Monday, April 30, 2007


Day's winding down. A little on the stressful side. Nothing abnormal -- well, except for the dental stuff. The dealer forgot to give us the second set of keys, so my wife has to stop and pick them up on the way in tomorrow. She said she had no problem driving or accelerating, except for one odd one: when she was accelerating, there were no physical or audio cues to tell her that she was going faster, so she actually ended up going faster than she wanted. Not a big problem. In a day or so, I'll give it a spin.

No one's bought our old car yet. I thought the ad would get immediate results. Guess not.

Sorry for the light content.

Hemodynamic Insufficiency

I was just using StumbleUpon, and came on a page of Critical Care tutorials which included this:

If hemodynamic insufficiency is caused by vasoplegia (pathological vasodilation), fluid depletion or sequestration or low stroke volume, the initial intervention is usually to fluid load. If an acute ischemia event has occurred, revascularization by PTCA (angioplasty) or thrombolysis is indicated (1). If there is a significant amount of non functioning, stunned or hibernating myocardium, intra-aortic balloon counterpulsation may be utilized – perfusing the brain and coronary arteries in diastole (2). Norepinephrine may be used to raise diastolic blood pressure and thus improve coronary artery perfusion. If the patient is vasoplegic, following fluid resuscitation, a vasopressor such as dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine or phenylephrine is administered. If a potent inotrope is required, to improve cardiac contractility, dobutamine is the most effective drug. In patients with hypotension, cause unknown, epinephrine will re-establish a circulation, with the cost of perhaps worsening a lactic acidosis and reducing gut perfusion.

I don't really understand this -- its just a hobby -- but the parts that I understand, I really like. Because I love knowing things like this, and because treating the body as a series of interconnected systems whose performance can be measured, evaluated, and, if necessary, corrected -- just makes so much sense to me.

Oh, and what I think thats saying is, if blood pressure isn't high enough,you want to get blood in there, pronto, and you might have to physically open paths via a 'sewer snake' or drugs.

I think.

Dental Conversations

Yet another meeting with the dentist and staff. No real bad news, and some good news.

Good news first. He now thinks he can bump his overall price down another notch - not a big number, but any number greater than zero... - and he thinks that the work by the plastic surgeon might turn out to be be covered as well.

He does seem to be a little apprehensive about the grafting surgery, though, referring to it as 'fairly sophisticated' work. Funny, they didn't use that word anywhere in the cheerful literature in his waiting room. My impression is that he thinks it will work, and provide him with enough underlying bone to be able to do what he wants to do, but he's not positive of it. If it doesn't, the chances of success go way down.

So, we'll press on, and see what happens. I tell my wife that I always assumed I'd end up with dentures, and if thats the way it goes, so be it. Might end up with a hybrid -- implants on the sides, denture in the middle. I could live with that.

I just want to get it done.

Saturday, April 28, 2007


Its not quite official...but its pretty close. We did a timed acceleration test, and it just about matched what the minivan does, so that's okay. And the daughteroid's color guard pole, which we brought along, fit inside, no prob. The color is sandy -- I think the buzzword is 'Sandy Pearl' or somesuch. It does not have the electronic map, since neither of us was willing to pay about $1500 more for it, though that would have also gotten an upgraded stereo and some leather. It does have the backup camera, which my daughter likes -- in fact, she said that she totally thought we should get the car, period. We thought so, too, so we signed the papers saying that we intend to buy one. Had our bank been open now, we could have done the deal right then, and truth to tell, we could have transferred the funds electronically (Press one to spend more money than you should for a car you don't really, really need....), but we didn't want to do that. So, Monday night, we'll all troupe back there, take a deep breath, give them the big honkin' cheque, and hey, presto.... Then we've just got to sell the Buick, for which the ad starts Monday.


Mown Down

If you take a certain electric mower, and have at grass that is both thick and damp..... don't expect to be out there all that long.


Last night, I attended a celebratory dinner for the color guard in which my daughter participates. The event was quite nice, and the location was spectacular. More about that, later.

There were about a hundred fifty people fairly crammed into the room where the potluck dinner was being held. What a pot! The table with the 'real' food was about two feet wide and stretched for about thirty feet, solidly packed -- salads (including our delightful Strawberry Salad with feta cheese and slivered almonds; yum), tons of fried chicken, courtesy of the kitchen at WalMart (who knew they sold that stuff?) , cold cut trays, and four or five different kinds of meatballs, including some that were easily as good as ours (lacking only the cheese that we think makes ours special). That last is what I scarfed up on, making myself two meatball subs to go along with that salad. And, of course, desserts, the good news of which was that its dedicated table was ten feet from us, the bad news of which was that the girls found it very quickly. I didn't have any, but it was not for lack of trying.

They showed videos of the year, and various candids, while people ate, and afterwards they gave out awards. My daughter won 'Most Improved', which, given that she was working with the Junior Guard, the youngest, is sort of like kissing your sister, but it came with a teddy bear, so she was happy - and both my wife and I got a nice little giftie for helping out (I was quite surprised, as all I did was come once, but what the heck). And then, the speeches, about which I will just say the line that I repeated a couple of times on the way home: I love you guys! I love you guys!

Man, but teenage girls can get emotional. Crying and sobbing and gasping... Guys are different. Guys would have just gotten up there and said "Um..thanks. " And then muttered something obscene to the person standing next to them.

Though there was the one girl who said that when she first met the guard instructor, she seriously thought that there was something mentally wrong with her. That's a guyish comment. But by the end of the year, she said, she had three numbers on speed dial: her mother, her boyfriend, and that instructor.

And then there was.... the location. O. M. G.

The event was held in a meeting room of what we call the supermegachurchplex -- a huge building that we'd driven by several times, but never been into. It's owned by a local Evangelical Free Church which used to be in a relatively small building, and decided that they needed room to grow. Right now, they have enough room to grow for the next, oh, four hundred years. Its a massive rectangular building with a central core housing the church proper, and a series of function rooms around the outside, including three different food stations (including a complete kids cafeteria), classrooms, offices, a gymnasium, a large auditorium, a helipad...okay, no helipad. The walkway around the central core is about, oh, a quarter mile, maybe a bit less. All of it gleaming.

It is, if you're a church architect, to die for.

Oh, and this morning? Eyes popped open way too early.... so I DTBd. Again. It would be nice if I lost some weight, but what the heck. Its likely good for me, anyway.

Friday, April 27, 2007


" Vice President Cheney today lashed out at congressional Democrats for passing a war-funding bill that mandates troop withdrawals from Iraq, saying opponents of the four-year-old conflict are playing into the hands of the al-Qaeda ..."

Vice President Cheney today lashed out at congressional Democrats for passing a war-funding bill that mandates troop withdrawals from Iraq, saying opponents of the four-year-old conflict are thinking for themselves, which he finds quite irritating ..."

"Vice President Cheney today lashed out at congressional Democrats, demanding that the Congress be disbanded and set out into the fields to harvest crops along with the other dissident intellectuals ..."


I would just like to say that I deny any wrongdoing in this matter. Although I am sorry about what has occurred, and I am sorry that some people feel the way that they do, I continue to maintain that I have done nothing wrong. When all the relevant facts are fully disclosed, I believe my innocence will be clear. I fully believe that I can continue to be effective in this office, in which I am proud to serve. I have no plans to resign. Those who for political reasons have sought to damage my reputation, and that of a blameless young woman with whom my relationship has at no time been improper, must bear responsibility for the hurt they have caused to me and my family. It would be inappropriate for me to comment further this time, as I have been advised me not to discuss this matter further in public until the facts can be fully presented. But I believe that ultimately I will be fully vindicated. We will refute all of the disgraceful allegations about us that have been spread by the more irresponsible sectors of the media. Finally, I am most grateful for the love and support of my family at this difficult time. Thank you.


...from Language Log....

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Post Prandial Thoughts

I just finished reading Executive Orders, which turned out to be better than anticipated. As you might expect, the politicians in it certainly stood up well in comparison to our real ones -- in the book, they are almost uniformly bright, energetic, forthright, and, above all, honest. While not shrinking from danger or the application of violence, they are entirely pure of heart and noble of purpose. For a competing view, I recommend Mr. Stephanopolous' book, which portrays professional politicians in a much darker light, most interested in what benefits them and their party. Sporadically and on a recurring basis, interested in other things, and on rare occasion genuinely trying to improve the lot of the people as a whole, but for the most part, scheming, plotting, smiling while slipping the knife in. And these were the good guys -- the ones I voted for, and would vote for again.

It brings to mind the words of President Kennedy, when he said that we would bear any burden, fight any foe in the defense of liberty. I was moved by those words, and I would like to think that if I heard them now, I would be as moved -- but what I think would actually happen would be that I would try not to snicker as I listened, wondering what really would happen -- and suspecting that whatever happened, it would be much the same as what always happens -- bad people come to and stay in power, my government dithers, driven by politics and polls. Whats expedient in the short term always wins.

I don't know if I would actually like living in a world where the politicians were like those in this novel. No danger of me finding out any time soon, I suspect. Even if Obama got elected (he's most like those fictional pols, I think), he'd find it difficult to overcome. We like rhetoric about nobility. We just don't want to live that way.


Thor's Day. I'd imagine that around Valhalla, if the morning felt as sluggish as this one, people would learn to duck, pretty quick, when they saw the Thunder God staggering out for his morning coffee, his mighty war hammer dangling loosely from one muscled wrist. Whats this crap? he would roar if the morning brew wasn't to his liking, and start whirling that thing into a blinding shield of corruscating energy that could level a mountain, hurling lightning bolts that fused the silverware and sent the place settings flying -- and then flinching as Odin bellowed What the hell is going on out there? Is that you again, Thor? I thought I told you to leave that axe back in your room until after breakfast!

Not that life is so...exciting, here. I got up, DTB'd, and now I'm cooking breakfast. We did get a tiny bit of good news yesterday -- the medical coverage for the bone graft is going to be several thousand dollars (which gives you an idea just how staggering the total cost is). Every little bit helps.

And we're going to get the Prius. We're down to color and options. I'd like Red (preferably Candy Apple Red, but they don't have that) or Silver; my wife just wants a light color. And the options will be minimal. The only one I'd like that we likelly will not get will be the digital map, which isn't that big a deal for an around-town vehicle.

Just a second, Thor, let me get you a refill.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

US Constitution

I just found myself thinking about whether the Congress does actually have the authority to 'micromanage' the war, to use the White House's phrase, which lead me to wondering what the Constitution actually says. Turns out, what a surprise, a searchable and notated version is available -- here.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Cuppa Joe

I use a news aggregator called Feed Demon to scoop up sites that I like to look at on an irregular basis. (The ones I like to look at often are off to the left!) FD uses RSS, and some sites that I like don't have that. I tend to collect those into a folder and look at those sites periodically, but what I'd really like is a way to go open them all at once, every so often.

This freeware add for Firefox appears to do that.

Have the Body

I am not a supporter of the American Civil Liberties Union, as I believe they take too many liberties (pun intended) with the Constitution. I tend to disagree with their stances far more than I agree.

Which is why my delight in seeing this is sort of remarkable.


Here's something I occasionally wonder about:

How much can automation do for you, if you have to have a person in the loop?

For example:

In one of the Star Trek movies, the automated system reads off items, and the crewman responds - "Main stage flux chiller" "ON" "Auxiliary thrusters" "OFF"...and so on. I'd think that it wouldn't take too much before the crewman learns that when you hear the sounds 'Main stage flux chiller', the response is 'ON' -- to the point where the crewman could do it in his sleep. He's not really checking it any more.

How do you keep that interactive alive, so that the person really is validating the environment?

Sunday, April 22, 2007


I have known for quite some time that I am very, very fortunate in the person I married.

Tonight we talked about the total cost of the dental work I am going to have done, which is more than one hundred percent higher than my initial estimate, and even my revised estimate. It stunned me.

She said: Do it anyway -- you're worth it.

How can you possibly repay that kind of support?

Not Exactly Sun Tsu

After dinner tonight (Bean Bake with Corn Bread; yum), my wife and I talked a little about an article I had read in the Washington Post. They had accompanied General Petraeus on a helicopter tour of Baghdad while he looked at the city, looking for signs of life, and signs otherwise. At one point, he said that it might be that Iraq would have to learn, as did Northern Ireland, to live with the concept of occasional violence. I was surprised by the bluntness of that assessment. I am not a military person, or a historian, but I thought he might well have something there. It'd be nice to get to a peaceful society, but perhaps thats not in the cards.

I don't think that the plan to have the Iraqi prime minister orchestrate an integrated Iraqi ownership of the environment is going to work -- at least, not along the lines that Bush lays out -- because I don't believe that the people there give a fig for democracy as a concept. What they want, I believe, is to wake up in the morning and be pretty sure that they're going to make it to the end of the day; anything at a higher level is immaterial to their daily lives. If thats done by democracy, fine; if thats done by local tyrants, equally fine. I have a hunch that after so long in a society where it really, really matters what your religion is, and you trust people more on the degree of consanguinity than by anything else, people aren't going to respect the strictures of an arbitrary society. They're not going to wake up one morning and say well, democracy is a good idea, lets give it a try. They may think that it sounds good, but they don't really know it, and they do know that if they keep their local chief happy, to whom they're bound by tradition or blood or whatever, they're more likely to get to the end of the day. They may prefer it otherwise, but they're pragmatic. And all our posturing about the wonders of democracy aren't going to mean squat against that unless we can make it something that they actually want to do -- something that they're willing to die for. Frankly, thats a hell of a lot to ask.

And what of the culture that says its normal for people to amass private armies? People who have those armies have to be reckoned with, and they'd be tough to eliminate. A really strong central force -- shall we call it a dictator? -- could do that, though. It could make it unwise to visibly oppose the desires of the central force, and make that attitude stick. Can Maliki do that? Well, I'm not a political scientist, either, but I really doubt it. He certainly can't have the military force to do it. Whether he has the political force is another question. He's got to be very, very good about making deals, cutting ties and making new ones as the situation warrants. I think that given his own druthers, he'd end up with a network of loose groups , vague regions of power -- kind of like the idea of the Mafia and its structure. Is that desirable? Probably not -- but it works. And part of that might well be that every so often people wake up in the morning and find out that the guy who used to be the local warlord isn't, anymore, because last night he got blown up.

Its an awful way to live -- but its a way to live.

Cross Words

I like doing crosswords. It gives me the chance to show off my vocabulary. Lately, though, the words that come to mind when I do the one I'm used to -- in the Washington Post -- aren't actually in the puzzle, and indeed aren't in any crossword puzzle I've ever seen. That's because WaPo (as the cognoscienti refer to it) has switched from the New York Times crossword to something called the Crossynergy Crossword, and I don't think these guys are using real words. Well, I suppose thats a bit harsh -- they're all real -- its just that they're not words I tend to hear all that often.

For example: Front Wheel Alignment (5 letters). Now, to a mechanic, this'd be obvious -- but I had to get four of the five letters -- and then run through the alphabet, trying each one for the missing one -- until I got it: TOEIN. Or this: Window Alternative (5 letters). I thought Door, Shade,, no. AISLE. Oh, yeah. Of course, they DO have some classics -- Star Trek Communications Officer (5 letters) - - and some erudite ones -- One Of Chaucers Pilgrims (12 letters) -- that last one balanced nicely by "____ Men -- (Who Let The Dogs Out Band)" -- which, as it turned out, is not BAJA, but BAHA. But overall -- man! Where are they getting these things from?

And why don't I know them?

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Boor - E - toe...

Like many others, I've occasionally felt the yearning to have a decent burrito -- which is to say, one that isn't made by Taco Bell, Del Taco, or any of the other clones that infest the eastern and central parts of the United States. While there are places to get a good burrito, you have to take your chances, trying out a new place and seeing what shows up on your plate when you order.

Now, if our town had one of these, burrito angst would be history.

All fall...

I've always admired the collective work of architects and engineers. While much of what they do is pedestrian, it is, literally, integral to the functioning of our society. We expect that airplane wings will stay attached in turbulence, that automobiles won't blow up if hit, that ocean liners won't sink in high seas, that buildings won't fall down in a storm.

This article is about an engineer who found that his design for a massive New York skyscaper was faulty, to the point that in a strong hurricane -- one that might be expected once every seventeen years -- the building could experience what engineers call a 'failure' -- and what non-engineers call a catastrophe. It could, in fact, collapse.

The article is a bit technical, but fascinating nonetheless, and a practical demonstration of ethical and professional behavior.


Todays the day I was planning to spend time at the area Democratic club, listening to a presentation for prospective candidates and workers. I actually got to the clubhouse, and even went in, but I didn't hang around. I have reasons (it's a pretty day, why spend it inside; I have mowing to do; I wanted to bake something as a welcome gift for new neighbors; I didn't like that there was no free parking; apparently they really did mean to RSVP, because they had name tags; I wasn't sure how they'd like the answer if they asked if I was a registered Democrat), but the key truth is, I wimped out.

I've been reading people's columns and articles about the Virginia Tech calamity. Even ignoring the blogs with hyperbole as their major ingredient, there's a lot. Two interesting ones -- Science Blogs is pretty literate, and Cynical-C has a running summary of Whom to Blame. For me, I know that I have come to the conclusion that there is no single answer, or even multiple answers. I don't see my society changing its attitude toward the acceptibility of violence soon, and probably not at all; I think that attitude is part of it. I do believe that any answer has gun control as part of it, but I find myself thinking that perhaps the people who advocate being personally armed have something there. I suspect that certain elements can be present in two places and lead to violence in one but not the other, and that a solution that works in one won't work in another. I think we can't defend against catastrophes, or crazy people. We can just prepare, and hope we have all the bases covered.

Its so damn hard to think about it. And its so damn easy to trivialize our response.

I baked the muffins, and now we're going to drop them off. And, to my amazement, I got up this morning and DTB'd.


As distinct from, say, H&K, which any weapons-oriented person recognizes immediately.

H&S is Heart and Soul. For some reason, sitting here at the breakfast table, I thought of the charming sequence in Superman Returns where the hulking, muscular, tattooed thug walks over to the piano where Lois Lane's son is tentatively picking out that tune, turns to smile at her, and then sits and quietly plays the counterpoint as the boy continues his part. Its a startling, counterintuitive sequence.

And what happens shortly afterward with the piano's not bad, either.

Friday, April 20, 2007

More on Guns

I just read two editorials linked from the CNN web site.

One said that we ought to drop the gun culture entirely. The other said that we ought to embrace it fully.

The first held that being part of a gun culture encourages violence, encourages the use of weapons to resolve problems.

The other held that so long as there ARE weapons, only a fool would believe that limiting or banning weapons was a good idea.

I agree with the first. And I understand the logic of the second. Don't agree with it, but I understand it.

What I need is a way to control or eliminate the use of weapons by maniacs and the criminal, while allowing it for anyone else -- kind of like a Breathalyzer for guns.


I got this back from one of our state's senators. Though it is apparently a form letter, I thought it was well done.

Thank you for contacting my office regarding the ongoing situation in Iraq . I appreciate your taking the time to bring your views on this important matter to my attention.

I believe that had we known Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction, the Congress would not have authorized the invasion of Iraq . Nonetheless, now that we are there, I feel we should give the Iraqis an opportunity to solidify a democratic government and do our best to establish the capabilities of Iraq 's army and police forces to provide adequate security. However, continuing violence and instability have made it apparent that Iraq is in a state of civil war and that the policies of the U.S. and Iraqi governments to date have been ineffective.

As a member of Congress, I have expressed my belief that a shift in policy is overdue and expressed openness to considering any and all suggestions for a change in course. I have urged the Administration to work with the Iraqi government and Iraq 's neighbors, including Iran and Syria , to develop cooperative stabilization efforts. To that end, I have personally met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iran 's Ambassador to the United Nations in an attempt to help facilitate such an effort. I have also expressed support for the Iraq Study Group, an independent, bipartisan commission led by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Congressman Lee Hamilton which has echoed my call for a new and enhanced diplomatic effort to help stem the violence in Iraq .

On February 27, 2007, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced that the U.S. would participate in an international conference organized by the Iraqi government to address regional peace and security and that the governments of Iran and Syria would also take part. I believe participation in these meetings by the U.S. , Iranian, and Syrian governments could represent a positive step towards easing tensions in Iraq .

On January 10, 2007, President Bush outlined a new strategy for Iraq , to include the deployment of more than 20,000 U.S. troops in support of increased numbers of Iraqi security personnel. I believe there is unanimity that no action be taken by Congress to exercise our "power of the purse" to cutoff funds that would in any way endanger our troops. However, on this state of the record, it remains unclear what a surge in U.S. troops in Iraq will accomplish. The Iraqi government's failure to live up to previous commitments have left me skeptical that such a plan will produce stability in Iraq .

On the issue of troop withdrawal, it is my opinion that the Iraqi government should be put on notice that U.S. forces will not remain in Iraq forever. I believe that our presence, with no indication of departure, has spurred continued violence and has allowed the Iraqis to rely too heavily on the U.S. for security. Nonetheless, at this time I do not support a definitive timeline for withdrawal, as I believe Congress can not micromanage the war and that a timeline would enable the enemy to win by waiting us out. I want to give the diplomatic initiatives with Iran and Syria an opportunity to stabilize the situation.

Although I question the impact of a surge in U.S. troops, I am cognizant of the consequences of a premature departure. The Iraq Study Group concluded that "Because of the importance of Iraq, the potential for catastrophe, and the role and commitments of the United States in initiating events that have led to the current situation, we believe it would be wrong for the United States to abandon the country through a precipitate withdrawal of troops and support." U.S. forces should not remain in Iraq any longer than necessary. Iraqi government forces will ultimately be responsible for securing their country. As ever increasing numbers of Iraqi security forces are trained and able to conduct operations on their own, U.S. forces should gradually redeploy.

Thank you again for contacting me. The concerns of my constituents are of great importance to me, and I rely on you and other Pennsylvanians to inform me of your views. Should you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact my office or visit my website at

Life's a lot easier in the bleachers.....

More Isaac

Narie, this has your name on it.


"I once worked for a guy who, when he wanted to do something that he knew he should get agreement on, would present the proposal, and then say "All in favor, say AYE; All opposed, say I QUIT".

Friday Ayem

Okay, thats two days in a a row of getting up at 5:30 and DTBing --I think thats enough! Though I have learned some things that I had forgotten, here in the pre-dawn hours --

-- it is incredibly easy to lose weight, make big money in real estate, and meet hot chicks who desire to flash their boobs while grinning wildly and sticking their tongue out; these people are just waiting -- yearning -- for you to call.

-- should any of the foregoing make you yearn for a more ethereal existence, there are plenty of well-dressed, smiling men with (usually) great hair who are willing to help you achieve spiritual stability for only a small donation.

-- the X Files is as strange now as ever


Last night, we drove the Accord. Very nice. My wife said that if you need a powerful car which can seat five and gets excellent mileage, that's the ticket. I agree. It was a hybrid V6, and would go so fast that it scared me. Plush interior, nicely laid out. Only the drivers side was fully adjustable, which surprised me a bit. Both the Toyota and the Honda adjust the steeting column by means of a pull-down lever which can bang your legs as you get in.

If the Honda were about $4K less, we'd dither some more (not to say that we won't, anyway), but right now we're thinking: Prius.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


This is another 'now what' photo. What do you fix first?

My guess: brace the vertical stack on the right, then start picking off the ones that have fallen, right one first.

Absolutely -- Well, Nothing. No, Really.

The Absolutely Nothing web site has some elegantly composed and executed photography.


If you like Isaac Asimov, I think you'll like this. Even if you don't, you might.

And This is Why....


I just left two comments on a person's site.

The first, I forgot to give it my name. It was a funny comment, and I didn't say who I was.

The second was a dumb comment, because I didn't notice that at the end, the person had effectively said exactly what I said. That one, I signed.

And I wonder why people don't flock to this blog? Don't say Damn, this guy is good, let me see what else he's written?


Which is how my father used to say 'picnic'. Pick-a-nick. No, his name wasn't Nick.

When I was a kid, picnics were not particularly gay affairs. They were usually held on crowded beaches, wearing sandy or damp bathing suits, or in thinly-grassed parks with tree-roots poking me as I try to find a comfortable position -- and if I should doze off, then I could count on awakening with a headache from the sun glaring down on me. The sandwiches would be dry and listless from being crammed into the basket; the cake (if there at all) crumbling from the same rough handling. You tramp from the parking lot, eke out some space, frolic, and later tramp back to the parking lot and tumble back into the car, gasping from the canned heat. "Roll down the windows! Roll down the windows!"

And this was a good picnic. On the bad ones, it rained.

What brings this to mind is the 'Picnic Basket' web site I came across this morning. It's got a marvelous collection of various types of picnic baskets, each one redolent with possibility. I look at these baskets, and I envision the perfect picnic -- warm, sultry breezes, thick ground cloths set on lush grasslands, good food emerging from a bottomless hamper of delights, followed by a peaceful slumber on a shaded, soft surface, and, when I awake, a tasty snack -- perhaps a piece of chocolate cake, or some deep dish apple pie. With vanilla ice cream! Oh, and some quiet background music -- some chamber music, or Mozart, perhaps...

A little Grey Poupon, my dear?


I am not much of a sports fan (did you know that comes from sports fanatic? Yup.) but I do understand some of the delight in the game when you see someone doing what they do with effortless elegance. Hearing that solid thwack, seeing the arc into the basket from thirty feet away, or the perfect spiral across the autumn sky, I suspect that many people just shake their head in bemused admiration.

They also think "Why, heck, I could do that...and for a lot less money than that guy's getting, too". But they know in their hearts that it takes a goodly amount of talent to throw a blistering fastball, or catch a long fly ball deep in the shadows, or tap the ball in while three hundred people watch, and though they still think that they might be able to do it, they sometimes just admire the ability that makes that possible.

This Slate article, about a series of elegantly simple UPS ads, celebrates that same sense of achievement -- both the ads themselves, and the creative effort that brought them to life.

I liked it.

Early Action

After being reminded by my oral surgeons reaction that I really do take a lot of drugs (and not the fun kind, either), I thought that perhaps I ought to do something about it.

The way I did the math is, the type of drugs I take aren't likely to substantially change, but the quantity seems to be related to my size. To lessen the amount of them, there should be less of me. Well, of course, my track record on that is just as good as most people's, but I do recall the one time that I actually was successful in such an effort -- it was just after we'd bought an exercise bike, and started using it religiously. We were doing it for strength, but after about a month, we both noticed that there was a size effect, too. It wasn't overwhelming, but it was definitely there.

So, I thought "I should do that again". I went through the probably - predictable cycle of 'I should do that thirty minutes every day' to 'I should do that twenty minutes every day' to 'I should do that ten or fifteen minutes, most days'. I couldn't talk myself into planning to do it less than that, so this morning, I actually Did The Bike. Lowest possible intensity, slow pace, 16 minutes. But I did it.

I am trying hard not to think of how soon tomorrow morning comes.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Symantec Semantics

Last night, I spent an hour and a half installing the Norton Premium System Works onto my home laptop. And I can say, authoritatively, that Premium does not mean tasty, or automatic, or damn fine. It does have features that the others do not...but they are challenging, and they make assumptions that I'd just as soon they not have made.

For example, part of the package is what they call GoBack, which is a 'restore my files' deal. Well, that sounded good to me, and was in fact part of why I bought the upgraded package. What I DIDN'T expect was that as part of installation, it would decide that this meant it needed to take a (presumably compressed) picture of my entire hard drive...including about twenty meg of files that never change, and are easily reinstallable. There went twenty minutes of my evening. Another function was their Backup package, which I thought meant that they were offering an off-site backup service. Ah, no. It meant they would backup files for you...once you downloaded and installed Microshaft's .NET service. Well, okay, its not that big a deal -- but I didn't expect it. Right now, the back up is running, but its just a test. I need to figure out how to tell what files it ought to be backing up, and then how to get them off this laptop and to a secure location. Pretty soon, I can see, I'll need a whole backup architecture.

Software should make life simpler, and I suppose it usually does. But not this stuff.


Just went to see the oral surgeon to -- again -- set up things for the first phase of the implants. Its amazing to me how many times we've done this, and something's gotten in the way. I now expect that something will come up -- and, indeed, something has. The good news is, neither one is a showstopper. I flinch when he refers to the first phase as 'this minor surgery'. I know that whats planned is major, but I don't like being reminded of it.


I need to figure out how to get my blood sugar meds down.... I'm sure I can find lots of helpful advice, most of which will tick me off, since I suspect it'll start with Get More Exercise. A LOT more exercise.


From a gun owners perspective:

Is a moderate accomodation with non-gun owners possible?

Or is the feeling pretty much what the NRA says -- any accomodation makes it easier to take your guns away?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Has anyone else had problems doing comment responses with Firefox lately? I've lost three comments in two days, and I'm starting to question the integrity of this release the damn thing just locks up, and next thing I know, I'm looking at that 'Please tell Microsoft about this problem' box, like thats going to do any good....

Food and Reality

The West Virginia Surf Report site has an excellent display of pictures comparing advertising photos to unretouched photos of the actually delivered food. My favorite's the Big Mac.....

Gosh, truth in advertising doesn't seem to be keeping up....

Guns, revisited

I wrote a little about my reaction to the most recent shooting. At the risk of being even more boring than normal, I'd like to put down what I think, once again.

I understand the gun culture -- people who like or need to hunt; people who want personal weapon(s) for self-protection; people who like to collect firearms. My understanding is intellectual, not visceral. To draw an analogy, I understand the appeal of fashion, but I am not motivated by it. I understand the appeal of guns, but I am not motivated by it.

I believe that many gun owners cannot imagine trusting their guns to the good will of non-gun-owners, and many non-gun- owners cannot imagine trusting their lives to the good will of gun owners.

I believe most gun owners don’t understand the deep disgust that NRA zealots can induce in non-gun owners. To this day, the memory of Charlton Heston waving a flintlock at an NRA convention, saying that “We’re got the guns!”, causes me to shudder.

I believe there is no reason at all – none whatsoever – for private ownership of rapid-fire weapons, high-capacity weapons, speed loaders, or bulletproof vests and body armor.

I believe that gun owners are as afraid as I am, generally, of getting shot, or having their family slaughtered. I suspect that most of them are like me, hoping to be protected by the police; some (my guess is about thirty percent) are armed, themselves, because they don’t think the police can be counted on to do it.

I believe that criminals can always get guns; all society can do is make it hard for them to do so.

I believe that there are times when a victim could have saved themselves, had they been armed.

I believe that requiring gun owners to register, and guns to be secured, will not end random acts of violence. Reduce it, probably; end it, no.

I believe that most gun owners believe that gun registration would not significantly reduce gun violence. I also believe that some percentage of gun owners believe that gun registration a) would expose them to having their weapons summarily confiscated, b) would expose them to being the first-attacked in any wave of insurgency, and/or c) is a violation of the second amendment.


I believe that people cause violence; guns just facilitate it.

Interesting article:

Monday, April 16, 2007


Let's hear it for unregulated gun

So long as this kind of violence is possible, gun advocates have no case for leaving guns unregulated and uncontrolled.

None whatsoever.

And the people who do it? They are the worst kind of filthy scum.


Good day for flying. So windy, your Buick might lift off.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Chilly Sunday

I'm sitting in the living room, a lap rug over my legs to ward off the chill -- it's a rainy, damp Sunday; feels almost like winter. We just had a balanced dinner of greasy pepperoni pizza, flavored water, and cinnamon bread that my wife had made this morning, but which, due to some early morning grumpiness on my part, we didn't have. My wife thinks I'm a little off because of the impending car purchase; she may be right, though I ascribe it more to a reluctance to go into the office tomorrow and get beaten up some more due to the audit. I have some reasoned, rational answers, but I'll have to be careful about rolling them out; better, I think, to nod penitently and let them storm and rage for a while. I don't want to, but I think it's likely the best approach.

I started reading Stephanopoulos' book this morning. Since its not a novel, it doesn't have the concentrated forcefulness, nor the clear sense of purpose that Executive Orders had (which can be summarized as Good Guys Almost Always Win, Decency Almost Always Trumps Guile and Deceit, and Massively Computerized Weaponry Will Carry the Day, Betcher Ass), but what the heck: its reality, or at least his version of it. As I was sitting here in this same chair today, listening to the rain, and reading that book, Emmanuel Ax playing softly in the background, I could see myself doing this in retirement. Wouldn't want to do it all the time, but its not a bad way to pass the day. That, and baking.

We're still leaning in the direction of the Prius. The two things that are showstoppers are first, the interior length of the car with the back row of seats down; we have to be able to carry a pole (my daughter's color guard flag) thats about eight feet long, and second, the view out the rear window, which I remember as being fairly grim, since it's bisected by some kind of bar, which might be the top of the hatchback -- not sure. And we're a tad queasy about the acceleration. I did a little test this evening, coming back from picking up the pizza -- stopped on the empty road, then floored it. The van took just about eleven seconds to get up to sixty, of which perhaps half a second was skidding on the wet pavement. That makes it comparable to the Prius, which I believe says its about ten seconds for the same distance. I remember when I was first driving the van, which has a smaller engine than its predecessor, I was a little concerned, but I got used to it pretty quickly. I'm assuming the same thing will happen here, if we pursue it. There are some other, minor things -- the seat's not height-adjustable, the steering wheel doesn't telescope -- and one thing of mild concern: performance is worse in frigid weather, to the point where you can actually flatten the drive battery if you push it hard enough. Hmm....

We also have to figure out what to do with the Buick. I'd like to sell it locally, but that implies having someone around to show it, do we require cash or a check, that kind of thing. I'm not up for that. Also, there's the key question of how much: its a 91, in pretty good but not outstanding shape. We think its worth about 1600 or so, which means ask for 2000, accept 1500. Unless its a dealership, which I think would knock it down to around 1000. Not too thrilled about that.

Gunz R Us

This is an amazing video about the gun making 'industry' in Pakistan.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Superman Redux

Tonight we rented and watched Superman Returns. And despite not watching it on a wide screen LCD display with Bose surround sound, it was pretty good -- in many ways, superior to the Christopher Reeves ones . The acting, for the most part, was better than expected, particularly Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor -- I like a bright, non-caricatured evil person -- and from others, including Lois Lanes long-term boyfriend, who, I think, in earlier movies would have been played as a lightweight, but in this movie was a character with intelligence and forcefulness. Lois herself -- well, Margot Kidder hasn't got much to worry about. The special effects were excellent, and though the plot was a little bit thin at times, it really wasn't bad at all.

I'm glad we rented it.

First Look

We looked at the Prius, Camry, Civic, and Accord. Our eventual ranking was Prius/Accord, and Civic/Camry. The Prius and the Accord are different cars for different markets, but they're both acceptable, and at times delightful. The Civic and Camry are also for different markets, but we were not delighted by them.

The Prius is a decent city car. The mileage on the sticker said high forties/low fifties, but the internal meter said about 33 MPH driving on small country roads. That's acceptable. The acceleration was good but not outstanding (it felt like if you were merging onto a busy road, you'd want to take a moment to check it out), and the handling was good (small steering wheel was okay for my wife, felt a bit like a toy to me). The rear-view camera (only active when in reverse, unfortunately), was slick. The gas engine runs more than I expected -- about thirty seconds after the engine start, it comes on 'to heat the catalytic converter', then shuts off except for acceleration. The interior was laid out well -- lots of visibility forward and side. I couldn't see the nose of the car, which was a little off-putting, and the view out the back (hatchback) window was minimal, which was also a bit of a problem.The car was different in terms of how it started (keep the transponder key in your pocket, if you want; press the START button to start it), and how information was delivered to you (the graphics are nice but about half of them are useless, I think). And the hatchback area opens up all the way -- the two rear seats can fold flat. I wouldn't want to take a long trip in it, but overall, not bad. Seats four, comfortably.

The Accord is more luxurious, and surprised us by that. It felt like I'd expect a Benz to feel. The mileage sticker for it said 25/31, which we're guessing would actually play out to about 20/25 -- not as much as we'd like. Granted, you're using less gas overall, but still: a problem. The interior was quite comfortable, and it could probably handle five. We didn't drive it, though.

The Civic and Camry both disappointed us. The Civic felt cramped -- funny, because the Prius is a smaller car, but somehow the Camry didn't feel bigger. This will sound odd, but the Civic didn't feel 'welcoming'. My wife said that it felt like a college kid's first car. As for the Camry, for the price (about equivilent to the Accord), we expected it to be more plush, more elegant. It was nice, but bland.

We've got to think about it, and of course drive the Accord, and then do the math: do we want a city car (less expensive, better mileage) or a touring car (more comfortable, more room). And: if one of them is the car our daughter learns to drive in, which? The Accord has more steel around you, but both have front and side air bags. Minor preference for the Accord, but not overwhelming.

So right now its the Prius or the Accord. More likely the former than the latter, but not definite by any means.


...and outside, the first mower of the season is active. *sigh*

This is a funny commercial, but almost as funny are the comments. Try guessing which comments are made by women....

And this is a quote from Tom Clancy's Executive Orders. One of the bad guys, a sleeper Iranian agent, is on his way to assassinate the US President --

"It would have been better for everyone if he'd known beforehand about all the things that were happening....The disease attack, that was something else. The manner of its spread was a matter of God's Will. It was distasteful, but that was life. He remembered the burning of the theater in Tehran. People had died there, too, ordinary people whose mistake had been to watch a movie instead of attending to their devotions. The world was hard, and the only thing that made its burden easier to bear was faith in something larger than oneself...The world didn't change its shape by accident. Great events had to be cruel ones, for the most part. The Faith had spread with the help of the sword, despite the Prophet's own admonition that the sword could not make one faithful...a dichotomy he did not fully understand."

I think thats a pretty good description of how I see zealots. They're saying that they're guided by their faith, and when they don't find their faith leading them in the direction they want to go, or leading away from it...they do what they wanted to do, anyway. In that, they're not all that different than many others...except that they're willing to kill.

Today we go look at cars again. Last night, my wife was supposed to stop by and pick up literature for the hybrid Camry and hybrid Prius, but she met a friendly salesman, and ended up spending half an hour looking at both. An interesting point is that the local dealer for Honda (hybrid Civic, possible hybrid Accord) and Toyota (hybrid Prius, Camry) is the same. She asked the Toyota salesman why one was preferable to the other, and he said that they differed in their hybrid implementation -- the Honda's primary engine was the gasoline one, using the electric engine to give greater acceleration, or for use in low-power situations, while the Prius uses the electric engine as the primary, adding the gasoline engine for extra power as needed. What that seems to translate to is that the Prius is good for short-haul stop and go, running predominantly on electric power; the Honda is good for long-ride driving, cruising on gas, with the electric engine for added punch as needed. The net out is that the mileage for the Toyota is better. Not overwhelmingly better, but better. That's important to us to know, because we want to go into this with our eyes open. We do not expect that the savings in gas, either way, will pay for the differential (about five thousand) in the cost of the car, and we do expect to have expenses that we would not have with a traditional car. We want to note that up front, so that we know what we're doing, what we're getting into, and why. We're not doing it to save money, but we don't want to toss it away, either. Heck, if we wanted to toss away money, we'd -- oh, I don't know, pay for extravagant dental procedures, something like that.

One other tidbit: she said that when she started the Prius, it was completely silent. The gas engine was just ticking over? I asked. Nope, she replied. Not even running. Totally electric.


Friday, April 13, 2007


I was just doing some reading here about the technique known as LEAN, which is the methodology that my organization is lurching towards. The site I referenced describes one manifestation of LEAN this way:

“A philosophical approach to business that is based on satisfying the customer (whether internal or external) by producing quality products that are just what they need, when they need them, in the quantity required, using the minimum of materials, equipment, space, labor and time.”

I've seen a number of actions, initiatives, and programs over time, from ISO9000 to Quality to variants thereof, and this smells like another one, complete with secret words (one here is muda, which is allegedly a Japanese word meaning waste -- very bad), certifications, and protestations about why THIS manifestation is ever so much better than the LAST manifestation. Everybody's doin' it, doin' it, doin' it -- why aren't you?

As you can tell, I find it hard to believe that THIS is going to be the one, the golden bullet that's going to solve our problems. I think it'll be useful, but I don't think it'll solve everything. And yet, I want to believe that solutions are possible. I know that some programs do work... for a while, and in specific cases, and locations. Not without thought -- no One Size Fits All -- but some do work. Why?

My thought: The Westinghouse Effect.

The program's content matters, the tools and methods, they matter, even the sensation of 'being in the secret club', that matters. But the Effect? Ah, I'll bet thats the ticket.

What do you think?


When the cop was fingerprinting me this morning, he asked if I used some kind of hand cream. I told him no, and he said that my skin was amazingly pliable.

My wife, when informed of this, asked if the cop was, perchance, a cute young police trainee.


It's Friday, and I'm feeling a bit fried. Part of that is a slight cold that I've managed to pick up; most of it is the events at work that I've described earlier. About which, I'll just say this: I made reasonable mistakes, doing a function with no assistance, oversight, or review that might have caught them. I'm sorry they happened. If they want to fire me over it (doubtful, but possible), so be it. I don't want that to occur, but as the plan is to work until December and then quit, it wouldn't be an overwhelming loss. So, we'll see.

Making plans for the summer, already. My daughter wants to go to multiple local events held by the township rec board, which is cool. She also wants to go to a Girl Scout camp, also cool, but the camp is three and a half hours from here. Not cool. It doesn't help that the camp is oriented toward seriously outdoors-type kids, which she isn't, but the primary eliminator is the distance. We'll go to the ends of the earth for you, kiddo, but not three and a half hours away. Sorry.

Today I go to get fingerprinted at the local cop shop (a job requirement, though, given events, that might turn out to have not been necessary (g) ); I go to the school to talk with a guidance counselor about the nature of their mentoring program; and I do some other errands. I'll be working from home, the remainder of the day.

Thursday, April 12, 2007


Today, I learned some things.

I learned that a guy that I used to work with at another company, who was a very gung-ho, true-believer type, was recently named as a vice-president for that company. He's responsible for a whole mess of applications and customers. From this, I learned two things: the company still likes gung-ho true believers, and I can simultaneously mock his style and envy his results. I'm not sure what the psychological evaluation of that dichotomy is, but I don't think its very complimentary to me.

I learned that my current company isn't telling the same story to everyone who's involved with this new service delivery scheme; the basis of which seems to be that its better to deliver exactly what the customer wants, right now, immediately, via the methodology of having everyone available all the time, than to deliver what the customer wants, over time, in a phased, process-driven approach. Less delays, sooner satisfaction. The problem is that the people who are actually going to participate in this seem to be hearing that its not so much an experiment in improving service delivery though elimination of roadblocks and procedural delays as a death march -- no slack time, always someone to call back, something to follow up on. Whats particularly ironic is that it uses as a bible a book about a similarly named process at another company which does nothing of the sort -- they push the idea of incremental improvement, all the time. (Who gets to decide whats an improvement, its not clear, but apparently however they do it, it works. At least for them.) We're not doing that, but we expect similar, if not better, results.

And I learned that I am not attitudinally suited for the job I do. This is not a new observation, but it hit me again. How many times I need to be hit, I don't know.

I talked to my wife about it. She said that I got beaten up today, and I feel unsettled as a result, because I don't usually get beaten up, and, because some degree, maybe even much of it, was warranted, I feel shaky about my capabilities. I shouldn't, but I do.

Married someone smart. But I knew that.

Still and all...I think I need to be giving some thought to post-work life. Because it's coming, and -- on days like this -- it seems that'll be sooner than I think.

Forecasts, Queries

My forecast about the likely events today was accurate. At the moment, I'm mulling whether I want to stay in this environment. Its mostly what I mentioned earlier, and a massive feeling of guilt (with a healthy dollop of denial) but also listening to discussions about the service delivery scheme that we're going to be implementing. Its scarier than I thought. I still think its a good thing, but....


Wish I could figure out why Firefox on my home PC will remember my passsword for Blogger and log me right in, whereas Firefox on my work PC will remember the password but make me push the button to log in. Not a big deal, but strange. Whats different?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

In the Afternoon

Well, I feel better. I got to yell at someone about our security environment, and how we manage it. Well, okay, it wasn't actually yelling so much as speaking firmly and emphatically and at length, and there was more than a little 'It isn't (all) my FAULT, darn it!' mixed in there, but I did get to do it. I boogied out of work as quickly as I could, lest they call back with some more angst-inducing 'grams. I'm sure it'll be there, waiting for me, tomorrow, and I'm sure I'll feel guilty and get pissed off and all, but as for right now: I feel better.


I was listening to an NPR article yesterday about why Daimler Benz and Chrysler are about to go their separate ways (too bad: I'm not, and likely never will be, a Benz buyer, but I did like the ads where they tried to make Herr Doktor Z seem like the quizzical prototype for the doctor in Back to the Future, instead of the hard driving, hard-nosed technocrat that he probably is). One of the points that they made was quite good, in that they said that the systems of one company couldn't be integrated into those of the other because Benz didn't 'want to dilute the DNA of the parent company'. I liked that image a lot. I've heard it before, in roughly the same circumstances, though about twenty years ago, but its potent. You can talk all you want about synergies and 'we're a car company, they're a car company, we should mesh just fine', but if you don't take the culture into account, which means not just the nuts and bolts (do you really want to pop the hood on your new Benz and find the same engine as in your Chrysler 300?) but the way that they work, the way that they 'see themselves' (a car guy in Detroit is not necessarily the same as a car guy in Stuttgart), then you're in danger city. Its not a guaranteed show-stopper, but a warning flag? Oh yeah. Too bad this kind of 'well of COURSE this marriage was doomed' analysis wasn't done before the wedding, of course.

Angst Update

I realized (again) this morning that I do the best I can at what I do, and that the only way to do better would be to be a true believer in security, which I'm not. It would help, too, to have an organization that doesn't change its mind about whats required about every twelve months or so, which I do, but the primary driver is that to do it better, you've got to be a true believer. I'm not. Never have been.

I do think our problems are partially my fault, but I don't think they mostly are. That might be my ego scarring over, but I just can't afford to take this stuff personally. Though, as is obvious, I do.

Even though I could retire right this minute, I don't want to do that. I want to work in a technical environment, and this place has got the potential for that. Course, they've had it for six years now. I do not like being at the whim of an organization that (gross expletive coming) doesn't give a flying fuck about me or my wishes (boy, I haven't used that phrase in years, perhaps decades), but I am very reluctant to say Well, then, find something else -- don't have enough confidence in myself, never have. So I sit, and mutter, and I do the best that I can, as often as I can. Its usually good enough, and when it isn't -- it isn't.

If they want a real security person, let them hire and train one. Note to any prospective manager: there were TWO verbs in that final clause. As for me: I care, but not overwhelmingly. Its just not worth it to me.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


This was a pretty good day right up until the very end, when I screwed up by letting a local manager know that I was there. This was a screw up because at the end of the day he had the time to talk to me about the ongoing audit, and a problem we have, which I didn't even want to acknowledge, let alone think about.

I am not a person who takes kindly to audits, auditors, or organizational stupidity, and this wrapped them all up at once. I know, most people don't take kindly to that unholy trio, but I take it personally. I take it very personally. It takes me a while to cool down -- I'm not there yet, and I just had some decent though not outstanding pepperoni pizza, which for me is comfort food. Its going to take a while.

I despise this part of my job.

Monday, April 09, 2007

...You Blowhole!

I'd like to point out the temporary link to the Stanford Alumni society website, over to the left. I didn't go to Stanford; I consider my self lucky to have been able just to drive through Palo Alto on my honeymoon. But I strongly admire bright, motivated people, and Stanford's got a bunch. Their site is worth visiting.

(If you're wondering, that title is a relevant quote from The American President.)


On the way home this evening, I heard a little bit about the 'radical cleric' al-Sadr. I got to thinking about how often you hear that phrase. So I did a Google on it, and an alternative;

Search 1:
Results 1 - 100 of about 16,000 for "moderate cleric". (0.28 seconds)

Search 2:
Results 1 - 100 of about 343,000 for "radical cleric". (0.24 seconds)

Fewer, and they took longer to find. Hmm..... Knowing very little about how searches work, I'll draw the simplest conclusion, which is that 'moderate cleric' doesn't appear nearly as often as 'radical cleric'. You might almost think that perhaps 'cleric' ought to imply 'radical', with those results.

I believe that most Muslims are decent people -- not great, not terrible, trying with varying degrees of effort and success to keep with the tenets of their faith. This must be pretty wretched for them.. It means that most people's image -- yes, including mine -- of Muslim clerics is wild-eyed murderous fanatics. I know its not true; I know its not fair. But I hear it so often, its hard to remember that in the global scheme of things, they are the minority. It's just that they're the armed and dangerous minority. The ones who want to kill me, and everyone like me. And they command bands of armed fanatics who are willing to subsume their own intelligence for the murderous will of their masters. Who are willing to die for it.

Update: This is an interesting CNN article. It contains this phrase, which grabbed me:

"The war in Iraq, in particular, has such a negative effect on the way Americans perceive Islam," she said. "The chaos there has led many Americans to have this association between Islam and violence."

Oh, yeah.

Bright Idea

Today my company rolled out a new idea in how we deliver services. Its actually an old idea, but, well, to us its new, because its been a while since we did this.

Basically, we're taking the current organization, which is composed of multiple groups that each put together a software product, and then funnel it out to subteams that deliver it to the customer, and rearranging it to be fewer groups that support more customers each. The total number of people in the new groups will be less -- by about half, if the people who are into this have their way. The others will be -- well, sidelined, at least till we see how this plays out. (Will they be a target for firing? We're assured not.) I'm not exactly sure what the goal of all of this is. Cost cutting, I think.

There are those who don't think this will work. There are more of these in the worker bee level than in the queen bee level, though perhaps the QBs feel the same way, but, due to the need to be Supportive Team Players, they're stifling their dissent. Either way, a fair number of people don't think it will work. The general take is that you can't get the same product, faster, at the same quality level, with fewer people. You might have some fat in the organization, but this assumes you have on the order of forty or fifty percent. Thats hard to believe. The thought is, we're going to kill some people trying it, and we might kill some customers, too.

But I've got to say, I think its a nifty idea. I don't think it'll work, either, but its a way of blasting through the bloat and bureaucracy that imperils the life of this company. I think that even if it just works half way, it'll be a Good Thing. We're a big, lumbering company (that according to the Sunday New York Times pays its CEO waaaaaaaaaaaay too much); we need to be smaller, faster, more focused. This might do it.

As it happens, I don't think I'll get a chance to play, but if I do, I'll do my dammedest. Because its a terrific gamble, and I'd like to see it succeed.


I sent a note to both of our state's federal senators, urging them not to back down on the war funding bill with the provision for withdrawal in it, so if you see Arlen Spector and/or Bob Casey come out for it, you can thank me.


Stray Thought

I was thinking on the way in about theocracies, and how they operate. These weren't particularly deep thoughts, but I wondered: Iran is a theocracy, and Iraq is as well; so, I think, are Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Pakistan. Abu Dhabi, I'm not sure about, or Libya. But all of those are Islamic theocracies. I assume you can call Israel a Jewish theocracy, though my impression is that they aren't as intense about imposing their religion as a way of life on the populace as a whole. I suspect its very helpful to be Jewish, but not as helpful as it would be in one of the countries I mentioned.

Anyway, I wondered: are there any Christian theocracies? Certainly, there are theocratic schools -- Oral Roberts University comes quickly to mind -- and there are people who'd like to make this country a theocracy (maybe not in name, but in practice, oh, yeah) but are there nations where the name of the game is the Christian religion, and if you live there, you're expected to adhere?

And if not, does that imply anything good, bad, or indifferent?

Sunday, April 08, 2007


This animation by Justin Henton is quite nice.


I'm sitting at the dining room table, much of the effluvia of Sunday Brunch all around me, the gentle sound of Ellis Marsalis doing Love for Sale drifting in from the living room. This morning we had the excellent local brand of bacon that we found a couple of weeks ago (in keeping with a family tradition, we have not spoken loudly about this in the store, as they seem to pick up on these utterances and stop stocking them), as well as waffles, coffee, and home-made apple fritters. The fritters were easy enough to make, though the apples were a bit hard to slice -- my fault, as I picked a gihugic apple to start with. I thought the food processor could be used to make thin slices, but didn't realize that for our food processor, thin means thin -- wafer thin, wispy thin. So I grabbed a bowl of water, and sliced it by hand, dunking the before and afters into the water to prevent oxidation from turning them brown while my wife mixed up the batter and I pressed on with the rest of the brunch. A bit more effort than anticipated, but it was worth it -- quite good, particularly with syrup and cinnamon sugar.

As always, some interesting and thought-provoking material in the Sunday papers. There was an article in the Washington Post about people who are using novel methods to help their young children deal with the stress of their father (usually) being away to war -- life size posters of the person (Flat Daddy) , or small stuffed dolls with the person's image on the face part (Daddy Doll). I'm always impressed by that kind of creativity. Almost always, I think 'Gee, I wish I could help with that', and almost always, I don't. Usually, there's a reason -- the posters, for example, cost fifty dollars each. I could afford one or two of them, but I convince myself that only contributing to one or two would hardly help. I am envious when others find a way to get their company to help in a big way. I'm thinking of an article I read where a man, whose son was grievously injured in Iraq, wrote an email about it that was circulated among coworkers in IBM, and the email eventually made its way to the chairman of the board, who arranged for the company to donate something like ten thousand copies of their translation software for use in Iraq, in recognition of the son's sacrifice. Geez, I think, how come I can't arrange something like that?

We also found out, courtesy of the Post's Outlook section, that Monica Goodling, the assistant to the Attorney General who resigned, no reason given, and who refused to testify because she feared self-incrimination, is a graduate of Messiah College, a local college. That surprised us, for a couple of reasons. First, Messiah is a small school, and the idea that someone graduated from there and ended up in a fairly prominent position is startling; usually, Messiah graduates end up as first assistant manager in charge of home loans at an area bank, though only after doing two or three years working in down-trodden areas helping build health clinics or as actual religious missionaries. For one of their own to make that leap is pretty impressive. Which leads me to the other reason -- that someone with the depth of religious conviction that she probably had -- as you might guess from the name, Messiah is a religiously oriented school, but its not oppressive about it; you don't find religious screeds everywhere, and, of course, they don't have Truth Squads keeping the faithful faithful, unlike certain other - ahem - religions -- to get into that kind of trouble is startling. Hearing that she came from Messiah made me assume she had firm, fairly inflexible religious values, which might well have spoken to why she was chosen over other candidates for a position in a faith-based presidency. I gather that she wasn't all that pure of heart, though, since she apparently pushed out qualified but non-Christian people in favor of others who were Christian though possibly not as qualified -- but still, I feel sorry for her -- much more so than for her boss, or her boss's boss.

I was pretty surprised to hear that the Supreme Court had ordered the EPA to review the effect of greenhouse gases, as I was fairly sure they couldn't do that. I would have bet that the Supremes would say that they didn't have the authority to review the actions of the EPA, especially in a Bush administration. Turns out that they didn' order any such thing, but they did come close-- they said that the EPA has the authority to do such reviews, which opens the door for the EPA to be sued if they don't do it. Whats also interesting is the breakdown of the vote -- as I recall, it was 5/4 -- because the Chief Justice said that Massachusetts, which brought the action, didn't have standing to do so, couldn't show that any injury was brought to it because the EPA either acted or failed to act, and had no clear course of recompense if they could show injury; the justice who wrote for the majority said that not only did they have standing, but as a State they had a special standing; they most certainly could show injury, and they did have a clear course of recompense. Makes me wonder if they listened to the same case.

We went looking for a replacement for our 1991 Buick Regal, which is beginning, a bit, to show its age. My wife said that her first choice would be a hybrid, so thats what we looked at, primarily, checking out the Honda Civic hybrid, the Toyota Prius hybrid, and then also the Hyundai and Kia lines. We also looked at Saabs, just for grins. We did not even slow down going past the Hummer lot, though my wife did say that her goal was to change her gas mileage, and a Hummer would certainly do that. I must say, I was impressed by both the Civic and the Prius -- they're gotten bigger (as have we), the prices are acceptable (there's about a five thousand dollar bump from a non-hybrid to a hybrid), and the mileage is amazing -- about 40/50 for the Civic, and about 50/60 for the Prius. We need to write down what our priorities are, and examine some basic assumptions, but I do believe we'll be getting one of those in the not too distant future.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

John Edwards

A quote from a Salon interview:

Are you confident that if the Democrats stood firm, Bush, who is certainly the most stubborn president of our lifetime, would back down? or would it just ratchet up into a confrontation?

Why should we presume that he won't back down, and therefore we must back down? That's not what we should do. We should be strong for the troops, for America and for the entire world. The Democrats need to be strong. That's what we ought to do. That's what I'd do.

Nice, huh?


People who write software viruses are scum, and could I drop them into a vat of boiling oil, I would gladly do so.

No, I didn't get one.

But I did get to spend ninety minutes of quality time with the 'support' group for Symantec, makers of Norton AntiVirus.

About whom, I'll simply say: when this year's subscription is up, I'll ditch them entirely, because they're bloated and nonresponsive.

How nonresponsive? When I tried to renew a subscription to one of their products, their automated system said it could not find the code key. I just deleted it (good move) and bought the new version (bad move). Bad because the day after I did that, the other PC started saying that its software was expired, three months after it was renewed.

After the ninety minutes of quality time, I gave up, deleted and rebought that software, and now I'm done.

But Symantec can go tothe dogs for all I care. Never again.


I'm not much of a chocolate eater, but every so often I come across a blog entry that makes me think that the people who are big fans might have something there.

This is one of them.


I mentioned earlier that I occasionally wonder what some of the mundane details of their lines are like. For example, suppose they go swimming, and the ocean temperature is a bit too chilly? What happens then?

I would imagine, this.


This morning, I was leafing through a decorating magazine as we had breakfast. The magazine was glossy and well-photographed, with every room filled with casually-tossed (yet just so) throw pillows, the inevitable bowl of fruit on the gleaming marble countertops. The homes were, by and large, amazing, with vibrant, rich transformations from their prior lives as, apparently, goat-stalls into rooms worthy of Louis XVI (if he takes his shoes off prior to coming in). Not that I scorn this stuff -- I just could never see myself paying for it. But there are things in there that I just wonder about.

One is a shower head that promises to deliver a strong, intense spray with which to 'jumpstart your day'. I know that the image of the shower users varies between the muscular, athletic guy who wants nothing more than a blast of water, cold, preferably, and plenty of it -- showering under Niagara Falls would be just the ticket for that guy -- and the soft, dreamy cloudscape that the woman wants, with candles flickering in the corners of the room, and a gentle mist throughout. Our shower is -- well, its a shower. It does the job. Its not as strong as I'd like, but its not bad. It certainly does not jumpstart the day, and thats a good thing. As my wife put it, when she was younger, she didn't need a shower to jumpstart the day, and now that she's older, she doesn't want one. I'm much the same way. I need to ease into the day. Don't ask me to think, and especially don't ask me to do anything complicated. It takes me a while to wake up, and being shocked into shivering awakeness by a blast of water doesn't sound to me like the ticket for a fine start to the day.

Occasionally, I find myself wondering how the wealthy ease into their days. I imagine it something like the sequence in the film Trading Places, where the manservant brings them up a cup of coffee and a crisp croissant on a tray and gently awakens them. There are devices that will simulate that -- for example, the Voco Clock , which offers pleasant recorded messages to slowly wake you up. I have to admit that the couple of times I've actually had breakfast in bed, it didn't strike me as all that wonderful, as I had to be very careful not to slosh or spill anything by a sudden incautious move. The idea, though, is pretty delightful.

And about as far away from being jumpstarted as you can imagine.

Friday, April 06, 2007

You want a Latte with that?

The local supermarket chain (one of three, but the dominant one) has opened up a small coffee shop in the corner of the store. This appears to be the coming thing, as other branches of this same chain also have coffee shops in them. This one is a little different; though not at all lavish, it does have some interesting touches, such as a fake fireplace going in the corner, and a couch and stuffed chairs nearby. They don't look all that comfortable -- I don't think that the staff from the local Starbucks will be flogging it down here to see what the competition is doing -- but still, its an interesting idea. I would bet that when the concept was pitched at the store's headquarters, it was sold as something that would make the store a destination, rather than simply the place that you came to get your peas and cheerios. They're trying to upscale the image -- or as much as you can when the high pitched beeping of the cash registers is clearly audible, partially because the little cove that holds the store doesn't have a ceiling -- the next thing you see is the ceiling of the store itself, twenty feet up and studded with wires and pipes. But they're trying.

I saw an article not too long ago about the effort that Starbucks is making to reinvigorate their franchise. Apparently there is some concern that they've saturated their market, and then some, what with a Starbucks about every mile in some places, and occasionally less than that. The chairman of the company said that he wanted to get away from the cookie-cutter impression, where they all looked, sounded, and smelled the same -- he wanted to get back to people actually grinding the beans there, and mixing the whipped cream personally, because he thought that those things were attractive to customers. Whats ironic about that is that he lead the drive to commoditize Starbucks, and he or his flunkies did away with the things that made Starbucks 109 in Des Moines, say, different from Starbucks 5003 in La Jolla. And now he wants it back -- individuality, but in a manner acceptable to the corporate mind.

I don't know a whole bunch about the industry thats behind these shenanigans, but I know about the concept of mass customization, and about making the customer feel like they're getting a one-off unique experience even when they're truly not. I have a general sense of the psychology that goes into it, and what they're trying to do. Wish I knew more, though -- not at the MBA level (from whose mostly dry tomes I learned most of what I know there), but at the storefront level. I'd love to know how it's really playing out in the trenches.

Winter Again?

It seems like just yesterday that we were basking in the sun, relatively speaking; but this morning we have snow flurries, the sky is overcast, and the temp's around 30.

I am thinking that somehow this is Bush's fault, though I admit that I'm having a little difficulty establishing the casual link.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

I Can SEE That !

If you're like me, such that you really like when technology makes it possible to see things about your world in a quick, convenient manner --

Oh, heck. If you think graphics are sexy, and you're a bit of a geek, check this.

There, that's better.

Doing the Numbers

There's been a fair amount of aisle chatter in my office of late regarding retirement, and the planning thereof. Part of this has been motivated by the rumour of organizational changes to come, and part of it is from a series of presentations that the company has started on the general topic of financial planning. Several of our people went to an on-site presentation, the first of several planned for the area; I'll be attending an on-line one in a few weeks. As a result, I likely will not get the pretty three-color handouts, but that's okay, as I assume they'll be available as PDFs (incidentally, re: PDFS-- check out Foxit Software's free PDF reader. Faster than Adobe. And free. ) so I can read them as needed. I did look at the material that one person brought back; much of it is very basic (possibly a nod to the idea that many people, even now, don't like to think about where their finances are, and even less about where they need to be) but some of it looks interesting, with some numbers and concepts that I didn't know or had not heard recently.

Yet, with all of that, I noted that when I told one of the attendees about the 'four per cent per year' concept (and I was careful to emphasize that this was a very rough cut), he asked me to walk through the example again, nodding as I did. Apparently, I'm not the only one who wants a quick, clean answer -- even if its not terribly reliable.

News Flash

Denial isn't just a river in Egypt.

Okay, thats old news -- but its still relevant. In this case, the observation comes from talking with my wife as we walked through a surprisingly blustery April day. She'd gotten a very unpleasant surprise yesterday, when a dull ache in her jaw turned into a surprise visit to an endodontist for a root canal. The procedure went well, and she's glad she went, but she admitted that part of the post-experience visit was a sudden vigor to floss again. Like most people, she would get religion about that immediately before going for a dental visit, and immediately after, and then it would trail off until the next time. Now, she says, she really wants to be consistant, but she knows that she's going to fall, again, because she always does. I told her that my experience has been that when you fall, however you do, for however long you do, just accept it, do what you can to fix it, and move on. Put mechanisms in place to help you remember next time, and when you fall again, if you do, just do it again. Like my bathroom cabinet note about every day being a chance to get it right, put a note on the mirror about flossing -- or whatever it is you want to focus on.

I told her that for years my attitude was that if things went wrong, I was doing the best I could (which of course wasn't true), so SORRY! It effectively absolved me of blame. It took me a very long time to realize that I could accept the blame without feeling that I was therefore worthless and incompetent, and oh by the way, therefore unable to do anything about it, and therfore didn't HAVE to do anything. I could always do something -- maybe not enough, but something, and maybe just a little more each day or each week. But it all started with accepting that I was going to fail, and figuring out some way to recover from it and move on. In a way it was like my belief in organizational processes -- that they have to assume that people are going to fail, that there are things that they just will not want to do, and will actively go out of their way to avoid doing (while still acknowledging that they should do it, and will...real soon now). The processes have to account for that, and steer them back to, if not the path of righteousness, at least the path of 'good enough'. Because thats the area where you want to be. Not perfect, nice as that would be -- but good enough.

Not that thats ever good enough for auditors, of course.

And thats my insight for today. The choir will now sing.....


I found this picture here.


Bush amazed me.

From the LA Times web site:

WASHINGTON — President Bush on Wednesday appointed as his top regulatory official a conservative academic who has written that markets do a better job of regulating than the government does and that it is more cost-effective for people who are sensitive to pollution to stay indoors on smoggy days than for government to order polluters to clean up their emissions.

As director of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at the White House Office of Management and Budget, Susan E. Dudley will have an opportunity to change or block all regulations proposed by government agencies.

In a flurry of nominations and appointments, Bush also named a researcher at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington, as deputy director of the Social Security Administration. Andrew G. Biggs has been an outspoken proponent of converting Social Security benefits into self-directed retirement accounts, which Bush favors but Democrats have stopped cold. Bush nominated Biggs to that post in November, but the process stalled in February when the Senate Finance Committee refused to hold confirmation hearings because of his views on privatization.

And as ambassador to Belgium he installed Sam Fox, a St. Louis businessman and GOP fundraiser who contributed $50,000 to the Swift Boat veterans' controversial campaign against Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) in the 2004 presidential race. The White House actually withdrew Fox's nomination to that same job last week in the face of strong opposition from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

How did he amaze me? Because I didn't think he could get sneakier. Once again using a recess as a way to make appointments that wouldn't pass muster in the Congress -- how low is that?

Is it impeachment time now? Yes, I think it is. Not just because of this, but because of the indicative nature -- that Mr. Bush simply does not care what the Congress thinks. Doing this end run against the Senate -- that's just plain wrong. That ability was intended for quick action during periods when the Senate could not be brought into session. Clearly, this isn't the case now. It's an abuse of power.

I'm not an alarmist, but now I find myself wondering: if he next said that the Congress should be disbanded as irrelevant, or 'counter revolutionary' -- if he said that the Presidency needed to be defended, and called out the tanks -- would I be all that surprised? A strong Presidency is one thing. This one is verging on the imperial, or the dictatorial.

Impeach him. Censure him, at the least. Don't tolerate this. As a bumper sticker I saw today put it --

Fight Mad Cowboy Disease!