Sunday, May 31, 2009


I'm rarely happy with my burgers. They're okay, but not great. How hard can this be? I've done the things people suggest -- mostly, the idea of using meat that's about 85% lean -- but it almost never comes out with the mouth feel that I want, the kind of hey, good burger! feeling that I get when eating, say, hot dogs (Boars Head All Beef; excellent). It seems that most restaurants that offer 'classic burgers sell thick ones -- say, about three-quarters of an inch thick -- but very few have one that I think is consistently good. In fact, I know of only one place where I can expect to get a great burger, and as it's about forty minutes from here, I don't go there too often. Gotta do this at home.

So once again, this year, I'm going to try -- and, being a little anal on occasion, I've decided to collect some tips on making a decent burger.

And here they are!


#Put a touch of olive oil on both hands or wet them. They won't get goopy, and you won't overwork the meat, fish, or poultry. When mixing in flavorings, work gently.
# Shape a loose ball and hold it in your fingers. Press gently with the balls of your hands to form a patty. Don't pack. The more you pack, the denser the burger will be, and there's more potential for shrinkage.
# With the patty cradled in your fingers, press edges gently with your other hand cupped, turning the buger like a dial. Edges shouldn't be too shaggy, but they don't have to be perfect, either.
# Aim for patties a half-inch thick if you're working with meats such as beef, pork, lamb and poultry; fish burgers should be thicker, about 3/4-inch, to ensure juiciness in the center. To make sure you don't overcook the burger, stay by the grill and be sure the fire isn't too high. Turn the burger only once and never press on the patty with the spatula, which forces juices out, resulting in a dry burger.


Try chuck or sirloin to see which you prefer. Some people like a blend of both. These cuts are 15% to 20% fat—perfect for an elegant burger Most burger experts use just a pinch of salt and some fresh-ground pepper. Some add minced garlic or onion (not garlic powder or onion powder—they lack potency) or some Worcestershire sauce.
Aim for 6- or 8-ounce patties. Inexperienced burger makers pack the chopped meat tightly. Don’t: A dense burger is not a juicy burger, and a lightly-shaped burger won’t fall apart. Avoid the temptation to shape and re-shape the meat; don’t compare your patty to perfectly-round patties pressed out by machines or by kitchen professionals using ring molds. Pressing down on the burger with a spatula while it’s cooking compacts the meat and presses out juices
Grilling time for your burgers will vary based on their size and your grill, but estimate 3 minutes per side for rare, 4 minutes for medium. If you’re making cheeseburgers, add the cheese for the final 2 minutes


Once you have your patties ready for the grill you need to know a few things about grilling the burger. If you want step-by-step instructions, I have that on a separate page. Start with a very hot grill, as hot as it will go. Get everything ready and quickly lift the lid and gently place the patties on the grill. When the raw meat hits the hot cooking grate it will stick. It will seize the grate for dear life. If you try to turn it too early the burger will fall apart. The secret is to flip the burger the second it releases.

The process here is that as the bottom of the patty cooks the grease will create a non-stick surface on the patty and the heat from the grate will char the meat, separating it from the grate. At this point you want to lift the lid again and flip the patties, preferably to an unused part of the cooking grate. At this point the process will repeat. When the burgers have released again, flip them again and turn down the heat. It should only take about 1 minute per side to release from the grate. When you have flipped for the second time continue grilling for about 2-3 minutes. At this point there should be no pink left. Flip a third time and continue until done. This should be only about 2-3 more minutes. Remove the hamburger patty when done and let sit for a minute or two before you serve.


Classic Burger Sauce
Makes About 1/4 Cup

2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon ketchup
1/2 teaspoon sweet pickle relish
1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper


"Dr. George Tiller, who remained one of the nation's few providers of late-term abortions through decades of protests and attacks, was shot and killed Sunday in a church where he was serving as an usher and his wife was in the choir."

Because, you know, the guy with the gun thought abortion was murder, and murder was wr.......umm.... okay, let's try this again.

This is proof that the right to have firearms is good

Okay, let's go to commercial.

Underwater Jet Ski?

Actually, they're all pretty jaw-dropping amazingly cool...but an underwater jet ski? Holy hell.

Learning Models

Which isn't about getting familiar with leggy blonds strutting down the runway, intriguing though that image is. Saw an article the other day about a guy whose job it is to give massages to models in the middle of long photo shoots. Looked like fun, but I'd bet it wasn't.

What I'm thinking about, though, is a model of how people learn, which is something I know very little about, and even that, superficially. I know that people learn in different styles, and that, not consistently; I know that what works for one may not work for another, and even when a viable style is found, it might not always work, or not work as one had hoped. This frustrates me, because I like to think that all things are knowable; it's just a matter of finding the right information. I'm not quite as likely to believe that it's just a matter of finding the right book or the right web site or the right article as I used to be, but I'm still more likely than not to think that's the case. I still think that it must be possible to talk about these things in a way that doesn't require a Ph. d to understand -- and as it happens, I may have found proof.

I've mentioned on occasion that I work as a mentor at the local middle school. My style is significantly different than the other mentors, all of whom seem to focus on studying and the completion of projects. I'm not particularly comfortable with pushing, even gently, so I mostly just talk with the kid (whom I think of as 'my mento', though not to his face), about whatever comes up. I try to drop in pieces of stray information from time to time, as when he mentioned how he'd really like to shout as loud as he could in the marble-like entry area of the school, just to see how long the echoes would last; I told him about reading an article years ago concerning the people who did the acoustic rebuilding of Carnegie Hall, what some of the concepts were (as I remembered them), and why it wasn't just a matter of science when it came to whether a hall had a 'good sound' or not. He enjoys it, but it doesn't seem to do much for his educational prospects.

When I think about it, I feel that I'm being somewhat of a fraud, because what I think I'm supposed to be doing is helping him study, anything from learning specifically how to do math problems to writing about the Spanish Inquisition (which, as we all know, is never expected), or sketching the interior of a chipmunk. The thing is, though I can do those things with my daughter, I feel that I have the right to push her in the direction of learning; I can challenge her and move her. I don't feel that I have that right with the mento; I am not, in fact, exactly sure what my rights are, or even what the school's expectations might be. I feel that they're exceedingly fuzzy in that regard; if they wrote on the back of the little white plastic ID card that says MENTOR the phrase 'Think Good Thoughts', it would be a firmer set of guidance than what they've given thus far. I've looked on occasion through the web to see just what the heck it is that a mentor is supposed to do, but their definitions are all over the place, and pretty fuzzy in their own right.

I was therefore delighted to come across A Parent's Guide To Tutors and Tutoring, by James Mendelsohn, Ph.d He talks about what works, and how to think about learning. It's quite good. How good?

I may buy a copy for myself.


One person with whom I occasionally exchange emails is a lawyer who lives somewhere in California. I 'met' him when I came across a web site he operated, called Why I Like Obama, which I thought was both thoughtful and non-provocative. So long as you were starting out from somewhere around the middle of the range, you could read what he said and get food for thought. (People starting further right likely would just skip the site entirely). We don't write much, but I always enjoy hearing from him. He's bright and interesting, and I value his thoughts.

This is contrary to my normal view of lawyers, which can be encapsulated by this squib from an article in the Washington Post about a couple who'd invested in a dry cleaning business: "(They) eventually had a falling out with the California entrepreneur, so they hired attorneys to get them out of the agreements...." It's like a possibly apocryphal quote I heard years ago, where a businessman tells his lawyer "Your job isn't to tell me what I can't do; your job is to tell me how to do the things that you say I can't do." Or like the definitely apocryphal comment from a Star Trek novel, Doctor's Orders, where McCoy muses that Klingons are not inherently untrustworthy; they will keep their word until the situation changes -- then all bets are off. I suppose the dry-cleaning people were Klingons, in that they were willing to keep to their agreement until the point where they were no longer willing to do so. (I know, it's also possible that they signed something they shouldn't - people do that all the time- and that they simply reached a point where it was intolerable. It's possible.) Generally, though, my view is that lawyers are slippery people who are not to be trusted. I know two -- the fellow I mentioned, and a neighbor here -- and both seems honest, reasonable, and forthright. So you would think that I'd extrapolate from that. But I don't. Odd, huh?

Speaking of lawyers: I learned years ago that a well-known actor had gone to my college. I never felt any particular affinity to what he was in as a result, but it was an interesting bit of trivia. Well, today I was looking at an article about Sotomayer which showed her talking to some teen-age girls in a large room. Gee, I thought, that outfit the girls are wearing sort of looks like the outfit they wore at my high school. Catholic high schools tend to have a similarity that way, and the styles never change. Then I looked a bit more closely at the picture. In fact, that room kind of looks like our gym.... So I read the caption.

Yup. How about that?


One of the things that I feel badly about, on occasion, is when I can communicate better with my daughter than can my wife.

Last night, for example, my daughter went to a party at a friend's house, and received a thanks-for-coming gift. (The mother told me that my daughter had been the 'life of the party', and I replied, sternly, that we'd 'have to talk about that', which they thought was funny.) On the way home, she looked at it, and repeated several times that it was 'freaking awesome'. When we got home, she scurried for her room. My wife asked what she'd gotten, and my daughter said, in quick passing, 'nothing'. I told her, quietly, what she'd said in the car.

Now, I don't read a lot into this. I've noticed that ther are some things that she's more likely to talk to my wife about than me, and some, frankly, that I'm glad she's more willing to talk to her about than me. And I admit that there might be just the faintest bit of smugness when she's more willing to talk to me about something. But when it's something trivial, like that, I feel just a little badly for my wife, who's just trying to show interest and support for the daughteroid's life, and getting blown off for the effort. I don't think it's fair, and it's why I try to involve her when I'm the participant and she's not.

Freakin' awesome.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Cinema Nights

We have now gone to two movies in two weeks. This is startling for people who never do anything but stay home and such.

Tonight, we went to see Night At The Museun: Battle of the Smithsonian. And you know what? It was actually pretty good. Didn't hurt that I had a lot of little kids around me, all of whom were enjoying it. Quietly, for the most part, but with lots of giggles and laughter. That's such a refreshing sound.

Gave me a whole new appreciation for Amelia Earhart, too.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Following Passion

Following your passion isn't for everyone. And this entry on the Quest for Balance blog does an excellent job explaining why. It's terrific.


As I see the price of gas climb, heading for $2.50 a gallon and points north, I have to remember that this is a good thing, overall, because it encourages new technologies and conservation, and because it signals an expectation of economic recovery. Okay, it would be nice to get a less painful signal, especially for those for whom the price was barely tenable at a lower level, but overall: goodness. Kinda.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


I've never quite gotten the concept of business cards.

When I was graduated from high school, they gave us boxes of business cards. Very plain - just our name, nothing more. I appreciated it, but - I'm pretty sure that the only people who got mine were classmates. The lack of address and phone info really helped in keeping in touch, I find. When I started to work in the corporate software group at EDS, they gave us write-your-name-in business cards, which we all thought incredibly cheap. Later, I did get some that said who I was, and what I did. Have to admit, those got about the same amount of usage as my high school ones.

Still, snappy, creative business cards -- they get my interest.


This is why there will always be an England.

Though if I were there, that'd be me in the third picture from the end.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Corridor One

This evening, we went to a presentation in support of what's called Corridor One, which is a proposal for a regional rail line between Harrisburg, the state capital, and Lancaster, about forty miles south. There were four speakers, one a moderator, one someone who spoke about measurement of air pollution, one who spoke about the health effects of air pollution, and one who spoke in favor of the commercial benefits of light rail. Only the first and fourth were worthwhile; a little talk about microparticulates and lung cilia and whatnot goes a long way. The person talking at the end was more enthusiastic and emotional, which I kind of liked. She didn't have logical, rational reasons (well, she likely did, but that wasn't the thrust of her argument); she said it ought to be done because it was a good thing, and it ought to be extended to our communities because we didn't want to miss out on the growth that this would inevitably bring.

Personally, I don't think that there is anything inevitable about it, but I'm with her; it's a good idea, and we should do it.

Monday, May 25, 2009


I just went for a bike ride with my wife. This is a good thing, both for the obvious idea that it was some exercise, not to mention, time with my wife, but also that it was a bike ride. For a long time, I haven't been able to get onto a bike -- the act of tilting to the left and swinging my right leg up and over was beyond me. Last week, I discovered that if I removed the seat entirely, I could get my leg over (turning around afterward and putting it back into place). This evening, I was able to get on without doing that. I did have the seat way down, and I had to support myself against something solid while I tilted the bike -- but I did it.

I'm pleased. Still a little scared of falling, but -- heck, it's a start, right?

Asimo - See That?


Well, we went to see it.

I am so very glad I did not see it in an Imax theater. I am not sure that my senses could have taken it.

Very nicely done, just about all of it. Yes, indeedy.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


In the grand scheme of things, this is small - but I liked it.

We went out for a walk. I told my daughter I'd have my phone. Ten minutes out, we heard thunder, and decided to come back. We were downstairs watching the tube, when the phone rang. It was my daughter, telling me that she had heard thunder, and wanted to be sure we were okay.

Nice. I liked it.

Ah, O?

I doubt anyone else cares, but -

I didn't like when Bush did the 'chest bump' with a graduate of one of the military academies. I thought it was silly, stupid, sophomoric, childish. For the same reasons, I didn't like it when Obama did the same thing. He's better than that.

And this "prolonged detention" stuff -- that sounds like a line right out of Cheney's hymnal. Good god, Barack, what the hell are you thinking?


Years ago, my wife and I realized, more or less at the same time, that things get in the newspaper because they're unusual, or novel. You don't see articles about houses with indoor plumbing; you see ones about houses where there are fourteen bathrooms and two bedrooms. You don't see articles about intensively partisan politicians; you see ones about thoughtful, moderate ones (though I wonder about them, too; sometimes, I think, those articles are just puff pieces). But that style of reporting may be changing, because I've seen some articles that I had to read two or three times, just to be sure that I wasn't missing something. I wasn't.

Take the one that I saw in this morning's Washington Post. They were, in fact, reporting that when it comes to money, people are being cautious. If they get money, they don't rush out to spend it. They pay down debts, as they can. They don't go for the flashy things. They spend it on their lives. This, the Washington Post seems to feel, is worthy of a page one headline.


That's exactly what I'd expect in an environment where money is hard to come by, where jobs are easy to lose, where you have a lot less confidence in the future than used to be the case. Normal people think that if they can't be confident of a continuing income stream, they'd better do what they can to limit their exposures, their liability. They'll buy things that they need, but not things that strike them as fripperies. If they don't need to spend, they won't. It's not exactly putting the spare cash under the mattress, but that's the general idea.

What part of that does the Washington Post find unusual?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Star Trkk...Not

We were going to see it, until holiday traffic on what we laughingly call a major highway (in LA, it'd be an alley, I think) led us to say 'lets just take one exit earlier and just go through the streets", at which point we encountered another of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation's little jokes. Never assume that it is possible to get from one major road to another identically named major road. You would be wrong, and by the time you get the hell out of that maze, the movie will have started, dammit.

However, though we still intend to, this means that we don't have to.

Friday, May 22, 2009


Some say that guns don't belong in schools.

Others disagree.


Dell has repaired the laptop, and shipped it yesterday. Should be here Tuesday. The daughteroid doesn't know yet.

Air Craft

I've always liked the Harrier and the F-111. The XB-70 Valkyrie, too. Just saying.... Oh, and the F-4. And the Warthog.

Speaking of the Warthog, I'm pretty sure that this isn't what's meant by Close Air Support.


I think that slogans can matter. I think that seeing them, particularly if they change over time so that you're not seeing the same ones every day, can alter the way you see yourself, and your life.

I like this collection, which I found on Flickr.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

White Elephants

There's an interesting article at Wharton's Universia site regarding new realizations of Spanish - and, by implication, other countries' - cities about what kind of civic projects ought to be considered for the future. In a nutshell, they're now thinking that the globally-oriented, glowing, big-concept efforts ought to be scaled down or even eliminated in favor of projects that speak directly to the needs of the population and the competitiveness of the city. The article's not very long, but has some deep implications for urban planners.

Boy !

We don't tend to buy "gourmet" foods, but for these guys, we might make an exception. Found out about them on the Bakers Banter blog, here.

Cruelty, Children, and Others

Mine, specifically. We had told her that we would have her laptop repaired again, which is happening now, and that we would consider getting a netbook from HP, which my wife can do at something of a discount. After looking at the machine in a local store, I realized that it's not intended for videos -- that screen's pretty small -- and that when the other laptop returns, the likelihood of my daughter using the netbook would drop significantly. I love my daughter, but spending three hundred dollars so that she would not be without a laptop, when we have a perfectly adequate but not in her room desktop PC, seems too much to me, so we're not going to do it. My daughter told me that she's going through 'laptop withdrawal', and while I believe her, I don't believe her enough to spend the money. Heartless.

Last night, we went to a funeral home for a 'viewing' of a woman that we'd both worked with, who died abruptly of cancer. Not actually a viewing, as she'd been cremated, so all there was to see was an urn under a cloth. Okay with me. Once again, there were a lot of EDS people there. It's getting to be like the old persons joke about not seeing anyone except at a funeral. I was startled when a flock of girls arrived in soccer uniforms, but it turned out they were friends of the woman's daughters, as were the two girls who'd shown up in quite attractive black dresses. I told my wife that this was giving me a whole new appreciation of the problems that libido-driven teenage boys have. Not to mention certain neighbors -- we learned last night that the guy who'd been sentenced for five years was actually sentenced for five to ten years, which I assume extends the period before he can get parole. I still think he is being punished excessively. Of course, if it'd been my daughter, I wouldn't think so.

My tour at the primary was uneventful. Boring, too. I spent a great deal of it going through my notes, trying to find anything that could be done early, before the polls closed, so as to limit the amount that was done afterward. The biggest single time-saver, though, was that we didn't have absentee ballots to count. Last time, that took us forty-five minutes, all by itself. Why it has to be done by us, and at the end of a day when you're brain fried and just want to get out of there, still eludes me.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Long Day

Tomorrow, that is.

Up around 5. Breakfast. Drive over to the polling place. Put out the Vote Here signs, go inside at 6. Do the formalities to open the polls. Open the polls at 7.

Sit for 13 hours.

Close the polls.

Fill out many, many forms. Box and bag everything. Post the results on the door. Put everything in the van. Don't forget the flag.

Drive a half hour to the county voting office. Turn in everything. Wait while they make sure you did turn in everything. Drive back home.



I just updated our long-range planning spreadsheet for the first time in about two years. One of the changes was to zero out the income block for me, as I'm not earning anything, and not drawing any pensions or similar funds sources.

Weird feeling.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


I've wanted to see New Zealand for quite some time now, actually....


I picked up the materials for the election primary, this Tuesday, and looked over the sample ballot. And there I am, running unopposed (save for write-ins) for Judge of Elections. How about that!

Lawyer's Thoughts

Here's the thing about lawyers. You can't assume that you can trust that what a lawyer says is right. It may well be that what they say is legal, but ethically, morally....well, that's a whole 'nother question. You might even find yourself wondering if what they say the law says is there, at all.

As an example, I point to Kathleen Parker's article in today's Washington Post, where she expresses surprise and dismay that people are clamoring for the blood of John Yoo because he issued a legal opinion to the effect that waterboarding is not a crime. She says: "Whether one agrees with the Bybee-Yoo interpretation is a difference of opinion but nothing more. Any fair assessment has to include consideration of context and distinctions that matter, including the definition of waterboarding, which varies according to country and century."

Later in the same article, she says "Even if Bybee and Yoo were wrong, their error doesn't rise to the level of an ethical offense, much less a war crime. Under the Justice Department's own standards, an ethical issue would arise only if their opinion was so obviously wrong that no reasonable lawyer could possibly reach the same conclusion. By that standard, the only obvious wrong is the continued persecution of Jay Bybee and John Yoo. The effect sanctions might have on future lawyering, meanwhile, could be chilling."

And that's where she crosses the line. These lawyers said that harsh treatment was legal. A fair and impartial reading of the law might lead one to believe that. In the case of these fellows, though, their impartiality is suspect, because it was clear, based on their comments and observations in other locations, that they were motivated to please their masters, as willing to prostitute their calling as a doctor dealing drugs on the side, their opinions as much for sale as Alberto Gonzales. It's that transgression which is galling, which strikes to the heart of the belief that the law is impartial. That's the reason that they should be removed from positions they hold now.

If this realization now means that future lawyers will have to think twice about whether they're willing to sell their souls to the highest bidder -- well, I don't see anything wrong in that.


Most times, sermons don't move me. They're meant well, and usually delivered - well, adequately. But in terms of making me stop and think, they tend to fall short.

This morning's was different.

The priest who delivered it usually has a more casual style than the pastor -- my family calls him Fast Willie because his sermons are short, which we like, and they tend to have some humour, which we also like. But this morning, he started by talking about five or six people that he's met as a priest. Each had had something bad happen to them, from being raped or molested to getting addicted to drugs or becoming a prostitute. Each of them felt that what had happened to them had to have been because they were inherently bad people, and that it was the best that they could expect.

For each of them, he said, his message was the same. They had a right to expect to be loved unconditionally by their God, who did not see them as inherently bad. They had that right.

It made me stop and think. For a bit, I thought yeah, that's great if you believe in God. And then I thought well, even if you don't, the idea that bad things happening to you don't necessarily mean that you're a bad person.... and even if you ARE, it doesn't mean that you can't work yourself into a position where you can be loved. I also thought Well, I'm a father, and I love my daughter unconditionally, but that doesn't mean that I won't punish her if I think she's deserved it -- but, then again, punishing her doesn't mean I don't love her. It was not, I thought, the classic message of a demanding supreme being that could lash out at any moment, one whom you were not worthy to approach, let alone look at. It was more hopeful.

I liked that.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


A long time ago, I thought that I might try to fix the faulty power jack on my Dell 600M. After seeing the tech take apart my daughter's 1525, I decided that that was something that would never happen. But since I was going to toss it anyway -- and if you don't think that caused me a pang to the heart (we paid good money for this thing, dammit!) -- you don't know me very well.

So I took it apart. All the screws and snaps I could find, piece by piece. And I found two things.

First, the area around the fan was just clogged with dust. Could this have made that one -- and the 1525, too -- overheat? Well, given that the tech told me that power problems could be caused by overheating, yeah, that seems likely.

Second, the faulty power jack in question is a little tiny thing that looks like it was snipped off the end of a thin paperclip. And that was the source of all of the power for this thing. It fails, your laptop is toast.

I didn't really think it would be triple secured, high-density firmaplast wiring, or anything like that. But that thin, that skinny? Argh. Please don't tell me all laptops are like that, okay?

Friday, May 15, 2009


Well, this is interesting. My daughter, who had barely eked out a B in Science, is now looking at a possible A for the course. Not guaranteed, but possible.

Now, I know that this says nothing about her other courses; she says she is just shy of a B for History, has a B in French, and we don't know how she's doing in the other two core courses (English and Geometry). She's been having trouble with them -- in English, she can't get the hang of interpreting stories -- so her grades could well end up across the board. I hope she does well in all of them, of course. She's certainly taking it seriously - in fact, she mentioned that although she did not like it when we pushed her, she now feels that it was worthwhile. How about that!

It's encouraging. Maybe there is something to stepping slightly back and letting them take responsibility for their lives.

Disassembly and Changes

I just spent about half an hour taking apart an old laptop. It was the first of the Dell laptops we had gotten, and the first that exhibited the dreaded power jack problem. For anyone who's still out there, and keeping count, this is three laptops, two DPJPs. At one time, I'd thought how hard could this be?, but having seen the classic Factory Authorized Technician and what he had to go through to get my daughter's laptop apart, I realized that the chances of my successfully getting that one apart were infinitesimal -- but perhaps the older one? So I did, and I'm here to say that they were made with lots more screws and hidden little connections, but you can get it apart. However, there is no way you will ever get it back together. I can only assume that the people who do this for a living have very long thin fingers and eidetic memories.

My wife says that EDS is looking for people who are willing to go to India for four months. Unlike the IBM offer, it's not a relocation, and it's not paid at the Indian scale. But four I got itchy after six weeks in Australia (came back, went back), and that was someplace I really liked . Four months in India would be pretty intense. I think it could be interesting, though. I told her that whatever she wants to do is okay with me. Food wouldn't be a problem -- I've got Pizza Hut on five minute alert standby -- and as for cleaning...well. Ahem.

We learned today that a woman with whom we'd both worked has died after several years of chemotherapy. She had gone into remission two years ago, but last year it came back. Two days ago, she went to a hospice, and today, she died. She was not a close friend, but she was a decent person (why don't the foul people die? I guess they do, but nobody cares), and we are saddened by the loss.

Notes on a Foggy Morning

Pretty misty out there. Not too humid, though, so we'll likely go for a walk in a bit.

I love electronic bill-paying. I have a reminder that pops up every month, the day that my credit card bill is posted (and how long did it take for me to realize that it is posted the very same day every month?). I log in, look at when the payment's due, back off a week, and tell them to charge my bank on that day, then switch over to Quicken and put a post-dated entry for that day, showing the payment, and what my balance will be after I do it. Finally, I transfer their electronic statement to the running spreadsheet that shows all of our spending, specifically, to the one that shows my credit card -- run the macro that formats the input, then the one that categorizes each line - Groceries, Daughter, Home, etc. Ten minutes, max. I love this stuff.

My daughter made a point of telling me yesterday that she was working hard on her grades. I think that she was primarily telling me that you don't need to contact my teachers, I'm doing it myself, which I think is goodness, though I think that there was also a subtext of If I don't do well, at least you know I tried really hard. In fact, as I think of it, she literally said that, and - after I swallowed the first comment - I told her mildly that it was good that she was trying, and pursuing these alternatives, but the bottom line was, what were her grades; if they're not good, we'd have to take steps. She didn't like that. Fortunately for me, she doesn't know that I'm virtually clueless about what those steps would be. She did admit that she doesn't like it when she compares grades with her friends, and her ranking is always way further back than theirs. Why is that, do you think? I asked her, and she said she didn't know, so I just said This is the time to be compulsive, kiddo. Work hard, and then work hard some more. Do more than you think you need to do, more than you thought you COULD do. She was not, shall we say, happy to hear this. As for me, I was not happy to, once again, be wondering what could be done to improve her grades. Our thoughts on that are always so damned barren. I get pretty frustrated with The Educational System. Both of us do. There has to be a better way -- but I suspect that even the good teachers don't know it. Either that, or the rote statements -- Have a designated study area free from distractions.... Study with a pen... Review notes -- really IS the best that can be done.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Guns and Torture

I see where the guns-righters are getting more votes than the people who are opposed to that. (I did not say 'the people who are pro-life, or anti-victim....though I did think it!) I am not happy about this, because I differentiate between the right of people to have weapons (yes, even concealed ones, which I don't like) and their right to have heavy-duty assault weapons, which I think totally indefensible. Guns-righters, though, apparently think 'all or nothing', and lately its been more all than nothing. I'm hoping that this will swing back -- not all the way, just half way -- but to be honest, I can't see what would make that happen. Slaughter of the innocents doesn't appear to stir very many people, these days.

On the torture photos -- gee, I don't know. I can't see where releasing those would contribute anything to the discussion, but I cringe a bit at the thought that my side saying that is more than a little close to that side saying there are national security issues that they just can't tell us, so we should just trust them. What's needed, perhaps, is a trusted intermediary who can look at these things and render an impartial conclusion -- yes, these should be released; no, they should not. I won't hold my breath.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Notes and Observations

I haven't been writing much of late, mostly because when it occurs to me to do so, I either have something else to do, or my daughter's glommed onto the laptop, the result of hers being hors de combat for at least two weeks. We have been contemplating getting a replacement -- 0ne of those small HP 1000 minis -- but we're likely going to hold off on it until we see what it looks like to get the current one fixed. Next time, though, we swear mightily....and might even mean that.

Next Tuesday is the primary, and I think things are going to be a little rough for my group. We have eight people, and three of them have announced that they won't be able to make it. I suppose we can do with four, if we had to, but there would be some serious delays. I've talked to a couple of volunteers, and two said they couldn't make it, while one, who was eager to do so, was under the impression that she could spend two or three hours at a stretch, not the fifteen hours that this will take. Most of the day, I don't think it will matter, but there will be times....

Not too much baking, lately. I find myself occasionally thinking of that culinary school in Maryland. That'd be fun, I think. No idea how expensive, though, even for just a week.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


This has been an interesting day.

I spent some time with my mento, but it was entirely taken up with helping him trying to find his father's Zune which he'd brought to school and then lost, possibly to theft.  I helped him write a note describing the problem (he needed to document it), and afterward he thanked me, which he hadn't done before.  Along the way, one of his classmates asked if I was the mentor who baked the 'awesome brownies and cookies', and I said that while I could not attest to the awesome part, the rest was true.

We had the electrician here all day, installing the new lamp post (hey, black's not so bad) along with the 'smart' switch so we could control it from the entryway rather than having to go down to the garage. The switch performs as advertised, though it did have problems with its antenna -- they say you can just let it dangle down in the wall cavity, but we ended up having to let it hang outside the switch - which doesn't all all that pretty.  Then again, neither does the garage.

And we had two more sockets installed in the landscaping, including a switch which was supposed to light up when they're on, but actually lights all the time. Um, guys?   We're going to ask about that.

Monday, May 11, 2009


Later, that same day --

I've been sitting here in the living room, alternately reading and musing.

The reading has been mostly Artificial Intelligence in Medicine, with a little Artisan Baking Across America. I'm a little stunned by the AIM book - it's very good, but it's also very dense. I have to slow waaaaay down to read things, even just to 'get the sense' of what they're talking about. This is a characteristic of books like this -- they're not light reading. Back when I would routinely read things from the Computer Measurement Group, I'd see papers like this -- you had to stop and actively think about what they were presenting to you. This is a good thing, at least to me, because it means that I'm learning something. It istn't just 'oh, yeah, I've seen this before, blah blah blah' types of things. Many of the topics, I'm not interested in -- creation of ontologies, applications of case based reasoning, some applications -- but even that is goodness because it forces me to think about what, exactly, I'm looking for in reading this material. What problem am I trying to solve? For the longest time, I thought of AI as a monolith, but over the last six months or so I've started thinking of it more as tools rather than one size fites all. I came across a quote the other day, don't recall exactly what it was, but the gist was 'every time we thought we had artificial intelligence, it turned out to just be some more code', and thats how I'm starting to view it. Its not magic, its just code. Okay, very, very slick code, but still: code. And code, you pick and choose according to the problem you're trying to solve.

The musing has been about the idea of getting the big screen TV -- big screen being a relative term. We have a picture hanging in our bedroom thats about 39 inches diagonally, and that seems to us to be a good side for a tv that'd be viewed from about ten feet away. Of course, when I 'see' it in my head, it's got the full monty of options, from the DVD player and associated audio, including dispersed speakers to new comfortable chairs and better lighting. Whether we'd actually do all of that is another question. We have some audio equipment down there now, but its old, and I'm willing to replace it if needed -- just, not with some megaboxes with many blinking lights and flat black panels. That limitation does restrict my options, so I tend to think 'okay, just the TV... for now'. Maybe.


I was going to go see Star Trek today, but I think I'm going to make pizza, instead.

Partially, it's because I don't want to be away from the house -- I called Dell to see if they'd repair the laptop again (I'm not expecting it, because, frankly, I think they went above and beyond before, but it did fail, so... what the heck); I don't want to delay any conversations, even if they're on the order of 'Bill, did you think we were Santa and this is Christmas Eve?'

Partially, it's because I'd really rather see ST with my wife, than alone. Unfortunately, that's unlikely to happen, with her work schedule -- but, I'm thinking, we are toying with getting a flat-screen TV, and this is going to come out on DVD...hmm..... And it's not like I'm a hard-core Trekkie. Or Trekker. Or whatever the currently in-vogue phrase is.

Partially, it's because I really did want to make some pizza. Actually, what I want is to make three or four small ones, and try different seasonings on them. I have no clue (well, okay, a little, but not much) about what it is that gives certain pizzas that distinctive taste, that tang that says 'New York Pizza' to me. I know that it's perfectly possible to have a decent pizza without that -- and I am by no means either an experimenter (no goat cheese on it!) or a purist (I enjoyed a Pizza Hut thin crust pepperoni, the other night, even as I was thinking Man, this is a dry, tasteless pizza). I just have wondered for a while: how do you do it? Now, I know that King Arthur Flour will sell 'pizza spices', and I'm willing to believe they would give the taste -- but a) I'm not willing to pay the freight for that (literally; the cost is okay, but shipping isn't), and b) I tend to think of it as cheating -- it still won't give me the ability to replicate the flavor myself. So... And it doesn't hurt that I wanted to try this recipe from the KAF site, even though I have a plain one and a honey-wheat one that are both very good.

Partially, it's because I have a LOT of reading to do, some of it dense, and I want to do it. What better time than while waiting for a call and/or waiting for pizza dough to rise?

So -- that's the plan.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


I cannot....believe it.

My daughter's Dell laptop? The power charge function just died. Plug it in, the laptop doesn't see power.

And there's this burning smell..... no kidding.

On the bright side, I was able to get her Sansa MP3 player, which would not start, to start. Apparently, holding in the MENU button for thirty seconds forces a 'reboot'. I know what a reboot is, but no clue about what it means in this context. However.....

Dell. Listen, guys.....

Saturday, May 09, 2009


This is how weird I am: I read the following, here:

Physics professor: Where are all the physicists? Eh, we're all cab drivers, drug addicts and musicians.

Cupertino, California

Overheard by: shyinvisiblegirl loves physics

and I thought "Aw, poor kid. I hope she knows it's not only okay that she loves physics, it's absolutely terrific. And I hope she can lick her shyness."

Prom Night

Tonight, we went to a concert where some friends of ours perform -- a chorale/orchestra arrangement. It wasn't all to my taste -- for one, they didn't do the theme from Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, or any of that, and they didn't take requests, either -- but much of it was quite good. On the way back to parking, we encountered a number of teens who were highly dressed up -- tonight is Prom Night, and kids are everywhere, dressed up and lookin' good. One girl, though, seemed to be groaning as she walked. I thought she'd eaten too much -- I heard her mutter something about wanting to unzipper the dress -- but my wife heard more, to wit: This dress fit last week, the baby must have had a growth spurt. Oh - kay!

My daughter says she never wants to have a boyfriend, because she's had to console a friend of hers three times through boyfriend breakups. I think: this isn't really a BAD thing.....

Evening Plans

I am reading that book we got today, and got the urge for something concrete to offset the theory. (Which reminds me of the scene from The West Wing where the President's daughter greets the Chief of Staff - "Hi, Mr. McGarry" "Hi, Zoe, how are you? What have you been up to?" "Keeping it real, Mr. McGarry". She then walks out of the Oval Office, and he turns to the President, who's reading something. "Did you understand that?" He doesn't even look up. "Not a clue.")

Well, understand this - a batch of which are cooling on the counter at this moment. Minus the one grabbed by my daughter on her way out.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

2.5 cups oatmeal
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
3 oz chocolate chips

1. Blend oatmeal to fine consistency in food processor.
2. Cream butter and sugars, beating until creamy.
3. Add eggs and vanilla, and beat until blended.
4. Add flour, oatmeal, salt, baking powder, and baking soda; beat until blended.
5. Add chocolate chips; beat until blended.
6. Scoop and place on baking sheet.
7. Bake at 375 for 12 or so minutes.
8. Allow to cool on sheet, then transfer to wire rack to complete cooling.

Gimme an Aspirin

Turns out the long-delayed interlibrary loan request that had arrived was not Baghdad at Sunrise, but one that I had forgotten even making -- the papers from the 10th Annual Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Medicine. These are two areas that fascinate me, but, you know? It doesn't mean the damn papers are easy to read. Even the ones that are on subjects that interest me -- hey, who cares about improved algorithms? Not me -- are tough to read. And when the synopsis takes a couple of tries to understand -- hoo, boy.


The local cable channel here runs a series about local industries (local as in "in Pennsylvania"). It's about as low budget as you get, but if the presenter, who's from the company, is up to speed, it can be funny as well as informative. Anything from companies that make hand-painted figures to people who design and build cyclotrons. I like it.

I thought of it when I saw this picture (which has nothing to do with the cable show, but everything to do with the concept). I don't often see a picture of a guy who's obviously posing but still looks real to me.


Ever have a post that you wanted to write, about something that you've been curious about for some time, but you just can't figure out how to write it without sounding like a bigot, a fool, or something equally abhorrent? You might ask someone that you really trusted hey, whaddya think about this?, but the world in general? Even if, truth to tell, the number of people who read your blog not so many? Ah.... no. Write it two or three times, look at it each time, and then delete it. Better not take the chance.

Yeah. One of those.

Mock, Mock

In retrospect, it's easy to mock the fly-by photo op of Air Force One (yeah, I know, O wasn't on it, so it wasn't really with it) in New York. I agree with the people who say that they could have done just as well with Photoshop, and maybe better (flying upside down? towing someone on skis? Wait, is that Joe Biden?), even though that would have been a wonderful gift to the conspiracy theorists of the world (ya see, we KNEW the Apollo landing were faked!) And I agree with the people who asked why we needed this at all (and here's a shot of Air Force One back when we could still afford big planes like that to just go up and stooge around....) I even agree with the people who say that it was a routine training mission that happened to take along some photographers to Capture The Moment. I think they're being sly when they say 'that money would have just been spent on a different mission', because, whether it was or not, the idea was that this one was not a good idea. Perhaps if AF1 had opened the Special Presidential Ejection Pod Bay Doors and dropped a few million jelly beans and mallowmars down, people would have felt differently. Dropping Dick Cheney would have been good, too.

The part I have a problem with is the resignation. It's obvious why he did it (hey! I didn't sign.. that's not my signature! Rahm! Hey, RAHM....It's just business, Caldera, nothing personal); whether he should have is for politicians to decide (it's getting a little cold in here....let's toss another peon on the fire). Though I did like Dana Perrino's snarky observation that in their administration, they had a military man in that position. Humpf. I told that to my wife, and she almost went ballistic. So all of their appointees were made on the basic of merit? They didn't screen for political loyalty as the first and sometimes the only criteria? Not that OUR side would ever do that.

But having decided that he was leaving, he gave an apology which even Rumsfeld would have liked. I'm sorry that you weren't sufficiently prepared for the experience, even though we told everyone we could think of. Of course, they couldn't make this public knowledge, because of Military Secrecy, and if we'd told you, well, the terrorists would have won. He couldn't just say 'hey you know what? I screwed up. I shoulda, woulda, coulda, but I didn't, and now I'm gone.' No. He fuzzed it.

And that part, I didn't like.

Putting it Flatly

I just wrote a short email to a person associated with the Patient Navigator concept, summarizing what I thought about some efforts that Microsoft is making to become a player in the Healthcare arena.

I was impressed by the concept of Microsoft Amalga, which can integrate the display of data from multiple sources (though I tend to be wary of things like that after having seen the Candle computer systems integrated display of multiple data sources; it was multiple, but it certainly was much more primitive than I had in mind, and I suspect that in its first generations, Amalga might be, too). I was much less impressed with Microsoft Surface, because I couldn't see a use for it that was substantially better that what was done now. The closest was the idea that on one place, you could quickly see data from multiple locations all at once, and take them in with a single glance rather than having to look at multiple monitors or read multiple pieces of paper. That's nice, I thought, but, so what?

When I look at concepts like that, I find it very difficult to move beyond the basics to see what it could be. The reference I like to think of is the possibly apocryphal story of the person who, told of a proposal to put telephone lines in so that people in Maine could talk to people in Tennessee, replied, exasperated, "But what in the world would people in Maine have to say to people in Tennessee?" I know that when new tech appears, there has to be a certain amount of taking it on faith. There tends to be a fair amount of gee-whiz and then a miracle occurs and this is gonna be really useful, you bet, but, for me, I need more than that. I need to see how it solved one problem in a commanding way -- at least, in a way that was as effective as current methods and had the strong potential to do so much better with practice and application. Just saying how great it was going to be doesn't cut it for me. I know that sometimes, perhaps many times, solutions come out of the serendipitous joining of creations and concepts that didn't seem at all allied, solutions that the creators would never have imagined. Think, for example, of the famous origin of Post-It notes. But for me, if you want to be believable, you have to have a problem you're aiming at (even if the one you end up fixing isn't that one.) Gotta be real. Otherwise, I'll think, it's just some pricy gimmick -- like this.

To put it flatly.

Friday, May 08, 2009

I Fixed It

My daughter's of the current generation, so I assume that she of course understands all sorts of things about technology that I do not. In fact, she doesn't. What she does is accept them -- as much, I suppose, as I accept indoor plumbing and electricity. They are nothing remarkable, they just are.

few weeks ago, she mentioned to my wife that she was unable to send text messages from her phone. She said a 'weird message' came up, and she showed it to my wife, who, telling me later, couldn't remember it. I said that I'd take a look at it. My daughter refused to let me do that. "It's fine, Dad", she said, firmly. "But I can-" "It's fine." Okay. Hell with it.

Today, I mentioned to her reading of the girl who'd sent 303,000 text messages in one month, and my daughter said that yeah, okay, fine, she would show me the error. I Google'd it, saw a bunch of posts on various forums about it, figured out what they had in common, and told her via an email. A few moments ago, I told her that I'd sent her a couple of emails about it. Yeah, I know, she replied, not looking up from the television. I saw them. I fixed it.

I'm pleased that she fixed it, but a little gratitude would have been nice. And if she's the generation that gets it, why doesn't this kind of research occur to her?

Guns Don't Kill...They Just Make It Easier

Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis said scuffles among youth have become more violent and a conflict that 20 years ago would have warranted a pushing or wrestling match now sometimes results in gunfire.

"There's simply too many gangs, too many guns and too many drugs on the streets," he said. "We've got a problem with some of our young people are resorting to use of weapons and violence to solve any type of conflicts they may have."

Gears and Wheels

There's an ad for, I believe, the Visa Check Card that would have you believe that using their card to pay for things is ever so much better than using nasty, smelly, germ-laden cash. Although the ad is stupid, it does have a point: using a credit card (which is, I guess, not what that actually is, but: close enough) is faster and more convenient. It's why we have all but one of our recurring bills charged directly to the card -- we don't have to write and mail checks, we get immediate access to the account history, all of that. This is a good thing. It's one of the things, in fact, that we've come to expect - instantaneous electronic communications, limited use of paper, ease of access.

Every so often, though, the system gets one of Grace Hopper's bugs in the gears.....

I discovered a while ago that I was about out of several meds I take. The meds are filled through the Express Scripts function; what happens is that I get paper prescriptions for 90 day batches, refillable, and as I need to, I go to their web site and say "send me more drugs". Neat and clean. We are probably contributing to the death of the neighborhood drug store, and that does bother me a little, but only a little.

So, I went to their site, and, to my surprise, found that only two of the prescriptions were there, and both said that they needs a new prescription - no more refills.

Now, this is for a chronic condition I have, for which I'm not likely to stop taking meds, so it bemuses me a bit that they need a new prescription. I suppose that's their way of making sure that I actually did go back to see a medical person, and not just keep reordering forever. But this is where it gets sticky, because the prescription is on paper, and have to be physically mailed into their office, to be physically typed into their system, before it starts kicking out the drugs. I think: huh? No electronic way of getting this information to them? Got to get out the old quill and inkpot, hand it to a passing horseman, hope it gets there? Yup. To start the process -- or, in this case, restart it -- you've got to use paper. Oh, someday, they say, it'll be done electronically. Not there yet. For now:

Sent them the forms. On paper. Gummin up the works.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Later On

Things are improving here, but getting worse elsewhere.

For me, my cold is just about gone -- it's on that 'oh, I haven't coughed in -- (kaff kaff kaff) --some (gasp) time!' cycle. With luck it'll be gone by tomorrow. My daughter's also better, though, as she was worse off than me, she seems to be taking longer -- still has a scratchy voice and sneezing.

My wife, though, got some bad news about a friend and about a neighbor, both of which shook her up considerably.

For one, she learned that the sixteen year old daughter of our neighbor has some kind of serious intestinal illness which they think might be Crohn's, though they're not sure. She's been so afflicted that for the last three months she's been out of school entirely, getting her lessons at home from a tutor. This would be bad news for anyone, but when it's a teen, it feels particularly grim.

For the other, she learned that her childhood friend, with whom she's been close since, well, forever, just had a double mastectomy done, reason unknown. She's hoping that the procedure was partially therapeutic and partially prophylactic, and not that it's spread to both breasts. Whatever the reason, it's shaken her quite a bit. She'll likely make a run up to her mother's house as soon as feasible, to be with her friend.

Unsettling news, to put it mildly. Puts any thoughts of your own problems into a new perspective.


The cold is breaking up. This is good.

The dentist refused to let his staff clean my teeth while I had a cold. Turned out the receptionist's belief that having the flu was not a problem was, shall we say, incorrect. This was not good. I had to reschedule it to next week.

And it turned out the medical visit is tomorrow, not today. Ditto.

On the other hand, it's shining out, and I have a menu list made, which means I can start on the shopping list. And I slept for about two hours this afternoon, to my surprise.


I have never understood why 99.999% of audio receivers and amplifiers are black. And not just black, but dull black. No sparkling ebony, no iridescent darkness flickering in the shadows. Black. Black on black in black. Black. Why are they not available in gleaming rosewood, polished mahogany , a delight to the eyes to match the delight to the ears?

Why is that?


When you have a cold, you don't want to do anything, but that lack of activity means that you have the time to be well aware of all the things that aren't getting done that need to get done.

Like, mowing the lawn before it rains again.

Like, making a menu list for next week, and going to the store.

Like, reading those two books before the library says that the third one is in.


Good Call

I was just doing some surfing, and came across this page. I thought the combination of the title and the statement was funny.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Jump To Lightspeed

My wife and her sisters are going to pay for their mother to switch from a dial-up ISP to cable access. My daughter can hardly wait.


Last night, I dreamt that I took a drive to the other side of the small development in which we live.

On the way, I realized that there were no other cars in the streets -- and that the paving was now different, a sort of dark black, vaguely shimmering substance that looked like oil. I decided to turn back. The street where we live was crowded with construction vehicles and people busily cutting down trees and putting in new houses, cramming them into every available slot and spot. I made my way around several trucks and found our home -- though it was difficult, since there was now another house directly in front of ours, where the two trees used to be, and another on the other side of the driveway. My wife met me in the yard. I told her, as we walked past the dumpster (which didn't used to be there) that belonged to the gas station (ditto) about what I'd seen. We sat on a bench (on the paved piece that used to be grass), and she told me that this type of abrupt conversion was a known problem in certain computer systems, one that the vendor refused to fix. We'd just have to live with it.

The problem, she said, even had a name. It was a Dead Harley Overflow.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009


Tomorrow I get to go to the dentist for a checkup; on Thursday, to the doctor, same reason.

I hate doing that. Those people specialize in telling me things I don't want to hear.


Our bedroom is moderately sized -- about 13 feet by 14.5. It's not jammed packed with things, but there are no empty spaces -- not on the walls, which have five pictures; not on the floor, which has a bed, two night tables, a bureau, a bookcase, a small chair that serves more for holding clothes than sitting, a hamper, a pile of storage boxes (atop which is a wastebasket), and some other small things. And under the bed, too. It's not crammed, and I'm sure that we could eke some more space out -- say, put in shelving above the hamper, or - well, something.

I've always liked big bedrooms, though. When we've stayed in hotels that had spacious bedrooms, I've liked it; when I once sat on her bed while talking with a friend at her house, I didn't know which I liked better - the idea of being on her bed (thus fueling the occasional daydream), or the fact that her bedroom was big -- about fifteen by twenty-five, easily. So when I think of things that we could do to this house to make it long-term sustainable, moving this bedroom to a different space so that we can use this one to house an elevator was an easy idea to accept -- and since the space that came immediately to mind was something installed right over the garage, which space is, itself, 21 feet deep by 23 feet wide, it was an easy step to thinking of all that new space as being a bedroom. Oh, storage, too, but mostly: bedroom. Even practical considerations -- how will you keep from filling that space up, too; how will you ensure that there is a strong cross-breeze (the lack of which being my primary objection to this bedroom); how will you like paying for all that space -- don't entirely dissuade me. If anything, I find myself wondering if that's enough space -- gee, we are contemplating putting an extension on the garage to serve as a storage room, that's another fourteen feet; maybe we should include that in the bedroom, too.

It's about then that sanity begins to return. Do I want to pay for all that carpeting, or hardwood, or whatever? Do I want to pay for the room, itself, or the increase in air conditioning and heating and whatnot? In other words, just as we came to the conclusion that any new house, whether built by us or purchased, might not be exactly what we wanted, I've come to the realization that a big bedroom isn't, in and of itself, a desirable thing. It's only good if it makes desirable things possible.

Which doesn't, however, mean I'll stop thinking about it.

The Specter of Spector

It would take some to make me think of Spector the way I think of Lieberman. His support of Coleman in the Minnesota marathon, though, is a step in the Lieberman direction; his refusal to characterize himself as someone who will routinely -- not robotically, just routinely -- support the Democratic line is another, somewhat longer step.

His clear and unemotional reasoning for his departure from the Republican Party makes sense to me, though it is as cold-blooded as they come, and his comment about not being willing to subject himself to the Republican primary, because he 'supports the people of Pennsylvania, not the Republican Party', is more than a little coy. I think a little less of him than I did before he said those things. If you don't want to be a Republican, and you don't want to routinely support being a Democrat, there is a third option -- though one that affects your political might. That keeping that political might was his secondary motivation for the move all the way over -- well, I don't much care for that.

My wife tells me that Tom Ridge is considering running against him. I'm warming to that idea.


If I ever tried figure photography, I'd want it to have the feel of these photographs. I really like them. The photographer is clearly talented and thoughtful.


I haven't been doing a lot of reading lately -- no special reason, just hasn't happened -- but that's starting to change.

For one thing, I got a note from the libe saying that they just found this interlibrary loan request I'd made two months ago (Baghdad at Sunrise), realized they'd never fulfilled it, and wondered if I still wanted it. Well, yeah! And yesterday, I picked up the Influence book, and started reading it; pretty interesting stuff -- occasionally dry, but clearly intended for the layman (like me). So there's that.

Plus, there's the reading on artificial intelligence, which goes in fits and spurts, but is usually intriguing.

Of course, I still have the (cough) Audacity of Hope book waiting to be finished (I do like it, I just haven't been up to thinking about it, and if you're not going to think, what's the point?), plus a couple of others (Better, for one, and a couple of novels). And yesterday, I got the current version of the rules for running a local precinct's election process; pretty much the same as before, but some twists because it's a primary (hence, you have to do things a little different depending on political party). I'll want to look very closely at that, too. Can you say OCD?

This cold isn't helping my thinking process, but every so often, I feel a light switching back on in a dusty, abandoned part of my brain as I look at these different things. I rather like it.

It's Easy Being Green

Right, Kermit?

...and the Others?

"Masked gunmen stormed a wedding party in Turkey's Kurdish region hurling grenades and firing machine guns in an attack which left 44 people dead -- half of them women and children, authorities said Tuesday."

Half of them....and the others, what were they?

Monday, May 04, 2009

Night Notes

Colds: The gift that keeps on giving. Or: Colds: The gift that you get to give while keeping it for yourself. (sniffle)

I've not gotten any comments lately, which surprises me, a bit. It's almost as if people don't want to hear me complain about Wildwood and maniacs with guns. But that can't be true, can it?

Picked up a book called Influence, by Robert Cialdini, from the library. It's part of the logical underpinning of the Obama efforts to target voters with issues and responses that matter uniquely to them, or, at least, to people like them (which may impel them to act, themselves). Just glancing through it this evening, it looks good.

My daughter went to her first karate class tonight, and enjoyed it. I'm pleased, as she doesn't tend to join things easily. She said that she wants to get a job this summer, and pay for the class herself, so that "we'll have to take her". That's not exactly the way it works, kiddo - but we'll do whatever we can to make it happen.

Went to the election class. No big changes, though I'm a little unhappy to find out that we won't have students, this time. Having those two extra people gave us flexibility for moving people around. This way, I think we're going to have occasional backlogs. On the other hand, being a primary, we might expect to have fewer people voting, too.

And in other news.....

Troy Ryan Bellar, 34, used a high-powered rifle with a scope to shoot his 31-year-old wife, Wendy, when she tried to leave their home, the Polk County Sheriff's Office said in a statement.Two of the couple's children -- 5-month-old Zack and 7-year-old Ryan -- also were killed, but a 13-year-old got away, with the father chasing and firing after him, officials said."It is beyond my understanding why a man would shoot and kill his 5-month-old baby boy, his 7-year-old baby boy, try to kill his 13-year-old son, shoot his wife and then turn the gun on himself," said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd. "There is no explanation for that."


Gun shops across the country are reporting a run on ammunition, a phenomenon apparently driven by fear that the Obama administration will increase taxes on bullets or enact new gun-control measures. While campaigning for the White House, Obama supported re-enacting the now-expired ban on assault weapons. But there is no indication that the administration will take up that measure -- or any other gun-control initiative --anytime soon. Nonetheless, some gun owners aren't taking any chances.

Uh-huh. Cause, you know, what if you got the urge to just go and kill someone? As they flee for their lives? And then ran out of ammunition after killing the babies? It'd be just awful.

Soggy, Boggy

It's raining out there. Boy, is it raining out there. From brief torrents of rain to gurgling gushes, it's coming down. And down, and down. Going to be that way off and on all week, too. I told my wife that just about the time the grass dries out enough to mow, it'll be time for another downpour. The grass will be so high, we'll need scythes to get at it. Just looking at it last night, when it was damp, I saw where it really ought to be mown, and this will make it worse. I'm thinking about four hours, easy, to get it all done. I did casually suggest that it'd be a lot easier if we had a riding mower, but my wife played a classic trick on me: she agreed.

I've yet to see an article about Specter's party swap that didn't flat-out say he did it for personal reasons. They say it disparagingly, but why else would someone do that? After all, he's still the same person he was before; he didn't change -- just the people he hangs around with. What did surprise me was the article that said doing this had an effect on his staff, which might translate into people quitting, having to move his operation to a different office, things like that. I guess he can't afford to care about that, though. He 'wasn't ready to be done with the Senate', quite yet. Though if his move results in people who've been Democrats longer being aced out of chairmanships and such, they might be ready to be done with him.

I picked up a book about artisan bakers today. I am somewhat of a sucker for them -- the concept of excellence in baking appeals to me. I suppose I should say 'in a very limited subset of baking', as I tend to blow off articles about 'the perfect cream puff' or something with zabaglione this and crushed hazelnuts that. If there's a phrase that means 'very good in a very focused area', that's the kind of baker that I want to be. It's fun to try new things, but if a tart doesn't work or a souffle droops, it doesn't ruin my day. I told my wife once that while I was sorry that I hadn't been able to go to a baking school (just the one week CIA quickie boot camp, not one of their full-fledged schools), I didn't feel terribly about it, especially when I read that many of the people who go to that sort of thing come home and bake, perhaps, a quarter of the sorts of things that they learned there. Granted, they bake it at a much more proficient level than I do, and that, I would like to be able to do.

Still raining. Gah. I have to go out tonight to attend the 'election school', since I'll be working at the local polls for the primary in about two weeks. I doubt much has changed, but I am looking forward to it -- I hope that I'll understand more, this time, than before. I was really nervous before the last election. This time, I expect to be only moderately so -- and exhausted, as before, at the end of the day. Never did find something to do to 'improve the experience' for the voters. I should think about that.

Sunday, May 03, 2009


It startles me, just a bit, to see what a 'busy' week has evolved to for me.

Whereas I used to have to work a normal week and then squeeze things in, it's now a 'busy' week if, like this one, I have a two hour election training class Monday night, a half hour visit with a dentist on Wednesday, a half hour medical appointment on Friday, and I have to remember to schedule an appointment with an optometrist. How will I ever remember all of that?

Tough life, eh?


Those Belgians, they understand transportation.

Are They Kidding?

Yeah...I think so. Of course, this is California. Sometimes, it's hard to tell.


I see where people say that picking the replacement for Souter shouldn't be a political battle.

This is where my Bush yardstick works the other way. I'd fully expect that Bush would pick a hyper-conservative person for the job. Why should Obama not get the same expectation?

I think conservatives should feel lucky if he doesn't pick, say, Alan Alda, or Barbra Streisand.

Or even better - me!


I went to the store this morning to pick up the paper -- and a doughnut; my daughter is much happier when her Sundays start with one. I thought briefly of that hotel we were in yesterday, and how we'd still have been there this morning if the person we'd gone to see had made it to the finals. This being home is better than being there. I do feel a little unhappy that she didn't get to hang out with some of the people from her school, but even there, not a lot unhappy, as the only time we saw them, they were congregating on the walkway outside of their hotel rooms, being somewhat rowdy. Perhaps I'm a bit overprotective, but the idea of letting her wander around with them still gives me the willies, a bit. Overall, this was okay -- even if I did end up driving nine hours in two days, eating semi-crummy pizza in a dank hotel room, and all of that. She got her primary goal -- seeing her cousin perform. I can live with the rest.

Though, last night, I told her that I was sorry that she didn't get to see her friends, and said that if they did it again, I'd be willing to bring her down. To which she sharply and immediately replied "I am not going to that hotel again!" We're of one mind on that. I know that people who are going to a beach town aren't going for elegance and comfort, but even so, the lack of anything remotely resembling that level of accommodations there still surprises me.

On the way back from the store, I had the window rolled down so that I could feel the moist air -- it's drizzling slightly, here, and feels like it'll rain some more. I liked the feeling. It somewhat reminded me of the feeling in the air on occasion when I was in basic training for the Air Force. Not that that was a delightful experience -- I still recall polishing my boots, one morning, thinking that some day I would look back on that whole experience and tell myself that it was actually not that bad -- but it was! There were times, though, when it wasn't all that bad. Inhaling the cool, fresh air in the morning darkness was one of those times. Inhaling that scent this morning -- it made me feel young.

Saturday, May 02, 2009


There are laptops, and then there's this.


I don't get religion.

I know that it's supposed to bring to mind these guys , but for me, it tends to be more these guys.

It's not that I don't get the need for religion, which I take it can be quite comforting and consoling in both an intellectual and emotional sense, granting a feeling of structure and preordination at times when you might need it, but I really don't get the execution of the thing. I don't understand why they do it the way they do it.

Our church likes hymns. I understand that people like to sing hymns. I understand that. What I don't get is the way they choose what to sing. Our local church, for example, likes really old hymns, ones that are dusty and dry, with many references to Old Testament people. The music for this things is dull, lumbering, and stultifying -- what I like to refer to as Death of God music. I just don't get that. If the idea of the hymns is to excite you, delight you, remind you of why you come to church, invigorate you in the community of the people you're with, shouldn't the music be dynamic, charming, and elegant to the ear? I mean, I was never much of a fan of folks singing Michael, Row The Boat Ashore one more time with guitar accompaniment, but at least that was an attempt to be relevant to the moment. What's Death of God music relevant to?

And the robes. Protestants do this, too, but Catholics! Why do Catholic priests dress the way that they do? What has dressing like someone from two thousand years ago have to do with the spiritual component? How does dressing in satins and silks enhance the moment?

I think that Masses ought to be what I like to call Web-enabled. No need to physically go, on a cold, rainy day -- click on the URL for your church! Streaming video from the church, downloadable MP3s of the sermon. Click here to put money in the collection plate. Click here to make a recurring donation. If your church believes in Hosts, then ten-packs of unconsecrated hosts sent to your home; at the appropriate moment, put one on the Special Host Platen and it'll be consecrated remotely. Why can't they do that?

I just don't get it.

Incoherent Thoughts

And for any reader(s) who may have wondered why this post was so labeled, when the phrase is characteristic of so many of my posts.... no comment.

This past weekend, I went to Wildwood, New Jersey so that my daughter could see her cousin perform in a color guard event. I've mentioned elsewhere how I feel about Wildwood, New Jersey, so I won't expand upon that (okay, one note: I now understand Tony Soprano just a little bit better). It's a rip off place, like much of Coney Island and Pier 19 and all of that. But with the charm of, say, decaying bits of Route 66 and Alcatraz, mixed in. While there were good points in the trip, overall, the phrase that comes to mind to describe it is Major League Rip-Off.

Normally, I think that a color guard event is a minor league rip-off, because they charge you to get in, so that you can buy things from them and oh, by the way, watch your child's group perform. You can't videotape, oh, no, because they have professionally made ones for sale. But it's just a minor-league rip-off. For major-league rip-off style, you need to go to events held in major league locations, such as the Wildwood Convention Center and Visitor Fleecing Operation Location, in Wildwood, New Jersey. This is truly major league. For starters: they charge you to get in. It's a three day event. If the local folks charge about five dollars to get into a one-day event, what might a MLRO function do? How about $25? Per person, per day? Though they do give a wunnerful, wunnerful $80 'universal' pass -- not sure what that's for, but presumably it's a better deal than per person per day. And once you're inside? Well, not only do they have much less stuff to get to indicate support (though, if you'd like to buy your team a whole new set of outfits, or an Air Blade, they have them for sale), but they still don't allow videotaping, and if you do -- and we're talking about taping one or two lousy events? From a shaky hand-held camera? One of their efficient staff will come over and briskly inform you that that's a contravention of the rules!!! It wasn't me, but my cousin's wife who was so chastised, which is likely good, as I just don't handle that kind of thing well, I truly don't. Bite me is the calmest response that comes to mind, ratcheting up to more fiery and vociferous observations.

Overall, put it this way - if you have a chance to go to one of these things, there or elsewhere? I'm talking big league, not local groups? Don't. Really, don't. One day, four or five hour local ones? You bet. They're fun, the people are real, and its just folks supporting their kids activities. They could stand to be improved, too, but overall, not bad. But three day all-you-can-stomach events like this? Nah. Have a colonoscopy instead. At least, for that, they give you relaxing drugs.

In my calmer moments, though, I do wonder: since they must know that nobody likes this level of extortion, why do they do it? Isn't there a way to sell this in a more customer-pleasing fashion? Can't they charge a more reasonable fee, have more and better things to buy, and just blow off the video-taping thing because it's obvious that the ones they sell are just so ever much better, with better shots, colors, commentary, and all that? God help me, can't a marketing person get involved?

As Tony would way: whuffor? We gottem by the nuts. We like it just the way it is.

Friday, May 01, 2009

City of Enchantment

Wildwood, New Jersey.


Boy, isn't it. It feels old. No charm, no hey, I'm glad I'm here. No sense of delight. Similarly, this hotel. OMG. It is, shall we say, a jail cellblock, designed and built in the 1960s, with surly staff and cheap carpetting. How cheap is this place? They charge a refundable $20 for the TV remote! (And the key, my daughter points out).

Nevair again!!!

Soggy Plns

I tend to anticipate things.

If I have to be at the airport at 9AM, and it takes, at most, an hour to get there, I'll leave around 7:30 -- because, hey, you never know. So though my plan was to finish the mowing today, I thought, hey, you never know - so I finished it yesterday. This morning, it's raining. In fact, it's supposed to rain for the next three days, off and on. I'm not pleased about that -- this is all that grass needs, more reason to grow quickly -- but I'm glad that I was paranoid about it, and got it done early.

The plan is that around 1130, I'll pack my stuff into the car, hit the ATM, and then pick up my daughter at school and hit the road. Mapquest says that the elapsed time should be about four hours, door to door; since we'll almost certainly stop for something to eat on the way down, I'm thinking it'll be closer to four and a half, which will get us there about half an hour before we need to. Unless things slow us down, that is. Hey, what could slow us down in a small town to which we've never been before?

Maybe I should leave a little earlier.....