Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Hero

From Timothy McSweeney's Internet Tendency --

In Which I Fix My Girlfriend’s Grandparents’ WiFi
and Am Hailed as a Conquering Hero.

Driving Ambition

I just read a brief article from Wired Magazine about a self-driving car. I think those are pretty amazing when all they're doing is driving alone across the desert with fifty miles of open space on either side. But this one's going 70 MPH on California Highway 85, which is an alternate (here's Wikipedia's take on that road) to Highway 101. And, alone? Not hardly. They're surrounded by traffic - merging, speeding, slowing suddenly. Buses, cars, trucks. The car can handle it. It even knows enough to drive slightly to one side to get away from a looming bus.

Sounds hairy. Sounds fun.


As requested -- sorry about the lighting, or lack thereof.


One of the things that we said we wanted to do as part of cleaning up the room that our guests are going to stay in was: get the boxes out of there. There being the cubbyhole under the stairs, said hole being accessible through a troll door in the corner of the room.

I just cleaned out half of it, piling it into the middle of the room until there was no more space in the middle, and damned little around the edges. I discovered that a) my mother kept the boxes for anything electronic (one of the boxes is the one my speakers came in when I had them delivered home from Vietnam in 1974), and b) one of the two massively heavy steamer trunks (actual, could have been on the Titanic trunks) contains everything from a copy of my vaccination record when I was four months old to a coat she wore fifty years ago (with the pin still on it) to a set of stoneware serving plates to an electric carving knife that I remember my father wielding (I was always amazed and more than a little frightened by the flashing blades).

And there's still more to go.


I thought much of the stuff on this page was junk. I will not admit how many items, though, made me say hmm....


It was going pretty well up to that point....

Monday, January 30, 2012

Over Time

In 2007, Steve Jobs decided that the soon-to-be-released iPhone had to have a glass screen instead of the plastic originally planned. "I want a glass screen, and I want it perfect in six weeks," the article quotes Jobs as saying. it was clear that the only place to get that done was China.

You wouldn't get very far in business if you paused to ask, Why, exactly, was this worth doing? Why couldn't Jobs have had to live with the change taking 10 weeks, or six months, or even a year?

A first answer is that he had a vision, and he wouldn't accept anything less than perfection. And this is supposed to be admirable in every way. Trouble is, when an executive realizes an insanely great vision, the medium—that which is experimented with, molded into strange shapes, stressed with unforeseen tensions—is other people's lives. The executive isn't like a pianist pounding ivories or a sculptor twisting metal. In business creativity, what is pounded and twisted is other human beings.

Same guy? Or harder, less "get the right people, support them, care about them" as the years passed and the pressure to perform grew?

Quote found at BigThink.


This morning, I needed to know when the fourth period started at the local middle school, so that I could meet with my mento. Went to the web site...nothing. Odd. I thought it used to be there somewhere. After emailing them to find the time, I arrived, and, while I was waiting, asked the secretary where that info was.

Oh, they took it off, she said. Someone was afraid that knowing when people would be in class, and changing classes, could be used to attack the school.

Have the terrorists won yet?


Found here.


Last night, we began the process of applying for financial aid for my daughter, using the federal form. Along the way, the site gave us some statistics about the five colleges she's chosen. We were startled to learn that the one she wants the most has some dismal statistics. 23% of first year students leave the college after the first year (unknown whether that's a transfer to another college, or just dropping out, completely), and about 10% don't get a degree. In comparison, the other four schools had about a 10% rate for not continuing, and about a 3% rate for not getting a degree. We suspect that it's a combination of things -- it's a military college, which is a completely different lifestyle than most people are used to, and it's in northern Vermont, where it's very cold about half the year.

We told this to my daughter. This turned out to be a very bad move, as she thought we were trying to convince her to drop the idea of going there. I admit, the thought was in my mind, but that wasn't our goal. We simply wanted her to know what the odds were. It turned out that she's apparently been having second thoughts about the whole college idea generally, being not at all sure that she can hack it (she's doing some college-level work now, and finding it difficult). Learning those numbers made her extremely nervous and more than a little emotional.

Both of us assured her that we aren't trying to talk her out of it, and neither of us mentioned the we just wanted you to know part, because that would have sounded like we were trying to talk her out of it. She seems better this morning. After she left for school, though, my wife and I talked about it. Think we should consider some what-if scenarios? I asked. My wife agreed. We're not going to tell her, though.

Sunday, January 29, 2012


I think that most cases for iPhones are silly. And the idea of dayum, look how thin the phone is! loses relevancy when you have to enclose it in something thick to prevent it being damaged. But if I did have one of those phones, and I did want a case, I'd consider this one. Well, briefly.

Found here.


Having a daughter - does it always mean going to the same four drug stores three days in a row to see if they have the specific makeup brush, not to mention three different kinds of makeup, that she wants for color guard in stock yet? One time, sure. Two, okay. But three?

Its a good thing I really like her.

Saturday, January 28, 2012


I'm always surprised by how many food-oriented blogs exist on the net. I look at a number of them, but tend to trust only about ten, including Epicurious and one that, for years, I thought was named Smitten Kitten. (There are several other good ones, but they like to do recipes that are more detailed than I have patience for. I mean, heck - I can't even make decent soft pretzels, reliably.)

Since I've been trying to gently expand my repetoire, I have made some simple changes in what I'll cook -- French onion soup, for one (not bad), bean burritos (surprisingly good), and things of that nature. But when I think I'd like to cook something, I still fall back to standards.

Which is why, right now, the dough for a Thin Crust Pizza is in the refrigerator downstairs.

Tomorow, we bake!


Sitting in the comfortable chair, reading Six Frigates, listening to a piano rendition of The Navy Hymn (no, it's not Anchors Aweigh), and thinking about my mother's living room, and how she left it thinking she was going to another doctor's appointment - and never returned home.


We do intend to redo that room before our guests come this summer. (July! I can hardly wait.) The nature of the redo eludes me. More precisely, sometimes I just think "I want to stick a bed in there" and somethings I think "take everything out, repaint it, put down a good carpet, install comfortable chairs and a decent double bed with a good mattress and pillows, have a small television and a desk with a good lamp. Do it up right." And I think Yeah. Followed by "But we don't usually get visitors at all, let alone families -- do I really want to spend all that money?"

And sometimes "Toss that stuff? But it's my mother's stuff!" Which I know is illogical. But that's never stopped me before.

Friday, January 27, 2012


The chittering insect overlords who bought my wife's company continue to dismember it with the apparent goal of erasing all traces of it and sending its former employees screaming into the night. Wouldn't be surprised to find them arriving with demolition equipment to raze the buildings and then pour salt where the buildings had stood so that the sites remained as barren and bleak as their alleged hearts.

Last week, they fired another person in her group, and this week, they announced that they're closing the branch of the credit union at her location. And for the first time ever, in a meeting, when my wife said she was overloaded and could not get any of the three concurrent projects that she's slated with done on time, and asked for help, there was dead silence on the conference line. Finally, one very bright guy said that he didn't have the time to help her, but he could spend a few minutes telling her what she needed to do. It's never happened before that someone didn't step up -- which she thinks means that they're all as burdened as she is. And that this one guy was so busy that even he couldn't carve out an hour or so -- that was soul destroying.

She told me that years ago, during a big project (which would now be considered negligible) she was very, very busy, and thought This is terrible. I'm going to quit when this is done. But things improved, and she didn't. Now she's thinking I really don't care if I get fired or not.

And the ship sails on.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Word Play

I 'm a volunteer editor for the Forvo site. People will sometimes complain about a given pronunciation -- it's hard to hear, or it's not done by a native speaker -- that sort of thing. I listen to it, and if the pronunciation's faulty, I delete it; if the complaint's not valid, I delete that.

This morning I received a complaint that the phrase "Pass Christian" was mispronounced by one person. I listened to it. The speaker had a strong, confident voice with an American accent, and the phrase -- which I took, initially, to be some kind of Biblical reference -- sounded fine. Then I looked at the tags for the word:

Defined tags:
North American city common pronunciation, cities in North America using the common English pronunciation, Mississippi, towns in Mississippi, United States, shibboleth

and thought ooohhhh -- it's not a Biblical phrase at all -- they mean that city in southern Mississippi! Which I happen to know because I'd attended an Air Force technical school in Biloxi, which is in southern Mississippi. Almost on the Gulf, in fact. From which residency I know that down there, they pronounce it Pass Chris-tee-YAN-- almost with a French accent. It's an easy - to - understand mistake. Yeah, that pronunciation's not right.

Then I looked at the tags again, and in particular the last one, and thought A Linguist's Joke?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Being Evil

I read on another blog that Google is merging it's 'view' of the world. They announced it, up front -- but they did it in a way that made it sound nice - oh, we're making sure that you have the same privacy protections across all of our products. Only it turns out that what they're actually doing is merging their information gathering across all of those products, so that everything they know about you goes into one place, and then feeding that comprehensive view to their advertising stream, so that the ads that they inflict on, say, Blogger will be affected by what they saw you reading on Google Reader, or watching on YouTube, or sending emails about through GMail, or discussing on Google+ . One big information gathering tool.

I just switched my default search engine to Bing. Maybe it isn't as good as Google, and for sure it won't give me the panoply of responses that Google would, but anything I can do to spit in the face of that juggernaut, I will. And I changed my user name for Google Reader to something unique - one that isn't used elsewhere. Not much, I know, but - well, I do what I can.

Incidentally, I saw a reference on Bill's Journal to a free product called Do Not Track. Here is some info. Looks interesting.


Found here.


Very classy.

Found here.


Pep Rally (n)
1. An school event held to generate artificial enthusiasm

2. A reason to keep a mentor from meeting with a kid who's on track to fail sixth grade for the second time, such reason making sense to the school administration but not to the person trying to get the kid to pass.


When I was younger, I'd have thought that this was a funny video. Does the fact that I now think it's horrible say something me? I'm thinking yes, but I'm not sure what. Mostly, I suspect, that I don't like the bullies that some of our law enforcement people have become. Even in jokes.



Finds the most amazing things....

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

All Wet?

Would it sell? Is water wet?

Found here.

Touchdown! umm..wait a sec...

Landings at Dusseldorf. The technique is called crabbing, but I can think of other four-letter words that might describe it.


It's not often that I come across a made-up word and think I wish I'd said that. But I found one in this sentence, found here.

Here's the sentence. Spot the word.

(W)hen I look at my smartphone, I see a wondrous fondleslab that fits perfectly in my pocket.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Sunday, January 22, 2012


"It just goes to support my theory that, while modest wealth can perhaps be had and maintained honestly, no one ever got to the ultra-wealthy column and remained there without doing unethical things or outright breaking the law at some point."

Found here.

My wife asked if this means that I think being wealthy is inherently evil. I said no..... but I agree with this person's attitude.


Found here.

Saturday, January 21, 2012


This evening, we stopped by the local Barnes and Noble, and, while there, looked over the Nook Tablet. For what it is, it's not at all bad. Almost cures me of thinking maybe we should get a tablet...

If and when, the tablet would not be an Apple. Windows, most likely, though I'm open to Android. To me, the iPads are toys -- eyeballing their apps, it looks like easily sixty percent of them are fun things. I can't see paying the Apple Premium for something I wouldn't be able to use to do actual work. Doesn't have to be as powerful as my laptop, of course. If I could single-task functions that I can multi-task on the laptop -- bring up a spreadsheet and modify it, write an email, bring up Skype and GoogleTalk - that'd be fine.

But for fun, just playing around -- yeah, that Nook is not at all bad. It handles well, responds nicely to the touch, has access to the web, including GMail, and works with WiFi. I like that. Though I do understand that it won't download from Amazon, and that's a bit of a bummer. On the other hand, it does handle the library's e-book format, which Kindle doesn't. So -hmm.....

Star Warz

This is the strangest Star Wars mash-up I have ever seen. Amazingly creative.

Friday, January 20, 2012


Just started reading The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, a collection written by multiple authors, some well known.

Some of the stories are drivel -- aliens in London? Really? One or two come so close.... and then A Miracle Occurs. But so close! One built up the tension nicely, the evil thing is just about to happen -- and then, oh look, it did. Damn. Well, can't stop them all, old boy. Argh!

One even has a hokey-pokey man. How much did that author desperately want to use the phrase "And thats what it's all about", I wonder?

But several are quite good -- they have the right tone, the right pacing, and the right Sherlock. And when they do, the stories are an unmitigated joy to read.


I need to learn how to speak it.

Christmas, Revisited

Wish I'd seen this a few weeks ago, but it's still pretty good.

Time This!

I'm not a big facebooker, but I like this idea.

Umm...a little help?

How would one get out of this thing?

Found here.


Sometimes, when I am studying French, I think idly about how people say the same concept differently in different languages. For example, time. We say 'seven thirty'; the French say 'sept heures trente', or 'sept heures et demi'. We say 'ten to eight', they say 'huit heures moins dix". I find myself wondering if the different ways of saying an identical concept have an effect on the way that we think, so that we think about other identical concepts differently.

Guess I'll never know.


Normally, we think eh,we'll start on the taxes in February, get them done by mid-march. No problem.

But this year - we're under the gun to get them done so that we can file the charmingly-named FAFSA form to request student financial aid. We're told that the earlier you file, the more likely that you'll be able to qualify. In the exact same year that they've changed how the accounting works for investments. Which I don't think affects us, but...argh.

I am so not looking forward to this!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Do Plants Tweet?

Apparently, yes.

Botanicalls Kits let plants reach out for human help! They offer a connection to your leafy pal via online Twitter status updates to your mobile phone. When your plant needs water, it will post to let you know, and send its thanks when you show it love. It comes as a kit so that you can hone your soldering skills (or teach someone else) while you build a line of communication between you and your houseplant! This kit comes with everything you need to get your plant tweeting in no time. The ATmega328 comes pre-programmed, but you can customize it with your own messages. The only thing you need to provide is a plant, network connection (and ethernet cable), and a power outlet.

Found here. I think it's pretty nifty.

Knot? Not!

Found here.

Totally Plausible

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Middle Of...

Had some trouble sleeping. Part of it, strangely, is that one of the lead characters in the latest edition of a sci-fi series that I like, was killed off. Old age. Reading this a month before my daughter turns 18 -- makes me feel old.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Saturday, January 14, 2012


Okay, I tend to like articles that make me look good.

Where's My Camera?

Add ImageFound here.


Just looking at the long-range financial planning spreadsheet. Amazing how wonderful life can be just by flicking the Interest percentage up a point...or how devastated it could be by flicking the Inflation one.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Then A Miracle Occurs

On the way back from school, my daughter and I got into a discussion about the plotline of the current Doctor Who. Neither of us really likes it. We both like the Doctor character (though I still prefer his immediate predecessor). We differ on the style, mostly -- I like the cerebral approach of the prior Doctor, while she likes the cute-and-funny approach of this one. I can live with that.

Neither of us really likes how they're handling the Companions, of late. We both like the Amy and Rory characters, but now we feel as if their time is past. Now they're just the gang, the Doctor's Pals, the people who hang around and have adventures-- Amy's the smart spunky one, and Rory's the not-too-bright steady one. Right. Got it. And then there's the whole River Song evolution, which was problematic, to put it mildly. She's living her life backwards, whatever that means, and she's older than Amy, but she's Amy and Rory's daughter? And she used to be a young black woman who wanted to kill the Doctor but now she's not, and doesn't? And that whole Pandorica thing, where the Doctor is locked into an escape-proof vault but is almost immediately let out by Rory, who was holding dead Amy, but then he was visited by the time-traveling Doctor who said yes, she's dead, but she won't be, gave him his sonic screwdriver so that he could unlock the Pandorica and let him out so that he could go time-travel, and then stick Amy's not-quite-dead body into it so that she could be let out in four thousand years, all regenerated and much better now, thanks, by her younger self, in a universe where all of the stars are gone and what appears to be the Sun is actually the exploding Tardis that's being driven by River, but she's in a time loop? What?

And I won't even go into the Apollo astronaut walking out of the lake in Arizona to kill the Doctor. And he did die. Except, he wasn't, really. Well, yes, he was - but no.

Suspension of disbelief is one thing. These guys are making it up as they go along. Except that I understand that actually its all part of a master script written by the head writer for the series. Yeah, right.

But the conversation was great.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


I found this picture in a collection of depression-era photography. Sometimes I look at that girl sitting on the lip of the truck bed and wonder whatever happened to her.

(Not sure where I found it, but here's one place where it exists.)


I am in a relatively good mood.

After two days of doing a lot of sleeping -- think 'about ten hours each night' -- I now feel awake again.

My kludgy Visual Basic macro works (I was all set to call them yesterday afternood and say it was done till I noticed that some numbers on each page that ought to be different, were the same -- argh!); the trick was to define the array with a ReDim rather than a Dim, and then just Erase it at the end each loop -- not terrifically elegant, but heck, it works.

I'm reading The Sherlockian, which is not at all bad, and a new chapter of a science fiction series that I thought had ended -- this is the first in about three years. It's not bad.

French is going well. My instructor says I'm up to about 75% accuracy, syntactically, when I speak. I do have to do it slowly, but still, this is goodness. Even if I did find out yesterday that I've been saying the suffixes for the imperfect tense wrong. Got to work on that.

On the other side, I have a dental appointment; its just a cleaning, but I always expect that this will be the time they say you know, we really need to replace one or two of your lower teeth. Or maybe all of them. Yeah. I'm hoping not but expecting it.

But all in all, things are good.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Rules

Found here.


Busy, frustrating day. Project in Excel is going well, but I just hit an unexpected snag. I'm pretty sure that I can fix it, but I thought I'd be done by now. The mento and I met, and it was fun, but he was vague about how he's doing in some classes. Like, most of them. I even have nice problems: three books at once that I want to read. I do own two of them, so... and, oh yeah, I haven't done squat about French lately. Disappointing.

On the other hand, I just took a shower, and for the first time today, after sleeping for ten hours last night and taking a nap this afternoon, I finally feel awake. So that's something.


Hmm. I wonder how William F. Buckley Jr. would have assessed the competence of the current spate of Republican candidates.

-Neil deGrasse Tyson


Sunday, January 08, 2012


PostSecret is the most amazing site, hands-down.


I'd never heard of the Square electronic payments system prior to today. Out of the box, I'd have said electronic payments? Yeah, that sounds really.....um....interesting.

But you know what? It is.

Saturday, January 07, 2012


I am amazed at the weapons that the TSA finds every day. A razor that the owner says he uses for his skateboard? A tear gas canister? An Indian push dagger? Holy heck.

That they can confiscate weapons in carry-on luggage, I agree with. Being able to confiscate weapons in checked luggage, no, that's not right. Like they asked me, or care what I think.

Friday, January 06, 2012


I know that there are women who take it all off for photographers.

But - good lord!

Where'd We Park?

Found here.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Winnie Le Pu

Once upon a time... from Capucha on Vimeo.

Almost A Parable

My Journal: Almost A Parable

This was written on a blog that I read regularly. It's an excellent analogy about politicians.


I very much want to believe that this story is true.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012


I'm writing some very simple visual basic code, and practicing some very simple French. And failing miserably at both.

Let's hope this is not a portent of the year, or I may find myself hoping that the Mayans were right.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Happy New Year

Found on The Brigade.


I do wonder about that bag-carrying guy who says he wears glasses, though.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Interesting Day

Interesting day, today. Several different reasons.

For one, I actually got to talk with a woman with whom I'd exchanged notes on the Forvo site. She's a volunteer editor near France, trying to learn English, and I'm a volunteer editor here, trying to learn French, so we've exchanged notes several times about the way to say things -- usually, how the French or the Americans would say something (we say it this way, usually....) but sometimes correcting spelling or grammar (she'd remind me, for example, that a sentence which starts with Je aime really should be spelled J'aime). On more than one occasion, she'd said she wished she had someone with whom she could speak in English, and I'd offered to talk with her on Skype. Today, she took me up on it, and we spoke for about half an hour. Turns out that her French accent is not nearly as thick as she told me it was, and she was usually able to understand me as long as I didn't use long words, and spoke slowly. Similarly, she said that my French accent was pretty good, and applauded when I understood a sentence in French (about ten percent of our conversation was in French; like her, I needed it to be said slowly, and, truth to tell, I had to guess at the composite meaning of the sentence). We'll talk again, I think. That was pretty cool.

I've been reading Ten Letters, a book about ten letters which were written to Obama (he gets twenty thousand a day, and six days a week he sees and responds to ten of them, selected by his staff). It's an encouraging and a sad book -- encouraging because people are actually getting through the presidential bubble, and getting a response; sad because it highlights how incredibly hard ordinary people are having it, battered by the recession and it secondary effects. Others in the book are fiercely conservative, screaming at the President. That level of hatred -- how can we ever overcome that? When what one side thinks is a very good thing is thought intolerable by the other, and political leadership is as polarized as they are -- I doubt one person can.
Also reading Six Frigates, about the founding of the US Navy, which started with the construction of, you guessed it, six frigates (almost immediately cut back to three). The book is amazing in its descriptions of, of all things, the days of the French Revolution, when the guillotine was so heavily used, the gutters in the streets literally ran with blood. I like this book so much, I want to buy it. Not to mention, read more French history. Am I becoming a Francophile? Maybe just a bit. Last night, sitting in the recliner, cat on my lap, listening to a CD of French singers while I read -- so nice.

Yesterday I had chocolate cake at my sister in laws house, and it was incredible. We brought a bit home, and it's still good. So often cake is, at best, chawklit, with a heavy texture and a heavy icing. The kind of thing usually labelled as Death by Chocolate. This has a light texture, with a butter cream icing. Very rich. Makes me want to bake again, I tell you. Not that I could ever do anything this good, but still.

We think that we're going to redecorate the room that my mother had used as her living room. Our daughter really doesn't want us to -- you can still open the door and see my mother where she so often was, sitting, bundled up, at the table, and my daughter likes that -- but we think it's time. Not the least because we expect to have multiple visitors this summer. About which, well, I don't know if they're really coming. My guess is about a sixty percent chance. If they do - I hope they do! - we want the room to look nice for them. Make them feel welcome.

So, interesting day.