer practiced in civilized countries. I'm thinking heads-on-pikes would be a good thing.

Three Months

After I broke my arm, one of the recurring feelings that I had was "why me." I told my wife that I felt really stupid for having done it, and she told me to keep in mind that accidents happen. I acknowledged that they did occur, but not to me. I felt stupid, and more than little offended. This was not what I was planning for my life. Not that I'm a particularly organized or focused individual -- but having to spend several months getting my arm to work didn't sound like something that I particularly wanted to be doing.

This afternoon, while I was wandering around the house looking for something to read, I looked at the shelf where I keep books that I've been meaning to read, and haven't quite gotten around to. Sometimes they're ones that sounded interesting in the bookstore, and then didn't sound so great when I was at home. Some are books that I'd started to read, got mostly through, and then gave up on. And then there are the ones that I had put there and simply forgotten about. One of those was Chasing Daylight.

Chasing Daylight is the story of the last three months in the life of Eugène O'Kelly, who learned that he had multiple metastased tumours in his brain. He had three months -- perhaps -- to live. People die from horrific diseases all the time, but dying people don't often write a lucid book about what it's like to contemplate your life -- doing so in a way that paradoxically makes your death the best, most fulfilling part of your life.

I do not claim this level of insight for my accident. But this man's insight makes me think about how I react to things that happen in my life. It's well-written, and worth reading.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Rude Cartoon

This is a rude cartoon. I like it.


One of the things that I'm interested in is a concept known as Latent Semantic Analysis. In very general terms (which is the level at which I understand it), latent semantic analysis is the process of analyzing a block of text by deconstructing it. You look at the words in a text, and analyze where they are and where they are in relation to other words. Since I don't get the chance to read about this very much, and when I do what I read is way above my head, I set up an alert in the Google search engine, so that when the phrase latent semantic analysis comes up, it will tell me about it. Basically, I'm looking for lightweight, easily-digestible references to the concept.

I received this alert this morning.

O. M. G. ..I haven't seen so many Greek characters since I went to the cultural festival at the local Greek Orthodox Church.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Arm Swinging

A little bit ago, I was standing in the hall talking with my daughter. I had just been doing some arm exercises, and while we were talking, I stood there, rocking back and forth, letting my arm swing to and fro. The name for this exercise is the Codman Pendulum, and it's one of the ones that I've learned at physical therapy. In point of fact, I knew about it before the surgery -- it was something I read about in my hunt for knowledge. I don't understand the physiology of it, but the impression I get is that you want to exercise (and perhaps stretch, if that's accurate) the connecting tissue of the arm/shoulder without actually making the arm support and move itself. Kind of a gentle stress, you might say.

Anyway, there I was, partially hunched over, swinging my arm back and forth while I talked to my daughter. She knew what I was doing, but she still looked at me quizzically. I told her this was my Quasimodo impression, or possibly Igor from the old horror movies. Somehow that segued naturally into a discussion of hand movements, and I told her about the hand movement that black guys used to use in the 60s and 70s, which was called "five on the black hand side". We went through a couple of minutes of white daps, which is the fumbling attempts to be smooth and cool by somebody who is neither, and then she showed me a variation of it, which results in the two people being shoulder to shoulder -- her right shoulder to my left shoulder for example. Kind of interesting.

But the big news is I was able to passively raise my left arm up above my head for the first time. I had hooked up the pulley system over one of the doors. The idea is that my weak arm simply hangs on, while the other arm pulls up and down. Last night, when I did it, I could barely get it up to my shoulder. Today, at work, I was doing the stretches at noontime, and I used my right arm to lift my left -- and I was able to get it almost up to my head. It occurred to me that the exercise might have made me more limber, in a sense, and therefore I tried it tonight. After I did the exercises, I hooked up the pulley, and I gave it a try. I was only able to do it twice, but I did it. I'm pretty pleased.

I'll try this tomorrow, at the actual physical therapy session. And I'll be sure to bring some Advil.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Comments and Observations

Warning: navel gazing ahead.

Yesterday I wrote a post, which started out talking about an e-mail that I'd received from an acquaintance who's a doctor out in Los Angeles. I went on at some length, talking about how I really enjoyed hearing from her, and wondering why I enjoy hearing from her. My conclusion was that it was because she's a bright person, and I like hearing from bright people. For some reason, it's important to me to know bright people. Somehow, it validates me. Not sure why. After a while, I realized that I was uncomfortable with the public display of wimpiness in that part of the post, so I took it off.

I think that everybody gets a sense of validation from other people and from their environment. I don't think there's anything wrong with that. It would be nice if we could all self- validate (is that a word?), but I don't think we can. I think that this need for external validation explains a great deal of why we have "celebrity endorsements". So maybe she's my celebrity endorsement? I'm worthwhile, because I eat the same cereal that Brad Pitt does, I'm sexy, because I drive the same kind of car that a good-looking guy in an ad does, and I'm smart, because a smart person deigns to talk to me?

Not at all sure, but one of these days I'll figure it out.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

News articles

An article in today's paper mentioned is that there is a bill in front of the House of Representatives which would increase the ability of the president to mobilize and use National Guard troops in case of natural disasters or other emergencies. Prior to the current president, I would've thought sure, good idea, why not. Given the attitudes demonstrated by the current inhabitant of the White House, which are more those of Louis XVI than any democratically elected president, and his willingness to simply ignore any law he doesn't particularly like, I am not at all in favor of this. To my mind, the National Guard is for the protection of this nation, not others and these states, not others. It should come as no surprise that I didn't agree with the use of the Coast Guard to protect the coast of South Vietnam, back when -- and you see had much impact my opinion had then.

Every so often I find myself thinking that perhaps, just perhaps, I really am growing up, possibly getting some maturity after all. In this case, I had read an article about how the special and unique needs of boys are not getting sufficient attention in school. Well, fine, I thought, go ahead and give them specific attention. But sure as God made little green apples,you know there'll be an article in about a year to two years saying exactly the same thing about girls -- that they have unique requirements that are not being met by the educational system, and why aren't we paying attention to that? I'm no more insightful than most people, but I have to admit to a certain frisson of pleasure when I realized that this cycle of rediscovery exists. Similarly, an article in today's New York Times about how the linguistic style of Iranians lends itself to a sort of diplomatic jujitsu made me realize that I've seen this concept before-- here we are, once again, outfoxed by the wily (filling the national identifier) and their habit/ability/cultural mores that are simply inexplicable to us plain folks. Once again, we're stuck in the mud, while the others dance nimbly around us. This probably is true, but you know what? I think that given the choice of being us or them, most times, I'll still choose being us. Because I don't think any nation -- with the possible exception of Switzerland -- has moral superiority or excessive nimbleness relative to any other. We've all got advantages; we've all got impediments.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Salsa, Searching, and Stuff

One of the characters in the television show the West Wing liked to say after coming out of a meeting that he didn't particularly enjoy "well, there's X minutes of my life I'll never get back." He didn't say it all the time, but often enough so that it became a recognizable tag phrase. I just spent about 40 minutes trying to find a way to order some salsa. I was also looking to buy a seat cushion for a wooden chair that we use at the desk in the room we call the library, and I wanted to buy a clock to hang on the wall in the bathroom. So there's mine - 40 minutes of my life that I'll never get back.

Despite the best efforts of Google, Amazon, Yahoo, and several other search engines, I struck out on every single one. It wasn't an entire strikeout -- I did find a recipe for pineapple salsa, which I'm going to try -- but I really wanted to buy the Goldwater's salsa that I've bought before, and which I like. Several stores say that they sell it, and they do -- it's just that they don't sell it sell it-- rather, they sell it as a way to get you to buy other things, or in conjunction with other things that you might not particularly want. For example, one store sold it as part of a pack that included tortilla chips. I didn't want tortilla chips -- there are some perfectly fine ones locally. Another was willing to sell me the pineapple salsa, but only if I ordered it with tomatillo salsa, which I didn't particularly want. A third was willing to sell me a three pack of the pineapple salsa - they were even willing to do it at a discount, they said. The total would have been $30, which is somewhat pricey, but hey, I like this stuff. I had just hauled out the credit card number and and started to read when I noticed that the cost for shipping was another $12. Forget that. Don't tell me it's a discount, and then charge me 30% shipping.

On the other two, I gave up after a couple of desultory searches. At least I got the salsa recipe. Wonder if I can figure out how to make a cushion and build a clock?

Police State?

I know others have said it before. I also know that some, perhaps most of the people who have said it are some variant of wild eyed radicals.

But I don't think these guys are.


Last night, I shivered.

I mentioned once that I like a cool house, and in a fit of hyperbole I said that some times I wake up shivering. Last night that actually happened. It seems that the air-conditioning unit for our house, which we'd had retrofitted about five years ago, has a battery backup in the controls. The function of this battery is to make the thermostat work. If this battery dies, the thermostat dies -- and it might die in the "always -- on" position. When it gets chilly enough in the middle of the night for me to turn off the ceiling fan in our bedroom, it's cold. When it gets chilly enough in the middle of the night for my wife to go pop the breaker because the air conditioner doesn't seem to be shutting off, it's cold. How cold? This cold -- this morning the thermostat (once we changed the battery) said that it should switch on at 75° -- and that it was currently 64° inside the house - at a time when it was about 82° outside.

One of the side effects of our little frost experience was that I was up in the middle of the night. I got to put on a show -- even though there was nobody around to see. Ever since my first visit to the orthopedic surgeon I've worn some kind of shoulder immobilizer. The one that I got at that visit has a lot of soft padding, and I can put it on myself -- although it took a little bit of learning on how to do it. Velcro likes to stick to everything. But during the surgery, they put a much tighter one on me -- and this one fastens in back. It may be (and actually is) quite sexy to watch a woman take off a bra, but I assure you there was nothing sexy about watching me take off this thing. In fact, prior to last night I would have sworn that I just could not do it. But the combination of the cold, and the fact that this thing rubbed Velcro against my skin as I slept (necessarily) on my back, made me say this jewel is coming off -- and after about 15 minutes of wriggling, I got it off. I now understand, more than ever, the little sigh of relief that my wife sometimes gives, at such times.

I got a pleasant surprise the other day -- a card from some relatives commiserating with me. Enclosed was a gift card for one of the local chain bookstores. I was delighted to see that -- as was my daughter, who was under the impression that this was a family card and that therefore she'd be able to buy books with it too. I disabused her of that notion. So sometime today, I'm going to go through the list of books that I want to buy and get some. I have a database of books that I want to read because I discovered years ago that if I bought a book when I first saw it, it might be months before I actually got around to reading it -- at which time I'd find out that it was out in paperback. So now unless it's a compelling novel, I wait. As tomorrow is my birthday, the timing of the card is pretty fortuitous.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Expect Parades?

Just days after Cuban dictator Fidel Castro required emergency surgery to treat severe internal bleeding, the Bush administration seized the opportunity to send a message directly to the Cuban people.Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice tonight broadcast a message to the communist island, calling on it to pursue democracy and promising American support in doing so.

"All Cubans who desire peaceful democratic change can count on the support of the United States," she said. "We encourage the Cuban people to work at home for positive change, and we stand ready to provide you with humanitarian assistance, as you begin to chart a new course for your country."

Oh, by all means, move right in... after all, we've done so well with that approach in Iraq....

Organizational tedium

As I plowed through the e-mails that have piled up in my absence, the thing that kept striking me is "don't these people have a life?". I continue to be amazed at the things a large company finds to keep itself tied up in knots. Nobody just does things. Instead they follow processes, observe guidelines, send coordinating e-mails, do documentation, and all the things that you can do when you're not actually doing something.

I know that to them this is Very Serious Stuff. I do know that. I just don't believe in it.

Someday, I'll grow up.

Got Grass?

Our grass is not particularly lush. I don't know what the buzzwords are that landscaper folks like to use, but when you walk across it, its probably a good idea to have shoes on. Except in one spot. A couple of years ago, we had a mini tornado come through the area. Itcompletely uprooted a fairly tall evergreen we had in back -- a blue spruce, as it happens leaving a roughly circular and fairly barren spot. My wife got some grass seed and put it down there. When you walk across that stuff, your toes want to curl up and hang onto it. I have no idea what kind of grass it is, but that's what I want in most of our backyard. Realistically, we probably won't do that. It would be way expensive to have all of that grass taken out and had a new plantings put down. I like the grass, but I don't like it that much. So we're probably going to do is picked a relatively small area say about 10 by 20 ft. and do it there.

Oh, and have somebody come out to spray for weeds. Man, there's a lot of them.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

post -- dinner

Well I just had an interesting conversation with my daughter.

She had been in a bit of a snit during dinner -- we're not exactly sure why, but we were letting her be, and after a bit she started talking to me about a book she was reading. She's a little bit into art, and one of the main characters in the book is an artist. So I asked her some questions from the book -- how she felt as an artist about some things it said . And we just kind of went along that way. When we were done, she said she'd enjoyed the conversation. And I had, too.

I'm in a fairly good mood at the moment. I did a little bit more stretching exercises, and that felt good. I know that I'm weeks away before any kind of functionality at all, other than the most basic gripping and holding that I can do with my hand (without putting any strain at all on my arm). But that doesn't really matter -- because I feel like I'm starting to make progress, and progress is very important to me.

Although this past week hasn't been a vacation, in a way it has -- I haven't done anything with work. So I signed on to e-mail and looked. My oh my oh my -- about 110 e-mails sitting there waiting to be read, about a third of which actually meant something to me. My company likes to send e-mails. To be honest, about half of those that don't mean a thing to me, should mean something to me -- it's just that I really, really don't care about that stuff. So once again, I'm thinking -- maybe I should just quit. Someday I will. Not yet though. For one thing, these guys are paying for my therapy, and I kind of doubt they wouldif I quit. Not to mention I'm going to have to navigate the sea of bills back and forth between the hospital and the insurance company, and I think that being still employed is going to help that process, too. I can't wait to see what the basic charge for the surgeons time is. When my mother had had surgery a few years ago, one of the things I learned was to never, never pay the bill when it first shows up. For example, the very first bill for one of her surgeries was something on the order of $19,000, we can take a check. After it bounced back and forth between the hospital and the insurance company for while, it became something like $150.

Ah, the wonders of the American medical system.

Piercing Observation

As it turns out, I have body piercings. About eight of them, so far as I can see – nice shiny little staples on my shoulder. As part of the therapy this morning, the fellow peeled off the big honkin' bandage and replaced it with a little honkin' bandage. I looked down with a certain amount of trepidation, but it's actually not gross looking. Not the sort of thing you want to look at routinely though, either.

The therapy went pretty well. He showed me a couple of different exercises, and basically said, we'll take it slow and see how it goes. The plan is that I will do this three times a week for the next 20 weeks. I've got an appointment in about two weeks to see the surgeon, and at that point, we'll see if things should be accelerated. I'm not going to push it, but I have to admit that so far this is moderately encouraging.

Once again, I'm amazed, amused, and perplexed by cellular telephones. It's hardly an original observation, but it does appear that the people who sell these things have a vested interest in making it difficult to see what they offer and how much you'll pay for it if you select it. I have simple needs. I don't want a camera. I don't want a Web browser. I don't want memo capability. I do want a speakerphone. Is that too much to ask? The answer is unfortunately obvious.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


I am not, I protest, a romantic guy, but The Nervous Breakdown grabbed me.

Not Bionic

I'm back.

I was hoping that as a result of this surgery, I would end up with a left arm that could crush a Volkswagen. Right now, I feel like I have one that might be able to crush a Twinkie.

The surgery actually lasted about two hours. It's an interesting experience to be lying there, listening to them talking about parking in the doctors' parking lot, and how come the PA gets to park there and there isn't enough room for the doctors? Gee, I think, people, focus.

I learned a couple of things from my stay.

One thing is, don't ever have a hip replacement, unless you are into pain. The fellow with whom I shared a room overnight (yes, I got to stay, and what a joy that was) had one done, and just watching him try to walk caused me to wince a lot.

Another is that nurses vary widely in personality, that most of them work very hard, that RN doesn't necessarily mean smart and LPN doesn't necessarily mean dumb, and that some of each of them are in the wrong profession. I did make a point of telling their "guest relations" director of four with whom I was particularly impressed. I'll probably send pizza, if I can figure out how to keep the bad ones from getting any.

BIG honkin' bandage on my left shoulder. Very little pain, for which I'm grateful -- though there is the sense that if I'm not careful, I'll find it. From what the physical therapist said to me this morning, my shoulder is very fragile at the moment. The phrase he used, which he said he learned while training, was that the sewing of ligaments is like sewing Jell-O - only not so strong. It will get better, but I have to be careful, give it time, and do the physical therapy religiously. First one tomorrow.

Got a bottle of Vicodin and a prescription for Percocet.