Thursday, April 30, 2009
Tomorrow night, members of the school's percussion group, who will be at the same event that we're attending, will be taking time to walk along the Atlantic City Boardwalk. I don't know the logistics of it, but I'd imagine it'll be a flotilla of four and five person groups, each sternly advised to stick together, not go into shady places, and be back to the hotel by eight. I asked my wife if, should my daughter ask to join them, we should let her. We looked at each other for a moment, then concluded No - too dangerous. Do we expect something to happen? No. Do we think it possible? Yes. We can easily see two or three kids saying we're just going to go over here for a while, you guys wait over there....and there goes your protective group.
We trust her -- but she's just fifteen. Possibly when she's thirty-five...or so.
No, I protested, its for if I go for a walk and fall -- might be tough to get back up again.
She didn't believe me. Me!
As for the cane itself - -well, I really like it, except for the fact that arrived a bit too long. Not their fault, exactly: they said how to measure, and we did that, and said 'this long', which they did. And it was about an inch longer than I wanted, once I had it out of the box and all. Out came the hacksaw, and now it's fine. Still, I wonder how often that happens....
But I like it. Glad I got it.
I just don't know about this Specter thing.
On the one hand, I'm delighted that it brings Obama and the Democrats closer to the filibuster-proof majority. On the other, I'd like it better if he did it because he believed in what the Democrats were doing, not because he was headed for a whippin' come the next primary election, and figured the sailing would be smoother, this side of the aisle. Though what that says about his chances, come the general election.... Dunno. Guess that's one of the reasons I'm not a politician.
Whatever the reason, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I don't think you should be allowed to switch while proclaiming that this doesn't mean you can be counted on for support. Though, of course, that unwillingness to Follow The Leader is one of the things that make Democrats different than Republicans, so maybe he's on to something.
Still don't like it, though.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
The good news is, he got 56 letters of support -- we sent one of them -- and got the minimum possible sentence.
The bad news is, the minimum sentence is five years in jail and lifetime inclusion on the Sex Offender registry.
I read the local news article about his sentencing. Apparently, it was pretty emotional, with members of the girl's family there shouting that he was scum, and him being startled to find what the sentence was. I feel badly for him. On the other hand, I learned from the article that he'd had sex with her three times, and had IM'd her with increasingly sexual notes over time -- so not as badly as I might, otherwise.
I really feel badly for his wife and son.
It normally takes me three days to mow the entire thing. That's mostly because the electric mower has about a forty-five minute charge, and it takes about five hours to reload it. Forty-five minutes will get me the front lawn and about half of the grass to the right of the house, or all of the right and about half the back, or about half the back and all of the left. Even if the mower was good for longer, I'm really not; after about an hour, I'm spending more time looking at what I've cut than doing cutting.
The mower says that it's a mulching mower, and should chop the grass finely. Well, that's what it says. When the grass is growing vigorously, like now, it seems to chop about two thirds of it, leaving twin trails of grass as I make a pass. I really don't like those, but I don't dislike them enough to rake it all up. Should we get a riding mower, we'll need to decide if we want a mulching one (which might have the same problem, but be less of a pain to go back and re-cut) or one that has huge grass-catching-bins on the back.
I wouldn't mind having one of those clean, neat swathes of grass.... but I'm not willing to put time and effort, not to mention money and chemicals, into it.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
The ever-helpful Wikipedia defines a copula as ".... a general way of formulating a multivariate distribution in such a way that various general types of dependence can be represented." They give the example of statistically improbable death occurrence -- he died shortly after her; I think he died of a broken heart -- and move casually through neurobiology, quants, LTCM, and related matters to the concept of 'default correlations'. Quoting from the article:
How correlated are the default probabilities on bonds issued by our Irish dairy farm and those issued by a software company in Malaysia? Not at all, you might think: the businesses not only provide totally different products and services, they’re also geographically remote from each other. Suppose, though, that both companies have been lent money by the same troubled bank that is now calling in its loans.In fact, this is exactly what sank LTCM. How correlated are Russian government bonds and those in Mexico? Not at all, according to LTCM’s model, which, it should be noted, crunched data going back a hundred years. And yet it turned out for the hedge fund that both markets were dominated by the same few investors. The 1998 financial crisis in Russia, when Boris Yeltsin’s government defaulted on its bonds, caused panic selling in Mexico as investors rushed to de-risk their portfolios. Li realised that his insight was groundbreaking. Speaking to The Wall Street Journal seven years later, he said: "Suddenly I thought that the problem I was trying to solve [as an actuary] was exactly the problem these guys were trying to solve. Default [on a loan] is like the death of a company." And if he could apply the broken hearts maths to broken companies, he’d have a way of mathematically modelling the effect that one company’s default would have on the chance of default for others.
(That's one of the points where I had to stop a couple of times to say wait, what?)
The article goes on to describe how this led to banks and others thinking about risks not so much as 'a cost of doing business, to be minimized as much as possible' and instead as a form of asset -- you could generate a value for it, and then trade it. I'll trade you five million mortgages with a X probability of default for six thousand corporate bonds with a Y probability of default. But, how to relate those risks to each other, to be sure that they weren't affected by the same external events? Again, quoting from the article:
Rather than make a mortgage loan and gradually collect interest over its lifespan, banks began to bundle the loans together and sell them into specially created off-balance-sheet shell companies. These companies in turn issued bonds to raise cash. And by using the modelling and maths being cranked out by quants, banks were able to tailor the structure of mortgage portfolios to ensure that bonds of varying risks could be issued to investors. The problem, however, was correlation. The one thing any off-balance-sheet securitisation could not properly capture was the interrelatedness of all the hundreds of thousands of different mortgage loans they owned. As a consequence, structured finance had remained a niche and highly bespoke practice throughout the 1990s.
And then came the Gaussian cupola as applied to the valuation of securities, which assumed that risks were distributed along a range, and not correlated. If this were a horror movie, this is where the dark, brooding background music would start. Because, as it turned out, they were.
I still don't entirely understand the article, but what I understood, I liked.
The director, Marc Mugnos, was formally reprimanded for failing to notify his superiors, said a senior city official, who was given anonymity because this was a personnel matter.
When told of the flight, President Barack Obama was furious, a White House official said on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
The photo op was combined with a training exercise to save money, according to another administration official who also spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak publicly about the behind-the-scenes discussions about the flight.
One company that I used to work for said that if we were ever contacted by news media, we should refuse to comment, and instead point them to the office responsible for that sort of thing. We always thought that we'd talk, but not give out our names, because , hell, who says only they get to talk about the company? Not to mention, they'd just put out sanitized information, not the sort of thing that we'd want to know if we were reading about it.
In the same company, a data center manager grew visibly angry when, after giving a cute code name to refer to a new customer ("New Shoes", but don't tell them I said so), our staff started trying to figure out who it was. I'll tell you when I think you should know, he fumed, not realizing, or caring, that such interest had been sparked by the name. Belatedly, he said that we shouldn't tell people, but by then, it was too late.
People with secrets don't understand what it's like to be the ones without them - or the ability to gain a brief moment of notoriety by disclosing them.
Monday, April 27, 2009
The house is a standard bilevel, with a garage along one side. The garage abuts the old garage, which we now call the storage room, as well as part of one wall of the den. Above those two rooms are our bedroom and my daughter's bedroom. Behind the garage is an area of cleared grass that's now tanbark (as well as more than a few weeds). For quite some time, we've had a Plan of a three stage renovation -- putting a large room above the garage, accessible from our bedroom, then shifting our bedroom into the new room and using the old bedroom as storage (which is to say, walk in closets, including a new closet for my daughter's bedroom, as well as a small sitting area), and then putting an elevator in, coming from the storage room into the sitting area. The nice part of the plan is that we could stop at any stage, and not have to continue. Oh, and with the new closet for my daughter's room, we could close up the existing one and rotate it to face into the next bedroom, which we call the library -- it's where the PC, file cabinet, and such are. They could use more storage, and, hey -- it just makes sense.
Now we're (which is to say: me) thinking that it'd be nice to have a riding mower, but where to put it? Well, gosh, wouldn't it be nice to take that tanbark'd area and turn it into a utility extension of the garage, to hold the mower and some of the bulky things that are in the storage room now? Why, yes, it would. And gee, if we're thinking about having the roof off of the garage to put the new room on, and putting the extension would require some kind of roof that would have to mate with the garage roof, wouldn't it just make sense to do them both at once?
God help me, I even thought we could use some of the extra space to put in a small deck, next to the new bedroom.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Actually, I was sort of doing everything in a lazy way -- the weather is just gorgeous, and it's quite tempting to just sit and feel the breezes come in through the window, listen to the birds, and all of that. I needed that. I completely destroyed breakfast this morning -- tried a new bacon from a known source, and it was awful, simultaneously charred and undercooked, and the waffles came out equally bad, with no internal structure at all, and sticking to the griddle despite having greased it. Argh! So my motivation to do things for breakfast was about as low as it could get. Sitting -- yeah, I could do that. So I did. I've been trying half-and-half in my coffee instead of Coffeemate (I recall a joke about someone who called an American relative, perplexed about a recipe that the Yank'd sent - "This calls for half-and-half? Half-and-half of what?) as a way of saving a bit of money, and what I've found is, the extra money for the Coffeemate's worth it -- smoother and, since it's flavored, tastier. So I just sat, and leafed through the paper, and drank coffee.
None of this is about pizza. I should get to that, or change the title of this post, hmm?
So I was leafing through the RSS reader, skipping over the articles about torture (what would you do if you had bin Laden and you were sure that he knew of a nuclear weapon that was going to be detonated?) and the economy (things are beginning to look up, just a bit, here and there, but it's going to be a long time until...) and politics (Republicans stamped their feet in anger as the Democrats announced plans to do to them, relative to the budget, what they'd done to the Democrats, years ago) , and coming at last to the category where I have feeds to do with cooking and baking. I usually look through them, doing a little triage - if the first-up post in a given feed has something I'd like to make, I bookmark it; if it's something that's interesting but not something I want to make, I just skip to the next feed, and if its something that triggers a what the hell is that, why would ANYONE want to eat that?, I look at the next post for that site; if its okay, I just skip to the next feed, but if it triggers that same response, I delete the feed entirely. Hey, life's too short.
This was one of the well, I don't feel like making this, but gosh this is an interesting article ones. It was on the Bread and Honey site, and it was about pizza. It was, as they say, good, talking about pizza texture and the whole process of making the dough. The woman who writes that blog said that she prefers crisp thin pizzas, but she's gotten used to thicker, more breadlike ones. I'm the other way -- I prefer bread-like pizza, something you can chew on a bit. I know that's sort of a religious thing -- thick versus thin! A slice versus a slab! Traditional toppings versus whatever takes your fancy! I do think on occasion that I'd like to make more pizzas, both for the experience and because I like it. Every so often, I learn something -- like one article that suggested lightly baking the dough before putting toppings on (keeps them from weighing down the dough when you transfer it to the grill or the stone). That makes sense to me. Another mentioned that there's no religion about shaping the dough -- you can do the 'toss in the air' thing, if you want, but it's equally okay to just stretch it with your hands -- or even roll it out, if you want. Peter Reinhart won't be coming by to pronounce on your food; it's yours.
I do occasionally think about getting those 'pizza spices' packets from King Arthur, but, hey, there must be someone who's figured that out. Maybe I'll go read some more food blogs....
Saturday, April 25, 2009
There's a picture of Obama walking down what looks like ten million steps, some time around the inauguration. I look at it and think 'man, where's the handrail? What if he slips - there's nothing to grab onto, nothing to stop him from just going.' I was just looking at a picture of a man who'd climbed to the top of a mountain in Japan, standing at the peak, looking out, and I thought 'Boy, that doesn't look very safe, what if he slips, can he at least throw himself toward something that isn't a cliff or a slippery set of rocks and pebbles that'd love to ease him all the way down?'
Thinking this way may keep me safe, but it makes me feel old. So, what the hell -- I bought myself a cane. Excuse me: a walking stick.
I know some of you will say it doesn’t matter whether torture worked or not. This is true, as far as it goes. But there’s a large body of evidence not only that torture doesn’t work generally, but that that it didn’t work specifically when implemented by the U.S. (or didn’t work any better than non-criminal methods would have worked). So while I’ve seen a lot of well-reasoned arguments about why the debate shouldn’t be framed as did the torture work or not, I would say that is merely one part of a wide-ranging debate, and there’s no reason to concede that point to Cheney’s mendacity.
Perhaps I'm being picky, but I regard that as a tricky set of words. Let me try it again, with the trickiness emphasized:
I know some of you will say it doesn’t matter whether torture worked or not. This is true, as far as it goes. But there’s a large body of evidence not only that torture doesn’t work generally, but that that it didn’t work specifically when implemented by the U.S. (or didn’t work any better than non-criminal methods would have worked). So while I’ve seen a lot of well-reasoned arguments about why the debate shouldn’t be framed as did the torture work or not, I would say that is merely one part of a wide-ranging debate, and there’s no reason to concede that point to Cheney’s mendacity.
That those phrases make the concept tricky is apparent by what happens when you take them out.
I know some of you will say it doesn’t matter whether torture worked or not. This is true. But there’s a large body of evidence not only that torture doesn’t work generally, but that that it didn’t work specifically when implemented by the U.S. So while I’ve seen a lot of well-reasoned arguments about why the debate shouldn’t be framed as did the torture work or not, I would say that is one part of a wide-ranging debate, and there’s no reason to concede that point to Cheney’s mendacity.
Not quite a weasel-worded now, is it? Which to me means that those phrases provide a back door, an escape hatch. I know there's a time and place for that kind of thing; I even acknowledge that Obama would use them. I would like to think, though, that when talking about torture, he'd be clear. Whether torture works or not, it's the action of a reprehensible and subcivilized nation.
I think that the tool is humongously clumsy. It's like driving an earth mover - or a powered exoskeleton, if you've seen and remember Aliens; it's not all that difficult if you're comfortable with and familiar with the tool. If you've learned the way that the tool thinks. And yes, I know, I'm anthropomorphizing. Software hates when you do that. But still -- you have the learn the tool. It's not going to learn you.
I think that Word took an evolutionary wrong turn, about five years ago, trying to incorporate the powers of publishing software into the basic framework for a writing process -- sort of like those multi-use levers that Toyota likes to put in their Prius -- up is washers, down is engage cruise control, in is set cruise control, toward you is lights, away from you is - I didn't know the car had rocket launchers! It's a marvel of effectiveness and minimalness, but every time I go from the van to the Prius, I dread having to use the washers, or set the cruise control. How the hell do I do this, again?
That's Microsoft Word. You know it can be done, you know you've done it in the past, but how exactly did you do it? You start looking through menus...sub menus... options... customization... You are in a maze of twisty turny passages, all like....
I know that this all comes from people saying hey, you know what would be cool? If when you wrote something you had infinite playback capabilities, so you could always go back, word by word, change by change, really, really easily....and have the tool show you how the document evolved over time.
You know --hands waving in the air-- like Etherpad.
Friday, April 24, 2009
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
As we walked, I told him that my daughter was going to be taking karate lessons from his mother, and I asked if I should be worried that she would use this new skill to pummel me. He said no, because karate was only used to beat up bad guys. After a moment, he added "And aliens". I asked him if there were any around, and he nodded. There are some living in his attic, and in the attic of his friend's house, too. I said that must be scary, and he said that it wasn't. His father was smart, he said -- he locks the attic door at night so that they can't get out. Aliens don't like to come out during the day. I then asked if he'd ever seen them, and he said that he had, which I thought was a problem - what if they tried to use ray guns on you - to which he replied that they didn't use ray guns any more, they used gas. And rocks.
Amazing, the things you learn.
Remember what the husband is in legal trouble for. When I replied to her email, I copied my wife, and later I told her that I wanted the woman to know that my wife knew I would have charge of this kid, and would be alone with him for a while -- and the woman responded to say great, she had told another woman, who is always at the bus stop, that I'd be doing that. Why? Well, I'm not sure, but perhaps she wanted to have someone else know that I would have charge of the kid, and be alone with him for a while, too.
Paranoia, huh? But perhaps, in this case, just a little justified.....
I'm trying to get the ability to look at a problem -- and that's a trick all by itself - what kind of problem? That we're out of cereal? That the bathroom is dirty again? That traffic lights stay on too long sometimes? -- and see how AI could be used to resolve it. I know, this is stupid, because I will never ever have the time, money, motivation, energy, ability, or anything else to actually apply AI, so why bother, it's like reading up on Buddhist laundry practices, but bear with me, my natural lack of committment will keep me from wasting much more time on it.
But until then -- its really wierd. AI really does deconstruct into common concepts. That's just categorization....that's just classification.... that's just keywords...that's just a neural net based expert system.
There's no there there.
You are Times New Roman
Dude. You have three names. You're blue blood, old money, landed gentry, confident, assured; perhaps a tad old fashioned but you don't let that bother you. Let the kids go crazy with their new fads — you prefer style that's going to last. You secretly fear you need to get out more, and you're probably right.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Specifically, we handed over the maximum annual contribution for each of us to a Roth IRA that's administered by Ameriprise. It was one of those things that we knew, intellectually, was a good idea, but emotionally, taking that much money from a secure if not-terribly-well-performing money fund and giving it to someone to make bets on -- someone who'd started the meeting by saying that their fund was 'only twenty percent down, which is better than most' -- did not sit well with me. I wanted to grab the check and run. In fact, after his little litany of 'It's bad and it's going to get worse', my wife joked that he was convincing her to put her money under the mattress -- and I was with her on it.
What particularly amazed me was that he said he would be able to invest the money next week -- after the check physically went to their headquarters in Minneapolis and was cashed. I was dumbfounded. What is this, the 1980s?
But we did it. It was the right thing to do. I tell myself....
Monday, April 20, 2009
Dell called back and set up an arrangement for the technician to come back and install it all. The guy who is doing the arranging has a strong Indian accent. He is singlehandedly destroying the image that an Indian accent on the phone means you're about to get lousy service, as he is excellent. I'd pay for this service.
My wife said that she was just trying to give constructive criticism, and I told her that for me and my baking, 'constructive criticism' means unconstrained approval -- but I knew I was being too touchy.
Still raining, though -- but it's a start.
After cancelling the arrival of the Dell technician who was supposed to replace the LCD on my daughter's screen, because the other thing he would have done, replacing the motherboard, couldn't be done because the motherboard hadn't arrived, it arrived -- ten minutes after he would have been here.
I baked some cookies, and my wife said They're a little thin, aren't they?
It's rained all day.
My daughter's ticked at me for not wanting to drive seven to eight hours, total, and pay for a hotel over night, so that she could see a color guard routine that might last ten minutes.
My mentoree was in a non-talkative mood.
My daughter just told me she sent me an email. Which was:
Im sorry I know I have a temper I was just really mad that I probably could not go to tim's show when I have been dying to go and watch him and talk to him for ages. I'm going to come down again at 4:50 if you want to talk then
Oh, hell..... She's reminding me how much I like her.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Today I participated in a teleconference to discuss a company that a woman is starting called Patient Navigator, which is intended to sell the concept of assisting people as they navigate the maze of medical care for chronic or life-threatening conditions. This was the first scheduled teleconference I've had since I stopped working.
90% of the way through it, I learned that my daughter has a project due on Tuesday for which she had to get supplies. My wife took her, but as a result, I had to stop listening and go start supper.
Timing is everything.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
(Pause for muted laughter)
Okay, so I know that is pure-D rationalization, but I still do it anyway, since the idea of reading about a technical subject with no possibility of getting any money out of it at all somehow seems silly and wasteful and wrong to me. I can't really explain why, it just does. Even now, when I don't have a job to go to, to take time from to read this stuff, doing it seems like something that I ought not admit to.
Technical stuff that I don't understand has always had a hold on me. From the time I first read about Claude Shannon of Bell Laboratories, doing his seminal work in information theory (which I read about when I was about twelve years old; I didn't really understand it then, and I barely understand it now), I've been fascinated by technical concepts that I didn't understand. Once I get to the point where I barely, generally, somewhat, to a certain extent, understood them, my enthusiasm for the subject dropped, and I forgot about it for a while.So I know little bits and pieces about a fair number from things, from why the I Beam looks that way to what mitral value prolapse means, and all of which, as someone once said, stuff that I can't make money from. Others can, and do; I don't. But it still interests me.
At the moment, I'm trying to come with this: how can you identify a situation which could benefit from the application of artificial (or as I'm trying to think of it, simulated) intelligence? For example, this afternoon, I was sitting in the car, waiting for my wife to come out of the store, and I was watching a guy mowing his lawn. I've heard of lawn-based Roomba like products that work based on you setting markers in the ground -- I'm guessing radio-based, but I don't know -- that tell the robot mower how far to go. Well, I mused, what if you could teach the mower how far to go, and then let it figure out what the best way to approach the task would be? How would you handle the mower that thought it was supposed to go mow the neighbors lawn, too...or the street? Could you do it without a GPS system, let alone, external markers? What would it have to 'know' that a human mower would know -- and how could you get it to 'know' that stuff by itself?
So thats the kind of thing I'm trying to think about, every so often. And I'm trying to note when I come across an article that talks about the application of AI concepts, like an old article in Wired that I just found the other day which describes the efforts of a fellow named Gerhard Widmer to understand what makes music work. And a different one that laid out some rough delineations of types of AI applications. That kind of thing. It's fun. Odd, okay, pointless, of no value but to my curiosity -- but still: fun.
And, of course, we're always ruled by precedent, right, Leon?
Friday, April 17, 2009
I do believe that he'll come out with a strong statement that says 'this was a mistake, and it isn't the way that Americans do things'.
* 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
* 1/8 teaspoon salt
* 2 tablespoons sugar
* 1 large egg, at room temperature
* 1 cup heavy cream
* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or 1 to 2 tablespoons liqueur
1) Place the chocolate chips, salt, and sugar in a blender or food processor and pulse until finely ground.
2) Add the egg and pulse just until the mixture is smooth.
3) Heat the cream to just below a boil, with small bubbles forming around the edge of the saucepan (or microwave-safe bowl).
4) Turn on the blender or processor, and slowly add the cream. Scrape down the sides of the container if necessary. Add the flavoring of your choice and pulse to blend.
5) Divide into 6 individual serving cups. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours.
6) Serve with whipped cream, if desired.
Yield: 6 servings
I cannot be the only person who, upon reading of the activities allowed under the Bush interrogation guidelines, had the phrase "I was only following orders" pass through his mind. They were, after all, told that what they were doing was legal, and this guidance came from the highest levels of legal authority in this nation. Similarly, I cannot be the only person who also had the phrase "But these are evil, unscrupulous people they were dealing with; any actions against such vicious people is justified" come to mind shortly thereafter.
I don't doubt that some of the interrogators did what they were told to do, what they were legally allowed to do, in honest pursuit of truth from an enemy who has shown no scruples whatsoever in their quest for -- well, whatever it is they're looking for, past destabilization of the current order. I also don't doubt that some of the interrogators went beyond the legal limits, for the same reasons. We venerate the idea of Jack Bauer, after all. Bronson. Eastwood. Norris. The strong, silent man who does what needs to be done, without undue regard for the niceties of the law.
I cannot say what I would have done, truly believing that I was serving my country, even knowing that I was doing so by doing things that could never see the light of day. I would like to think that I would be forthright in my refusals, but I don't know.
What I do know is that these actions, on the part of my country, sicken and shame me. Even if they worked. Even if they worked.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Two kids just came to the door offering to mow our lawn for twenty bucks a shot. They looked pretty beat. These same kids had come to the house about four months ago offering to shovel snow for us. Both times, I told them we didn't need them, and asked how business was. Both times, they said it was pretty bad. And both times, I gave them money just for making the effort.
My daughter says she knew I would do that. When I asked why, she said 'You always stop whenever you see a kid selling lemonade.'
Yup. I'm a sucker.
What does Dell have to do to turn things around?
It introduced new lines of laptops, with brightly-colored shells. It got itself into major retail outlets. It brought back its founder, Michael Dell, to revive the brand and business to its former self.
But Dell’s personal computer shipments fell 16.7 percent worldwide in the first quarter from a year earlier. Most of the damage was in the United States, where shipments fell 16.2 percent, IDC, the market research firm, reported.
NASA described it this way:
The animal likely perished quickly during Discovery's climb into orbit.
I like Gizmodo's version better:
Bereft of his ability to fly and with nowhere to go, a courageous bat climbed aboard our Discovery with stars in his weak little eyes. The launch commenced, and Spacebat trembled as his frail mammalian body was gently pushed skyward. For the last time, he felt the primal joy of flight; for the first, the indescribable feeling of ascending toward his dream—a place far away from piercing screeches and crowded caves, stretching forever into fathomless blackness.
Whether he was consumed in the exhaust flames or frozen solid in the stratosphere is of no concern. We know that Spacebat died, but his dream will live on in all of us.
I realized that what irks me most is not that the PC is broken, it's that I can't just get it fixed. I can't do it myself, and I can't get it done locally -- I have to ship it off to Dell, which will do whatever the hell it feels like doing. It's the loss of control that irritates me. If I were the entreprenurial sort, this would likely suggest an opportunity to me.
This is not a new realization, by the way. I'm not very good at been calm, centered, and relaxed. Never been that much good at calming myself, either. Really should work on that -- right now!!!
Guess what I've been reading?
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
I heard a story years ago of a tank instructor saying that a tank had three main systems - propulsion, communications, and weapon. With all three, it could go just about anywhere and scare the hell out of the enemy. But the main one was the weapon. If you lost propulsion, you could still communicate and fire at the enemy; if you lost communications, you could still go look for the enemy, and then fire at them. If you lost the weapon, though -- well, he sighed, all you had left was a forty-five ton portable radio.
The gun is the power jack on my daughter's laptop. Really, any laptop. If you can't get power to the device, it doesn't really matter how wonderful it is. All of the laptops we've owned were of the same basic power model -- plug it in, and it'll run even without the battery, and will charge the battery if its there; unplug it, and it'll run off the battery. None of them had an external charger -- you had to use the laptop to charge them, which meant you had to be able to get power into the laptop. It is therefore delightful that in two of the three, the DC power jack failed. From what I read, in the older one, it's a small solder connection that over time gives way. On my daughter's, I don't know -- though I suspect its become cracked. It's actually charging at the moment, because I jammed the plug in there -- but I'm sure that wasn't a healthy thing to do.
I am sure that Dell makes these things as cheaply as they can, but, you know? There's such a thing as too cheap. Ever heard of a Single Point of Failure, Mike Dell?
If Macs have a dual access power scheme, or an external charger, I don't want to hear about it. To make up for that reluctance, Apple fanbois might enjoy this.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Then I look at prices, and find that even the least expensive ones are more than I want to spend... plus, I don't want to think about getting a blog package (not even sure how), or backups to the blog source, not to mention migrating from Blogger (funny that they don't seem to have an export tool, per se). And the cost. Am I cheap? Yeah, kind of. I think you get that stuff for free now!!! Yeah. Hard to beat that.
But I think about it. Maybe someday....
I did a little bit of reading in applications for artificial intelligence. I want to know more than I do now. Just the little bit I read surprised me with how widely implemented the concepts are - and the stuff I'm reading is easily two or three years old. I realized a while back that I tend to get locked into a HAL9000 mindset when I think 'artificial intelligence' -- which is why I am trying to think of the field as 'simulated intelligence'. The tools and how they're implemented aren't Space Odyssey stuff. Heck, they can't even open the pod-bay doors.
I showed some self control at lunch and did not wolf down all of the leftover Cranberry Salad. It's quite good. Recipe, you say?
Monday, April 13, 2009
- ATMs should have an emergency PIN to use if you're being robbed. It shows a plausible but very low balance.
- Cellular phones should have an emergency on locator beep that you can use to find the damn phone when its disappeared. I don't care that its normally set to vibrate, I want it to turn on RIGHT NOW and ring for at least two minutes!!! (A superbright flashing light would be a nice option, too.)
- Libraries should not charge fines unless you routinely do not return stuff on time, but those fines should be large.
Saturday, April 11, 2009
Back in the bubble, again
Where ever'one you see is a friend
No damn Democrats
Or other stinkrats -
Back in the Bubble, again.
The GPI is this: while campaigning, Obama had a pizza from a place called Pi in Saint Louis, and liked it a lot. Recently, he had a pizza dinner for people at the White House, and the chef from Pi came and made the pizzas. According to anti-Obamans, the country paid for the chef to do this, flying him out and back. According to pro-Obamans, the chef's company paid for the flight, and Obama paid the chef for the materials.
First cut, I thought that of course the Obamans were right. How could it be otherwise? Obama doesn't do sleazy things!
Then I thought: the Bush Doctrine. If Bush had done this, would I believe that the country didn't pay for it? No, I had to admit, I wouldn't. At the very least, I'd believe that the chef was flogged out and back in a sleek corporate jet, with the company that owned the jet a major contributor that would be repaid by getting a juicy Federal contract somewhere down the line. And the supplies? Well, the White House would of course bear the cost of supplying the materials because "the White House is responsible for supplying meals to the President and his guests". I'd never believe that there wasn't some impropriety, because, heck, this is Bush! That's how he operates! And even if it could be absolutely shown that there was no back-channel favoritism, no one-hand-washes-the-other, none of that -- I'd still be irritated by it, still feel that it should not have happened, because this is Bush!
Well, substitute Obama for Bush in that chain, and that's likely what the anti-Obamans are thinking. There had to be impropriety, somewhere -- and even if there wasn't, he shouldn't have done it. Looks elitist, and all that. And, after all, this is Obama! They don't trust him any more than I trusted Bush, and they don't care for his policies any more than I liked Bush's. Different ideologies entirely.
Sigh. Can we ever agree if we find it hard to even understand?
Friday, April 10, 2009
My daughter asked me, and I said it was okay with me; it was my mother who didn't want a cat. So she asked my mother, and she said it would be okay so long as the cat's litter box was not in the laundry room (which, after we redid it, no longer has a door of its own; my mother thinks it would creep her out to be in the bathroom and have the cat watching her). So, if we can find a litter box that is big enough for an adult cat but small enough to fit in the hall bath.....
At least, that's the plan.
Thursday, April 09, 2009
For example: I had saved a bookmark to a site with an eclair recipe. I'd never made it. I was thinking that I'd like to bake something tomorrow, and so, going through bookmarks, I found it. Hmmm.... prepackaged vanilla pudding? store-bought graham crackers? Nope, not for me. If I can't make it from scratch, it's not real baking. So I tossed it.
Then I found this. Ah, I said, that's more like it. Choux pastry, vanilla custard filling, chocolate ganache on top. Course....that is a fair amount of work. Wish there was a faster way. Maybe next time.
Yeah, I know. Nothin' dumber than a stupid baking bigot.
I really get tired of hearing that story. I suppose I just don't have enough depth to truly understand.
MBO isn't with us any more, but the memory lingers on. This morning, I was reading the Mini-Microsoft blog, which is written by someone who is not only a Microsoft employee but a True Believer in Microsoft. The author writes about the layoffs in Microsoft, which pain him, but more because they weren't done well then that they were done, period. He feels that there were a fair number of people who should have been laid off, because they weren't contributing effectively to the glory that is Microsoft. I winced, thinking of people I've known like that (I recall one guy, at EDS, standing at a meeting and saying that he would 'follow his leader into the desert'; and then there's the 'red suspenders' concept that was popular at EDS for a while). Frankly, I never entirely trust people with that attitude, because I think they are more than willing to toss me overboard for the good of the company. Sorry, Bill, nothing personal.
It got me to thinking about hiring, and evaluations, and how to tell people if they're meeting goals. And what to do when they don't.
The hiring part is easy. It gets more difficult when there are specific job requirements -- you have to be able to code in PLX, you have to be fluent in German, you have to be able to dunk ten basketballs in a row with your eyes closed -- but you can still weed out the ones who don't make it. But then you get to the hard part: integrating these new people into The Team, making the team stronger, more capable. Its relatively easy when what you need is obvious - jeez, we need a center-fielder who can scoop and throw without falling down! - not so obvious when the talents are not so on-display. That coder in PLX is good if they'll be the only one; now projects are getting done in PLX that could not be done before. But if there are others who also code in PLX, things are already getting done, so you have to be able to discern where things are better now. Sometimes, that's not possible. Two programmers doing the same kind of work do not always equal twice the output of one programmer.
And then there are the ones who made the cut, who made the team, but they didn't quite make the grade. They're good enough to be there, but they're not good enough to be the ones that you look for when you have a problem. Make that "a PROBLEM". Around our house, we call that 'the A team' - as in, Yeah, I went to the store last night, but it took a while to check out -- guess they didn't have the A Team on. The writer in that Microsoft article refers to people that he thought should have been terminated, and he was glad that they were -- then astonished to see them hired back. Why are they here again? he asked himself. Although they brought a capability with them, they also brought a less-than-keen focus on the task, the goal, the mission. They weren't there to Make It Happen -- and only that kind were the ones that he thought ought to be there.
I can't argue against that. I always liked to think that I was one of those, but the truth is, I was one of the ones who could do the job, but not Do The Job. The difference is, I think it's the task of the manager to bring people like that -- like I was -- up to speed, making us more capable, more focused, more the sort of person who can run through walls. Most managers can't do that. They're good at firing that sort of person, but they're not good at firing them up.
The concept of MBO was to give you the broad view, let you see what you needed to do, and then let you do it. The concept of the manager was to faciliate that accomplishment and integrate it with those of others in support of the overall organizational goal.
Neither concept seems much popular, these days.
At the very same time, I can contemplate a) buying a riding mower (about $1500), or possibly a zero-turning-radius mower (about $2500), b) having a door put into the back of the garage for easy access for the mower (about, oh, $800- $1500), and c) while we're at it, having a room put on the back of the garage to serve as a storage room (about $5000), and maybe having electrical and water connections put in there, just in case (about $3000).
So I can say I'm saving money, to the tune of about $200 a year, and at the same time contemplate spending about $13,000.
Maybe I should get a brain scan!
Wednesday, April 08, 2009
To me, artistry is in the camera. I recognize that my preference for that dates me; the modern photographer considers PS just another tool in the creation of an image that he saw long before the shutter snapped. But when the image becomes, not just a cleaner, clearer, more powerful version of itself, but one that literally could not have occurred in reality -- then I think the use of PS has gone too far.
I know I'm in the minority on this.
Apparently, the call I got after making a Twitter post about my Comcast experience wasn't an accident.
And this morning, I made these Chocolate Brownie Cookies, following the recipe from Joy The Baker.
But every so often -- and it seems like I'm hearing it more often, last couple of years -- I hear about cops doing something that strikes me as wrong. Most frequently, using a Taser on someone for no good reason at all -- and sometimes those people die. Occasionally, being mean and arrogant to drivers, whether they've done anything wrong or not -- and sometimes those people go to jail for no better charge than that they annoyed the cop (though that's not what the charge says). And, sometimes, this, where a guy swept up in the G20 protests -- follower or passer-by, I don't know -- dies as a result of his interaction with the cops. They say it was a heart attack. Video suggests that's not all that happened.
In my limited awareness, sometimes these things happen because the cop's a bad person, period. Think of 'bullies with badges'. Sometimes, they did their best, and things just went wrong. In most cases, it seems that they get overwhelmed -- the peaceful demonstration turns ugly; the quiet drunk lunges for them; the pulled-over driver is aggressive -- and they feel the need to protect themselves, quickly. Sometimes, they get overwhelmed emotionally -- they like order and predictability, and those people are acting against that ethic. The cop wants to do something about it, so reacts more forcefully, more assertively than warranted.
Cops hate -- even the good cops, who I believe are the majority -- when their actions are second guessed by people who never had to stand up to the rampaging hordes, let alone a drunk driver at 2AM on a lonely road. I respect that. People who do frequently resent people who review, particularly far away from the urgent moment. That doesn't mean that such post-action review isn't worthwhile, or that cops who aren't suited for the job shouldn't be found, and, at the least, kicked out. Ever since the Rodney King incident, I find myself thinking 'Who will watch the cops'? (Which is why, incidentally, I think there are more incidents of cops getting down on people with cameras. They say it's 'public safety' and 'threat of terrorism', but I believe that the real reason is that they know their actions at that moment can't withstand the light of day. Quick, grab that camera. And bust its owner, too.)
Only now, I occasionally think 'Who's got the ability to withstand an angry, bullying armed cop?' And the answer -- or, at least, an answer -- occurs pretty quickly to me.
These people, that sort of thinking, will make me an NRA member yet.
Tuesday, April 07, 2009
Today, I exchanged emails with a woman with whom I used to work, and I asked her what she was doing these days. Her job was pretty much the same as mine, then, but heck, it's been almost two years. She said, basically, that she was doing exactly what she was doing when I left; seeing her list, it occurred to me that it was a pretty good summary of the parts of my job that I really didn't like. Working with auditors. Giving people a hard time for not securing their systems. Tracking audit results and efforts to correct things that auditors found. (Even notice that auditors never seem to say 'this far and no further?' There's always more to find.)
In looking through her list, I thought "I'd still like to be back at IBM. But - perhaps - not quite as much as I thought."
I modified the recipe to make it sweeter, though the original, which can be found at the Swedish Baker blog, here, is pretty good, too.
1 cup cooked Jasmine or Basmati rice (about a third cup uncooked)
2/3 cup light coconut milk, well-shaken
2 teaspoon cinnamon
2/3 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon fleur de sel
1/3 cup chopped mango (optional)
Put the COOKED rice in a bowl.
Sprinkle with the cinnamon and sugar.
Add the optional mango. Pour the coconut milk over the rice.
Sprinkle with the salt.
Note: Regular and light coconut milk can be found in the Asian section of your market. Do not use "cream of coconut" which has sugar added. It's fine for pina coladas and some desserts and is usually found in the liquor section.
Fleur de sel or "flower of salt" is so named because it smells like violets when harvested. It's a coarse, unprocessed, hand-harvested salt, so it tends to be expensive, but a little goes a long way. Its delicate flavor adds brightness and brings out the flavors of whatever you're serving. Its crunch adds textural contrast. Maldon sea salt is a good substitute. Finishing salts are just that -they're meant to be added to a dish just before serving. Some finishing salts have a smokey taste and others are an eye-catching red, pink, or orange. Each has a distinctive flavor and use. They can be found at Whole Foods, Sur la Table, Williams-Sonoma, Dean & DeLuca, and at several online outlets.
Incidentally, that Swedish Baker site has an amazing collection of food-related links, over on the right side of the page. Quite impressive.
Monday, April 06, 2009
The compromise was, we'd get it with the federal tax refund, which was expected to be on the hefty side. Granted, having just recalculated our net worth a few days ago, I'm a little squeamish about spending the money, but, okay. We even thought a little about what we'd get. Probably - probably - a 40 inch LCD unit. Past that, I've no idea. I know a couple of the buzzwords, but I don't know what to look for. And brands? I've seen LG, and Vizio, and Samsung, but the names mean nothing to me.
Well, the refund is here. The birthday's in 4 months. So.....
And what the heck do we do with the perfectly fine other one?
Sunday, April 05, 2009
I don't care for the second kind, also known as hard-core. Students at the University of Maryland feel differently, and intend to air a hard-core porn film in the name of academic freedom and free speech. My feeling is that they're doing what college students frequently do -- picking and choosing the rules that they like, interpreting them to get the result they want.
(Yeah, that sounds like the Bush Department of Justice to me, too. And maybe the Obama one, just a bit.)
Academic freedom exists within the bubble of the campus; as such, it can do things about which the external society would disapprove. Free speech means the right to say what you believe; it doesn't mean that you can use the facilities of the first to say it. Put another way, I may believe that garden gnomes are an infringement of my right to life, liberty, and so forth, but that doesn't mean I can expect to get a loaner gun from the local cops so I can blast them into little bitty shards, just because the cops and their weapons are functions of the society I support.
Want to watch porn? Go right ahead. Just don't be surprised when the state refuses to pay for it.
Saturday, April 04, 2009
I have mixed emotions about the firing of the GM CEO. In no special order -- I'm tickled that he was abruptly fired, no warning: how does it feel, guy? I'm thinking that it didn't particularly bother him to do that to others, but when it's incoming... well. That aside, I think it made sense to get him out of there. I've seen articles saying that the people who are now effectively in charge aren't car guys, don't know the industry. I agree, that's a significant problem. You have to know the industry in which you're managing. It seems to me, though, that the car guy leaders, knowledgeable as they are, drove themselves into a wall. I think it entirely possible that left to their own devices, the government guys will screw it up royally, so they ought not to be left to their own devices -- but in charge? Yeah. They ought to be.
I liked that Obama beat up on the bankers, making that 'standing between you and the pitchforks' comment. I liked it so much, when I first heard it, that I assumed it was bogus; it was too real, too earthy a phrase. But he really did. I didn't - and don't - understand why he's opposed to them returning TARP money early, though. I suspect that when he says it'll 'send the wrong signal', the signal he's worried about is letting them get out from under his thumb until he's ready to let them go. And given that some of those banks are taking TARP money and using it to -- invest in other banks toxic assets, that caution is warranted. With that combination of greed, stupidity, and short-sightedness, I'd say that they are candidates for quick ejection, too.
(That marvelous image was found at Founding Bloggers.)
That said, I understand - a little - why some people are agitated over the number of initiatives that Obama is undertaking. The snarky thing to say -- which I will -- is that they're distressed because a) this is more, faster than Bush ever did, and b) it's more populist and socially-attentive than they're comfortable with, even when that isn't hiding their secret feelings (those being, anything done by a Democrat is awful, terrible, and fatally injurious to the Republic). But I think that they also have some truth in their lamentations and fulminations. Obama is doing a ton of things, he is using the bully pulpit, and all of the knobs, levers, dials, buttons, and switches at his command to make many substantive changes in the way that the economy works -- changes that normally would ease into the society over time. Dramatic change is needed, because the economy is so sour, but I understand why fair-minded conservatives (fair-minded, I said; not the our way or the highway crew) would be alarmed. I would like to see Obama reach out more to them -- even though, before, when he extended a hand, they gave him the finger. It's the right thing to do, and unlike Bush, Obama tends to do the right thing.
Friday, April 03, 2009
I have a spreadsheet that includes a page for credit card charges for me, and one for my wife; a page for checks we've written; and a page for withdrawals from or charges applied to our ATM account. Each page is segmented and summarized by month. When I put the entries in (usually a cut and paste from the relevant web site, except for the checks), I run an excel macro that scans for the name of the entity and either assigns a category - HOME, MEDICAL, etc - or flags it as UNCATEGORIZED. Each month, I take that month's expenses, along with the categories, and add it to a running summary, removing the corresponding month from the top of the summary. That summary feeds an excel pivot table, which charts the expenses by month and by category, giving me a total by month and a grand total.
As I say, I like it. But one thing has stumped me. I add a column to the right to say what the percentage of the month's expenses was for each category. I do the same thing for the Grand Total - what was the percentage of each category over time. I do that so I can see not only what the big hitters were each month, but also whether, over time, we're spending about the same percentage. Its nice. One thing that throws it off, though, is one time expenses that are fairly large. For example, our chart for April of last year showed thirteen thousand dollars for a one-time remodel to our bathroom. As you might expect, that threw the percentages for that category right out the window for that month, and it was big enough to throw the percentages off for the whole year. I don't know how to compensate for that other than simply pulling that charge -- and then I don't get an accurate representation of what we actually spent. I know, this is why 'real' accountants have things like Business Expense and Capital Expenses, just to keep things from skewing each other. But every month, I mull it over....
I never wanted to be an accountant -- detail irritates me, unless I've bought into the reason for it. -- but this, I like.
At approximately 6:50 p.m. on March 29, 2009, a metal box alarmed the X-ray machine at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, triggering the need for additional screening. Because the box contained a number of items including a large amount of cash, all of which needed to be removed to be properly screened, it was deemed more appropriate to continue the screening process in a private area. A Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employee and members of the St. Louis Airport Police Department can be heard on the audio recording. The tone and language used by the TSA employee was inappropriate. TSA holds its employees to the highest professional standards. TSA will continue to investigate this matter and take appropriate action.
Movements of large amounts of cash through the checkpoint may be investigated by law enforcement authorities if criminal activity is suspected. As a general rule, passengers are required to cooperate with the screening process. Cooperation may involve answering questions about their property, including why they are carrying a large sum of cash. A passenger who refuses to answer questions may be referred to appropriate authorities for further inquiry.
I don't think its right that they can ask why you've got a lot of money with you, and 'refer to appropriate authorities' if you refuse to tell them. Yet another example of Guilty Until Proven Innocent, I guess. I'd hoped that died with Bush's departure.
Comcast actually contacted me out of the blue, which I thought was remarkably generous of them. They weren't able to match the price, though.
Verizon actually answered the phone, and I came this close to agreeing -- until they said that since my TV is old, I'd need a converter box to use their service - which is $7.00 a month, forever, per TV. Doing the math, I thought So, $100 a year for three services, and $84 a year for the damn box? FTBS, as they say.
So since we're not planning on replacing either of the TVs until they die, I'm guessing Comcast wins by default.
"This is part of a pattern I’ve noticed in the Obama administration, that of distrusting those with hands-on experience in a given field in favor of smarty-pants generalists with no track record—such as Obama himself."
Smarty-pants, indeed. Damn book-larnin'!
I find it distressing that even the bright opposition drops to this level, though it does tend to explain why people like Limbaugh are popular.
As for the checkup itself, it was okay. Things are not perfect, but they're 'good enough'. In two weeks, we get another look.
While we were eating breakfast, she handed me a check that I'd sent to the local hospital, which had returned it with a note to the effect that this had already been paid. Which it had, but since I'm not in the habit of just sending them money, this means that they sent me two bills, and, like the well-trained doobie I am, I just paid them, no questions asked. Nice work if you can get it.
Interesting New York Times article about the slow death of voice mail systems. Ask not for whom the beep tolls....enter your code...press pound sign.....
Damned Blogger spell checker is being coy again - drops down, blip, gone again. Whereas the 'hide' taskbar in XP isn't -- you have to tap it to get it to go away again.
My left knee occasionally hurts. I am trying not to be paranoid about it. Good luck with that.
Not thrilled with the 'Obama bowing to the Saudi king' deal. I thought we didn't do stuff like that.
I was dismayed by the comments yesterday regarding Verizon's customer service level. Not surprised in the least -- when was the last time that a large company cared about that? -- but dismayed. I suppose it's the Reagan view of customer service -- that customer service is best which is invoked the least. And if you make it sufficiently awful, people will avoid it. After all, there are so many alternatives to the big boys in the telecommunications market.
An article in yesterday's Washington Post mentioned that the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel had offered the opinion that legislation granting DC a voting seat in the House of Representatives was unconstitutional -- whereupon the Attorney General asked the Solicitor General's office for their opinion. They obliged by saying that it could probably be successfully defended in court. If Bush had done that, I'd be outraged. As it is, I'm just mildly disappointed -- guys, is this acting ethically?
This morning I get to go see the oral surgeon. I assume he'll nod and smile, right up to when I ask when I can start wearing - and eating with - the interim dental appliance again. Then it'll be frowny face time.....