Thursday, June 30, 2011


Packing for the trip to Paris tomorrow Glad to be going there; but a litttle sad to be leaving here. Our stay in this little French village, with this family, has been magical.


Its some kind of special when you can casually say "It's nice here today --lets not go to Paris until tomorrow..."

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Things I have learned thus far on summer vacation-

a) The French don't know the meaning of 'well-done'.

b) French drivers go very fast on narrow roads.

c) Some French public restrooms have neither bidets nor toilet paper.

d) Little French kids sound cute when they say Bonjour.

e) Noticing that the young girl you hosted last summer is now a sexy young woman can be a really unsettling experience.Though you are still delighted to see her; you can't treat her as the same person.

f) Things seem to cost more in Euros. We've spent HOW much already???


With the right people, the whole experience is delightful. Like our new friends: From the daughter to the dog to the son to the rabbit; and most especially the parents: they are a joy. We are damned lucky.


Monday, June 27, 2011

En France

My wife arrived in France to join me and my daughter at the home of our new friends. At first I was jealous - up to then, it had been just my daughter and me; and I didnt like sharing 'my' French family with her: But I got over it: Pretty much.

Just spent twenty minutes trying to get the French mobile phone to work. Turns out that just because the phone number starts with a zero doesnt mean you can ignore the zero: 06 and 07 are nationwide area codes for mobile phones;

I am very glad that we came. We are doing some fun things; but we are doing very quiet things; too. Do kind of wish we could order pizza; though. This is a very small town; no Pizza Hut here!

I will miss this place, and this family: Especially the family. They are unbelievably friendly and generous. It is as if we have known them for years. And tonight; we go to see the girl whose arrival started it all.

Monday, June 20, 2011


No, it's not a real NASA ad. In fact, it was done by a Canadian kid. To whom, many thanks. Because it's awesome.

Found here.

Two for Two

Each girl coming here as an exchange student accepted my Friend request on Facebook, which included a note saying that I was going to be their host father.

Each girl did not respond to a later email from me to them inside Facebook.

Each girl accepted a Facebook friend request from my wife, which included a note saying that she was going to be their host mother.

Each girl did respond to a later email from her to them inside Facebook.

I think I see a trend.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Saturday, June 18, 2011


We went to a fast-food restaurant to grab lunch. I discovered that having a very large person in your line of sight is a good inducement to eat more slowly, and not finish those fries. Or the shake.


I'm not a biker, but I was delighted by this video.

Friday, June 17, 2011


My goodness.

Found here.


Fictive learning sounds like something you’d do surreptitiously, but according to an article in Wired Magazine on the neuroscience of why intelligent people respond to financial bubbles, it’s not only a key contributor to that type of event, it’s also a basic evolutionary trait.

If your ancestor found that standing here made it easier to club that mastodon for dinner than standing over there, that ancestor was more likely to stand here next time, too. And when he clubbed that mastodon successfully - possibly doing the primitive equivilent of the fist-pump as the beast collapsed - he got a rush of reinforcement in a part of the brain that 'rewards' us when we do something that's perceived as good. That same part of the brain flashes when we do something that earns us more money than we had any reason to expect, in the financial market, making it more likely that we'll try whatever maneuver got us that rush, the next time that the opportunity arises. We can even get this rush second-hard when we see others doing well -- we think if I did what he did, I'd be buying that new Beemer, just like him! -- again, making it more likely that next time, we will do that.

The article could have been a little more detailed, with some insight into not only the psychology of the process when it's in full swing, but the flow of events that trigger the determination that this is a bubble, after all -- holy hell, the emperor's naked! Bail out! Bail OUT!!! -- would have been nice, but it's an interesting article anyway. It can be found here.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Next Up

Getting a little bit of an uneasy feeling about the kid who's going to be coming here in July.

Didn't draw too much conclusion from the fact that she didn't respond to the facebook mails we sent. But she did friend me there, so I'm looking at some of her pictures. And, well -- for one, she is noticably larger than everyone else in the pictures. Not so much fat as just bulky. (The first girl, by comparison, was and is slender and athletic). That surprises me. And second, one of her pictures is -- well, it's someone's butt, with 'kiss kiss' written on it, and her name. Uh-huh.

What exactly are we in for?

Conservative, and...

I occasionally flatter myself that I "think about politics". I don't, really, though I do try. Part of that is trying to find people who can elucidate the conservative point of view in a way that's both intelligent and respectful of differing opinions.

The Rational Middle: A Conservative Approach To Liberal Thinking seems to fit that description.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Guard

I found this on Devour, an interesting video search site.

This one, too.


I just read a bit in Idoru where a character comes to the realization that devices -- computers, but really anything where the guts of the device aren't necessarily related to the externals -- are inherently wasteful. You want a new computer, you buy one and trash the whole of the other - when, usually, all you really wanted was a newer operating system or more storage. He comes up with the idea of divorcing the two, selling the ability to swap out as needed. I've often wondered why my data on a computer is on the same memory device -- hard drive, though it doesn't have to be -- as the computer's operating system. Why can't they be separate, so that when I want a new operating system, I either swap out or flash-update the computer's part?

Why not?


I'm going to be stopping my French study today, after the class I'll have in about an hour. Not forever -- I'll be starting again after July, after the French kid leaves - but it seems silly to study right up to the moment of departure -- why not study on the plane? on final approach to DeGaulle? In the terminal? In its place, I'm starting to read normal things again. By which I mean, things unrelated to learning the French language. Not that I ever actually stopped reading other things -- I'm reading Idoru, for example, and enjoying it a great deal (I just wrote that as exjoying, and somehow I think that ought to be a word) -- but for a long time I felt guilty if I didn't spend time studying. Not studying studying, the way that a grammar teacher would teach the language, but doing something with French -- looking at Anki flashcards, puzzling my way through Le Monde, doing a bit of Rosetta Stone. As a result, I feel relatively confident that I'll be able to communicate in France -- though I am sure I'll be aghast at how much I cannot say; even now, I practice some phrases that I want to be able to use, like Je suis tres heureux etre ici, et voir vous enfin -- I'm very glad to be here, and to see you at last (I don't know if that's syntactically correct) -- and I'm dismayed at how hard it is to remember. Not to mention, to pronouce words like heureux. I love it when I get the sound right of those mouth-gargling words French has, but I can't always do it on command. Sometimes I sound less like a Frenchman and more like a cat, hocking up a hairball.

But I digress.

One of the books that I've started reading is one that I'd gotten from a Used Book sale at a local college. It's a collection of science-based science fiction -- what's called hard science science fiction. This doesn't always mean that the writing is good, but it does mean that the writer put some thought into the science behind the story. As has happened to me on occasion, once I got it home and started to read, I said There's a reason I liked the sound of this book... I donated it !!! But still, I read it, because I do like this kind of thing. Right now I'm reading Beggars in Spain, by Nancy Kress. It's speculation on what would happen if we found a way to do without sleep. From that Wikipedia link: The novel's title comes from its primary moral question, as presented by character Tony Indivino: what do productive and responsible members of society owe the "beggars in Spain," the unproductive masses who have nothing to offer except need?

How good is this story?

I'm reading it slowly, that's how good. I do not want it to end, even as This sounds awfully like Ayn Rand occurs to me. Not fond of her. But the science here? Love it.

Woody? Is that you?

Found here.

The Velluvial Matrix

I have this image of Indian doctors -- by which I mean people of Indian, by which I mean India, descent who live in the United States and practice medicine -- as being geeks. Supercilious geeks. I'm not sure where I got that image. I can actually only remember meeting two or three people who fit that Indian Doctor mold, and while one was a geek, two weren't. But somehow, the image lives on. Want to go to a doctor? Skip the Indian one -- they're arrogant geeks.

Except for Atul Gawande. He's a geek, but he's a literate one. I'll read almost anything he choose to write. He writes fluidly, intelligently, well.

There can be rocky bits, I know. Like the book where he talked about the need for checklists in medicine. It's an intriguing concept, but I had the misfortune to listen to it on an MP3 player while I was at the gym. I cut that session on the elliptical short, because listening to someone go into detail about nasty things that can happen in medicine -- they flew her to the trauma center, where they cracked the chest of this eight year old girl, using a power saw to cut down the middle, so that they could reach inside and palpate her heart -- I did not enjoy the experience, and I couldn't skip past it without going to the whole next section. Grisly imagery.

But as a rule, he's well worth the time. Even when he's using phrases like the velluvial matrix - you've heard of it, I'm sure -- I like him.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


I woke up this morning thinking about keyword extraction systems.

Now, I should mention that I know nothing about keyword extraction systems, which are tools to take a body of data and develop tags or phrases to categorize the data's content. I used to know a teeny tiny bit about ten years ago, but now, nada. I'm doing good to remember the word 'corpus', which is (or at least was) the elegant way of referring to ' a bunch of stuff that we're trying to analyse'. Usually, you would see things like ' a corpus consisting of the collected works of Shakespeare' for someone who was trying to find a way to analyze Shakespeare's work for underlying themes. Since corpus could also mean 'dead', I suppose it's still a good way of thinking about my level of knowledge.

According to the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, the Infinite Improbability Drive was created by an engineering student after his betters had collectively said that such a feat was impossible. His insight was that while such a drive was, by definition, infinitely impossible, if you assumed that it was possible, then the degree of impossibility had to be a finite number. He solved for that, built the drive, got the Galactic Prize for Extreme Cleverness, and was then stoned to death by his peeved betters.

I don't anticipate anything like that happening to me, because I'm not nearly bright enough. I know all the smart guys have all the approaches to this mountain range mapped out fifteen ways from Sunday, including two that involve creation of a hyperspatial bypass.

I just like thinking about it.

(Update: On a walk this morning, it occurred to me that perhaps the WordCloud software might be helpful here.)

Monday, June 13, 2011


Found here.

Bait Me

I just wanted to mention this: Terro Liquid Ant Bait is really, really good stuff. Much better than the trash that we got at the store -- or the trash that was put down, for that matter, by the Terminex guys. It's probably got some hidden flaw, like causing genetic mutations in cattle, or triggering the rapture, but as for wiping out ant infestations? It's awesome.


It's a photographic add-on for an iPhone that makes me think How elegant! How useful!

Here's their website, and here's a demo video.


I can easily see these becoming popular. Found here.

"These glasses look like the old 80′s shades that were popular when I was a kid. The little sensor is right in front of the right earpiece on the front of the glasses. That sensor records in 720p HD resolution.The glasses also have a hidden microphone and will offer WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity as well. The recorded video is saved to 8GB of internal storage. The battery is good for three hours of recording, which is actually pretty good. There is a microUSB port hidden on one of the side logos for sharing and shooting video over to your computer."


It's a little bit disconcerting to me to realize that what I consider to be a big deal -- flying to France -- is treated almost casually by people under 25. I was thinking of going out for pizza, but instead I'm gonna go to France for a while.

I'm still of the mindset that international air travel is something that you dress up for, even though I know that, depending on the class you're flying, the experience can be hot, tiring, and grubby. My brother in law travels a lot -- I think he's on his third passport -- so for him, it's no big deal to throw clothes into a suitcase and go to China, then down to Australia, over to New Zealand, and back, or perhaps up to Scotland, down to France, a stop in Italy, and back. He's a very neat, precise person; these characteristics serve him well when it comes to packing. He's also short, which serves him well when it comes to fitting into his Designated Passenger Accomodation Pod. Me, not so much. I'm pretty sure I'll have enough room, because we're getting the same kind of accomodations as the flight to London two years ago, with the wider (ahem) seats - and also because my daughter will be sitting next to me, so I can always encroach on her personal space if I feel the need. She's small, too.

Not looking forward to seeing what airport security is actually like - Sir, would you please step over here? -- but as for the rest? Way cool. (How do you say that in French?)

Sunday, June 12, 2011


I wish there was software that would read comments on an article -- one of those articles where there are fifty, sixty, or more comments -- and provide a summary. This is what most people thought. It's probably too much to hope that the software could also say here's some good points, but perhaps here's some key or repeated points? Yeah, that'd be nice.

I love thinking about things like this - about what would it look like, how might it work, why is it a good idea. I'm not smart enough or driven enough to go past that point, but I love thinking about it.


If the Democrats encouraged splinter Republicans to form their own party, or promote their own candidates, would that be unethical? Would it matter what their reason for doing so was?

Carry the Flag

Saturday, June 11, 2011


Made that no-knead bread today. Got to admit, though the crumb wasn't as wide as I'd have liked, it wasn't at all bad. And for perhaps fifteen minutes effort over two days....well. We should do this more often.

Public Warning

I don't entirely disagree....

Found here.


I get a little exasperated when I hear about how amazing the people who fought in World War Two were. I tend to think that they were just ordinary folks who, collectively, did something amazing. They weren't supermen.

Then I see things like this, and I think: Maybe they were.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Father's Day

My wife asked me if I wanted an iPad for father's day. I was a little surprised.

While we've almost never denied ourselves something we wanted, we usually wait a fairly long time before getting it, and almost never get the shiniest, newest item. Thus, I'd like to have an iPad, but to fork over six hundred dollars -- no, not worth it. It's nice, but not nice enough. The best analogy that I can think of is the Microsoft troubleshooter that you can invoke when something goes wrong with, say, your network connection. I've never had that thing actually provide any useful degree of support. It seems to check some things that I could have done myself -- and usually did -- but nothing else; no magic, no hey, that's pretty slick. And the extra money for an iPad would only come out of my wallet for that level of magic.When I was semi-forced into using Quicken, and found that it could be made to go out to financial institutions and automagically download transactions, I thought hey, that's pretty slick. That MoneyDance and other products can do it too didn't really matter. I hadn't seen it before, and it made me feel as if it was worth the money. iPad? Not slick enough. Not worth the money.

That we even contemplated it is pretty odd for us. I think that some of that comes from overflow due to the France trip. Once you've forked over six thousand dollars for airline tickets, and contemplated another two thousand for hotel reservations (Paris probably has cheaper hotels, but this one is nicely situated, and we're talking four rooms, four days), it's fairly easy to say well, what's another one or two or three or four hundred dollars? I recall once talking with my wife about how much money could one of us spend without clearing it with the other? I had something on the close order of 50 dollars in mind -- and that, something that you could do once a month, perhaps once every couple of months. My wife thought that the occasional expenditure of 20 dollars would be legitimate. So neither of us thinks of ourselves as a big spenders. For us to think hey, want to spend six hundred bucks? There's got to be a reason. And I think that France is a large part of it.

Part, too, I think, is a feeling of control. I don't like admitting this, even to myself, but sometimes, if I feel like things are a little out of control -- either I'm pissed at the credit union (which I currently am; they switched processing companies, and , oh yeah, they decided not to convert any history; you didn't want to be able to search history, did you?) , or I'm pissed at how stupid many Republicans and not just a few Democrats are, or whatever -- then somehow, being able to spend money makes me feel better. I usually am able to restrain this impulse, or limit it to something like buying Wolfermans muffins instead of Thomas'. But still - the impulse bothers me, so I try to remain aware of it. Do I want to spend this money to get something we need, or something that will improve our lives, or are you just ticked because people take Gingrich, Palin, and Trump seriously?

So, I think, this Father's Day? No iPad for me, thanks.

Thursday, June 09, 2011


This evening, my daughter drove to her karate practice. She had a really good time -- she particularly enjoys getting up in her opponent's face during sparring, and will run from the other side of the mat to do it. This almost-ferocious approach serves her well in competitions.

When she was done, she called to say that she was leaving. She'd been a little concerned about the weather, because it was raining heavily, but, she said, it had stopped. Good deal, I said. See you in about ten minutes. Two minutes later, she called again to say that she was having a problem. The car, it seemed, would not start. She put her foot on the brake, pushed the power button, and: nothing. No dash lights. No power. Nada. Well, hell.

So I drove down there, pulled in next to her, and slid into the seat. Put my foot on the brake, pushed the button. The dash obligingly lit. I put it in reverse, and backed up about six feet. "I swear it didn't start before!" she said. I believed her. She's not a liar, and, even if she was, why would she lie about that?

I was just glad to be able to help. What fathers do, right?


My french lesson went very well today. It was all short, simple sentences, but I selected items in a supermarket, ordered in a cave (wine store), asked a question, offered an opinion, asked the price of what I'd bought. It was awesome.

Maybe I will make it on this trip,after all. Hey, Frenchman! Parlez-vous Français? Vraiment? Vachement bien!

Debt Doubt

Increasing the debt isn't necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes, like now, it's a necessary evil. But when the deadheads of the righteous right get talking about how its all Obama's fault, and how the heroic icons of the Right were vehemently opposed to increasing the national indebtedness, here's something to remember:


There are potholes, and then there are potholes.


My cat can do this. Well, the sleeping part.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011


Immersive Cocoon "2011" from adNAU on Vimeo.

Just For Today

Found here.

Just for Today

Just for today, I will try to live through this day only,
and not tackle my whole life problem
at once. I can do something for twelve hours
that would appall me if I felt that I had to
keep it up for a lifetime.

Just for today, I will be happy. This assumes to
be true what Abraham Lincoln said, that
"most folks are as happy as they make up
their minds to be."

Just for today, I will try to strengthen my mind.
I will study. I will learn something useful.
I will not be a mental loafer. I will read
something that requires effort, thought and

Just for today, I will adjust myself to what is,
and not try to adjust everything to my own
desires. I will take my "luck" as it comes,
and fit myself to it.

Just for today, I will exercise my soul in three
ways: I will do somebody a good turn, and
not get found out. I will do at least two
things I don't want to--just for exercise.
I will not show anyone that my feelings are
hurt; they may be hurt, but today I will not
show it

Just for today, I will be agreeable. I will look
as well as I can, dress becomingly, talk low,
act courteously, criticize not one bit, not
find fault with anything and not try to improve
or regulate anybody except myself.

Just for today, I will have a program. I may not
follow it exactly, but I will have it. I will
save myself from two pests: hurry and indecision.

Just for today, I will have a quiet half hour all
by myself, and relax. During this half hour,
sometime, I will try to get a better perspective
of my life.

Just for today, I will be unafraid. Especially I
will not be afraid to enjoy what is beautiful,
and to believe that as I give to the world, so
the world will give to me.

-Kenneth L. Holmes

Tuesday, June 07, 2011


My daughter's going to be bringing her phone along on the trip. She doesn't have a headset for it, and my MP3 headset doesn't fit the socket on her phone.

No prob, I said; we'll get an adapter. Your phone has a 2.5 mm socket, so we need an adapter that's got a 2.5 mm jack, while my headset has a 3.5 mm jack, so the adapter needs a 3.5 mm socket. 2.5 mm male connector; 3.5 mm female connector.

She thought a minute. That's awfully suggestive, she said finally. I laughed. Yeah, I said, I remember when I realized why one part's called male, and the other female. She seemed surprised. Oh, she said. I just got it. Wow.

Wow, indeed.

Monday, June 06, 2011


My daughter's done reasonably well in high school thus far. She's got a B average, in a school where they consider a C to be acceptable. Their mantra is 'we grade the way the colleges do', which makes no sense to me, but, whatever.

Now she's got her schedule for next year. Initially, they set her up for a first semester schedule with fourteen study halls every six day cycle. She got a class she wanted slotted into that, so now she has eight study halls every six day cycle. The courses are, for the most part, not challenging.

Then comes the second semester. Final semester in the high school.

Two math classes, both honors. Physics, another honors. AP English. Sociology. A sociology like-clone. Three study halls. All scheduled and vetted by a guidance department whose standard for 'can you handle this' is, I swear, Do you want to? Are you breathing?

She's done okay in math and science classes. Not great. Not let's take three tough ones at once great. So we're thinking We always said we wanted her to challenge herself. But in the last semester? Where she might fail a course with no chance to take it again other than extending her time there, and thus screwing up college plans?

And yet.....


Found at Wimp.Com.



I wonder, sometimes: how bad would a president have to be to make me seriously consider moving overseas, at least part year? Such thoughts pop up when I read that Santorum's going to try again, and that Palin is still around, and all of that....

Mothers' Day

I like this. (Obviously.) Found in the New Yorker.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Good Idea

From Dear Blank Please Blank:

Dear DMV,

How about a food court?

Sincerely, been here all day.

Ah, Mr. Smithson?

Can't believe the Smithsonian got torqued just because these aren't official ads. I thought they were, and I thought they were awesome.

Found here, along with some others.


This likely isn't true -- nobody's average? -- but I like it.

Found here.


In just over a week, school will be out, and if my daughter's anticipation could be captured, bottled, and run through a spectroscope, it would still be a pale version of my own anticipation of our trip to France. Even the continual feeling of holy hell, I have no idea how to say ANYTHING useful does not abate that feeling.

I am not a Francophile, not one of those people who swoons at the thought of France, who refers to it reverentially as La Belle France, but I am looking toward it with great eagerness nonetheless, because it is going to be a substantially novel experience. I have never, never tried to communicate in a foreign language before, and though this will be the gentlest of introductions to that experience, I am eager to see how well I do - how much can I actually say. That I will be cobbling together phrases and syntaxes that ought never to see the light of day together doesn't disturb me. (Well, much.) That I will get to do it at all -- this is pretty phenomenal.

Undoubtedly, the first few times, I will try to do it with training wheels, bringing our French guide with me as I try to buy a croissant, or visit a winery, but with luck those wheels will come off quickly. Relatively quickly. This morning, I even listened to -- didn't understand but one word in fifty, but I listened -- to a French Canadian station on XM radio. And that was a bear, because it turns out that most of what they played was either sports commentary, talk radio, or rock music (one repeated, over and over, je tu parle jamais, which I think means I never talk about you; glad I didn't learn pronunciation from them because jamais kept coming out as jammy). But I did listen.

And soon enough, I'll be doing it for real.

Saturday, June 04, 2011


This thing is becoming real. We now have three suitcases lined up in the living room, like Poppa Bear, Momma Bear, Baby Bear. The biggest is one that we just bought; it's going to hold my stuff and part of my wife's. The medium one will be my daughters, and possibly the smallest, too. If she takes that smallest bag (which isn't all that small!), my wife will put her remaining stuff into a soft bag and check it.

When we went to London, we did ten days with one large bag (larger than the newest one) and one medium bag. A cab driver expressed surprise that this was all we had for that length of time. This time we're taking three, and possibly four bags. I feel as if we should look into renting some pack animals, too.

Part of the reason for the bags is that my wife tends to think I underpack for trips. I was just going to take one pair of shoes; now it's two. (And at size thirteen, anything but the softest takes up a lot of space.) I was just going to take one pair of slacks; now it's two. (And at my gut size...well. ) I'm bringing a sport jacket to wear when we eat at a 'nice place'. That implies at least one 'nice shirt'....which implies ties.

Did Hannibal have these considerations?

Friday, June 03, 2011

Be my friend?

Je viens d'envoyer une demande de «ami» à la personne qui va rester avec nous cet été. Je me demande toujours ce qu'ils pensent de faire cette demande de quelqu'un qu'ils ne connaissent pas!

Thursday, June 02, 2011


My French instructor tells me that I am close to 'plateauing', which is where you have established a superficial competency, but then start looking deeper into various parts of the language and get depressed by how flaming much you don't know. Apparently, it's quite normal.

Oh, joy. On the other hand, it's probably going to be comforting to think that it isn't just me, being stupid.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011


Well, mentoring is over for another year.

I gave the mento a small gift -- he said he was trying unsucessfully to learn Spanish from his father, so I got him a basic guide to Spanish. He seemed to really appreciate it. And when they asked if the mentees felt that they benefited from the program, he firmly said Yes. Much to my surprise.

So maybe the program is worth it.


I'm not going to say we're late to the party, but when the nurse yesterday casually mentions Yeah, when I went to Paris... and the teller at the bank today mentions well, the last time I went to Paris.... I find myself wondering where we've been all these years.