Monday, March 31, 2008
For one, there are those who say that when the Large Hadron Supercollider is fired up, it could well end the world, by forming unstable mini black holes, right here in River City. But others say no, even if it did, they'd vanish immediately. Seems like the sort of thing you'd want to be Real Sure About, doncha think?
For another, I took too much insulin tonight, and am consequently a little on the spacy side, at the moment. Not to worry. Probably.
And then there's the well-known peacekeeper, Al-Sadr, who told his troops (does your cleric have his own troops?) to stop fighting, but oh yes, he wants amnesty for all of them, and release of the captured ones... and they get to keep their arms, too. Sounds like a get out of jail/pass GO and collect two hundred dollars combo deal... but of course, I don't understand Iraq the way, say, Jawge does...
I think I'll go get some sleep. Perhaps things will be clearer in the morning. Oh, and the Calvin quote in the header? It comes from here.
Should the need arise, I volunteer to throw myself on any woman brandishing nipple rings in a threatening manner.... (Note: Must be cute.)
Sunday, March 30, 2008
Q: Its so hard to understand how the subprime mortgage crisis has triggered a financial crisis of global proportions.
A: If you have 10 bottles of water, and one bottle had poison in it, and you didn't know which one, you probably wouldn't drink out of any of the 10 bottles; thats basically what we've got there.
What a great analogy!
I was reading an article on the Economist's View blog entitled Is Poverty Caused by Irrational Behavior. The thrust of the article: Yes, by normal standards -- but those normal standards don't apply to people who are poor, because what a normal (ie, non-poor) person would regard as a rational reason for acting, or not acting, a poor person would not. One person calls it the bee sting analogy: if you have a bee sting, you take care of it, but if you have multiple bee stings, the motivation to take care of one specific one is much less.
Now, as it happens, I think that's a silly analogy, but the underlying concept, I can buy into. Its distantly related to why I think the 'economic stimulus' package isn't going to work. The rational approach from the economists is, here's some money, and the rational person will spend it, end of discussion. In actuality, I think people will either spend it on things they need but could not have otherwise afforded (which, granted, is towards the goal of the package), or they'll save/invest it. Some will pay off bills -- also a good thing, but doing nothing toward the goal of the package. Similarly, a person who's poor has a different view of whats required, and what a rational approach to life is. If a drug addict, they may well say 'here's my next fix' instead of 'golly, guess I'll go buy that KitchenAid mixer I've been eyeing'; if they've not been able to pay the rent for three months, they are not likely to say 'I'll just hand this directly over to the landlord', because there's no motivation to do so. So the underlying concept, that standard rational man economics don't apply to the poor (at least, not without manipulation; lets hear it for behavioral economics), makes sense to me.
But along the way, the writer uses this phrase:
"It's Econ 101 that's to blame," Karelis says. "It's created this tired, phony debate about what causes poverty."
I hit that phrase, and it derailed me. I stopped thinking about economics and started thinking about lazy writers, and about semantics.
I assume that this is the same 'tired' that shows up on home renovation shows -- You know, everything in this kitchen works, but its just so TIRED. I take it to be a short form of " I don't like it; its been around for a while, and I want a change. It's not necessarily wrong, nonfunctional, or ineffective; I just need some novelty, some difference."
I'm tired of it.
Well, this morning, they could have called it whatever they wanted, because it was awesome. My wife was up much of the night (on call for work), so I did it. And if I do say so myself, I did us proud.
Softly cooked home made waffles (with white chocolate chips). Crisp bacon. Coffee (three quarters Chocolate Orange; one quarter Starbucks Breakfast). And, the piece de resistance (French for Hot Damn) -- sliced strawberries and a pool of molten chocolate for dipping.
Saturday, March 29, 2008
It actually does make sense. I read comments from economists -- Ben Stein, for example, who I know is better known as an actor than an economist -- saying that there is almost no correlation between massive profits and high gas bills, or between massive CEO salaries and high gas bills, and I think ' Well.. maybe. But I kind of doubt it. ' Truthfully, I tend to assume that the massive profits are because we use so much of it; the massive cost, because dapper young men in crisp white shirts are gleefully bidding the price up. But, dammit, no one else is acknowledging this as a problem, so even though I don't really understand it, I'll listen to someone who says they agree -- and they have a solution. It doesn't hurt when they sound like they care about me-- something most politicians seem to have forgotten.
But I do wonder about the image. Why is there tape on it?
First, the recipe calls for a fair amount of slicing and dicing -- one and a half plus four of this, eggs at room temperature, sift those, that sort of thing. I'm the kind of baker who likes to just dive into a recipe. I've learned, but not well, that if a recipe has multiple steps, you ought to at least read through them once. Every so often, not doing so -- or not doing so thoroughly -- burns me. This was one of those times.
Second, pouring the batter into the muffin tins was a pain. There ought to be a way to pour quickly and concisely; give me X amount of ounces in each cup, and use all the batter you practically can. As it was, I think I left a tenth of it in the combination of the mixing bowl, the Pyrex jar I poured with, and the spatulas. And the amounts varied between a half a tin and a little more than three quarters. There's got to be a better way.
Third, the recipe calls for a pastry bag in two places. I don't have one. I know that its possible to simulate one with a ziploc bag, and I've done that in the past, but it seems fairly messy. I don't know whether a genuine pastry bag would be any better. As it is, I cored the cooled cupcakes, scooped in the butter/peanut butter mixture, and replaced the cores. Not a particularly clean or elegant solution, but the ganache should cover it. It also calls for multiple mixing bowls. I've got one for the mixer. (I know: problems of the idle rich). But still - having to clean the bowl before the next step, or trying to just do it by hand -- you don't get particularly good results.
Fourth, thats assuming the ganache comes out well. By this time, I was more than a little ready to be done, so I winged it. Bad move. I ended up with a thin, syrupy ganache which didn't harden as it ought to have done.
So most of this is my fault; a little is lack of tools. I don't like failing. Will I try this recipe again? Perhaps....
This is one of them.
* 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
* 1/2 cup boiling water
* 1 cup buttermilk
* 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
* 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
* 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 1 1/2 sticks plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
* 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
* 2 large eggs, at room temperature
* 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
* 1 cup creamy peanut butter
* 2/3 cup confectioners' sugar
* 1 cup heavy cream
* 8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
1) Preheat the oven to 350° and position 2 racks in the lower and middle third of the oven.
2) Line 24 muffin cups with paper or foil liners.
3) Put the cocoa powder in a medium heatproof bowl.
4) Add the boiling water and whisk until a smooth paste forms.
5) Whisk in the buttermilk until combined.
6) In a medium bowl, sift the flour with the baking soda, baking powder and salt.
7) In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat 1 1/2 sticks of the butter with the granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
8) Beat in the eggs and vanilla, then beat in the dry ingredients in 2 batches, alternating with the cocoa mixture.
9) Carefully spoon the cupcake batter into the lined muffin cups, filling them about two-thirds full.
10) Bake for 20 to 22 minutes, or until the cupcakes are springy.
11) Let the cupcakes cool in the pans for 5 minutes, then transfer them to wire racks to cool completely.
12) In a medium bowl, beat the peanut butter with the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter until creamy.
13) Sift the confectioners' sugar into the bowl and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
14) Spoon all but 3 tablespoons of the peanut butter filling into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch star tip.
15) Holding a cupcake in your hand, plunge the tip into the top of the cake, pushing it about 3/4 inch deep.
16) Gently squeeze the pastry bag to fill the cupcake, withdrawing it slowly as you squeeze; you will feel the cupcake expand slightly as you fill it.
17) Scrape any filling from the top of the cupcake and repeat until all of the cupcakes are filled.
18) In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream to a simmer.
19) Off the heat, add the semisweet chocolate to the cream and let stand for 5 minutes, then whisk the melted chocolate into the cream until smooth.
20) Let the chocolate icing stand until slightly cooled and thickened, about 15 minutes.
21) Dip the tops of the cupcakes into the icing, letting the excess drip back into the pan.
22) Transfer the cupcakes to racks and let stand for 5 minutes.
23) Dip the tops of the cupcakes again and transfer them to racks.
24) Spoon the remaining 3 tablespoons of peanut butter filling into the pastry bag and pipe tiny rosettes on the tops of the cupcakes.
...and no, I didn't make the rosettes. No pastry bag, doncha know... and by that time, no desire to fake one.
So we're apparently going to get her a new watch. Now, when I was in the jewelry store, I noticed their display of Rolexes, along with a discreet sign to the effect that they required ID before letting you try one on (!). We won't be doing that, or even going their to look at inexpensive watches. But maybe this time, we'll look at water-resistant ones. Or not -- I don't know what that adds to the cost. I don't buy watches all that often -- the one I'm wearing now is about fifteen years ago, on its third band; prior to that, I had a bulky one that I bought in Thailand (touring there courtesy of the Air Force). I do have a very nice, sleek black one that my wife gave me, which I wear for Special Occasions (I have to look every so often to see if its battery still works). I also have a wind-up pocket watch that was my grandfathers, back when he was a railroad conductor. Its a cheap one, but I keep it secreted away, because I like it.
A new watch? That I have to pay for? Watch me.
But over the years, I have found a certain amount of pleasure in getting things to add up -- in particularly, checking accounts. I'm usually surprised to find that there are people who can't balance their checking account. Surely, I think, they could, they just don't want to. And then I found that my wife has difficulty with that, and I had to rethink why that might be the case. Its not a fear of numbers, certainly, and its not an inability to do it -- so what is it? And now I think that part of it might well be that the bank, itself, doesn't go out of its way to make balancing simple to do. They assume that of course anyone can do it; how hard can it be, and so they give you the basic numbers, and thats it. If -- as happens with my wife -- you get slammed when an unexpected automatic deduction occurs, they shrug and say well, you should have known that was going to happen; you should have made provision for it. I had a roommate once who always rounded his checks up, when recording them -- if the check was for seven dollars and eighty one cents, he recorded it as eight dollars -- so that, so long as he never went negative on the register, he'd know he had enough money in the account to cover checks. That never made sense to me.
Of course, when you do have a banking problem, banks seem to regard it as an opportunity to make more money. One month, my wife had three overdrafts in a row - Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Fortunately, our bank - a credit union - just transfers money from savings to cover it (as well as sending you a crisply written letter -- snail mail), so it isn't a big deal, but still -- guys, when the first one is needed, don't you think its possible that I'd want to know right away? So we can keep any more from surprising us? And, of course, a regular bank will then charge you an Overdraft Fee, each and every time. Credit card companies will take your payment and apply it such that the payment covers their fees, first -- and only then what the fee is based on, so if you happen to have underpaid the bill -- as I did once -- you can go for two or three months, generating fees, before you notice. Do they tell you? Of course not -- they're in the business of earning money, not helping you out.
Yesterday, at the lunch, I asked a former coworker how she handled recording all those micro-share stock purchases, and she just grimaced. Apparently, I dodged a bullet on that one; I told them to send dividend checks, and so I got 1099's for them. She had told them to reinvest the dividends (which actually makes more sense), and as a result, her tax return requires her to show how much every dividend was, and how much stock she held each and every time . She said she was seriously considering not reporting it -- not because she wanted to hide it, but because the keepers of the records made it so difficult to answer the questions.
Of course, she could always ask the IRS for help. Ho, ho, ho.
Numbahz. They'll get you, one way or another.
Friday, March 28, 2008
So they took her out to lunch. I've never understood why organizations usually take you out to lunch when you're leaving. They don't take you when you arrive, they usually don't go out while you're there -- but when you're leaving, sure, lets do lunch. I came along, and I'm glad I did. It was nice to see these people again... and it was nice to find out that they're in the middle of another audit. I liked missing that. I miss the tech stuff, I miss the people, but audits? Keep 'em.
Let's do lunch.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
The brownies are in the oven. I don't know how they'll taste, but I'll say this: brownie batter made with mascapone cheese is very rich. I'm going to go into shock just from what I licked ... and I haven't even made the ganache yet. How many will escape the house and go into my wife's office tomorrow, hard to say... I do wonder why the recipe specifically points out to beat it by hand. I did it, but it didn't mix as well as it would have with the mixer. I've seen that kind of instruction on bread, with the gluten thing, but never brownies. Cookies, sometimes.
...and I did a little bit more on the taxes.
And I get to work more on taxes today. Its a weird thing -- I'm still a little irritated at the ticky-tacky records they want -- gosh, Bill Gates must stay up way late to do his, huh? -- but now that I have a spreadsheet with the required values, and its just a matter of keying every damned one in, I feel better. Feel like I'm in control. Its important to me, control is. I like it. Just like spontaneity -- its a good thing (in its time and place). Ahem.
I need to return that Strengths book today (the libe wants it back) but then I'll get it again. I want to think about it. I may even buy it, mirable dictu. A friends daughter, years ago, said to me that she was aghast to see how her mother was buying and reading books on Your Teens Character, and Helping Your Teen Succeed, and all of that. Its a parent thing, I told her -- and now, I think Oh, yeah. I mean, heck -- this is my daughter we're talking about.
God help me, last night I went to sleep thinking Why doesn't Hillary quit? Because she's not a quitter... and because she wants this so badly, her teeth hurt. Gotta respect that... and she'd make a fine Veep, doncha think?
Everyone knows what DNA is. (Extra points if you know what RNA is!) But -- is this home DNA extraction kit for real?
Last night, my wife and I went for a walk. Still a truncated one, but now we're up to about, oh, a mile or so. Course, as slowly as I walk, so that my hip doesn't wake up and say HEY, Knock It Off!, thats twenty-plus minutes, but still, this is good. Its about three times what I was doing a couple of weeks ago.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Have to admit, my attitude toward that is a little biased at the moment. I was reading a blog the other day that's written by a teen (or pretty close), listing things that she thought important for parents to know. One of them was 'Don't say that we just want you to do your best, and then give us grief when the result isn't as good as you want'. At first, I thought 'well, maybe', but the more I thought of it, the more I thought 'why shouldn't I give the kid grief for not doing as well as possible?' I think the YCS book would hold that its more important to figure out how the kid learns best, and encourage that style (how? in a structured school, how?); failing that, though, what are you supposed to do? Shrug? Say 'Oh, gosh, I wish you'd done better....would you like some ice cream?'
The idea sounds good... but I don't know how well it actually plays out in reality.
She said that her CCD instructor had said that gay people were bad. My daughter said that she didn't agree with that, and didn't like that the instructor had said that. I don't know whether I was more pleased with the attitude itself, or that she had developed an opinion on her own. She knows that's what we think, but this one, she generated herself. I really like that. The kiddo's definitely growing up.
And if If I needed further proof, just seeing her walk across the kitche, in her black T shirt, black leggings, and snug camo shorts would have done it for me. When did my slender daughter develop hips? Not to mention, a wiggle?
Okay, the baking. I haven't baked for a while, and I miss it. For the longest time, I went without upper teeth, save only for occasionally wearing a temporary 'appliance' (yes, I had a microwave in my mouth; saves no end of time, and keeps my breath fresh, too). It was no big deal. Now its been about two weeks since The Great Implant Implantation Surgery, and tomorrow the sutures come out. Which I'm not really looking forward to, as it can sting, a bit, and I'm somewhat of a wimp when it comes to that kind of thing. But once thats done, I'll have a mouth thats more or less back to normal, or at least what passes for normal with me. I won't be able to wear the appliance until its modified (apparently, they need to cut holes in it so it will fit around the implant sockets). In a right and just universe, that'd take a couple of days, but since we're talking dentists here, I'm thinking a couple of weeks. Ugh.
What this means is that if I bake something, it needs to be soft. Of course, I could just make chocolate chip cookies and eat them soft, but what I think I'd like to try is some brownies. But not just any brownies. These.
Chocolate Mascarpone Brownies, With Ganache
* 1 cup unsalted butter (plus more for preparing pan)
* 3 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
* 1 cup granulated sugar
* 1/2 cup cocoa powder
* 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese, softened
* 3 large eggs, at room temperature
* 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
* 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 325°. Butter an 8-inch square glass baking pan and set aside.
Place the butter and chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at half power in 30 second intervals, stirring between each heating. Continue until both are completely melted.
Sift sugar and cocoa powder. Add to the butter/chocolate mixture. Beat in (by hand) the mascarpone, eggs, and vanilla extract until smooth. Fold in flour and salt.
Pour batter into pan and spread evenly.
Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Cool in pan on cooling rack.
* 6 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
* 6 tablespoons heavy cream
* 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
Place chopped chocolate in a small bowl. Set aside.
In a small saucepan, heat the butter and cream over medium heat, stirring constantly. When mixture is almost boiling, pour over the chocolate. Let stand for 30 seconds. Then, stir until smooth.
Pour ganache over cooled brownies and spread evenly.
Allow ganache to firm before cutting brownies. Brownies may be placed in refrigerator to expedite this.
Yields 16 brownies.
Article printed from Bake or Break Recipes: http://www.bakeorbreak.com/recipes
Any volunteers to come and eat them?
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
We realized about a week ago that we'd neglected to include some money received as part of a stock sale on our tax statement. Okay, no problem, just amend the return. And amending is actually pretty easy.
But because its a stock sale, the Infamous Revenue Service wants to know exactly how much each piece of the sale cost, and what the going price was, and how big that piece was, and when you got it.
Six Years Worth of Acquisitions. In Little Bite-Sized Chunks. Each One On A Separate Line.
Oh, my good lord.
The Heisenberg compensator (or Subspace Field Compensator) is a component of the transporter system. The compensator works around the problems caused by the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle (hence the name), allowing the transporter sensors to compensate for their inability to determine both the position and momentum of the target particles to the same degree of accuracy. This ensures the matter stream remains coherent during transport, and no data is lost.
When asked by Time Magazine in 1994, "How do the Heisenberg compensators work?" Mike Okuda replied, "They work just fine, thank you."
When I took the year off after leaving EDS, I wondered how long it would take before I didn't automatically think of myself as a programmer. After all, I'd been doing it for 22 years -- surely I would still reflexively think of myself that way, feel that I needed to do that in order to 'identfy' myself. I was surprised, then, to find that after six months, that identity was essentially gone. Granted, there were distractions during that period -- my mother'd hurt herself, we were having the kitchen remodeled and the nook extension built -- but still, it came as a bit of a surprise. I'd always heard that one of the biggest problems with retirement, or even just not working, was loss of identity. In my case, it seemed as easy as taking off a jacket. I didn't have a different one to put on, but that seemed minor.
When I was summarily ejected from IBM, I expected much of the same. Although I didn't identify with IBM as much as I did with EDS (six years versus twenty two), I still thought of myself as a techie, and the loss of that identification would, I figured, resonate with me. I still perk up, after all, when I hear my wife on a teleconference, talking about a system upgrade or a problem they're having. Don't get me wrong, I never was a great tech -- my strength was persistence, not knowledge -- but I enjoyed it, and I figured I would miss it. As it turns out, what I missed was earning money, and, actually, not all that much. We both have retirement plans, and we have a goodly amount saved, so as long as we continue to meet daily expenses out of daily income, we're cool. I'd like to earn money, I'm just not particularly willing to go enter into someone else's work environment to do it.
Even the most casual opportunities seem to stimulate the feeling of 'work? me?' in my psyche. I read in a local paper of a local 'high tech' company that was hiring retirees who were willing to work part time. Gee, I thought, I didn't know we had high-tech companies in the local town. Well, its high-tech only by comparison to, say, Burger King; the kind of thing that fifteen years ago would have been pretty amazing (You work in computers? Wow!) but now is pretty mundane. And what I found, in thinking about it, was 'well, heck, if they aren't really doing big machine stuff, I don't want to be bothered'. It took me a while to realize that I could have substituted anything into that qualification. No particular job really excites me. Thats not to say that there aren't jobs that sound interesting, and even ones that I'd apply for, but the truth seems to be that if I never work again, that would be okay, too.
It reminds me of a story I heard years ago from a fellow who runs a major employment agency - Challenger, Gray - saying that he was doing outplacement testing of an accountant who'd been laid off as part of a restructuring. Gee, he said, surprised, your scores for numerical aptitude aren't all that high. Well, the guy replied, maybe thats why I never liked being an accountant.
Whatever happened to thirty or so years of work ethic? Did I make a mistake, thirty years ago?
Monday, March 24, 2008
Wrapping up a nine-day overseas trip to Iraq, Vice President Dick Cheney was asked, in an exclusive interview with ABC News, about the effect on the nation of today's grim milestone of at least 4,000 U.S. deaths over the five-year Iraq war.
Noting the burden placed on military families, the Vice President said the biggest burden is carried by President Bush, and reminded ABC news that the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan volunteered for duty.
My daughter is home. I don't know how she is right at the moment, but last night, she was obviously glad to be here. That trip must have been rougher on her psyche than I thought. I think she's glad she went, but I also think that could she have come up with a reason to ask that we come up and get her, yesterday morning, she would have. And the scary part is, I might well have done it. I don't pamper her, but I don't like seeing her unhappy.
Woke up smiling, partially because I slept well, partially because I dreamt well. One of those 'I've got to remember the details of that dream' dreams. File it away in the vault, just on the off chance I can do it intentionally some time....
Daughter's off today, wife's working. As for me, I'll be paying bills and wrapping up taxes. Yowza.....
Sunday, March 23, 2008
The general tone of the former is that while everything pretty much agrees that the current financial services meltdown is the result of overextension and what someone once called Irrational Exuberance (Hi, Alan!), these things happen, and if we were to establish new controls, strengthen old ones, or otherwise constrain the financial services industry, then we would be limiting their ability to generate wealth (true enough) which would be a bad thing (not so true). If, for example, a brokerage had to back up investments with a certain amount of money, then it would make less investments (true enough); such investments would likely be of the surer type, which would limit the downside, but would also mean less gold-plated investing. Why do I scent a whiff of trickle-down economics in there?
As for the latter, the feeling is that the money-stuffed denizens of Wall Street's upper tiers have been bidding the hell out of all of the possible services and amenities, making it virtually impossible for the average person (who, relative to any other city, is doing Quite Well, but relative to Manhattan, is Just Scraping By) to partake without giving up, oh, paying the rent. To see these people abruptly dropped from the heights is therefore both gratifying (Down to their last forty million? How will they survive?) and the opening of opportunity, as restaurants begin to admit the merely affluent hoi polloi (use the rear entrance, please), and galleries lop a zero or so from the prices of some of their works. But only some.
Makes me glad I no longer live there.
My daughter went up to her grandmothers house yesterday. She's sorry that she did. First off, the routinely late aunt was seriously late, on the order of two and a half hours late. Normally, its about an hour late. Second, when they got there, the aunt insisted on calling to tell us that it was a wonderful drive up; the daughter offered the opinion later that it wasn't wonderful, it was just okay - four people, small car. I reminded her that for that aunt, 'okay' equates to wonderful. If it actually had been wonderful, that would have equated to fabulous, unbelievable. Did I mention that this aunt used to live in southern California? Third, it was decided that the four of them, minus the father, including the grandmother, should go to the movies. Since the grandmother (allegedly) only likes G Rated movies, they saw: Horton Hears a Who, which, my daughter told us afterwards, was even worse than she thought, the experience made even more delightful by the presence of screaming kids in the theater. She can hardly wait to get home again. Apparently, this morning the aunt had a vociferous argument with her daughter because you could, gasp, see the strap of her camisole. And on Easter! In her old home-town church!
I think it's hideous that we're willing to take people into the military, or into government service, send them into Iraq, but then find them lacking when it comes to citizenship. Hideous, reprehensible, abominable. BushAndCheney-like.
Reading the Sunday papers, I see again where white people just cannot possibly understand the rages that black people feel each and every day. Okay. Since you say I cannot, I guess I won't try. Yes, I know thats not what you want -- but, given that you've said I cannot, and given that my feeling is there is no upside here for me, why should I make the effort? That's rhetorical... somewhat. But if Obama loses the nomination because of that pastor's intemperance, a status of him is going up on my mantel, right next to the statue of Nader, while I go find my shotgun for some in-home target shooting. And I don't even have a shotgun.
On the plus side: Happy Easter!
Saturday, March 22, 2008
First is, expensive houses are going up all over the place. The least expensive was about three hundred thousand dollars.
Second is, these places are fifteen to twenty minutes off the main road -- and the connectors are two lane roads. By contrast, we're three minutes from the main road. Also, we have local infrastructure, such as malls and shopping -- they don't. They likely will, and sooner than I think -- but not at the moment.
Both of those increase the perceived value of this house, we think. Not deciding factors, but certainly affecting the decision.
Friday, March 21, 2008
I thought of that when I saw this.
I love those things. I loved them when they first became popular, I loved them when it turned out that they were way harder to do than they were to write, and I love them now, when they are for the most part meaningless. I think that life (It's life, Jim, but not as we know it) is so difficult and complex and just generally distracting that its nice to have a touchstone to be able to look at every so often, just to be able to say 'Are we doing that?' Occasionally, you can even say 'Do we still believe that?' Granted, neither of those is likely to occur with any kind of routine, the second even less than the first. No one likes having to question what are supposed to be the core verities of their lives, and when you're asking 'do we still believe that', thats just exactly what you're doing.
People (serious people) have made careers out of these things -- describing them, analyzing them, explaining them, showing why this kind is Good and that kind is Bad. I'm a simple guy, and I think simply, as a rule (and yeah, I know that simply doesn't always mean Right). I think of Vision statements as a way of saying 'this is what we're all about; this is why we exist, period'. Mission statements, I think of as somewhat more tactical; they say 'Here's the kind of things we're going to do, the values we're going to espouse, the ways in which we're going to act'. I don't think that vision statements buy you all that much. Mission statements, I think, give you more bang for the buck. If you believe in Vision statements, you might not agree. Certainly, given the choice, I'd prefer a position as a Visionary than a Missionary -- pays better, and you get to be on talk shows -- but thats just me. As far as actual content, I prefer the latter.
In the article I mentioned, the kids were asked if the school's vision statement was true. Most of them did not. (This did not go over particularly well with the school administration, which is what the article is actually about). I just asked my daughter if her school has a mission statement, and she said that she thought it might be the Code of Conduct (I will not lie, cheat, or steal, but waterboarding is okay -- no, wait, that's not right). I remember reading it, once, while I was at the school; it stick to my intellectual ribs the way that Jello sticks to your physical ones. Looked good, insubstantial as all hell.
The thing is, we all find it easier to say good things than to do them, and life sometimes gets in the way. We get actively offended when people say that we aren't doing what we so loudly proclaimed, at the twilight's last gleaming, to be totally key and basic to our lives. We sometimes find it helpful to hedge, in that regard. A local cleaners used to have a big sign about how their customers happiness was the Most Important Thing. There were about ten qualifiers after that, though, which substantially reduced the impact of the statement. Then again, given the recent experience of that cleaners down in DC with the missing pants and the belligerent judge/customer, perhaps thats a good thing. Maybe mission statements should have that kind of qualifier.
Yeah, that sounds like a good idea.
I just unsubscribed from the blog. Not because I didn't like it, but because when I'd connected FD to it, I'd used the actual name of the blog -- which is so cute, I would wince every time I saw it. I know -- why didn't I just change it? I don't know. Somehow, it was just easier to pretend it didn't exist.
And now, unless I bump across it again, it doesn't.
I think the official position would be 'This is disturbing to us, too', and the unofficial position would be 'You don't understand', and possibly ' These people aren't jaywalkers, they're scum - thieves, rapists, murderers - so, anything we do that results in deterring them, catching them is all okay'. I think of that as the waterboarding defense, and from the safety of my own home here in rural Pennsylvania, I scorn it. I know that being a cop, even here, is a long way from Andy and Barney -- but I scorn it.
I'm sure Dick Cheney would approve, though, so it must be okay.
This morning, my daughter asked when we might expect them to arrive. Thinking of Amazon, which gets stuff shipped pretty quickly, as a rule, I said 'Probably Monday; if we're really lucky, maybe Saturday'. Well, Dell isn't Amazon. How much are they not Amazon? Its twelve hours later, and they still haven't even acknowledged that the gift card is valid to be charged. They did send a note saying they were working on that.
But what I like to remember, and I mean that in two ways, is that half an hour ago, my daughter was walking around, picking up things for her overnight trip to her grandmother's house, and doing so quickly and neatly. And in the middle of it, she made a call to a friend to discuss a school project, during which I heard her quickly outline a proposal for changing the way they were doing something, based on an observation she'd made while doing it. At which time, I thought 'oh, my'.
I like to tell her that I notice such things. This time, I didn't, because it was essentially a private conversation -- but I did.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
This is, we know, a Problem of the Idle Rich, but one thing that s on our minds -- well, mine, anyway -- is the Elevator Question. I've no idea what it costs to add a residential elevator. If I had to swag, I'd say around $40,000, from start to finish. Even if it was a quarter of that, though, it carries additional freight which scares me. For example, where do you put it? Our house is the traditional bilevel style, with three bedrooms, two baths, kitchen, dining room, and living room upstairs, and two bedrooms, bath, and den downstairs. To put in an elevator, two of these rooms would have to be impacted. Do we lose the master bedroom and the storage area below? Doing that is okay for downstairs, but for upstairs means either adding a new bedroom over the garage, or moving into one of the downstairs bedrooms (both of which, incidentally, are currently in use!), possibly merging them into a larger room. Or do we merge the two smaller bedrooms upstairs (again, both in use), and somehow add the elevator with access from the garage to the central upstairs hall?And then theres the question of cost. If we did all of this, would we end up with the most expensive, not to mention oddly designed, house around?
You can see why building new does being to exert a certain fascination...
We thought up a way. Still not at all sure its a good idea, but -- this is what the back of the house looks like. The structure on the deck is the kitchen nook we put in about eight years ago. So -- extend the right two thirds out about six feet, from the right side of the deck (lose the stairs) to the left side of the garage. Enclose it. Put the elevator inside, accessible from both extended areas. Use the remaining space to expand the bedroom above, and the storage room below. And maybe - probably not, but maybe -- enclose the area under the deck, too.
Is it doable? Dunno. Financially feasible? Probably not. But it wouldn't change the 'look' of the house, at least from the front, while still giving us the functionality we'd want, plus a little. So ... maybe.
We have a router that's hardwired to our desktop PC (what might be fairly called our aging desktop PC). It's a wireless router, and our three laptops - the new one, the old one thats essentially got Alzheimer's, and my wife's work PC - talk wirelessly to it, and from thence to the Interweb. We've also got two printers, both of which are hard wired into the desktop PC. One's plugged in with a USB cable; one with a parallel cable. Finally, we have an external hard drive, which isn't really hardwired into anything; it sits on the desk where the desktop PC resides, and if I want to use it, I plug it into a USB jack; ditto for when I want to transfer backups from the laptop.
What we want to do is change the way things are configured. Specifically, we want to be able to get to the printer(s) without having to have the desktop PC on, and I want to be able to get to the external hard drive without having to schlep over and plug in the jack. Such a bother. I know that I can get a wireless router into which the USB printer can plug. I don't know if I can get one into which I can also plug the external hard drive, let alone the parallel printer. Finally, if we do this, I would like to use the existing router for something useful. I seem to recall reading once that routers can be used as repeaters, to extend the range of the 'base' router, but I'm not sure about that.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Occasionally, I wonder about the people who get really into role playing games. A couple that I've known really get into it -- one spoke animatedly about having a Skype session with several team mates as they all individually maneuvered their characters across what I think was a World of Warcraft scene. The recent death of its creator brought Dungeons and Dragons back to mind after not thinking about it for years; one of my coworkers was a D&D freak, and would occasionally go to a gaming session wearing his cowled robe as a way of getting into the mood. I could not understand that, but fine, he liked it. Not for me, though.
If I were to play such a game, I think I'd prefer one where you played against a programmed intelligence, and could take a lot of time to mull over moves and actions. There might be battles, might not, but the goal wouldn't be to score crisis points or skill levels or whatever the buzzwords are, but rather to influence events, make deductions that were validated by later events, that sort of thing. Business, research, warcraft -- the venue almost wouldn't matter. Just the intellectual pleasure of the game.
Now that would be worth a cowled robe or two.
by Diane C. Walsh/The Star-Ledger Monday March 17, 2008, 7:01 PM
Union County has backed off a plan to let a Princeton University computer scientist examine voting machines where errors occurred in the presidential primary tallies, after the manufacturer of the machines threatened to sue, officials said today.
A Sequoia executive, Edwin Smith, put Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi on notice that an independent analysis would violate the licensing agreement between his firm and the county. In a terse two-page letter Smith also argued the voting machine software is a Sequoia trade secret and cannot be handed over to any third party.
Tell me: why are these people allowed to do this?
All that money apparently doesn't buy happiness -- just, as I've heard it said, helps you look in more interesting places.
When Obama made his speech, I read it. I hate to admit it, but I wasn't sure what to make of it. He didn't say I was right in the way I feel, and he didn't unequivocably defend his pastor's comments. I didn't expect the first, but I sort-of expected the second. Some of the things he said made sense to me; others, I thought were 'I need to tie this to my campaign; heres how I do that'. I'm not really good at extracting underlying meaning, though, so I could be wrong. Overall, I didn't think it was a magnificient speech -- which relieved me. Perhaps I expect too little of myself, but magnificient speeches scare me, a bit. They set the bar way too high. Just saying that we need to think about race is a scary concept. Its probably right, but its scary.
I would bet that he would not have brought up the concept if he hadn't been forced to do so. I wonder about that.
This New York Times column makes a couple of points that I hadn't elicited.
It didn't quite work out that way.
A few moments ago, I came across a web page for the HBR, and like a reformed pot smoker scenting the faint aroma of the weed, I thought Hmmm....let's see what they're up to.
Well, for starters, there's this article - Staying Upbeat Through a Downturn - When recession looms, its critical to spread confidence throughout your organization. Here's how to do it. Did you notice that the hyperlink's page name is 'BuckEmUp'? At least they do note that nobody likes a smiling fool.
And there's an offer to sell this book -- Retirement: Good news: there is no need to retire. There is no need to pack up your desk or attend one more retirement party. Why? With the widening gap between the number of workers and the demand for talent, employers are looking to keep smart, productive workers. Only, perhaps, their definition of smart and productive isn't quite the same as mine....nor is their intent about paying for such qualities. This is, after all, a C-level managers manual, and they aren't usually too concerned with their worker's problems.
I don't think I'll drink the Koolaid, this time around.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
It is therefore with some chagrin that I mention that this afternoon, she inadvertantly pulled a Classic Wife Statement on me.
I had opened the refrigerator door, and, noting that the gasket was pulling away from the door, said 'you know, we should get this gasket fixed'. To which she replied 'Actually, I'm thinking that next year we ought to replace the refrigerator. It's twenty-three years old, after all.'
(Speaking of which, have you seen those Viking refrigerators? My good lord. There are restaurants that don't have as good a refrigeration system).
Gov. David A. Paterson today admitted to adultery with multiple women while serving in the Senate, including a state employee, who presently works in the governor's office.
Ho-kay, movin' right along.....
The finished result should look pretty nice -- brighter, warmer colors, walk-in tub with slidable shower head (attached or hand-held), an ADA-height toilet and sink, non-skid flooring, new cabinets in the laundry room. I would have been content with the existing laundry room ones, but my wife really wanted new ones -- the ones that are there now are about thirty years old, and warping -- so thats what we're doing. A small closet will be built into the laundry room, too. Its kind of ironic to be thinking about whether we want to stay in this house, while at the same time spending this kind of money on it. I don't expect that we'd get back but a fraction of it if we sold the house; on the other hand, we know we need it, and it'll be such an improvement, it will be a strong selling point when we DO sell.
We took the opportunity to look at a zero-barrier shower display they had set up. It was pretty nice. As they had it, the setup is about half again too large for our master bath (which is pretty small), but perhaps we'd be able to do something like it anyway. Not right away, though!
I've mentioned that I was having difficulty sleeping, asking myself 'what he will say about those two things' without any idea who he was or what the two things were. About two hours later, I drifted off to sleep, and almost immediately started having what might be called nightmares, though they were not so much of a horrifying type as of an excessively pedestrian nature. Its hard for me to characterize, but this is kind of what it was like: I was taking inventory of the things in our house for some reason, only I had to do it by item - first every pencil in every room; then every knife in every room; then every book in every room, then.... so that it was a very tedious process. I was aghast at the amount of effort involved (not to mention, clueless as to why I was doing it), when abruptly it occurred to me that I could do this by room - all of the pencils in a given room, then all of the knives in that same room, all of the books there, and so forth. But my relief was short lived: I was wary of this 'room' idea, unable to figure out where it had come from, if it might mean missing something, and was it something I could do at will if I started. I was scared by it.
This is not a restful dream. I've heard of a concept of lucid dreaming, where you can direct the contents of a dream; I tried (Laker Girls! Laker Girls!) but I had no luck at all. Each time I'd go back to sleep, I'd be there doing that inventory again, asking myself the same questions, over and over.
I think that part of it is because I'm a little stressed; I am damn tired of this cold, which is in its fifth day, and still lingering, delivering up the occasionally hacking, throat-jarring, chest-convulsing explosive cough, and part is because I'm stressed by having such a minimal ability to eat; anything that takes any kind of chewing or masticating at all, I can't do -- last night I tried to eat a piece of toast, and it was a sad sight. So just as I'm in a position where I sure could use some comfort food, I can't make use of it. I know this is going to start getting better soon, but still, darn it: I want it now now now.
But thats not the extent of it. I feel like, relative to the 2008 elections, I'm letting my side down. I am not calling people, sending letters, making donations. Last year I recall thinking that although I didn't like being laid off, at least this would free me up to get involved with the local political organization, because it was so important for the Democrats to win, and win big. It wasn't that I demonize Republicans; as foul as many of them are, I take it on faith that there are many decent ones. Its more like cleaning up after a septic tank explosion. Theres so much thats wrong with our country, so much thats gone wrong and been done wrong, that its going to take a lot of concerted effort to even start cleaning it up. There will be people who don't want that to happen, or who are wiling to let it happen provided that their own pet projects and bailiwicks aren't touched; we need to clean up these localized cesspools. I think that the half life, if I can mix metaphors, of these corruption (literally: corruption) is very long, but I think we can start the process, despite the scum who would stop it.And though it sounds naive, I thougt that Barack Obama would be the one to do it. Not to say that I thought him the Ubermensch would who save us all from ourselves, doing the impossible, cleaning out the Augean Stables, righting the wrongs, restoring the traditional values. He's such a sterling individual, though, I thought This is the guy. This is the one who can make it happen. He can remortar the edifice that prior to the Bush disaster we thought was invulnerable to depredation, rot, decay. If anyone can, he can. I thought that, and though I'm skittish about this pastor thing, I still think it. I still think he's the one.
But I'm not doing squat to make that happen. I haven't volunteered, I haven't given, I haven't - anything. I've had good reason -- illness, other actions -- but when I think of all that this country has to do, I get very down on myself for not doing something more than what I've done. Sending in one lousy donation? Thats it? Yeah. So far, thats it.
I feel as if I'm letting him down, letting our side down. And thats making it awfully tough to sleep.
That, and this godforsaken sinus clogging chest rattling cold.
For the last hour or so, I've been waking up enough to wonder about a question, and then drifting barely back to sleep again before waking to think about the question again. Initially, the question was something like 'I wonder what he will say about those two things', which is rather difficult to answer. After a while, I tried forcing myself to think about anything else, so long as it was specific. When I got to the point of wondering why Picard's Enterprise didn't have a Science Officer, I figured that maybe I ought to get up and have something to eat -- some Jello, say. I'd have preferred Rice Krispies but my mouth's still on the tender side. They told my wife that the sutures would not dissolve, but had to be manually removed; thats as may be, but one small piece came out all by itself. As for the rest, I can feel the swelling going down. I set up an appointment for a week this Thursday to do the manual removal. They've done that once before, and as I recall, then didn't use anesthetic, seeming surprised when I would flinch at the sensation of cold forceps against tender skin. I'm hoping that will have gotten better by then.
Reading some military fiction about wonderful technology, and seeing the occasional article about what the Army is using now or in the near future, I wonder if military uniforms are evolving into 'imperial storm trooper' kinds of outfits, with interlocking weaponry and telemetry.
Tomorrow -- or today, I guess -- Obama's giving his speech on race. I'm looking forward to hearing it, and you've got to believe he's going to use all of his oratorical powers in constructing and presenting it. I hope that its enough to deflect -- I don't hope that it will end -- all of this discussion about the paster's speeches. Guess we'll see.
Monday, March 17, 2008
At first, I thought this might just be the manifestation of his attitude that he never looks back, never apologises. He might be, I thought, just saying that things are as they are, no reason to get all upset about it. And as he gazes around at a political landscape that is dry and barren for his party, and an economic landscape thats self-destructing, perhaps he simply feels that he just needs to soldier on. No reason to let it ruin your day, at least, out where some one might be pleased to see that he was less than a most happy fella.
Then I wondered: could it be that he's under the care of someone who's dispensing anti-depressant drugs?
But its possible that I actually am getting better. That would be nice. I'm really ready for that.
Four weeks ago, my wife told her that we needed a specific paper from her, coming from her parish priest, with the seal of the church on it. She said, no problem.
Two weeks ago, my wife reminded her of that, and was told that she hadn't yet talked to the priest, and would get it that week.
One week ago, my wife went down to her house for a couple of reasons, but also to pick this up. She didn't have it yet.
Yesterday, my wife went down to her house. She didn't have it. Said she'd look into it.
This morning, at 6:50, she called to say she'd found it -- it was in a stack of mail from Thursday. She'll fax it today. Then she hung up, without getting the fax number.
And the organization where she works normally, demonstrating competency and effectiveness in planning?
Why, FEMA, of course -- the folks who brought you Katrina: The Response.
Sunday, March 16, 2008
On the bright side, I took Rach's advice and made myself a chocolate milkshake. Not at all bad. First one I've had in years -- and not a trace of malt powder or anything else in there. Total goodness - couple of scoops of chocolate ice cream, some milk -- and thats it. Oh, this will fix that weight loss problem!
And yesterday, I got the official notification from the Board of Elections that I am now officially registered as a Democrat -- and in time for the Pennsylvania primaries. Yes!
Afterwards, I mulled over why I had done that. After all, Netflix will let you keep the disk indefinitely. I pay about $18 a month to rent three, so if a single DVD costs about $20 (does it? I have no idea), then after about three months, it'd be worth it just to buy the darn thing. But if I had a video that I really liked, and I wanted to keep it for a year -- I could, no problem. In fact, I would bet that NF would be delighted -- they get my money; they have to do nothing in return. So why copy it?
The only thing I can think of is that this makes it mine. I'm not locked to 'got to have the disk in the drive'; don't hear the drive whining up when I turn on the laptop. I don't have the speakers getting automatically turned on after I was careful to turn them way down, or off, for some late-night watching. It takes less juice to watch it from the hard drive than to spin the CD. Its not much of a reason. There's a decent chance that I'll keep the video, too -- not planning to steal it, but that might be the result. And that, I'm sure, is illegal. But the convenience to me is worth the moral transgression.
Saturday, March 15, 2008
It seems to me that he's probably being honest when he disavows the statements made by the pastor. That the pastor can say whatever he wants should be perfectly obvious. The concern is a) does this reflect what Obama actually and secretly thinks, and b) given the track record of black candidates in aligning themselves with the words of their spiritual leaders, will Obama, if elected, feel that he has to be guided by them. Going deeper, there's got to be the question: is this a Manchurian Candidate question? Is Obama, despite what he's said, actually a Muslim saboteur aimed at the political system?
The problem with words is that you can always deny them, always take them back. You can claim that you were misquoted (and perhaps you were); you can say that you were quoted out of context (which certainly happens). You can say that your opponent is slanting the issue, skewing it like a Swift Boat -- and thats possible. Its also possible that its all true, and only coming to light now.
It may not be a fair question, but its an honest one: is Obama hiding something that would affect his electability?
I think that he is not. I think that in the realm of words, he has done everything that you can reasonably expect in rejecting the inflammatory words of the pastor. I'm reminded of the time when President Johnson, attending a public mass, got to listen to the minister harangue him about the injustice of the Vietnam War. Surely, he was raging inside, and vented that when he was safely, privately alone. I would suspect that Obama is doing the same thing, raging about his candidacy being tarred by this brush. The question is, is there something to it? Beyond the suspicion, is there substance?
Given that nothing that he has said supports it, I would say no. Given that he has vigorously rejected it, I'd say no. The question will still come up, in various styles and flavors, and I'll listen to see if there is anything new, anything substantive -- but failing that?
Speaking of nice: if you like chocolate, you might find this page of interest. I'm not thinking too much about baking and stuff, this week. When the oral surgeon had told me, long ago, that I'd have to stick to soft foods, I was a little apprehensive until I found out that a great amount of what we routinely eat falls into that category. Even things like burgers and meatballs weren't out of the question, so long as I was willing to chop them into less-than-bitesize pieces prior to eating. But this week, and likely for a couple, I'm thinking: play it safe. Stick with the truly soft things. At least pudding ought to taste decent (I had some yesterday, and it tasted awful; my conclusion is that I still had some dried blood in my throat; mostly gone, now), and things like yogurt and such ought to be good, too.
We're going to go to the library today, where I am picking up that book that SusieJ recommended. Incidentally, if you've never looked at her site, I recommend doing so -- its really good. I spend a fair amount of time bouncing through sites; its amazing how many are a) telling you why what you eat is going to kill you; b) who you vote for is going to impoverish you, and c) but you can earn tons o'bucks following their twenty-three simple rules. (Which is why I like IttyBiz; she points out ideas, not shopping lists.) The result of seeing all this effluvia is that I appreciate quality sites -- and SusieJ's is certainly one.
Okay, thats it for now. Could someone go close that window?
Friday, March 14, 2008
One was, my night time blood sugar reading was way high. I expected this, as my body goes through the healing thing. I would have been happier with a lower 'high', but we'll get back there. Just a pain, is all.
The other is, I have a 'weight' that I've thought of as 'what I weigh' for a long time. Over the last three months, thats dropped by about twelve pounds. It had dropped down more this morning. So, just for comparison, expecting that it would have gone back up, I just weighed myself. At this moment, I weigh -- twenty pounds less than 'what I weigh'. I know it won't stay there -- its the inverse of the blood sugar thing -- plus, I haven't done anything in particular to keep it there -- but damn....
My wife said that she expected it, in a way, because when she hugs me around the shoulders, she can feel the bones. Well, maybe. I'm not skinny, or anything even in that range. No way. But for the first time in decades -- I'm a little thinner. How about that?
Just dropped a note to a woman I used to work with at IBM. I don't know if she's still around -- it'd be nice if she was. We were in the initial training class together -- the one that, if you're a good networker, gets you started with contacts in other organizations. I think they called it BOV -- Becoming One Voice. I can't say that that actually happened -- there turned out to be a lot more bureaucracy and buzzwords than I would ever have guessed, even knowing that this was IBM, the king of the TLAs- and the people segmenting into different organizations drifted apart pretty quickly.. This woman was very quiet, and looked very stern, the whole time. I was startled to find that she was on my account, and that she was actually a very nice, easy going person. I wouldn't have thought of her but her last name is similar to the name of a housing development that I just got an email ad for.
So now I think I will just lie here in bed for a while and think about -- nothing.