Saturday, June 30, 2007

CIA Pud'n

From the Culinary Institute of America Baking at Home cookbook
(amended to add my notes)

Milk Chocolate Pudding

1/4 and 1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 1/2 and 1/2 cups whole or lowfat milk
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
4 ounces milk chocolate, melted
2 T unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract


In a heat-resistant mixing bowl, blend 1/4 cup of sugar with cornstarch and cocoa powder, whisking to break up any lumps.
Stir in 1/2 cup of milk, eggs, and egg yolks.
Whisk together until smooth.
Set aside.

Combine 2 1/2 cups milk and 1/2 cup sugar in large nonreactive saucepan.
Bring to a boil over medium heat.
Take the pan with the milk mixture off the heat.
Pour about one-third of the mixture into a heat-resistant pouring container.
Gradually pour the mixture from the pouring container into the egg mixture that was set aside, whisking constantly.
Pour the egg mixture into the pan with the remaining milk mixture.

Return the pan to medium heat.
Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until thick and quite smooth.
At the same time, melt the milk chocolate.
Put the melted milk chocolate into a small saucepan.

Pour about one-third of the hot egg/milk mixture into the melted milk chocolate and stir until very smooth.
Pour the melted chocolate into the large saucepan.
Add the butter and vanilla.
Stir until well blended.
Remove from heat.

Pour the pudding into eight 6oz ramekins or a large bowl.
Place waxed paper or parchment paper directly on top of the pudding to keep skin from forming.
Pierce paper in one or two places to let heat escape.
Chill for at least two hours.
===============
Update: Good, not great. Has a very soft flavor, not intensely chocolate -- more like something that you'd expect to have with a contrasting flavor.

Symbols

My daughter freaked at the sample math symbols questions in her SAT practice book last week, so I spent a couple of hours this week working up a practice sheet -- somewhat difficult for me, as I'm not a math guy. But I had my wife check it over (she's the math major), and she pronounced it sound. On the chance it might be generically useful --

Plus signs, minus signs, all of that are all symbols.
A plus sign says to add. A minus sign says to subtract.

A train ticket costs $10. How much would three tickets cost?
(cost of one ticket) times (number of tickets wanted)
So the total cost would be $30, which can be factored into 10 and 3.

How much would tickets for some unknown number of people cost?
(cost of one ticket) times (number of tickets wanted)
Without knowing the number of people, you can’t figure out the total cost.
But just as the other one’s total cost was 10 times the known number of people, this one will be 10 times the unknown number of people. And, just as the other one could be factored into
10 and 3, this one can be factored into 10 and ?
The question mark is a symbol.

You can make your own symbols to mean whatever you want them to mean. A symbol can stand for a number, or for a math express (like plus or minus), or whatever you want it to stand for.

If you have to subtract a first number from a second number, and then add five to the result, you could say the symbol @@ means to do that.
So 10@@6 would mean ‘subtract 10 from 6, then add five to the result’
(10 from 6 = -4) (-4 + 5 = 1) so 10@@6 = 1
And 9@@17 would mean ‘subtract 9 from 17, then add five to the result’
(9 from 17 = 8) (8 + 5 = 13) so 9@@17 = 13

If you show what numbers to use with your symbol, it becomes a formula.
15@@6 is a formula.
How could you show what the formula is if you don’t know what numbers will be used?
You could say ? @@ ?
But if you wanted one question mark to stand for 10 and the other to stand for 6, how would you know which is which? If you do it backwards, you get the wrong answer!

If you mean that the first ? stands for 10, and the second ? stands for 6, then ?@@? would mean 10@@6, which means ‘subtract 10 from 6, then add 5’. That’s equal to plus one.

If you mean that the first ? stands for 6, and the second ? stands for 10, then ?@@? would mean 6@@10, which means ‘subtract 6 from 10, then add 5’. That’s equal to plus nine.

To make it obvious which one you mean, if you have more than one unknown number, you use more than one symbol. You can use any symbol you want to stand for any unknown number. You just can’t use the same symbol to mean more than one number at the same time.
For example: X@@Y is okay, but X@@X or Y@@Y isn’t.

The formula (X@@Z) stays the same – only the numbers that you plug into it, and the result you get out of it, change.
Your symbol can mean anything you want. It can mean ‘take the first number, multiply it by three, to get the first result, then take the second number, multiply it by two, to get the second result, then divide the first result by the second result, to get the third result’.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Financial Advice

When we met with the financial advisor, most of what he said was things we already knew. He fleshed them out with details, and occasionally observations that we'd known, but hadn't thought of in just that way. For example, when we were discussing which of the sources of money/income we should plan to draw down first when in full (ie, both of us) retirement, he said to start with the Roth IRA money. We knew that; it's already been taxed, so there is no tax advantage to waiting. But what he said was "The government's already gotten their money. They won't care when, or even if, you draw it down." Oh, yeah...

But something he said, we had not only not realized, but was exactly the opposite of what I'd thought. In thinking about that same question, I'd assumed that we would want to draw down on our 401(k) savings last, because that money was not yet taxed; consequently, we'd want to draw on it when our tax rate (which is determined mostly by income) is the lowest. He said Not necessarily. He told us that we need to understand that there is a limit to how long we can wait before doing that -- I had known that; its the magic 70 1/2 age (unless you're still working), and I don't think we'll have any problem doing withdrawals before then -- but he also said that there is a minimum that you must withdraw. If you don't, he said, the IRA can actually penalize you. The penalty is half of the amount of the minimum of the withdrawal that you didn't take. That's not 50% of the difference between what you did withdraw and what you should have, though that'd be bad enough -- its 50% of the required minimum, period.

Got my attention....

He went on to say that we'd want to size those withdrawals with an eye to the effect on total income in later years, so that our tax rate, year after year, will be the minimum possible. With that one statement, he made the likelihood that we'll hire him much more likely. Our attitude toward taxes has always been Tell me the bill, and I'll pay it. We knew it was possible to 'arrange things' so that we paid less taxes over all, but we had very little clue on how to do it.

We're not going to leap into this, but it was interesting information, and I thought it might be of general interest.

Aphorism

From the Drops of Wisdom site:

Hazrat Hasan Basri said:
An essential requisite for humility is that when an individual steps out of his home, whomever he sees he considers him to be superior to his own self.

(Note: Hazrat is an term of respect used in Islamic culture for important figures and for other righteous people.)

Barack's Comment

Barack Obama said that he doesn't think impeachment ought to be considered but for the gravest crimes, because we have an alternative: vote the bum out.

But a second-term president can't be voted out. So, does that mean 'you made your bed, now lie in it'? No matter how egregriously bad the president is?

If so, I disagree.

Baking

You can tell I'm baking; I have flour all over my dark blue Tshirt. Note: don't put on a dark color if you're going to bake. What's ironic is that I was wearing an old shirt, and put this one on to go to my daughter's drama camp play. Then I forgot to take it off when I got home.

What I'm trying to make is Kaiser Rolls. So far, they're not coming out all that well. I haven't eaten any yet, so I can't say how they will taste, but the shape definitely isn't there. I got seduced --again -- by a baking book. At least this time I didn't buy the book -- and it is a pretty good one. I've come to the sorry realization that when they say you should read through a recipe before making it, that doesn't mean 'Oh yeah, I've seen all these steps before'. It means actually reading each step and getting out whats going to be needed. I'm always surprised by that. In this case, the recipe said to preheat a pan in the oven, and then to dump some water in there when the baking starts. My version of a recipe would have that right the hell up front: BILL!!! GET THE DAMN ROASTING PAN OUT AND PUT IT IN THE OVEN RIGHT THE HELL NOW!!! The book (Secrets of a Jewish Baker) was also a little vague on how you make the distinctive shape of the roll. It did describe it, but it used phrases like 'make a karate chop on the dough'. Well, where? By comparison, this page, from The Fresh Loaf, actually shows you. Much better.

So, we'll be eating bread for a while, I think. And washing Tshirts.

Outpost

When the phone rang this morning at 3:33, a call for my wife from work, it woke me from a dream. But the dream was just about over, anyway. This was it.

It was the thirteenth week of our captivity on the alien outpost.

There were seven of us now, from three ships. Two had died of injuries sustained in their ship's landing. Three others had died -- in other ways. We were in The Big Room, one of the two or three thats we'd been allowed to see in the undergound warren. There were no doors. When the aliens wanted to come in, they were just there, popping in from empty space. When they wanted us in another room, we just -- were. Our gear was a jumble, piled in heaps. We'd tried to make some kind of camp from it, impose some order, some structure. Usually the aliens left it alone. Sometimes they came in with a surly attitude, and then they'd kick it all to hell, laughing. At least, we thought it was laughing.

They looked a lot like us,if we were about a third bigger, smelled like hell, and wore some kind of soft body armor like an all-over turtle shell. We couldn't tell them apart. Some were a little bigger, some a little uglier. That was about all.

I'd just arrived in the latest crew to be captured. I'd woken up in the Big Room. The others were clueing me in on what to expect. It didn't sound like fun.

"Don't show fear. They seem to key in on that. But don't challenge them. " A nod to one guy in a cast. "Do that, and they pick up on it real fast. He got thrown right the hell across the room, up against the wall. They laughed, started picking up others of us. " A glance around. "Course, there's no where to hide. But eventually they got tired and left."

Could they be jumped, overcome? "Not really. They're fast, strong. And you see how they can leave whenever they want."

This sounded bad. This sounded very bad.

Exercise time. We played some music one of the crew had had with his equipment. It was, I don't recall, something fast and pounding. We were moving through the exercises, jumping and such. And suddenly, there they were again, five of them this time, just there. We stopped, froze, watching them. The music blared on. I edged back against the wall. The five of them stared at us, then all five came forward. Right to me. I closed my eyes -- and was almost knocked off my feet by a slap. I opened my eyes. One of them was right next to me, almost eye to eye. I could smell its stench as it looked me over. The room was very quiet, but for the ridiculously loud music. The paw came up again, slapped me in the shoulder. I tried not to show fear. I think I brought up an arm, reflexively -- and it grabbed it. Oh, shit.

It yanked me forward, and backward again, and forward. I was dragged through the other crew, who couldn't do anything. The aliens were laughing. I grabbed the aliens other arm with my free one, and it whirled around, holding both arms, spinning me. The music thumped on. It dragged me again, back and forth, back and forth. The music finally ended. The alien let go of me. I staggered back, breathing hard. The music clicked onto the next piece -- and it grabbed me again, dragged me again. Back and forth, back and forth, almost like --

It couldn't be. No way.

The piece finally ended. It let me go, again. Turned to leave with its fellows. I slapped it on the back. It whirled, suspicion flooding from every inch of its face. The music clicked over. I grabbed its arm, and started. Back and forth. Back and forth. One-two-three, one-two-three,one-two three. The other aliens had stopped and were watching us. They didn't seem happy. At last the piece was done. It was the end of the disc. No more music. The aliends gathered, glowering. They linked arms, staring at me, staring at us, and started forward. Oh, crap, this was going to be very bad.

They started to dance. It was like no dance I'd ever seen before. It was more a vicious joined combat than that. But seen in the right way, suddenly -- it was a dance.

It took days to get used to them popping in and wanting to dance. Weeks to establish some kind of communication. Still more to find that dance was how they communicated. But that day, that minute -- they became, in our eyes, for the first time -- human.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Traffic Engineering


I have occasionally mentioned my fascination with traffic engineering. This, from XKCD, says it well.

Pants on Fire

I don't often lie. I can't say that I never do, but I don't do it often. Mostly, thats because I don't have to -- I'm rarely in a position where I have to dodge and weave. A short-story that I love (so much that I still have the tattered paperback in which I found it, twenty years ago) has a line in it where a very serious person says that when he lies, it's because things are not the way that he wants them to be. When I lied a little while ago, it wasn't for that reason. It was because I don't like confrontations, mostly, and somewhat because I didn't like the person I was talking with at the time.

The person in question was calling to drum up money for the alumni fund for my high school. Thats the organization that I was graduated from something on the order of forty years ago. Its in a completely different state. I've seen it once in those forty years. You might say that I don't have much of an emotional attachment with it. Consequently, I didn't feel much desire to give these guys money. If pushed, I might give a little.... But the guys style -- oily, professional money drummer -- got on my nerves.

About twenty years ago, I got a phone call from someone trying to sell me some kind of home repair service. He asked if I lived in an apartment or a house. I replied, truthfully, that I lived with my parents. He hung up. I just didn't mention that I owned the house, so that, actually, they were living with me. Thats kind of what I did this evening.

I told him, truthfully, that I was laid off from my job about a month ago, and that I would not be contributing to his fund this year. I did not mention that yesterday we talked with a financial advisor about altering the mix of our investments, and that in passing the guy said that we were, financially, doing better than easily two thirds of the people he meets in our age bracket. And I didn't tell him that for all practical purposes, I wasn't going to try to find another job. I just let him draw his own conclusion.

So I didn't actually lie....did I? Yes, that's a rhetorical question.

Liar, liar....

iPhone

This is a kind of funny video about the iPhone.

Contemptuous

So, if the Congress does issue 'contempt of Congress' citations against Bush and his crew ... then what?

Well, what does it even mean? From Wikipedia:

Contempt of Congress is the act of obstructing the work of the United States Congress or one of its committees. While historically the bribery of a Senator or Representative was considered "contempt of Congress," in modern times a person must refuse to comply with a subpoena issued by a Congressional committee or subcommittee - usually seeking to compel either testimony or documents - in order to be considered in "contempt of Congress."

I guess that qualifies, insofar as the Chief Executive said thats just what he intends to do. So, he gets a citation. And then?

Well, if it were issued against me, I imagine I'd be taking up residence in the House of Many Doors, fairly soon. But somehow, I doubt that the Bushster and Tricky Dick will be heading down to the Heartbreak Hotel, delightful as the thought of Cheney in cuffs is. So, other than once again displaying his contempt of what Congress wants, which hardly needs to be certified -- so what? What does this change? Whats the net effect?

I do think a president has a right to secrecy. Even Bush. I suspect that if he hadn't been so hardnosed before, he might not be in this predicament now. Course, if you follow that logic, we might not be in Iraq, either.

Hmm....

NSW

It doesn't stand for Norton System Works. It stands for Norton Seldom Works.

Here's the deal. After my little fiasco with FeedDemon the other day, I got to thinking. I'm backing up this file, but how the heck do I know that the backup is actually working? History is replete with people who thought they were backing up files, only to find... So I looked in Norton's Save and Restore - Recovery - Recover My Files menu to do a restore of the backups it was taking.

Well. First off, the menu they give you is gibberish. It asks you to tell it part or all of the name of the file you want to recover. I wasn't sure if they meant the file they'd created, or the file that was backed up into the file that they created. So I left that blank and just clicked on Search. A long time later, it gave a menu of files, sorted by file or folder name. So if there was a folder -- say, Extensions -- that was in two profiles for Firefox, and one for Thunderbird, you see all three. I'd have thought that it would make more sense to show the high level directories first, then the files in them, but fine.

So I sorted it by directory. The first thing I see is the My Documents files. This makes sense because I told it to back up My Pictures, and thats where they are. Having the carets around the file name isn't terribly helpful, because now it sorts out of alphabetical order, but, whatever. I scroll down and I see the C: root directory, and to the left of it, a series of folders. Bill Laptop. Okay, good. Documents and Settings. What? I didn't say to back that up! Well, in a way, I did -- because I'm backing up Application Data, and thats a sub-sub-sub folders of that high level. Sheesh. Fine. Then I see Python24. Now, I know I'm not backing up my Python directory, so I have no idea why its showing me this. Ditto a couple of other high-level directories.

Finally, I see Bill Images, which is a subdirectory of Bill Laptop, and its where I save images that I like. Its got some files in it, and two subdirectories. Lets see.... the backup rules say to take all files, including the subdirectories, and put them into C:/BACKUP/BACKUP BILL IMAGES. According to the backup report, it ran, and very quickly -- like, four seconds. This does not sound promising. I click on the BILL IMAGES entry. It pops up a message that its goingto display that file, and then I get a listing. It shows the two subfolders, then all of the files in all of the folders -- the root and the two subfolders. Each one shows the directory path to that file.
So I think well, heck, maybe this thing is working. So I pick a file, and the Recover button lights. I click on it. And, four seconds later, I get this:

And if you click through to the Symantec site? It tells you a problem has occurred, and you should reinstall the product. Imagine if I actually needed that backup?

N. S. W.

King George

From the Salon site:

Proof

I just came across a site which had a headline something like 'Jon Stewart PROVES that Tony Snow is a liar!', and a little way down the page was a blurb for an article about Ann Coulter proving that lesbianism is...something or other, I didn't finish reading even that short squib. Now, I like Jon Stewart -- but I do know that he'll spin images and commentary for humorous effect. I don't think that you can use much of what he says as proof of anything. When he has a clip of someone saying 'I never said xxx', and then another of that same person saying exactly that, then sure, thats proof -- but even there, you don't know that the clips weren't selected and edited for maximum impact. And as for Ann Coulter, well, I don't think you can use her for proof of much of anything other than that tall blonde women will get listened to. And not so tall -- right, Paris?

Collectively, though, it brought to mind a sequence I saw on the tube the other night. (Yes, I was actually watching television. Mark this date down.) It was a sort-of 'reality' show (I didn't watch the whole thing) wherein a debate coach was supposed to train a group of kids (call them disadvantaged; thats a nice way to put it) on the elements of debate, and then get them to win a debate meet. He said that there were rules about debating; you did not speak when it wasn't your turn, you did not make ad hominem attacks, you stopped talking (finished your sentence, and stopped) when your time was up. Then they showed one of these kids saying, scornfully, that this guy was a fool; in her debates, you never let the other person finish a sentence, you slimed them as much as you could; and you kept talking louder and louder until your opponent gave up.

I don't want to believe that thats how most kids think, but I believe thats what the popular culture tells them. Similarly, I don't want to believe that most people think that if Jon Stewart or Ann Coulter says 'here's proof', then that must be proof. Proof is something that may be substantially in the eye of the beholder, but not entirely so. You require verifiable facts, at the least. Loud talk, snappy patter, alone, don't hack it.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

TSAd

I'm not a fan of the TSA. I think they do a tough, thankless job, but I am not a fan.

But this, at their site, deserves to be pointed out.

Aww

I'm not much for cute postings.

But sometimes, I make an exception.

This is one.

And this is why.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Once Again

CNN:
BOSTON, Massachusetts (AP) -- A 7-year-old boy fatally shot an 8-year-old cousin while they were playing with an illegal, unregistered gun at home, authorities said.

Guilty Pleasures

You know how there are things that you do that you know you really shouldn't do, but you do them anyway? I'm not talking about the things that are illegal, unethical, or just plain tacky, but things that give you a fleeting pleasure, followed closely by a dollop of guilt (I shouldn't have done that, I really should do something about that, I can't believe I haven't done that yet)

This is one of those.

I got a note back from FeedDemon telling me where the cache for the product is (its not at all where I thought). I was able to get a display of all of the files, and retrieve just the ones I wanted. But along the way, I noticed a separate folder of icons for FeedDemon, and I started leafing through it. I found a whole mess of sites that I used to look at, but I stopped. Well, gosh, I have the time now, lets go take a look.

After saying that at least my list of sites is down to a manageable number...my Food/Baking category in the Demon is now as bloated as it ever was....maybe more. Here it is:

101 Cookbooks
A Hamburger Today
Bake or Break
Baking Bites
Clay's Kitchen
Cook sister!
Cooking For Engineers
Cream Puffs In Venice
Cupcake Bakeshop by Chockylit
Fancy food...
Habeas Brulee
Jumbo Empanadas
Pinch My Salt
she bakes; she cooks
Sweet Sins
Tastespotting
The Amateur Gourmet
The Paupered Chef
The Wednesday Chef
thepassionatecook
words to eat by

And we won't talk about how many sites are in the Commentary folder.... I really will get to these soon. Real soon.

Backup

One of the things that I've never been comfortable with is the idea of backing up a PC. Its a necessary task, and one that's saved me on occasion, but its not something that I think of as a user-obvious task.

The reason is that if you lose a specific file, or files, and you've been taking copies of it along the way, then restoring it isn't any big deal. Even though Windows can sometimes get in the way (say, you've got the original open, and you want to open the dupe; Windows may object because both files have the same name (except for the suffix, I would think). That doesn't make sense to me, because they're obviously not the same file -- in fact, if you took a file and copied it exactly, they're not the same, either -- they're literally two different files, and any self-respecting operating system ought to be able to tell that. But still, okay, not a big deal. You have file A, and you close it, and open File B, and tell the operating system to save it as File A. It says 'are you really sure' (which always sounded more like a philosophical question than a procedural one), you say yes, and hey presto, its done. And you hope like hell the original didn't have something that you actually wanted.

But if you don't know what files are involved, or if you only know some of them, then life gets a lot more complicated, very quickly. Which is what happened to me, yesterday. It took me a while to get back from it, and I'm not completely back -- and may not get there, either.

Two things you should know. One is, I have modified the Bookmark ToolBar on this copy of Firefox so that it will change if you click on an icon. Normally, four folders show on the toolbar. Push the green StumbleUpon icon, and those four will shift to the right, and where they were are now the StumbleUpon icons. I like it that way -- the things I don't often use aren't taking up space, but when I want them, hey presto, there they are. And the other thing is, I have a package called FeedDemon on this laptop. Its an RSS reader. You point it to sites which have an RSS feed, and it will periodically go out and get a new copy of the primary screen for those sites. I've had it for years, and I like it.

Except for right now.

Yesterday, something happened -- I don't know what -- and my toolbar mod was gone. In its place was the standard StumbleUpon toolbar, which has two icons on it. The four folders which were supposed to be there were gone completely. I looked in Organize Bookmarks, and they weren't there. It was as if I had deleted them. This did not please me. Three of the folders were minor things, but the fourth was a collection of sites that I've come across using StumbleUpon, and wanted to remember. It wouldn't be the end of the world if they were lost, but I'd be irritated.

I tried using Windows System Restore, but it didn't do me any good. But on one of the iterations, I looked in Manage Bookmarks again, and there they were -- only they were in a new bookmark folder that was under another bookmark folder. There's supposed to be only one. I fiddled around, and found that the SU button made the new bookmark folder appear and disappear. The SU toolbar stayed visible all the time, which lead me to beleive that somehow it was that 'extra' bookmark folder.

Sometime in all of this, FeedDemon told me that it had an update. I ran it, no problem, and forgot about it. I finally got the bookmark toolbars cleaned up, and I went to look at the FeedDemon change. OMG. It started up fine - but it had no feeds at all. They were completely gone. I futzed around with System Restore some more, and I found what looked like the files, but they weren't complete. And so far, I still haven't found them.

Which brings me back to backups. I do have a backup of FD -- its tied to a package that essentially compresses the files in question and puts them in a separate directory -- but it doesn't seem to know anything about the files -- it just backs up the application itself. Why would FD put its working files somewhere other than where the app itself is? Who knows. But you'd like to think that a backup package would know that -- would be able to detect that a file, some file, had changed, and that therefore it ought to take a backup of it. But how would it know that the file was needed? Worse, how would it know that restoring that file, needed or not, wouldn't have adverse effects on some other application, or the operating system itself? If its a private file, probably not, but if its one where multiple apps use it? Yeah, thats possible.

Its a fascinating problem, and I'd love to talk with someone who's thought about it.

But as for me: I'm just ticked.
=================
Update: Turns out it was not that big a deal. A pain, yes, but not that big a deal. And now I have stuff sorted better, plus, I have it being copied to Newsgator, so if it happens again, I can download from there.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Quick Reactions

Its pretty well known that people on the web tend to react quickly. Someone can write a piece (thoughtful or ignorant, doesn't matter) that's forty-eight paragraphs long, and they'll get responses based on the first couple of paragraphs. Sometimes even less than that. I've done it. No one's done it to me, which is likely because a) I have a small readership, and b) I don't tend to write about controversial things (Islamic London notwithstanding).

So its probably not too surprising that when I saw an article about how the FBI is asking students not to travel abroad, I had a reaction to it before I'd even read the whole thing. The logic behind it actually isn't all that bad -- that being, if you're involved in research into something that, collectively, this country would rather others didn't know about, at least the details, don't put yourself someplace where other people of malicious intent are likely to find out, and gosh, abroad is just such a place. There's reasons not to go along with the FBI on this, but what struck me what that I immediately thought 'those idiots'. I was ready to stop reading, right there.

Similarly, when I read an article about how the practice of airshows isn't defensible, I didn't even have to read the part about "As July 4th approaches, it may well be time to consider whether patriotism and the defense of national borders is in fact an outmoded concept." to think 'what a fruitcake'. And when I read the tagline --

Lucinda Marshall is a feminist artist, writer and activist. She is the Founder of the Feminist Peace Network, www.feministpeacenetwork.org. Her work has been published in numerous publications in the U.S. and abroad including, Counterpunch, Alternet, Dissident Voice, Off Our Backs, The Progressive, Countercurrents, Z Magazine , Common Dreams, In These Times and Information Clearinghouse. ....

-- I didn't have to get past 'feminist artist, writer, and activist' before thinking 'intensely fruitcakish'. I'm not opposed to feminists, I like writers, and activism is not a bad thing -- but seeing all those in a row, particularly after reading the soundbite of the title (Rethinking Patriotism'), I had absolutely no use for this person. She could be giving away sex, drugs, and rock n'roll; she could be offering eternal life and good looks, too -- didn't matter. I had decided on her, and I was moving on.

Which makes me wonder: why do we decide so fast? Why do I decide so fast? Is it because I don't have time? Because I only think about some things, and I react without thinking to the others? (Chocolate ice cream? Good. Feminist writer activist? Bad) What does that say about me, if its true? Do I -- do we -- just react to trigger phrases, these days? I know, thats a defense mechanism against overload ; still, I'd like to think we, collectively, and me, singly, can do better than that, at least, occasionally. We can give the time to think carefully about a topic, sometimes; read it all the way through, sometimes.

Can't we?

Cawfee

I don't know if this is true or just a parable, but I like it.

POO

Which stands for Portable Open Office, the totally free alternative to Microshaft's products. I just used the Calc one to do some Excel functions that I didn't have on my venerable copy of Excel, but which a spreadsheet I'd created on a current version of Excel (back when I was a working stiff) happened to have. POO opened the file just fine, did what I wanted, and saved it as an excel-readable (ie, .XLS) file.

Not one hundred percent compatible, but damn close. And did I mention, totally free?

Awesome.

Anita Renfroe

I found this on the Nancy's Niche site. Pretty inventive....

No Rithmatic

Reading and Riding, though, yeah.

Reading: Chapter two in Warped Passages; chapter three in The Audacity of Hope. WPs not impenetrable, though every so often her attempt to makes things transparent falls flat. TAOH is consistantly engaging -- you can hear his voice. I have to stop every so often and question it, just to keep from being seduced by its reasonability.

Riding: Now that I know why I fell off the damn bike, I'm a little more aware of what to look for -- though its still going to be weird, first time I have to get off without something to 'fall against' (which I did, intentionally, last night -- put the bike next to the workbench and then got on/got off -- and was amazed to find myself tipping over, only stopping when I hit the bench). This makes me feel creaky, I have to say -- but I do like the bike.

The marinara was okay, nothing great. Next time: puree instead of chopped tomato; more garlic, onion. And I'll add the salt and pepper, which I intentionally did not do, this time.

This morning I make two runs into the town -- one to bring my daughter to her summer drama camp, and one to pick up my mother from an appointment. Ah, this hectic life!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Embroidered

Years ago, while reading a copy of National Lampoon, I came across a comment to the effect that they were always surprised that people were astounded when they could accurately mimic the 'look' of well-known newspapers, such as the New York Times, when the layout and font were easily known. It never occurred to most people (including me) that this was possible.

I've known, intellectually, that its possible to have T Shirts and other clothing made with names, logos, and whatnot -- but I always assumed it was a Real Big Deal to do, cost thousands of dollars, and you had to order hundreds of copies.

Then I came across this site, and all that changed, for the better.

Later That Same Weekend

We're making the marinara sauce now -- just mixed in the thyme, basil, and garlic with the chopped tomatoes. I'm hoping the tomatoes reduce down into a thick liquid, otherwise next time, if we do it, I'll use less chopped tomatoes and more tomato sauce. I am not a big fan of tomato chunks in a spaghetti sauce.

My wife and daughter went to the Renaissance Faire today, along with her sister and her daughter. Her sister is the one who's a moderately high level bureaucrat with FEMA, about which we've learned, as with so many other things, not to have a discussion with her. Thats really a pity, because she's a bright and experienced person -- its just that she gets so passionate about this stuff, and she doesn't know when to end a conversation. I imagine the rest of us come across as not really caring. She was about two hours late in arriving at our house, which is a little much for her -- she's normally about an hour late. I have personally learned not to point this out to my wife, though it fascinates me, each time.

While she was gone, I bought her some birthday gifties -- two shirts from Talbots, and a CD of Godspell, which she's always liked. And my daughter won some kind of hideous hand-made dragon, which she likes. So things are good.

And I found out that the reason I fell off the bike is that my shorts catch the damn seat when I get off. My wife says I should get those really tight biker shorts, and I said Ah, no. Maybe some longer ones. Shorter ones, particularly tighter ones, would cause small children to flee in terror, and dogs to break out in convulsions. Pregnant women would be advised to avert their gaze, too.

Hope the sauce works out. My wife says it smells like her mother's house in here, so thats a good start.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Saturday Afternoon

This afternoon I --

- virtually brought my daughter to tears with a brief discussion of variables in algebra, meaning ignoring her protests that she doesn't have to take the SATs for two years (true, but she could next year, and wouldn't that be a good thing?)

- bought a new bike. Trial rode it in the store parking lot. Getting off, I fell off. Scraped the hell out of my left knee.

--baked Oatmeal Chocolate Chip cookies.

--shaved off most of my beard.

--took the bike out for a spin after dinner. Almost tripped getting off. Personal note: in future, always get off right next to something I can lean on.

--read part of the first chapter of Warped Passages, and the first chapter of The Audacity of Hope.


I think I'll relax now.

Warped

When I was younger, I enjoyed reading difficult books, usually about science. These weren't hyper-dense books, but they required thought -- I had to slow down frequently and think about what I was reading.

Over the last couple of decades, I got out of the habit of reading those. I simply didn't have the time to make much of a dent in them before the library wanted them back. Why libraries don't let you keep some books for months, I don't know. The library that served the area where I grew up had a 'summer rentals' policy that said you could take books out for two months. I think that makes a lot of sense.This doesn't appear to be the policy of my local library. For that matter, they don't seem like books like this, either. Their idea of 'new books' is heavily skewed to self-help, finances, starting your own business, and biographies of actors. I could just buy the book, I guess, but I hate the idea of spending twenty bucks for a book that I don't at least get most of the way through. What I'd love to do is split the cost -- we each pay fifty percent, then I read it, and when I'm done with it, they get it. Course, as I say, that could be months later. Maybe years.

Fortunately, other libraries in the local system do have dense books available for loan.

Since it appears that I'm going to have a fair amount of time now, I am going to try to start reading those books again. And I'm starting with a killer. It's Warped Passages, by Lisa Randall. She's a physicist, studying particle physics and cosmology at Harvard. I read some of the introduction while eating lunch today, and at the end of one paragraph, I looked up at my wife and said 'And this is the easy stuff? I may be in trouble...'

But I'm going to give it a shot. Wish me luck.

Oh, Dick!

I'm just tickled pink that people are starting to chime in with opinions about how arrogant, ludicrous, and just plain dumb Cheney's attitudes are regarding, specifically, the requirement for verification of the safeguarding of classified material by his office, and, generally, the applicability of rules designed for other people and their relativity to him, His VicePresidentialness.

Of course, the Bushster will defend him, because in Bush's eyes, being his pal supercedes any pesky legal requirements. And hey, he's The Decider. He gets to ignore the Constitution, so ignoring this piece of paper is a nit, something he can do without breaking a sweat. He may back down, if he can find a way to do it while denying he's doing any such thing, and then again, he may not, since his personal image of himself is Gary Cooper, John Wayne, and Randolph Scott, and they never did.

So we'll see.

But the groundswell of opinion is heartening. I hope fervently that Congress sucks up some backbone from it, lest they be looking for jobs, en masse, in a little over a year. Because the first rule of life for most politicians is still: Preserve Thyself In Office. Its too much to hope that they'll conclude this means Kick The Idiot(s) Out, though, wouldn't that be nice?

What a Dick!

Friday, June 22, 2007

You Are What You Eat

...and this F16 fighter should not have eaten that bird!


Incidentally, there's an interesting discussion of this video on a forum, here. The 'T6NL' that you hear the automated system saying is an alert to say that the engine's not running as fast as it ought to. You'll have that with what happened to these guys. The Gear Not Down is emphatically suggesting that when you're that low and slow, you really should have wheels down.

The EJECT EJECT EJECT is self explanatory.

Is You Is or Is You Ain't...

..which, until recently, I didn't recognize as part of a specific tune. I knew that it was part of a tune, but not which one. Turns out, its the one with exactly those words (Is you is or is you ain't my baby?) as the title.

I heard from the people I went out to talk to about a job. They didn't offer me a full time job... but they didn't blow me off, either. Instead, they asked if I'd be interested in working for them on an ad-hoc basis, as needed, occasionally. I told them yes, absolutely. And though I'd have liked to earn a full-time salary, I like the idea of being home a lot, too. There's no guarantee that they will ask me to work on that basis-- they were just asking if I'd be interested; they're still going to keep looking for a full-time employee -- but this is a possibility, and I like it. It feels like a nice fit.

We had Not So Sloppy Joes tonight. I liked that, too.

Ephrata

Some images from our trip to the Ephrata Cloister, today, shortly after we learned that our daughter had once again achieved First Honors in her school. ..







Political Thoughts

I'm not in a particularly chipper mood, at the moment.

I admit, this is going to sound silly, but -- I finished reading The Sinister Pig just a bit ago, and now I'm thinking about power politics, and how the political environment spawns people who protect themselves first. I have in mind, too, that article about Cheney, who I think is not to be trusted -- and who obviously is trusted by the guy who got us into Iraq, who keeps vetoing stem cell research bills, who won't accept limits on his imperial power, denies global warming. Both of them make me ashamed of my country, and Cheney sickens me. When it gets to the point where I actually don't find it all that implausible that his boss would declare the next federal elections cancelled, for the good of the country.... I'm pretty close to that now -- then I'm about ready to give up on these guys. And yet there are still people who support him. Amazing. Just frippin' amazing.

Life in Cheney's head must be pretty bleak, I think.

Mixed in there somewhere is boredom with retirement, I think. I miss working, and I wonder: do I miss it, or do I just miss having someplace to go, something to do?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Isn't He Special?

Vice President Dick Cheney has asserted his office is not a part of the executive branch of the U.S. government, and therefore not bound by a presidential order governing the protection of classified information by government agencies, according to a new letter from Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., to Cheney.

0621 06Bill Leonard, head of the government’s Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), told Waxman’s staff that Cheney’s office has refused to provide his staff with details regarding classified documents or submit to a routine inspection as required by presidential order, according to Waxman.

(from the Common Dreams web site)

Narie, Again

Okay, Narie, this one is for you, too. I thought it was pretty funny.

Zippity Zip

In no particular order --

I tried to find a zipfile utility that preserves long file names (longer than the DOS standard 8.3), but nope. At least, not yet. PKWARE doesn't seem to sell one (maybe; I haven't tried their current PKWARE for DOS yet). The windows version surely doesn't.

I'm reading Tony Hillerman's The Sinister Pig in between other things. Not bad. Then again, Hillerman's stuff is usually good.

I dropped a line to Jack McDevitt to tell him that I was taking a long time to read Polaris, but that it wasn't because I was not enjoying the book, but because I'm enjoying it so much. I'm dipping into it from time to time, just enjoying the world he's created there. ( Okay, its a little tough to remember all the names and characters, since I'm not reading consistantly, but this is a truly fun book to read.) I told him it reads like a book about real people who just happen to live in a world that, in our terms, is magical, complete with aircars, AIs in your house and car, and semi-sentient holograms. He thanked me for my praise, and said that by coincidence he happens to be working on a sequel (I think that Polaris, itself, is a kind of sequel), and he was having some problems with the characters. So my timing was pretty good.

I wonder if laptops will ever have pop-up holographic displays? I wonder if AIs will ever really work?

Bus Ads leave me cold, as a rule. But I really like this one... so long as I never have to explain it to my daughter.

Dropped a line to a woman I don't know about her appearance in a recurring article in the Washington Post called DateLab wherein they hook up two people who sound compatible. I told her I was impressed by what I read of her -- that she sounded smart and interesting, and she didn't slime the guy after she decided they didn't have all that much in common. I don't read that article all that much, but it seems that that kind of behavior is fairly common, and she didn't. I liked that. She's a marketing manager for a law firm, so I asked her, in my reply to her reply, what that means. Hope she doesn't think I'm trying to pick her up.

Pando looks interesting.

I was surprised by some of the responses to my Islamic London and followon post. I think this is why I stay away from that kind of thing except in very small groups. I'm not good with confrontations. I much prefer quiet conversation. Plus, most everyone else seems to know more/have firmer opinions than me.

The chocolate cupcakes came out well. I didn't make the ganache, but I might, tomorrow. My wife's planning on making a kind of bread (one of those lives-forever starters that I've heard described as the baking equivalent of chain letters). She made it once before, and we (for which read: them, too, but mostly me) really liked it.

I like the new spell checker in Blogger, but it ought to be possible to teach it words -- like Ganache.

Went to the local township's Jubilee Day festival, which is TONS of people in a small space. Its not my idea of fun (then again, my idea of fun usually involves at most five or six people), but its not bad. And it beats the big city's idea, something they call Kipona, which is the same kind of thing, but way more people, and its even harder to find parking.

Warm out tonight. I think we'll be running the AC on industrial high.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Plans

I'm working on the assumption that if I don't hear from either of the two companies I applied to by the end of next week, they're probably not planning on offering me a job. That'll be a little unfortunate, but nothing outrageously bad. For one thing, we have a plan that will slice about five percent off our normal expenses; for another, we have decided that if my wife loses her job (not expected, but when is it ever?) in the next four years, we'll initiate my retirement benefits from the first company I worked for, which will give us a good cushion toward meeting routine expenses. To be honest, I'd rather not -- the plan is to leave that money accumulating interest for about the next four years, rather than being drawn down. But you do what you have to....

...and also what you want to. I'm going to do some baking tomorrow. (I can start looking at recipes again!) I've been wanting to do some for the last two weeks, but it hasn't worked out. Tomorrow, though, will be different. Nothing major -- a chocolate cupcake recipe that sounds good, and possibly a marinara sauce recipe that was pointed out by Kelli of the African Kelli web site. I tried making a marinara sauce several years ago, but we thought it was both a lot of work and more than a little bland, but since I have the time, I'm willing to give it a try.

These are the recipes. I guess I should note that I'm just making the cupcake, but not the other parts. Well, maybe the ganache...

Chocolate Cupcakes With Peanut Butter Filling
From Caprial’s Desserts by Caprial Pence and Melissa Carey

½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 ¼ cups lightly packed brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted
2 heaping TBSP cocoa powder
2 ¼ cups sifted cake flour (To make two cups of cake flour, combine 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour with 1/4 cup cornstarch)
2 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 cup sour cream
¾ cup boiling water

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease cupcake pans and set aside.
2. Place the butter, sugar and vanilla in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on high speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl often , until well blended, about 3 minutes.
3. Add the cocoa powder. Mix until combined.
4. With the mixer on low speed, add the eggs, on at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl and mixing well after each addition.
5. Continue to beat for 5 minutes, until light and fluffy. Stop the mixer, add the melted chocolate, and mix well.
6. Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add about ½ the ingredients followed by about ½ of the sour cream and beat well. Add the remaining dry ingredients followed by the remaining sour cream, scraping down the sides of the bowl and beating well after each addition.
7. Add the boiling water and beat until smooth.
8. Scoop (ice cream scoop works best) batter into prepared pans.
9. Bake for 15-20 minutes until cake springs back when touched lightly in the center.
10. Let cool for about 10 minutes and remove from pan. Let cupcakes cool completely.

Peanut Butter Filling
4 ounces or 1/2 package of Philly cream cheese
1 cup creamy peanut butter
2 cups sifted powdered sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons milk to thin out filling

1. Beat cream cheese and peanut butter until combined.
2. Add powdered sugar and vanilla and beat until combined.
3. Add the milk and beat until combined. Add more milk until your reach desired consistency.

Chocolate Ganache
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
5 ounces semisweet chocolate
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon butter, room temperature
2-3 cups powdered sugar

1. Chop chocolates and transfer into a heat proof bowl.
2. Heat cream until bubbles form around the edge of the pan, pour cream over the chocolate. Let sit for 1 minute then stir until combined.
3. Add butter and vanilla and stir until combined.
4. Transfer to the bowl of an electric mixture and let cool for 10 minutes.
5. Sift powdered sugar into the mixture and beat until combined. Add more sugar if needed.
6. Continue to beat with an electric mixer until lighter in color and creamy.

Assemble

1. Using a small paring knife, cut off the top of the cupcake in the shape of a cone. Flip the top over and cut off the cone.
2. Fill the cavity with a teaspoon or so of peanut butter filling. I used a piping bag, this makes it much easier.
3. Replace top.
4. Frost with ganache.

Makes 24 cupcakes.


Quick Marinara Sauce


From Food Network Kitchens
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 medium onion, diced (about 3 tablespoons)
4 cloves garlic, sliced
3 (28-ounce) cans whole, peeled, tomatoes, roughly chopped
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 small bunch fresh basil, leaves chopped
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Saute the onion and garlic, stirring, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes with about half of their juices (discarding the rest), the herb sprigs and basil and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered for about 25 to 30 minutes or until thickened.

Remove and discard the herb sprigs. Stir in the salt and season with pepper, to taste. Serve or store covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or freeze for up to 2 months.



And those are the plans for the moment.

Response to Narie

This is in response to your comments about my 'Islamic London' post.

I sometimes think that we were incredibly lucky in the people who founded this country. We idealize them as brave and forthright, and they were that, but they were also people with the sort of problems, bouts of short-sightedness, and pet peeves that we have now -- yet somehow they came up with this compact that has survived two centuries. The mortar is getting chipped away every day by George Bush and his crew of merry men, and has been whenever powerful politicians have found the Constitution too restrictive, yet the structure still stands. Thats pretty impressive. I don't have great insights into where that strength comes from but I suspect that it's a mixture of the personal values of the people who drafted it and those problems that they had to address in the document. They wanted it to reflect their ideals and principles; they had to have it reflect their political problems. I think that they created a political document that incorporated religious values without incorporating the religion itself. Not to say that those values only exist in religion, but they do exist there. The idea of fairness, of justice, of equality are part of all religions. Christianity has it. Islam has it. I suspect all do.

So, unfortunately, is the track record of violence, of 'kill them all, let (insert supreme deity name here) sort them out'. I used to think that Christianity was more tolerant and refined (though I wouldn't have chosen those words) than the others , but after seeing Falwell and his crew, I realized that Christian fanatics can be as bad in their own way as the Taliban. I say 'in their own way' because they haven't taken over a political entity and started putting a theocratic structure in place, but if they did, would anyone be all that surprised? So when I see people slamming Islam, I think 'its not just them'. I admit, sometimes that's hard for me to believe at a visceral level, because, after all, what can I think about a religion when the fanatics of that religion have brought so much hate and death to the world? But I think that I've got that backward. I think that these fanatics would be fanatics if they were Muslim, Catholic, or Zen Buddhist -- they've just gravitated to a structure, and gone wild with it. (As an analogy: the people who stole my yard sign in the last election were fanatics for the other side's political party. That doesn't mean that political parties are wrong, or that that side's party is inherently fanatical. It simply means that they're got fanatics. So does my side. Neither is defensible. )

I think that if you took any religion, and lopped off the outlying standard deviations so as to eliminate the fanatics, you’d find the core values quite similar. And I think that you can subscribe to those core values without being religious at all. Religion provides a framework, but its not the only valid structure.

Is there something about Islam that makes fanaticism more likely with Islam than with other religions? Put a different way, why are the fanatics who blow things up all from that religion? Well, I don't think its Islam, per se. I haven't done a lot of reading, but the impression I get is that Islam does NOT condone or encourage the actions that are being done in its name. My guess is that the parts of the world where Islam holds sway (and its a LOT of the world) have had a lot of problems in the last hundred years, if not more, and those problems are whats driving this activity. Part of that is that they're so damn poor in so many places. They see the wealthy parts of the world, things they didn't see before mass communications became so easy, and they think 'Why not us?' They're ripe for believing that someone is keeping them down. Part of that is that the Arab culture was magnificent for so long. It still is impressive, but it's ceased being the dominant force, and they want it back. And those two concepts overlap – see, for example, the article in Discover recently wherein an Arab scholar, defending science in an Islamic country, says that its of course the fault of the west that his country is not dominant. But whereas most (I hope) are trying to regain that dominance through what we'd consider normal effort, others are trying to get up by bringing others down. I can't build a World Trade Towers? Fine, I can destroy yours. And those are the people who are getting the attention. Its not the religion, its the people. Its been a long time since Christianity has done that kind of thing, laying waste to what we dislike, so by comparison we look peaceful. Yet Falwell and others like him have shown that given the opportunity, they can be just as restrictive, just as coercive -- and potentially, just as destructive. Its been decades since Barry Goldwater said "I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!"; at the time (1964), that level of intensity certainly sounded right to a lot of people for what they believed in. I suspect that to many, today, it does for what they believe in now.

I guess the bottom line for me is that I don’t trust fanatics, but I understand why, to many people, they don’t sound like ‘fanatics’, they sound like ‘true believers’ – and that sounds pretty good to them.

Incidentally, relative to your followup comment: I don't know any Muslims -- I have been in contact with just one (the woman who writes the Muslim Apple blog) routinely, and with one or two others on rare occasions. All but one of them struck me as normal people trying to live a decent life. (One came across as intentionally provocative and challenging, which, I was told, is a common trait as a way of seeing if your opponent will stick to what they're saying. Scared the hell out of me. ) I don't think they're out to get me, or enslave me -- yet there's always that lingering 'well, sure, but they probably know someone who does'. Do I really think that? In the light of day, no. At night, when I'm tired, or feeling scared -- well, maybe. And I would bet that if I were Muslim, in this country, I'd feel much the same way about Christians. At night, when they're tired, or scared, they must wonder if some morning they're going to wake up and find that the Christian Militia is out rounding them up. Thats not the kind of society decent people want -- but the fanatics? I would bet on it.

I hope this rambling screed made some kind of sense. I should mention that I'll violently assault the physical and logical integrity of anyone who thinks it didn't.

Yes, that's a joke.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Canada--Going Up

Well, here's those Canadians, being creative again !

Someone who Likes Norton....

about as much as I don't can be found here.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Sad Shot

I found this picture some time ago. I have no idea why she's wearing that nose, but I consider this to be a very sad photograph.

Hubbed

If you're going to have a USB hub.....this is clearly the way to do it.

Islamic London

I came across an article this morning on the Timeout: London site entitled "Is London's Future Islamic? ..I had read, in a couple of other places, about Islam and London, as well as Islam and Britain, which said that that religion is pretty well entrenched there, though in a way that forms a separate culture rather than an integrated one. These articles were sparked specifically by the attacks in the London Tube (and the one bus), and they sought to explain how that could come to pass in a society that had made itself so welcoming to people of that faith.

The article grabbed my attention because it started with a vision of an alternate history future for London: one in which the city is a theocracy, and where public executions on the mall, "now known as The Way of the Martyrs", are common. That part of the article is short, but it speaks directly to part of the Islamic mythos that frightens and perplexes me. Its difficult to accept that there are people who accept that their religion requires that level of enforcement and punishment; that there are people who think that this is a worthy thing. I don't know enough about Islam to know whether there are many people who have this level of fervent commitment, but that there are people like that in the world now is apparent. And that scares me. I have to admit, if I thought it would only happen in places where I'm not likely to go, it'd be an item of passing interest, roughly like noting that every so often, a tourist gets eaten by a wild animal on the Serengeti. But since some of these fervent people would delight in making me subject to those same rules, or blowing me up if I'd just as soon not be subject -- it disconcerts me, to put it mildly.

The article, however, goes on to say that its a long, long step from where London is now to that bleak future (perhaps they'd not consider it bleak ?). Its important to understand that Islam is quite prevalent in Britain now, and it's presence is benefiting British society; further, if it did happen that Islam became the predominant and ruling religion, multiple good things would happen (or at least could happen, assuming the then-rulers adhered to the tenets of their faith). The society would actually become a more tolerant, better educated, and healthier pace. There is much to like about the Islamic faith, and the article lays much of it out.

So whats not to like? Other than being the main player in the occasional public execution, that is.

NOMW

Why does the phrase 'Not on my watch' sound comforting? Or is it just me?

I came across it just a moment ago while glancing at an ad for an organization with that name (actually, 'Not On Our Watch). It announced that it was founded by the producer of the Oceans Thirteen movie (who, I guess, has something to prove to the world, after foisting that on it), and 'select actors'. I thought 'Not on my watch' -- sounds like its supposed to evoke the image of a grim, relentlessly moral organization thats going to Keep Things Right, or Make Things Right, or something like that.... probably won't, though. Probably just another self-indulgent bunch of Hollywood blowhards with way too much money.

All of that, from a four second glance at an ad in the New York Times Magazine, before I flipped the page.

So, is it just me?

Vagrancy

I'm in a strange mood.

I like to kid that I'm now an unemployed vagrant now (which is partially true). The father character in the Sally Forth strip has been out of work for two weeks, just like me, so I read it to my wife this morning, where the wife says to her daughter that the father has had a 'rough couple of weeks'. My wife said that she thought I hadn't, to which I agreed, though, she added, if this company turns me down, I might be unhappy. I told her that I won't be pleased if that happens, but also that I expect it to happen, because I think that they're looking for a deeper level of technical knowledge than I have. She asked if I would look for another job if that happens, and I said probably not, which she said was okay.

But then she said that if she was laid off in the next seven years, she expected that we would both look for work, and somehow the image of me, looking for work after (X) number of years not working really flattened me. It shouldn't have; we said that we'd do that, and in the abstract, it sounded okay. It was the sudden realization that a) if I got a job right this minute, it would likely pay at about the level that I was earning, but b) if I looked for one in (X) years, it would likely be a much lower paying job, both because I wouldn't have skills that were all that current, and because I would be, gasp, in the position of being an older person looking for work. I had assumed that if I didn't go back to work now, I wouldn't, ever again, barring the possibility that something interesting came along (which seems to happen only to Fast Company subscribers), and I knew that should circumstances change, I would be willing to work again. The thought that I might have to do it, and do it at the barely 'unskilled worker' level, was disconcerting and more than a little discouraging.

Made me feel old.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Licensing

Well, they're probably going to take my Licence to Father away, for egregious violations of my daughters rights.

Specifically, I only let her stay at a friends house for three hours more than agreed, after she'd already been there four hours. At which house, they were having a birthday party, complete with birthday cake, ice cream, potato chips, sodas, candies, and, oh yes, pizza. Plus a pool and jacuzzi. And four of her closest friends.

Clearly, I am an Unfit Father.

Hear That?

I was looking at the UPS 'Out of the Box' web site, which speaks about a small business contest they held. It's a wonderful site, but after a second I realized that what made the site for me, and kept me around to read through the material there, was the sound effects.

I wonder how many company web sites incorporate that awareness?

Kept

I tell my wife that I'm going to get business cards made that simply say "Kept Man".

But what I'd really like is something as creative as, say, one of these.

Saturday Miscellania

Yesterday I spent about two hours going through financial records.

For a long time, I was pretty consistent about keeping them current, creating a monthly spreadsheet showing our major expenditures by area, that kind of thing, but about a year ago -- roughly about when I broke my shoulder -- I fell off the wagon. Now that I'm technically unemployed (technically, because I got a severance payout that covers my salary until the end of August), I've developed a lot more interest in keeping those numbers accurate. Or at least plausible. Both of us had months of bank statements that I hadn't entered. In some cases, its no big deal -- just take the most current statement and update Quicken with that -- but since the monthly spreadsheet requires input about what checks were written, that meant I had to take about six months of checks for each of us and update Quicken to show which ones were cleared. A side problem was that my wife hadn't been updating Quicken with her checks all the time. I knew that, but even so, I was amazed to find how many checks weren't in there. That gets a little hairy when she withdraws money directly from checking via the onsite credit union, but doesn't update Quicken, so that the only time I realize what she did is when the statements arrive. Its not a BIG deal, because theres always a comfortable buffer, but still, for some one like me, being a little anal about it, theres a period of what the hell is going on here, why don't these balance until I take a couple of deep breaths and get back in control. We both know that I'm more fanatical about these things (well, I was, and now I kind of am again), so I try really hard not to make her feel guilty about it. Its not that big a deal.
I'm always, always amazed that her company, which is a computer company, and my old one, ditto, can't do what I regard as smart things, such as having the option to send a reminder home via email when you do an on-site deposit or withdrawel, or, for that matter, making the monthly statement not only available electronically (which, to be fair, they kind-of do), but also making it possible to slice-and-dice it -- ie, show me all the EFT statements, show me all the deposits, show me transactions by date, by payee, by amount, whatever. I KNOW this is possible, and I would bet serious money that there are people who are not only routinely doing that now, but they've been doing it for years. But these guys with their big honkin' mainframe -- they can't seem to get the hang of it. Amazzin.

One upshot of all of the number crunching last night is that it does appear likely that I don't actually have to work again. Its not bullet-proof -- we don't have millions and millions of dollars -- but its probable. In fact, if my wife lost her job tomorrow, and we made some more-than-minor, less-than-severe changes in our life style, we'd probably be okay. Given that we're both conservative, financially, we'd likely both go out and look for work, of course. We'd do whatever we need to do, if it came to that. Which is, incidentally, the reason that despite what I just said, if the company I just interviewed with comes up with a decent offer, I'd take it. Because until we are independently wealthy -- don't hold your breath -- we'll always want to do as much as we can to keep the nest egg warm and safe. Pretty much no matter how big that egg gets. Certainly, I'd like to stay home, do baking, learn another programming language, work at portrait photography, and all of that... but if the opportunity comes up to earn a good income, I'll take it.

Particularly if it involves the Brazilian Women's Soccer Team.

This kind of financial attitude isn't entirely shared with our daughter, who said the other day that she'd like a cell phone (Not that I'd use it, Dad -- this would be just to have, in case) and I clued her in what it costs just to have one; actual use costs more. So, I said, if and when, we'll ask her to help pay for it. She wasn't thrilled, but she wasn't surprised -- she hears us talking about justifying costs all the time. Truth to tell, we likely will buy her one -- the cheapest we can find (I asked if she would be okay with that, not having camera or video capability, not having a snappy little case, and she said yes, but I'm not sure about that) -- and let her use her own money to pay for the minutes on the phone, but it likely won't be soon. Well, not as soon as she'd like.

I had bought an iGo power adapter for home use of my IBM Thinkpad, including buying the specific power tip to match up with the Thinkpad. When the Thinkpad went the way of the job (though this other company uses Thinkpads too, hmmm....), I packed it up, and replaced it with the Dell power adapter we'd gotten so that we could use the laptop in the car. (We did that once; my daughter was quite dismayed to discover that having the laptop in the car did not mean access to the Net while in the car. When will technology catch up?) Since I like having the ability to start, say, Quicken from the laptop, I copied the files over so I could do that. But the desktop is still the location for anything that absolutely positively has to get backed up routinely, via the service we use that runs a copy every night to their offsite servers, so sometimes I have the laptop active in the library, while I look at stuff on the desktop, and that runs the battery down. Now, thats not a problem. Ah, technology!

Something else that I want to do is get a cable to be able to physically transfer files between the laptop and the desktop. The wireless connection takes forever to do it (I think I dorked it up when I changed the router settings once while trying to increase its range). Turns out if I get whats called an A/A USB Bridge cable, I can make that connection -- but the catch is, those are about six bucks, but the people who sell them on the web charge another ten or so to mail them. Hey, its barely worth six bucks to me, so I think it'll be a while before I get that cable.

And thats it for right now!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Photography

I tend to look at sites that feature portrait and figure photography, because one of the things I'd like to do is be better at both. Many times, I look at a shot and think Wow, that's really nice... and I give some thought to how they might have done it.

And then there's pictures like this, which prompt me to wonder WHY they did it....

(Warning: NSFW)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Stray Thoughts

Blogger needs a client-side interface, so that you can prepare a post, spell check and whatnot, and only then do an upload. I sometimes kind-of do this by writing the post in Notepad, and I know there is a Firefox extension (used to be called Performancing, changed to something else now) that sort-of did it, though the interface was shaky.

I am waiting to hear back from the company I interviewed with. I'm assuming that they won't offer, which will be more okay than not, because I'm getting into doing things that ease our life, even if they don't earn any money -- such as, I'm going to do the weekly grocery run tomorrow, during the day; this afternoon I took the pet to the vet, meaning that my wife didn't have to interrupt what she was doing.

But that doesn't mean I've stopped thinking about work -- I have this tendency to see how things should be better, which is almost always an idealistic view of the world, but every so often is actually practical. Not easy, not simple, possibly not even remotely achievable by me. But since I'm a little of a dreamer, and since one of the dreams I've always liked, other than the one about me and the Danish Womens Soccer Team, is that it really is possible to do a job that's what you'd like to do. You'll probably not grow rich, probably not make enough to live on, possibly not make anything, the article in this past week's Washington Post magazine about the woman who has a company that makes half a million dollars a year writing newsletters notwithstanding, but if thats not a requirement, then yeah, you just might be able to. I found this article, incidentally, of interest in that regard.

I need to do a little thinking about how to track these ideas, make them at least concretely stated. Though my definition of concrete might amaze the guys at Al's Cement Works. So, I am going to occasionally write them here. You have been warned.

Solving It

I've mentioned on more than one occasion how I like to look at accidents like this one and try to figure out how I'd resolve it, should I have had the responsibility for doing so. This image can be found on the Dark Roasted Blend web site, along with many others of the same genre.
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I think that the solution here is essentially the same as for the car that was driven off the dock and partially onto the upper deck of a boat - stabilize it to the dock, get a crane next to it, hoist it. In fact, it makes me think that there might be a whole category of recovery that could be described as 'its not (too) damaged, its in a precarious location, if we can retrieve it we can save it.'

Any thoughts?

TSA

I mentioned that I was not impressed by the professionalism of the TSA at St Louis' Lambert Airport. The TSA people I've seen in other locations don't usually look very cheerful, which is understandable, but the people at Lambert's Gate A seemed actively churlish and nonprofessional.

According to this article, the people at Reagan International can be just as bad. And these are the people who are protecting us?

Whimsy

I'd like to believe that this is possible. Not so much the methodology, but the philosophy.

Iran

On the flight back from Detroit, the girl sitting next to me, who was going to Germany as an exchange student, got into a conversation with a guy who was also going to Germany, though that wasn't his final destination. He was actually just transferring there for a flight to Iran. This amazed me. He was Iranian by birth, and was apparently going there to visit family, which he'd do routinely. I found myself wondering how anyone could possibly want to go there, given their attitudes and proclivities, so I listened to the conversation somewhat. I didn't ask them to speak up, though I wanted to, because I wanted to know more about what Iran is actually like. Some of the things he said confirmed what I thought, and some of it surprised me.

For one thing, he was very casual about the idea of religious law being the prime mover there. He said that women would routinely be arrested and 'punished' -- he didn't expand on that -- for not wearing the full body coverings. The girl asked him how early in life they had to wear them, and he shrugged, saying that 'very little' girls didn't, but past that, yes. He added that visitors didn't have to wear them, though they were subject to being stopped and harassed by religious police.

On the other hand, he said that its a very family-oriented society -- you get to know people because of whom you're related to, and the personal connections are very important. You would do business with someone you didn't actually trust because they were a relative, even though you would prefer to work with someone you did trust. He said that this meant you could always rely on your family to look out for you and protect you.

I wanted to know what most people thought about the recent event with the British sailors, but they didn't talk about that.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Really?

WASHINGTON (AP)--The line between lobbying the federal government and running it just got blurrier.

A new high-ranking adviser to President George W. Bush will enter the White House with recent lobbying ties to dozens of companies seeking the federal government's help on everything from proposed acquisitions to patent disputes.

Ed Gillespie, named Wednesday as the next White House counselor, is a partner in Quinn Gillespie & Associates LLC, a lobbying firm whose clients include: Sirius Satellite Radio (SIRI), which needs antitrust approval to acquire a rival; Qualcomm (QCOM), which wants Bush to veto a federal agency's ban on imported cell phones made with its chips; and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a trade group trying to limit drug industry regulation.

Consumer advocates lamented Bush's decision to put Gillespie in his inner circle, fearing that the interests of average citizens would be trumped by those of corporate America.

Gee, what's the odds of that happening?