Saturday, January 31, 2009
It's from Caprial’s Desserts by Caprial Pence and Melissa Carey.
½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 ¼ cups lightly packed brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 heaping TBSP cocoa powder
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted
2 ¼ cups sifted cake flour (To make two cups of cake flour, combine 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour with 1/4 cup cornstarch)
2 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 cup sour cream
¾ cup boiling water
1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease cupcake pans and set aside.
2. Place the butter, sugar and vanilla in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on high speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl often , until well blended, about 3 minutes.
3. Add the cocoa powder. Mix until combined.
4. With the mixer on low speed, add the eggs, on at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl and mixing well after each addition.
5. Continue to beat for 5 minutes, until light and fluffy. Stop the mixer, add the melted chocolate, and mix well.
6. Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add about ½ the ingredients followed by about ½ of the sour cream and beat well. Add the remaining dry ingredients followed by the remaining sour cream, scraping down the sides of the bowl and beating well after each addition.
7. Add the boiling water and beat until smooth.
8. Scoop (ice cream scoop works best) batter into prepared pans.
9. Bake for 15-20 minutes until cake springs back when touched lightly in the center.
10. Let cool for about 10 minutes and remove from pan. Let cupcakes cool completely.
The cupcakes first. Sorry, no pictures; the camera is off with the family at a color guard competition. I had mentioned wanting to make some, but to make some large ones, and it was suggested that instead of a normal muffin tin, I use a custard dish. Who knew that's what those things were called? We just call them 'the glass bowls! That worked pretty well, though testing is still going on. What I did was to bake six in a muffin tin, then take about the same amount of batter as one muffin cup and put it in the custard dish. What I got was a muffin that was twice as wide, and about three quarters as high, as those in the muffin tins. Not bad! There's still a goodly amount of batter left, so the next try will be to take two or possibly three times the normal amount and try that. And hey, if I have to eat these experiments until I get it right, well....
Joe Nocera wrote a really interesting article for the New York Times on the subject of bankers and bonuses, talking about the spanking they got for what appears to most of us (though apparently not them) as continued greed in the face of financial disaster. I particularly liked this part, where he quotes an author who's also not too fond of Wall Street:
(W)ords like “off-balance-sheet vehicles” and “mortgage-backed securities” don’t have much meaning for most of us. What we understand is greed — which, ultimately, is what Mr. Smick was talking about as well. For most Americans, big bonuses and corporate jets and office remodelings become a kind of stand-in for the real sins of the bankers. They signify what people hate about Wall Street.
That being, their ability to blend avarice, arrogance, and ego in one nasty package.
Another article of interest was this one from the TechPresident web site where a commenter suggests that the President's Organizing for America initiative, wherein he asks people to drum up support for his policies and actions, will and should fail. Right off the bat, I thought Something Barack's doing should FAIL? The hell with that idea! But, in fairness (dogmatic Republicans and intense conservatives might have a little problem with that concept, but mainstream Democrats and liberals should get it just fine), I read the article. It says that an organization which exists to generate support of the President's policies is not worth having, and should instead be turned to the direct support of an existing organization. I don't agree with that. I think it's entirely reasonable to have such an organization that exists for that purpose, so long as it doesn't assume automatic blind support a la Limbaugh's Dittoheads. But reasoned, informed, active support from an involved citizenry? Not professional vote-getters, agitators, blowhards, or lobbyists, but actual people? Nothing better.
Could a blogger who's a blowhard be called a bloghard? Sounds so much like blackguard, I kind of like it....
I've got a nice pan that will make twelve muffins. Each cup is about two inches deep. Disregarding crowning, that's not much of a muffin, or a cupcake. Perhaps I'm too picky, but it seems like its a lot of effort to get something that can be eaten in about thirty seconds. Okay, granted, you can just eat more, but somehow that seems like gluttony to me. I only want one muffin at a time -- but I want it to be about two to three inches across at the bass, and about four inches high. They do make oversized muffin pans -- for example, here, and here, and here -- but they come with an oversized price. Given how cheap I can be, I just can't see spending the money.
I wonder if there is something of the right size that I already have that'd serve to bake in?
Friday, January 30, 2009
For a long time in my life I really liked them -- to this day, I recall the thrill that I got when I went for the first time to a Brentano's, because that chain had been mentioned in an Allen Drury novel (Capable of Honor), the first hardback I'd ever bought; also, how delighted I was when I came across the actual original Borders, before it became massive and popular and virtually indistinguishable from Barnes & Noble. And how charmed I was by the Waterstones chain, even just their little shop in the Pittsburgh airport. Classy, all of them.
But for a while, I've kind of avoided bookstores, because I didn't get much of a feeling of warmth from them any more. They weren't places for people who like books, most of them, but rather places for people who sell books. I don't care for the prices, but what I really don't care for is the attitude. Not all of them -- but most, yes.
There's an excellent list of what a bookstore ought to be -- and where I'd gladly pay extra to go -- in this posting from the Romancing The Blog site.
This afternoon, with no prompting, she apologised for her behavior. Proving that ballistic arcs do touch back down to earth.
He'd entered an intersection and was broadsided by a bus. The investigation showed that he had not stopped before entering the intersection. My uncle protested that there was no stop sign, and indeed, there was not. The local cop allowed as how kids were always stealing that stop sign. They charged him anyway, and he went to court. At the trial, the bus company was represented by a friend of my uncle's family. The bus company won. Afterwards, the lawyer apologised to them, and my aunt said, quite heatedly, that he and his family had been treated by her (she's a nurse) for years, and when they needed him, he was on the other side. He protested that he was just doing his job. She replied that in the future, he could get his medical care elsewhere.
Not sure why I just thought of that.
Thursday, January 29, 2009
Malia and Sasha were home from school on Wednesday, after Washington was hit with a snow and ice storm that turned the streets into virtual skating rinks. But in Mr. Obama’s view, that was nothing compared to Chicago; during an appearance at the White House on Wednesday, he poked fun of the city’s response, saying it was hard to believe that school was closed because of “some ice,” adding, “We’re going to have to apply some flinty Chicago toughness to this town.’’
And then I read this, from the January 29 editio9n of the New York Times Politics column on the MSNBC site, by Sheryl Gay Stohlberg:
The capital flew into a bit of a tizzy when, on his first full day in the White House, President Obama was photographed in the Oval Office without his suit jacket. There was, however, a logical explanation: Mr. Obama, who hates the cold, had cranked up the thermostat.
“He’s from Hawaii, O.K.?” said Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, David Axelrod, who occupies the small but strategically located office next door to his boss. “He likes it warm. You could grow orchids in there.”
And I'm thinking Huh?
Well, I'm here to tell you that the effect lingers. I have been reading the White House blog...and enjoying it.
Is there hope? Not for the country, but me?
We first did it about a year ago, and my wife went ballistic, vehemently insisting that it was not a back scratcher. The more she protested, the more we did it, allowing that we supposed you could use this marvelous back scratcher to pick up spaghetti, too, wasn't it wonderful, a two-use tool? After a while, she figured out that a simple, declarative statement - It. Is. Not. A. Back. Scratcher - would take the wind out of our sails.
This morning, I mentioned that I would be going over to the school to meet with my mento, and that I was pretty sure I'd be able to get my left shoe on okay. With the brace on, I flat cannot rotate my leg, and even without it, it's virtually impossible. What I need, I said, is something I used to have and threw away a long time ago: a long handle shoe-horn. Because, you know, I'll always be able to bend over, why would I need that? Ahem. Well, my wife said that when she was a kid, her father would occasionally use a big soup spoon as an emergency shoe-horn, why didn't I just try that? Perhaps one of the big serving spoons that's in the utensils drawer, the ones with the lip and the deep bowl? Oh, I said, great -- another dual purpose utensil!
You could just see her thinking Oh, darn.....
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
What brings this to mind is some filing that I was doing this afternoon. We have a multi-tiered filing system. Papers that come into the house are initially segmented, with bills going directly into a red Bills folder, junk mail to the appropriate receptacle, and papers (for example, insurance documents) that have to be kept but not paid going into a Papers To Be Filed folder. Both folders are kept in easy reach in a black plastic bin on the side of the refrigerator. Once the bills are paid, any forms that came along go into the PTBF folder as well. On a recurring basis (for which read: when the folder's bulging), one of us takes it, sorts it by type - health, insurance, utilities, etc - tossing all but the most current (in most cases, not all), and then, with a groan, sitting down at the filing cabinet and inserting them into their appropriate master folder. The system works pretty well, though about every two months I think that if we ever had to leave the house in a hurry, and those papers burned, chances are we'd be screwed. I also think why do we HAVE all of this...stuff...anyway?
Of course, what I really want is the paperless office, with resilient backup and an AI to tell me where everything is. Any Day Now.
All I hear is of companies buying corporate jets with the money, lobbying Congress with the money, paying bonuses with the money, and hanging onto (as in: refusing to lend out) the money. I don't hear much about oh, its working, things are beginning to ease up, except occasionally, to a very limited degree. I read that about the first massive chunk of money that was already doled out (to where? Well, apparently thats somewhat of a secret), and I don't hear anything to make me think that this second, much bigger chunk, would be any different -- except of course for those people who say that we ought not to be doing it at all; the system will fix itself once all the weak companies fail. And to hell with the average citizen, presumably.
I trust Barack much more than I did Bush, and more than I would have trusted McCain (certainly, much more than McCain/Palin, the concept of which still gives me the deep willies), and I know that he's only been behind the desk a week, and I know its gonna take quite a while to even begin to work, but still: what exactly is the problem, and how are we proposing to fix it, and how confident are we about the solution? I gather that there are actually multiple solutions, based on multiple interpretations of what the problem actually is. This does not fill me with delight.
So: what? how? In little, non-hyperbolic, non-vitriolic words, please.
So: Studying. I realized, after my lengthy speech to my daughter, that talking to her about metalearning (I didn't use that phrase, but I did use that concept) and all is fine, but what did I actually want, and how would I ensure it, or at least make it more likely? Which, I think, is roughly the position that Barack's in, as he's having to turn high concept/big picture stuff into reality: Holy Hell, This Is Hard!
After thinking about it for a day, intermittently, I came to this conclusion: I want her to do better, by which I mean I want her average grade to be at or above 90, instead of 86 as it was, last time around. The how (good lord, even just writing it down here, I feel a little quiver of trepidation) to get there is not at all clear to me, but for starters: I want her to do three things.
First, I want her to study for an hour every day, without the laptop. Today, snow day, we told her we wanted her to turn off the laptop, and she said she was studying science on it; we said 'then do it outside', and she said that she would study something else. Not the result we wanted. So, first thing is, every day, for an hour. If it turns out that she had thirty minutes of studying anyway, fine, that counts as part of it. If she had more than an hour, ditto.
Second, at the end of each study period, however long it was, I want her to talk with me in some detail what she's studied. Oh, hell, that's going to be lots of fun. But the idea is two fold -- first, if she has to regurgitate it, she might remember it better because she thought about it a little longer; second, if she has to talk with me, she might think of things that didn't occur to her, first time around. I am not kidding, I am not looking forward to this. It so much feels like grade school.
Third, I want her to bring home tests and review them. We raised this point yesterday, and she insisted that she's not allowed to bring tests home. I sent a note to her core teachers, one of whom responded and said yes, it was true that they kept them there, but that was only so that the parents could see them when they came to the classroom (when, for god's sake?); she would tell my daughter that she could bring them home. No idea what the other teachers will say; they don't appear to be very communicative. I also don't know how I'll know if she did have a test, or has one coming up. Its the classic deal where the school doesn't tell you (oh, the teachers are way too busy to post any of this on their web site, yaaaaas), but somehow they assume that of course the child will tell you. This would be the child who knows that telling you is just about all downside, no upside.
So that's the plan. Comments, other than my god thats a lame plan, which I already know, greatly appreciated. I do know that aiming for grades rather than comprehension is not a good thing. And Shannon, thanks for that link; I did read it.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
And yet, do they say Hey, Bill, watch out for, you know, ice on your driveway? Even given the track record, no -- they do not.
I blame Bush for this.
What I told her was that I wanted her to do what I've heard described as 'working smarter, not harder' - even though, as I admitted, I've always disliked that phrase, it makes sense, sometimes -- that working longer hours is not always the answer - sometimes you need to spend the same amount of time in a more effective manner. I told her (to the dismay of her mother) that of the things she learns in high school, I'd bet 75% will disappear from memory after graduation -- but what won't disappear, and what she needs to work on, is more effective use of her time, by learning how to learn -- what works for her, what styles work. I told her that though each teacher is teaching details about their subject, what they're teaching in addition is exactly that -- how to learn -- and that ability is what sticks with you once you're out of school and on your own. I said she had to improve that, because the alternative -- learning by simply (!) putting in more hours -- isn't really an option for most people.
(I could be wrong about that meta-learning stuff, but it feels right to me.)
In the short term, I told her she can't have the laptop active while she's studying -- she can use the radio instead -- and if she has to use it to study, she has to do it in a public place. I also suggested that she talk with people who are good at learning to see if she can elicit what it is that they do. It might help, might not.
So we'll see. I hope it works. I want her to succeed; almost as important, I want her to know the feeling of success. I think she'd rather like it.
Update: It amazes me how much of this I feel as if I have to figure out for myself. And its more than a little scary, too, thinking about the idea that in four years I'll think 'well, guess that idea didn't work'. Where's the 'experts' when I need them? As if they'd have a consistent voice....
4 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour (You can also replace some of the AP flour with whole wheat.)
1 packet active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 tsp sugar
1 1/2 cups milk
1/4 cup olive oil
1 good squeeze of honey
1 rounded tsp salt
Measure flour into a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center. Into the well add yeast, sugar, and warm water. Proof yeast several minutes, until it foams. In the meantime, combine milk, olive oil, salt, and honey in a microwave-safe container and heat for about 40 seconds. You don't want cold milk but you don't want hot milk. Plus, you need to dissolve the honey. Let this container sit in the microwave while the yeast proofs.
Once the yeast has proofed, gradually add milk mixture to the flour as you begin to combine the wet and dry ingredients with a spatula or wooden spoon or even your hand. Once reasonably incorporated, continue to knead right in the bowl or turn out onto a floured surface and knead. I usually don't knead the dough very long, about five minutes. If dough is sticky, gradually add more flour as you knead. It's better to have a sticky dough and add flour than try to add moisture to a dry dough.
Form the dough into a smooth ball. Lightly rub with olive oil and place right back in the mixing bowl, seam side down. Cover with plastic wrap, wax paper, or a damp kitchen towel and set someplace warm and free from drafts. The oven is a good place. I turn on the oven to the lowest temperature for a few minutes then shut off.
When the dough has doubled, divide it into however many portions you need. This recipe will make one big pizza (which is what I made) two normal-sized pizzas or four personal pizzas for hungry folks. I don't "punch" down the dough and wait for a second raise. I usually just gently handle it enough to stretch it into the pan(s). It continues to rise as I'm preparing toppings or doing other general kitchen tasks. Then I top it and bake it in the lower middle of the oven at around 400. Sometimes I use a stone, sometimes I grill it.
She's ranked academically at just about the .33 point, with an 86 average in her core subjects. That's just barely into the second honors range. Remembering what the principal and teachers said before she entered, I did not expect that she would do as well as she had in middle school - but I did expect better than this. How much better? Perhaps a 90 average, somewhere around there.
The question that comes to mind is: is this the best that we can reasonably expect. This is the sort of thing that I look to school counselors and teachers to tell me, but they seem clueless. I referred to the counselors as cheerleaders in an earlier post, and thats a good description. They are earnest and well-meaning, but thats about it. I know that its difficult to know if a kid could do better, but if they can't tell, I don't see how I can. My hunch, though, is that she can. She's a bright kid. I see the number of hours that she puts into practicing with her color guard troupe each week -- about six to ten hours -- versus the number of hours she puts into studying -- about five -- and I think thats not right. Thats out of whack. I don't expect that she'll be a grind, as a friend is -- this other girl literally studies all the time, waiting for the school bus, on the ride in, during lunch, waiting for band practice to start -- but more? Yeah.
Do I think that more would translate to better? I honestly don't know. But I do know that it can't hurt.
I'm also thinking about taking away her laptop when she's supposed to be studying. She says she likes having it on for music, and perhaps it doesn't hurt. But more than once I've asked if she's studying, and she says yes -- then five minutes later I hear laughter from her room. Thats not what I want to hear. I don't want to grind her down, but a little nose to the grindstone -- is that too much to ask?
I really hate the idea of being alone in this. Its what makes me laugh when the school says how great it is in working with kids. Yeah, right. Only one of the teachers even provides information on what projects are going on, what tests are being given, whats being covered, what results are being seen. The others? Well, you know they're busy. Maintaining a web site is too much to ask. Yeah. Thanks for the help, guys.
She's determined that she wants to drop from Level 1 to Level 2 for her Science requirement, while keeping all of the others at Level 1. Her logic is that she's not doing all that well now, getting Bs and the occasional C; with the same effort and an easier course, she'd get As and the occasional B. Both levels are considered 'college prep'.
My wife feels that she's copping out, looking to have to do less work, so that she'll still get Bs and the occasional C. Both of us feel that she could get better grades now if she worked harder at it. (I suppose that's the standard parent view).
It does not help that my wife's sister, the FEMA exec, with whom my daughter will be doing a 'shadowing' program, told her that basically any degree at all is good enough to get into FEMA, so now that's my daughter's default plan. Not 'coast along' exactly, but in that general arena.
My wife was livid about it last night. Absolutely livid.
Oh, and today's the day my daughter gets midterm grades.
Monday, January 26, 2009
But when they jail and then immediately deport an Australian family coming to this country for an ailing relative; when they root through private materials on laptops, and occasionally just seize them without reason or promise of confidentiality or return; when they threaten arrest for sketching a picture of an SUV on the grounds of potential copyright infringement -- then they're not a defense. They're not honorable. They're a joke, worthy of derision and contempt. That kind of defense, we don't need.
A new age has dawned in Washington, but apparently the sunlight hasn't reached everywhere just quite yet.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Or as serious as I ever get.
Oh, and that other bookmark? It's about photographing children, something I wish I could do well.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
Tomorrow morning, I'm going to try making this:
Pop Up Pancake - makes 24 muffins or fills a 9×13 baking pan
* 1 cup milk
* 1 cup flour
* 6 eggs
* 1/4 cup melted butter
* dash salt
* Preheat oven at 400*
Blend all the ingredients in a blender.
Grease your muffin tins or baking pan.
Bake them for 15 minutes, or until puffy and golden on top.
Toppings: syrup, powdered sugar, fruit, jam, honey
We are still taking Christmas decorations down. The garland over the front door, we might just let wither and fall off, but the garland on the front railing, we'll take down. I finally brought in the lights from one of the front bushes. We'll probably take down the artificial tree that sits in the kitchen nook, tomorrow. That, I'll miss. It's so nice to see, early in the morning (the timer flicks it on at six for an hour, then at 430 for five hours). When we get the lamp post either repaired or (more likely) replaced, we're going to try to put a non-switched electrical socket in there with it, and if we can, we'll put Christmas lights on the lamp post, next year. I was thinking about that, the other day; I was mulling over having a low wall put around the lamp post, until I realized that if there was a wall there, I would have not whacked the lamp post -- but I would have put a decent dent or two into the van. I guess I choose the way things turned out.
Playing to my love of simple answers, as I watch company after company fail, fold, merge, lose money, and fire people, I wonder: where the hell did all of these financial problems come from? I understand that there are four or five likely candidate sources, any or all of whom are the mustachio'd villains, but what started it? What induced it? Were these problems lingering around for a long time until a normally resilient economy could no longer support the conditions needed to keep them from erupting? And, who's going to jail, other than Bernie Madoff? (Like I really believe he will. Yeah. Right. He'll be in the AIG wing.)
Speaking of locking people up, I understand that people are making an 'unprecedented' level of threats against President Obama. An article on CNN says that people have been locked up for it. I am delighted that the scrutiny is there -- if anything could make me like Homeland Security et al, keeping Obama safe would do it -- but I really hope they're not just locking them up for making a threat. That's the kind of stupidity that makes TSA such a PITA. Yes, these people need to be watched -- but in a way thats consistent with the America that Obama represents. (And yeah, I recognize how ironic that is. )
Our daughter is contemplating dropping down a level of intensity in her science class, next year. She's currently taking level 1 in all subjects, which is the most difficult. Level II is average, and Level III is basic. She's doing okay, but not particularly great. At my suggestion, she asked her science teacher if she should try for level I next year, and he said she should. Thinking that this might just be a pep talk, we asked, and he said, after hesitating, that she could do it, he just wasn't sure she had the desire to do it (meaning, it would take more work than she might be willing to put into it). I am not an overachiever, but I know I'd be happier if she was being pushed and challenged. Of course, that could also be a mistake.
Still looking at DVDs of Boston Legal. It's not consistently good, but its not at all bad.
But what I really like was that the article of three months ago started by saying 'As stocks appear to be in a free-fall....'
Friday, January 23, 2009
I don't think that's a problem for me, and I hope it's not a problem for this other person. I write what I write as kind of an online diary, one where, every so often, I get feedback. I do appreciate and enjoy that, but it isn't the reason that I write. I do the writing because its a chance to just talk to people, and sometimes its a chance to think things through. I must have a half dozen posts over the last year where I either never published it, or put it out and took it back, because it just didn't work -- it sounded good starting up (hey, I'm going to write something really good here), but by the time I got to the end, it was more of a well, um, y'know sort of piece. It was that awareness that made me realize that I really need to read more 'serious' books (since I read so few, more is 'any number greater than two or three over the course of a year'), and try to understand them. I'm surprised how hard that is for me, but I'm also surprised when every so often the book makes a point that makes sense to me. So when I write, sometimes, its actually informed by something other than my opinion. I don't get the chance to talk to people very much on subjects that are important, so when I can just put something other than just my opinion out there, its a chance for that conversation -- and every so often, it actually happens. I like that.
I admit, I am a little envious of people who have five, ten, fifteen thousand readers, the ones who have comment streams that are routinely fifty or a hundred deep. I wonder sometimes how they do that. But after a while, I figure: hey. They're just more interesting than you are, Bill. NBD. And you know what? I can live with that. I'm not dull, but I'm not a sparkling conversationalist or any of that. I'm just me.
As for readership? I like the quality of the people who do me the honor of showing up, every so often. It's nice.
Even things like this, I like.
I just like old aircraft.
What merriment is Cheney pursuing, today?
Is he torturing the maid, or possibly the cat?
I wonder if he's finding - pleasure - in that?
How go the endless hours
As he sees his fading powers
Being legally and rapidly removed?
Well, I’ll tell you how Dick Cheney's feeling today:
He’s bored ! He’s bored!
You mean that the man who gave good smites
To eviscerate the Bill of Rights
Now sits and glowers at Daytime TV?
A bureaucrat so calm in meetings
Even his irritation’s fleeting
Now looks in vain for TSCrypto Mail?
You mean that appalling nasty glare
That cold-eyed dead-meat evil stare
Is now being wasted on an empty room?
You wonder what Dick Cheney is wishing, today?
He’s wishing the Bill of Rights was so far away!
And with that useless thing, the Constitution too
He wishes he had stuffed up a sooty old flue!
And gone, the expectation
The sublime anticipation
He had felt, when first his office chair he warmed.
Well, I’ll tell you what Dick Cheney’s feeling, today:
Cause nobody really cares about Cheney - today!
I just went into my daughter's room to give the guinea pig some food. On the way out, I noticed a faint outline of a kiss-mark on her mirror (its a big one that we used to have on a bureau). Okay, fine. And above the mirror is a fairly large picture of The Jonas Brothers. Okay, fine with that, too. And to the left -- a hunky guy with a big smile who seems to have forgotten his shirt.
The following changes in internet and television accessibility are now in effect......
"A democracy requires accountability, and accountability requires transparency. As Justice Louis Brandeis wrote, "sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants." In our democracy, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which encourages accountability through transparency, is the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open Government. At the heart of that commitment is the idea that accountability is in the interest of the Government and the citizenry alike.The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails. The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears. Nondisclosure should never be based on an effort to protect the personal interests of Government officials at the expense of those they are supposed to serve. In responding to requests under the FOIA, executive branch agencies (agencies) should act promptly and in a spirit of cooperation, recognizing that such agencies are servants of the public."
-President Barack Obama
Thursday, January 22, 2009
I do not think when you employ a man and pay him his wages that it is servile labor because he works in my wood-yard. I would do it myself if I could not hire a man to do it. If I were "busted" to-day and could not get any better work to do than sawing wood, I would saw your wood for you.
I believe that attitude - that there is no work that's beneath you - exists today, but I'll bet its not very common.
The actions that they were taking then were called 'LEAN'; I never did find out if that acronym stood for anything, but the effect was pretty apparent -- in the wave that bagged me, about three thousand people had their employment terminated. There had been more before, and more since; in talking to a friend who still works there, there's a round of layoffs occurring right now, though their impact is spread out over time. The phrase they're using is 'Resource Action'; that phrase was around when I was there, too. It has a nice, neutral quality. Nothing personal, you understand, this is just a resource action. Who could be mad at something like that?
IBMs not the only company doing it, of course -- even that paragon of New Age and Enlightenment, Google, has had layoffs ( wonder if they call those actions anything special, or if they actually use clear words to describe the activity?). Microsoft, too, has announced layoffs. Further down the food chain, smaller companies (not that they're all that small) are chucking people. As I've said, I'm telling my wife that I expect her job to be evaporated some time this year. We won't like it, and I'm sure we'll panic over it - just sitting here, I know of no resources to help cope with such an event; I'm sure they exist -- but I think we should expect that its coming. It's the trend. Cut. Cut. Cut.
I think that the thing which gets me the most is that when these things occur, they're secrets -- no one is willing to admit that they're going on; when they get into the news, companies clam up, or make comments that any fool could see through. For example, I recall IBM saying that the exodus of people was a normal event; people came and went all the time. They didn't mention that most of the people leaving were in the United States and Europe; most of the people coming were in India and such. This was considered to be secret, internal information, of no interest to anyone else. Or so they said. Of course, they knew better; so did the people involved. But the fiction was maintained.
Companies have acted in much worse ways. Some have refused to pay severance pay until you trained your replacement. Some abruptly stopped paying retirees. Some, born and bred in this country, and now operating internationally, have let it be known that they no longer consider themselves to be 'American' companies. Some - well, you get the idea. All of these actions were taken by well-dressed people who might have actually cared about those whom their actions affected, but - well, you know. It's business. Nothing personal.
Sometimes, though, even 18 months plus later, it is. I still like IBM, odd as that may be, and I expected better from them - then, and now.
Drop Barack and the crew a line.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
This is a good thing, since it means that I can drive my daughter to events and such. I'm not sure if I can go over to the school for mentoring -- I want to, but I can't do that slide trick if I'm wearing a coat. But heck, we'll see what happens. It's a start.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
The dough itself was pretty good -- could have stood to be a skosh thinner, but as it was, it held the toppings nicely. The sauce though -- the first clue that this might not be the ne plus ultra was when we realized that the sauce, which had only simmered for 25 minutes of the 40-60 minutes recommended, was already pretty thick - almost a sloppy joe consistency. When it goes glop from the spoon instead of drip, drip, that's kind of hard to miss. The second, even harder to miss, was when my daughter looked down at it and said, in a tone of great skepticism, "What are those bumpy things in there?" Very finely chopped onions, I said. And celery. She looked up in dismay. "I'll make a sandwich".
The funny thing is, my wife and I both liked it -- but we both also thought it needed something. We're just not sure what.
I startled my wife this morning by telling her of an email I'd sent to a person, saying that the response was a) to mention what a wonderful seat -- seat, mind you, not standing location - her daughter'd gotten for the Lincoln Memorial Concert; her boyfriend has the best contacts!, and b) that the person to whom I'd written is jetting off to Paris this afternoon. Why do you continue to write to that person, she asked, when you know that all you'll get back is either nothing or that kind of stuff? I told her that its two fold - first, this person is a doctor, and the older I get, the more I think that someday I may need a contact in the field of medicine, however distant and tenuous, and second, its a game now -- what kind of look how wonderful my life is response will I get this time? I don't want it that way -- I actually do respect this person for achievements and intelligence, and I'd like to have a cordial relationship, but if I can't -- well, then, I'll take this.
Stayed up late last night reading about Inauguration plans. Was startled to learn that the expectation is of tight security -- but that it should taper off after today. Goshm golly, ya think? I do wonder if there are bills ready to be signed by Barack that will be delivered at 12:01, and signed today. I know he intends to move quickly, but I hope he gets the time to have a good time, today. I did read where the Black Tie and Boots yeehaw, held by the Texas contingent, is more muted than it was, last two inaugurals, and apparently managed to say what a great time they're going to have without actually mentioning who the President will be. Ah, politics. If it wasn't so serious, it'd be funny.
No strange dreams last night. Well, one, but it was mild, and other than the fact of its occurrence, I don't recall it.
Monday, January 19, 2009
I also wonder if people ever give thought to the design of the cane. Why do canes frequently have a smooth curved handle? That can't be comfortable, or lead to having a good grip. At least the ones with the right-angle handle are easier to grab, though neither is loaded right down over the shaft as the T-handled ones are. I think there ought to be a anti-skid coating on the underside of the handle tip, to keep it from sliding off the slick surface you just hung it on -- nothing like being two feet away, watching it start to slip, and reaching for it while thinking intently don't rush don't rush don't rush. For that matter, what about those places you hang them? Does anyone make a CaneHook, a device that clamps pretty securely to a surface, with a soft gripper that will hold the cane? If not, why not? This whole area needs work, I think.
I told my wife that having to fiddle with this knee brace -- loosening it while I sit, tightening it when I walk so that it doesn't slide down (having the knee hinge a half inch below my knee is silly) -- gives me a whole new appreciation of people who wear, and therefore have to constantly adjust, garter belts, which I've always thought a silly affectation. (Okay, yes, they do figure in erotics quite nicely. Nice to know they still have a role in life.)
Read an article from the Post of a few days ago where a guy from the Council on Foreign Relations says that 'its time for the Democrats to admit that the surge worked'. I thought that was a nifty turn of phrase, given that a few paragraphs before he'd said that the surge wasn't the prime reason why things are better now in Iraq (oh, how low the concept of 'better' has gone), but still: okay, I'll buy it. It was a good idea, and Bush was right in pushing it. (Pause while I eat a snarky thought.) So, will Democrats ever admit it? My guess is, not as long as they think there's a decent chance someone will say AHA, so you admit that the entire Bush legacy is one of glory and triumph! Which the opposition just might do. Privately, quietly, sure. In public, I doubt it.
How many people are getting pardoned by Bush tonight, and maybe tomorrow with breakfast?
It got me to thinking, just a bit, about the concepts of Best Practices, Mission Statements, and all of that. I don't know what its like for smart people (smarter than me, by far), but in my range, it helps to have a blunt series of guidelines that you can use to periodically check whether you're acting, under stress, duress, the press of time, the press of events, the way that you wanted to work while you were thinking about it, at your ease. Google's 'Don't Be Evil', for example, which is now occasionally mocked as the foolish statement of people made when they had nothing to lose; that's a simple guideline, and though there's also an element of subjective judgement in there (what I think evil, you might not), its an easy analysis. Is a given course of action evil?
I am sure that neither Bush nor anyone in his Administration, even the Machiavellian Mr. Cheney, set out to act in a way that would harm their ability to govern effectively (even though their definition of 'effectively' might be far different from mine). But that's what they did -- internecine feuds, withholding and distortion of information, failure to pass on bad news. It wasn't unique to them -- any organization has this. Hell, my daughter was reluctant to give me bad news, because she knew I'd be mad -- and I can't fire her! But when an organization does this repeatedly, they veer from whatever they wanted to be to something else, usually without realizing it, and sometimes to their detriment.
That's where the concept of Best Practices, Mission Statements, or what have you come to play. Are we acting the way that we want to, a substantial amount of the time? I know its not an easy question, particularly under pressure. But its one that I hope the Obama Administration asks itself, on a frequent basis. Even if -- especially if -- they don't have the time.
The episode I saw the other night, which we'd taped last week (possibly two), and which was a two or three year old rerun, involved a homicide in a lab building housing an autonomous AI-controlled Hummer. A test engineer, sitting in the vehicle, dies when the vehicle locks its doors, hyper-snugs up her seatbelt, and then pumps carbon monoxide fumes into the passenger area. The NCIS people (except for their resident geeks) get to use the phrase 'robot car' a lot , and express befuddlement and amazement many, many times. Wow, this is the same CPU as they use on the Mars Rover! Determining that the AI system is massively complex, so that they would not know where the code was that did the nefarious deed if it was pointed out to them, or even if it was the AI at all (this was what I was hoping for), they look elsewhere, and discover that a piece of software was inserted into the boot sequence of the AI; said new software set up the AI to do the nasty. They conclude it must have been added via a 'chip', and miraculously find it almost immediately, hidden in the gas cap.
Then the show starts to get implausible. They rapidly figure out who did it, and come up with a clever and possibly even legal way to trap the miscreant. Wrap, and go to commercial.
I don't know buckets about AIs, but I know a little, just as I know a little about autonomous vehicles -- mostly from reading about the annual DARPA challenge. So far as I could see, nothing that they mentioned was inherently implausible. Well, the carbon monox, perhaps -- even autonomous vehicles don't usually include a provision for venting exhaust into the cabin. And the idea that two good-guy geeks could successfully find all this, hey, presto -- well, possibly. With a lot of luck. But that the guy who set up the software did it because he wanted to kill the lead engineer because said engineer owned a lot of stock in the company underwriting the build, and if they were successful in their drive-off test, would have owned the technology, which isn't tolerable, so, hey, its not personal, just business? Then a miracle occurred.
I know that it's asking a lot for a TV program to realistically show a malevolent AI -- even one that is not sentient (I say that as if why of course they are!), but one where, simply, the system doing reasonable, expected things had an unreasonable, unexpected end. That would have been fun. That would have been interesting. The plot solution they chose was, in comparison, quite pedestrian.
Maybe next time.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
I'd always assumed that DPs would be small and square --what she's got looks like a squashed spider -- its black, about a sixteenth of an inch across, and it's jagged. I've tried some of those 'fixes' for such a thing, but they don't seem to have worked.
Unfortunately, my wife had taken her laptop away until she did some clean up in her room, and now the daughter is convinced that her mother did something to screw it up. I doubt it - she's pretty careful with it, unlike our daughter. But this is the daughter's implementation of the rule - you touched it, you broke it. She touched it, so it must have been her.
Update: We apparently have a new daughter. Whomever it is, she came into the kitchen and apologised to her mother for blaming her for the DP (or whatever it is). She said that she might have done it herself. We about fell over ourselves telling her how mature and gracious that was.
Update: Maybe it's not a DP -- she says she can slide the cursor over to it, and see the cursor below the smudge. But its not dirty glass, at least on our side, and I can't see how it could be dirty glass on the other side. Of course, I'm not even going to try opening it!
I'll be glad to see him go. But I have to admit to myself that what I really want to see go is the economic disaster that's in progress, the health care calamities that we have, the rampant thievery that seems to be part and parcel of the financial services industry. I lay the blame for most of that at his door, when he spent huge sums in Iraq, denied health care here, and let the money mavens run amuck. Globally, I didn't like his attitude that the US had the moral obligation to reshape the world into democracies, preferably Christian democracies; locally, I despised his political intolerance. And, though it counts for little in the scheme of things, I grew tired and flummoxed by his inability to speak the English language -- without grace or eloquence, I could accept; without understanding, I could not. So, for all those reasons, I'll be glad to see the last of him.
But he wasn't totally incompetent.
Bill Frist, who used to be Senate majority leader, and who never seems to miss an opportunity to point out that he's a doctor, says that we should give Bush credit for things he did right. Specifically, the funding for AIDS research, and the increase in Medicare availability. Without those, he says, millions would have died, and if not died, then had serious financial and emotional hardships. He's right. Its difficult to see what Bush did right, both because he did so many things wrong, either through negligence or malice, and because his supporters tend to trumpet minor accomplishments as significant achievements, but its only fair to note that he didn't get it all wrong. With time, we may realize that other things were done right, too -- or at least not as wrong as they appear now.
I'll be glad to see him go, but I don't wish him ill.
Saturday, January 17, 2009
Its name is Regional Integrated Transportation Information System (RITIS); what it provides is a real-time display of traffic conditions within the DC area. According to the article, "(t)he information is presented in both 2D and 3D fully zoomable formats, similar to Google Earth with a broad array of overlays applied. It will monitor vehicles, planes, incident reports (traffic accidents, etc.), traffic light problems, areas of slow traffic, weather conditions, and more." All in one place. Real-time. Here's a sample display.
Now, that's magical.
Nice of him to be so sensitive....
I told my wife about seeing a picture of Hugh Hefner with three very attractive young women; the caption was 'how many blondes does it take to change an adult diaper?' She started laughing, and said she wondered why they'd want to hang around a sixty year old man, anyway. Publicity and money, I replied. And, anyway, sixty doesn't sound all that old to me any more, since I'll hit that mark this year.She seemed surprised. You will never be old, she said. Perhaps not. But having the three blondes hanging around might make it worth it. Incidentally, Hefner's 78.
Some people are irritated about Steve Jobs and the leadership succession question at Apple. The Wall Street Journal says that his temporary departure 'comes at a bad time'. Do these things ever happen at a good time? Is there a good time?
I was reading a few political columns today, and found myself wincing at how often they referred to people of different opinions as wingnuts and nutcases. I guess its a mark of my age that I get offended by that kind of talk. Not wildly offended; in my heart, I still use them myself when thinking of certain people, but in public? No, I don't. Similarly, I saw a couple of people proclaiming that they are offended by the selection of Warren for the Inauguration; not what they signed up for- they're going to REMEMBER this. I think 'why can't they accept that its not all about them?' And then realized that I have the same problem.
Friday, January 16, 2009
I have to wear a knee brace for six weeks (at least), to keep my knee horizontally stable, plus use a cane, to keep my full weight off it. No cast, no surgery.
I can live with that.
Along the way, I picked up a new paranoia, when the radiology guy said that his records said that they did my knee, not my tibia. I really don't want a problem with my knee! That the doc said tibia, though, makes me think thats what it is. I hope. Ir really doesn't take much to get me started.
So, in about three hours... And afterwards, I'm considering doing this.
Ministers are poised to exempt all MPs and peers from having to publish details of their expenses, only weeks before MPs were due to be forced to disclose more than 1.2 million receipts covering claims for the last three years.The move next week will allow parliament to nullify all the long-fought victories by campaigners and journalists to force MPs to publish details of all their individual receipts for their second homes, including details of what they spent on furnishings, maintenance, rent, mortgage payments, staffing, travel, office staffing and equipment. The changes will be retrospective and all pending requests for more information under the Freedom of Information Act will be blocked. ... MPs in both parties have already been embarrassed by disclosures under the FOI about their expenditure.
So much for the grace and gentility idea.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
I think all of the moaning and finger-pointing on the "layoff" posts is a sign of what ails us; we are so self-absorbed we don't stop to think about how to delight our customers. If there are going to be layoffs, so be it. We would not be the first company to have them and we wouldn't be the last. So don't worry about the layoffs; they might happen, they might not. Keep your focus on the customer and how what you do will make their life better. With that focus, you just might find that your life gets better as well.
I read that, and thought Yeah, right -- bet you'd feel differently if YOU were laid off. I'm willing to posit that there are people who wouldn't -- they'd still say that sort of thing as they were packing their desk -- but even there, I suspect its because they've got excellent alternative employment opportunities, sources of alternate wealth, or something else that buffers them from what I see as reality. Most people, I think, especially as you get closer to the trenches, would feel as I do - being laid off, or even the threat of it, is a scary prospect, one that makes it difficult to focus on delighting customers, and anyone who says that you can 'not worry about it' is a Pollyanna at best, a liar at worst.
Nevertheless, three falls in four years, each resulting in broken bones. Even though at least two were defensible, still. So I'm thinking that maybe I ought to look into some kind of (gasp) senior flexibility exercise program. Assuming there is anything like that around here. The pickings are, shall we say, damned slim. And if you add in the requirement of 'intelligently and sensitively run', even less. But still, I'm thinking I ought to.
Once I can walk again, that is.
I'm going to have so much metal in me....
Granted, I've wondered off and on about it, since there never seemed to be a standard use of the word (like the old joke about Don't Order The Soup d'Jour, They Change It Every Day) but looking it up?
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
This use of technology bothers me. Frankly, I don't see where who financially supports what ought to be public information.At the organizational level, maybe. Personal, no. Another writer disagrees, with what I feel to be inflammatory prose:
If Prop 8 supporters truly feel that barring equality for gay couples is vital for saving civilization, shouldn't they be proud of their financial support? Why don't they actually have posters advertizing their support for discriminating against gay people - as a matter of pride?
My feeling? No. That's their call, no one else's. Pace Google, but not everything that can be known, should be known. And yes, I know that that sentiment would likely be firmly backed by Dick Cheney and company.
I was reading an article about how the House passed a children's health care bill, and how the Senate is expected to do so as well. Reading the opposition arguments against the bill, my first thought was of the damn cigar chomping big business types, sucking down port while stomping on the less fortunate, again. But I backed down on that after a second, because I don't think that the opposition is comprised primarily, let alone entirely, of people who value business and profits over employees and their health. (Somewhat, yes.) So, I looked at the article some more, and found this:
While the cost of the child health program will increase, they said, tobacco revenues will not, so the government will face a widening gap that will probably be filled with additional tax increases in the future. Moreover, Republicans said, under the bill, some of the money will be spent to provide public coverage for children who already have private health insurance through their parents’ employers. Republicans also complained that the bill did not require states to cover the poorest children first, before covering children from middle-income families.
Are those valid points, I wondered.
Well, the first one, probably. Certainly, the money's got to come from somewhere, and even if the Iraq war shuts down tomorrow, there are plenty of drains on funds. I would guess that taxes, even if motivated by the need to fund this, would be general, with some portion of it earmarked for this, rather than a specific charge. (Interesting idea, though. Wonder if you could get away with a tax whose funds went to a specific cause? Reminds me of the old New Yorker cartoon of the military type bristling at the desk of an IRS auditor, shouting bombastically "I refuse to pay that portion of my taxes which do NOT go to war!")
The second, I have some qualms about. It feels to me as if they're reaching for something, anything to use to complain against with the bill. Thats a tough sell, of course. Who's not for healthy kids? Still, thinking in black and white terms: okay, I can buy it. Require that families who have access to private insurance use it first, just as insurers have been pushing for years that if you have coverage from one spouse for something, you can't supplement it with coverage from the other -- even if the other's is actually better for you than the primary. Also known as 'collectively, how can we structure insurance programs so as to have to pay out the least?'
The third, too, seems like a reach. First off, the idea of Republicans urging that lower income people have a priority on health benefits in anything is on the amazing side, since the official party line is usually to ignore that they even exist. But still: if you have two kids, can only cover one, and one's from a poor family, one is not, it would seem to me to default to the second question: does either of them have health insurance? If so, go with the second answer. And if not -- then, at least on this point, they're equal. Find another point of difference, cover each for a lesser amount, or go deeper into debt.
So here's my question. In all of the wrangling about health care by big-name politicians, do any of them start with 'lets do the best for the most people'? Is that too simplistic an approach for the big, tough real world? I know that black and white answers are too blunt; you need nuance, sensitivity, awareness. Sometimes doing the right thing for one constituency (not the best thing, but the right-enough thing) speaks directly against another constituency. Remember those bumper stickers that say 'I'm (fill in the group/political persuasion)....and I vote!' Well, they all do. Who do you want to piss off, least? And, for how long?)
But still: does anyone even start with the broad statements of what they want to do, use them as a touch stone during negotiations?
As I said, I suspect I know the answer.
They just called. CT scan at 2PM. And, oh yeah, don't eat anything between now and then.
Whups. Now its noon, at a different hospital. Apparently, the one I was going to go to doesn't have the 64 slice scanner. Of course, I think of slicing machines! But hey, two hours less waiting around, CT scanner is faster than the (sneer) old 16 slice doobie -- okay, this is good.
Question is, if I get the choice: Cast or Rod?
A cast means two months of stumping around, unable to drive, using crutches, and a delay in starting therapy.
A rod means anesthesia, slicing into my actual body, again, and an overnight stay in the hospital, with the potential of, joy, catheterization. (Which, that one time, actually wasn't all that bad, but still...)
I lean toward the first, a little.
Why does it matter to have the faster scan, anyway? I'm hoping its because its just neat, nifty, new, and not because holy hell, we need as much detail on this jewel as we can get, this is quite a mess in there... Nah. Can't be.
(Paranoia doesn't run in my family. I've got it all.)
Update: Well, thats done. And those ads are right -- the CT scan takes about five minutes. In and out. Course, they don't mention the forty minutes in the waiting room, listening to the most god-awful daytime television known to modern man.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Turns out we can find a decent one for about $112. I don't regard that as cheap, but as digital cameras (camerae?) go, it probably is.
We've been squirreling money away that she's gotten through gifts, and I am astonished to note that it is significantly more than that. So, no problem, right?
But what would the message be, if she asked for it, and just got it? We think she's got to earn it.
Oh, and midterms start tomorrow. A little late for if you do well in your exams...
"...a politically appointed official sought to hire "real Americans" and Republicans for career posts and prominent case assignments ...'
The article says that they will seek to follow up on these actions where they were done in contravention of the law. I wish them luck. In the light of Alberto Gonzales tenure there, which destroyed much of the professional caste, as well as Obama's apparent feeling that there would be very little upside to prosecutions for any but the most egregious of Bush Administration actions, I'll be a little surprised if anything comes of it. I'd much rather see tarring and feathering of, say, Cheney... but I guess that won't happen, either. But hey, all is not lost. The current Attorney General has undone some of that, and, as a Justice Department spokesman said -
"As a result of these reforms, and the procedures already in place for evaluating the work and conduct of lawyers throughout the Department, we are confident that the institutional problems identified in today's report no longer exist and will not recur"
Certainly, we can hope. Quis custodiet, etc....