Friday, May 29, 2015


It's an unexpected delight to find that the cheap book being sold for a reduced price at a bargain store is in fact well written, and was created by an author, previously unknown to me, who has been nominated multiple times for awards.

 Walter Jon Williams, it's nice to meet you.

Thursday, May 28, 2015


I'm sure that there are smart, experienced people thinking about this:  how hard would it be for someone to put a bunch of explosives onto a drone and fly it into the engine of a plane that's just rotated from takeoff, or is lining up for touchdown?   I don't imagine it would be easy, but can it be done at all?I have to believe yes. Drones with video downlink exist now; drones that can carry payloads, ditto.

So I find myself wondering: If I had to defend against something like that, what would I propose?  A sturdier airplane?  Bang goes fuel economy, up go air fares.  An active defense system?  I don't think even military aircraft have the ability to detect something that small, closing that fast, so I doubt commercial aircraft will, any time soon.  Some kind of jammer to interrupt targeting signals?  That might work -- at least, until drones with autonomous guidance, flying based on pattern recognition,  come into play.

So, what can be done?  And who's doing it?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015


I knew that protesters at political conventions, and events like the G20 meetings, tend to be limited to a certain area.  But today I learned that it is very common to do such limiting, not just as such functions, and to call the area something innocuous like 'Free Speech Area'.

I don't know. 

On the one hand, I don't think events should be disrupted by protesters, particularly when its the case that the protesters will never be satisfied until the other side is burned to the ground, and salt strewn.  On the other, free speech shouldn't mean 'in this limited area where no one can hear you'. To me, that's censorship.

I guess it comes down to whether I agree with the protesters?

Legal Inequality

If I'm an idiot (I know, hard to believe) and I sue you for some clearly frivolous reason,  one would like to think that you will win.  Let's say that you do. In some states, I would have to pay not only my own legal fees, but yours, too.  That's a punitive measure to keep frivolous suits down, and at first glance it looks - well, not good, but not terribly bad, either.

Now suppose that my child is raped at a school,, and I sue the school for failing to take adequate precautions to keep my child safe.  I get Harry from the local law firm, and the school gets a team of lawyers from the local branch of MegaLaw.   Say the school wins.  Now I have to pay my legal fees, and those of the massive team from MegaLaw.

Is that fair?  Does the response to that depend on your political orientation?

Monday, May 25, 2015

Body Language

According to this article on body language, I'm basically French.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Doing Drugs

After reading this, and articles like it, I sometimes wonder if the War on Drugs is worth it.  Leaving aside the question about whether it's winnable -- it certainly doesn't seem to be, in the decades that we've pursued it  -- I wonder if its worth the time and money we put into it.  

In one of the Tom Clancy novels, his president says that the drug problem in, I believe, Colombia is actually the fault of the Americans who buy the drugs, and that his solution is to intensify the results of being caught with drugs -- making users of recreational drugs have to do public service,  such as cleaning the streets.  I remember thinking, at the time that i read that, he's assuming that punitive measures work.  And sometimes they do work.  I don't know that, but I'm willing to think that its possible.  But as a general response, they seem to work as well as Prohibition did. 

I don't like the idea of saying so, just decriminalize drug use?  make it acccepted and legal?   Control it as we do alcohol?  I don't like it because somehow it feels like we're giving up, letting the bad guys win.  But there are times when I wonder if that would not be better.

Friday, May 22, 2015


This page is several years old, but still, it's a little intriguiging.   I forgot how much people disliked Bush. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015


A little while ago, I put a note here to the effect that I wished I could get Lorina Limonade locally.   Lorina Limonade is French-made; I found it when I was in France, and I like it a lot.  It's not as tart as lemonade, and it comes in these huge glass bottles with a massive stopper to keep the carbonation alive.  I like it so much, I even kept one of the empty bottles, because it reminds me of France, and that makes me smile.

Yesterday, I received a note from a person in the marketing department of Lorina, and we talked about how I'd tried to get it locally, did (with some effort), and eventually concluded that much as I liked it, the effort and cost were too great.  Not the cost of the actual product; that's reasonable.  The $250 that the local supplier would charged me to deliver it from their warehouse, about three hours from here.  I know it's three hours (a little less) because that's how long it took me to drive there and personally pick it up.  If I'd known it would be that far,  and take that long, I'd have bought more.

The Lorina person told me that she would talk to the American branch of their company, to see if anything could be done.  Seriously, I don't expect that anything will come of it -- as much as I like the product, I'm still just one person.  But their willingness to contact me, and to at least try to do something about the situation -- that fascinated me.  That kind of personal touch seems to have vanished in our world where, if Amazon doesn't ship it, it doesn't exist. But not with Lorina.  They've still got it.

Thanks, Lorina.  You guys made my day.


There's a saying among lawyers that hard cases make bad law.  What they mean by that is that when laws are enacted in response to specific problems, the remedy may be worse than the original problem, or have nothing to do with the original problem, or consist of actions and processes that would not have prevented the original problem.

Several years ago, a coach named Jerry Sandusky, of Penn State, was found to be molesting small boys in the showers of the Penn State athletics complex.  It came to be known that others were aware of it, and most had done nothing; one person told the head coach,  Joe Paterno,  who convinced himself that no major action needed to be taken.  Sandusky was eventually convicted of child abuse, and as for Paterno, they took down his huge Rocky-like statue.

And then the politicians got involved, passing laws, setting requirements, and getting people excited and agitated. Which is where my family comes in.

My wife works in a local school as a personal care aide for a handicapped girl.  I volunteer at the same school as a mentor for kids who aren't doing too well in school.  My wife is very good at her job (not just opinion; she has both the comments of involved teachers and actual evaluations to buttress this).  Me -- well, I try, but I think I could be a lot better.

As part of the response to the Sandusky event, the lawmakers said that anyone who works with kids must have a federal crime records check done, a background check done, and other fun things.  These cost money (not a lot, but enough), and the person getting the checks gets to, as you might put it, write the checks. Without recompense.  This is true even if you're only a volunteer.  If you actually work for the school, you're required to tell people if you suspect that something shady is going on between educators and kids.  You don't need proof.  And its not limited to the school;  if you think that the grocery store's produce manager is messing around with the cute kid who works there, then as a member of the educational establishment, you're required by law to tell people.

Yeah.  No intellectual rigor there.

I'd already been contemplating making this my last year being a mentor, because I feel that I don't make much of a difference; this legal abyss adds significant weight to that thought process.  And my wife feels that while she would tell people if she thought something was going on, she would do it because of her morals, not because of a law -- and if she did not think so, she wouldn't, regardless of what the law says.

So much for the response to the hard case.

Now the politicians can go back to counting this weeks bribes, I guess.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Skype Ads

Microsoft, which (boo hiss) owns Skype,  has started putting ads on the Skype conversation screen.

Fortunately, there is a way to block them (at least, for the moment).

This is from the Skype community web site:

1. Open-up the Internet Explorer control panel (even if you don't normally use IE).
2. Open-up "Network & Internet" then "Internet Options".
3. Go to the "Security" tab.
4. Click on the "Restricted Sites" icon, then the "Sites" button below it.
5. Type "" (without the quotes) into the text box and click "Add"
6. Close and apply the changes.
7. Restart Skype.

I'm sure they will be back, but its nice not to have them for a bit....

Friday, May 15, 2015


As it gets warmer, I miss limonade.

I can't get Lorina Limonade locally. (Something about those heavy glass bottles makes them very expensive to ship.)

 I can't MAKE it - do a Google search for 'limonade recipe', and you get 'Showing results for lemonade recipe' .

And I can't get it at a restaurant here. I remember sitting in one not far from Notre Dame, watching the tourists, and drinking limonade. Slowly, to make the taste linger.

Un autre verre, s'il vous plait?

Friday, May 08, 2015


My wife works with a disabled girl as her personal aide.  Part of doing that is helping them do a special meal every so often, where the kids have to ask you what you want, give it to you, and make change.  I admit that when I would hear of this, I would think Well, that's nice, but its not a big deal.  Today, for the first time, I went to one of these meals, and I saw the kids in action.  I realized that for some of these kids, it is a big deal.  Some can't look you in the eye.  Some can only communicate with grunts and a form of sign language.  A couple of the kids have Downs, and a couple more have problems with impulse control.  At least one of the latter was big enough, though young, that he could give me a run for my money.  The size kid who makes high school football coaches salivate.

One of the kids was a quiet, shy girl.  I noticed that she didn't respond easily to questions, and, indeed, my wife says that this is a characteristic of hers - she responds very slowly, if at all, unless she has recently had an epileptic seizure, when for a little while she responds normally.  Yet to look at her, all you see is a cute 13 year old girl with a ponytail.

I found myself wondering what the boys in her class see. 

Wednesday, May 06, 2015


A friend in Paris tells me that she and her husband are going to Prague for the weekend.


I don't even get to Philadelphia for the weekend!

And yet I think of a trip to France for two weeks as oh, it's only for a couple of weeks.

I think I have some seriously skewed travel sensibilities. 

Monday, May 04, 2015

Tech Blech

Virginia Tech's computer system is so user-hostile, so badly designed, it arouses feelings of nausea when I try to get into it. Misleading, badly laid out, pages with almost identical layout that are actually different (for example, one is QuikPay, and one is QuikPayr). Even the damn MENUS are not in alphabetical order.  It feels like a pile of crud first designed in 1972, and accreted ever since.   I'm always amazed when it works.  And not surprised when it doesn't.

Latest thrill:
no idea
(received ID)


 How shall I put it?  Their computer system blows chunks.