Monday, December 31, 2007

Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me!

If you don't like that 'Please tell Microsoft about this problem' message, this might help. To learn how to get rid of the message, go to that site and scroll down to 'How to Disable Internet Explorer Error Reporting'. I believe that this is effective even if you don't use IE, because the underlying components are there in the operating system.


Oh, wow!

We get to buy a toilet riser chair!

Once the need is no longer here -- and from what the nurse practitioner told me today, hips heal really fast (yes, even ones that look like they've been hit with a baseball bat and a mace, multiple times; I'd show you the picture my wife took of my side, but I wouldn't want you to blow your lunch) -- so that in a couple of months, with luck, I won't need it any more. What exactly do you do with one of those things afterwards? Nice planter stand you've got there, ace!

Toilets are badly designed, I think. I recall reading a book years ago called, I think The Bathroom, which advocated toilets that were really low, with little stubby pegs onto which you'd hook your heels. The book solemnly said that this would replicate the normal squatting position, for maximum ease in output. I nodded, thinking Well that certainly makes sense'. Never occurred to me that I'd get old...or fat.

I think bathroom designers are going too far the other way, now. They want no luxurious soaking tubs, grab rails everywhere, and barrierless entries to everything. I know, they're good ideas -- I could not raise my leg over the three inch lip to my shower -- but gee whiz, does the bathroom have to look like it's lit by buzzing fluorescent lights and smells of disinfectant? Surely there must be a better way -- a way to have safety and comfortable style. Got to be.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Fun Equipment

My wife once told me that when she was a girl, she heard a joke about a girl at a picnic noticing that every so often one of the guys would walk off behind a bush, and then come back. Curious, she followed, and, observing what they were doing, remarked 'What a clever thing to bring on a picnic!'

One of the toys they gave me at the hospital was a small jug to use as an in-bed urinal, so that I wouldn't have to make the difficult trek to the john for that purpose. (I was entirely on fluids at that point.) When my wife saw the jug, she knew what it was, and said 'Well, I guess it isn't just a clever thing to use on picnics, is it?'

Though you've never known paranoia until you've used one in bed and hoped like hell that the sound didn't wake your wife (who doesn't deserve to be thusly grossed out), not to mention, that she doesn't bump you at an inopportune moment.


Found at Sluggy Freelance, here.

Getting Up

I've been trying for, oh, the last thirty minutes to get out of bed. No matter which way I writhe, I manage to find a direction where my hip says Oh NO you won't! So now I'm taking some strong drugs that I have left over from dental surgery, and in ten minutes we'll try it again.

My wife says its really pretty amazing to think of how easily you do things all the time that aren't possible if your body isn't workig right . I agree, but for the moment, I'm not feeling particularly philosophical about it.
After trying for another ten minutes or so to get out of bed (a process fraught with a little anxiety as I contemplated that amount of time I'd been trying, and how I'd really like to get to the bathroom), we decided to try having me get out of the other side of the bed, so that my decent leg would descend first. My wife cradled my left foot, and I lowered the good one to the bed rail, and then, hanging onto her, I finally levered myself up to a sitting position.

I think that tonight I'm not going to sleep in the bed. The oversized blue chair in the living room -- now padded with an additional cushion from the couch -- will work just fine as a sleeping place. As my wife pointed out, I was able to get up, finally, because I was able to get my good leg over to a point where it could reach the floor. If I'd slept on the couch last night, and had my left leg on the outside of the couch, I'd have been screwed, with no way to lower myself down. So few houses have mechanical lifts or burly footmen, these days.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Getting Attention

If you want to get attention, try bouncing down the last four steps of a flight of stairs, on your hip, to the point where you need to be brought to a local emergency room and scheduled immediately for hip-repair surgery.

And those walkers that people use? Not nearly as much fun as they appear to be.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


Big Tech is Good. Big Tech is Bad.

It's Good when there is a single source of information about something I want to know -- or if not that, then a single source that reliably points me to multiple other sources (but not too many...and not too few....just enough.) Such as, how can I make the damn Notification Area on XP work the way I want, consistently.

It's Bad when there is a single source of information about something that the Government wants to know. Such as, is that Bill's (iris pattern/body type/credit card/drivers license).

Guess which one gets funded more often?


I'm trying not to say 'that sucks', because I don't like my daughter saying it. Good image, and all.

So, what phrase should I use to express my delight when I find that the The Sims game requires that the initial CD be in the drive before it will work?


It's usually interesting to see what people give as gifts. I think of it as a visual representation of how they see you.

Apparently, I'm a Greek Fisherman's Cap, black felt slippers, digital window thermometer kind of guy. With Rachel Ray saute pan and classical music CD accents.

Who'd have guessed?

Barely Christmas

Merry Christmas, y'all.

I hope that your holidays are filled
with wonder and delight.

And that you find peace and joy
in the most surprising places.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Night Before

We went to church this evening, part of the Night Before ritual. For the first time in years, my mother didn't come. She's been feeling a bit under the weather. Its possible that she won't come up to my wife's mother's house tomorrow, which would be unfortunate. In that case, it might just be my wife and daughter going up, as we're uncomfortable with the idea of leaving her alone. After church, we drove around a bit to look at light displays. Some houses go intensively out, lights everywhere. The likelihood of a lot of lights goes up with the value of the house.

I'm generally pleased with this new laptop. I think that getting the wider screen wasn't that great an idea, as it doesn't fit easily onto a bookshelf for storage, and it weighs a little bit more than the other one - just enough to make it noticeable when keying in bed, as I often do. On the other hand, its quiet, and the ability to display two apps at once is nice. The keyboard is good. One of the things I'd liked about the Thinkpad that'd I'd last had in IBM was the keyboard, which had a solid feeling to it. The Inspiron that this one is replacing had a keyboard with more of a plastic feeling. This one also has more vents, which keep it from getting hot, which means that the fan comes on less often. So, not the best choice, but over all not bad. I'm pleased.

Once again Christmas has come upon us with a bit of a surprise. Neither of us was emotionally ready. I think that we still retain the feeling of there being about six months between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Would have been better with snow, or even with cold (its about forty degrees out, right now.) We had some ferocious winds and rain the other night, but that died after about an hour. Even my daughter feels the lack of 'Christmas' as an event. She goes back to school a week from tomorrow, and she's already thinking about it. So am I, for that matter -- I see my mento the day after school starts. I am not really looking forward to that. I'd asked him to just look at one of the chapters of his book, but I doubt strongly he'll do it. All I can do is suggest, I guess. I did talk with the teacher he doesn't like, and while he's probably off base with the idea that she doesn't like him, he's probably not wildly off base.

Not doing much reading lately. Maybe on the way up to my MIL's home, assuming I go. I'm also about baked out, which surprises me a little, as I didn't really make all that much. Not that I wanted to make dozens, hundreds, thousands of cookies, but I think I made about three dozen in all, not counting one massive batch of about 50 that I made for my daughter to take in to school. (I asked her how they went; with a little smile, she said 'They're all gone'.) I'd have liked to make more. I also want to bake some bread this week, possibly Thursday. Am I weird that cookies and bread are all I can think of to bake?

Blood sugar's going berserk. I don't know why, and it bothers me a lot. I do what I can do. Not enough, apparently.

XP Trivia

As part of the movement of files from one laptop to the other, I've had to futz with the Windows XP Notification Area. This is one of those things that Microsoft did well... and then apparently said 'Okay, thats done'... except that it wasn't, entirely.

What happened was that the dropdown box in the Behavior column of the Customize Notifications panel stopped dropping down. It wasn't (and isn't) obvious why it stopped; it just did. But I found a post that talked about how to make the silly thing work, anyway.

What you do is select the Taskbar/Properties/Customize option (Customize won't appear unless Hide Inactive Icons is checked), which brings up the Customize Notifications screen. Select the line you want to change, then select just the dropdown box. If the dropdown doesn't drop down, leave the cursor there and hit A on the keyboard. This will (or should: no guarantees) change the text in the box to Always Hide and to Always Show. If you want say 'Hide when inactive', hit H on the keyboard.

Click Apply, and get out of that screen before Windows notices that you've circumvented its stupidity.

Note that if you leave the line, it'll likely show the original value (the one you wanted to change), but its probably changed anyway. Thanks, Microsoft.

Tags: Windows XP Notification Area Customize Cannot Can Not Change Dropdown Always Hide Show

Sunday, December 23, 2007


I'm ready. Not for Christmas to be over ( I wish it'd last longer), but to move on with some things relative to it.

For one, the laptop. I mentioned at length my ruminations about whether we ought to get a new one or not. We finally concluded that this one was getting ready to croak, so we ought to keep the one that arrived despite being cancelled (and the docking station, equally cancelled, arrived, too. Dell seems to have either a real problem with how they handle cancellations or a flat out refusal to accept the idea). In the period since then, I've had three times when it took multiple tries to get the laptop to start. Normally, its about four tries out of ten, it starts as it ought to; three tries, I have to futz with it, either killing it and restarting, or doing the 'flex the case' trick; two tries, plug it in, mess with the battery, flex the case, swear. But in the last six times I've turned it on, three of the startups were of that last type. Plus, some of the keys are starting to stick -- which is why every so often my sentences don't have a period, or have unusual spelling. So, yeah, keep the laptop. And its not entirely bright eyed optimism to think "This is the chance to take those backups that I've been making of this laptop and apply them to the new one. Lets see if the backup methodology really works." My daughter, incidentally, was hot to trot to take this laptop until we said that she could, but either she'd have to use it in public areas only, or let me put Cybersitter back on it. That funked her out (technical term).

For another, Christmas songs. I like them, I do. But some need to be either taken out and shot, or Played Just Once. In either category, anything sung by Bing Crosby. I can't listen any more. Perhaps The Younger Generation can handle it, but not me. Quiet carols, sure. Not Old CroonerHead. I told my daughter about his public face versus the private persona that emerged after his death, and she was astonished. It wasn't like now, I said, where, oh, the stupidity and bad luck and bad choices of a certain female actor get splashed across the world virtually at the same moment. Back then, the public simply didn't know. All in all, I prefer it this way, I think.

Baking. I am enjoying doing all of it, and I'm looking forward what's still to do. But I think I'm getting just a tad burned out. Part of it is irritation -- I made some crepe batter this morning (my daughter loves them), and first I was ticked because I still don't quite know how hot the pan should be -- not glowing like the sun, I know that now -- nor exactly how much butter to use. And then I found that even though I did what they said, mixing the batter by hand, it was lumpy. Next time, by god, the mixer -- the heck with the purists. Or maybe one of those hand held mixers, if I can find a cheap one. I know, these are problems of the idle rich. Hey, does this mean I'm rich?

At least we got all of the decorations out that we wanted -- lights in front of the house and on either side of the garage; two trees, both decorated; a couple of wreaths; roping along the front railing of the house. I even took the poster that my daughter made for Thanksgiving, the one with the turkey head looking balefully at the cooked turkey, and the cheerfully hand-lettered banner 'HAPPY THANKSGIVING' and modified it so that it said 'HAPPY THANchristmasVING'. And right now Mannheim Steamroller's Christmas is playing, to the off-key accompaniment of the clanking in the dishwasher. This is goodness.

Merry pre-Christmas, y'all.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Black Helicopters

Every so often I read something on one web site or another that suggests (some flat out say) that we are heading for a major social upheaval. They say that Bush and Co will bring about a totalitarian state with a bogus emergency that would keep them in power indefinitely. Elections will resume when it is safe and prudent to do so. The Constitution will be held in abeyance until it is deemed safe to return to its provisions. Such people point to rumors of plans to use Blackwater as a paramilitary police force; rumors of plans to use Homeland Security as an internal federal-level police and imprisonment agency. They point to Bush's grandfather (Prescott Bush) and the plans he was involved in to establish a totalitarian government here, and suggest that the desire to do it runs in the blood. Didn't Bush say that having a dictatorship would be better, as long as he was the dictator? Why,yes, he did.

I laugh at these people and their predictions, and yet I can't shake them off. I can't convince myself that they couldn't happen. When I see people like Cheney -- who scares me more than Bush -- I think Yes, actually, they could. The idea of a bogus emergency sounds right up his alley. He's clearly of the opinion the ends - his ends -- justify the means. The idea of Bush acting as if he is above the Constitution has already been demonstrated. That general attitude seems to permeate the government. I see one agency lying to another. I see the orders of federal judges ignored. I see one part using loopholes to do end runs around the other. I see police acting in a more forceful, frequently paramilitary style. I see a virtually impotent Congress. I see bits and pieces, and it scares me. More than I like to admit, it scares me. What the hell are we coming to?

Not liking government officials is one thing. Feeling afraid of them, of what they may do, is something else again. I still think many of the people saying these things are nutcases... but there sure are a lot of them.

Hacking It

This is an excellent article.

Saturday: 3 DTC

Three Days Till Christmas.

Today started off with my daughter in meltdown mode (aka 'drama queen') because we'd gotten the wrong medicine refill for the guinea pig. We'll be getting more on Monday, so she's calm again. She knows that we're getting a replacement laptop, and immediately asked if she could have this one. My wife shot her down on that, but we'll likely set something up where she can be the primary user of this one , subject to certain rules -- such as, she has to use it in a public place, or we put the Cybersitter monitor on it. (She really doesn't like that product.) We'd still be able to use it, and she won't have administrator authority, but thats about it. I think she'd go for that.

Tonight I'm baking some rolls to have with dinner (Hamburger Soup; yum); tomorrow, I make the Tiramisu, and also we'll do crepes again, as well as a simple recipe for cornmeal pancakes. We have two; the second does taste better, but it takes substantially more time and effort to make, so its not worth it to us. Some time in the next week, I intend to make French Bread again.

I'm reading the next chapter in the sixth grade Social Studies book. I'm still surprised to find that its interesting stuff. Perhaps I just have a sixth-grade mind? It's certainly written with an American attitude -- Democracy is Good, Other Forms of Government are -- well, Not Good, and Probably Bad.

Not much going on in the world of commenting, I see. I haven't gotten any lately, and I've left precious few, too. Speaking of netstuff, sometimes I mull over getting a domain name that I can use to host this blog. No special reason; certainly no need, unless I moved it from Blogger, which I don't intend to do. Still, its an occasionally interesting thought.

Friday, December 21, 2007


Dis and Dat. Not Dungeons and Dragons. Do people still play that?

Went to the supermarket today. I feared it would be crowded, and it was, fairly so; lots of him and her couples -- hims wander aimlessly or push the cart; hers tell him what to put in it; occasionally you get interesting conversations like "Hey, look at that, we should get that"; "Thats not what we normally buy, this is; its the same thing but it costs less" ; "Yeah, but this looks really good!". Also lots of old people, movin' slow. I have no great problem with that; I'll be doing that sooner than I think, I expect. I do have a problem when they put the damn cart over here, and stand over there, so as to maximize their use of space. Sometimes its while they're getting something, and taking their time to study the alternatives; sometimes, its just so they can stand and stare in blank befuddlement at the vast array of goods presented by the American Consumer System, as presented by Giant Food Stores: (Their motto: Just Because You Like It Doesn't Mean We'll Keep Selling It. ).

It occurred to me, watching these people, that a supermarket is a highway system, with offramps and billboards and traffic flow, complete with choke points and phantom traffic blockages. I found myself thinking 'They need a lay-by here to handle the people parking their cart while they go forage'. Express lanes in the aisles would be nice, too. I just want beans, for god's sake; do I HAVE to slog through all those people looking at the ten thousand kinds of tomato pastes?

But I got it done.

Kind of bummed: I was reading The Autobiography of Santa Claus and had to bring it back to the libe; someone else had requested it. Its kind of an interesting book. You can almost believe it's real.

I learned recently that an acquaintance of mine, a cardiologist, has dozens of different heart-shaped objects scattered over her desk. Bet she'd like this page.

An article in The Age says that US researchers from Harvard School of Public Health see no indication that the protocols used in security screening actually do any good. I'm not a defender of 'take off your shoes' thinking, but I do suspect they're missing the point of restricting inherently dangerous items which could easily be used by a malefactor -- even if the TSA's response does include the seriously bogus observation that 'more than thirteen million' prohibited items have been confiscated. Handkerchiefs! Let's make handkerchiefs prohibited! Just the ones with, umm, monograms!!!

Personally, I'm in favor of a government floor to airline ticket prices. I don't suspect that'd be too popular, though the airlines would like it. I'd also like to have the Privileged Traveler Gets An Express Line Through Security junked, too.

Apparently, the latest Spears pregnancy is ricocheting through the culture. This is an interesting Times article about it. The comment in the article about 'you can have sex in the middle of the day ' makes me want to lock my daughter up in a nunnery until she's twenty five. And I really appreciate the support of Hollywood in promoting role models, too.

Next week I make an 'Apple Betty', which I've never made before. A little apprehensive about that. I'll be making brownies, too. And, of course, the tiramisu. I'm really surprised how easy it was. Of course, my presentation is no where near professional standards. Then again, neither is my price!

I want to put out some more lights this afternoon. We are not major light users, but we do like to put out, oh, fifty or sixty gigawatts of multicolored brilliance, so as to dazzle the Russian spy satellites that peer enviously down at us. Think I spent too much time in SAC? Sadly gone, now, but remembered for its amazing ability to blend operational excellence with intensive paranoia. And, of course, their motto: Peace is Our Profession. Usually followed by the muttered codicil "...War is our Hobby."


Tiramisu is good stuff. I won't say its impossible to screw up --- I've had dry ones in restaurants; not sure why, though if I had to guess, I'd say they didn't chill long enough for the filling to incorporate the liquid from the coffee and cheese, not to mention, the booze --- but its difficult.

I will be making it again this weekend. To my surprise, my Italian mother in law likes the idea of us bringing some along. Granted, she wasn't too thrilled with the 'Italian Cheesecake' I made, but what the heck. If she doesn't like it, I know a young girl who will. Who has, in fact, already warned that it might not make it all the way to her grandmother's house.

When we made it, one mistake I made (well, its in the recipe, but I disagree with the recipe) was in the use of coffee with the ladyfingers as an alternative to using espresso. The recipe I used said to 'dip them in the espresso'. I used coffee. Perhaps espresso has a significantly more powerful caffeine kick, but I didn't notice all that much coffee taste. It tasted good, don't get me wrong, but there wasn't a bite to it. So, when I transcribed the recipe, I changed it to say 'soak the ladyfingers briefly' rather than simply dipping them. Before I did that, I searched to see how common this technique was, and came across several that mentioned that tiramisu is also made with sponge cake. Hmmm, I thought, that might be a simple, quick method -- buy a premade sponge cake, slice it in half, mix and apply the paste, hey presto. What could be easier?

Apparently, using Twinkies.


This seems to be a reworking of a Flash Gordon type strip with modern dialogue. It's pretty funny.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


I would venture a guess that one of the three basic descriptions of 'benefits of life indoors' would be the ability to apply or remove heat from food without having to be near a heat or cold source. (The other two, to my mind, are indoor plumbing and internet/cable access. And we can skip the first of those if absolutely needed.)

My mother had been given a George Foreman grill back when they first came out. She didn't like it, so it was regifted to us. We liked it a lot, but we didn't like that the grill plates couldn't be cleaned separately. When the larger GFG came out, we noted that the grill plates were removable. This is goodness, we said, and got one. Then, about a year later, we got a waffle iron. Again, it was a kind of regifting -- my mother in law had bought a new one, we got her old one, and when it finally died, we replaced it with a bigger one. Another instance of applied heat. At the time, the similarity in function between the waffle iron and the grill didn't occur to me.

Two days ago, my wife got some pizzelles from a friend at work (partially 'christmas cheer', partially payback for all the cookies I've sent in). They're not my favorite, but they're not bad. I got to wondering what it takes to make them, and I found this picture. It was immediately apparent that the device to make pizzelles is remarkably similar to a waffle iron, not to mention, the GFG. I got to wondering: is there an adapter you can get for a waffle iron to make pizzelles? Even better: a general purpose 'flat heat source' with interchangeable griddle/ grill/ panini/ waffle/ pizzelle plates, and a dialable heat level? Now that would be nifty...

But for right now, the pizzelle adapter would be just the ticket, I think.

Deep Thoughts

Heavy thoughts this morning.

For starters, my wife and I did something that we hardly ever do -- talked about the Jamie Spears nonsense. We speculated on how a family goes from what was presumably a normal, happy but squabbling, family, to this kind of public -- well, I suppose that 'humiliation' doesn't quite hack it; the parents might well feel that way, but the two daughters don't seem to have much angst about it. Or maybe they do, but their assorted coaches and support staff tell them to smile brightly for the cameras and act - literally - as if all is normal. I reminded her of the comments that Dave Chappelle made when he made his abrupt departure from his comedy program, to the effect that he was surrounded by people whose goal in life was to make him happy by giving him anything he wanted, to the exclusion of people who really did care about him. We both thought that if we were in that environment, it'd be very difficult, damn near impossible, to stay sane and 'normal' -- and thats completely outside of the idea of whats 'normal' for someone in the acting business. We didn't think that the activities and results of the Spears daughters are excusable, but we did think that perhaps they're explainable. Somewhat.

What brought this on was a letter in an advice column that runs in the Washington Post, which we like to read on occasion because the questions tend to be real, and the answers tend to be practical and believable. In this case, the question was 'how do you handle a 7 year old who's cute and precocious, and thinks that he knows it all and can do it all'. The answer, which made sense to us (the gold standard of reasonability) is that you absolutely do not reinforce his cute and precocious actions, and you absolutely do reinforce his successes, pushing (and here's the part that I like; when I came across it in an article on parenting years ago, I thought 'oh, get real' but after a while it began to make sense to me) the idea that his successes aren't 'because he's smart' but 'because he tried hard and stuck with it' -- letting the 'smart' part be implied. We segued pretty naturally from that to the idea of 'if you're talented, and cute, and a teen, how do you maintain your sanity and normality' .

I'm susceptible to that kind of sycophant-like flattery; put another way, I'm willing to listen to things that intellectually I know aren't the best for me -- I got a call this morning from the nurse practitioner I see routinely, answering a question about higher than normal blood sugars I've been seeing since the dental surgery. She said that its a normal reaction to the surgery, not to worry, give it a couple of months. Intellectually, I think what?, because I don't think its normal, and I do think this woman is intellectually lazy (she sees ten thousand 'oh its just a cold' type calls every month); emotionally, I jumped right on the idea of 'oh, I'm not doing anything wrong, its okay, see, she said so'. Yup, you bet.

Why is it that the blogger spell checker doesn't recognize the word 'reasonability' but has 'risibility' as an option? I'd have thought that risibility isn't all that common a word, and reasonabilty is very common.

A second question in that same column was from a woman who said that her primary friend, confidante, associate is her husband, and she tends to forego trying to form relationships with other people -- which she sometimes thinks is abnormal. I was surprised to read it, because, except for the gender, it could have been written by me. I always find it very difficult to get to know people, and, though I dislike admitting it, I find it hard to get to care about other people. I don't think I'm particularly cold -- I find myself worrying, a little, about my mento, for goodness sake -- but I just don't bond with people, as a rule. I just expect too much, I think -- if they aren't immediately fascinating, I don't want to make the effort. I know thats shallow of me.

Last night I made something called a 'caramel crunch' which was pretty easy to make, but a little sloppy; basically, you layer a 9x13 pan with rectangular crackers, make a caramel mix (butter, brown sugar, some other stuff), coat it, then put on a second layer of crackers, and coat that with a mix of peanut butter and melted chocolate, drizzling chopped nuts over it. It's very sweet, but its not a cookie, so I think I'll keep the recipe but not make it again. It reminded me of a recipe that a neighbor gave us which they call 'bark'; its not the stuff you buy in the stores, but its a surprisingly tasty snack food (so much so, I have to consciously limit myself as to how much I take). I think its likely one of those recipes that's circulated through various families for years.

Chocolate Bark

1 sleeve of saltines
1 stick butter
1 stick margarine
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
12oz chocolate chips
M&Ms or nuts -- optional

Cover a jelly roll pan with aluminum foil
Spread the saltines (unbroken) to cover the foil.

Melt the butter and margarine in a saucepan
Add sugars to mixture
Bring to rolling boil, stirring occasionally. Boil for 3 minutes

Pour the mixture over the saltines, spreading evenly.
Bake at 350 for 7 minutes.
Remove from oven and sprinkle the chocolate chips over the saltines
Allow the chips to melt; spread them as evenly as possible over entire pan
Sprinkle with M&Ms and nuts if desired
Cool. Place into freeze for at least an hour until firm
Peel from the foil and break into small pieces.
Best if stored in refrigerator or freezer.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

City of the Broad Shoulders apparently also the City of the Paranoid Officious Bureaucrats.


There was a fire in the old Executive Office Building, across the way from the White House. It was quickly contained, but as this list shows, it was pretty destructive nonetheless:


This afternoon, the White House confirmed that a quickly contained blaze isolated to a storage room utility closet on the on the third floor of the Eisenhower Executive Office building destroyed the following records:

All records pertaining to:

All Executive Branch internal correspondence since January, 2001
All RNC computer servers, back-up servers, and archival back-ups
The original Downing Street Memo and associated notes
Valerie Plame and the White House investigation of the leak
(W.H. UPDATE: no records of Valerie Plame investigation destroyed as there was no investigation)
Bandar Bush
God’s personal correspondence with President Bush including those related to the invasion of Iraq
No-bid Halliburton contracts
War crimes committed by U.S. contractors in Iraq
Troop body armor tests and procurement orders
Jessica Lynch
The pulling down of the Saddam statue by non-Iraqis
All unaccounted for money in Iraq
The "troops" fault to not guard the weapons stockpile in Iraq
Abu Ghraib
Scuttling of the original Abramoff investigation, by the President
Federal court appointees and their qualifications and records
Extraordinary rendition
Negroponte’s activities in Iraq
Judith Miller’s embedded reporting and using her influence to override generals
Bombing Al-Jazeera television
"Mission Accomplished"
Bribing and threatening of journalists and planting of stories in the U.S and Iraq
Stopping the NY Times from revealing White House secret spying on Americans
Jeff Gannon/Guckert
De-baathification and the breakup of the Iraqi army
Swift Boat vets
Terror alerts
Bumper sticker and T-shirt slogan monitoring
Florida 2000 voter suppression
Florida 2000 election over-votes
Bush v. Gore court papers

Democracy in Action

With every failure to follow through on their promises to curtail the war in Iraq, the Democrats are having one effect, at least: they're making me think that perhaps Paul, or even Kucinich, are a viable alternative. They're letting Bush walk all over them, and though they've won some things, they are losing, heavily, on the big one. Given that a Republican minority is cohesive enough to block pretty much anything it doesn't want to see, nothing short of a Democratic landslide is going to give the next president -- whom I assume will be Democratic -- the ability to make substantive changes. Unless, of course, he or she adopts the weasel tactics used by the current weasel-in-chief. They do seem to work...

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


The new laptop arrived.

I really want to send it back. The adult thing would be to send it back. It makes financial sense to send it back. I don't need a new one. Having a new one doesn't make sense while this one still works, and its obvious that a new one can be had very quickly. Keeping it would mean that my daughter gets this laptop, and eventually, sooner than I'd like to think, she'd want to start using the newer one, which would be cleaner, slicker, faster. Newer.

Right now, in my closet, is a box marked Dell. And inside it, a little voice is calling me....
I'm talking myself into it. My wife says she has a slight preference for keeping it -- or she did until I said that yes, this laptop does have a power problem, and it could die to a point where it won't restart -- but that could be in two months or two years. She's willing to do it anyway, if I want to. I'd love to keep it -- I just don't want to pay for it....although, from an existential viewpooint, given that it's been charged to me, I already have....


Its been said that war is the way that Americans learn Geography. Apparently, thats also true about being a mentor

I sat down this morning to read Chapter Six in the Social Studies text used by my mento. How hard can this be, for goodness sake, I thought. It's sixth grade material! So, like a good doobie, I flipped through it, jotting down the titles of the sections (man, will this chapter ever end?), and then going back to read the introductions (yeah, yeah, central america is like a kaleidoscope, got it), and then moving on to actually read, well, skim, the parts. What the heck does a revolution in Cuba have to do with the general topic of The Economy? And isn't it nice how they just skipped over why so many natives died when the Europeans showed up? But I did notice things that I hadn't noticed, first pass through, so I'm thinking Gosh, this method of studying really does work, guess this is why they pushed it back when I was in school. Wish I'd used it then!

And then I come to a quiz, part of which is Locate these Central American Countries on the Map, to which I'm thinking Well, hell, thats a snap, I --

Costa Rica isn't an island? Really?

I'll be damned.


Money's been on my mind, of late.

Yesterday, we went to the drive-up ATM at the local bank, and in back-and-forthing the car (I can't reach all of the buttons for both a deposit (left side/right side) and withdrawal (right side/keypad) and PIN (keypad) because the Prius is low and my left arm doesn't rotate all the way any more. (I wanted the Inspector Gadget model upper arm replacement, but my insurance wouldn't pay for that.) In doing so, I bashed the outer side of the shroud that covers the mirror. (Why exactly thats hard plastic instead of hard rubber, I don't know. Bet its a cost saving thing.) I didn't do major damage, but a piece at the bottom left corner got taken off, plus some along the inner edge. I priced what it might cost, and its around four hundred dollars if they have to replace the whole damn thing. So I went back, found the major chunks, and I'm going to try to superglue them back on. As I'm not particularly handy anyway, and I usually superglue more than I really wanted to, I'm going to have to be very careful doing this.

Also, the shenanigans in the stock market have me concerned. Most of the funds where we have money are down since the last time we looked, at the end of September. Its not a major hit -- about 1.1 percent of our net worth -- but I'm somewhat of a worrier. As a result, I decided to cancel the PC that we'd ordered. I think I would have accepted it anyway -- I'd really like a new one -- but the idiots at Dell sent me a note saying it would not ship until December 26, so when I was quivering about whether to or not, that tipped me over, and I said Cancel It. Whereupon they said, Oh, it shipped yesterday. Hell with it. I have emotionally disengaged from this shiny new gimmick. Apparently, I have to accept the shipment, get a return order, and ship it back -- which is what I will do. My wife is very nice; she said she knows that I use the laptop all the time, so if I wanted to get it anyway, I could -- but right now, money means more to me than the laptop.

And last night my wife showed me a blouse she'd bought from a woman who sells clothing for one of those sell-from-home chains. It's pretty nice. Its not exactly the same as the one I bought for her from Ann Taylor -- but it is the same general style. Argh.... I think if I could easily return it, too, I would -- but which of those boxes is it? And it is pretty nice. And she's worth it. ( Funny thing. I'm perfectly willing to get nothing for Christmas, but I always like to get things for her. It surprises me that she feels the same way about me! ) Okay, I guess it stays.

But for the rest of it, this consumers going to pull his head in for a while.

Not Russian Photos? No.

I'd like to show a photograph here, but it's on a website that's showing it via a Flash player, and I don't know how to capture pictures like that. I'm sure it's possible; I just don't know how to do it. So, here's the website. It's called Red Square Photo, but it has nothing to do with Moscow. At least, I don't think so.

Now, if you click over to it, you may well think that the reason I like the picture is the really cute model in the chair. That's not the reason. It didn't hurt, but the reason is really the contrast between the model's skin and coloring and the texture/coloring of the chair. I was quite taken by that -- the lighting's great; the pose is, too. I know that it takes real talent to be able to do that, so I wanted to point it out.

I was also taken by the layout of the site, so much so that I wondered who'd designed it. So I clicked on the link at the bottom of the page, which is for a company called Group 94 -- and it turns out that their website is atttractive and creatively designed, too.

I can't always describe creative design, but I know what I like.


Sorry, I couldn't resist that title. I know it's been done before. And before. And before.

I read an article this morning on the In From The Cold web site, which is the site of a person who says that he used to be a spy -- his URL is 'Former Spook' -- on the topic of commercial aircraft fuel usage.

I know that the whole experience of flying's gone seriously downhill over the past five years. And thats not even thinking about the airport terminal experience, and the fast-track that privileged travelers can get on their trip through the golden arches of security. Airplanes are crammed with people, and the service on the airplane's notably deteriorated as a result. I knew that for many, its a 'bring your own lunch' operation, but according to the article, its even extended to elimination of magazines on the flight, and even extra ice -- both of which, regardless of their intrinsic value, have weight, and which therefore cost fuel to carry. That fuel cost has spiraled in line with the ones we see at the pump every week.

Apparently, though, there is a slightly optimistic note to that dirge; some airlines are experimenting with a mix of fuels, including a synthetic one, made in Malaysia, which works as well but costs less. According to the article, there's a long way to go before they can be relied on, and they may always be as chancy to get, and almost as pricy, as whats normally used now -- but its a start.

Interesting article.

Monday, December 17, 2007


Today I met two of my mentee's teachers --- subjects where he's been having problems. And I learned a couple of things.

He has the same general style in both classes -- when things get tough, he droops his head and looks like a puppy dog. (He's a small kid) . In the class where he likes the teacher, and feels that he can talk to her, he's improved, somewhat; that teacher knows him outside of school, and she told me that when he puts on his sad face, she chides him, telling him to knock it off. She encourages him, but she doesn't let him be sorry for himself. In the class where he doesn't like the teacher (the one where he's doing very badly), he doesn't talk to her, and she cuts him no slack, doesn't give him any encouragement. She thinks he is slacking. In fact, when I was talking to her, another teacher came up, and she said to her that we were talking about this student, and the other one said, Oh, him... whereupon they both agreed that he was low motivation and low ability. I really wanted to ask them how it was that he improved in classes he liked, but I thought that wouldn't go over so well.

So I learned some stuff.

In talking with the mentee today, I also was reminded that he knows he has this 'cute little kid' look, and he uses it to try to avoid committment. You asking poor little me to do that stuff? I need to be wary of that. But right now -- well, tonight -- I need to read the Social Studies material he's getting tomorrow. We're going to talk about it.

Star Frasier

Not great, not bad....


This film is not at all what I thought it would be.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


I am always glad that my wife and I are fairly conservative, financially, and that we saved a lot of both salaries as often as we could. It makes riding out this currently bumpy market, and the one that people say is coming, a lot easier on the mind. Not easy -- I worry -- but easier.

...and this is a TOY???

This is relevant, as is this.


We went out for a walk. We knew it'd be cold, so we bundled up.

We got one block, watching pieces of ice fall from the trees, shattering on the ground where we were headed, felt the icy bite of the howling wind -- and went straight home.


I think that I'm starting to become addicted to the idea of baking. All I need to do is see something like this and I think Hey, I could try that!

I wonder if there are ten step programs for people with this malady?

Docs R Us

I was reading an article from last Sunday's Washington Post on physician-owned hospitals, and how they might get greater scrutiny soon regarding their operations. A POH is exactly what it says -- a hospital thats owned by doctors, rather than by an organization thats in the business of running hospitals, such as Humana. (Are they even still around?)

A POH tends to be focused on specific kinds of care, and therein lies the rub. Because, on one side, a hospital (or a doctor, or pretty much anyone providing any kind of skilled service, medical or not) that focuses on delivery of a specific service tends to get pretty good at it. Success rates go up, complications go down. Knowledgeable consumers look for these high-volume places because they know that the odds of getting a good result are better than if they go to a local hospital, no matter how generally good that local hospital might be. There's probably a crossover point, where they do too many, and volume matters more than quality (I'm thinking: McDonalds), but I have to admit I've never heard of this happening to a hospital. And its certainly true that general hospitals (well, anything, really) tend to get better when they have to -- because competition just showed up.

The flip side is -- well, if you go to a guy who does transmission repairs, and you ask him to evaluate a funny noise in your car, what's the odds that he'll think it might be something with the transmission, better take a look? And if he happens to own a company that does transmission repair, $349 complete, whats the odds he'll send you to his own company, rather than another, regardless of whether the other does a provably better job or not? Meanwhile, what happens to the transmission part of the workload at the general purpose mechanic's shop? And what if the transmission business was helping the general purpose mechanic offer some free services, like, oh, maps and washing the car when he's done, no matter what he worked on? So the transmission guy, he's getting rich, but the guy who provides the range of services, not so much. Is this a good thing?

Thats the dilemma. If you just care about results, you go to the place that does it the best. (Leaving aside: how do you judge a hospital's performance? What if one out of four patients die? Pretty bad, right? But what if the hospital in question only handles the really tough cases, where a one in two death rate is normal? Now it doesn't look so bad, does it? And all of that assumes you have statistics, and can interpret them -- both hard to come by.) But if you care about how the general purpose hospital, or mechanic, does, thinking that its a good thing for the community as a whole, then maybe you go to the general purpose hospital. (How many POHs have an emergency room? Not many. How many general purpose hospitals do? Lots. Think they make enough money from the service to offer it? Nope, not usually. So how do they pay for it? By offering other services, like cancer treatments, that they can make a profit on. Now, how do you think they feel when Cancer Docs R Us opens up across the street?)

My gut feeling is that I don't like POHs, but I know that its because I don't like rich doctors. Competence, success -- those I like, quite a lot. Relative to an earlier post -- its sort of like the difference between the decent public school and the provably better private school. If you thought the private one was better for your child, and you could afford it -- where would you send him or her?

Go ahead, I'll wait.

I See Icy


How do you motivate someone?

If it's an adult, you can motivate them by presenting something to them that is so desirable that they're willing to take action to get it, achieve it, acquire it. The action would have to be proportional to the worth of the benefit. No one would undertake a marathon to earn a chocolate chip cookie. If they see value in what's being offered, if they see that the effort they'd need to put out (personal, physical, financial) is 'worth it' to them -- they'll do it. That's not a straightforward algorithm, of course; else, Madison Avenue might be known for something great, and not for being the home of advertising and hucksterism. (When was the last time you heard the word 'huckster'?)

But what if it's a kid?

I have occasion to think about that because (once again) I've been mulling over how to motivate the kid who's my mentee. This morning, I had the chance to think about it a little more, and though I don't have an answer, I am glad for the opportunity.

My daughter had done disappointingly in her last marking period, achieving second honors instead of first. It was blindingly obvious to her that I was disappointed in her performance. I told her that if this continued, she would not be able to stay in Color Guard. Today, when I told her that I was going to talk with my mentee tomorrow about his interim grades, she looked up, startled, and said Oh, Yeah!, darted over to her bookbag to get her own interim grade sheet. The good news is, it likely would have gotten her first honors, not second, if they gave them out for interim grades. The bad news is, 'likely'. Two As, four high B's, one not yet released. What did I think, she asked with some apprehension -- adding, 'Other than I have to get them up a little bit?' Yes, I said, thats exactly what I would have said. (Which isn't, exactly, but close enough.) She lit right up. 'Oh, good', she said. 'Because I know that if I didn't do well, you'd tell me I had to stop being in color guard, and I really want to do color guard.' She’s motivated to do well because this is important to her.

But how do I instill, nurture, foster this attitude in my mentee? How do I make him care, believe in his own ability, and be willing to put the effort into making it happen?

(And, as a side note: how do you encourage useful and productive communication with teachers? Because I'm really not happy with what I see here -- and I get the feeling these people are doing pretty well at it, all things considered.But there's got to be a 'best practice' center, wouldn't you think? And not just one that only works with a 10:1 student:teacher ratio? Or a major endowment? )

(And as another: I just asked my daughter if some teachers are better than others, and she said yes, definitely. Why? I asked. Because they make it interesting, she said. They don't just read from the book, or act as if they're just reading from the book. How do you reward a teacher like that? Seriously, how?)


The big tree is up, and decorated. The medium tree is up, and probably as decorated as it's going to get. The little tree is up, and its even got lights on it, which, seeing as its about a foot tall, is saying something. The white lamppost has red plastic ribbon wrapped around the upper half (I wanted to barber-pole stripe it, but it's cold out there, so cold and wet that the duct tape I was going to use to secure it wouldn't hang on), and there's a big, floppy red bow, too. Still to come: at least one big wreath, to go on the garage, between the doors, and I'd like to get roping, but I don't know if I will. Christmas music is playing -- yes, even the Diana Krall one of which I spoke earlier. Last night we made tiramisu; this morning, crepes (which weren't great, but its the spirit of the thing, you know?) And the fake pile of gift boxes that we made last year and stuck outside, and never got around to throwing out, is outside again. And, oh yeah, this afternoon or tomorrow, I'll be baking macaroons.

What I'm saying is: Christmas has been built at our household.

Saturday, December 15, 2007


I finally made a tiramisu. I don't exactly know how it'll taste, but by god, its done. And actually, it kind of looks pretty good, even if I did have to edge in the last piece on an angle. Turns out those ladyfingers are 4.4 inches long, which doesn't work real well for two rows in an 8 inch tray....
Not bad. Would have been better had it sat overnight (as the remains are doing now) so that the cheese mixture could soften the ladyfingers more (isn't it odd that softening is the goal, yet you want crisp ones to start?); also, I think that just dipping one side of the wafers didn't provide much 'coffee kick'. But for a first shot, not at all shabby, I think....

Chocolate Chipping

This is the most intriguing description of creating Chocolate Chip cookies that I have ever read.

What Would Ronald Do?

From the Boing Boing site --

McDonald's fines UK drive-thru eaters £125 for staying more than 45 min

Posted by Cory Doctorow, December 12, 2007 11:33 PM
McDonald's restaurants in the UK have put license-plate cameras in their drive-through parking lots. The cameras watch how long you eat for; if you go over 45 minutes, a fine is sent to your house automatically, charging you £125, and if you don't pay, the fine goes up and up and up.

The company that manages McDonald's car parks, Civil Enforcement, also works with a string of other blue-chip companies. BP used it until recently to monitor some of its petrol station forecourts.

One motorist, Jamie Thomson, told the Guardian of his experience at a McDonald's near Gatwick: "I ordered a burger, chips, a doughnut, coke and coffee. I sat in my car eating my lunch, and listening to the radio. After eating, I continued to sip my coffee for a time, and ate my doughnut. Then I left. All perfectly normal." He says he was in his car for about an hour. Several weeks later, he received a letter from Civil Enforcement demanding £125, or £75 if the charge was paid quickly. At first Thomson, a businessman from Sussex, did not even realise that he was being charged for spending too long at McDonald's, as the notice gave only a partial address.

It would be funny (a little) to say that this is clearly a sign of the Apocalypse, but it is certainly a sign of the destruction of society and its inherent civilities. Probably Dick Cheney, branching out. I'd bet there's some unreported backstory to this -- the MickeyD's in question has a problem with vagrants camping out in the parking lot; they don't have a big parking lot and need to move people right along; they clearly marked that the parking lot in question was for transient use -- but the bottom line is, this is tacky and rude.

Whatever happened to outraged letters to the Times? Were I a McD customer, I'd take my business elsewhere. (Yeah, like thats going to have an effect on them.) But if hundreds, thousands were to knock off their MickeyD fix? Even a single day, I'd think, would grab their attention.... and be good for your arteries, too. Hmmm.....


I found this on the Best Pics Around website. I quite like it.

When I was younger, I took flying lessons for a while. I quit when I realized that even in the wide-open spaces of South Dakota, flying just a tiny Cessna 150, I really was somewhat of a danger to other aircraft. Sure did like doing touch-and-goes, though. And on one of the trips I was fortunate enough to take to Australia, I rode in the cockpit for a while. Qantas would let you do that, then; surely not, now (thanks, terrorists, for sucking that bit of joy from the world). It was quite the experience to sit way the hell at the front of the aircraft, nothing in front or below you but the Pacific Ocean. Turns out 747 cockpits are quite chilly, and noisy, too. I suppose thats a good thing, if it keeps the pilots awake!


I don't need a snow plow. But if I ever get one, this is the one I want.


I'm in kind of a flaky mood today.

I want to write things; I can't be bothered to write. I want to read one of the four books lying around; I can't be bothered to read anything new. I want to bake; I can't be bothered to look up a recipe (yes, even the one for Macaroons, which I want to make. More accurately, want to have made.) And I want to put up Christmas lights know the drill. My brain feels like an engine that just won't start. Open the clutch, give it a little gas...c'mon baby, start, start already, you can do -- C'MON ALREADY, START!!!!


Friday, December 14, 2007


I'm not a thief.

That little misunderstanding at the First Federal Bank and Trust, which was really just me asking the guard for directions to the nearest house of worship, and not, as he so inaccurately relayed to the SWAT people, snarling to get down on the damned floor before I blew off his head, and those of the tellers, too, notwithstanding, I am not a thief.

The unfortunate miscommunication that resulted in the summoning of the local police department, in force, simply because I tried to tell the driver of the armored car that his headlights were out, and not, as he relayed to Channel Four News, that I would punch out his damned lights if he didn't open up the back of the truck, and right the hell now, too, to the contrary, I am not a thief.

And while some people might have concluded that I was grabbing that woman's purse and sprinting away with it in an attempt to steal it, what I was in fact doing was attempting to take it from an actual thief so that I could return it to its rightful owner; not, as the mall security people claimed their cameras showed, grabbing it, pushing the elderly owner down the escalator, and heading for the exit, because those would be the actions of a thief, and as I say, I am not a thief.

So when I express ire, irritation, and anger at spending my money for a Diana Krall "Christmas Songs" CD , only to find that the corporation which created it, Universal Music, boldly marked on the back that stealing was a CRIME, and coupling it with the logo of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, you will understand that this is the righteous anger of someone who despises that sort of corporate police state nannyism, and not the inadvertent flinching of a thief. Because, as you know, I am not a thief.

But if I can figure out how to clone this CD, and thereby damage Universal in some respect, without damaging Diana Krall (whom I like quite a lot) -- I'll see about becoming one.



Thursday, December 13, 2007

Grab Bag

When you turn on a laptop, it ought to be immediately usable, like the ones in the movies. Do you ever see a movie character pull out the laptop and have to wait for Windows or Leapin Lizard Leppard to boot? Nope, its just there. Thats what I want. It gets worse when what I want is secondary, as when I want to write something here but have to wait until Blogger feels like starting up. I think if anything ever convinces me to buy a web site, that'd be it. Of course, then I'd find that owning the domain and using some other package doesn't guarantee pure writing satisfaction, either.

Wonder if there are people who make a living making your PC work your way? Most of us, we learn to live with it, but I bet the truly wealthy don't. Its like this new laptop that we're getting. I just know I am going to have to spend time rearranging the menu to look the way I want, and deleting the crap that Dell will put there. Why is that?

I need a new printer. Okay, okay, I WANT a new printer. Every year I get the lexmark christmas card envelope blues, where the lexmark, which usually does an okay but not outstanding job, jams multiple times. I want a decent inkjet printer that won't jam. And can print in color. And can handle stiff cards without bending them. Price is an object (sure!) but not a big one. But try and figure out which ones really work and are usable, from reviews on Cnet or wherever. Even physically going and seeing them them doesn't really hack it -- and Staples is NOT set up to let you try them out.

I have got to read the two books I ordered up from the library before the next one arrives (one should be easy, as its about Santa, but the other is politics, and the third is medical information systems), and I have really got to get back to that book about Abraham Lincoln's cabinet, which I was enjoying even though it was heavy going. Got to!

Swarm intelligence and emergent behavior are really interesting, and I wish I knew more about them. Not just knew, but understood. That National Geo article was fascinating. I knew some of it, but much, like the part about the foragers versus the scouts, I had no idea. I am in awe of people who can take those ideas and apply them to real world events. One company took the idea of how ants figure out where the most effective places to go for food are and applied it to a method of maximizing revenue from fuel sales. And the thing is, like Sherlock Holmes, once its explained, its pretty obvious. Its like finding someone who says yeah, I was eating Rice Krispies and I got to thinking about why they make that crackling sound, and I realized that its probably a wavefront phenomena where the milk hits the air inside the individual rice bit... and that made me wonder why you couldn't do that to make a laser's cutting edge more focused. Pretty obvious, in retrospect! You just need that little paradigm shift, is all...

My wife sent me this, from a viral email:

Apple announced today that it has developed a breast implant that can store and play music. The I-Boob will cost $499 or $599 depending on cup size; stereo for only $200 additional. This has been hailed as a major breakthrough because women are always complaining about men staring at their breasts and not listening to them.

I told her I would take two.

I'm still fixated on this mentor thing. I need to find out if its okay and expected to not push the kid... because thats what I think he needs. I hate being someone who wonders 'is it okay for me to do that?', both from the idea of 'would it be effective' and 'would the organization allow me to do that?'

We got the Christmas tree in the house and in the stand. Yay!

Bad Call

The day's only a third over, so there's still a decent chance, but at the moment, it looks like today is the first Bad Call of the school season.

In response to a forecast of sleet and freezing rain, school was delayed two hours, then cancelled for the day before it started. At the moment, its raining lightly; about an hour ago, it was raining heavily. There are icicles on some of the trees, but the roads are fine -- no slick spots, no icy accumulation.

My daughter hates days like this, because she loses on multiple fronts. Its too cold to go out, and she knows that staying in the house means I, my wife (who's working from home today), or both will nag -- I mean, speak firmly -- about cleaning up her room, working on projects, taking care of the guinea pigs. This is a clear contravention of her right to watch Nickelodeon or Animal Channel all day. We're mean that way.


Parking. Usually, it's easy. Sometime's, it's tricky. And sometimes....

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

NG not NG?

I tend to think that National Geographic is a useless magazine. I formerly read it, lo, these many years ago, when it told me things that I didn't know, and found mildly interesting. These days, it seems to just want to tell me how horrible things are, and how if I am not careful, and even if I am, I'll pick up some vile disease, die impoverished, or get squashed by an asteroid. And thats just for starters. So, as far as I'm concerned, NG is No Good.

And then I see this article about Swarm Theory on their website, and I think: Hmmm!

Muppet Logic

I just came across this comic strip, and I like its logic.

Ron Paul

I'm not a Ron Paul fanatic. I believe that goverment implies leadership, and leadership is more good than bad. There's a role for government to play in overcoming the nastiness that comes out of nature just being a bitch, and people just being nasty, period. There are functions performed by government which ought to be done. It doesn't matter that they aren't in the Constitution, because the Constitution is a set of guidelines, coupled with some absolutes, not a set of absolutes, period. When Mr. Paul (and thank you for not calling yourself Doctor, sir, even though you are, when you're acting as a politician, not a doctor) -- when he says that it's in the Constitution or its gone, I disagree strongly. The world isn't that simple.

But I like him more than I dislike him, because, man, he surely does say some interesting things.


From Terry Pratchett's web site --



I would have liked to keep this one quiet for a little while, but because of upcoming conventions and of course the need to keep my publishers informed, it seems to me unfair to withhold the news. I have been diagnosed with a very rare form of early onset Alzheimer's, which lay behind this year's phantom "stroke".

We are taking it fairly philosophically down here and possibly with a mild optimism. For now work is continuing on the completion of Nation and the basic notes are already being laid down for Unseen Academicals. All other things being equal, I expect to meet most current and, as far as possible, future commitments but will discuss things with the various organisers. Frankly, I would prefer it if people kept things cheerful, because I think there's time for at least a few more books yet :o)

Terry Pratchett

PS I would just like to draw attention to everyone reading the above that this should be interpreted as 'I am not dead'. I will, of course, be dead at some future point, as will everybody else. For me, this maybe further off than you think - it's too soon to tell. I know it's a very human thing to say "Is there anything I can do", but in this case I would only entertain offers from very high-end experts in brain chemistry.



I've now had two teachers tell me that they think my mentee has a reading deficit, and that he gives up easily. When I ask him what he's doing in those subjects, he says he doesn't really know. When I ask the teachers, they say they told him, and that he should know. When I ask him what he proposes to do, he says he'll ask them....though I doubt he will. I know that kids know when an adult wants a specific answer. I also know that sometimes its not as easy for a kid to do something as an adult thinks it'll be. But the bottom line I'm getting is that this kid doesn't really try, and I don't know if I'm supposed to motivate him. Apparently, the assumption is that 'just by showing up, I do that' -- but I have serious doubts about that.

I am confused, and more than a little pissed.

Making a Mess

You can always tell when I've been baking. There's somewhat of a mess. Powdered sugar mixes with powdered cocoa. Multiple sets of mixing spoons, bowls, spatulas (spatulae?). The bottle of vanilla, cap missing, is behind the container of salt, its lid up; the bag of dried cherries sits next to the bag of confectioners sugar; the two glass bowls that held mixed coffee mixture and eggs (separately) are on the stove; and, of course, the big mixer bowl and its attachments, awash with the remains of the mixture.

The result:

Not bad.

The one on the lower left is what happens when you're thinking of something else and let the edge of the baking tray catch the edge of the oven as you're lifting them out to admire. But its still edible!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Mo Baking Mo Better

I'll be doing more baking tomorrow. Two different kinds of cookies, again -- this time, 'Black Forest Crinkle Cookies' and 'Almond Joy Macaroons' (though the name of the second one is a bit misleading). Both can be found here, though I'm working from what I assume are the original recipes in a collection of Cuisine magazine recipes.

My approach is simple -- I'm reading through the collection; as I find something that looks good, I make it. If it works out, the recipe gets copied, and I move on. If it doesn't look like fun, or its a pain, I skip it. When I'm done, I'll toss the magazine. The goal is to end up with a dozen or so 'holiday' cookie recipes.

Those jellied 'thumbprint' cookies turned out pretty well -- I was nervous about them, as when they were in the refrigerator, they were like little rocks -- but as soon as they warmed up on the counter, they were fine. (Though my daughter won't touch them -- she thought it unnatural that she could turn a chilled one upside down and the jelly didn't run. I spoke knowingly of viscosity and such, but she wouldn't have them.) And the 'cocoa slices' worked out well, but not outstandingly. For one, the slices were way too thick. I may bake a couple more tomorrow, see how slicing them thinner plays out. I tossed the Black and White cookies recipe. This is supposed to be fun, not work.

I get to bring the GP to the vet tomorrow, and swing by the high school to pick up some fund raiser purchases. And maybe do a little cleaning. Should be a low-stress day.


I frequent a web site called Worse Than Failure: Curious Perversions in Information Technology. I hope you don't have to be a geek to like it, because I think that it's a wonderful site -- and the story they tell today is mind-staggering. That is, unless you're a manager-droid, in which case, not.

Sign This

Some years ago, I read of an author -- I think it was Isaac Asimov, but I'm not sure -- who commented that he'd just spent a couple of hours signing several hundred sheets of paper. The papers would be bound into special copies of one of his books as 'autographed editions'. I happen to think that autographs are silly, but in a way I understand it -- it's a direct connection from you to an author you like. I have a copy of one book (Thinking in Time) that I liked, and in it there's a brief thank-you note from the author for something I wrote to him. The damn thing is at least twenty years old, and I still keep it. So I do understand the idea. But am I wrong in thinking that this -- signing blank pieces of paper, not associated with a book until its made -- is a fraud at worst, and tacky at best? What about this concept, from the people who put out the Freakonomics blog? At least its clear that they didn't physically hold the book in question, but doesn't it also contravene the concept?

And -- should there be a digital version of autographs? How would that work? Would it be a time-specific digital signature, somehow keyed to specific manual actions of the person in question (else, anyone could just run the program that makes the digital signature)?

Do I have too much spare time? If so, why haven't my Christmas cards been sent out yet?

Monday, December 10, 2007


With the possible exception of one thing for my daughter, my shopping's done.

This year, I remembered to write a list of what I bought my wife, so that I would put it all out (not that theres all that much). One year, she found a wrapped package in, I think, March.

Wrapped. Hmm...Do we have wrapping paper?


I'm not a fan of Twitter, and I don't particularly care if I ever get a Wii, but I do like the intelligent use of automated agents, and this is certainly that. Not bad at all....

There's a little bit of background information here.

Thinking About Santa

I'm not sure why I play Santa. I know why I enjoy it, but not the motivation behind it. I'm thinking about that because I'd like to expand doing it, but I'm not sure what I mean by that.

It could be that I mean simply doing the same thing at more venues -- at hospitals, nursing homes, private residences. It could mean doing it at the same number of venues, but somehow bringing more depth to it -- knowing more about what the kids are thinking about, or being a physically better Santa (for one, getting a better beard, one that looks more plausible, would be nice), or somehow reaching the kids who don't get the chance to see Santa because they're unable to get out. I don't think I mean by that going to downtrodden areas, but I'm not sure. I like the idea of doing that, but I'm not sure if I have the moral fortitude to do it.

Part of it is that I'm not sure what I mean by 'being a better Santa'. (Thoughts on what makes a 'good' Santa would be appreciated, if you'd care to share them.)

I'm not sure what I'd want to get out of it -- whats my motivation; am I looking for adulation, to earn money, to improve the quality of life for some kids, certain kids, all kids. This isn't a life or death thing, but in a weird way, its important. The Santa experience is a transient one, but I really like being able to make it worthwhile for kids, and if I can expand it, and know why I'm doing it, I'd like to.

I think.

Sunday, December 09, 2007


Don't you hate it when you get this error?


I have had an interesting afternoon.

In the middle of the afternoon, I remade part of the recipe for those striped cookies, because I was not at all happy with how the first ones turned out. I learned that a quarter inch is about as thin as I could get them, but that was too thin for me to be able to manipulate them -- they broke apart quickly. Something on the order of three eighths of an inch gave me enough bulk, but then it was too thick to stack the way the recipe showed. I also learned that the chocolate makes it more flexible, to my surprise, and sweeter -- just eating a cookie made dough was quite bland. So, I feel better. I haven't made the cookies the way they showed, but I am closer, and I like that.

And then my wife and I took a walk in the drizzle, which was nice, but for the fact that it might be why I was briefly sick this afternoon. Not at all sure. I'd made dinner -- something we like and my daughter grudgingly tolerates -- but by the time we were ready to eat, I had no energy, and felt out of it. I thought it was a low blood sugar thing -- I'd checked, and it was okay, though low -- but the net was that I couldn't bring myself to eat. So I staggered into the bedroom, flipped on the electrical blanket, and laid down -- then popped up again and sat on the edge of the bed, waiting to see if I was going to be sick. It was touch and go, but I wasn't -- and I did fall asleep, though only for about half an hour. After which, I went out and ate Rice Krispies and toast for dinner. For some reason, I was really hungry.

We're in a bit of an automotive bind at the moment. Our van is in the shop while they try to figure out why the check engine light comes on recurringly -- but doesn't stay on more than a day. And on Tuesday, we're supposed to drop the Prius off to get the all-season tires put on -- which, given that its raining now, and the temperature is dropping, sounds like a real good idea to us. One of us, probably me, may end up doing a fair amount of shuttling back and forth over the next two days, and maybe even hanging around Toyota while they put the tires on. We also need to find out if a friend, who just bought a Prius, would like those tires -- I'm a little irritated at just getting rid of six month old tires. Well, six months to us, but certainly not much more than that. But I don't want to go the route of putting an ad in the paper, waiting around for someone to call, all of that.

Am I the only person to think 'Well, duh!" at a headline in yesterdays paper noting that every year there are fewer former military people who were at Pearl Harbor?

And now I think I'll read a little.

Insert Title Here

I occasionally mention here that I believe Christians can be just as smug, self-righteous, and downright stupid as any other religion, Islamic, Jewish, or whatever. I don't usually use those words, but it's what I think.

As the most current proof, I offer this: a minister is suing the city council of, I believe, Alexandria, Virginia, for the right to lead the council in Christian prayer. He says that denying him this ability is a contravention of the Constitution and a denial of -- oh, the hell with it. I can't even repeat his nonsense without gagging. It makes me almost literally nauseous.

This is exactly the kind of (insert coarse characterization here) that leads to religious tit-for-tat, aka the Rise of the (Religious Right) (Religious Left) (NonReligious Army) (Moral Majority) (Islamic Jihad), and is precisely that which separation of church and state is supposed to avoid. Engaging in acts of religious observance is great if you want to; forcing other to do so is not.

Why don't these (insert incredibly coarse adverb here) people get it?

I know why. Really, I do. It's because (Insert Deity Name Here) is On Their Side. Right?

(Insert intensely exasperated pejorative here).

Saturday, December 08, 2007

There's No Ease in Cookies

At least, not these cookies. But they are very good (quite sweet, too) ...the few that I managed to get to come out looking at least a little like the illustration in the magazine.

The recipe is from Cooking Light; modified by me to address some of the problems I had with it. The original recipe can be found here.

Black and White Striped Cookies

Vanilla dough:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (about 5 1/2 ounces)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons ice water

Chocolate dough:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour (about 3 1/3 ounces)
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 large egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons ice water

Vanilla Dough:
Lightly spoon 1 1/4 cups flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife.
Combine 1 1/4 cups flour and 1/8 teaspoon salt, stirring well with a whisk.
Place 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 cup butter, and 1 egg yolk in a medium bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until smooth.
Beat in 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla.
Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture, beating at low speed just until combined.
Sprinkle 2 tablespoons ice water over surface of dough; beat just until moist.(Dough will be slightly crumbly.)
Press dough into a 4-inch circle or 3x2 rectangle on plastic wrap; cover and chill 1 hour or until firm.

Chocolate Dough:
Lightly spoon 3/4 cup flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife.
Combine 3/4 cup flour, cocoa, and 1/8 teaspoon salt, stirring well with a whisk.
Place 1 cup sugar, 1/4 cup butter, and 1 egg yolk in a medium bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until smooth.
Beat in 1/2 teaspoon vanilla.
Gradually add cocoa mixture to butter mixture, beating at low speed just until combined.
Sprinkle 2 tablespoons ice water over surface of dough; beat just until moist.
Press dough into a 4-inch circle or 3x2 rectangle on plastic wrap; cover and chill 1 hour or until firm.

Slightly overlap 2 sheets of plastic wrap on a slightly damp surface.
Unwrap and place chilled vanilla dough on plastic wrap.
Cover dough with 2 additional sheets of overlapping plastic wrap.
Roll dough, still covered, into a 12 x 8-inch (or so) rectangle. Dough should be about a quarter inch thick.
Place dough in freezer 5 minutes or until plastic wrap can easily be removed.

Slightly overlap 2 sheets of plastic wrap on a slightly damp surface.
Unwrap and place chilled chocolate dough on plastic wrap.
Cover dough with 2 additional sheets of overlapping plastic wrap.
Roll dough, still covered, into a 12 x 8-inch (or so) rectangle. Dough should be about a quarter inch thick.
Place dough in freezer 5 minutes or until plastic wrap can easily be removed.

*Lightly* flour a cutting board.
Take both doughs from freezer.
If necessary, trim the doughs so that they are the same size.
Remove top sheets of plastic wrap.
Place vanilla dough on top of chocolate dough, plastic wrap side up.
Remove plastic wrap from vanilla dough; turn dough assembly over onto lightly floured surface.
Remove plastic wrap from chocolate dough.
Cut dough stack in half crosswise to form 2 equal rectangles.
Stack one rectangle on top of the other, alternating vanilla and chocolate doughs; wrap in plastic wrap.
Freeze 10 minutes or until firm and plastic wrap can easily be removed.

Cut the dough crosswise into 6 equal strips.
Stack 2 strips on top of each other to form a stack, alternating vanilla and chocolate to form a striped pattern.
Wrap in plastic wrap, pressing gently.
Repeat procedure with remaining 4 strips to form 2 stacks (there will be 3 stacks total).
Chill 30 minutes or until very firm.

Heat oven to 375°.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Working with 1 stack at a time, unwrap dough.
Carefully slice each stack into 12 equal pieces.
Place dough slices 2 inches apart on baking sheet.
Bake at 375° for 12 minutes.
Cool on pans 15 minutes; possibly more.
Remove cookies from pans. Note that dough will be *very* soft.
Cool completely on wire racks.