Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Rainy Evening

Today was a sort-of complex day. Nothing dramatic happened, but it feels as if something did.

Part of that is the weather. I made a push to mow the lawn -- after our two day away, it needed it -- and I got it done about an hour before a forecasted thunderstorm hit the area. The rain was intense -- I couldn't even see the far side of the farmer's fields, for the fog and rain -- but brief; twenty minutes later, it was tapering to nothing. It was the sort of rain that looks as if your grass will be a sodden mess later, but in fact three hours of sun dried it all out. Which, paradoxically, irritated me; I didn't have to push to do that mowing, because the rain which I thought would knock it out for the day didn't do anything of the sort.

Tonight, I made dinner, as I usually do, and I used a recipe we've made before, and liked -- a sort of macaroni and cheese, but with ground beef, carrots, and onions. No major problems, but I noticed for the first time how many pots and devices it used, and was annoyed by that. Nothing incredibly unusual about the recipe, but this time, it bothered me. I think it was because I'm not a person who tolerates clutter easily -- some, yes; we've been known to have a pile of the Sunday papers in the living room for several days afterward. Not a lot, though. That I had made this mess -- well, it bugged me. I don't like doing that.

After dinner, we went out for a walk. I found myself telling my wife that if I knew of someone in my situation -- a happy family, retired at 58, a healthy savings/investment portfolio (not as healthy as it had been, but pretty good nonetheless), nice house -- I'd be envious. Yet somehow, I couldn't draw satisfaction from that. I learned this evening that a woman I'd worked with at IBM, who managed to find a truly awesome job (the kind where you assume it only exists because the bean-counters and rearrangers never noticed it), is still at it -- and in fact is going down to Dallas soon to meet with her co-workers. I was envious. But I don't work! I don't have any of the daily hassles and irritants that she does! Why should I be envious? I don't know -- but I was.

I think I need to find a way to install some purpose in my life -- but its got to be something that my psyche will recognize as meaningful. Oh, boy. That's going to be quite a challenge. I'm very good at not being pleased by anything I do.

Minnesota

If it weren't for the tendency of Democrats to think for themselves, and thus act more like a confederation of loosely-allied tribes rather than a monolith taking thoughts and orders from on high, I'd think that this news from Minneasota would make the Republicans just chuck it in and stay home for several months.

Ricci

I was mildly pleased to learn of the outcome in the New Haven firefighter Supreme Court case, where the court held that the actions of the city, which abrogated the results of a firefighter promotion examination because no black firefighters had qualified, were incorrect, and the results of the test should stand. I understand the idea behind the city's action. Even having the court say that concern for a probable lawsuit from black firefighters was not sufficient reason for their action doesn't mean there won't be a suit; suing is how we say 'good morning' in the United States. The underlying question was whether the black firefighters had a fair chance on the test, which was heavily weighted toward multiple choice questions; blacks normally don't do as well as whites on such tests. Whether this occurred to the people who administered the test, I don't know; I have this image of burly, aging senior white firefighters saying those damn tests worked for me, they'll work for them, too. They should have known; even I know, and I'm not in the field. I'm sure that it came to the minds of those who decided to set aside the results, though.

The question of equality is one that we still struggle with, most days. I saw in one article about this the comment that this 'ought to spark a national discussion about race'. That's not going to happen. For one, we just had one; for another, the discussion has to be one that's seen as necessary by white people, and my guess is that most white people don't see the need. That's not to say that white people don't recognize inequality when they see it, but I would bet that they look right past things that black people regard as blindingly obvious instances of it, and when they do recognize it, they don't feel any urgency about correcting it. The general feeling is, most likely, that the way things are is the way things are.

I recall reading not too long ago, a comment by a gay man regarding friendship with straight guys. He said that while it was possible, he found it always took a while before they got past the question of his sexuality. Once they got past the awkwardness and the joking, they were ready to be friends, but not before then. I think that in a lot of cases, white people and black people are the same way. The question of color is always there, initially -- muted, sometimes, blaringly bold, in others, but always there. I'm not sure it'll ever go completely away.

Last Night's Dream

The aliens did not seem to especially want anything from Earth or its inhabitants. They let it be known that they were mildly offended by the sight of people walking forward, and from that moment on people would walk backwards in public (over the age of six, or so). Awkwardly, nervously, and clumsily. The aliens seemed to appreciate this. They would occasionally insist that one human take time to explain things such as comic strips to them, while a perfect replica of the human explainer took his place in his life, doing his job, living his life. Another might ask, very gently, the point of water fountains, or flags, or doughnuts. And occasionally, they would destroy an entire city. But that was really about it.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Waldo

Traveling

Next time that we go to my cousin's house, halfway out on Long Island, I'm either

a) renting a small RV with a toilet in it
b) hiring an aircraft to get us there in two hours, or
c) ensuring that nobody eats for four hours prior to departure.

The function on Google Diections where you can drag their suggested route to go a different way is nice, but what they need is the ability say 'show me the route with clean public toilets no more than two hours apart'.

Still, it was fun to see them. And I did come home to find that I'd won a Golden Llama award from the fellow at Memoirs of a Distractible Mind, so that was cool, too.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Gliding

From Time Magazine:

Goal: To learn to moonwalk

Supplies:
• A slick floor
• Black pants
• White socks
• Black loafers
• Years of dance training (optional)

Step 1: Start with your feet together. That's easy enough, right?

Step 2: Raise your right heel so that you're standing on the ball of your right foot.

Step 3: Shift your weight onto that still raised right foot so that the left one feels weightless.

Step 4: Lower your right heel slowly while moving your (still weightless) left foot backward until the toes of your left foot are aligned with the heel of your right foot. If you do it right, it should look like your left foot is floating backward across the floor.

Step 5: Lift your left heel and shift your body weight so that you're now standing on the ball of that foot.

Step 6: Repeat steps 4 and 5, this time with the opposite feet

And that's the moonwalk. It's actually a very simple dance — and one Jackson didn't invent out of thin air. Its origins can be traced back to French mime Marcel Marceau's "Walking Against the Wind" trick, in which he pretended to be pushed backward by an imaginary gust of wind.

If you're having trouble, try practicing in your socks. Sure, it's a little more Risky Business than King of Pop, but the lack of friction will give you a boost until you get the hang of it.

When done correctly, the dance will produce the illusion of walking forward while actually moving back. You can swing your arms with every step, or copy what Jackson did and hunch up your shoulders while grabbing onto your hat. You are wearing a hat, aren't you? You should probably wear a hat.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Mikey

I'm really a little surprised. Not a single headline that I've seen uses the word or concept 'pedophile' when talking about Jackson. No 'Creepy", either. "King of Pop" seems to be the favoriate phrase.

Heat

Too much outside, and not enough inside.

We went for a walk this morning, and, once again, it was like taking a casual stroll in Panama -- not quite humid enough to make me look for the leafy banana trees and hooting birds, but close enough. It was nice to get back inside, where the AC was running.

On the other hand, we've noticed that our waffle iron has been sub-standard, last week or so. The waffles are undercooked; sometimes, they leave soft chunks in the griddle when the outer edges are done. Steam doesn't rise from it as much, either, when cooking. Our conclusion: the heating element is failing. Argh. I really don't want to buy a new one, for reasons ranging from general cheapness to this being an expensive month for us, what with the new refrigerator, taking an up-and-back trip to my cousin's daughter's graduation ( it's nice to see them again, but it works out to about nine hours of driving for about seven hours of visiting; way below the standard), and finding out last night that the phone in one room has given up the ghost (we tend to go through phones; for a while, we had two sitting in a box; we finally gave one away and pitched the other, though, when this one failed, we still had the red Trimline that I'd bought about thirty years ago; someone had told me that since AT&T was breaking up, the newer phones would be of less quality, and that certainly seems to be the case; the only problem with this one is that the cord doesn't match the phone, the result of a certain person thinking it was fun to yank on the cord when she was a toddler).

So, we've got to look at getting a new phone, and maybe a new waffle iron. Oh, and my daughter is getting contact lenses, which she loves; they will be wear-for-a-month-and-pitch types, which I don't, really; I know that they're more hygienic; I just don't like the ongoing expense. I suspect the lens people of taking marketing lessons from King Gillette. You buy them six months at a time; we'll likely say that if she loses them before six months, she gets to wear glasses until the six months is up. How heartless!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

All Obama, All The Time

Obama Actions and Initiatives

Foreign Policy:
Warns against direct involvement with Iran, takes soft line
Condemns the Iranian government's crackdown (Jun23)
Vowed to protect South Korea from North
Talks with Israel about settlements
Would like India and Pakistan to have a dialogue to resolve their differences

Financial:
Will limit Fed lending power, grant it more systemic regulatory authority
Will recommend a non-regulatory insurance oversight office
Will allow SEC, CFTC to regulate derivatives
Economic stimulus package

Human Services:
Federal benefits to be extended to gay/unmarried partners
Calls for a public service plan for individuals

Health Care:
Lobbies doctors for support of changes

Government:
Nominates new head of FCC
Nominates new head of CPSC
Nominates new Supreme Court justice
Proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency
Adopts many Bush administration legal rationales re secrecy
Signs law giving FDA authority to regulate tobacco
Announces deal with the pharmaceutical industry to cut prescription drug costs (Jun23)
Plans to kill a controversial Bush administration spy satellite program at DHS (Jun23)
Urges Congress not to put off immigration reform (Jun25-http://tinyurl.com/lkvavl)

Science:
Urges action on global warming
Urges fast work on climate-change bill (jun24)

Chilled

When we had our kitchen remodeled, I liked to say that we had had shelves, counterspace, and cabinets, and now we had shelves, counterspace, and cabinets. Okay, we had more of that stuff, so I supposed it was an improvement.

We have our new LG refrigerator, and its very nice. The cubic feet of storage is greater than the old one.

So why won't a pizza box fit into the freezer vertically, as before? Or a box of frozen food on the door, as before? Or bottles of flavored water in the middle of the upper refrigerator shelf, as before?

We had twenty five years to get used to that refrigerator, and it became the standard for How Refrigerators Ought To Be Laid Out. This one is.... different.

But it has an ice maker!!!

Tsk Tsk

There's an entry on the TSA blog concerning, generally, an incident wherein a passenger was detained because he was carrying a large amount of money.

It's the apparent position of the TSA that simply having a large amount of money on you is a suspicion-inducing event, and they will ask you why you have it. If you're not willing to tell them, they'll call the cops. In the case of the person involved in that incident, he carefully asked the TSA people if he was required to answer their questions. He wasn't refusing, he was asking. They didn't take that too well - but what they didn't know was that he had an iPhone in his pocket with its voice recorder on. The entire episode, including the threats and profanity on the part of the TSA agents, was recorded, and later publicized.

That kind of behavior usually gets ignored, because it can't be proven (not that such helped Rodney King very much). I am delighted that it wasn't the case here.

.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Heft

I could probably (with help) move that new refrigerator in, tomorrow.

But thank God I don't have to!

Conversation

I came into the kitchen just after my daughter had dropped one of the chocolate chip cookies I'd made the other day. They're a new recipe, that I found on the KAF site, and we like them -- not as thick as others, or as chewy, but still: surprisingly good. So, she wasn't happy. She took a dust pan and brush from the closet to clean it up.

Me: Are you okay?
Her: Why wouldn't I be?
Me: Well, you seemed a little annoyed.
Her: No, its okay.
Me: Should I charge you for shattering that cookie?
Her: Where would you get the money? You give me an allowance now.
Me: I'd just deduct it from your college fund.
Her: Nice.

Memento Mori

I don't read comics for death notices, but that's what I just got.

Made me think. How is it that you can instantly care about someone you've never met, but not care about the people you see all the time? Is it because when someone speaks glowingly of someone they knew who died, the person is 'vetted' -- someone's already checked them out and said 'this is a good person', but the people you see every day, some are good, some, you could care less about? Just sitting here, I think, well, there's some people I know, I'd be sorry if they died -- our friends Greg and Tracy, for example-- but truth to tell, not so many. As in, I had to stop and think a minute - surely there must be someone? For my wife, it'd be easier, as she really cares more about people, generally, than I do (am I a cold person? I don't think so. But, maybe). For me, it's hard to warm up to people.

So thinking aw, damn, I'm sorry that that happened about the death of someone I totally did not know: wow. Made me think.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Politics

I watched the last third or so of the President's press conference this evening.

I was startled by it, because it seemed to me that the questioners were, for the most part, being very aggressive in their questions. Not a lot of cordiality in the room. Some of it was humourous, like the man who tried to both re-ask the question someone else had asked and ask his own question, but for the most part, it was a serious undertaking. I got the clear impression that a lot of the reporters were not happy with the answers that they were getting. While some of it, perhaps most of it, has to be because reporters aren't happy unless they're making the President squirm as he tries not to say or expose what they want him to say or expose, part of it was clearly because in multiple cases the President didn't really answer their question. Sometimes, that was because the answer would have gone into a different direction than he wanted, as when one woman asked him, in essence, why he wasn't doing something extra for black people, inasmuch as their unemployment rate is so high. The President said that minority unemployment rates are always higher than the national average, and then he darted back to the general question of the economy, partly because that was what he wanted to talk about, but partly because he can't be seen saying Well, black people, you know, they always have problems with employment. It may be true; in some places, it definitely is true. But if the President says that, it becomes a whole different conversation; one that takes air away from the other discussions going on. In another case, a reporter wanted him to say that the government's health care plan was inherently unfair to insurance companies, because the government doesn't have to make a profit, and what the President said was more a pitch for the idea of the plan than an acknowledgement that he was right -- because, again, that would lead to a discussion that would take away from the discussion that he wanted to have. Overall, it was more an opportunity to pitch and reiterate than teach and expound. I suppose the alternative would have gone on for hours, but, in a way, I wish it had.

Though I did like his comment about insurance companies cherrypicking clients, I bet they didn't.

My daughter walked in towards the end, and we talked a very little bit about it -- about his style in answering questions, and in general leadership. Never miss a teaching opportunity.

All Obama, All The Time

Obama Initiatives and Actions ( (n) = New)

Foreign Policy:
Warns against direct involvement with Iran, takes soft line
Vowed to protect South Korea from North
Talks with Israel about settlements
Would like India and Pakistan to have a dialogue to resolve their differences

Financial:
Will limit Fed lending power, grant it more systemic regulatory authority
Will recommend a non-regulatory insurance oversight office
Will allow SEC, CFTC to regulate derivatives
Economic stimulus package

Human Services:
Federal benefits to be extended to gay/unmarried partners
Calls for a public service plan for individuals

Health Care:
Lobbies doctors for support of changes

Government:
Nominates new head of FCC
Nominates new head of CPSC
Nominates new Supreme Court justice
Proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency
Adopts many Bush administration legal rationales re secrecy
Signs law giving FDA authority to regulate tobacco
Announces deal with the pharmaceutical industry to cut prescription drug costs (n)
Plans to kill a Bush administration spy satellite program at DHS (n)

Science:
Urges action on global warming

Monday, June 22, 2009

My Daughter Plays With Sticks

Big ones.

This evening, I waited outside while she wrapped up her karate lesson. She really enjoys those lessons, and I'm pleased that she's taking them, both because it gives her confidence and because it gives her at least the nascent ability to discourage any guy who makes a move on her. I've never believed that physical sports could grant confidence, but this clearly does. And tonight, she took another step.

Tonight, she started sparring with the staff. Two feet long, about an inch and a half thick, solid oak. Just walking through the motions, because she's still a white belt, and you're supposed to be an orange before you do that. Not something for a neophyte to use, even casually. Nevertheless, she's doing it. Her moves are hesitant, wavering, sometimes inelegant, but she's doing it.

I am so glad for her, and so proud of her.

Theology

"I asked God for a bike, but I know God doesn't work that way. So I stole a bike and asked for forgiveness."

- OneLinerz

Genetics

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Tuff Girl

I was at a bookstore today. I told my wife that I needed something to read; my stock was getting low, and, to be honest, some of the things I'd picked up weren't quite hacking it. One, a military fiction, was arduous to read; I was actually reading it for a sense of what strategies might be used in a war, but I was having to work my way through it. There are three more books out there waiting to be read, and, sad to say, they're all like that -- about something, but you have to think while reading -- nothing that just glides onto the brain and sucks you into its world. I want to read them -- but it'd be truer to say that I want to have read them.

So, I said, I need something different, some kind of fiction that I don't ordinarily read. Which is how I came to buy a copy of a novel called Gladiatrix, about a woman who is a Spartan gladiator (I think that title's fairly lame), and is roped into fighting in the Roman games. Think 'Xena meets Caesar'. This is about as far as what I normally read as I could easily see, so - we'll try it.

But on the way home, I was thinking about how the underlying message of the book is that a woman can be just as tough and ferocious as a man -- no need to be a weak, simpering person using feminine wiles to make your way through life. This is a message I occasionally give to my daughter, so I thought that perhaps she'd like this book. Maybe not, I thought. I told her about it, and said 'If you want to read it some time, just let me know'. She scanned the back quickly, looked up, and said, brightly "How about right now?"

Don't lose it, kiddo.

Foinachure

So, here's what we're going to do.

  • Toss the pull-out couch, downstairs.
  • Move the upstairs couch downstairs. Put it next to the quite-comfortable inflatable bed.
  • Replace the upstairs couch with a new love seat. Fabric, type to be determined. High back, preferably.
  • Toss the blue armchair's reading light (which still works, but whose swivel has given up the ghost due to the heavy glass shade).
  • Move the swing-arm pole lamp over to the blue chair.
  • If we can get a deal on a reading light for the love seat when we get that, do it; otherwise, figure something out.

Anyone want to move two couches?

Saved

Screen savers are bogus, they say. Unneeded. Perform no useful function.

But they sure are fun to look at!

Moneh

This website has a series of suggestions about redesigning the US currency. Many are quite good, actually. Personally, I like the one with Chris.

Stray Musings

It's Father's Day. Means nothing to me. Well, that's not entirely true. I do consider it to be a holiday created by the greeting card industry, and as such worthless. But the recognition is nice.

I see where the Washington Post says that people who went to the Holocaust Museum in the days after the shooting, standing in open, unguarded places, had chosen not to be victims of terror. That sounds nice, but I think it's hyperbole. I think it's possible to choose not to be a victim, but it takes significantly more effort than that. In the case of the visitors, I suspect they simply thought 'well, we made plans, lets go, but just be a little wary'. And possibly, not even that. We don't tend to dwell on things in this country, which is why we're usually mystified by countries that like to bring up events and such that occurred five hundred years ago, and more.

I am getting a little tired of this beard. I thought to grow it long to see how it worked when I play Santa, but it's a pain. Unless it's an outstanding success -- and maybe even if it is -- I'm going to cut it off at the end of the year. Though it is fun to do the classic 'stroking the beard' gesture. I find myself doing that every so often.

Still reading Terror Presidency. I'm startled by how much of the Bush Administration's actions make sense if you make basic assumptions about their precepts and motivations. It's almost hard to think about, though. Much easier to think in black and white. Us good, them bad.

We've been off and on thinking about spending money, anything from inexpensive -- getting more silverware; somehow, we're always out of table spoons, and frequently out of knives -- to moderately expensive -- replacing the couch downstairs with two chairs, or a chair and a love seat; getting curtains; maybe a new carpet, maybe a new television (though, last night, I was again bemused by how nothing was on; the best thing was on Disney!) -- to the very expensive -- putting a new room on the house, then furnishing that, then putting in an elevator. With the exception of the silverware, I'm reluctant. I want to see our savings grow in strength before we kick 'em in the slats again.

I'm a little nervous about some of the things Obama's doing. I still like him a lot, but -- a little nervous. He's taking some big gambles. Some things, it feels like he's proposing something that's good, but not necessarily something we need, right now. Yes, we desperately need to Fix The Healthcare System; it's killing us as it is, in many ways, and its a system where everyone wants something different, so anyone can say STOP but no one can say GO. Yes, we need to Fix The Financial System, though I suspect as long as there are (excuse me) fucking insane greed-heads on Wall Street, that'll be a cesspool; still, that doesn't mean Don't Even Try. I surely would like to see -- not quick payback, nice as that would be, but some concrete plans. Some of what he's saying sounds more like you gotta believe! than planning. Okay, that's what politicians usually do, but still..... In a way, it's like last September, when I was groaning that he ought to be out there Kicking Ass and Taking Names. He didn't, and it worked. He treated us like reasonable adults, and it worked. Can it work again? Oh, god, I hope so.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Technology


Found here.

Can I Touch That?

Actually, probably yes.

The that comes from an article that I found in an amazing place. Here's the deal. I used to read the Wall Street Journal. Now, I'd read it because (I admit this is a strange) there was a character in a spy novel, whose name I don't recall any more, and he read the WSJ; why, I don't know -- maybe the author was trying to give the character a whimsical quality (Let me see how my stock's doing before I kill you), but I thought that it sounded interesting. Only, it wasn't -- it was mostly numbers and Amalgamated Geewhizostat is proud to announce first quarter earnings are up, the result of its new Turbomax line of... yeah, yeah, whatever. But I did find that the WSJ had articles on the first page that were almost always interesting -- usually having some kind of relation to business,but what I'd call the human side of it -- the people who designed the paint room for Lexus, for example, or a guy who makes a living doing acoustic imaging for libraries. So it wasn't that unusual to find that the Financial Times, which I think of as an exceedingly dull paper that makes the WSJ look racy, actually has pretty interesting articles. Like this one, an article about the world's most unusual compounds.

How unusual? Take Aerogel: the world’s lightest solid consists of 99.8 per cent air and looks like a vague, hazy mass. And yet despite its insubstantial nature, it is remarkably strong; and because of its ability to nullify convection, conduction and radiation, it also happens to be the best insulator in the world. Sitting next to the Aerogel is its thermal opposite, a piece of aluminium nitride, which is such an effective conductor of heat that if you grasp a blunt wafer of it in your hand, the warmth of your body alone allows it to cut through ice. Nearby are panes of glass that clean themselves, metal that remembers the last shape it was twisted into, and a thin tube of Tin Stick which, when bent, emits a sound like a human cry. There’s a tub of totally inert fluorocarbon liquid into which any electronic device can be placed and continue to function. The same liquid has been used to replace the blood in lab rats, which also, oddly enough, continue to function.

There are turbine jet-engine blades grown from a single crystal and designed to function in the most inhospitable places on the planet. There’s a swatch of the world’s blackest black, 25 times blacker than conventional black paint. There’s a lead bell that refuses to ring, a piece of bone with a saw through it, and the largest blob of Silly Putty you’re ever likely to see

The collection was started by a man who is a materials scientist, who found that, unlike his peers, he really liked to touch the materials he learned about and with which he worked. He felt that it helped him understand the materials better, and besides, it was fun. I don't understand much of what he does, but that, I can definitely agree with. So - can I touch that?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Ruminating

If you are thinking about a quick noodle dinner, could it be called Ramenating?

Not in this case, because what I was actually thinking about was cheating on my wife. No, not that way. I'm happily married, conventional as that may sound, and I wouldn't want to change anything about it. I like being married, and I like the person I'm married to, and I like the result of that marriage, though the idea of her actually dating terrifies me. But thats not what I was thinking about.

Here's the deal. I started writing this blog because I wanted to see what it was like. It's the equivalent of writing in a diary, except that people get to comment on it, and over the years, a number of people have. I like that - like 'meeting' these people (and actually met one of them, a person who amazed me by stopping by, visiting with people she didn't even know, and then, second time, stopping by even though she knew that my wife wasn't going to be here -- I was pleased that she did, but still, wow. I had to make conversation, which I'm not really that good at unless I've known you for a while). Over the past year, the number of people who've left comments here has dropped -- I can't say significantly, because there were never really that many, but still, a lot. I miss that, to the point that I've contemplating putting in Google Analytics to see what brings people, but as I tend to be a solitary, somewhat introverted person, I can live with it.

Over the past two years, since my surprise retirement, I've been more or less alone a lot. My mother lives with us, but she's downstairs, and I don't actually see her all that much. My daughter's usually at school, or at color guard, or now, karate, and my wife's usually in at the office. She does work from home on occasion, but not all that much. Again, it's not that big a deal -- I spend a fair amount of time reading, or baking, or surfing the net. I do wonder, on occasion, what it will be like when my wife retires, because I'm sure I will have gotten -- have already gotten -- into a rut of this is how I do things, ranging from cleaning methods to making dinner. I don't particularly think there will be many collisions of routines, but I'm sure there will be some.

This evening, we went to a cookout that was organized by the woman who's my daughter's karate instructor. There were a fair number of people there -- perhaps twenty, plus their kids, and Maclain, the fierce-looking German Shepherd crossbreed who's as curious and gentle as they come -- and I had a pretty good time. Of course, for me, having a pretty good time at a party means finding something to eat and then standing around while other people, for the most part, talk. As I say, I'm a bit of an introvert. Thats why I bring my wife to these things -- she could have a pleasant conversation with Kim Jong Il. While I was there, I thought that this was the kind of thing we try to do when we have our annual party in January, and offer some holiday treats, music, and conversation. It's nice bringing people together, and it almost makes me wish that I was better at talking to people than I am.

I know that every day, there are housewives around here who don't work -- they are the classic Stay At Home Mothers, taking care of kids. I found myself thinking about an article I read, years ago, about a Stay At Home Father who said that he got into the habit of dropping by neighbors houses, and they at his, just for the occasional bit of coffee and conversation. It helped the days go by, and it helped him keep his sanity. I thought that this sounded like an interesting idea. It would certainly be fodder for joking at home -- I already kid my wife that my needs are handled nicely by the 'neighbor ladies' -- and might be fun.

I just don't know how to do it. As I understand it, you would start by actually talking to people -- and that, I'm not so good at.

Maybe this cheating thing isn't such a good idea.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Expectations and Results

One of the things that my wife wanted to have happen on this trip she took to DC was that she'd get the time to just hang out with our daughter. Not that we don't see her routinely, but a great deal of the time, it's either focused -- going here, there, making dinner, that sort of thing -- or our daughter's in her room.

Well, she got her wish, and then some. It wasn't entirely painless -- there was a forty-five minute interval when they were waiting for her aunt, who was late (again, though not entirely her fault, this time), and our daughter had a meltdown, saying that she didn't care if she went to the restaurant or not, which attitude was exacerbated by her grandmother coming over and saying that she was 'disappointed' in her, which didn't help one bit, and things got worse when she discovered that the restaurant they'd waited so long to be driven to was actually a block and a half away from the hotel -- we could have walked there and back!!!!

But it got better.

First off, she loved the restaurant -- loved the food -- I had pasta and vegetables, they mixed them together, which I thought UGH but it turned out to be not that bad, actually it was pretty good ... and the creme brulee, it was to die for, I am not kidding, and mom had a chocolate cake that was totally awesome.... and a grilled cheese made with asiago cheese, it was sooooo good. So, that worked out.

Then they went for a walk along the Reflecting Pool, where apparently some of the stimulus money's going to be spent cleaning and refurbishing the layout. When they got to the end, where the Lincoln Memorial is, the others didn't want to climb the stairs, so just she and my wife did, with the result that not only did they get to see the view -- and alone, yet, no other tourists there -- as well as the monument itself, but they had about twenty minutes together, where they just talked about a whole range of things, serious and not.

Which, she liked so much that last night, when I was picking her up from color guard, she asked me to just drive around so that she could tell me at length about the trip and how much she enjoyed it - and then just segued into talking generally about how things were going with her, what she was reading, and all of that.

Successful trip? I'd say so.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Charting Obama

I've been getting the feeling that the President is doing lots and lots of things, to the point where I can't remember all of them. I agree with most of them (the costs are beginning to worry me, though), but I would like to have a better grasp of whats going on. So, I made myself this little chart,based solely on the 'Obama' references in a Google news scooper. It's just the items where they say 'the administration is doing this', not actions by individuals in the administration, or other people. I know its incomplete, but hey....

On the off chance that others might be interested --

Foreign Policy:
Warns against direct involvement with Iran
Vowed to protect South Korea from North
Talks with Israel about settlements



Financial:
Will limit Fed lending power, grant it more systemic regulatory authority
Will recommend a non-regulatory insurance oversight office
Will allow SEC, CFTC to regulate derivatives


Human Services:
Federal benefits to be extended to gay/unmarried partners



Health Care:
Lobbies doctors for support of changes



Government:
Nominates new head of FCC
Nominates new head of CPSC
Nominates new Supreme Court justice



Science:
Urges action on global warming

It was an ACCIDENT!

Um....clean that up, will you?

Why I was fired (25 photos)

Concentric

I was just thinking about the problem I had had when I set up the new router, wherein I couldn't connect to the network until I changed the name of the network from CeruleanNet to CeruleanNet-1 . When I asked the tech at Netgear who'd walked me through this why in the world the name had to change, he muttered something about security, which I took to mean 'Damned if I know, I'm just glad that it's working, now please go away before it breaks'. I know the feeling.

When I started working with IBM, I got a call from one of our customers saying that they could not get a specific application to work -- they'd made the RACF changes to allow the function, but it was as if they hadn't. They weren't irate - exactly. Well, I thought, how hard can this be? 90 minutes later, I was thinking 'What the HELL is going on?' Because I'd tried all the routine things -- refresh the classes, recreate the id, sign off and back on -- nothing. Finally, I thought of a comment I'd overheard a CICS systems programmer make about having to refresh his in-storage rules tables; though this wasn't CICS, I thought 'what the hell' -- and so called the IBM guy who'd told them to call me with this security problem. Do you have a refresh command with security? I asked. Why, yes -- yes, we do, he said, surprised, and issued the command. Hey, presto -- and I got out of there before something else broke.

Seeing this article, by a guy who was trying to figure out why security was being too effective, and wanted to fix it, brought that to mind. He never did get an answer -- the responses were either gibberish to him, or non-helpful comments like 'why are you do that, when you really ought to be doing this?' So far as I can tell, the guy eventually gave up. If he's like me, he went elsewhere, and either figured out a way around it, or is just living with the problem. If he did figure it out, dollars to donuts he can't say what it was that he did to fix it, because after a while you start trying lots of things, all at once, tossing the deck in the air and hoping it'll come down in a way that makes more sense than the mess you have now. He knows, if he went that route, that it can be fixed -- but not, really, how. Its like the guy who just kept driving in circles until he finally found the place he was looking for.

I think of it as a series of diminishing concentric circles, where the biggest circle is the knowledge base of the people who actually do know how to fix it, but almost certainly can't explain it to people of lesser knowledge; most likely would fix it by changing not only what needs to be changed but also things that they were offended by -why are you doing that? - along the way. At a more limited circle are the people who don't know as much, but they can usually fix it by trying four or five or ten things, which work most of the time. And then you get down to the lowest level, the guy who fixed it, once, and hopes that it never happens again,because he went through such grief getting it fixed. All of that knowledge in the upper circles might as well be on Mars, for all the use it is to him. He just wants to never hear of it again.

Go away, please. Quickly.

Hurrah, etc

I was just lying in bed, dozing, when I heard the gentle patter of rain. I peered out, and yes, it was in fact raining -- not much, not long -- just enough to wet down the grass and make it impossible to mow.

Except: I had just mowed it this morning. The mower even kept its charge for about an hour, which meant I got about 90% of the lawn done -- back, front, one side, and a third of the other side.

I was so pleased, I popped out and used up the rest of a package of bacon to made myself a bacon on rye sandwich for lunch. And it was good.

Piercing News

They say it's always a good day when you learn something. Today, I learned something.

If you have a water line for an icemaker which has never been used, and when you open the valve, no water comes out, try making sure the valve is all the way open. That will pierce the water supply, if it hasn't already been done, and allow water to flow.

The plumber was here for fifteen minutes. That bit of knowledge worked out to about five dollars a minute.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Terrified

I've been reading The Terror Presidency, about how the Bush administration approached the legal underpinnings for their actions in the series of actions formerly known as the War on Terror, and I must admit: I'm surprised.

Goldsmith makes a decent case for the process by which they both justified their actions and laid a legal framework to protect themselves. I had thought that the words used by Gonzales et al were just so much bushwah, translating into 'you can't touch us, we'll do whatever we want'. Goldsmith shows where the concepts and actions are similar to those taken by Roosevelt and Attorney General Biddle when faced with saboteurs and spies during World War II. He does not approve of their actions, but he shows how a reasonable person, acting in a reasonable manner, given certain basic assumptions and attitudes, and in a given environment, could take those very same actions. I must say, it's unsettling.

I'm only about a quarter of the way into the book -- amazing, how slowly I have to read this -- but I find that I'm glad to be seeing the world from this perspective.

I'm also glad to be eating the peanut butter cookies I made this morning.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Routed

I got the new 802.11G router installed. Like when I got new tires, and was asked if it drove better, and I replied 'for what I paid, of course it does!', after what I went through to get it installed, of course it runs faster.

I had to jump through hoops to get it to recognize the network name, for some reason. I'd named it CeruleanNet - catchy name - and it flat would not connect any devices. After much jiggering and pokering, I changed the name to CeruleanNet-1 -- and it connected. Go figure. Also, the other router (also a Netgear) would tell me if there were wireless laptops in the area, so that I could just select them when adding their MAC addresses, but this one wouldn't -- I had to manually type the MAC addresses in.

And I couldn't get one with a wireless connection to the printer -- it's still hard-plugged in into the desktop pc. C'est la vie.

But hey, it works. And did I mention how fast it is?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Screening Room

I came across a novel decorating idea for new parents who are concerned that a house pet might harm or otherwise bother a new baby during the night.

Box, Iced

In thinking about getting rid of our current refrigerator, we thought 'well, perhaps someone else can use it', so we sent a note to two very-networked neighbors, asking that they send it to anyone who might be interested. Heck, if we can save someone three or four hundred dollars...

We just saw the neighbors, and they jokingly asked why we were doing this at all if it still worked. My wife trotted out the it'll be more energy efficient argument, to which the neighbor replied well, sure, you'll likely save, oh, fifteen dollars a year on power! My wife got -- well, a little agitated on that, so he decided to stop. She didn't get mad, but her voice went up half an octave. She said something about not wanting to have the hassle of having it die on us, and therefore having to get a new one right quick, food loss, etc. And that would be a major hassle. Did I mention we have a full-size freezer downstairs? And my mother has a refrigerator? And we have a very small one from when my wife was in college?

On the way back inside, I murmured So tell me again why we're doing this? and she just smiled. A sort of frozen smile. Perhaps this is one of those things that guys just don't get.

Oh, and this new refrigerator has an automatic ice maker, always big on my list of important things. When we had the kitchen redone, they included a feed line for an ice maker. We have to drill a hole in a cabinet wall for it - no problem - but while we were contemplating that, I asked my wife 'how do we know this thing will work?' She said 'you just turn this knob, right here.' So we did.

No water.

The price of that refrigerator just went up by a hundred dollars, I think.

Management

Sometimes, I'm a little slow. The following is something that it took me a long time to realize, and even now, it's more something I know intellectually rather than viscerally.

You can't manage an organization, or deal with people, or live your life according to things that you've read. You can only do it according to things that you feel. The things that you feel may be informed, influenced, or altered by the things you've read, but you aren't likely to routinely act based on that. You may do so if you're thinking about it - gee, that article on food made it sound like perhaps a deep-fried Snickers bar isn't the best lunch; I'll just have a tofu salad instead -- but three days later you'll be eating the chocolate-covered raisins and hot buttered potato chips with gusto, only occasionally thinking I really shouldn't be doing this. It isn't until your view of what's right and permissible changes that your actions change.

Curiously enough, this all occurs to me as a follow-on to reading an article in today's Washington Post about Michelle Rhee, the schools chancellor in Washington DC, and how she's modified her style to accommodate the organizational and political realities of working in that environment. She's found that being famous not only does not translate into universal acceptance, but it can actually generate resentment and obstruction; further, people are more likely to be willing to listen if you talk to them rather than dictate from on high. They may not agree, but they're more likely to listen.

Well, gee, I thought, even I know that. When I was a manager, I thought exactly that. I'd read INC magazine and Fortune and Wharton and all of that; each of them would say that you have to engage people, you have to be clear and honest and forthright. I knew that. Catch was, I didn't feel that. The things I did every day were more driven by what I thought I was supposed to do than what I felt, in my gut, that I should be doing. Don't get me wrong, this was a lowly, menial management job; very little power, very little budget. But still, I had the ability to make changes, to encourage and motivate people, and I didn't use it, because though I knew it intellectually, I didn't know it so firmly that it became part of my guiding principles.

Put more broadly, I didn't realize that you have to believe in something before you can live it. I know that now. And sometimes, I even believe it.

Does Bill Gates Have Life Insurance?

I was thinking about money this morning.

The motivation was an article in the local paper about people in financial trouble who are losing their homes. The lead was a woman who'd bought a home with her boyfriend when she was eight months pregnant. She spent time to paint the child's bedroom - nothing lavish, but blue paint on the walls, white dotted to suggest clouds, stick-on stars on the ceiling. She wanted it to be perfect. This month, she had to leave it when she discovered that her boyfriend, who'd moved out, had not been paying the mortgage, and she was in arrears to the tune of $4,500. There was no way she could pay that, and so she had to move out. The article had a picture of the now three-year-old girl coming out of the house with her mother behind her. The girl was carefully carrying her piggybank.

Oh, dammit, I wanted to write her a check on the spot.

No one ever admits being asleep or wealthy, I've heard, and so it will come as no surprise when I say that we're not wealthy. If we gave someone that amount of money, with a hope but perhaps not an expectation of getting it back, we'd notice it. And yet, I thought about it. Like other things, the thought passed. Too bad, I thought. Sorry that happened. Wish I could help. Followed quietly by the thoughts about of course, I'd never see that money again. And they might decide I was a soft touch, and come back for more. Who needs that? Note that I don't know that that would happen -- I just didn't want to even contemplate taking the chance. This is our money, after all. We worked for it, and we're planning to retire on it. We can't be taking chances with it. And anyway, she's already out of the house, it wouldn't do her any good.

A
ll of which is true. None of which helps me when I think about it. I don't like feeling cheap, or cold, or callous. Thinking about why I can't, won't take the chance to give the money gives me all of those feelings. I may believe that we really do need to keep that money for ourselves, and be right in so thinking, but I know that if that was my family that needed money, I'd give it to them. I'd be anxious about it, but I'd do it. Years ago, my cousin needed some amount -- $1500, I think -- and asked if I would lend it to her. She was scrupulous about paying me back, and when it was done asked me for something written that said she'd done so. Why did she need that note? I don't know, but I have a suspicion that she wasn't comfortable with the idea of asking for help, and she wasn't entirely sure that I would not later say that she still owed me money. I wondered if she saw me -- with the nice house in a pleasant area -- as wealthy. She lived in a small rented house, and after her divorce moved to a small apartment. Compared to her, I was wealthy -- and like a fair number of wealthy people, I am reluctant to give any of it up. If that means that people who are decent people can't do something minor -- minor to me, but financially impossible to them -- well, gosh, sorry. That's just the way it is.

I don't particularly like thinking of myself that way.

We picked up the mail this morning (it had come yesterday, but we didn't get it). One of the missives was an offer to buy insurance against 'costly car repairs'. Gee, I said to my wife, why would you want that? Certainly, we've had surprises at the car repair place, things that stunned us, but they didn't send us into a nosedive, they were just oh, man, that's a big hit. We can live with it. And then it hit me: not everyone can. There are people -- and not people living in ramshackle houses, but people that I might actually know, people that I might actually be related to -- who would be staggered by a surprise auto repair bill. People who would have to do some major financial rejiggering to make it happen. People I know? Damn.

It brought me back to thinking about people, and money. How there are people who can't meet what I'd consider to be routine obligations, because things have gone wrong for them. I think well, that's why you have insurance, but some, maybe most of them, can't even afford that. There's have enough, and there's broke. Nothing in-between. Insurance is for those who might need quick relief but don't routinely have it. (Which, incidentally, lets Gates out, I suspect.) Others? You're on your own.

Which brings me to the topic of microfinancing. What if, I thought, I could take an amount of money that we could afford -- say, $500 -- and lend it to someone who needed it, with a fair but not bulletproof expectation of getting it back? Should I do that? How do you find these people? I know that there are web sites that say they facilitate it, but how do you know if they're real or some Russian scammer? Can you trust anyone you don't actually know?

I don't know the answer to that. But somehow, I think, I need to keep that image of the little girl and the piggybank in my mind. Because maybe we can do more than we are. Maybe we should.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Oh, That Søren

Ever wonder what Søren Kierkegaard was like on road trips?

Carded

I got another card on my keychain the other day.

I already had one for Borders Rewards, Giant Rewards, CVS rewards, and one or two that I don't recall what they are, at the moment, but when I reached in my pocked for the keys, I noticed a new one: the dealership where I bring the van for gas had signed me up for their 'oil change club'; get four and the fifth is free. I would suppose that the Jiffy-Lubes and whatnot were causing them problems, but it seems like those places are closing, themselves, so perhaps this is in response to generalized malaise in the automobile market. Whatever it is, now I have another card to flip through while looking for one at a given store. Which gives rises to an idea: a flash-card sizes dongle (I love that word) that has a bright display, rectangular, and a plug. When you get a new card, you type in the business and the barcode, and it gets transferred to the dongle. When you want it, you scroll through them, display it, and the scanner picks it up.

Okay, so there are a couple of holes in the idea -- for one, this thing would be fairly thick, which does tend to agitate against the problem that's I'm trying to solve. For another, those little cards are free, while this thing clearly wouldn't be. Still: I think there's something to it.

Happy

I'd like to recommend a blog to the two or three people who pass through here. It is a thoughtful, insightful blog, written by a woman who is both an eloquent observer of life and an artist. She writes it for the New York Times, though it might be syndicated elsewhere (it's clearly worth it), with updates occurring once a month. Recent columns have been about military people training for war, women in the law, and pieces of Abraham Lincoln's life.

The blog is And The Pursuit Of Happiness. Go. Read it.

Events

Well, things are happening, and once again that axiom about living in interesting times comes to mind.

In Iran, Mr. A -- no way I'm going to try that name -- got reelected, which is bad news for us, not to mention the half of the country that didn't vote for him. There doesn't appear to be any truth to the rumor that Ralph Nader was a third party vote splitter, though. In North Korea, they're saying that in addition to not being willing to play nice, they want to seriously push getting nuclear weapons. You know things are grim when even China says these people need to be stopped. If this were a Tom Clancy novel, there'd be a combination team of Special Forces, Spetznatz, and Mossad fueling up in a secret base in the south of China, right now. As it is, I understand that Hillary's strapped into a fighter that's on alert standby somewhere in the Indian Ocean. GM's in bankruptcy, but they promise in their ads that things will be better, and that we 'have their word on it'. Curiously, the ads don't mention what that word actually means, or who to call about it. The transition to digital television has occurred, but life doesn't seem to be better, and for some, it's gotten worse. You wonder how they could have avoided knowing what was going to happen, and what they could do, and then you remember: these are people who don't have a lot of resources to get those converter boxes, coupons or not. They're used to getting beaten up by life. Meanwhile, the price of gas is up because the dapper young men in their crisp white shirts are betting that it's going to go up, while economists are worrying that the barely started recession recovery may get strangled by the increase.

You know, I think I'll go bake some cookies.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Note

Every so often, I send an email to this one person, and way more often than not, if I get a response, I think just why in the hell did I do that? Because the response can usually be summarized as Here is what is going on in my wonderful life, and I care not at all about what's happening in yours. Not always. Just about, oh, 90, 95 percent of the time.

Fortunately for me, I think I'm up to about six months between my whims to send these little notes, and the gap grows wider each time. I'm hoping it goes exponential.

Whoosh!

I think I just dodged a networking bullet.

We want to replace our existing router. We want to get two things out of the replacement -- one, the ability to print without having to turn on a PC to make the connection to the printer, and two, a faster connection.

In reading the many articles about routers (most of which assume that of course you know that...) I got the impression that we could do this by purchasing a print server, which I thought was another way of saying 'router with the ability to talk to a printer'. Well, apparently not. I now gather that a print server can function as a router, but it (probably) needs an actual router, too, to make the connection to the internet. The cable or DSL doesn't connect directly to the print server, you see. I think.

I know, I know, that every discipline assumes a certain base set of knowledge. But networking seems unique in its ability to obscure, obfuscate, say the same thing twice in different ways, and say two different things in a way that makes them sound the same. They like to sprinkle some then a miracle occurs fairy dust, too.

The good news is, though the print server came today, we never even took it out of the shipping box, let alone its actual box. I think we'll be returning it.

Maybe in the next ten years, the people who write about networking will get the ability to do so in English. Until then, I'll stick with what we have. Damn thing works, after all. Lot to be said for that.

So Moving

Yeah, I gotcha democracy right here.

Oh, I Think That....

I'm always intrigued by articles that say what (fill in the classification) want in (fill in the classification). As in, what men want in women; what women want in men; what blacks want in white; what lesbians want in motorcyclists. Okay, I haven't seen the last one, but it's only a matter of time. The most recent is an article citing a study of Australian men which says that they don't care for rail-thin women, but would rather 'normal-looking' women.

Now, granted, what the article considers 'normal-looking' isn't the same as the women you'd see in the supermarket or picking up the kids at school, generally; their example, Hannah Millward, is slender, blonde, and twenty-eight years old. I wouldn't mind being described that way myself! She says that she is "immaculately groomed at all times", which I suppose lets me out, and considers herself to be "a bit normal...not skinny and not big". You know - normal.

Whenever I describe my wife, and say something like 'she's not gorgeous, but she looks great to me', I always feel as if I'm copping out -- implying that well, she's kind of plain, but she makes great meatloaf. I don't think she's plain at all, but even if she was, so what? Most people are. It's the stunning ones, both those who have good genes and those who fake it, who are the outliers. Normal is where it's at.

(And she does make good meatloaf!)

Sounds

One of the minor advantages of having a lightly - visited blog is that you're less likely to lose visitors who've seen something posted here before show up again. I just like this video.

Apparently, quite a few others do, too.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Wretched Rachel

An interesting article and series of comments about the 'rachel from cardholder services' scam phone calls.... And way at the end, an actual name!

Seeking Chutzpah

This morning, I was at a local doctor's office, waiting for my mother -- as she goes to a family doc, a blood doc, a heart doc, a lung doc, and an eye doc, that opportunity comes by fairly often. They were running late, but you wouldn't know it from their style -- no apologies, no calling people to tell them to delay their arrival, none of that. I have a feeling that the guy at Musings of a Distractible Mind would do that. These folks -- well, my mother says that she doesn't mind waiting, as it gives her a chance to relax and do some reading. My reaction that that attitude is you're letting them get away with it!, but, truthfully, I have to admit: does it really matter? Yeah, it does...but in the Grand Scheme of Things? I suppose not.

And this morning, as it happened, it gave me time to do some reading -- an article in the April issue of Fortune about job hunting. I'm not hunting, but it struck a chord, because I've never been good at it. My approach has always being staid, conventional -- cover letter, chronological resume, buzz phrases like seeking an opportunity to work with a dynamic... Yeah. Right. I even looked into getting one of those executive MBAs, where you give them a ton of money and they give you a degree. As it happens, the manager at EDS hadn't read the articles about how things like this are good for the employee, good for the company, and so he didn't feel the need to let me take Fridays off to go down to Philadelphia for the classes. I would have liked that, but it's just as well. I doubt the degree would have turned into anything useful.

So when I see articles like this, I almost always read them, wondering what it is that successful job seekers have that I don't.

In the current market, they certainly have a desperation that I never had, and I'm grateful for that. They've contemplated having to spend a long time searching for a job, thinking that there was a good possibility they'd have to take a position that they really didn't want just to get money, any money, coming in to pay the bills that still flow, employed or not. Some of the people in the article were just fortunate, but most of them came up with techniques that worked for them, and that, of course, is what sells the article, what sells the magazine. I remember when Fortune was more interested in the big picture of industries than the job searches of individuals. Not this time around, I guess.

So what were the techniques? Determination. Persistence. Communication. Organization. They called everyone they knew (and stretched the definition of knew to mean anyone they could reach), and they came armed with one recurring set of statements - Here's what I can do for you, here's how I will improve your operation on the first day, in the first thirty days, in the first sixty and ninety days. They focused on what the company of the moment did, who their competitors were. One guy said he would ask people what scared them most about their competition, and then he'd call the competition and say I hear that those guys are really scared by this thing you do....I can help -- want to meet for coffee? I'd call that chutzpah, but in this environment, it's called drive and commitment.

I think of when I worked for IBM, and for EDS. Did I ever have the feeling that I mattered to those companies? Did I ever have the feeling of here is what I do to make this place better, more effective, more profitable? Did I even have a clue about that?

I think that's important (he said, belatedly). If you don't feel bonded, important to, important in, an organization, if you can't quantify how what you do is worthwhile and valuable to them -- perhaps you need to focus on the question. For use in future job changes, if nothing else.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Pix

These photographs were apparently created for advertising use. They're quite creative. I just wish I had a clue what they were creative about. Especially the last one.

Warm Doings

I was out early this morning, mowing. Not incredibly early -- we went for a walk around 7:30 and were back in twenty minutes, so I was out with the mower around 8:15. One of the side yards is having a growth spurt, and I wanted to get on that before it got seriously out of control. I would have mown yesterday, but the high humidity and threatening rain -- which it never did do -- kept me inside. I don't handle humidity well. So, there I was, from about 8:15 till just before 9, doing that side yard and about 40% of the back yard. The mower would have done more, but I was already starting to think you know, this grass will be okay for another day. Tomorrow, same time, I'll finish the back yard and do the side -- and, who knows, if its cool enough, perhaps the front yard too. The front yard is easy. The other day, I even used the weed-whacker, which I hadn't done in a long time. Amazing little gadget, that.

I've been following politics a little bit, lately. I see where the Democrats in New York got a setback from the Republicans, losing control of the State Senate, which they'd just gotten several months ago for the first time in a long time. What makes this particularly interesting is that the Republicans were able to wrest back control with the help of two Democrats -- one of whom was thereupon appointed Secretary of the Senate. I don't know what that position means, exactly, but I surely do know what it smells like. And I see where, at the national level, Sarah Palin has refused to sink into well-deserved obscurity, and is actually getting a base of support among the Republicans. I know, its a long time until the next national elections, and anything could happen, but it's interesting to muse about what it would take for her to actually be their next candidate. Having three years to prepare for debates ought to help, I'd guess.

I'm trying bread, again. I've tried three times now to make hot dog rolls -- we like Boars Head hot dogs, which are seven inches long, making them a bit too long for your average six inch commercially sold bun. For the life of me, I could not make the recipe work, so I found another, and today I'm trying that. As is normally the case, I am optimistic. We'll see how I feel in about two hours when I'm rolling out the dough and doing the initial shaping. And perhaps I'll bake some cookies, too!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Outings

"Gay politicians who keep their sexuality secret but lobby against gay rights should be outed, House Banking Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-MA) said explicitly in an interview with GQ published Monday."

I disagree, but I admit that I'm not sure about it.

When I read a while back about a mashup where people could create maps showing where the people lived who gave money against a specific referendum in California lived, I was uneasy about the idea, because I thought that it took away some of the secrecy of the polls. People who liked the idea said that if you supported something privately, you ought to support it publicly. I think that's wrong.

For politicians, I'm not sure. It implies that if a politician has personal views that are contrary to publicly stated positions, there's something evil about it, and that's not the case. Well, not always the case. Sometimes, it is -- they're really in opposition, and they're acting in opposition, but they don't want that known. I think it comes down to what they actually are doing. How they feel in their hearts is something else again.

And then I reread that quote. "...but lobby against..."

Hmm....
I'm not sure. Perhaps the answer is 'lobbying efforts should be public, period' ?

Knit Wit

This morning, I was leafing through the paper and came across an ad citing a specific woman as a 'model, mother, and fashion maven'. Why can't I be that, I complained. My wife said that I was a model -- at least, a role model -- for my daughter; being a mother was biologically impossible (I've been called one, I muttered), and as for fashion, I wasn't someone to whom that was important. Fashion's important to me, I said. Really? Name the people who made the last suit you bought. I thought for a moment. Craftsman, I replied. I remember reading about the 'craftsmen who make Saville Row suits, and being amazed that they could do that and still make all those nifty little wrenches and stuff for Sears, too'. For some reason, she didn't buy this.

I did spend a little time looking around for underwear, though -- I hate shopping, period -- and was surprised to find that it's possible to buy "Death or Glory" knit boxers. I think that would fit right in with my personal style.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Snapt

This morning I made Brandy Snaps. It was an interesting experience.

The first recipe, from the Cookie book that my mento'd given me, used molasses as the primary sweet ingredient. They cited light molasses, which I didn't have, but I did have dark molasses. Turns out that wasn't a good idea. The batter hardly spread at all, and even after five minutes of cooling was way too pliable - almost the consistency of a crepe. So, I did a web search and found a recipe on the Washington Post site that looked plausible. Only catch was, it used Golden Syrup -- but some sites suggested that corn syrup was an acceptable alternative. And so it turned out to be.

Here's the recipe, and the sweet, crunchy, and more than a little greasy result. One note: when they say '6 on the baking sheet', that's only if you really are using a level tablespoon or less. Any more, back off on the number of pieces. These jewels spread.

Brandy Snaps

Summary: There is no brandy in these easy molded cookies. They are traditionally filled with a brandy-flavored whipped cream before serving. To make them, you'll need to have ready 2 or 3 rounded handles about 3/4 inch wide (we used the handles of a wooden meat mallet and wire whisks). Lyle's Golden Syrup is available at Rodman's stores, Giant and some Williams-Sonoma stores. MAKE AHEAD: The cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days. The batter should not be refrigerated or frozen. Makes 12 to 18 cookies Ingredients:

* 1/2 cup flour
* 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

* 5 tablespoons unsalted butter

* 1/3 cup sugar

* 1/4 cup Lyle's Golden Syrup (see headnote)


Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a silicone liner or parchment paper. Whisk
together the flour and ginger in a small bowl. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the sugar and golden syrup; cook, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes, until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and whisk in the flour-ginger mixture. Working fairly quickly to keep the mix from stiffening, spoon 6 level tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheet, spacing them at least 2 inches apart (the cookies will spread quite a bit).

Bake for 5 minutes, then rotate the sheet front to back and bake for 5 minutes. The cookies will be flat and golden brown.
Transfer the baking sheet to the stove top (off the heat but in a warm place).

Let the cookies rest for 2 minutes, until they are firm but flexible; then, working with one or two at a time, wrap the cookies around a handle to form a tubular shape and transfer to a wire rack to set; this should take about 1 minute. When the cookies are crisp, the handles can be extracted. Let the cookies cool completely before storing.
Repeat with the remaining batter. Store the molded cookies in an airtight container to maintain their crispness.

Recipe Source: Adapted from "Martha Stewart's Cookies" (Clarkson Potter, 2008).

Sunday, June 07, 2009

School Group

I found this image on Michael Yon's excellent blog. I really like it.

Spending? Ah....Do I Have To?

I'm not cheap, but I hate spending money unnecessarily. Sometimes, though, events force it upon you.

Father's Day is coming up, and two months later, my sixtieth birthday, which I am thinking of as a Threshold Birthday. I may not be old, but I'm getting there. Now I get to check the sixty and older box on forms. Two months after that, we've got our twenty fifth anniversary. All of those, put together, make us think that we should Buy Something Lavish. But what?

Over the last couple of months, we've been mulling over getting a flatscreen TV, and today, while we were at Best Buy getting the refrigerator, we wandered over to look at the televisions on display. I must admit, they're seductive. Big, glossy, glittering. Usually, showing a demo tape from a Blu-Ray player, sometimes an HD cable channel. Good golly, that's nice. What the real world would look like if George Lucas had built it. Funny how they never show what's on at our house -- which is to say, basic cable -- or what's on basic cable, which is to say: The Same Old Thing.

My wife says that we ought to do it anyway, for the reasons cited above. We've been talking about it for a while. But the money! The TV alone is about $1700 (that's the mid-range price for a 46 inch LCD); we'd have to buy a table for it, because it'd be too big for the coffee table we've used as a TV table for the last twenty five years; that's about $300. $2100, and we don't get better TV, in either quality or quantity. We could up the level of service on cable, so that we'd get the HD channels (another ten dollars a month, every damn month). We could get a Blu-Ray player to go with it, but thats another $300 or so (I'm guessing about that point), but what good's the higher capability player without higher capacity videos? So now any new videos have to be at the higher quality level....though I think Blu-Ray can made regular DVDs look better. Maybe not.

And, oh yes, the current DVD/VHS player....how to connect that? And, gee, should we think about eventually adding some kind of audio system? We've got an amp down there.... that never gets used, and a tape deck that really doesn't work. And a turntable that does....when we use it. How would that all fit in?

Hey, what about a riding mower instead?

Picking McHugh

I was thinking the other day about the Obama nomination of John McHugh, a Republican, as Secretary of the Army.

When I first heard about it, I thought that it was simply a matter of picking the best person -- by which I don't mean so much the absolute best person as I mean 'an acceptable and available person'. I am willing to believe that the definition of 'best' and 'acceptable' are very fluid, and I don't think that there is ever an absolutely best person, so good that any other choice is not even second best but more like tenth or twelfth. (Well, perhaps in the last Presidential election...) In fact, I tend to think that we pick the people who are acceptable much more often than we pick the people who are the best, because a) the best like where they are just fine, thank you, and see no reason to move, and b) the people who are the best at one thing are rarely as good, or even in the same range, at other things -- and if you're being picked for a job that requires multiple diverse skills, you might be, overall, not acceptable. I'm thinking, for example, of the woman who was picked years ago to run the Red Cross (no, not Elizabeth Dole, for whom I have little use -- it was a woman cardiologist; I just can't recall her name) -- she was bright and fierce and dedicated, but as a politician, she was not very good - and in running the organization, you needed to be one.

So when you're picking a visible position like SecArmy, it's got to be someone who knows the field, but also knows the players. From what I gather (and I haven't done a lot of reading on this), McHugh fits the bill. He's conversant with the military, and he's a long-time political player. Good choice.

But now I read that a secondary reason for picking him was that as a long term Republican player, his selection (and, more specifically, his willingness to be selected) sends the message to other, less visible Republicans that the experienced members of their party might be looking to jump ship -- not leave the party, but set aside their identity as part of the Republican establishment -- because they don't believe that there will be a resurgence of the 'Republican brand' for a while -- and so, perhaps they ought to be considering whether its in their self interest to be more amenable to the Democrats and the Democratic agenda. You can toil in the Republican outlands, or you can sign on with the Democrats and get some love right now. It's not a burning likelihood that the next Republican convention will be held in a phone booth, but if the moderates are supporting the Democrats, and the radicals are splitting off into their own little orbits -- this accelerates the failure of the Republicans. And so, picking McHugh is a sly political move, not just 'picking the best person'.

(All of this is hyperbole, I know -- whenever politicians are on the outs, its 'the end of the world', 'things will never be the same', all of that. I expect that the Republicans will be back in power -- possibly in four years (hope not!), probably in eight (at least stronger in Congress), and almost certainly in twelve. None of that is very comforting to the Republicans who miss the big offices right now, though.)

The thing is, though I know that Obama is a canny politician - who can forget that great Photoshop of him on the podium at the outdoor convention, with the words "Everybody chill the fuck out -- I got this!" - and he did, too), and Rahm Emmanuel is probably as good as they come in political maneuvering - I find that if McHugh's choice was informed by political considerations to that extent (I won't ask for it 'not at all'), it bothers me. I don't like thinking of Obama as someone who does things for primarily or even secondarily political reasons. I don't think of him as Mr. Smith in Washington -- but in a way, I guess I do. And thinking that he might just be a little slicker than he's shown himself to be, publicly -- makes me sad. It makes me wonder if any politician is truly what he appears to be.

This in no way implies that I think Obama was a bad choice, or a good-enough choice. I am thrilled by what he's doing, thrilled by his drive to make a difference in a broad range of areas, to 'right what once went wrong', to quote Quantum Leap. I think his energy and intelligence, his scope of vision and depth of conviction are awesome. I think he was the right man for the job, and it would take a heck of a lot more than political considerations for me to change that view, or even alter it.

I just wish that the possibility of altering it didn't occur to me.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Conehead

Some time ago, I got the idea that it's easy to make cones for ice cream cones.

A few minutes with the cooked dough (which had to be still warm in order to be malleable, but not so warm that you burned your fingers), taught me differently. It ought to be easy... but it wasn't.

Nevertheless, I think that the next recipe I'm going to try is 'brandy snaps'. I'll be cheating, somewhat, as I don't intend to make the filling -- this is just to see if I can make the cone shape that the recipe calls for. Hey, how hard can it be?

Harmonics

Finally, an article about a use of algorithms that makes me smile.

Baking

My mento gave me a small book of cookie types, Anita Chu's Field Guide to Cookies, with the hint that it would be great if I practiced every one of them over the summer so that I could give him some when I saw him next year. Well, I replied, number one, I don't even know if I'm going to want to do this next year, and number two, if I do work with you next year, I'm going to be a little more demanding than I was this year. Perhaps you won't like that. He thought about it. But I'll still get cookies, right? I nodded. Of course, I said, I could just drop some by your house during the summer. He didn't like that idea. A guy giving a kid cookies? Too creepy. I agreed.

I'm not going to make every one, but tonight I made the first, Amaretti, a sort of Italian macaroon, thin, crisp, and chewy. Not at all bad.

1 cup blanched almonds
2/3 cup sugar
5 tsp all purpose flour
2 egg whites
3/4 tsp almond extract
(optional) confectioners sugar

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line several cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

Using a food processor, grind almonds, sugar, flour and salt to a fine meal. Note: Grind the almonds to as fine a consistency as possible — sift out any large bits. Grinding them with the sugar prevents the nuts from being pulverized into a paste, as the sugar absorbs some of the nut oils.

Place ground almond mixture in a large bowl and add the egg whites and almond extract. Mix with a rubber spatula until combined.

Drop dough by teaspoonfuls onto sheets about 1 1/2 inches apart. If desired, sift confectioners’ sugar over cookies before baking.

Bake 18 to 20 minutes, rotating cookie sheets halfway through; when Amaretti are done baking, the edges will be golden brown.

Cool sheets on wire racks for 5 minutes before transferring cookies directly onto wire racks with a metal spatula to finish cooling.

Makes 3 dozen cookies.

NAMB

No one Asked Me, But --

I think Robert Reich is the sort of person who gives liberals a bad name. He says in a recent column that he 'talked to friends on the Hill'....and that phrase just struck me as unutterably pompous. I am so smart and ever so much more plugged in than you, dood! I think he knows way more than me.... but he reminds me of Joe Lieberman. And you know how much I respect him!

Fortunately, I can ignore him -- and when he comes on NPR with his latest view of the world, I always do.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Chilled

We've been thinking about replacing our twenty-five year old refrigerator. Well, okay, one of us has been thinking about it, and the other has been saying Yeah, okay, if you want to.

We just spent a little time at the Best Buy web site, looking at what was available. My wife likes the idea of larger-capacity ones. How does it get that capacity, I wondered, and she said that it was because they now can use much thinner sidewalls.

Well, yeah.

But mostly, it's because the newer ones are from two to six inches taller than our current one. That would be the one with a cabinet above it.

If we get a new one, that cabinet will have to come down.

Oh, hell.
================
Update: Well, it looks like things are not quite as grim as we thought. Apparently, it's the side by side, or the French door, styles that have had Refrigerator Growth Hormone added to their diet. The ones such as we have now, with a freezer atop, can easily be had in this height. I would have liked the other style, but we've gotten used to ducking down to see the back -- and we really would not have liked having to replace that cabinet!

Racy

I am not a racer. I'm a walker, and not a particularly speedy one, either. Thats as I like it. Races are for other people.

But sometimes, there comes a race that calls to me....

Milestone

One year down, three to go.

Breaking the Fast

This morning, we had sausage, and it was good.

We don't normally eat sausage. For several years, we had it routinely, three or four times a week. Then, a confluence of events, from inconsistent quality to getting elevated cholesterol numbers made us say Okay, we can back off on this. And we did. Still have bacon once a week (and I can just hear the little naggers at the Center For Science that's Positively Irritating saying If you have bacon more than once a decade, you increase the likelihood of stroke, heart attack, and hang nails!!!!) but that's it.

Yesterday, when I went to the store, I did not have a good time. Part of it was me -- I'd left my phone in the car, to charge; I didn't have a pen -- and part of it was them -- where the hell did they move the soy sauce to in their latest rejiggering of where things are? So when I hit the aisle where the bacon is, I saw the sausage, and it triggered a memory. Ah, yes. So this morning, we had sausage and waffles; I had coffee.

And it was good.

Thursday, June 04, 2009