Saturday, March 31, 2007

This Evening

I usually wake up when my wife and daughter return from color guard events, so this time I thought I'd stay up, do some reading, and possibly watch some television. And I did: three chapters in Executive Orders, and then some TV. To wit: the lamest Stargate:SG1 I've ever seen (granted, I haven't seen all that many, but this had a special something that made me confident it would win any Lame Award); the middle and later the end of Escape from New York (I think they must have spent easily five hundred dollars on sets for that flick); the beginning of I,Robot (which was pretty good), and the ending of Independence Day (somewhat good). And, let's see, an episode of Three's Company, and part of the local news.

Tell me again why people watch television? Though I'm sure that the experience would have been much better if we had a high-definition plasma turbocannon-equipped television, for sure.

As expected, the kids didn't do too well. One of the cute rules that the guard group has is that if one of the kids isn't performing (for whatever reason, such as, oh, a broken foot), they automatically lose three points; but if you happen to have someone who's qualified to do the routine (because they did it last year), they can't participate, because they're 'not a current member'. Sounds to me like some people have way too many lawyers. Speaking of which, one guy was wandering around taking beaucoup pictures with very slick professional-looking video equipment; he offered to make copies of what he shot available, but at a cost, as 'his wife said he had to earn back some of the money for his toys'. Guess what his profession is?

I'm glad they're home.

Burgers

I am not a great cook. I can do simple things, like make spaghetti and meatballs, or grilled cheese, but I can't make a decent burger.

There's a restaurant near here, part of a chain, called Ruby Tuesday's. One of the things they sell is called Ruby's Minis -- two or four burgers that are about two inches across, toasted bun, some kind of dressing, and onion straws on the burger. I devour those things. I've never tried Ruby's regular burger, because, to me, the small ones are perfection, which means that the best that the large one could be is equivilent -- and with the small ones, I can eat part, and give part to my wife.

I can't make burgers that even come close. I can make okay burgers, but nothing where you take a bite and think Hey, this is good! I don't know why. I thought it might be that the beef we normally get is moderately low in fat -- about 88%, I think -- so I tried using regular ground beef. Not that. I have heard a story about Lee Iacocca asking the executive chef at Ford why the burgers there were so good, and the chef said that it was because they started with steak, and ground that up. Haven't tried that. I do think doing it on a grill is key, but thats about the extent of my insight.

I'd really like to be able to make a decent burger.

At the moment, the griddle for the grilled cheese is heating.

Reading

One of the things that I learned about myself quite some time ago is that my mood -- not so much my emotional temperature, but what I feel capable of -- can be affected by what I am reading. Most of what I read doesn't have that effect, but some does.

At the moment, I'm in the early chapters of a thick novel by Tom Clancy, Executive Orders, which I got because I needed something without a whole bunch of depth to it, but enough going on so that I could lose myself in it. I've had a bit of a rough week, and distraction sounded like a good idea. Today's a pretty quiet day, as my wife and daughter are off to a color guard event, the last of the season (they'll likely not do well, as the team wasn't doing all that well anyway, and one of the girls broke her foot this week), so I am alone, effectively. I did the grocery shopping, put them away, and now I'm just reading. And what I find is that I'm pretty sure I can lose ten or fifteen pounds, no sweat.

I know this is bogus. Yet the attitude of resolve and purpose in the novel is so strong, that I find myself adopting it. Work out more? You bet! Eat at least somewhat better? Absolutely! And while I'm at it, demonstrate intelligence and energy at work? Unquestionably!

Wish it could last, but its nice while its here.

Rumours

There's a rumour going around at the office where I work that the company is going to substantially change the division of which we're a part. At its most minor, certain people would be given the opportunity to retire early; at its most drastic, it would be involve selling the entire division to a different company. The goal is money. We have sold entire divisions before, with that motivation, but at the moment, the guessing is that the former is more likely than the latter.

What I found interesting, and hardly surprising, is that everyone involved in the discussion assumes that there will be little, if any, attention paid to the people involved -- to 'doing the right thing by them' -- no matter which option is chosen. The assumption is that if people are given the opportunity to retire, they should grab it and run, because the next step might be to say '...and all you other guys just took a twenty percent cut in pay', or something similar. That this would gut the organization of experienced talent would not matter to the people making the decision, because it'd be entirely based on finances. People simply don't trust the people running the organization to look out for them, which is unfortunate, anyway, and particularly so in a company which officially prides itself in its sensitivity to the worker bee.

News

Just a couple of observations --

The statement that David Hicks is a terrorist because he was convicted as such -- I don't agree. He may well be a terrorist, but conviction in that intensely political climate doesn't prove it to me.

The comment that perhaps Iran will proscecute the British sailors should not come as a surprise. This would be an excellent time for the Dubya et al to review Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision Makers. Remember Lloyd Bucher? This whole scenario has happened before.

Walking on Water

...may be the only practical way for me to get back to Australia, apparently.

Last night, I looked at a site called Kayak, which is a travel aggregator. It scans multiple travel sites looking for best prices. I wanted to find out what a single round trip business class flight would be from my local airport to Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, which is where we plan to go for a three week vacation when my daughter graduates from high school in five years. I've been there before, and really liked it (in fact, I mildly plumped for the idea of moving there, but it didn't go over so well); my daughter has known for years that the only answer to the question of 'would Dad go back to Australia' is 'In a heartbeat'.

When I went, the flight was wonderful -- my company paid for first class travel in the US, and business class across the Pacific (amazing; I suspect that whomever booked it didn't realize that that's what they were buying). It was kind of a giddy pleasure to show up at my local airport, look at the sullen mob waiting in line behind the 'Coach' sign, and walk up to the 'First Class' check in. The clerk looked over and grumbled that that was First Class; Yes, I know, I replied politely. She sighed and walked over, asking where I was going. Melbourne, I replied. Florida? she asked. Australia, I replied. Her reaction was -- interesting.

I knew that the round trip air fare was nine thousand dollars when the company paid for it, ten years ago, and I was willing (though not exactly eager) to pay that now for each of the three of us. I also knew that it was likely going to be more, though, what was gas and such, and I thought well, how much more?

A round trip economy flight from our airport is about $1,500.

A round trip business class flight from our airport is about $15,000.

I suppose I could wait for continental drift to bring Australia closer....

Friday, March 30, 2007

Clueless

This is an unusual crossword -- there are no clues !

Untitled

Sometimes, when I am thinking about writing something in here, I think first about the title. I usually pick something that has some kind of relevance to what I am about to say, though it may not be obvious. In fact, I like titles that are somewhat offbeat. I think of them as creative, and since I like to think of myself as a creative guy (and we won't go into whether thats true or not), this is a way to manifest it.

But as I write this, at about twenty after four in the morning, I'm not feeling particularly creative. I've had a number of small crises hit me in the last week, none of which are life threatening or career threatening or anything like that, but which, cumulatively, make me feel beset on all sides. Last night, I did what I tend to do when I feel that way -- went to bed early. Way early, early enough so that I woke up around three thirty or so. My wife came out and we talked for a while, which helped a lot -- she'd known I was mad/irritated about some things, but she didn't know about half of them -- and afterwards, I just sat out here , leafing through the latest issue of Real Simple magazine, or staring out the window. I still like RS, though its clearly getting glossier as time passes -- sort of like those articles you see from time to time that show the 'before' picture of an attractive woman, and you think Wow -- and then they show the Photoshopped 'after' version, with absolutely no blemishes, longer neck, fairer skin -- and though I admit that I think Wow, again, I also think 'Android'. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't mind looking like the male equivalent -- they show up in those articles, too, though not with the before and after treatment -- but its not that important to me to look great (which, all things considered, is probably a good thing). I find that I don't trust pictures like that, and I tend not to trust magazines that promote it.

It is an indicator of my general sense of funk with life at the moment that before I got up I found myself lying in bed thinking that perhaps things would be better if I bought myself a really nice wool suit. Thats totally bizarre. For one, after since I outgrew my suits about five years ago, I haven't worn one at all; for another, where I work, people usually don't wear suits; and for a third, I generally don't believe that things can be made better by buying something. But there I was, thinking that. I know why, too. Its to get the sense of 'well, at least I did something to improve the situation.' Silly, I know.

My wife also suggested, incidentally, that I take some Tylenol for a recurring pain in my shoulder. Now, that's a perfectly reasonable suggestion, and I should have thought of it. But when I get in a snit, I don't think too clearly. So I did, and now I feel better. That pain is still there, but now it's muted. This is why I married her. Why she married me is still up for review.

I need a good novel. I do have three or four used books that I picked up and haven't started, but I need a really good one to lose myself in. It doesn't have to be deep, but it has to be something that will captivate me. Thats asking a lot.

Perhaps I'll go get some sleep. Of course, the mantel clock (which is actually on a table that my wife got from her grandmother; its an old, somewhat shabby table, but we like it) just chimed four thirty, and that means its just an hour and fifteen minutes till we have to wake up our daughter for her field trip -- her class is going to Philadelphia to see the King Tut exhibition -- so thats not very long. Maybe I'll stay up. Maybe -- to address one of the problems -- I'll even do the bike for a while. A short while.

And maybe I'll make a couple of calls. Wonder if the Pope's awake?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Frizzin

Overnight the temperature dropped about twenty degrees, so that this morning it was just below freezing. I had the window slightly open, and the room was chilly. As a result, I slept the best I had in days. I really do like being snuggly warm in a cold room. Granted, I now have to go in to the office, which is a terrible thing to waste a good day on. Yesterday we found that the person who is doing an installation of a product for us -- the product that I tried a year to get in -- is, oh by the way, leaving for a different job in two weeks. Oh, and the configuration that we wanted, he now hears from his new manager (who works for the part of the company that actually makes the product in question), has the potential to be seriously unstable. But he's fairly sure we can get a replacement for him... maybe.

I asked, not all that rhetorically, why we didn't just hang up a banner that said we were looking for reasons for this project to fail.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Geography

From the Los Angeles Times:

WASHINGTON -- President Bush, rejecting a compromise with Congress over a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, said today, "It makes no sense for politicians in Washington, D.C., to be dictating arbitrary timelines for our military commanders in a war zone 6,000 miles away."


Hmm....could they dictate arbitrary timelines for something thats fifty feet away? Two miles? A thousand miles? Where's the cutoff?

Adversaries

I have mentioned in the past how I dislike auditors, and their ability to make up their own rules as to what's required in the environment. They start (usually) with the standards that you've been given, but devolve quickly into their interpretation of what those rules means. Those interpretations are frequently not the ones that you've used in preparing your environment, and occasionally they're not the same as other auditors, either. So, for example, the standard might say 'The work environment shall be well lit with a uniform light on all work surfaces', and you think that having overhead fluorescent lighting -- the bright, cheerless lights you see in discount stores -- will do the trick. The first auditor agrees, but the next one says no, these are not good enough -- they cast shadows, so there are clearly not enough of them; write that up. And then the next auditor comes through, remarks casually on how you sure do have a lot of lights in there -- because you added some, in response to the first -- and oh, look, one of them is flickering. That's not uniform, he says, getting out his auditor's red pencil. And when you send someone to repair it, he fixes a gimlet eye on you and asks where the procedure is written up that you use to do such repairs; no repair shall be done without it, after all. So you produce it, and he says Hmm...this says that the light repair shall be done with two people, but you did it with just one; write that up. You point out that the second person was right there, and the auditor smiles slightly and replies that while that may be true, that second person was not clearly identified as being part of the light repair team, so, sorry -- and by the way, why was that person standing in the area of the repair if they were not part of the team? Doesn't the repair procedure say that no one should be standing close who isn't working on the repair, lest they be bopped by a dropped light? Write that up.

A company that I used to work for decided that they needed a separate group to orchestrate and coordinate responses to auditors. After a while, they thought it would be helpful to do 'play' audits, where they applied what they had learned over time and audits to see what they could find that an auditors might object to. Some of the time it was based on what a reasonable person could find, and some of the time it was based on their interpretation, like the light bulb story. Very quickly, the company began to treat the play audits like actual audits, and it was almost as bad to be written up by the internal auditor as it would be to be written up by the external auditor -- which meant that the internal auditors got the short, black and white answers. You didn't tell them what you knew they wanted to know, but they didn't explicitly ask for, and you certainly did not tell them of things that they didn't suspect that you knew were problems. They were your adversaries; be careful what you tell them. That they were supposed to be your defense mechanism evaporated.

We're undergoing an audit now, and the person who is supposed to be our 'interface' with the auditors used to be a technician working on our account. Now he's on the Dark Side, and as I told both my wife and a coworker, both of whom agreed, when he worked for us, if he asked a question, he got a full and complete answer. Now he's with Them, and he gets the shortest possible answers, stated in black and white with no greys whatsoever. We trusted him before, but we don't trust him now.

I think that what I hate about audits, and auditors, is twofold: they always find something, and when they do, I feel that I should have known about it. Sometimes, I did know, but didn’t give it rigid attention because I thought it was silly. Sometimes, I didn’t know, for a multiplicity of reasons. Whatever the source, I end up feeling incompetent. I hate feeling incompetent. I don’t care if the organization fails the audit; I care about feeling incompetent. I’ve been trying for six years, intermittently, to get out of this position, and its more than a little ironic that now, when its possible, and even likely, that I finally will, we have not one but two audits either started or on the way.

I know that auditors can perform useful functions. The recent case of ITT shows that. But much of it strikes me as – stupid. And if there’s anything worse than feeling incompetent, it’s feeling so in the defense of something you feel is stupid.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Later That Day

Well, I feel better now. Some pizza, and a walk in the mild drizzle, helped. Of course, my wife's company in both activities helped, too. The source of the angst was Auditors, about which, I need not say more than I already have, over and over again. Anyway, that pain will come again tomorrow -- plus, we've learned, a second crew is scheduled to come right after this one -- or possibly at the same time; they don't coordinate these things.

Nothing yet on the job that I'd like to have. I talked briefly with a guy who's in that group, and he tells me that there are going to be five staffing requests put out for the position; also, that they'd really like to get an experienced person (which, as it happens, I am). Everyone wants experience; no-one is willing to pay for it. You need to pick things up on your own, and be right there when the opportunity comes. This one is coming, but -- excruciatingly slowly, I'm afraid.

No fresh news on the political front. It turns out that the president's primary spokesman has cancer, which I'm sorry to hear about; no one should have that burden. I was surprised when John Edwards said he would run for President even though his wife's cancer has returned. You make the decisions according to your own lights, I guess.

Fever

I wasn't too surprised when no one responded to my earlier post about impeachment, as this isn't a politically oriented blog, and the people who respond to it tend to not want to talk about politics. I tried to be as even-handed as I could be, though I am sure that some people might be offended by the concept at all. I was a little surprised that I have gotten very few comments, overall, of late, but perhaps thats just a spring-fever thing. Yes, its true; we are having a bout of spring here -- the air is warm (relatively), leaving the house this morning I saw the first sprout of unruly grass on the front lawn; and I not only slept late today, I felt as if I could have slept for another two hours. All things considered, that might not have been a bad way to spend the day !

Monday, March 26, 2007

Deep Thoughts

I mentioned in an earlier post that my standard for what I'd consider an impeachable offense for the president has dropped -- it used to be something like being caught passing nuclear launch codes, but now, thanks to the actions of our current president, it's less. That got me to thinking a little bit about what it would take for me to say that yes, the president should be impeached.

Let me point out something that I usually get wrong unless I stop to think about it: impeachment doesn't mean 'kick out of office'. It means 'charge', as in 'charge a public official with some sort of misconduct'. It implies that the misconduct is substantial; something that resulted in grievous harm to the organization or function that the public official represented. The US Constitution says that “the President, Vice President, and all civil officers of the United States shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” Impeachment doesn't mean conviction -- it means bringing up on charges. Conviction is not automatic, nor should it be.

So what would be the grounds for impeaching the president? Well, treason, certainly, but I don't think that anyone except, perhaps, the most rabid Bush-haters would call him a traitor. Similarly, he probably hasn't bribed anyone, either (at least, not in the criminal sense. I suspect that presidents have bribed others with favors and appointments for years.) That leaves 'high crimes and misdemeanors." The Infoplease site puts it this way:

"(T)he ocean of wrongdoing encompassed by the Constitution's stipulation of “high crimes and misdemeanors” is vast. Abuse of power and serious misconduct in office fit this category, but one act that is definitely not grounds for impeachment is partisan discord."

In other words, you can't impeach the president just because you don't like what he's doing, or how he's doing it. It has to be serious, and injurious to the people of this country, and to the very nature of what makes this country unique. That he's pushed tax cuts far beyond what I consider defensible isn't a good reason; that he has a scheming, arrogant Vice President isn't a reason (and might actually be a reason not to impeach). His fondness for 'faith-based' initiatives doesn't do it (there are good reasons for wanting them to work, and they do; its just that they're prone to act in ways that favor faith-driven people to the detriment of those who aren't). His refusal to accept the word of scientists on global warming doesn't do it, either; he may honestly consider it pseudo-science. His insistence on prolonging the war in Iraq, even with a growing number of people opposed to it, doesn't do it. His preference to rely on friends and supporters for high positions isn't new to politics, and his appointment or attempted appointment of cronies and under-qualified personnel (Brown for FEMA, Miers for the Supreme Court) doesn't do it, either. Even the reprehensible spying programs, coupled with the attitude that only he and his close advisers have the right to know what is happening, doesn't quite do it, though it comes close.

But torture? Elimination of habeus corpus if you're deemed an enemy combatant? That does it, to my mind. When we are willing to torture someone because our cause is just; when we are willing to lock someone up without trial because we know in our hearts that they're evil -- those do it for me. Those injure the heart and soul of the country. Somewhat less heinous, but still detrimental to the nation we say we are: presidential signing statements (the ones that say 'I get to say if this law applies to me.')

I am willing to believe that some, perhaps many, maybe even all of the people affected directly by torture and by imprisonment under these programs are evil, vicious people who make pedophiles look like saints and Stalin look like Mother Theresa. But when we sink to that level to seize, interrogate, and inter them -- when we have a president who considers himself to be the ultimate authority as to whether a law applies to him -- then I think we are in danger, ourselves of having a sea change in what we consider to be right, and proper, and fair. We're in danger of losing our identity, of what it means to be an American.

Impeach him. Pose the questions -- do we want to be the kind of country that tortures, that imprisons without trial; do we want to let the president be the ultimate arbiter about whether a law applies to him. Let the House draw up the bill of charges, with full hearing to all sides of the arguments, and let the Senate vote on it. And even if, perish the thought, it results in the succession of the Vice President, it would be worth doing, just to get the questions into the open, to have them judged in what would be essentially a court of law.

Thats the American way.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Baking Tip

When putting dough into a large bowl to rise, don't put it into a plastic bowl if you're intending to put it into the oven that's been preheated but then turned off. The racks will carve their signatures into the base of the bowl quite nicely.

On the other hand, you can then smugly say that you meant to do that, so as to keep the bowl from skittering around on the rack. Yeah, that's the ticket.

Housing

I like looking at housing plans. Some don't appeal to me, right off the bat -- they look too flat, too square. Others intrigue me. I recall touring a demo house in a local development, and was surprised to find that I liked its very simple, very open floor plan. As I recall, it was essentially a square, stretched perhaps just a bit. The upper left of the square was the two car garage; to the right was the entry hall, and to the right of that, a short hall to a closet and a front bedroom (or office, or whatever). The hall was duplicated along the right - short hall down to a back bedroom (or office, or whatever). Of the roughly two thirds that was left, the upper one third was an open kitchen, and between that and the garage, a laundry area, while the lower one third was a wide open living room. We were in the house for about twenty minutes before I realize why that main hallway was so wide, why the entry way into each of the smaller hallways were so wide, why there were no interior door sills, why the kitchen and living room were so open. Yet with all of that, it worked; the house didn't feel cramped, didn't feel plain, didn't feel 'made for the elderly/wheelchair bound/handicapped'. It just felt right -- good trim, good quality. The house worked.

I wonder sometimes how you do that. How do you design a house that works -- that flows well, that simultaneously feels close and protective when you want that, yet open and expansive when you want that. I would bet there's a science to it. Sometimes, its just flipping. For example --

This is a diagram in the Washington Post of a home in Gettysburg that's for sale. Gettysburg is a pretty area, but I never thought of it as the northern terminus for people looking for houses who work in Washington DC. Nevertheless, there it is, an ad for The Links at Gettysburg. Amazing.



Here's one from the Post that I clipped for houses in DC. Notice anything? Its essentially the same design, flipped along the right sideof its long axis - and its about forty percent more expensive. Location, location, location.

And a timely flip.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Answer: A fighter jet on takeoff

Question: Whats barely louder than a busload of middle school girls who are tired, excited, and feeding off each others frenzy?

If I ever do that again -- chaperone a wired, tired group of teen girls -- I'm bringing a Taser.

Saturday

Fortunately, I had a second recipe for Chocolate Pudding, as the first was just awful. It could well be that I didn't follow the steps correctly when doing it; however, when the first takes forty minutes and includes chopping, blending, transferring, mixing, boiling...and the second takes twenty minutes, uses one saucepan, and optionally a food processor -- that first one is history.

I see where the Decider is in a snit because the Democrats are 'playing politics'. Where to begin on that one? Perhaps a simple observation that thats the way the game is played, bucko! would do nicely. I have no problem with the people I like having to fight and compromise to get their measures passed, and I certainly have no problem with the same thing for The Bushwhacker. I saw a Zippy the Pinhead cartoon this morning wherein he observes that the Senate of the United States is a hallowed institution where laws are made, issues debated, and the power of the Presidency is kept in check ....how could Dick Cheney let this happen? Heh-heh-heh.

I will say one other thing, though. The White House holds that the Congress doesn't have oversight authority on them. I think thats true. The Congress doesn't have the right to manage, let alone micro-manage, what the White House does in the execution of its responsibilities. It can choose not to fund them, of course. And it can choose to impeach the resident of 1600 if they think he's doing a truly terrible job (I used to think that mean 'like getting caught handing over missile launch codes to the Russians', but lately my standards are lower on that.). But it can't say what the White House can do in the execution of its responsibilities, or how it does it. So, if the Texan Temper Tantrum wants, they can just back the hell off...and impeach him. Happy, W?

This afternoon I get to hang out with a whole bunch of nubile teen and pre-teen girls. Hot diggety! I'm the chaperone on the bus trip out to the next-to-last show they're putting on. It was almost a no-show (and not because I'm going); the girls on my daughters team were screwing around so badly that their moderator threatened to cancel the practice, this show, and the final one. I would not be surprised if she bailed on this entirely after this year. From what I gather, my daughter's team is pretty bad. They're young and all, but still.... pretty bad.

About three quarters of the way through The Number. Still interesting reading. Still making good points. I told a coworker about it, and he said that a friend had told him that it wasn't very good because it didn't tell you exactly what to do. I saw that you could get that anywhere, and it frequently was contradicted by other experts. What this told you was how to approach the topic, what affected what your personal Number was, and what to do when you weren't sure (as most of us are not). An authoritative and correct guide as to what to do is in there, as it happens, but its not the thrust of the book. I'll be reading it at the competition tonight. I (groan) get to hang around till the very end.

But at least I have good reading, and, to look forward to, good chocolate pudding.

Puddin'Head

When you're making a chocolate pudding recipe from Cuisine magazine --

-- if they say 'boil the milk', then 'while the milk is heating...' -- don't budge. Stay RIGHT the hell next to that milk, or you will have an interesting design on your stove.

-- if they say to put the milk and sugar and cocoa and cornstarch into the bowl of the food processor -- make sure that the food processor is big enough, or you will have an interesting design on your counter.

-- if they say 'cut butter into four pieces, then set aside', they're not kidding. They'll use it ten steps later. Don't put it in the food processor.

I have NO idea what this stuff is going to taste like. I've warned my family.

Friday, March 23, 2007

DRMmed

Like any right thinking person, I desise DRM. Fortunately, our technology is old enough that it's not so infested -- which is why I was able to tell my daughter, who likes one of our Diana Krall albums, but only part of it, that she can tell me which she likes, along with some from another CD, and combine them onto a new CD containing just what she likes.

Somewhere, there's an RIAA gnome gnashing its teeth. I like that.

Joke

Unfortunately, this is a joke.

Award

You've got to give this site points for trying.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

FYF

My wife and I just had our very first discussion about exactly how we are going to disburse our daughter's First Year Fund, which is the money we've set aside for her first year out of high school, whether it be living at home, travel, or college. The good news is that we mostly agree. The bad news is that we don't entirely agree.

Basically, we agree that if she wants to go to college right after high school, and needs money to fund it, we'll help her up to the limit of the FYF. Since we're planning for the FYF to be at $75,000 by that time, we think it'll be able to fund one year at a pretty good school, or two - three years at a less well known school.

We agree that if she wants to go to college, but to take some amount of time off before doing so, we are willing to fund her expenses, within reason, for that period. Within reason is vague, but it generally means food, clothing, and expenses in the area. If she decides that she'd like to jet out to Oregon or down to Baja, we're going to have to talk about it.

We agree that if she wants to do something structured just to try it, like learning to be a professional artist, we're willing to fund a year of trying it.

We kind of agree that if she really doesn't know what she wants to do out of high school, we're going to let her take a year to decide, but that during that year she's going to have to do things to structure the answers to that question, by which we mean research, taking the occasional dissimilar college courses, and forth. If it turns out that she gets toward the end of the year and still doesn't know, we're going to tell her that she needs to be looking for a job, too. (This is our least favorite option.)

Where we're the least sure is if she does want to go to college, isn't sure when, and wants to do something fairly drastic, like taking six months to hike through Europe. To be honest, we don't think we'd let an eighteen year old kid go do something like that until she's really, really mature -- and possibly not even then. Scaling it back, if she wants to travel throughout the United States -- we're not sure.

Good thing we have time. The FYF's not going anywhere.

Backing Stuff Up

This article talks about some useful ways to back up blog data.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Number

I'm continuing to read The Number, and it continues to hold my interest, much in the way that a scary novel does -- just enough scariness to make not want to turn the page, leavened with enough calm assurance to make me think that I do want to find out what happens in the next chapter.

At the moment, one of the other programs running on this laptop is Excel, and the spreadsheet that it has up is our financial projection spreadsheet -- the one that goes out for forty years, projecting what we expect to spent, where we expect money to come from. In the upper left corner of the spreadsheet are the average return that we expect to make from savings and investments, and just below that we have what we think the average inflation rate will be. I'd been using 2.5% for the inflation rate, and thats based on what I see in increases over time for things that we tend to spend money on. A car, for example, might have cost $22,000 ten years ago, but now its closer to $28,000 - thats about 2.5% increase per year. We don't buy cars every year, of course; this was based on groceries, magazine subscriptions, and the like. The first time I tried this calculation, I used the inflation number from the Federal Reserve, and it about blew my socks off. So I did my own calculation, looking at the major categories of things that we buy all the time. That seems to work.

Still, when The Number mentioned what the cumulative effect of a 3 percent inflation rate would be, I thought 'Maybe that spreadsheet number isn't quite high enough'. So, I opened up the spreadsheet, changed it, and then looked at the chart where I show our total worth over time -- and was dismayed to see that it goes negative three years before what I show as my maximum age (I assume for planning purposes that I'll live to 92; my wife, to 85. My guess is that I'll actually live about seven years less, and that she'll live five years more, so it kind of washes out). I played around with it a bit -- what about 2.75 percent? 2.90? -- and it looked a little better.

The value of The Number is not that it tells you 'worry' or 'don't worry' (if it errs on one side or the other, it errs on the first; even the truly wealthy (whom he seems to roughly define as people with over a million dollars invested) are occasionally worried about the twin bugaboos of outliving their money or being sick); the value is that it walks through these emotional minefields in a carefully casual manner. It doesn't splash gory details, and it doesn't dismiss your concerns with a handwave. It talks about how you should be thinking, and what you should be thinking about. It goes into details, but the details are, with a little bit of effort, graspable, and then it tells you what those details translate to in real world effects.

It's not a fun process, but I am glad that I am doing it.

Dental Mental

I had an appointment with my general dentist last week to discuss what his part of this fiasco is going to be (for which read: what he's going to charge me). I had to cancel it, and we rescheduled for today.

I worked from home so that I could go without significant disruption to my day.

I just got a call saying that he wants to look over some things, so they want to reschedule again.

Argh!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Graphic Smash

I'm not much of a fan of graphic novels, but this is amazing work.

Breast Cancer

Like most people, the concept of having cancer scares the hell out of me. One of the sites that I have on my list is that of a woman who is both an oncology nurse and a cancer survivor (I think she still has it, not sure). The Swamp Witch site that I came across today is another on the topic, and its remarkably upbeat and positive. I usually just shudder and move on when I come across sites like this, because it scares me so much, but this one is exceptionally good. I read it to the bottom.

Vigorously opportunistic

I had posted this in the middle of something a couple of days ago. This is, as they say, revised and expanded.
I've seen occasional articles lately asking why we continue to have virtually automatic support for Israel in this country, and pointing how the Israel lobby has a disproportionately strong impact on politics -- matched only by the NRA; if the Israeli lobbyists showed up armed, I imagine Congress would just roll over and wait for its belly to be scratched.  Seriously, though, I wonder the same thing.   They seem to delight in provocative actions that infuriate their neighbors (granted, no bastions of cool reason either, but still...); when they do have a rapprochment, its brief, and ends with some kind of statement absolving themselves of any blame. I can understand a little bit of this attitude -- our involvement in the creation of that country, plus they aren't actively hostile towards this country, unlike others in that region -- but it seems to me we need to rethink our default attitude. They need to prove themselves, or be treated less favorably.  At the very least, we shouldn't assume that in any conflict, they are always right. 

It probably wouldn't hurt to rethink our general attitude towards Arab countries, either. They're nowhere close to perfect, by our standards, as has been shown multiple times, but perhaps they deserve more than they get from us now. Is it possible to treat them honorably without giving away the farm?

I think that part of what makes that environment so difficult to handle is that virtually anyone can destablize it, and no one seems to regard their committments as binding. As to the former, I think of it as what we'd get in this country if the NRA had its way -- everyone's armed, and everyone can express their displeasure with anything in a lethal fashion. The latter reminds me of a description of Klingon motivational styles that I found in a Star Trek novel, to the effect that they are not untrustworthy, just vigorously opportunistic. They will adhere to their agrreements -- until the situation changes in their favor. Now, thats too glib for the real world, but there seems to be an element of it in play here -- as shown by the shootings done just recently by the organization that said it was honoring a truce -- until it wasn't. Until its possible to force an organization to honor its committments -- even if that simply means announcing when its going to ignore those committments -- I don't think we can trust anything that anyone there says. We have to treat them according to what they do, not what they say.

If we can't stop them, should we backing the people with more of what we want? Or should we withdraw entirely and say 'you're on your own', knowing full well what that will likely mean?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Remember This

In the Allen Drury novel I skipped through the other day, the President ends up announcing the success of a major initiative to extend democracy to a small country while helping it merge with another country. Both of those countries are governed by greedy, duplicitous men, but one has weapons, so that's the one that we help. In a concluding scene, he is berated by his Secretary of State for lying, and for proclaiming as a success what is clearly a failure. The President listens, and then says, in effect, that the Secretary is right, but that it doesn't matter, because a) most of the country gets their awareness of the world from the major television networks; what they say happened is what happened, so far as they are concerned, and b) the overwhelming majority of people will forget this episode, just as they forget so many others, within a relatively brief period of time -- a couple of months, if that. Sustain the facade until then, he says, and I'll be home free. Grudgingly, the Secretary agrees that he is right.

Given Drury's style, he's trying to say that of course the readers of his books can't be snowed like that, nor can they be counted on to forget so quickly, and, who knows, he might be right. But in most cases, me included, two months is enough time to forget just about anything.

There's something to be said for institutional memory, and for remembering the events of the past -- not as much as certain people who seem to live for the opportunity to rehash events one more time would have it, but certainly an awareness of what has happened, what it meant, who was involved, is worthwhile. One of the most satisfying books I ever read was Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision Makers (a paperback version is available from Amazon), which described certain significant political decisions and the historical parallels and lessons upon which they were based -- sometimes accurately, sometimes not so much. Most of us -- again, including me -- aren't up to the megawatts of intellectual brainpower to be able to pull these historical analogies and reference up when we need them, but it is gratifying to know that there are people who do. Would that more of us (me) could emulate that.

Wooden't You Like This?

I like elegantly crafted wood. When I left my old company, I chose as my parting gift a polished wooden box of engraved stationery notecards; I like the cards, though I rarely use them, but the gleaming box itself is situated on a shelf in the bedroom where I can easily see it. A second box, blond wood with inset frosted glass, sits on a shelf in the living room. It's not obvious -- you have to be looking in that direction to even notice it -- but when I do, I am always pleased. We have a polished wooden rolling pin, made of multiple woods, sits on the counter in the kitchen; on the dining room table, a small salt-and-pepper set of mutiple wood styles. And on the bureau in the bedroom, I have a small polished wooden box with felt interior to hold pocket junk -- and coincidentally to delight me when I see it. I like wood.

So its probably not too surprising that this article, on companies who will encase a computer and its individual peripherals in gleaming wood, caught my eye. I'd love a wooden mouse, and that Sangaku computer case (left) is wonderful.

Here's one article that describes the making of the case. Three hundred hours of effort -- and to my mind, well worth it. Some related material can be found here.

Sunday Morn

This has been a busy day. In addition to my wife working from midnight to shortly after 6, and me working from 4:30 till 8, I baked, making these Lemon Bars:
First you need to make the crust

Ingredients

1 cup soft butter
a dash of salt
2 cup flour
1/2 cup Powdered sugar

Instructions

Combine ingredients
Press mixture in 9" x 13" pan
Bake 350' - 15 minutes or slightly brown

While the crust is baking you can work on the filling

Ingredients

4 eggs beaten
1/4 cup flour
2 cup Granulated Sugar
6 tbs. lemon juice

Instructions

Combine- pour onto slightly cooled crust
Bake- 350' for 25 minutes
Cooled- sprinkle with powdered sugar cut into 1 1/2" sq


Which, as it turned out, have a nice flavor, if a bit understated. Too understated for my daughter, who liked the shortbread-like crust, but not the filling. She assured me that she still likes my brownies and cookies, though, so I suppose I should derive some solace from that. I'll bring the remainder in to work.

================

It now appears that the lawsuit which resulted in the elimination of the District of Columbia's severe gun laws was instituted by someone who used to live in a guarded apartment building in one of the better parts of the district, and now lives in Naples, Florida. He says that the District's law just offended his principles, and so he used his wealth to cherry-pick people with the right demographic mix to sue the government, and then to appeal when they lost -- he paid for the whole thing. I think his actions are despicable. I would love to see someone who now has easier access to guns show up at this guys home to personally thank him -- but, ah, it turns out that his home in Naples is in a gated community. No trash, please.

===============

Still waiting to hear about the possibility of the new job. I think I'm a good candidate, but decisions here in the Biggest Little Software Company in the Wurrld aren't always made logically, or according to visible reasons.

Humming

Here I am (and have been since 4:30 this morning), dialed into a system upgrade, just listening, for the most part, when suddenly I find myself humming this.

Where the heck did that come from?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

KSM

I just read an interesting post and discussion on the Freakonomics blog regarding the confessions of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and whether they mean anything, or indeed should be believed at all. The comments were (summarized) that a) The idea of one person orchestrating all of that activity is hard to believe, because it contradicts the cell concept, though if you think of him as simply being the driver, not the doer, with the doers being the rank and file, perhaps not; b) Even if he's lying, he's part of the organization that does these things, so his removal is a good thing, c) Organizations are necessary for large scale terrorism, but small scale terrorism takes just one person, and d) The timing of these confessions is suggestive -- perhaps this is the Administration's way of distracting us from the string of bad news for them.

What do you think?

Misc Stuff

My daughter just came into the kitchen and peered at the cooling brownies. "Are these the sour cream recipe?" she asked. I told her that I didn't have a recipe for sour cream brownies -- "but if you like them", I said, "I could --" She shook her head. "No. I hated them." Ah. Ok. No recipes for sour cream brownies. Kahlua and Praline, yes, and Super Gooey -- this one's just the plain one. The one with the handwritten note: "These are excellent!" We'll have them after dinner - which, tonight, is Not So Sloppy Joes, another favorite.

I did a little poking around regarding the items on that list. It appears that 'Class VIII' refers to basic medical equipment, suitable for triage and first aid. 100 MPH tape is another way of saying tough, sticky tape -- aka duct tape. A LULA mag loader is used to make loading faster for weapon magazines. Tactical Tailor MAV vest is an armored vest suitable for hooking weapons, bags, etc onto. MAV stands for Material Armor Value. Snivel gear is cold weather gear.

We're done with our Federal and state taxes -- we get a small amount back from the feds, and we give a larger, though not overwhelming, amount to the staties. The local municipality tax will likely be a wash. This would have been done a week ago had we not somehow screwed up TurboTax's mind. I finallly got someone on the phone who walked me through how to fix it, and we were done ten minutes later.

I was joking with my wife that I think I'm ready to buy a plasma tv, and she said that she thinks its time. Its a joke because if I watch thirty minutes of TV a week, its a lot -- I normally go two or three weeks without doing so, though when I do, it'll likely be for a couple of hours. I was startled -- really? -- but she said she wants one with a V chip in it, whereuponI said she was taking all of the fun out of it. But I guess we'll start poking around. We do have a bunch of notes on what to look for. We also agreed in principle that in the next two or three months, we'll start looking around for a replacement for our sedan, which is a 1992 model. Its still in pretty good shape, but things break on it from time to time, and my wife, who is the primary driver, is ready to get rid of it. We will try to sell it locally, as I dislike the rigamarole of doing a tradein. Our standards for a replacement vehicle are fairly minimal, and possibly a bit unusual: since this is likely going to be the car that my daughter learns to drive in, we want it to be ultra-safe (airbags out the wazoo) but somewhat underpowered.

I'm just about done with The Man in the Arena, and for amusement I have been dipping into an Allen Drury novel I bought from a used book store a while ago. I used to like his style of writing, years ago, but not so much any more. Its just funny to listen to the way he has people talking -- you are never in any doubt which side he thinks is right, in any argument, and he clearly has (or had, as I believe he died) no use whatsoever for the United Nations. Still enjoying The Number -- he has a nice style.

I was just purging unneeded bookmarks, and one of the categories I trashed was Job Information. I'd set it up when I was looking for a job, six years ago. Now, I don't think I'll ever be doing that again. Still, getting rid of it was a weird feeling.

Supplying the Military

This is from the Washington Post. It's apparently a composite list of things that soldiers in our military say they need and either don't get, or don't get enough of. Some of it, I have no idea what they're talking about; much of it, I can't believe they can't get. Some of it amazes me.

1. Any extra Class VIII you can bring from HS is good to have.
2. Wolfhook single point slings.
3. Desert Tan spray paint.
4. Space blanket(s).
5.100 mph tape, 550 cord, TP, other expendables you think would come in handy.
6. Drop Leg Holster (Blackhawk or SERPA) and Uncle Mike's Holster for wearing around every day (drop leg will wear a hole in ACUs over time). I also have one for my IBA so I can have my 9mm handy when in the gun hatch going through towns.
7. Weapons lube that DOESN'T ATTRACT SAND (MILTECH or Remington Dry Lube).
8. Two copies of addresses, phone numbers, account numbers, etc.
9. Two pairs of GOOD boot insoles.
10. A Good Tactical Flashlight (SureFire, even though you will get issued one with M4).
11. Red/White light headlamp.
12. Spare pair of running shoes.
13. MP3 player w/ x-tra pair of headphones.
14. Enough batteries to last you 30 days.
15. Chapstick.
16. Lotion.
17.30 SPF or higher sunblock.
18. Bar soap -- for some reason it's almost always in short supply.
19. Small, compact rolls of TP. A lot of places make travel size. Half the time you get to a port-a-potty and the jackA$s before you yanked the TP.
20. Baby wipes -- 30 days worth. Expect that the power and water will either go out, or the water will be contaminated, at least once a month.
21. Gold Bond Foot and Body Powder.
22. Small clip-on LED light. Clip it to your IBA. It will come in handy -- quite often.
23. Drink mix for 16/20 oz bottles of water.
24. Weightlifting supplies.
25. Small photo album with pics from home.
26. Hand sanitizer (small bottles to put in ankle pockets).
27. More books/magazines than you think you will need.
28. DVDs, for you and to loan out for swapping purposes.
29. Tactical gloves -- military gloves are sort of clumsy ( I love the $9.95 Whitewater brand gloves from the clothing sales). Also standard flight nomex are good.
30. Lens anti-fog agent. Shaving cream works in a pinch, but you have to apply it every other day or so.
31. Good pair of shower shoes/sandals. I recommend the black Adidas -- lasted me all year.
32. Small pillow (air inflatable).
33. Cheap digital camera (at least 2.1 mp).
34. Boot knife.
35. Gerber multi-tool.
36. Fabreze -- sometimes the laundry opportunities are few and far between.
37. Armor Fresh.
38. Extra boot laces.
39. Stainless steel coffee cup with screw-on lid.
40. Soccer shorts/normal t-shirt to sleep in, hang out in your room in.
41. Sweatshirts for winter times hanging around.
42. A couple of poncho liners for privacy, cover for nasty mattress, etc
43. A set of twin sheets with pillow case.
44. Good regular-size pillow.
45. One or two good civilian bath towels.
46. Buy a good set (>$200) of winter desert boots. All they will give you is a regular summer set and a set of Goretex-lined for waterproof needs. Desert is a cold place at these altitudes in the winter time.
47. Bring a laptop. Also may want a PSP or some other handheld gaming device.
48. Get an external USB hard-drive (>60gb). You will need this to back up data to, and to store movies and MP3s that you will fall in on from previous teams.
49. Get a Skype account and download the software from skype.com. This is how I talk to home 95% of the time. If you call computer-to-computer it is totally free. You can also Skype out from your computer to a regular phone for $0.021 a minute. There is nothing cheaper than that.
50. Decent headset with mic for computer (Skype).
51. Webcam for video calls back home.
52. Bring a min. of 18ea. M4 mags per person. 9 that are loaded and 9 that rest. Plan to do M4 mag changeover once per month.
53. Bring 8ea 9mm mags, for same reason above. Change these over every two weeks.
54. Order a LULA mag loader/unloader. It will be the best $14 piece of plastic you every bought. I have 12 mags loaded at all times and when I do change over it will do it in a fraction of the time, and save your hands, and save the ammo.
55. Try to get your state to get, or purchase yourself, one 12v DC-to-110 AC inverter per man for your trucks. They are crucial on mission for charging personal items, cell phone, ICOMs, and especially ANA radios (they only have re-chargeable batteries).
56. Dump the IBA tac vest you get issued. Get a Tactical Tailor MAV chest rig (does not matter if you get 1-piece or 2-piece, as you want to keep the front open for laying in the prone. You don't want mags pushing into your chest making it hard to breathe) . I wish I had bought mine at the start. It makes a HUGE difference on the back and shoulders when carrying a loaded rig.
57. Get a comfortable pair of desert boots. I wear only the Converse 8" assault boots (non-zipper ones). Oakley, Bates and several others are similar in style and comfort.
58. Bring some good snivel gear for the winter time. Extra poly-pro winter hat, gloves, neck gators, etc.
59. Lock de-icer for the winter time.
60. Disposable hand and feet warmers.
61. Canned air, lots of it for electronics, weapons, etc.
62. Lens wipes for optics.
63. Screen wipes for computers
.

Frozen Leprechauns, Anyone?






Friday, March 16, 2007

Gelid

And the snows came. Boy, did they.

It started around noon, and a dusting quickly turned into a steady snowfall. I left work around twelve thirty, stopping at some places along the way, and by the time I got home at one thirty the snow was falling heavily, so thick and fast that I had to take two tries at our sloping driveway. Thats always a bit of a balancing act: too slow, and you won't get traction up the hill; too fast, and you might not stop before hitting the garage. Between then and three thirty I shoveled the top of the driveway twice, so that my wife would be able to get in without incident; she did, but the snow was already covering the top on her arrival. She just went out to do a little bit (memories of the last snowfall fresh in her mind) and said that since her arrival home about four inches has fallen. The prediction is for a total accumulation of six to ten inches. Fortunately, tomorrow is Saturday, and we have no plans, other than the usual run to the supermarket, which can certainly be delayed. Sunday -- urgh -- I get up at four thirty to dial into a product upgrade, but even there, its just across the hall, not actually driving in, so its bearable.

I see where the united Republican front, aided by two independents, blocked a Senate resolution to force the return of troops from Iraq. I am sorry that it failed, but not sorry that it failed this way. Its a good thing for a party to have to fight and to compomise for what it wants, and I would bet that there are some Republicans who are right on the edge of voting for it, just as there probably were some Democrats who voted but without full support. Its not a great thing, but it is a good thing.

And I see where the United States is now making common cause with a 'radical cleric'. I always cringe when I hear that phrase. I don't believe in militant religions, and I don't like giving people who are militant and religious the right to use the same title as genuine men and women of peace. Call him a radical, call him a militant, but don't call him a cleric. Thats secondary to what he is.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Elect Susie

This is interesting. I don't know why I like it more -- the originality of the concept, or the idea that this arrogant blowhard scorns it.

Doing Politics

As may have been occasionally apparent here, my politics tend to veer toward the Democrats, though my registration is Republican. Since I am dismayed by how ineffectual the local Democratic party is, I offered to volunteer to one of their organizations. I didn't think I would do anything substantive, but I flattered myself that perhaps I would be able to do something useful. I got a response that said thanks, we'll be in touch.

Tick...tick...tick...

Okay, I said, what the heck is going on here. So I wrote again, saying that I hadn't heard from anyone, and whats up? Gee, they said, surprised, we'll check. And they asked if I know how to do HTML, and I said that I did, though I normally use a nifty little package called Visual Page to do that sort of thing. In any event, they said that I'd be hearing from the chair of the local organization.

And I did. Two mailings, each advertising a rally or coffeeklatche or gathering or something (it was sort of vague) in support of labor and the disadvantaged, hurray, hurrah, lets all get together, link arms, and sing the old marching songs!!! These people are stuck in the 1950s, I think. Perhaps the 60s.

So I started to think 'If I were a normally apathetic voter (which I am, for the most part), what would I expect to see on a web site for a political organization?' Well, I thought, it should talk about politics -- who's running where, what the issues of the day are, who the competition is. And it should talk about the communities -- whats of interest (in a general way) and where to go to find out more. I'd have something that invigorates the people who look at it.

They do mention that elections are coming.

Sigh.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Food

I'm not sure if I'd ever make this recipe -- my ambivilence is clearly indicated by the fact that I didn't even save the recipe, so I'm doing this from memory -- but I have to admit, it sounds pretty good.

1) Cook some bacon -- say, eight or ten slices.
2) Slice some sharp cheddar.
3) Slice two (or four) pieces of French bread.
4) Slice a fresh Bartlett pear, fairly thin.
5) Heat a griddle.
6) Make a sandwich of the bread, cheese, pear, and bacon.
7) Butter the outside of the top piece of bread.
8) Put the sandwich on the griddle, buttered piece down, and butter the new top piece.
9) After it has browned, flip the sandwich so that the untoasted bread is on the griddle.
10) Optionally, press down on the sandwich to flatten it a bit.
11) Cook till browned.


I think I'd like eating it, but I'm not sure about the effort to make it.

A Fixer-Upper

I always think that things can be fixed quickly. Just as, when I was in school, I assume that if I didn't get something, I couldn't get it, I for the longest time thought that if I couldn't fix something quickly, then I couldn't fix it. The idea that something was fixable as a series of steps didn't even occur to me.

Complex solutions don''t easily occur to me. Its not so much solutions that require multiple areas of knowledge, or patience over time, but solutions that are composed of multiple interlocking steps. And it flummoxes me that there are problems which may not be solvable at all unless you're willing to be very flexible in what you call a 'solution', and even then, if you don't have access to multiple pieces of information and knowledge, you might not be able to solve it. The project that I worked on for almost a year, off and on, without getting it to work, was like that. It wasn't conceptually a difficult project -- yes, you had to know multiple technical concepts, but its not like they were impossible to know, and you usually didn't have to know them in depth, so long as you knew the 'magic words' -- but it took so long, and so much patience, with so much need for involvement by people who really didn't care, and weren't forthcoming with helpful information, and it was so flippin' unclear about why it didn't work when it didn't work (and sometimes, even figuring out if it was working or not was problematic, to put it mildly), that I just about lost my mind over it. This is doable, I thought, but not doable by me. I don't have the right mindset. This bugged me, though. I don't like failing at something.

For that reason, it is a mild pleasure to see the people who are trying to make it work now coming to the conclusion that this project and this product in our environment is quite difficult -- see, dammit, it wasn't just me! -- but I really do want it to work. And I want to know how to make it work. I have been watching closely as the people doing it do their things, hit their roadblocks, and I try to learn from their problems.

I want to be able to make it work. I want to be able to fix it.

David Leibowitz

I came across David Leiblowitz's site today, and in a section about '5 things you don't know about me', he said that he doesn't really care who wins in 2008; he just wants this country liked and respected again. I'd like that. I don't know if its possible.

He also says this:

Once a woman came into a restaurant where I worked and had dinner all by herself.

At the end of her meal, she asked the waiter to put a birthday candle on her dessert.

Fifteen years later, I still feel really sad about it.


Me, too. Is that weird?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Land Baron

There was an article on NPR's marketplace report about the difficulties in the sub-prime lending market, and how they are leading to problems in the prime lending market. Buyers, they said, are having more difficulty getting money; sellers are having difficulty moving houses at the price they want. All of which is depressing housing prices. So, on a walk this evening, I asked my wife if there was anything to the idea of cashing in on that and buying a retirement home, even an interim one, now, and selling it later. She liked the idea, but pointed out that such a house would be vacant half the year -- so what if we looked into buying a condominium in a resort area, renting it for peak periods, and using it ourselves part of the year, eventually making it a second home, and then possibly someplace to live while we had a new home built?

Hmmm..... I'm a really conservative guy, financially (and most ways), but-- hmmm.....

Monday, March 12, 2007

Gunz

I'm not a guns person. I understand why normal people like them; I just don't share that enthusiasm.

But this is amazing.


Humour?

I've seem variants of this joke in multiple places. I totally don't get it.

This guy walks into a doctors office and his head is big and orange. The doctor says "Good god man, you've got a big orange head! How did this happen?" Guy starts to tell his story.

Well doctor, the other day I was walking along the beach when I notice a piece of metal sticking out of the sand. I picked it up and it was a lamp. I brushed off the sand and *poof* out pops a genie who says he will grant me three wishes. I say genie for my first wish I want a bank account with 10 billion dollars. Genie says *poof* and hands the me a card with a account number and routing number to a bank account with 10 billion dollars. So then I said genie for my second wish I want to be married to the most beautiful woman in the world and I want her to be madly in love with me. All of a sudden *poof* I'm standing next to the most beautiful woman in the world, and in her hand she has a marriage certificate.

At this point in the story the guy turns to the doctor and says "Doctor, I think this is the point where I went wrong. I turned to the genie and said 'Genie for my third wish I want a big orange head!'"


What am I missing?
=============================
In contrast, this one I do get.

Saint Peter is checking people in to Heaven, and he's getting a bit tired. After all, this never ends! He sees Jesus walking by and asks if he'd mind taking a turn while he goes off on a break. Jesus, being a nice guy, says sure, and so he settles into the chair and presses on, people from all the ages of history coming up, one by one. In a while, an elderly, apparently poor man comes up, and mentions that he is very glad to be there, because he wants to find his son, the light of his life. Jesus nods in sympathy, and, noticing the man's calloused hands, asks what he did in life.
I was sort of a carpenter, you might say, the man replies.
Your son, too? Jesus asks.
No, no -- he wasn't meant to do that. And he died so young. But I am sure he's here, and I want to see him just as soon as I can.
Jesus smiles. I'm sure you will, he says, but you know, Heaven is a very big place. It might take a bit to find him.
The man shakes his head. Oh, I don't think so. You see, my son is rather -- distinctive. He's got holes in his hands.
Jesus's eyes widen. Holes? In his hands?
Yes, the man says -- from the nails.
Nails? Excited, Jesus leaps to his feet. Nails? And you were - a carpenter? Oh my goodness -- Jesus runs around the desk and grasps the man. Dad! Dad!
The man stares, surprised:
Pinocchio?

Plans, Plans

My plan is to retire some time between December 31 of this year and June 30 of next year. It's contingent on how things are going at work. They're mostly going well, at the moment.

Today I got a mass mailing email that a group which supports a product I happen to like is looking for people to join their group. It'd be a remote assignment, as the group is located in Boulder, Colorado. If I applied and was accepted, I'd be working from home, most likely. I'd be installing the product at other locations. As I happen to think this product needs improvement in the way it gets installed, this would be an interesting assignment.

This might affect the plan. Might not.

Whats weird is that I don't like the thought of the plan changing. I mean: its the plan.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Cincinnati Kid

This is what we had for dinner tonight. I had it on corn chips, my wife on rice, and both of us sprinkled it with sour cream and cheddar cheese. Quite good, particularly with a salad.

2 1/2 pounds ground beef
2 large onions, diced
4 cups cold water
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 1/2 tablespoons vinegar
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons chili powder
5 bay leaves
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa

salt & pepper, to taste

1. In a large pot, brown beef until brown, add onions and water and bring to a boil.
2. Reduce to a simmer and add tomato paste and remaining ingredients.
3. Simmer 1-1/2 to 2 hours.
4. Season with salt & pepper to taste.
5. Remove bay leaves before serving.

To serve, (1) eat plain (2) chili on spaghetti (3) chili on spaghetti with cheddar cheese (4) chili, spaghetti, cheddar, and onions or (5) chili, spaghetti, cheddar, onions, and kidney beans

Today's Agenda

a) Reset all the clocks. Didn't we just do that?

b) Pay taxes. Didn't we just do that?

c) Make rice pudding.


Guess which one is done?

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Aging

I attended a color guard competition tonight in which my daughter was participating. I brought my mother. The woman at the desk said 'Two seniors?'

Argh.........

At least I got to see about a hundred enthusiastic kids doing the Cha Cha Slide. Very cool.

The Piano

This is a lovely video.

AQ Mgmt

This is not an original thought with me -- I believe I read it someplace, or possibly inferred it from a comedian's routine -- but I like it, anyway.

Whenever someone says that they've captured, killed, or otherwise negated the 'number two man' in AQ, it never seems to throw that organization into disarray. You don't see a spokesterrorist on Al Jazzy saying that they'll be having a board meeting to designate a replacement, and in the meanwhile the negated person's deputy will stand in for them. Now, thats silly, of course, but the underlying concept -- I believe that. It makes sense, in a federation like AQ, where cells align and divest fluidly, that losing one person, or even several, is not going to jam up the organization -- because, in a strict sense, there is no organization, just a group of allied teams, all with the same general goals (dare I say: mission statement?) and their own methods of achieving them. I don't know if it'd be fair to call this a masterpiece of decentralization -- perhaps more a manifestation of flocking theory -- but it's useful, either way.

What does this suggest for the effectiveness of tightly coupled organizations?

Friday, March 09, 2007

Posting

I was just moseying through sites, when I came across one with a lovely picture of a quesadilla, complete with what appears to be strawberry jam. Yum, I thought, and started to read the article. "I can't believe I haven't posted about quesadillas before", the post started. Okay, fine, whatever, tell me about them! I skipped down a couple of lines and found this memorable phrase "..except for the ones at DelTacos, which taste like crap boogers to me." Next site, please! I mean, really. I know that coarse talk proves that you're one of the people, salt of the earth, not taken in by the shiny gimcrackery of the marketing world. Or at least I know thats what I'm supposed to think. But crap boogers?

One of the magazines we subscribe to is Kiplingers Personal Finance, which we regard as a pretty good mix -- not so dry as Barrons and the Wall Street Journal (except for the lead page center column, and the commentary columns, in the WSJ -- I always like that ), and not so much Gee! Wow! fluff as Money magazine. Over the last few issues, I found my enthusiasm waning, as the articles seemed to be aimed at people with way much more money than me, or incredible control over their finances. There's some of that in this issue, too: one family with three children already has over seven thousand dollars socked away for their youngest's college education (the kid is five years old) -- and my personal give me a BREAK article, the guy who won a Powerball lottery payout of $125 million dollars, took the lump sum payment of $85 million, and his goal is to turn that into two. billion. dollars. Oh, yeah, they're talking to me, for sure.
But this issue turns out to be substantially better than that, with a whole bunch of doable ways to increase savings, decrease costs, and generally enhance your financial life style. Which is so very important when you're planning on devastating it by major dental surgery, possibly buying a Mac, definitely buying a new car, and, oh yes, retiring at the end of the year (maybe). So, I'm glad we subscribe.

Speaking of the surgery (which has STILL not started, got to go put the jumper cables to the people scheduling this stuff): there is a faint possibility that my new health (not dental) plan may cover the bone grafting part of the procedure. Thats about a third of the cost, and they'd likely pay less than half -- but as I said to my wife, any amount greater than zero would be a Good Thing. We'll see. I don't have my hopes up, but wouldn't it be nice?

Time change this weekend. Can't wait to see all those timers go berserk!

NonPerson

I am apparently a non person.

In order to be allowed to participate in a mentoring program at my daughter's school, I had to get a criminal records background check and a child-abuse-history background check. Neither one turned up anything. Granted, they don't put it in glowing terms - more like 'we looked up the probably fake name you gave us, and didn't find squat -- but still: nothing.

I'm a non-person - can you see me?

Thursday, March 08, 2007

WinLiMac

I would like a new desktop PC. I do not have a good reason for this. I have a little bit of a reason, which is that the desktop we have, which is all of three years old, is for some reason getting really slow. I don't think its just perception; I think it truly is. Not as slow as my Win2K PC was, or Win98, but still: slow.

So, which one?

I am emotionally against getting Vista, because it sounds like they've sold their souls for DRM. Which is odd, because I don't download music, and few videos, so the odds of me being affected by this are slim. But still: there is a fair amount of press that makes me think (shudder) when I think of it. Plus, I hate the idea of having to get a gihugic machine just to get Vista to run at all, plus, to get all of the niftiness that they advertise, you need the top of the line Vista, and a TRULY big machine -- say, eight to ten thousand megawatts of power, and thats just the screensaver. Neither of these is all that appealing, and in concert, as appealing as congealed lard.

I am intellectually for getting Linux, because it isn't Windows, until I read a site where a guy talked about all he had to do to get a Linux machine working, the bottom line of which was, it was a freakin' LOT of work, but he really really enjoyed it, and if you like going deep into the innards of an operating system, you would, too.

I am emotionally for getting a Mac, because I have been seduced by the image of Macs as cool and sleek and all of that, though I am sure they are not THAT amazingly good, and I am sure they have their own why the hell did they do it THAT way??? moments. Plus, there'd be the learning curve, and the question of connecting it to our home network. Doable, but at what cost? And lets not forget the gihugic price of Macs, too -- three or four times the cost of a WinBox (though, if you're talking Vista Deathstar version, maybe only twice). And what of the sunk monies in our existing software -- how much Apple-specific stuff would be needed? Of course, we could get the Parallels package to let us run Windows appls under the Mac....Argh, another money pit...

So I dunno. But this going to take some thinking.... Fortunately, we have time. Sites like this one help.

Lonely B

My daughter got her mid-term grades today. She got a lonely B.

Lonely because it was the only B in the whole pack.

Those A's can be so snobby....
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Terry Tate, Office Linebacker

An earlier version of this commercial was one of the Super Bowl Ads last year. Its still quite funny, and there is a sly reference to the TPS report, as well.

Observations

...after fixing the daughter's jammed shaver.

Not everything that is battery operated is intended to be opened up.

Just because kids have no fear about taking things apart doesn't mean that they know how to put them back together.

Try the WD-40 first.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Chaired

I don't actually need a chair -- but if I was in the market, this might be just the thing to get.

Cabaret

Remember the Money song from Cabaret? Money money money money money money money.... It was going through my mind a little bit ago as I dipped into a paperback that I'd picked up for some light reading -- The Number: A Completely Different Way to Think About the Rest of your Life. Like others my age, I've been thinking about how much money we have, and how much we need for a comfortable, not lavish, retirement. I don't obsess about it (others might disagree), but I do think about it a fair amount. I've got a spreadsheet that I started keeping about five years ago which lists all of the money we get, all that we have, all that we can expect to get, both incoming and outgoing. As a result of that spreadsheet, I feel that we have a pretty good grasp of what's required, but there is always that Yeah, But.... As in, what if there's a financial crash, and the two thirds of your money that's in stocks and bonds vanishes or becomes a shell of its former self? What if you get very sick, and you are found to have too much money to get any kind of governmental assistance, but not enough to be able to fund your illness and retirement at the same time? What if...and so on, and so on, and so on. What I really wanted, of course, is someone to tell me what the most likely number is that I'll need -- and by most likely, I really mean The most likely given the vast majority of potential outcomes. If you tell me that there's a seventy five percent chance that I'll need four hundred thousand in the bank now, I'll think 'gee, thats only three out of four, which seems like it leaves a large loophole'. If you tell me there's an eighty five percent chance I'll need seven hundred thousand now, I'll still think that remaining fifteen percent is a large loophole, though its approaching bearable. I am looking for something in the ninety percent or so range -- sort of a 'not quite worst case, but in that ballpark'. And no one will give you that without so many caveats and disclaimers that its essentially useless.

I thought that a different approach might be useful, and so I picked the book up. Anything offering a completely different approach might be just the ticket I need to understand not just the components of financial security (I think I've got that) but the logic, the sociology of it (regarding which, I'm fairly naive). It might say too many Age of Love concepts (go with the flow, ride with the tide, what you have is what you need, don't worry about it) ; it might be too mechanistic (fill in the following spreadsheets, make the following assumptions, indicate your priorities in this list...) ; it might be totally useless -- but heck, it's an inexpensive book, so, sure, give it a shot. And thus far, only two chapters into it, I'm finding it to be a good read. The guy has a nice, comfortable writing style, he touches on the things you think about but don't discuss with anyone except your life partner, and sometimes not even them, and he manages to not mince words without being so scary that you throw the book down, shuddering. I'm still reading the Roosevelt book (and liking it; just finished his writing about San Juan Hill, which was not nearly as romantic as I recall from school), but this makes good casual reading for when I want something serious, written well, in a comfortable style.

And who knows? Maybe I'll learn not to obsess about the number.

Oh, yeah, the TPS report....

Belief

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.

. .

Which Umbrella Are You?



.

I do not BELIEVE it....

Yesterday, a prediction of 1 - 3 inches.

Today, a prediction of 2 - 4.

Two hour delay when we got up.

Now, an hour later: Closed.

And somehow, the daughter who said that she did not want a snow day because it'd be tacked on as another school day to the end of the year -- somehow, she's keeping her sorrow well hidden.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Who's Speaking?

I've been watching the current furor over the state of the Walter Reed hospital with interest, trying to understand how it happened, and trying to extrapolate from it. These are our shattered sons and destroyed daughters who have been in that fetid pit, after all. How did it happen? Where will it end?

We are both horrified that it could have happened, and angry that it did. Part of that anger is a reflection of changing attitudes toward the war, and part of it is realization of how squalid things have become here at home, when even the wounded can't automatically expect compassion and effective treatment. This wouldn't have come to light had not the Washington Post publicized it, apparently. In response, the Bush Administration has reacted, and though there is a measured, almost predictable cadence to their responses, they are doing the right things. They’ve promised quick action. They’ve fired people. They’ve instituted a bipartisan commission to review the entire military health care system. Like FEMA, and its hyper awareness after Katrina that it had better get the next one right, they’re scrambling to fix this mess and to put it behind them. Part of the reactions of the politicians and the generals is undoubtedly Kabuki, but it is action in the right direction.

What brought us here?

I always wince a bit when I have to confront being an adult about issues such as this. When the Ford Motor Company was shown to have done cost-benefit analyses to determine how much they should spend to improve their cars, relative to how much they could expect to have to pay out in damages to people injured in their cars, I wasn’t yet an adult, but I was pretty sure that this was not common. People simply didn’t do things like that, even when, obviously, it was being done. Now, as an adult, I am sure that people do not behave in the manner that they appear to have behaved in this case. People do not simply accept that their sons and daughters are being treated shabbily, or the sons and daughters of others, entrusted to them. Yet they have. Why?

I think we’ve gotten tired. We're not thinking clearly. The Army chief of staff was quoted as saying that working in the military bureaucracy was a morass, and it was like walking in hip boots through mud. It drained you, he said slowly, emphatically, and it did it every single day. Its a good image, and I suggest that it's more generally applicable than just here. I think that we’ve all been walking in muck for the last two years, and it's slowed us down, made us tired, and cranky.

We've seen whole groups of people hated because of who they are, or what their ancestors did, not because of what they've personally done or are very likely to do. It surprised us, at first, but we've gotten used to it. We've seen people at religious services blown up. It surprised us, too, but we've gotten used to it. We’ve seen politicians acting like spoiled, petulant children, but we’ve gotten used to it. We’ve seen our military doing things that we would have scorned and loathed if done by the henchmen of a dictator, but we’ve gotten used to it. We’ve seen a president floundering, a vice president lying, congressmen caught in unethical and immoral actions, but we’ve gotten used to it. And now we see an institution of healing being, to some degree, nothing of the sort. And pretty soon, we’re going to get used to that, too. We don't want to, just as we didn't want to get used to any of the other atrocities and abominations. We don't like any of it, but its all too big for us to handle, too intense, too overwhelming. We've hunkered down, and waited with fading hope for it to get better, or to stabilize. But it hasn't. It gets worse, and the contagion spreads.

I have a suggestion. Several, really, but they all come down to one.

Most of us cannot change the world, the country, the state, our company. We're doing good just to be able to change our immediate area, or ourselves. So -- capitalize on that.

Think globally, act locally. No matter how global, no matter how local. Find something you care about, and watch it, follow it. If you can fix something, fix it; if you can't, get someone else to fix it. Speak up. Make your voice heard. And work with people, not against them. We are together in this against the forces of apathy and greed. They've got the money, we have the numbers.

It sounds lame, I know. The fixers and the professional lobbyists don’t even know you exist, and the professional politicians don’t, either – until something shakes them up. So – shake them up. Speak. Act. Vote.

Take your country, and your planet, back.

Speak up.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Doughnut Oblongs

I found this excellent recipe for Doughnuts at the Indyfoodie blogspot. The batter took about eight minutes to mix up, which gave the fryer time to heat and the butter to melt, and then it was about three minutes until the first batch was ready. They're quite good.

1 egg
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon melted butter
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 cup flour
---------------
oil for frying
1/2 cup sugar for coating


Mix all ingredients and pour by teaspoonful into a few inches of hot oil. Just do a few at a time. When they are ready to turn over they will start to flip on their own...some may need a little help. These should be cooked till they are a nice dark brown. Remove from oil and place on a paper towel. While they are still hot drop them in a paper bag that has 1/2 cup of sugar in it. Shake them around till they are well coated. Eat them hot as that's when they are the best!