Friday, November 30, 2007


My daughter usually has a wish list of things she'd like us to get for her, posted on her door. Around this time of year, she updates it about once a week. Today, I took it and made notes about what she asked for. Here's an extract --

Manga -- Magical Miracle book 4 and up $10
Manga -- Meru Puri $9.00
Manga -- Calling you $10
Manga -- Tokyopop -- Glass Wings
Manga -- Girl Got Game, Book 1 $10
Pride and Prejudice
boscovs gift card
Borders/Barnes and Noble gift card
forever 21 gift card
Monty Python Holy Grail

When I was talking with her guidance counselor, looking for a little assistance on how to handle her slump in grades, I said that I didn't want him to think that I was one of those parents who thinks that if their kid doesn't do well in middle school, she'll never get into Harvard Med. He laughed. He didn't realize: I am that kind of parent. Subdued, but its there. I just didn't want him to realize it.

So when I see her wanting five different Mangas, a couple of which are aimed at kids much younger than she is -- well, I shudder. I know, when I was a kid, the idea that you might actually want comic books as gifts was abhorrent to parents. I am a little more relaxed about it than that.

But Manga won't get her into Harvard Med, or the Wharton School, or the London School of Economics. Its a short trip from there to 'Want fries with that?' Okay, I'm kidding. Somewhat. But I do think that she ought to be challenged, stimulated intellectually, have a broad awareness of a lot of things. And Manga -- well, its okay. But its not usually listed on a CV.

Sox Appeal

This, from the James Brausch site, surprised me.

Fired Up

Here's an interesting and nicely written article from the Creative Generalist site about the Amazon Kindle, and whats going on with it. I particularly liked his comparison of what Amazon delivered and what Apple delivers.

Fixing It

One of my character flaws is that I always think that I can fix things. Usually, the Automatic Maturity Brake kicks on, slowing the skidding car, the plummeting elevator, the deranged president (use whatever analogy best works), and I realize with some chagrin that while the problem is fixable, it isn't fixable by me. Someone who actually knows what they're doing is required.

Apropos of nothing: I think that Dick Cheney is an evil spider laying poisonous eggs (okay, work with me, here), and seriously undermining the tripartite method of government, but you know, you have to admire his sheer ability at promoting his agenda. The man's a freepin' genius. He clearly knows what he's doing.

Anyway. When I wrote an couple of earlier posts about mentoring, I was hoping that someone who's actually done it would be able to give me an idea as to what to expect. I was surprised to get two responses that essentially said that mentoring is an 'on your own' activity -- that schools don't supply the materials you'd think, or the support you'd think. While my experiences thus far may be mostly because I've never done it before (I heard two other mentors talking about their kids, and they were saying 'Gee, can't see why this kid is in the program, as he's passing everything...okay maybe one grades a little low'. Paradoxically, I thought a) Gee, why did I get the kid with major academic problems, and b) Hah, you wimps, my kid is failing one and damn near close to failing three others, take that!) -- still, its obscurely comforting to know that other people have noticed that the execution of school people when it comes to mentoring problems is long on theory, short on practice. If you do a web search for 'mentoring' and 'middle school', you get lots of hits for sites that say things like 'We, the students and faculty of the West Cheepeapick Middle School and Carwash, support the Mentoring program as a way of promoting values, encouraging independence, propagating the virtues of responsibility and organization, and making the occasional buck', but you don't find hardly any that have actual details about how to be a mentor. Lots of things about how wonderful mentoring is, how good it can be, terrific results, but not too much on how to do it.

So of course I thought 'Well, I can document what works'. And, god help me, for just a moment I thought 'yeah, I can do that, build a web page with Proven Strategies and Executable Methods, Tools That Work (tm), people will come from miles around to read the page, noting my methods for their own use, filling my comment buffers with adulation and praise, and leggy Swedish models will be mine'. No, not you, Lars.

Then I thought 'well, didn't you think you could fix the stupid teacher pages, too? What in the least, idiot boy, makes you think they'd let you do that; what in the least makes you think you could build a page on what to do when, after all, you're clueless, you're barely winging it now?'

Oh. Um...yeah.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Teaching, Mentoring

Today I learned not to have a meeting with an eleven year old boy in a cafeteria where half of it is filled with a meeting predominantly populated by about twenty girls. I was doing good just to get him to acknowledge that I was there. After a while, I would just stop talking and look at him; when he would finally look at me, I'd ask 'So what do you think?' -- and of course he had no idea what I'd been saying.

That was not fun. But I thought hey, soldier on, go talk to his teachers in the subjects where he's having problems. First up, go look at the web sites they have in the school system. Sure to be lots of useful information there. Right? Right?

I read, some years ago, of the experience that Richard Feynman had in participating in the selection of science books for the California school system. He said that much of the science in the books was bogus, or, at best, meant nothing. The books would use examples that didn't prove anything, didn't impart any information or any guidance. I thought of that when looking at the personal web sites of the teachers that this kid has, and, clicking through, at the web site operated by the people who sell one of the texts they use.

They're awful. They're not useful. They blather on in pedagogue-speak, they USE CAPITAL LETTERS A LOT and they end sentences with exclamation points! when a period would have done nicely. They're hard to follow, and they don't tell anything useful. There's no uniformity at all. And did I mention: they're awful. I get the impression the idea was 'get us on the web! get us on the web! Hey, get us, we're ON THE WEB!' -- and so they did. I guess I shouldn't be surprised -- this is from the same organization that thinks handing out an agenda book is the same as teaching how to schedule time.

Good god.

They're not bad people.... but (words fail me). I am not happy.


I recently came across a blog called Cakespy. I was fascinated by their 'list of interests' -

Cakes cupcakes tortes tarts cookies pies napoleons petits fours scones tea cakes muffins patisserie bakeries cakewalks tea cakes birthday cake babycakes chocolate madagascar vanilla hummingbird cake carrot cake bread pudding buche de noel red velvet cake buttercream fondant cream cheese icing layer cake tier cake pandowdy pumpkin bread salty and sweet the smell of baking corn muffins bread with butter trifles seattle bakeries city bakeries novelty cupcakes cupcake tastings cake tastings cake and wine cake and chocolate cake decorations wilton cupcake cups new york bakeries monterey bakeries west seattle bakeries carmel bakeries homemade goods vegan pastries vegan cake sugar sweets German chocolate coffee and dessert nanaimo bars mazurka bars crumbs tres leches cake hot chocolate doughnuts cake doughnuts powdered sugar six layer bars blondies brownies cake decorating rice pudding cakes in mason jars cakes to ship cookies to ship special cookies black and white cookies pumpkin scones Pike Place Market Macrina Bakery culinary fiction cookbooks cake blogs excellent cake cream pies eclairs cinnamon rolls stollen strudel chocolate vanilla sweets angel food cake fudge baked goods baked bars drop cakes croquembouche brioche bakery culture cafe culture ice cream ice cream cake banana cake cream cake devonshire cream hot chocolate molten chocolate noisette sacher torte chocolate pudding ganache baking cupcake tastings cake and wine cake and milk


"Time is God's way of keeping everything from happening at once."

I am retired. This means that I don't have to be at a certain place every day. It means that every day is open to have things scheduled as fits.

My oral surgeon asked when a good time for a followup check would be, and I said 'mornings are better'. My mother's outpatient rehab center asked when it would be most convenient for us to have her come, and we said 'mornings are better'. The middle school -- well, they didn't ask, they told me that meeting with the student in the last period of the day was when they did it, and I said sure. After all, everything else that recurs was set for the morning. Meeting the kid at 2:15 shouldn't be a problem.


The oral surgeon called yesterday and said that they had an emergency surgery and wanted to push the checkup to 12:30. Well, sure, okay, nothing else going on except the 2:15 meeting at the school. Sure, go ahead.

And then my mother was informed that her therapy appointment today would be 1:00 - 230.

So, going to the dentist means I can't take my mother to therapy. Meeting with the kid means I can't pick her up, either.

But its okay, I have nothing scheduled in the morning!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Mentor Thought

I've done a fair amount of poking around on the web, looking for info on middle school and mentors. One thing that occurs to me: very few people have a practical, concrete program. They're usually long on buzzwords, short on 'here's how'.

So heres what I've come up with. This is very much a work in progress. I haven't presented any of it to my mentee. They're just ideas. Some are good, some aren't.

  • Get a sense of whats being studied in each class.
  • Lay out whats going on -- projects, homework -- and what the due dates and requirements are.
  • Listen and encourage!

  • Pick one subject's material and we'll go over it together.
  • Write one paragraph general summary of what was studied this week in any class. If you want, we can do the summary together.
  • A one paragraph summary of whats going to be studied in any subject in the next week.
  • Pick one topic from any class that stuns you. Lets talk about it.
  • Take one days subject and teach it to me.
  • Write a high level summary together of one upcoming chapter in any textbook.
  • Once a cycle, spend an hour in the township or school library or other location and review one subject from that cycle.
  • A monthly pizza study get together, possibly with one or two other people in your class.
  • Talk with the teachers TOGETHER to detail whats happening and ask for their involvement.

  • Bring any tests that occurred in the last week, particularly if they didn't go well. Lets talk about them.
  • If a review sheet or study guide is handed out, bring it to a meeting and lets discuss it.
  • List any tests or projects that are going to happen in the next month, and talk about what you're going to do to prepare for them. Lets plan on reviewing these things together before the test or project is due.

  • Should we have a written contract? Should there be a 'mentor evaluation'?
  • There should be something in everything we do that speaks to the need to be comfortable in reading.

Demand Overload

I thought that this article, from the Simple Dollar site, was worth reading. It's succinct and to the point.

More XKCD Goodness

From the XKCD site, here:


Well, we may have made a start.

I spoke with the sixth grade guidance counselor, who had a couple of ideas (more generic or teacher-like than I would have liked, but they got me to thinking), plus I heard another mentor saying 'I've been trying to be a pal to him, but it isn't getting him moving; I'm going to start talking about schoolwork', and finally, I leafed through a booklet about 'How To Get Better Grades', which was half useful.

So I was straight with him.

I told him my goal is to get him to the point where teachers don't bug him about 'oh, you can do better'. I said I wasn't looking to turn him into a fan of social studies or anything else; I just wanted to get him to the point where he could survive the course, pass it, and get on with his life. I said that I wanted this for a couple of reasons, including that if he's failing courses, he can't play varsity football, but also because its something he has to do, like it or not, so I'm going to see if I can help him make it. I promised that I would not ask him to like it.

I told him that if he thinks my concepts are stupid, or that I'm wasting his time, I want him to tell me, and that he really can because I'm the only person there who can't fail him, send nasty notes home, or anything like that. I told him that if HE decided it wasn't working, I would ask him for ideas, but if he just wanted OUT, then it was over -- entirely his call. I said that I'd just go back home and bake, which is what I like to do.

And I told him that tomorrow, when we meet, I will give him five ideas for gutting it through any course. I would ask his opinion on each one. If he thinks they stink, he can tear them up, make spitballs out of them, whatever. If he thinks he can do them -- any or all -- I'll ask him to pay me, in time. I'll ask him to promise that he will spend some amount of time doing what he agreed to do. And if he does, we'll talk about it, see whats working, whats not.

Its not much, but its more than I had this morning.


From the Bloomberg news site, also, the Division of Religious Intolerance:

Nov. 28 (Bloomberg) -- Sudan charged a British teacher with insulting Islam and sedition after she allowed pupils to name a toy bear Muhammad, the U.K. Foreign Office said. Gillian Gibbons was charged under ``Article 125 of criminal law relating to insulting religion and inciting hatred,'' a spokeswoman for the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office said in a telephone interview, reading from a statement. Gibbons was arrested after parents of her pupils at an English school complained she had insulted the Muslim Prophet by allowing pupils to name the bear. Physical depiction of the Prophet Muhammad is considered blasphemous and is strictly forbidden by devout Muslims. Gibbons could face up to six months in jail or forty lashes and a fine, Agence France-Presse reported.

I know, I know: its their country, their religion, they get to do whatever they want. You play in their park, you have to abide by their rules. So I suppose the message here is, Momma, don't let your babies grow up to work anyplace Islam holds sway. Islamic kids in those places, you're on your own. Good luck with the outside world.



"School officials have said the students suggested names for the bear and then voted. Their choice was Muhammad - the most popular boy’s name in the Muslim world. But while naming a child after Islam’s revered prophet is acceptable, many consider using it for an animal or toy to be insulting.

In Britain -- where Muhammad is now the second most popular name for baby boys -- the reaction had been shock and disbelief, from both non-Muslims and Muslims. Muhammad Abdul Bari, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said Sudanese authorities had “grossly overreacted.” “Gillian should never have been arrested, let alone charged and convicted of committing a crime,” he said."

Momma, don't let....

Dennis Kucinich

Every so often, I come across a web site that lets me compare my views on various things to those of the candidates. Every time, my views synch up with those of Dennis Kucinich.

The first time that it happened, I thought it was a fluke. In fact, the first time that it happened that my views were held to be like his, I assumed that the site was rigged -- like those people who sign into polls and send ten thousand votes for Ron Paul. (I like Paul, but those people do him no favor.) But after it happened five or six times, I found myself thinking 'Well, if you and he are so closely linked, why don't you vote for him?' And the answer is that I don't even consider it because I assume he's got no chance at all. A little bit of it is because I don't know if he could do the job; saying the 'right thing' (by my lights) is one thing, but anyone can do that; heck, Bush did that. (No, I didn't vote for him.) Its something else again to be able to do the job. I just can't see how being a big city mayor and a Congressional Representative demonstrates ability. To be honest, if it were just a question of demonstrated ability, I'd vote for Richards.

That feeling for a need for demonstrated achievement is why I'm not in favor of Obama, incidentally. Clinton doesn't have a lot more, but she does have more. And, as I overheard someone say in a restaurant once, 'Can you imagine Bill Clinton back in the White House, but this time he has no responsibilities? Man, I want to be invited to that party.'

But as to attitudes and responsibilities.

I like when other countries like us; I like when they respect us. I know that sometimes respect and like are contradictory; they respect our military and economic power, but they don't particularly like us. Sometimes that dislike is a cultural thing, as when the French would have nothing to do with us over what, frankly, seemed like silly reasons to me. (And yes, I remember Freedom Fries. Silliness knows no borders.) And sometimes its based on more substantial things, and even if I don't agree, they have the right to their opinion. So its unAmerican to disagree with us -- so? So? One of the big sticking points right now is our involvement in Iraq, and, right behind that, our involvement in Iran, Afghanistan, and, sometimes it seems, half the countries in the world. Sometimes, the dislike shades over into active disrespect; they recognize that the military and economic power is still there, but its being used in a manner so egregiously bad, either actively or passively, they (almost) don't care if they tick us off or not. Its like the occasionally-circulated cartoon of the mouse giving the finger to the plunging hawk -- which cartoon I happen to like. Attitude isn't everything, but it counts for a lot.

Which brings me back to Kucinich. I just read a lengthy post on a website called Patriot Posts. Usually, I don't even read posts on sites with name like that, as I find that they pretty much telegraph their opinions right up front. But in this case, the post was about a speech given by Davy Crockett on the ability of the Congress to give money to funds of its own devising. Like a lot of people (I think), when I think of Davy Crockett, I think of Fess Parker; that Crockett was an actual person sometimes eludes my conscious awareness. Davy, I hardly knew ye. But I read the post, and it impressed me. In a nutshell, he said that the Constitution didn't give him or anyone else in Congress the right to take the money that was accumulated for the operation of the government and give it to anyone, no matter how deserving - widows, orphans, anything. Private philanthropy was fine and encouraged; public philanthropy was not. Frankly, I was surprised. I guess I knew that; I just wasn't aware of it. And in a world where we routinely send millions and billions of dollars to other countries or aid efforts in other places, I saw the disconnect between those actions and what the Constitution says.

Now, I don't think that the Constitution is the eternal document, able to foresee all. There's a heck of a lot of things that didn't come into their awareness, things that you simply have to interpret, interpolate, and make up out of whole cloth. I don't agree with Paul's assertion that everything has to be based on what the Constitution clearly says. But this seems like a fairly straightforward question, I thought. Does the Constitution allow the spending of our money for public philanthropy, here or abroad, or not?

I know that the actions in Iraq and places like that aren't questions of philanthropy. But for just a moment, I understood the attraction of Kucinich as regards government spending. Ron Paul, too. And once I admit the possibility that they might be right on some things, it becomes easier, more palatable, to look again at other things they want that I think are silly and ask 'Why do I think they're silly?' And, you know what? Every so often, they still are -- but every so often, they're not.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Uncle Jay

One Heartbeat

From various sources:

Vice President Dick Cheney has reportedly experienced atrial fibrillation, a type of irregular heartbeat.

The irregularity isn't surprising. The presence at all -- now, that's surprising.

Reading Apple

Last night, I was grumbling about how, every so often, I have to persuade the laptop to start. Apparently, theres some kind of fault in the power supply food chain -- from what I read, Dell Inspiron 600Ms are known for this -- which translates out to refusing to start on occasion. For a while, I would remove the battery (the little one that comes with the system, leaving the big battery in place), and then it would start; sometimes I had to have it plugged in, sometimes not. Then I read some articles that suggested the power connector was flexing in some way, and that grabbing the laptop back by the power lights would let it start -- and, amazingly, that seemed to be the case. Now I'm back to twiddle, twist, unsnap battery, what the heck will work this time....and so, of course, I'm thinking 'well, maybe we will replace this, after all. And I'm thinking about replacing it with a Mac, because, of course, Macs never break. Feel free not to disillusion me in this regard.

So I'm reading this on the Apple web site about the MacBook:

The most advanced and affordable Mac notebook ever gives you a blazingly fast mobile architecture in a beautiful design that costs less than slower, clunkier models. It’s like getting a sports car for the price of a scooter. Talk about performance — MacBook is powered by an Intel Core 2 Duo processor with speeds revving up to 2.2GHz. And all models pack a performance-enhancing 4MB of shared L2 cache.

...and I'm thinking Wow, look at the buzzwords! Most Advanced! Affordable! Blazingly Fast! Revving! Performance-Enhancing! L2 Cache! All this for an architecture that in a couple of years, if I'm lucky, will be regarded as Sadly Outdated! Cheap, But Look How Slow It Is! And How Slow That Cache Is!

I wonder if I should look at Thinkpads....I kind of liked the last one I had...and it runs Windows.


Sleeping is a wonderful thing.

Sleeping in a room where you have a monitor running, so that you can hear if a certain little old lady needs help, and instead get to hear every time the little old lady gets up in the middle of the night, rattling past the monitor with her walker, is -- well, it leads to interesting dreams.

I was somewhere in Western Canada, looking for a large city so I could find out if the people who'd hired me actually were a real company. On the train, I met two cute little girls and their brother, all of whom lived in the same brownstone in Mucu (I waved goodbye from the train as it pulled up their street). It then became a tugboat in a very large water filled room, and everyone else got off, splashing away in the knee deep water.

Ah hah.

Monday, November 26, 2007


This isn't what I was thinking about. Well, maybe the pizza.

Let There Be....You Know

One of the minor problems that most homes have -- certainly, the ones I'm familiar with -- is that there isn't enough light in the closest. Even the smallest closets have dark spaces where things disappear. Perhaps its analogous to the place where your socks go, once you put them in the washer.

This article, from the Gadget Venue site, speaks about a prototype for the use of electroluminescent panels to simulate a window's muted light. It made me wonder: why not in a closest? Not the window, but the panel?


I was just rereading part of Robert Ludlum's The Bancroft Strategy. I've read it before, but I picked up the paperback the other day, purely (I know that this is going to sound strange) because I wanted to be able to read this part again:

Andrea set down her teacup with an audible clink- Spode on Spode, politer than clearing her throat, she thought.

There are some other sequences in there that I like rereading, too, but that image -- it takes place in a governors meeting of the immensely wealthy and powerful Bancroft Foundation, a group which Andrea's just been invited to join -- speaks to me of elegance and warm style. I can see the sunlight glinting off the polished wood of the conference table, highlighting the flowers in the vases on the end tables, the water in the crystal glasses, the silver pitchers, and, of course, the china. None of which, other than the Spode itself, is in the actual text; I can just see it.

Well, I told you it was strange. But here's something stranger: when I read about the function of the foundation, which is to apply its immense financial resources to the betterment of the world through the institution and funding of humanitarian efforts, both theoretical and practical, I find myself wondering why I can't do anything that that, even in my own little orbit. (Because, of course, I don't have anything like their resources; one one billionth of it, if that!) But I have some spare funds, and in an era of microloans, surely I can find someplace to put my meager amount to good use? I'm sure that I can.

But I don't. Its not sexy enough for me to donate, say, twenty five or fifty dollars to the local soup kitchen or Boys Club (what do they have to do with me, I find myself thinking), and as for the well-known organizations, my money wouldn't pay for the postage that they would use over the next three years to continually send me letters filled with pictures both pathetic and evocative. So I don't contribute to either. I ought to, I think. But I don't.

Somehow, I need to find a place where I can feel that my money makes a difference, in support of a cause about which I genuinely care. And I think that's the nut of it: when it comes right down to it, I don't genuinely care. Sorry about people who are homeless, battered, disadvantaged, ill? You bet, sure am. Moved to do more than send the occasional check? Nope. I don't know why, but I find it very hard to sustain interest and compassion in anything that I'm not directly involved in, and even then, only for the duration of the involvement. I guess its a character flaw, indicative of a person more shallow than I like to admit.

Because I resent and reject emotional appeals, I need something that I can care intellectually about. So that I remember, I need something that will remind me, gently, that they appreciate my support, and would appreciate more, without in any way implying that they expect it. Does that sound like I want someone to tug at their forelock while begging humbly for a scrap to eat? It does, to me. But I think, shorn of that nasty image, thats what I need. An intellectually gripping and recurring appeal.

I know, thats a hell of a lot to ask.

Cold Day

This has been a cold, glum day. My biggest accomplishments have been a) eating two bowls of cereal for lunch, and b) harassing my daughter to do most of the work on two projects that are due in a week, plus her homework. Its weird -- I feel like we've had winter for months, and technically, we haven't had it at all, yet.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Get The Picture?

Cheapness wins again.

This morning, I saw an excellent photograph in the Arts section of the Washington Post. It was so good, I thought 'Heck, I'd love to have a copy of that!' Turns out that the picture is available from the Washington Post Writer's Group for sale, framed or not. Great, I thought. And then I found that unframed, 8x10 is $50; framed with a cream mat, $150.

It's still a nice photograph, though. Take a look.


I think that the word 'cool' is overused.

Just thought I'd mention that.

random thoughts

External involvement:
If we get involved in the internal affairs of other nations, we stand a decent chance of regretting it. At the least, we'll lose face; at the worst, blood and money. No one seems to appreciate that kind of thing since the Marshall Plan. No one likes the global policeman. Though the willingness to get involved, either economically or militarily, carriew substantial weight -- the willingness to use a method of force means that sometimes you don't actually have to use it.

But if we don't get involved, nasty regimes sprout up headed by people who at the least oppress their own people and destroy their own country before decamping to someplace with easy access to Swiss or Caribbean bank accounts. Sometimes, people blame us for that, too. And sometimes these nasty regimes send their problems here. Plus, other countries feel that they can push you around, which is not a pleasant experience.

Currency value:
If the dollar is highly valued as a currency of exchange (aka 'strong dollar'), then our exports cost more in other countries, so the amount sold goes down, so our negative balance of trade stays negative.

But if the dollar is less valued as a currency of exchange (aka 'weak dollar'), then other countries want to be paid in other currencies than ours, which is seen as a humiliating thing for our country, and to some implies a drop in productive and competitive ability.

We move manufacturing overseas to reduce production costs. That eviscerates out productive ability here, and drops the standard of living of our people, but increases (or at least maintains) corporate profits. Corporations will do whats best for them in lieu of compelling reasons to do otherwise.

But if we keep it here, we lose in competition to countries that are willing to pay their people less and work them harder, thus reducing corporate profits while maintaining, at leasts for a while, the local standard of living.

Talking Turkey

We don't have a turkey at Thanksgiving, or, indeed, other times. Frankly, its more work than we want to put into anything. And even though I've heard it said that we ought to thank the American Indians for introducing us to the concept of a Thanksgiving holiday, without which millions of people wouldn't think it normal to ram their hands up a dead turkey's butt, we like our way better. If it makes it easier to accept, just say we've adopted Ben Franklin's attitude toward the bird.

But for those who do subscribe to the Turkey Mythos, I offer this, from the Endless Banquet site.


Every year for the past dozen or so, I've been Santa at a local hospital at an event they hold for the employees. I really enjoy doing it, and every year I say that I wished I had more opportunity to do that. So, when I heard that my church was looking for someone to do it, and that they had a Santa suit, I thought Sure, why not?

Today I learned the difference between a cheap Santa suit and a quality one. Like, lining (granted, doing it without lining is actually better). Pockets in the pants. A belt that feels like a belt, not a strip of plastic. Ditto the boot tops. But the piece de resistance is the hair and wig. Oh, my goodness, oh, my goodness. This is One Cheap Wig.

I may be buying a wig and beard, this week. Or at least renting one (if its available to be had) from the place that rents the Santa outfit I wear to the hospital. I want something that fits well, can be secured to my head, and looks real. I don't know what that translates out to in terms of cost, though I've seen ones in excess of three hundred dollars. (Yow!) I'm thinking I ought to go to a theatrical or costume supply store, of which, of course, there are none within two hours of here.
Update: I spoke to the people from whom the hospital rents their costume. Not only do they have one they'll rent to me, in place of the shabby one, they said that if I want to buy one (at about 75% the going rate), they'll hook me up with people who are looking for a Santa at Christmas events, which is something I've been wanting to do. I'd do it for free, but apparently these people usually pay for one. My golly!

Cocoa Krispies

Because I can't chew, I've been getting foods that don't really require chewing. To my surprise, that happens to include some of my favorite foods, such as meatballs, meatloaf, and ravioli. The other day, though, I was buying some cereal, and, thinking of Rice Krispies, decided instead to pick up a box of Cocoa Krispies. I thought my daughter might like them, too.

My word.

She saw the box as we were making dinner, and she raced through eating the meatballs so that she could get to the CKs. She wolfed it down, and immediately had another bowl. This morning, she said that CK was all she wanted for breakfast, too. I said I'd have one, too "before they're all gone". She grimaced at me, saying that of course she'd leave me...some.

In the middle of it, she asked 'If Cocoa Krispies are just Rice Krispies with cocoa flavoring, why don't they make the popping sound that RKs do?' We decided to table that discussion, as both of us reached for another bowlful.

Next time, maybe I'll get a larger box.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


I just went down to see how my mother is doing. Talking to her is kind of weird. I have had relatives who drank heavily, and when they were fairly well flown, they'd sound like she does now -- making most of the words, but slurring some, and having to work to pronounce them. I know that's not why my mother sounds the way she does, but it evokes that memory.

She said something that I thought was strange -- she's not going to watch television or play on her computer until she feels recovered from the stroke. I am perplexed by that. It doesn't affect me, of course, but it just sounds strange.

My wife's in the other room, dialed into work -- she's doing a change that's expected to take about four hours to accomplish -- and my daughter is downstairs, watching a taped version of the High School Music video that we made the other night. Lets hope things stay quiet!

Great Wall

I was idly thinking that it'd be interesting to visit the Great Wall of China some day. One of the background images that I use on this laptop evokes the mystery and majesty for me. Here's what it looks like -

But somehow, this image doesn't have quite the same effect....

PC Safety

Microsoft offers a free scan of PCs to see if the device has been compromised by a zombie network. It can be found here. Note that, true to form, Microsoft won't let the tool be invoked by Firefox -- has to be IE.

Shiver Me Timbers

It's nice to be able to walk around barefoot in a warm house when it's below freezing out.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Mentor, and More

I've been giving a lot of thought to this mentor thing, and what I've come up with so far is that I should focus more on being a companion than a teacher. I don't mean being a pal to the kid, but just work on being someone who's obviously interested in what he's doing, both in and out of school. I need to express an interest in his classes, ask him to show me some of the things he's doing, but I shouldn't limit it to that. I need to make him understand that I care about how he's doing, overall. I'd think that he gets that from his parents (I have no reason to assume that he doesn't), but perhaps if he gets it from someone who's not obligated to do it, and if that someone obviously does think that things like sixth grade Social Studies are useful -- perhaps it'll help generate some interest in his mind. I know, it sounds weak to me, too -- but its the best that I can come up with.

Tomorrow, my mother comes home from the hospital. We'll be glad for her to be home, but we expect a certain amount of stress as a result of it. She's going to feel very weak, no matter how much progress she's made, and she'll get tired very easily. We expect that she won't want to push herself at all -- the last time she came home from the hospital, we (mostly my wife) had to be firm, not doing things for her which were easy for us to do, but difficult for her. (One time, after being told that she was sure my mother could do some minor task, my wife says my mother -- my sweet old mother -- actually glared at her.) We have to remember that doing that worked for us last time, and, more important, it worked for her. We have to do it again. Lets hope it doesn't last too long.

Speaking of not lasting too long, the in-and-out trip of my acquaintance's daughter went without incident. For some reason, that pleases me. Still not friends, of course. Got to remember that.

And we bought two Christmas trees today -- one live one, currently resident in a bucket of nutrient out behind the garage, and one artificial, currently resident in a box in the garage. We'll going to put the real one up in the living room (we hope), and the artificial one next to a bay window in the kitchen nook. At least, that's the plan. We'll see how it goes.

Sociable Studies

I'm not sure what to do about my mentee. I don't think its my job to round out his knowledge of social studies, no matter how much he doesn't bond with his teacher; I'm not qualified to do that. But if I don't talk with him about it, he's not going to get any feedback or encouragement on it. When we talked about it the last time, he told me that they hadn't done anything in the textbook yet, and when I asked the teacher for some idea of what they were doing, I got no response.

So THATS What They Drink....


The scary part is, I'm not entirely sure that its not intended as a politically motivated parody --

The Day After

This is the day after Thanksgiving, which is a notorious day for shopping. Ordinarily, I don't care at all about 'shopping' days; I get stuff as I need it, reserving attention only for major purchases -- like the vacuum cleaner that we're thinking about getting.

But this week is different, because First Colony, the people from whom we buy the Ghiradelli Coffees we like so much, which we elected to wait until December (free shipping) to order, sent me an email last week to the effect that this coming Monday, they will have a 25% off sale on their stock (just coffee or all stock, I'm not sure). I am going to order a lot of coffee, on that you can bet.

In a way, it's like when my wife and I were engaged and living in separate states -- we used to have huge telephone bills, really staggering ones. Then Sprint came along, and we found that we could drop our bill by about a quarter by switching to them. So we did. Did we talk the same amount, saving some money? No -- we talked more, ended up spending at least as much as we used to....and sometimes more. We used to joke, when we'd see Sprint trucks go by on the highway, that we ought to have our names on the door, as partial owners -- if not more. So it will be with coffee. 25% off? So that means order, um, at least a quarter more than we usually do, right? Rustle me up some of that excellent Chocolate Orange blend!

Its a pretty day out. Last night, I was looking out over the farm that abuts our modest piece of property. The sky was a deep blue, the cornstalks were all cut down, the sun was tinting the clouds a ruddy orange, and the leaves were mostly off the trees-- a classic Fall scene. This morning, the sky's a bright blue, and white clouds are scudding across the sky. Another classic.

Today we go buy a tree, and possibly do a little bit of shopping. But nowhere near the mall!

Canadians Circle Globe

Is this cool, or what? Posted a few months ago (but I just found it) on Calculated Chaos --

Colin Angus and Julie Wafaei completed the expedition on May 20th 2006 after 720 days of travel. Colin travelled 43,000 km by rowboat, bicycle, canoe, ski, and foot - a journey that voyaged across 3 continents, 2 oceans and 17 countries. Julie travelled with him for most of the expedition, including rowing 10,000 km unsupported across the Atlantic Ocean, making her the first woman to row across the Atlantic from mainland to mainland and the first Canadian woman to row across any ocean. For this expedition they jointly received the Adventurer of the Year Award from National Geographic Adventure.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


In the computer industry, that's the acronym for Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt, which for years was the assumed intention of IBM relative to all other comers -- make the customer afraid to use anything but IBM, make them unsure that changing was the right thing to do (assuming it was even possible), and make them doubt that the change would get them what they wanted. Some people say thats what Microsoft does now.

But in this case, it refers to three things:Chocolate Covered Pretzels. Chocolate Crunch Toffee. Christmas Cookies. The first two are purchased every year around this time, while the third is baked. I'm not sure if you can get CCPs during the year -- I recall looking once, without success. I know you can get recipes for CCT (I just looked), and I know you can buy it -- two catalogs that we get, which have nothing to do with food, nonetheless include a food section, this time of year, and both of them offer it. In fact, one of them, Crate and Barrel, leads off with CCPs and CCT. Given how rarely we buy from them, I think those two things are the primary reason we're still on their mailing list. As for the cookies, last year I started doing some recipe gathering, and now I have about a half-dozen that I consider to be 'Christmas Cookies' (ie, not the standard chocolate chip/oatmeal raisin stuff). These are things like chocolate shortbread, which is a little bit of work but very nice. When I think of Christmas Cookies, I think of two things -- those delicate cookies that you can get in very good pastry shops, and a cookie that I got once as a kid that I've always wanted to replicate, and never quite have -- it was a ball, with (I think) a cake filling, and chocolate sprinkles coating the exterior. I've occasionally looked for recipes that sound like that, and, to my surprise, found some that might be it on pages talking about desserts for Purim, of all things.

I'm not doing any baking this year, because of this dental thing, and it's really irritating me!


I am just delighted as all get out that the Senate is keeping their session open while they're on vacation, having one person hang around to go in, open the session, immediately close it, and go home -- all so the Prexy can't look around, say, what, no Senate? Guess I'll just make an interim appointment, then!

Take that, amBushman!

Dining Out

Today, we ate Thanksgiving dinner with my mother, at her rehab hospital. We had stayed overnight at my mother in law's home, driving down immediately after breakfast. It was a pleasant and even thoughtful gesture on the part of the hospital. Being in a hospital is tough; being there on Thanksgiving is tougher; being there alone on Thanksgiving is just plain awful. So, we were glad for the opportunity -- even if it was hospital food, which is really nasty stuff. But they tried, and that counts for a lot, to me. I looked at a couple of the other tables, and they were about the same as ours -- healthy people surrounding an aged, somewhat feeble one, but they all seemed pleased to be there.

My mother is really ready to check out. It happens on Saturday, which we told her twice, but she still asked. And she wanted us to start taking her stuff home, too, so we took a couple of things. But Saturday is the big day. We both expect that my mother will be in recurring 'help me jesus' mode, due mostly to stress and feeling out the limits of her abilitities. I hope that it doesn't last too long. But either way, it will be good to have her home.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

So what's going on in Iraq?

What I'm hearing is surprisingly positive -- the number of American deaths is down (above zero, so too many for me, but still....); some areas are experiencing normalcy (which has happened before, and gone away, but still...); there's even indications that the terrorist organization is having problems (it only takes one fanatic, but still...). So what's going on? Is it possible that this surge thing actually IS working? Or would it have happened anyway?

I don't doubt in the least that Bush would grab the credit, or selectively put out the truth to make it appear that he was right, after all... and I am sure that no matter what happens, there will be someone who can prove that it was, of course, inevitable. But it does appear that things maybe, possibly, might be changing.

So whats going on over there?


The state of public disdain has sunken over the past few decades.

If someone doesn't care for the actions or style of another, that other becomes a 'mofo', or 'fleakin' jazzbuster and goat abuser' -- and thats only if the person chooses to take the time to think about the depth of their ire and irritation. Whatever happened to 'two bit thimblerigger', which used to be a relatively common phrase. Who even knows what a thimblerigger is, these days? Not to mention, two bits?

Compare that to this, from a Times Online (the British one) article regarding the loss of a CD with much personal information on it:

Idiots. Utter, unbelievable, jaw-dropping, unpardonable idiots. It is beyond farce, past comprehension, criminally irresponsible and beneath contempt.

Now, that's style.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


I am seriously tempted to go berserk with Christmas decorating this year. And I know why, too. When we went to our friend's Christmas party last year, we were so taken by how nicely he'd done the whole house, I found myself thinking 'Why can't we do this'? And even though the first answer that came to mind was 'because he's talented, and you're not?'.... we may just give it a try anyway.

Some Benefit

I was feeling a little glum over the idea that my period of non-chewing is going to last well into the New Year -- I'm expecting it to last until just past the end of February -- when I got the current Williams-Sonoma catalog. They've outdone themselves in terms of both cooking equipment for the foodie-yuppe (fuppie?); my personal favorite is the eight thousand dollar gas range (thirteen hundred dollar delivery fee not included), and in terms of the foods they offer -- candies, pastries, cakes, breads, you name it. At least, I thought sourly, gazing at this chocolate cornucopia, I won't be gaining much weight this holiday season!

Backing Up

I'm in the process of switching from a commercial backup service to an external hard drive that I bought a while back. Its purely a financial decision -- I'd rather spend the money that currently goes to the backup to rent movies from NetFlix. I know, first time the house burns down and I have no files at all, I'll feel pretty sheepish. Once the shock wears off, that is.

Actually, thats an interesting question that I don't dwell on. If you had to boogie from your house RIGHT NOW -- what would you take? The massive file cabinet? The MyBook hard drive? Whats irreplacable?

But anyway, I needed to know where Outlook Express stores its emails. As you may know, Outlook Express just LOVES to store files in folders that it may or may not identify to you. My email id is CeruleanBill, but the folder name in Outlook's folders might be a string of hex characters. And every time you create a new idea, or futz with Outlook, it does this again. I'd like to assume that the reason was because they never thought a user would need to know.... and not just to tick me off.

So when I found this, on the LIUtilities site, I was pleased:

Locating the Email Storage Folder
The easiest way to find out exactly where your emails are stored is to start Outlook Express, go to the Tools menu, and open the Options dialog box. In the Options dialog box, select the Maintenance page and click the Store Folder button. Here you can find the path to the folder containing your emails. To open the folder, copy the path and paste in the address field of the Windows File Manager. You should see a number of .dbx files and possibly some other files, too.


Children of Privilege

I received a note from an acquaintance the other day, asking if her daughter could use us as an emergency resource while she is briefly here to interview at a local medical school. I said yes, because I like being able to do things like that. I rarely get the opportunity; letting the neighbor's kids come here if they can't get into their own home is about the extent of it.

This woman and I 'met' via email some time ago when I dropped her a line to ask about something she'd been quoted as saying regarding medical technology. A fairly lively correspondence sprang up, but after about six months I believe she decided that I was of no use to her, being neither of her state, profession, social status, or religion, and not sufficiently interesting in my own right, so that our nascent friendship plummeted and hissed out like a lit match tossed into the Pacific Ocean. Now, I drop her a short note about every six weeks or so, on average, usually about medicine; she responds to about every fourth one -- slightly more if its medical, and slightly less if I'm asking about her family. I was surprised to get the request for her daughter, but I know that it's not going to translate into - well, anything. I'm simply a resource. Happy to oblige.

(My wife once asked why I keep writing to her, given all of this, and the best I could say was that I'm taken by the intricacies of what she does for a living (she's a specialized doctor, and I like knowing medical trivia), plus, I like bright people, generally. After a moment, I added 'Pathetic, huh?' No, she said, slowly. As long as you keep in mind, she added, that she's not a friend, and almost certainly not going to be. Yeah, I know that, I said, reluctantly.)

This morning, I glanced out and noticed that the fog is slowly lifting. I turned to my wife and said 'The fog's dissipating; must be the golden radiance of someone alighting here from California'. We both laughted, because we're amused by the idea of this woman's daughter coming here to attend medical school. We're sure that this is a 'safety school' for her, as the idea of someone who's lived a life of ease -- not an easy life; she's an MIT graduate, and therefore accomplished in her own right -- but a life of sunshine and perpetual warmth, coming to live in Pennsylvania -- and in Hershey, of all places, not even Pittsburgh or Philadelphia -- well, its a funny image. (Probably about the same as if we picked up and moved to the Golden State. You'd see us on the boardwalk in black socks and Bermuda shorts saying Guhnarly, dewd! ) Not to imply, incidentally, that the local med school is a Podunk U; they're renowned for the work that they do. Its just that there are a lot of med schools that are renowned for what they do, and many of them are in much more cosmopolitan places.

It made us think briefly of what it must be like to routinely inhabit those rarefied social strata. Does she know, we wondered, that she is a child of privilege? Or does she no more realize that than we do? Two years ago, I was thinking about what I earned at IBM, and I thought gee, I really don't earn that much -- its two thirds of what I did at EDS, after all. I realized, abstractly, that what I earned was half again what the national average income is, and even a bit more for the local average, but that didn't make an impact, as the only incomes that I knew were what I earned, and what my wife earned. While I suspected that if my relatives know what we earned, and owned, they'd be envious, we didn't think it was all that remarkable. It was, after all, simply what we were used to.

Probably the same with her. I think she's most likely worked for what she's got; she just started at a higher level than most. She's used to having professional and medical contacts through her mother, all over the country; used to the lifestyle of one of the country's most famous zip codes; used to being able to jet off to Belgium, France, Hawaii, Australia. Thats not abnormal, she'd think. It's just the way things are.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Use the Force, Luke!

I was futzing around the web, and came across the Yanko Design site (which I've seen before, and liked). This time, it was displaying a proposed product called HealFast that would promote healing through a mild electrical current as part of a bandage. Here's a picture from their site:As I was reading it, I thought that I recalled (vaguely) reading about work having been done with this kind of thing, though I thought it was with bones, not generalized healing. So I GSearched it, and found this article on the Time Magazine site which spoke of the potential for use in encouraging bones to knit which otherwise would not. The article clearly said that it isn't for routine use, but rather times when bones simply aren't fusing, and where the alternative might be amputation, if not worse.

Funny, I thought, it was sexier when Yanko said it. The power of clean design, huh? But the two really aren't the same -- they're talking wounds, not bones. I wondered if a more precise search would turn up something snappy. Well... how snappy does this sound?

Yeah, me too. Guess I'll stick with believing the pretty pictures....


Seeing this, it's a damn good thing that Delicious Magazine isn't sold in the US.

First Meeting

We had our first 'real' meeting, my mentee and me. As part of it, I got a copy of his grades. Now I know why he was offered the opportunity to be in the program. What I'm not sure about is what I'm supposed to do about it.

Basically, of about nine subjects, he's doing well in four, and poorly in five. Of the five, three are 'real' subjects - Science, Social Studies, and Math -- while two are 'kind of' subjects -- computers and techology education. We picked Social Studies to talk about. He told me that he didn't get why anyone would care about this stuff, and once I started to talk about it, his behavior abruptly dulled -- he started fidgeting a lot, literally holding his notebook in front of his face, looking off into space. I talked generally about the area his class is getting into -- the physical geography of South America -- and why you might actually care about it, but I know its a long way away from here to there. I'm not qualified to teach the subject, nor am I planning to, but I figure I need to get up to speed about it, so that I can at least talk about what he's encountering I'm assuming that I ought to talk about it.

But other than that - hmmm. Hmmm....


From the Metro.Co.UK website --

Swedish women have launched a campaign called Just Breasts which fights for their right to go topless on beaches and in swimming pools. Scandinavian feminists were outraged when two women were asked to cover up their breasts by a lifeguard at a public pool near Stockholm. One of the pair (sorry), 22-year-old Ragnhild Karlsson, said: 'If women are forced to wear a top, shouldn't men also have to?' As a result, women in southern Sweden set up the Bara Bradiost network, which translates as 'Just Breasts'. A spokeswoman for the group said: 'We want our breasts to be as normal and desexualised as men's, so that we too can pull off our shirts at football matches.' So far, the campaign's strategy has been devastatingly effective. Members of Just Breasts have been jumping into swimming pools across the country wearing nothing more than bikini bottoms.This tactical masterstroke has caused an upheaval in Swedish law - the country's equal opportunities ombudsman will decide whether or not to take up the case later this month.

I kind of think this is a good idea....


Though I'm not a superchef (and likely never will be!), I do know how to make bread. Which is why, oddly enough, I was fascinated with this article on making a basic loaf of bread. It's simple, and it all sounded right to me. I recommend it.

Visiting the Doc

Went to the dentist this morning, and it turned out pretty much as I expected. He told me he got the rest of the sutures out, and that it'll be three to four months until the implants can be done. Also, not to chew at all using the dental plate until, oh, the Ides of March, 2008. I'm not happy, but the hell with it, if thats what it takes, then thats what it takes.

I also got to see what I think he's really like, when he's alone with his staff -- someone had left the papers from an exam kit on the chair's table, and he jabbed a finger at it while glaring at the nurse. Ho, ho, ho.

Still chilly out.


A bit of an unusual day, and it's just started!

For one, it snowed last night. Just a dusting, but still -- we didn't get any kind of snow until, I think, December of last year. And though the local school district didn't delay school (one in three chance), three districts north of here did.

For another, my daughter mentioned this morning that she'd inadvertently left her cell phone on, last night, and this morning was woken not by her alarm but by the buzz of the phone. Her friend was texting her to tell her that it had snowed. I'd heard kids do that; I didn't really believe it.

I have two events today -- I'm going to the dentist for a checkup, at which (wince) he'll likely try to remove some more sutures. I'm going to ask him how long before I can use the dental plate to chew. I'm expecting that he'll say three months, and express surprise at my surprise. Didn't you know that healing takes at least four months? Which I did, but what is an obvious corollary to him is not always, to me.

And I have a meeting with my mentee. I want to stop by the school early to get a look at his grades. I think it'd be better to do it before he and I meet, and I don't think it'd be fair to take his time while I do it. Also, I want the chance to think about them a bit. In a weird way, what he and I will be doing in that regard is a parallel of what my daughter and I will be doing. I've only met him once, but he seems bright to me.

So thats the day.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Fake Steve

And This is Why

I use Thunderbird as an email client. Its not bad. First off, its not Microsoft; second, its free; third, it does junk mail filtering; fourth, it has the ability to execute rules on mail based on content. Its search capabilities could be better. Still, its an overall decent tool. It does have the occasional surprise, though. For example, this afternoon, it decided to completely forget about all three email identities. Blank, nada, nothing there.

(Nurse, some oxygen over here, stat!)

The good news is, I've been running an intermittant backup, so I had a copy of the emails and file structure thats current as of about a week ago. The bad news is, TBird doesn't seem to acknowledge that you might want to use profiles from someplace else (like the backup folder). I had to recreate the ids, then overlay them with the backed-up profiles. Just putting them in the right place wasn't enough. My guess is, it uses 'something else' to tell itself that those profiles ought to be used.

I added a gimmick to it, though; we'll see if it works. My email comes through a POP mainframe. I put a rule on it to say that any incoming mail for any of those systems ought to be copied to my GMAIL account. This won't save emails going out, but, hey, I'll take what I can get.

This is why I do backups.

[True Knowledge]

But She's A Geek!

Yeah. Isn't it cool?

Desiring Design

I like good design, but I'm only rarely willing to pay for it. Here's an example of what doesn't make the cut, though I wish it could - water carafes with removable insulating covers, from Greener Grass Design.


One of the things that makes shopping effective for us is that we've created a spreadsheet of what we normally buy, and where it is in the store. That severely limits impulse buys. Creating such a list can be tedious, however, so I think that this list, predone, might help.

Talking with the Offspring

This afternoon, we're going to sit down with my daughter and talk with her about her performance. Although I tend to be fairly good with winging this kind of thing, I sketched out what points I want to make, because I think its important. I know that she knows I'm unhappy; that I went to this effort should reinforce that to me -- to us -- this is a big deal.

The trick will not be so much in tracking performance and in enforcing excellence (though I have no idea how to handle the situations where the instructor wants one thing, but my daughter though they wanted something else). The trick will be in inculcating this attitude in her. As my wife said this morning, we've seen this problem before, and we thought it was resolved.

These are the notes as they stand now:

Second honors is not bad, but it is below average for you and for your school.
Problems were in doing what was required; doing it on time. Not too much in knowing the material.

Action plan:
1. Review all grade sheets once a week; agenda twice a week (both on average)
2. Review execution of homework and projects once or twice a week; more if problems arise.
Look for completeness, correctness; due date.
Expect that I will be picky.
The devil is in the details.

Understand that this is not life or death, but it is very important, because it sets the stage for high school expectations.
Shoot for all As or high Bs. Another second honors means maximum one hour TV per night, if that, and possibly no color guard.
If first honors received next time, will back off on frequency of checking, but not eliminate it until the next marking period after that.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Weighty Matters

Up to two days ago, I'd lost about a pound a day, on average, since the surgery. I wondered what it would stabilize at, and so I started tracking it, instead of simply noting what it was.

In the two days since I started tracking it, I have gained four pounds!

Taser, Cont'd

Apparently, there really is an epidemic of cops going whacko with Tasers. Here's another. To be fair, there's justification -- the victim was a restaurant owner getting food from the restaurant's walk-in cooler.

That's enough, right?


This page describes the use of a product called Fport, which will display who's got ports open on your PC. I thought it an interesting tool.


We just came back from visiting my mother at the rehab center. The news there is generally good.

Her speech is generally understandable now -- fuzzy enough to notice, but not bad. She can eat if the food is thick, and she's learned a couple of tricks to make choking less likely. The bad news is that the right side of her jaw is still on the weak side, so she can't easily handle food there. They're working on that.

Physically, she's obviously getting stronger. In some ways -- getting into and out of a low bed -- she can do it by herself. She needs a walker to move around, and our sense is that she'll probably need one for a while. She's got one that she received when she came home from heart bypass surgery, but we might get an upgraded one for her that's got larger wheels and incorporates a seat (not a wheelchair, but it could be used as one) because she tends to get out of breath. The buzzword for that sort of device appears to be 'rollator', and its a bit of a challenge to find a web site for them which doesn't look as if it were hacked together by two guys running an enterprise of dubious legality. But we'll look....

The expectation is that she'll come home on Saturday. I'm a little apprehensive about that, but not as much as I have been. Seeing her move helps. And she'll continue outpatient therapy after she comes home, which is also good. She's not real big on doing those exercises by herself.

I did notice that as I was walking around the physical therapy room, I tended to hide the slight limp that I've still got from the hip surgery.

Prius Trivia

I've noticed on occasion a small yellow light come in the dashboard when I've been punching it around a corner. Not always, but occasionally. Today I found that that's called the 'Slip Indicator Light', and it means the TRAC system's been engaged. TRAC is a form of advanced ABS; its different, but the goal is the same: to reduce slippage when you're in dicey situations. Thats the good news.

The bad news is, if you're in really slippery situations, the Prius TRAC system might decide that its too slippery to allow the vehicle to run, at which point it kills drive power. I've noticed, once or twice, when the light flickered on, that it sounded like the drive system slowed down, almost as if it were shifting (which you never hear on a Prius because of the kind of transmission it has). But I never heard of this.



It's going to be a busy weekend.

In about half an hour, we're going over to the rehab hospital to see what the rehab exercises are that my mother does, so that we can assist if needed once she's home (which won't be for another couple of weeks). Halfway through that, we're bringing our daughter over to the church so that she can get 'service hours' by assisting in a church festival, and then we go back to the hospital for another session. This afternoon, we're going over to Home Depot to price a replacement vanity cabinet and flooring for my mother's bathroom, with an eye to trying to get it in before she comes home (unlikely).

Tomorrow, we bring my daughter back to the church again for another service project -- assisting in a pancake breakfast -- which will fulfill her service hours requirement. And in the afternoon, we talk with my daughter about her grades, and what we want to do to address the situation. I'll try to make that as much her solution as ours, because both of us have to be comfortable with it.


Muppet Matrix

Very Calm Lady

Took me a couple of moments to realize why...

Friday, November 16, 2007


No, not High Definition Television, about which, every time I read an article, I get more bemused. One article will say 'You know, you can get HD local signals over the air; no need for cable or satellite; just use an old rabbit ear antenna', and another will say 'Well, we got our Sony Bravia, but the rabbit ears we'd picked up didn't work, so we bought a ....' Gag me.

This HDT, though, is How Doctors Think, which is the book I'm skimming now -- and the choice of verb should give you a sense of the value of it. Its not bad -- I certainly wasn't looking for anything dense -- but it does like to make the point, repeatedly, that doctors are Noble Folk, that they're dreadfully overworked (which is true, unless, as the book and other sources point out, they've moved into administration part time, which saves their sanity and income, or into retainer medicine, which does that and lets them 'practice medicine the way I want to'), and that they are by nature morally better than those scum over at the insurance companies -- the author actually uses the phrase 'bean counters', but you know thats what he wants to say; wonder how he feels about 'pill-pusher'? - who are, dammit, just interested in money. Imagine!

But for all of that, its an interesting book, because it makes several good points about how doctors make mistakes. (Which really should be the title, but I guess HDT was sexier). He's not talking about technical errors --what's that, doctor? you say the heart is ABOVE the belly button? Well, I'll be damned... -- which he says account for only a very small fraction of errors; instead, he's talking about perceptual errors, where the doctor makes a diagnosis based on a misreading of the patient's actual condition. To be fair, this doesn't happen in most cases; the incidents in the book are where normal medicine isn't quite working; you've got some of the characteristics of this disease, but this disease always has red spots, and you don't have that....although lack of red spots could be a byproduct of this drug, but then again... So its not always an easy thing, making a diagnosis, not to mention the differential diagnoses (what could it be if it isn't what I think it is?), while its very easy to take cheap shots afterward (negligence lawyers do it all the time, I'm told).

When errors occur, he says, its frequently because these bright people misapplied a concept that usually works. For example, if it looks, sounds, and walks like a duck, its probably a duck, even if its does have kind of a black torso and seems to really like eating fish and sliding down hills of snow. And if it happens that I live near a duck sanctuary, then thats proof positive: its a duck. Diagnose based on what is the most likely match, ignore the things that don't match (because those are usually distracting background noise, not useful information), and go for the diagnoses that are the most common. Flu Season? Don't diagnose bronchial cancer when the symptoms are pretty consistant with a chest cold. On the other hand, don't entirely rule it out, either. Sometimes, the hoofbeats really do come from a zebra. And people with colds can have cancer, too.

Overall, not bad.

Coming Home to Iraq

This comes from Michael Yon Online Magazine, a very well done web site:

LTC Michael told me today that when al Qaeda came to Dora, they began harassing Christians first, charging them “rent.” It was the local Muslims, according to LTC Michael, who first came to him for help to protect the Christians in his area. That’s right. LTC Michael told me more than once that the Muslims reached out to him to protect the Christians from al Qaeda. Real Muslims here are quick to say that al Qaeda members are not true Muslims. From charging “rent,” al Qaeda’s harassment escalated to killing Christians, and also Muslims. Untold thousands of Christians and Muslims fled Baghdad in the wake of the darkness of civil war. Most of the Christians are gone now; having fled to Syria, Jordan or Northern Iraq..... Today, Muslims mostly filled the front pews of St John’s (a church in Baghdad) . Muslims who want their Christian friends and neighbors to come home. The Christians who might see these photos likely will recognize their friends here. The Muslims in this neighborhood worry that other people will take the homes of their Christian neighbors, and that the Christians will never come back. And so they came to St John’s today in force, and they showed their faces, and they said, “Come back to Iraq. Come home.” They wanted the cameras to catch it. They wanted to spread the word: Come home. Muslims keep telling me to get it on the news. “Tell the Christians to come home to their country Iraq.”

Phrase I Learned Today

Oxidation state.

I even understand it. I think.

Mulling it Over

I've mentioned on occasion that as a result of the enforced soft-foods diet that I've been on now for about twelve days, I've lost a fair amount of weight -- around twelve pounds from what I consider my normal size. This has really surprised me, because I didn't regard as what I normally ate as being all that much, nor did I consider myself to be a sedentary person. Yet the effect of eating substantially less -- I can't accurately quantify it; my gut feeling is 'about fifty five or sixty percent of normal' - is obvious. I haven't been hungry, as a rule. What brought this to mind was, oddly enough, being hungry; I didn't have breakfast this morning (I was in a snit, for reasons mentioned earlier), so that by 11, I was thinking that I could use something to eat. It turns out that Honey Wheat Cheerios aren't quite as soft as Rice Krispies, but that didn't stop me having them for lunch. But ten minutes later, I found myself at the pantry cupboard, looking for something else to eat -- then realizing that even if I found something, I couldn't have it, save the occasional cup of pudding or whatever. So I came back outside and resumed reading my current book. That was about half an hour ago, and at the moment, I'm not hungry. It's making me wonder how much I really do normally eat.

The book, incidentally, is How Doctors Think, and its not bad. I'm reading it as it relates to the styles of problem solving, and how people get stuck or sidetracked, though I'm also interested because its about medicine, which I like (in the abstract, anyway), and doctors, whom I don't (in the abstract, anyway).


These are not good times for people who make Tasers.

An article in an Australian newspaper relates the death of a man in a Vancouver airport who was hit twice with a Taser. A second article in lists a number of failures in how the situation was approached, including how the device was used. Incidents have occurred in United States airports, and colleges, too -- some of which we wouldn't know about were it not for cell-phone cameras and the like.

As the first article points out, Tasers were intended as a substitute for lethal force, which substitution is a good thing. Apparently, that not how it's playing out -- and the commentary by an RCMP spokesman to the effect that the death in Vancouver is 'just one person's view' is disingenuous, at best. Then again, the US had, in Rodney King, an excellent example of a video showing someone not just being Tasered but being actively beaten up by police -- and that went nowhere, so perhaps the RCMP can ignore this as well as we ignored our own.

Makes you wonder -- are we letting our cops away with too much?

Waking Up

There's a couple of old jokes about waking up.

In one, a college professor, teaching an early morning class, is challenged by a student to present the material more simply. It's too early to have to think, the student complains. The professor replies that its all in how you approach the day. He gets up before dawn, exercises, showers, and then he feels rosy all over. From the back of the room, a sleepy voice says 'Tell us more about Rosie.'

In another, a woman talking about her early morning routine says, simply 'Sometimes I wake up grumpy....and sometimes, I let him sleep in.'

This morning, I was more the latter than the former. I am still ticked about the dental surprise, yesterday. About which, what more can I say.

I'm still irritated by my daughter's performance in school. I am trying -- not too successfully -- not to view this as a serious failure. Mostly, I think it is, because I figured out once that about sixty percent or so of the class gets first honors. If she can't, then she's behind the power curve, and I don't like that. I see it as a failure. As I say, I'm trying not to view this as a major problem....but in my heart, I think it is.

Outside, the tree trimmers are busily hacking at our trees. Its what we want.... which I will have to remind myself of, when I see what will undoubtedly look like butchered trees. I know this, because every time its done, thats what they look like. The silver maple looks like the top six feet was whacked off, because thats exactly whats done. The other one, whose type I forget, will look smaller. The large evergreen looks shrunken. Only the small evergreens near the house won't look destroyed. At least, not very destroyed.

What fun, huh?

Thursday, November 15, 2007


That stands for Disaster Recovery Activity; its the actions you take to ensure, as best you can, that your computer operation will survive a catastrophe. It incorporates low-level, routine actions, such as data back up, all the way up to 'The data center blew up, what do we do now?' Disaster Recover drills find problems, but they don't find all problems; nor do they find problems like 'Well, what if A happens, and before we get that fixed, B happens?' Objectively, they should; subjectively, they don't, and won't unless you're willing to staff a really big organization to think about it.

Here's an interesting example of the response to an actual disaster by a Dallas-based hosting organization. You can see that they're trying very hard to be honest, while still trying very hard to say 'Everything's Under Control' and 'No Way Could We Have Foreseen THIS!' Its not funny, but, if you're interested in this sort of thing, it's instructive.

More Unpleasantness

I didn't beat up my daughter, tonight, but I thought about it. Not physically, of course. But verbally, yeah -- I thought about it.

She came in to Talk To Me About Her Grades. Oh, crap, I thought.

Well, it wasn't absolutely terrible news. She'd gotten As and Bs -- but some of the Bs were low Bs, because she'd forgotten to hand in assignments, or did them poorly. And so instead of First Honors, which she's gotten every period up to now, she got Second. And I don't have the stomach -- didn't have the stomach; still don't -- to say Oh, thats okay, you tried. Because to me, not turning things in, not reading directions means she didn't try, not hard enough. Remember what I said about How do you know if that damn agenda book is actually working? Remember my thoughts about the effectiveness of student-led conferences, held when grades are handed out? I consider this to be proof positive of the correctness of my suspicion -- that these concepts are a politically correct failure. Useful and valuable in concept; dismal in execution.

The temptation was to say some very cutting remarks. I came close. I didn't, but I came close. I knew that I'd say something that I'd regret, even if it were true. But boy, did I want to.

She's not getting away scot free from this. I just need to back off a little until just thinking about it doesn't irritate the hell out of me. Which at the moment, it does. After I cool down, we'll figure out how to handle this. For the moment, we'll let it lie.

She knows I'm --disappointed? More than that.

Some mentor I'll be.

We talked, briefly. I told her that I knew she was smart, and that this didn't change that. I told her that we would figure out what to do, together. And that no matter what, I still loved her. She seemed apprehensive when she came in; somewhat relieved, afterward. As for me -- well, I'm still a little ticked, but I'm working on it.

Dentists Lie

I am pissed.

I went to see the oral surgeon today to get sutures out, and to have the upper plate modified so that I could use it. Both were done.

When you hear the phrase 'modified so that I could use it', what does the word 'use' mean?

In this case: "Wear it if you absolutely need to, but otherwise, don't -- and if you do, don't chew with it. Doing so will imperil the integrity of the graft. Try not to wear it at all. " Before, it was 'Don't wear it for two weeks, then we'll modify it'. A mild caution not to overdo it, chewing wise, once it was in use. But that was it. No warnings about not using it at all. But now that we're at the point of actually using it -- well, well, well, different story.

In that eloquent phrase: WTF?

I know, I said that I like conservative doctors. But it would have been nice, up front, to know that the 'no chewing' period was going to last considerably longer than I thought. I knew that it would be at least four months from when the graft was done to when the first implants were done. I did not know that I was going to have to spend some portion of that continuing to eat soft foods. The first two months of which contain the two prime eating holidays of the year. Oh, joy.

How long will it last? I didn't ask. At that point, I really didn't want to know the answer. Somewhere less than four months, would be my guess. If I'd known this, up front, would I have said the hell with it, just go with dentures? At the moment, I'm thinking: oh, yeah.

Side note 1:
If I've lost ten pounds in ten days, what will months mean? Other than going insane because I won't be able to bake, that is? I do like losing weight, but crunching into something'd be nice, too. Especially if I can be relatively sure that the crunch isn't shattering bone in my jaw.

Side note 2:
As he was taking out the sutures (and without anesthetic!), he muttered that some of the sutures were awfully complicated, to which the nurse replied 'Well, your sutures always are.' He seemed to think this funny, saying 'Yeah, but usually you have to take them out, not me.' Oh, great. So the guy who did them thinks they're complicated -- and someone of lesser talent gets to remove them? This does buckets for my enthusiasm, too.