Wednesday, February 28, 2007

"Sergeant, engage CYA Mode Alfa !"

From the Army Times:

Walter Reed patients told to keep quiet

By Kelly Kennedy - Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday Feb 28, 2007 10:42:37 EST

Soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s Medical Hold Unit say they have been told they will wake up at 6 a.m. every morning and have their rooms ready for inspection at 7 a.m., and that they must not speak to the media.

“Some soldiers believe this is a form of punishment for the trouble soldiers caused by talking to the media,” one Medical Hold Unit soldier said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

It is unusual for soldiers to have daily inspections after Basic Training.

Soldiers say their sergeant major gathered troops at 6 p.m. Monday to tell them they must follow their chain of command when asking for help with their medical evaluation paperwork, or when they spot mold, mice or other problems in their quarters.

They were also told they would be moving out of Building 18 to Building 14 within the next couple of weeks. Building 14 is a barracks that houses the administrative offices for the Medical Hold Unit and was renovated in 2006. It’s also located on the Walter Reed Campus, where reporters must be escorted by public affairs personnel. Building 18 is located just off campus and is easy to access.

The soldiers said they were also told their first sergeant has been relieved of duty, and that all of their platoon sergeants have been moved to other positions at Walter Reed. And 120 permanent-duty soldiers are expected to arrive by mid-March to take control of the Medical Hold Unit, the soldiers said.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Army public affairs did not respond to a request sent Sunday evening to verify the personnel changes.

The Pentagon also clamped down on media coverage of any and all Defense Department medical facilities, to include suspending planned projects by CNN and the Discovery Channel, saying in an e-mail to spokespeople: “It will be in most cases not appropriate to engage the media while this review takes place,” referring to an investigation of the problems at Walter Reed.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Sex Talk

I just picked up my daughter from an after-school activity. On the way back, I was doing the usual 'how was school' interrogation, when she mentioned that they'd just had the annual sexuality discussion as part of PE. "You don't like that, do you?" I said, and she shook her head. It tends to gross her out. But I thought it would be a good idea to talk about it anyway, especially after she said that her teacher told them only about one in six families actually discuss sexuality with their child. My daughter observed that her mother had talked with her a bit, and given her some literature, but I thought that perhaps a bit more than that was called for, so we did talk a bit, me taking advantage of something I've read recently about how kids can find it easier to talk in the car when the parents attention is not -- cannot be -- focused on them.

Which is how I found myself listening as she talked to me about tampons.

I wasn't actively uneasy, thought I have (obviously) limited knowledge of these things. I did not object, or turn away -- that 'in the car' things works in both directions -- and I did listen with some interest (some pretended, I admit) when she told me that if you leave a tampon in too long, you can get sick and even die. She doesn't use them, she said; she can't get them in. Which kind of falls into the category of too much information, I think. But it did give me a chance to tell her my only tampon-related joke. She thought it was pretty funny.

Communication is a wonderful thing.


When we named our daughter, we gave the process a fair amount of thought. My initial offerings, which included Helen D (as in, Helen Damnation), didn't make the cut. Eventually, we picked a name that fit several criteria -- it was easy to say and spell, it was a common name but one that wasn't in vogue at the moment (we didn't want her to be Ashley #23, or Rebecca/Rebekka/Rebeccah, though as I think of it, I can't imagine why Chewbaccah didn't occur to me), and it had to sound good with our last name -- it's a short name, so almost anything would go with it. (In the movie 1941, a girl says to the charismatic bandleader 'Sam...tell me..your name isn't really it? ' He smiles and shakes his head, No. "What is it, Sam? What's your real name?" He looks at her. "Raoul." She gasps. "Raoul! I knew it! I knew you couldn't have a name as ordinary as Sam! And your last name -- what is it? " He pauses. "Lipshitz.") As it happened, since the first name we picked was plain, we picked a somewhat grand middle name, so that if she even decided that she didn't like the first one, perhaps she'd just drop back to the middle one. An unexpected benefit was when I came up with a little rhyme that incorporated her name and the words 'brings me euphoria'; I would sing it to her sometimes when I did the 2AM walk, and as she grew older she learned it, so that if I would start the song, she'd finish it with a certain amount of glee, knowing, even before she knew what euphoria was, that this was about her, and that it was a Good Thing.

Names are cool. The Romulans say they're considerably more than that, that they evoke the very essence of the thing or person named, and I would bet there are sects on this planet who feel that way, too. I always assume a Colleen will be tall, with red hair (even though the only one I've ever known was short with black hair). Becky's are friendly, Kelly's are athletic, Barbara's are no-nonsense. When I met a woman named Priscilla at a Dallas bookstore, I told her that she was the first one I'd ever met. She said it was not a common name, and that she didn't like it. Oh, I told her, I've always thought that Priscilla's were willowy, gracious, and elegant. Yes, she said, straightening, that's me.

Me? Just call me Bill.

Monday, February 26, 2007


Sometimes I like to pose myself a question and try to come up with an answer. The question is usually something that I assume is answerable, but the answer isn't obvious. For example, this relatively famous photograph:

How would you retrieve the car so as to get it back on dry land with minimal damage to the car and the boat? What would you need? How would you get it in place?

Best I can think of is some kind of barge under it -- and even then, I'm not sure how I'd lower it down.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Child Raising

I was looking at this site, and a thought occured to me:

If a child is good in one subject, poor in another, do you give them extra help in the one where they're poor, or do you give them extra help to play to their strength in the first?

I'd think both, but I wonder if schools do.

Shivering Angst

I'm sitting in the kitchen, typing on my work laptop, the home laptop having become completely dejuiced by the daughteroid. And I'm feeling apprehensive. I realized a while back that when I am cold, I am more likely to worry; since outside it's snowing (better than inside, I suppose), the kitchen is chilly. I could go put on a sweater, but that would be logical.

I'm also a little apprehensive about the dental thing. This is, as someone or other would say, illogical; I believe that what I'm doing is right, and I believe its got a good (though not overwhelming) chance of success. What worries me is some of the ancillary stuff, like the bone graft -- will it hurt? Will it work? I know they'll give me Strong Drugs, but still: I worry. I'm also not really looking forward to the full upper plate denture that I'll have to wear while the upper jaw is healing from its various travails -- extraction, grafting, implant base insertions. I'm guessing I will have to wear it about six months. I can blithely say 'hey, if this doesn't work, fine, I'll just wear dentures, which is what I anticipated for years, given my dental health', but when it comes right down to it... I worry.

I need to calm down. Right now, I'm tense enough that I find myself getting paradoxically angry at the things which normally calm me, like reading. It takes too long to read, I growl to myself. Which I know is B-zar.

Maybe I should take a nap.


I know that Microsoft Windows XP is a massive amount of code.

I know that their problem answers have to be generally applicable.

But --

When I look up questions about Standby (my laptop has started only doing it when it damn well feels like it), and their answer is 'something is interfering with the systems ability to enter standby; find that thing and get rid of it', or words to that effect, I feel a little short changed in the diagnostic assistance department.

Heck my hunch about the problem -- that its doing an uninterruptable background task -- is more detailed than that!

Saturday, February 24, 2007


I'm not a dancer, but tonight, I danced.

The occasion was a Father-Daughter dance held at the school where my daughter attends. It was open to anyone in the local school district, kindergarten through eighth grade, and there was quite a turnout -- I'd guess about 150 father/daughter pairs, with the girls ranging between five and fourteen years old. The people at our table were fun and interesting -- one was my daughter's best friend, one was a girl she'd known since preschool, and the last was a girl she apparently only knew slightly. That last one really impressed me; in addition to being quite cute, she had a terrific sense of humour -- very quick on the uptake, very dry. I was charmed, and wished to be fourteen again -- though if I were, I'd have been tongue tied and stuttering with the best of them. And not just because of her humor and intelligence; an amazing number of these girls were Clearly Not Kids. They weren't dressed to seduce, but they sure were dressed to impress. If I were that age, I'd have been stunned. As it was, I was quite impressed with their sense of style and color - and just a trace stunned.

The food was catered, and was pretty good; my daughter whacked away her mac and cheese and immediately went to scarf up three brownies, eating one on the way back to the table. As for the dancing, they did the electric slide, the cha cha slide, the twist, some basic rock n'roll, and some pieces better forgotten, though they did not do anything from Hannah Montana, to the ire of two of the girls at my table. My daughter was willing to dance with me -- in fact, came and got me for three of them, even if she did ditch me immediately once for her best friend -- and she had a good time, running back and forth, shrieking with laughter.

I'd do it again.


I've been reading The Man in the Arena, a collection of selected writings by Theodore Roosevelt. This was a gift, and, though I appreciated it, the book was not what I expected when I said that I'd like some kind of history or biography as a Christmas present. TR's writing style is florid, to put it mildly, and there have been pages where I just skipped ahead three or four pages, just because it was tough going.

But I am surprised to find that much of it is quite good, even given the style. For example, his description of the Battle for New Orleans, in the War of 1812, where the British were soundly defeated by Andrew Jackson's rag tag (to put it mildly) crew, is extraordinary. For years, my image of that has been a combination of grade school history and Disney's imagery (picture the stalwart Fess Parker glaring across the breastworks as the British machine lumbers towards him, and you'll get the idea). That's not TR's description, at all. I'm sure that in its way its as wrong as Disney, since in TR's writing all the men, British and American alike, are fierce, eager fighters who are implacable in their fury against the foe. They are wily, cunning, hardened, experienced. When they die, they don't just die; they fall, stricken, their last gasp a mighty oath that their country, their flag, and their fellows be held safe in the eyes of the o'erseeing deity.

This is not your father's War of 1812.

Small Technical Achievement

This morning, I wanted to transfer a file from my work laptop to my home laptop. The file is a Microsoft Excel file.

Problem 1: how to do it gracefully.
Answer 1: Put it on the freebie thumb drive -- plug the drive into the work laptop, transfer the file, plug the drive into the home laptop, transfer the file. Gee, that was tough.

Problem 2: The file is in Excel 2003 format. The home laptop only has Excel 95.
Answer 2: Use Open Office Calc (free) to open the file, then save it in Excel 95 format. Giggle as this delivers just the tiniest pinprick to the Microsoft empire.


Thursday, February 22, 2007


I'm a bright guy. I know this. But I also know that I'm not as bright as I (sometimes) think I am, and I'm frequently not as insightful as other people, even most other people. I'm not oblivious to them, but I sure do seem to let a lot of nuances go by. This might relate directly to my difficulty in making friends.

But today I got a surprise that makes me suspect that I am not even as bright as I think I am given the caveat above. In a nutshell, I had a technical discussion with a coworker who I've always thought of as not particularly bright -- and he just blew my doors right off. I mean, he thought of things and read things that I would not have considered except in the wildest extremes. He had insights that I'm not sure I've had in the last twenty years.

I was astounded, and humbled.

Drums, Elephants, and Walter Reed Army Hospital

My wife's coworker has a phrase for when the Managers are Getting into CYA Mode. She says 'here comes the circus -- can you hear the drums? Can you smell the elephants?'

I can smell them quite nicely in this article.

Thinkin' Politics

Its enormously tempting to give in to the desire to say Well DAMMIT George, if you hadn't... but that doesn't matter now. Short of an impeachment, he can't be recalled. And recalled or not, we are where we are. We have to figure out what we do now, and what will happen if we do whatever that is. Storming about what got us here would only be helpful if it helped figure out the answer to those questions.

If we stay, more of our people will die; if we leave, the region might, probably will, degenerate further into an civil war coupled with a pseudo-war with Iran. (Pseudo because I don't think they'd invade, but I do think they'd subvert.) At times, I think Well fine, LET them dissolve into chaos, they're all murderers and malcontents (which I know isn't true, but thats sure how it feels) -- and then I think So its okay with you for oil to go to five bucks a gallon? Not to mention, devastate all those lives? (I'm a 'Murrican; I think of the oil first. ) Ah, geez...

George would say that we have to stay because its the Right Thing To Do. For us, maybe, but I can't see where that's been a guiding principle for people who run things in that country or that region, many of whom are no more fond of us being there, regardless of the nobility of our intentions, than we would be if they came here and started running the place. (Do they all feel that way? Probably not. We really are doing good there. But those who disagree, do so explosively.) Dick says we have to stay because its the Right Thing To Do. Which is exactly what George says; odd that George can talk while Dick is drinking a glass of water, isn't it? Gotta be careful, there; Dick's one of those guys who'll shoot first, ask questions -- never. As for Condi, she'd would say we have to stay because otherwise, the region degenerates into chaos. I think So? And the so appears to be a nasty regime comes into play in IraqIran, capable of, at the least, sending out bombers to the rest of the world, namely, us, and at the worst , developing those WMDs George couldn't find before. (Yah see? he crows. Ah KNEW they was there somewhere!) The killer is, she's probably right.

Is there any upside? I suppose its not completely out of the question that peace and tranquility will come to the region, but I wouldn't bet on it. The people running the place -- who are not the established political order -- don't seem to be headed that way. Could it happen, eventually? The far side of a conflagration, yeah, probably. The peace and tranquility of the graveyard and the severely controlled.

DAMMIT, George.....

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

We're Melting!

...and damned glad of it. The temp today was up around 45, which is twenty degrees warmer than its been for a while. The streets are full of rivulets of water from melting snow, and even now, when the temperature is down to about 35, its still melting. About two thirds of our driveway is now usable again. We need at least a week of this kind of weather before the snow will be gone, but as of right now, things are looking pretty good. Well, except for the slop on the outside of the cars, which is good for the car wash mavens, bad for those of us who never think about washing the car until we get into it to go somewhere.

I listened to a fellow from the State Department being interviewed on NPR this evening. I admired his grasp of language, not to mention his apparent awareness of the first rule of being interviewed, which is that you don't have to answer the question they asked -- not a little, not a bit, if you don't want to. He would not suggest that the idea of moving an aircraft carrier into the gulf suggested that we're thinking we might need the firepower some time soon. He did not suggest that in saying we don't want a war, he was not saying we were not preparing for one. He did not suggest that plans were being laid, and he didn't deny it, either.
Of course, seeing that Cheney, that master of modern diplomacy, is off talking to the troops, swearing that we will not leave until ... well, the definition seems to change, but I think it usually boils down to 'when George's need for paternal approval wanes' -- seeing that caused me to have a quick deja vu moment. Though he didn't seem to have a 'Mission Accomplished' banner. Can't imagine why not.

And I see that the British are starting to pull out. Guess that means Tony isn't George's boy-toy any more -- or that, leaving office soon, he just doesn't care.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Religious Insanity

From the Times Online:

Female Pakistani minister shot dead for 'breaking Islamic dress code'

A Pakistani minister and woman’s activist has been shot dead by an Islamic extremist for refusing to wear the veil.

Zilla Huma Usman, the minister for social welfare in Punjab province and an ally of President Pervez Musharraf, was killed as she was about to deliver a speech to dozens of party activists, by a “fanatic”, who believed that she was dressed inappropriately and that women should not be involved in politics, officials said.

Mrs Usman, 35, was wearing the shalwar kameez worn by many professional women in Pakistan, but did not cover her head.

The attack happened in Gujranwala, 120 miles southeast of Islamabad, where the minister’s office is based. As Ms Usman, 35, stepped out of her car – where she was greeted by her co-workers throwing rose petals - the attacker pulled out a pistol and fired a single shot at close range, hitting her in the head. She was airlifted to hospital in the provincial capital Lahore, but died soon afterwards.

The gunman, Mohammad Sarwar, was overpowered by the minister’s driver and arrested by police. A stone mason in his mid 40s, he is not thought to belong to any radical group but is known for his fanaticism. He was previously held in 2002 in connection with the killing and mutilation of four prostitutes, but was never convicted due to lack of evidence.

Mr Sarwar appeared relaxed and calm when he told a television channel that he had carried out God’s order to kill women who sinned. “I have no regrets. I just obeyed Allah’s commandment,” he said, adding that Islam did not allow women to hold positions of leadership. “I will kill all those women who do not follow the right path, if I am freed again,” he said.

It Begins

Actually, it began with an innocuous comment. My daughter had gotten 23 out of 25 on a science quiz, and I said that if she kept that up, she'd be pretty sure to be able to get into a good college. Whereupon she stared at me and informed me, in no uncertain terms, that of course she was going to get into a good college -- and, by the way, it'd be good if it was an all-women college. Like Bryn Mawr, I said? She'd not heard of it. Truth to tell, it was one of only three that I could think of, and as it turns out, one of those has been co-ed since 1969.

So I've sent off for some information from an organization called The Women's College Coalition, to see just whats out there. Good college. Affordable or with scholarship programs. And All- Women.

The great college search begins.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Obsidian Wings

I just came across the Obsidian Wings blog. It is very well written, and, therefore, very much worth reading.

Sunday, February 18, 2007


More years ago than my daughter has lived, we had a second phone line put into our home. The first was our normal telephone line. The second was for use with our amazingly fast 300 baud dial up terminal, so that we could both talk to operations and look at the systems simultaneously. Life was good.

Time passed, technology progressed. We eventually didn't need two phone lines -- we have a cable modem, and that can be used to dial into both the systems I support and those that my wife supports. Every so often, we'd look at the phone bill, and think about cutting that second phone line. But every so often, too, we used it -- like just this morning, when I got up at 5AM to dial into a product upgrade, and my wife got up at 7 to dial into an activity of hers. So we continued to use it.

Some time in the middle of the day, the primary phone line -- died. We don't know how, or when. But the phone in the library has a small indicator which flashes when one of the four extensions -- kitchen, den, bedroom, mother's room -- are in use, and its been flashing all day. If you call our number, it'll ring busy. But none of the phones are actually in use. We even disconnected all four of them, waiting a while, and tried it again, calling from the other phone line. Busy. So we thought Great, we have to have someone come out and figure out whats going on here.

Well, the first problem is that tomorrow is a federal holiday. Not one for me, since I have stuff to do at work, first time back in the office in a week, but one for the phone company, I'm sure. And even if its not, who do we call? Verizon, which does wireless service? AT&T, which does long distance? Cingular, which does -- something? Not sure. And their web sites are ever so helpful. But tomorrow, my wife gets to traverse the maze, and try to figure out who to call, and get them to come traipsing out and tell us why the phone's not working.

I'm sure they'll rush right out.


This is approximately nine thousand people, in North Dakota, going for the world record for simultaneous snow angels.

I like that kind of enthusiasm.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Knowledge @ Wharton

That'd be the Wharton School of Business, which for my money is a better bizskool than, say, HBS. But sometimes I do have a problem with what they say.

From an interview with Wharton professor Peter Capelli, here, about Michael Dell's reassumption of management responsibilities at Dell Computer:

Knowledge@Wharton: One of the first things that Dell had done after taking charge [again] was to send out this memo that we just heard about, saying that there would be no bonuses for 2006. He described the year as one in which there had been great efforts, but not great results. Do you think that doing away with bonuses is a good idea?

Cappelli: Well, I think that with all management changes like this, there is the distinction between the symbolism and the substance. With respect to this particular case, the end of bonuses -- particularly articulated by not only the founder, but the guy who has the biggest financial stake in the company -- is really kind of a powerful message.

And, it's a powerful message that comes from the owners ... that something has got to change. So it certainly is on the symbolism ground, an important statement to shake people up. I think it's also a statement to the investment community and to outsiders, too, that we're taking this seriously. Does it de-motivate people? Yes. Are there some down sides to that? The answer is yes, probably.

I think one of the questions you ask yourself is: What is the purpose of this? And I think a lot of the purpose is the symbolism and the messages to not just insiders, but to outsiders.

He's missing the point, I suggest. When a very wealthy person says 'You guys, no bonuses for you', it sends the message that performance is insufficient to warrant them -- which is good, but not great; at what level will they be warranted again? -- but it doesn't matter that the guy saying it is the guy with the biggest stake. What matters is, can he enforce it (obviously, yes), and will it be enforced equitably (hope so).

Otherwise, it'll be Dudes, you're getting screwed...and you had no control over it.

Therapeutic Landscapes

I am not a gardener, let alone a landscaper.

But I think that this sort of thing is a wonderful idea. I particularly like the Elizabeth and Nona Evans Restorative Garden, part of the Cleveland Botanical Gardens. Elegant and satisfying.

...and the Temple of Commerce

I am not a fan of movie memorabilia. But this guy, who sells replicas of items from the Indiana Jones films, takes it from a selling proposition to a level of detail rarely seen -- well, anywhere. Quite impressive.


I realized this morning that I used to really like photography. I came to realize this in an odd way.

I'm going to volunteer to be a reading mentor at my daughter's school. (At least, I think I am: I get the impression that they approach mentoring as a 'whole child' thing. I'm not sure I'm willing to make that level of commitment.) But anyway, in order to do it, I have to fill out two forms -- one certifying that I have no criminal record, and one certifying that there is no record anywhere of me being a child abuser. (The temptation to make a joke about that is very strong, but I won't, as I suspect these people take this very seriously. I know, there's nothing remotely humorous about child abuse -- its the image of these stern people that causes me to want to poke their stolidity, just a bit. But I'll pass). One of the forms wanted to know every address that I've lived at since 1975. That's easy; I was married in 1984, and I lived in only one other address between then and then. But I couldn't quite remember what it was.

My wife said that I should pull out old tax returns, and she'd look through some old letters I'd sent her, and between the two of us, we'd find some scrap of paper with it. Which we did. But as I was hauling down the folders with old returns -- surely we can toss these by now, I'm thinking, just as I'm also thinking This is why we keep them (that, and paranoia) -- I also took down two thick folders I'd kept for a long time of photographs and illustrations that I really liked. They're not organized, per se, except by type, and they're not 'great photography' -- usually, they're illustrations for advertisements. But leafing through them, I realized again how much I like photography.

Some are whimsical -- a young girl standing on a slab of polished granite, wearing the full Girl Scout regalia, and holding a box of Girl Scout cookies, from D Magazine (Dallas, Texas), 1981 -- Shannon Roberts was 71 pulsating pounds of achievement-greedy Girl Scout during this year's cookie campaign. The goal was to beat her 1980 record of 556 boxes ordered over a period of two weeks. She sold 562.... Some are serious - Farewell to a Husband, Father, Soldier - a crying woman being comforted as another woman, in US Army uniform, salutes, barely holding back her own tears; ..another, from the February 2000 cover of The Economist, a tight shot of a woman's partially cloaked face - Can Islam and democracy mix? A beaming young family, mother and father holding three hyper-cute kids, the central of whom holds a cat. A 'high-key' photograph of Julia Ormand for the New York Times Magazine, April, 1995 - Julia Ormond's Trip Through the Star Factory. Four ads for Healthtex kid's clothing, with text like this, next to a picture of a grimacing, squirming child: You've got 23 seconds to get your 2-year-old from the sandbox to the potty. .Go. Four elegant (and rather sexy) images from Playboy magazine of the mid-eighties. The Olympic Torch being lit, with the text Compared to this, everything else is just a light. An ornate Spanish-style room. A comfortably cluttered room. Bailey's Irish Cream splashing gently into a fine crystal goblet. The Space Shuttle on its transporter. A partially cracked light bulb in a vise - Dallas Magazine, January 1982 - Shattering Old Ways of Thinking. An ocelot and her cub. An elegantly coiffed woman. A bare-chested man holding his young son. And on, and on, and on.

I love photography.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Let me get this straight...

Okay, they got out of school early on Tuesday because it was starting to snow heavily, with ice predicted.

And they got out of school on Wednesday because it was still snowing intermittantly, and there was ice all over the place, plus, most roads were not yet cleared.

But they got out of school today because the school parking lot isn't cleared?

And they're off tomorrow and Monday because of a federal holiday, which, last time I looked, is only one day long?

Why, when I was a lad, we had to shovel coal uphill both ways in the snow, and go to school besides! (Harrumph)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Snow Day

My daughter is miffed.

She has the day off because it snowed. But both my wife and I are dialed in to work from home. Consequently, we are not willing to walk with her to a friends house through the unplowed streets, or let her go by herself. Her constitutional right to frolic in the snow is thus abridged.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Popped Off

I like popcorn. I'm not a freak about it (I'm not aware of any foodie blogs that go on at length about the best popcorn, but I'll bet they exist), but I do like it. Greasy is best, but it doesn't have to be. For the longest time, I'd buy without regard to brand; though I tended to gravitate to Orville Redenbacher's microwaveable stuff, I didn't really care. And when we went to see the most recent Casino Royale, and got some free seasoning from a company that goes by the tagline 'no more naked popcorn', and it was damn good, I thought Excellent! And mail-ordered some.

(Tried to buy some locally, at Giant. Hah! Twelve containers of one type, and thats it, buddy.)

But the last two bags of popcorn I'm made have been abysmal. I don't recall who made the prior box, but this one is by Pop Secret, and It. Is. Just. Awful. Without flavoring, it takes like the Sahara -- very, very dry, arid, totally sere, no moisture at all. Not burned, not like it was overcooked, just no flavor whatsoever. Like cardboard, but without the bulk. And with flavoring, ditto, but vaguely flavored.

I am considering doing something radical. Buying the damn popcorn kernals, heating oil in a pan, and trying it myself.

Holly retro.

Evening Reading

This evening, I amused my wife by reading excerpts from a Robert Ludlum novel with dinner. I think it was The Bourne Identity, though it could have been The Bourne Conundrum, The Bourne Perplexity, or any of a dozen others. I had picked up the novel because I wanted to read something mindless -- but I'd forgotten how Ludlum's novels -- at least, this series -- wander all over the map, and whatever's true in Chapter Two will be shown to be a cruel hoax by Chapter Ten -- and the actual, literal truth in Chapter Fifteen. People don't talk; they mutter, snarl, grimace. And always with an exclamation point!

My GOD! Bourne exclaimed, smashing flat the weather page of the great city newspaper. It's all HERE! His fist slammed down on the crudely printed map. Right out in front of the whole damned world! He scanned it intently, his finger jabbing at the key points in the densely printed text. YES! It WILL be sunny tomorrow! He wheeled as the older man entered the room, his pistol already out and aimed at his visitor's heart. You only think that, the other said quietly, his face in shadow. Its what they WANT you to think, to believe. But have you remembered -- The Weather Channel? Bourne gasped, his weapon momentarily forgotten as the memories flooded back.

Page after page like that. After a while I just started flipping through the book, reading a paragraph here and there, so that when dinner was done, so was I.

At least, that's what I WANT you to think!

I also got an interesting email this evening from a woman who writes about the intersection of society and Islam. I'd written to her some time ago because I was impressed with an article she'd written. I felt a little sheepish about writing because what I was essentially saying what that her article made me think that perhaps Muslims were basically normal people, and that the great divide between them and the rest of the world was repairable after all. Well, I think now that I knew even less then than I had thought, and it still scares me to read about it, because so many people in that camp seem to be fierce intolerant maniacs -- which is why I was startled to see, in her email (it wasn't just to me, but to people who had written to her) that she'd written an article about how the firebrands are winning the war to be seen as the face of the Muslim community.

The article is here.


I can assure you, we party no more than any other school.


This will make it clear.


I am usually tickled by electronic tools to improve search capabilities. (Come to think of is, so is the NSA.)

This one made me laugh. In, you understand, a geekish way.

Monday, February 12, 2007


I am not noisy.

These guys are noisy.

I like it.


Yesterday my wife and I inflicted some geekishness on our daughter, and we got away with it.

She had made a joke about my wife's age, and I said well, kiddo, that IS her age -- but, you know, in hex. She seemed puzzled, so I said 'hex is base sixteen numbering. Have you ever heard of bases for numbers?' She had not, so I said well, in the number 10, what does the zero mean? And she said 'that there's nothing there'. So I said Okay, what does the one mean? And she thought a minute, and said 'it means theres one in that position.' One what? I asked. 'One -- one ten, ' she said, not too sure. "Right,", I replied. The numbering system you're using is base ten. The first position in any numbering system is always how many ones do you have, and the second is how many bases you have. So in base ten, a one in that position means you have one ten. What would a two mean?' 'Two tens', she replied. 'And suppose this was base sixteen -- what would a one in that position mean?' 'It would mean sixteen, ' she said. "And what about a one in that position, with a one in the ones position?' She thought a minute. 'Sixteen plus one. Seventeen'. So, my wife said, a seventeen -- one seven -- in base ten is the same as a ten -- one zero -- in base sixteen.' We both looked at my daughter, who was nodding slowly. 'I get it', she said, after a minute. 'So if you had two zero in base sixteen, thats two sixteens and no ones, or 32 in base ten'.

We smiled.


The woman came this morning.

In half an hour, she checked my arm and shoulder more thoroughly than the entire time I went to the therapy folks. I don't think she knew more than they did, but I think she applied more.

She told me where I had weak muscles, and what to do about them, specifically: which exercises, how often.

She told me where my shoulder was extraordinarily tight, and what do to about that -- which exercises, how often.

She said to give her a call in a month and she'd come back to check me out again.

And she refused to let me pay her.


I continue to be amazed by how people get to this site. I suppose I ought not to be -- hel-low! World WIDE Web???--- but that someone in South Africa, or Sweden, or Iran (Iran!) has seen my site startles me. I look at occasion on the referring URL that brought them here -- that picture I had of the four Muslim women in full black chadors seems quite popular -- and sometimes it's just a straight link; other times, its a search for something that I'd swear wasn't even on this site. I've yet to get any of the truly amazing ones -- like the people who say that searches for 'wet dump truck sex' bring up their site -- but this is amazing enough. I'm fascinated.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Not Moving to Spain

I'd like to see Spain. I have this wonderful, mysterious, evocative image of the country. I'd like to see Madrid at dawn, see the hand-tooled leather shops in the Basque countryside. And perhaps some day I shall.

But I won't be moving there.

According to the Washington Post, there's an enormous, pun intended, boom in Viagra use in Spain, most notably by people who are physically just fine but want to perform at not just adequate but mind-blinding levels. In some cases, that's needed -- as the woman said who ditched her middle-aged husband because, even with the big V, she found him insufficiently powerful and vigorous. She's now with an unemployed but younger man, and she can have sex, she says, the six or so times a day that she needs.

Even if she's not the norm, that kind of latent ferocity scares me. So if I go to Spain -- and I'd like to-- I might take.. precautions.

Like, dressing like a nun.


I've mentioned on occasion that I am impressed by organizations that help people succeed who (forgive me) have no reason to expect to succeed. I am not talking about people who, against all odds, get that Stanford MBA or the gold Olympic medal, but success at what society would call a more modest level -- like, not having to live paycheck to paycheck, figuring which bill can be delayed, which must be paid. I suspect that there are a goodly number of people in that position, where it wouldn't take much to drop them down a notch -- maybe not into abject poverty, but not all that far away, either. Organizations and people who can make the difference -- increase the buffer between the person and that line of despair -- impress the hell out of me. For example, Frances Crespo, written up in this Washington Post article. One of the things that this woman does is participate in an organization called Ladies Who Launch (what a terrific pun). This, from their web site, explains their mission:

Ladies Who Launch provides content and community to help women start and expand their businesses and creative ventures. Through their events, e-mail newsletter, website and in-person Incubator programs Ladies Who Launch provides a venue for motivated women to exchange products and services, ideas, and strategic relationships.

I really like that idea. It combines several concepts that fascinate me -- success, local involvement, creativity, and helping women succeed. Now, I have to point out that the women who are the target of this organization are likely further up the socioeconomic ladder than the ones I referred to above. They may or may not already be successful, or at least solidly middle class. But what this organization does for them, I think, can be done for more people. And should be.


Busy weekend, again.

Yesterday we took the kidling -- not so kiddish any more -- to a skating rink, along with four of her friends. I liked both boys, and mentioned that to her later, whereupon she said that while of course she wasn't considering dating any time in the near future...if she did, I wouldn't be opposed to either of them? And I said that while of course she wouldn't be dating any time in the near future, it would be perfectly okay to go out with two or three friends, including them, just to hang out together. Which I don't think was quite as robust an endorsement as she wanted, but she didn't seem too unhappy.

I'm baking some cookies -- kind of a sandwich cookie. The recipe calls for 3 tablespoons of cold coffee, which of course I read after draining the coffeepot, so I put in two tablespoons of espresso powder. We'll see how it goes.

And this afternoon, while my wife and daughter are out doing things, I get to work on taxes !!!!

Nawth Car'lina

This June, we're going to take a vacation down in North Carolina. We've never been there -- I passed through once on the way north from Texas -- but its one of the places that we're considering for a retirement home. There are apparently a number of things to like about the state, including one odd thing (perhaps not so odd now as when I first heard it, a couple of years ago): people from the North who move to Florida occasionally find that while they like the climate, they don't like the heat, and they miss seasons. So they move back -- but not all the way. They usually get as far as North Carolina, which has seasons, though mild, and doesn't get the cold winters. The natives refer to these boomerang travelers as 'halfbacks' -- they got 'halfway back'.

So we'll see. The target, at the moment: Asheville.


I added a link over there on the sidebar, to reflect whom I currently think would make a good president, out of the crew that's thrown their hats in the ring (and in the case of Joe Biden, right through the ring and out the other side). My opinion might change as I hear more, both about my current candidate of choice and the other candidates, Republican, Democratic, and so forth. Stated algebraically, where X are the minimum acceptable qualities to be considered desirable, I think Democrats have to have X, and Republicans have to have about 1.1X. I have a bias toward Democrats, but it isn't a big one.

Let the games begin.


This is a story that our church's pastor told this morning.

A woman called him to say that she would be a little late in picking up her son from an event at the church. He said fine, I'll just tell the kid to wait at the back of the church. (Our church has one set of main doors at about the middle of the outside wall, and two smaller ones on each far end of the wall. The pews are in a semi-circle, wrapping around the altar in the center.) The woman came to the rectory and said 'He's not there! ' So the priest and the woman went to the back of the church, and sure enough, the kid wasn't there. They looked around, and there he was, sitting up in the first row. The priest went up to him, said that his mother was there, and gently chided him "You know, you're in the wrong place -- you were supposed to wait at the back of the church." The kid looked puzzled and replied "This IS the back of the church." "No it isn't", the priest said "this is the front of the church." The kid turned and pointed behind him. "But aren't those the front doors?"

Now, the priest said, with a laugh, I'm pretty sure he's a governor someplace.

Saturday, February 10, 2007


Two slogans I've seen lately:

Madame President. (Get used to it.)

I Miss Bill.


One of the magazines that we get is Real Simple, aka Martha Stewartless Living. I like it enough that we got it for several months before I realized that it was a chick magazine (Articles about how to choose the proper bra were a big hint). And even now, I still read it, because I like its feeling -- not quite as yuppy as MSL, but with much of the same style. (Though, truth to tell, I think Martha's crew has a better touch when it comes to things like decorating and recipes. It's a trade -- RS doesn't ever waste your time with a chirpy article about how to carve a yam into a darling Christmas ornament.)

The current issue has an article tucked in the back (guess its not considered as great a draw) about three women who overcame significant financial obstacles -- one, because she was surprisingly divorced after twenty five years, with no experience in earning her own living. I mentioned it to my wife, and she told me that she knew of someone who worked as a service project with an organization that is aimed at getting women in that predicament into productive, for which read 'more than minimum wage', jobs. I would think that something like that would be very difficult. To my mind, the world is divided into people with marketable, desirable, portable skills (must have all three); people with desirable and marketable, but not necessarily portable, skills, and people who are headed for careers involving uniforms and asking if you want fries with that. The first group is professionals (not all, but a vast majority); people whose organizations need them more than they need the organization. A doctor, for example, can practice medicine virtually anywhere; a lawyer, an architect, an engineer, ditto. The second group is skilled but requires a support environment that they might or might not (usually not) own. For example, me: I'm a computer programmer (well, not really, but close enough; the field is pretty broad). I can take this skill anywhere that needs it, but the environment has to exist. I'm unlikely to set myself up as a free-lance for-hire computer programmer unless I'm at a significantly higher skill level than I am, in fact, at. And the third range from people with decent nine-to - five jobs to people who are doing the jobs that are just slightly out of the reach of people without green cards. My cousins, for example: one works in a super market, and has for years; another, divorced after several years, now works as a part-time nanny and on weekends she oversees a local laundromat. They're neither of them struggling, but it wouldn't take much to put them there.

I tend to put the newly divorced and relatively skillless (that's not a slam; I'm talking valuable, not whether its valued) woman in the third category. And I wonder: how do you get people new to that category started? Where do you start? Do they have to effectively start at the absolute bottom, doing the most mind-bending, back-breaking work? Because these people, apart from everything else, don't have the twenty or thirty years to work out of that category and into the better - paying ones. They need to be able to start getting that financial foothold now.

How do you do that?

Certainly, the first step has to be simple categorization -- to lift that great line from Aliens ("Is there anything I can do? " "I don't know -- is there anything you can do?"), what can you do? And you can't be too precise with that. A skill in getting a house organized and running can be translated into a skill for organization; the ability to sew your own clothes can become the ability to create fabric coverings for furniture. But what's next? How do you tease out the skills that perhaps don't have a clear use? I'm thinking of the people who 'always had an eye for color' but never worked at it at all in any way; it was just 'something they noticed'. How do you turn that into something that someone -- not a charity, but a real employer -- would value and pay for? I love the line from the movie Dave -- "It's Thursday -- Everybody Works on Thursday", which was his way of revving up the people who came to his employment agency into thinking that they were marketable, they were not hopeless, someone did need them -- they just had to find out who.

That to me is the key -- eliciting that skill, hooking it up with someone who perhaps right off the bat might not appear to be a match. And the people who can do that, who can make it happen -- to me, they're magical people.


On a page from a San Francisco web site, with an article about Nancy Pelosi and Air Force Three, this ad:

Pretty cool.

Friday, February 09, 2007

This, That, and Something Else

We just spent about ten minutes talking about menus for next week. We find that our lives go just a little bit more smoothly if we know in advance what we'll be making for dinner. Neither of us -- okay, neither of me -- is particularly adventurous when it comes to dinner, so we made up a list some time ago of the things we most like to have, and when we make up the menu we go down the list checking off what we'll have, and when. Only this time, it was a little different, as I was also looking through some collections of dessert recipes that I've printed off or otherwise acquired, and this week I'm going to make one of them -- probably the sandwich cookies, though I won't go to the lavish extent that Gourmet magazine did in their Holiday Cookies issue. My ultimate goal is to be able to routinely and easily make about fifteen or twenty different kinds of cookies (yes, variants of chocolate chips are okay, but no more than two or three), and to that end, I thought that I would find a recipe every couple of weeks and try it. Those chocolate chip cookies I made the other day were surprisingly good, so I have high hopes for these, as it comes from the same collection. Though I was surprised, as I was putting things away, to find yet another folder with some wouldn't-these-be-nice dessert recipes that I'd found and squirreled away. Very, very few 'real food' recipes attract me (I do look for them); but desserts? Very few don't.

My daughter came bounding up the stairs a few moments ago, and once again I remarked to myself on how incredibly tall she's gotten. Part of it was optical illusion, I know -- she had shorts on, no socks or shoes -- but part is real. She's now up to my wife's eyebrows, and just below my chin. We have started bopping her on the head to keep her where she is at, but it doesn't seem to be working. And as of last night, she is officially a teen-ager -- she just turned thirteen. First sign: she is now fascinated with Japanese anime style graphic novels. Tomorrow I take her and four friends ice skating, and then back here for a bit of a party. No sleepovers this year, which is good: three of them are male.

I finally started reading the Roosevelt book again. I noticed to my surprise that I was continually rereading novels I've read multiple times before. That's mostly because I only read in five or ten minute spurts, and I didn't want to have to start remembering who was who in the Team of Rivals book (though I do really, really like it, theres a certainly intellectual commitment required that I was finding difficult to meet). But Roosevelt is, though not easy reading, a lighter commitment, and I do want to have read it.

Monday a woman is coming to the house. She is a physical therapist in private practice, and she's going to advise me on whether I can realistically expect any further progress with my arm, which is stuck at about 75% of capacity. I can do almost everything I want to do with it, barring reaching up to high shelves, so its not a major impediment, but I would hate to find out that I could have gotten more if I'd pushed. My feeling about the therapists where I had been going is that they were all competent, and had differing styles of intensity, though none really pushed. I would like to get some pushing, if its effectively not too late.


I don't understand about half the options in the security settings for Internet Explorer. What the heck does 'Allow meta-refresh across non-conjugal domains balancing plates uptick' mean? And, paste via script -- is that a bad thing?

Yes, apparently it could be.

Petty Pelosi

Proving that Democrats can be just as petty as Republicans when it comes to perks --

"I am happy to ride commercial coast to coast," Pelosi said, sounding not very happy as she went on to suggest that she was being denied the same privileges provided her predecessor.

"I'm not saying that I am being discriminated against because I am a woman," she said. "I'm just saying as the first woman speaker, I have no intention of having less respect for the office I hold than all of the other speakers that have come before me."

I'm always impressed by the "I'm not saying..." brand of rhetoric. I'm not saying, for example, that she is a whinging crybaby, or being petulant, or anything of that nature. And I would never imply that use of the phrase 'because I am a woman' is obfuscatory or a red herring. Certainly not.

I do find it interesting that she equates 'respect for the office' with 'having a private jet', though. To my mind, 'respect for the office' means 'acting with probity and dignity; acting ethically and in an honest manner'. But perhaps she really does think that having a small jet isn't dignified. Not sure about the probity, ethics, or honesty.

The original request for the larger plane (apparently) comes from the House Sergeant At Arms. Far be it from me to suggest that he didn't actually say it. Perhaps he did... at the behest of someone in another office. As I understand it, the larger jet is considered necessary for transcontinental capability without refueling, because refueling is considered 'problematic' . Security, you know.

My question: there are no secure Air Force bases between DC and California?

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Stop and Frisk

An article quoted on the Schneier on Security weblog says this:

"Interesting data from New York. The number of people stopped and searched has gone up fivefold since 2002, but the number of arrests due to these stops has only doubled. (The number of "summonses" has also gone up fivefold.)

Good data for the "Is it worth it?" question."

Gosh, I don't know. The implication is, no, its not. But my gut feeling is that you can't just expect that the numbers will go up proportionately. In a way its like packet sniffing on a network; if you look at every single packet, its going to take much more effort than looking at a subset, but in return you're much more likely to find packets that you wanted to find. If you stop every single person, you're much more likely to find people that you wanted to find.

We wouldn't stand for every single person being stopped, though, so we accept a subset. I'd like to think that the subset is the ones that the people doing the stops think 'the most likely'. If you like that idea, you call it statistically compelling. If you don't, you call it profiling. Either way, if it results in more people being arrested who should be arrested, and the effort is sustainable, I'd think that its worth it.

I know that some people would say that agreeing to this is a slippery slope, to borrow the NRA's favorite incline. But so long as I think I'm getting more value from the extra policing than I'm losing by not having as much ability to walk down the street without being stopped, I'm going to support it.

And yes, I know that that is essentially the logic that Bush uses -- that greater enforcement equals greater security -- and I don't believe it when he says it. It comes down to whom you trust. Generally, I trust the cops. Generally, I don't trust Bush.


I'm sitting in the big blue chair in the living room (redundant, I know; we only have one big blue chair), listening to the mellow sounds of an Australian guitarist, sipping on some cold flavored water, and thinking about snow. Not much at all where I am, but north of here, about five hours or so, tons of it -- five feet in some places, with two or three feet more. "Where do you put that much snow?" my wife asked, and I said "Canada, of course -- they have so much of it, they've got to be expert at getting rid of it." And indeed they are. I think it was in Montreal where they tried out a gadget that I would have thought of as a kid, and as an adult scoffed at -- a truck that sucked in the snow, heated it, and let the resulting water go down the nearest storm drain. How effective it was, I don't know, but its creative, you have to admit. When I lived in South Dakota, where to put the snow wasn't too much problem, as a rule; they had miles of empty prairies. But in towns and cities -- yes, that's a problem.

I read somewhere recently of a person who was bemused to receive an invitation to some kind of bird - watching event -- A Superb Owl party. Took the muttered advice of a friend for him to get what it actually was.

I 'baked' a cake tonight. Actually, the baking was the only part that was real -- as for the rest, I did it with a mix. I told my wife that I always feeling like I'm cheating when I use one, even though the first time (I've only done it twice) I turned to her and said in amazement 'So this is why people use mixes!' It really is fast and convenient. I'm not a particularly good cake baker -- about on the same level as my bread skills, maybe a little less. I think that level of skill is why I'd scorn using a bread machine -- its not that I wouldn't like using it (once we figured out where to store the damn thing) -- its that I need the practice in making bread that comes with doing it, not just dumping the ingredients in a machine and pressing Go. (I'm sure there's more to it than that, but my impression is, not a lot more.) I like messing around with the dough. But this cake was for my daughter's birthday party -- she has some kind of plan where the four kids she's inviting over will have a decorating contest, each team doing whatever frosting they want, and then the winner gets to eat the cupcakes (set aside from the batch I made the other night) that are frosted by the loser. After which, I take the whole shebang off to an ice skating rink (like we need an opportunity to get cold) for the afternoon. I've been advised that ice skating rinks are cold, and that I should dress appropriately.

I've calmed down a little bit since yesterday about the ferocious amount of money I'm about to spend on my mouth. My wife is remarkably casual about it. We have the money, she keeps reminding me; we saved it just so we could have it for times like this; besides, we'll get some back when we itemize our taxes next year. All of which is true. But I think I'll need some tranks when I write that check.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Health Care

I just discovered that last year, when the company I work for switched health plans, I picked one that does not pay for some expensive medical work that I need to have done. This flummoxes me, as both I and my wife looked at the selections, agreed that what I was selecting was the right thing, and still apparently completely missed the (relatively) small print. As they say, the big print giveth, the small print taketh away. And, of course, I can't change now.

I hate the part of society that thinks its okay to have the small print, just as I hate the parts of society that thinks its okay to have an ad promoting something, and theres a small, virtually illegible disclaimer at the bottom of the screen, or rattled off very quickly at the end of the announcement, that limits, restricts, and eviscerates what they just spent fifty seconds promoting. Its vile.

If this is what two informed adults can do now, what in the world will we do when we are older and less well informed?

Snow Delay

This has been an interesting day, and its not even half done!

My daughter finally got the snow delay she's been wanting -- there was a light dusting, and the district delayed two hours. Ironically, she slept in this morning. I told my wife that if she slept long enough, the effect would be null - she wouldn't get any slack time before school. But she ended up getting out of bed about an hour later than normal.

We brought the van in to have the dash lights repaired. (Wonder where the phrase 'dashboard' came from?) Its a little irritating because this was done about two weeks ago, and when they fixed the one light that was out, two others stopped working. I was able to get one to light up again, but not the other. They may not charge for it, but its still an irritant to have to go in -- especially as it happened on a day when we had to handle the school delay.

On the way back, I stopped in at my general dentist's office to arrange for the temporary dental plate to be made, and learned that my new dental plan, which is the top of what they offered this year, may not cover things that the one last year did. Okay, I do believe that the method of handling health insurance should change, and I do believe that people with the ability to pay more, should, but its a bit of a leap to go from thinking it to actually doing it.

When I got home, the cleaners were here, making it noisy. And my wife's remote wouldn't open her garage door, so I had to tromp through the snow and get the spare key for the front door. It is very weird when other people are in your house and you can't get in! Its also rather uncool that now if you want to know where our spare key is hidden, you just have to follow the footsteps in the snow (g).

I got an email from a woman who writes one of the two blogs I mentioned the other day as having planned to quit. She's a doctor, and she said that one of the reasons she's thinking about quitting the blog is that she does not want to expose too much of her personal life in a medium where patients can see it. There's also the concern that a patient might figure out who she's talking about when she mentions the details of someone she's treated. I was not too surprised by that, but it still bothered me a bit that she felt the need to do that -- it was kind of like 'yeah, I know you need to, and I understand why, but still, this is me, you can trust me'. I have to remember that she doesn't really know me -- just what she sees in emails or comments. And even if she trusts me, that doesn't mean she can trust anyone who can see what she writes.

I'm surprisingly dismayed by the mission specialists 'problem', if I can put it so blandly. I know nothing about her (though I bet Lifetime Movies will make a chick flick about it), but I feel for her. She looked tormented and anguished. All of the people involved there deserve sympathy, I think.

Maybe I should go do some actual work, huh?

Star Crossed

The articles about the woman mission specialist are striking -- the comparison between the publicity photographs -- bright, alert, confident -- and the police photographs -- distraught, hunted, dejected -- startling.

How many other people have that dichotomy between their public face and their private reality?

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


When Joe Biden referred to Barack Obama as 'articulate', he says he meant it as a compliment. Apparently, he's in hot water as a result.

According to an article in the Sunday Washington Post, white people generally regard being called 'articulate' as a compliment, but black people generally regard it as a slur, feeling that it is implicitly saying that most black people are hard to understand.

I don't think thats true. Some black people are hard to understand. Some yellow, some white ones are, too.

Someone like Obama is notable for two reasons, completely aside from his intelligence and decisiveness: his choice of words is precise and eloquent, and his pronunciation of those words is clear and crisp. This is unusual in any case, for any public or private person (think, for example, of the John Houseman character in The Paper Chase), but it is particularly unusual for a black person. Our experience is that black people tend to have something of an accent, and when they do not, we do a doubletake. Think, for example, of the actor Roscoe Lee Brown, or the singer Charlie Pride. Listen to their voices with your eyes closed -- and then open them. I suggest that for most people, there's a moment of cognitive dissonance. What they see isn't what they expected. When people hear Obama speak, what they hear isn't what they expected. We see a black politician, and we expect the rolling orations of Jesse Jackson, or Al Sharpton, which ring of the mid-south. We don't expect the careful non-accented and precise diction of Obama, and we're surprised. Its the same as when we hear, for the first time, a black person speaking -- in London. Its not what we expect.

Precision isn't a slur unless what you really meant was 'this guys faking it, he really wants to be white'. Biden's not my favorite guy, but I don't think he meant that.


Apparently, baking IS a stress reliever for me. I was thinking last night about the dental meeting this morning, and I abruptly went out and made those chocolate cupcakes again that I'd made a few days ago.

And I only ate one. Well, two.

By the way, the meeting went well, all things considered. And now I'm studying up on reasons for dental implant failure, getting familiar with words like ossification and keratinised tissue. Its going to be part of my life for the next, oh, year or so.


This is from an article here on the Brown University alumni news site. It's pretty amazing.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Cold, He Snapped

I just got to drive for about 15 minutes to The Girl Scout Meeting That Wasn't. Apparently, the woman holding it decided at the last minute that it's too cold to expect the kids to come -- its about - 11 C, at the mo -- and either didn't tell my wife or sent the message to her work email box. We wasted about half an hour, overall. Great fun.

My daughter is now saying that although she does want to be a girl scout next year, she wants to be a 'juliette', which is when you are a one-girl troop. I think its terrific for kids who otherwise couldn't participate, but it seems a little weird to me when the whole idea of girl scouts is the community part of it. On the other hand, it does likely mean another year of easy access to Thin Mints, so thats a good thing.

I mentioned the other day that one of the people for whom I work has asked us to keep track of the things we do that add value to the company, and those that don't. Objectively, almost everything I do adds value, but I have to say, its at a very, very low level. Thats food for thought, if it doesn't drive me crazy.

Got to get some dinner. We were going to eat out while the troop was meeting....


I've noticed that two blogs I read have announced intent to change -- one switched to a brand new one (I think reflecting that the person got married), and one saying that she intended to delete the blog, didn't, but still might (reflecting a change in her creative energies). I was quite surprised to find how much this disturbed me. I didn't go manic or anything, but still: these are 'people I know' (though I've never met either and don't expect to). I rely on them to be there, to be part of my comfortable and familiar environment. They can't change!

Weird, huh?

Maybe I'm just projecting the queasiness in my life -- the ortho surgeon told me this morning that the 90% or so recovery that I have is probably as good as I'll get (which I expected, but still....) and tomorrow I meet with the dental surgeon, when I find out the details of whats planned. I am so not looking forward to that!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Data Loss

Sunday notes

It's been colder, but not recently -- and tonight its going to get down to about five above; fifteen below with the wind chill. It'll be like that Monday morning, which makes it a really good day to work from home. Its also the day that I set up an appointment with the orthopedic surgeon for fairly early in the morning. Get up early, and get frozen, all in one convenient swoop. Then on Tuesday, I get to visit with the oral surgeon, who will undoubtedly scare the bejabbers out of me with what he's planning to do. Not that I think its a bad idea -- in fact, I think its a very good idea, so much so that, paradoxically, it worries me that he doesn't seem as fascinated by it as I am. What downside is there that he hasn't seen fit to mention? But whats really got me freaked is the period when I essentially won't have any upper teeth -- that'll be the period while waiting for the extractions to heal, since I assume I can't wear the full - upper jaw 'dental appliance' until then. I detest looking like a goof -- and only partially because it jabs me in the conscience. What if, what if. I have to remember that what is, is; that's what you deal with. Funny that it took me so long to get to that realization.

I was watching a woman with a small child in church this morning. The kid was pretty good -- about two years old, intermittently active, with the beguiling smile that young kids are known for. She reminded me of my daughter, when she was younger. Just a really cute kid (aren't they all?)

An article in the Washington Post lists the current opinions of people who said that the Iraq war was a bad idea, or a good idea badly executed; while this was the reason these particular people were selected, its sobering to see them say, to a man (and woman), that their correctness does not please them, and that the taste of vindication is not sweet. Zbigniew Brezienski said that more than lack of elation, he worries that some people may be saying that the war would work if it were expanded to Iran. I am not a deep thinker, but I agree with him -- and I would bet serious money that there are serious people proposing exactly that. Cliches aside, there are times to hold and times to fold; its tough to say which this is now. We simply don't know whats going on in that part of the world -- things are much more volatile than ever they've been. Like getting out of Vietnam, I think we're going to end up just getting the hell out of there. I don't think we have a realistic vision of what 'success' would even be, let alone a prayer of achieving it. I don't see them having anyone who sounds like our preference for a 'leader' -- their style seems to be the strongman, and Hussein was the closest they had.

My daughter told me that her friends were looking forward to decorating the cake that I'll be baking for her birthday. This was the first I'd heard of my involvement. She would like to get a telephone for her birthday, and I'm leaning a bit in that direction -- not happy about it, but it kind-of makes sense to me. I don't want her to be in a competition race with the other kids, but having a telephone seems to be on the level of a basic necessity, these days, for her and for us. Even if you don't autodial 911 with it.

I still want to bake something today. We compromised; making the 'spiced bacon' along with waffles and chocolate-orange coffee. The bacon's really easy; just thick - cut with a sprinkling of brown sugar, crushed rosemary, and a trace of cayenne pepper. Perhaps this afternoon I'll make some kind of small cake. Possibly something suitable for Valentines day -- we don't do the candy and flowers bit, but I've been thinking for a while that I'd like to try making a torte. How hard could it possibly be? (g) Though there's always... truffles?

Saturday, February 03, 2007


Got my first MVS on-call problem. It was pretty minor -- but I handled it, nonetheless, without assistance. Well, unless you count bouncing an opinion off my wife, but I do that with just about everything. So, I'm pretty pleased.

Less pleasing was our experience at a local restaurant, where we waited for just over an hour to be seated. The food was decent, but no food is worth waiting an hour for. I find myself wondering what the economics are of something like that. For example, in any given week, how much time can you sustain at, say, 50% of capacity if you have other times when you're at 100% -- or even 100+ (which, in computer performance terms, means that you have work to do 100% of the time plus you have work that would have gotten dispatched if you had had an engine to dispatch it on). My guess is that a restaurant thats open seven nights a week can sustain three sub par nights if it has one par and two or three super-par. What you'd like to see is them sizing the capacity of the place for peak periods, but thats not optimal (man, its eerie how performance and capacity problems in computer systems map so easily to performance and capacity problems elsewhere). So you likely shoot for about 80% of max, accepting that you're going to make people wait at peak periods. (Which, I bet, is why they occasionally came through with free samples: to assuage the grumbles.). I wonder: would it be fair to let people in at the head of the line who are willing to pay more? And, if they did, how would that affect sales to everyone else? How would you model something like that? If I were to drop a line to their corporate headquarters, think they'd tell me?

Each TGIChilis is locally owned and operated. We're sorry that you had a distressing experience at your local TGIC. We recommend that you bring your concerns to the local owners for resolution. Thank you for contacting TGIChilis, where service is our middle name. Well, actually, its GI, but, umm....


I added a site meter to the sidebar (it doesn't have an icon, for some reason; need to look into that) because I was curious about how many people see this site. I'm always delighted when someone new shows up and comments (and better yet, hangs around), but just as I bomb through fifty or so sites in a row (thanks to StumbleUpon), I know lots of people glance at sites and then move on.

I was surprised to see that seven people have looked at this site just today! Thats nothing, of course, compared to others, particularly food blogs (which seem to get thousands of hits) or politics (ditto), but I'm kind of tickled by it. So, for anyone who's just stopping by -- thanks !

Friday, February 02, 2007


I'm big on intentions, short on execution. But now I'm in for it.

I volunteered to be a reading mentor at my daughter's school.

They're going to call me next week to talk things over.

Hoo, boy.

Ice Cream Sandwich

Please feel free to make some of these tasty wonders, the source for which may be found here, and send them along to me.

Washington's Farewall Address, Revisited

A web site has a 'translation' of ' Washington's Farewell Address into the vernacular. It's awesome.


I found this in an article on simulation of Union Pacific rail yards:

"Railroad line management personnel tend to be highly oriented toward quick results with limited time for detailed data gathering and analysis. These characteristics of the customer-base were a major consideration in design and implementation of the model."

Uh, guys? MOST users are like that.... nobody has the time to spend mulling over how to make things work. If we wanted to do that, we'd be doing the modeling manually instead of buying a software package to do it for us.

Ditto for just about every other 'labor saving device', too.

That Boston Scare

My feeling is that the people who did it were trying to be hip, cool, edgy...and they went over the edge. In retrospect, the city overreacted, but they didn't really have a choice -- they have to assume the worst, because the cost of being wrong is so high.

I think the perpetrators and the people who unleashed them should be held responsible for the costs of the city's response. How much should that be? Well, I think it ought to be substantial. Some amount of it likely would have been spent, regardless; and if the amount is high enough, adding a punitive amount would seem redundant.

Yesterday, my cell phone rang. I don't normally carry it, but today I was. The caller was the local 911 service, saying that they'd gotten a call from my number, and was there a problem? I was startled -- and yet there it was, on the call log. Somehow, the two step process -- hit '9', then 'send' -- had occurred while the phone was in my pocket. (Why have it at all? So I don't have to look down at the phone while driving. ) Nothing came of it -- but suppose they'd dispatched a cop to where I was (assuming they could find it), or suppose I now get a bill for their time in calling me. Would that be fair?

Yeah, I think it would. I hope they don't, and if they do, I hope they don't make it a large bill, but yeah, I think it'd be fair. I made them react.

Oh, and I took the autodial for '9' off my phyone.

Musing about Work

One of the things that I noticed about the company for which I currently work, shortly after arriving, is that they expect to be told what to do by the people running the place, or at least expect to need their permission, and they really like to involve lots of people in their decision making. The first trumps the second; if everyone in a group thinks that something is a good idea, they'll still ask the manager's opinion; if the manager doesn't like it, it doesn't happen; if the manager does, it'll happen.

If the managerial levels aren't involved, then they simply ask everyone who might possibly be involved, or was involved, or they think should be involved, in whatever is being discussed. Part of this is the technology; its a lot easy to just say 'send/reply to all' and be relatively confident that the people who really should be asked are in that list than it is to selectively say 'these people, not those'. I find that though I don't like getting these 'everybody and their brother' emails, there are people who do like it; they say its how they keep aware of whats going on in the organization.

Communication can be tough, that way. People have different needs and desires about what they want, and they don't always know that they do want something, or that something is useful to them. Sometimes, like me, they keep isolated, deliberately ignoring emails, and then find that the emails, however portentiously worded, really did have something that they needed to know. Not necessarily wanted to know, but needed to know. There’s a concept called ‘push’ marketing, and one called ‘on-demand marketing’; both are relevant here.

On a different note: This place has a lot of managers -- if I had to guess, I'd say there's about fifteen to twenty levels of them, bottom to top, with thousands at the bottom level and as many as ten or fifteen at the next-to-top -- so its not all that uncommon to get emails from them -- usually stern or cheery notes with roughly the same content: we're all in this together, we're doing good but we've got to do better, and the way to do that is for you to do what we say. Go team go fight team fight win team win. Yawn.
But an email we got yesterday was different, because in it the person writing asked for the thoughts of every single person in his organization about what could be done to improve the effectiveness of the organization (that kind of note, though rare, is not uncommon; the annual ‘PBC’ process is essentially that). What made this note unique was that the sender asked for the responses to come directly to him. Not filtered through the intervening levels of managers, not to the common email box that gets vetted by his secretary, arranged by topic or whatever, but directly to him.

Given organizational paranoia, its not out of the question that this is A Trick; he's going to track who doesn't respond and put them on the Fire These Guys list. But I don't think so. This guy has a reputation for being a nice guy, someone who is easy to talk to (unlike, say, his subordinates, who are easy to talk to so long as you're nodding up and down as you do), and he asks good questions. I'm quite impressed by this email of his, and I'm going to think about the response, and send it back. Directly to him.

It will be interesting to see what comes of it.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Policeman Writes Ticket

...with a difference.

I lub my gummint

I wrote a note a couple of months ago expressing opposition to the ATT-BellSouth merger. Yesterday, I got this.

Dear Consumer,

Thank you for contacting the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) about the AT&T-Bell South Merger. Your comments will be filed in the proper FCC proceeding docket.

On December 29, 2006, the FCC approved the AT&T-Bell South merger. For further information, please see the Press Release discussing the approval of the merger on the Commissions website at

Again, thank you for contacting us about this important issue. Your views and comments are important to us.

The Federal Communications Commission


This morning, at breakfast, we were teasing, and my wife mentioned that when she was a kid, she had a Betsy Wetsy doll. She pointed out that she and her competitive sister both had one, though hers had the molded hair, while her sister's had the real hair. I looked at my daughter and said 'This is why you have no brothers or sisters, that when you are an adult, you won't be remembering who got the last waffle or the better toy.' My daughter walked behind my chair, rested her arm on my shoulder, and said to my wife 'This is an intervention, Mom. Its been forty years -- give it up!' And then she broke out laughing.

Is she a great kid, or what?