Thursday, December 30, 2004

A China Mieville Christmas Story.
On Tuesday, we walked the shore of Lake Pontchartrain at Fountainebleu State Park, just north of New Orleans. We were just a family out enjoying a beautiful day and a few moments of one another's company before enduring the traffic nightmare that is a rush hour trip to the New Orleans airport, but I was keenly aware that doing that very same thing on the other side of the world a few days earlier could have gotten us killed.


Wednesday, December 29, 2004

I tried to take her home for Christmas,
but Jack Frost got trashed on Bourbon Street,
and passed out on the runways.
Once again, we find ourselves stranded,
roadsore and ready for home, but warm
from who we are when we're together,
neither here nor there.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

The gifts are bought and wrapped, the laundry is done, cookies distributed, and one or two presents opened just, well, just because. Without going into details, I think it's safe to say that Christie earned her stripes as Best Wife Ever. Okay, I'll go into details. She got me this.

On the work front, the templates are done, the project's handed off, and I've got nothing to do until the New Year except write a little documentation and do run some routine queries. No more laying awake at night wondering if the header tabs should be in canary yellow and hot pink, and whether putting all the links in blink tags was a good idea. Life, as they say, is good. But the boss loves short deadlines, and the thread holding up the other sword is getting thinner by the day. So I'm not going to be eating bonbons with my feet up for too long.

Not much to say, really. I'm off to Kansas City to commune with family, give and receive gifts, and attend church (if I don't go once a year, I feel all icky; same thing if I go much more). If you can't be with your loved ones this season, love the ones you're with. But hopefully you'll be surrounded with family and friends, someplace you can kick back with some spiced cider, a new pair of slippers, and a big stack of owner's manuals and assembly instructions to read in front of a roaring gas log fireplace.

Be safe, be kind, and be happy.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Bad UI experience of the day:
As an interface designer, I find myself getting seriously pissy when confronted with stupid interface decisions, whether online or in the real world. Christmas shopping online has certainly presented me with plenty of examples. For example, what is the point of having wishlists if your friends and family can't view them? And don't get me started on wedding registries. Amazon and Target both, for example, tie a wedding wish list to one account and one account only, so that whoever sets it up is the only one who can maintain it. And then there's the ATM at my bank, which waits until you've entered your desired withdrawal to tell you that you can only pull money out today in multiples of $20. Or $50. It changes, you know. Not too bad, except that the "accept" and "cancel" button labels disappear on the second input screen, and if you want to actually make a withdrawal, you have to remember where they were.

But today's annoyance is more prosaic: The gas station down the road. I pick my pump, and, as usual, choose to pay at the pump. There's a red paper sign taped to the pump, saying "No reciepts available at this pump!", handprinted (which explains the misspelling) and cut into a festive starburst shape, as though this were an exciting new feature of this particular pump. Fine. I just end up wadding them up and throwing them away anyway.

So I fill my car and press the buttons to finish the transactions. As it is currently 11 degrees and windy, I decide to skip the carwash. Instead of a "transaction completed", though, I get "please see attendant". I am, at this point, about 90% sure that this is a standard error message, that the clerk is going to tell me everything's fine, ask if I need a receipt. But that 10% could bring a visit from the sheriff or a suspended license if I pull a gas and go, so I trudge into the store, and I wait in line, and, of course, I'm right. And the look on the clerk's face tells me that she's about as happy about it as I am, so there's not even the satisfaction of bitching.

And that's why you get to read about it, you lucky bastards.

Friday, December 17, 2004

For Jeffrey, mostly: Place The State - You start with a blank US map, and have to drop the states in place, one at a time.
What a difference a year makes
This time last year, I was fighting my own mind and considering the possibility of starting to think about maybe making some plans.

This year, I'm putting lights on the tree, whistling Christmas carols, and just generally feeling merry. This year, I'm fighting busyness and procrastination, not scrooginess and exasperation.

On the other hand, Christie's enthusiasm for Christmas seems to be more or less bottomless, so it's probably in my best interest to feign a certain amount of scrooginess, or else I'm liable to find myself spending the better part of December wreathing our 100-year oak in lights, and paying a very large electric bill come January.
Phrase of the day, from William Gibson: "And then there are those episodes of history that unravel with the breathtaking and utterly unexpected abruptness of a cashmere miniskirt catching on a chainlink fence..."

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Just to keep you filled in, today was the third review meeting on a new project at work, leading to the third redefinition of the project, meaning a whole new set of templates. Three sets, actually. But we've got a window of staff availability we're trying to hit, so the deadline hasn't changed. Also Christie's got a cold, and apparently there's this Christmas thing coming up as well.

But don't be feeling too sorry for me. Last weekend Christie and I went to Chicago with my family for a little R&R. No good stories, really, but it was a good time.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Monday, December 06, 2004

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

This is just a little warning to say that I've got a dayjob thing that's taking up all my available mental bandwidth, so expect light blogging for the days ahead, at least until I get my head above quicksand.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Nick Hornby interviewing Sarah Vowell. What's not to love?
Happiness is the Rubicon in the rearview mirror
After months of inexorable progress and weeks of "oh my god did I meet with the caterer"ing, I found myself standing on the stairs in a hundred year old house, opposite a beautiful woman in a burgundy dress with a smile to outshine the sun, surrounded by some of the most extraordinary people I've ever met, facing a man in a funny collar who asked some very hard questions. Will I have this woman to be my wife; to live together in the covenant of marriage? Will I love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to her as long as I both shall live?

Will I? Can I? How much sickness? What if she's in a wheelchair? We'd need a new house; the hallway's too narrow for a wheelchair, and how could we afford it if she wasn't working? Keep her? What's that supposed to mean? I couldn't keep the last one, and I thought I knew what I was doing then, so how am I supposed to keep Christie if she changes her mind and doesn't want to be kept? And what about my mind? What if it changes? What then? Can I? Should I? Will I? Will we? Should I be here? Do I deserve her? Is this a mistake?

If you've read the recent comment threads, you'll know there's at least one anonymouse out there who thinks it is, that we're doomed. What can I say? That's one smart mouse. Of course we're doomed. We didn't promise to stay together forever, we promised to have and to hold "until we are parted by death". That's not what I'd call the promise of a happy ending. In fact, it's just the opposite, and I know plenty of widows and widowers who'll testify to the truth of that promise. Life and marriage both come with an expiration date, and if we're lucky, one of us will get to watch the other die.

And of course this is a mistake. Everything I've ever done is a mistake, an attempt at perfection that missed the mark, followed by an overcorrection, then another, a zigzagging course of overcompensations leading obliquely toward an unseen destination or, more likely, away from some pain I can't quite remember, wandering across a landscape more intuited than seen.

I sometimes wish I were smarter, so I could see clearly the implications of my choices, anticipate my mistakes, and avoid the consequences. But even the finite world of a chessboard produces a decision tree with more branches than my head can hold, and I end up frozen, staring into space, looking for the safest path, and finding none until I lose patience and throw my knight into combat, where he is improbably dispatched by, of all things, a bishop. I am, as you might guess, a lousy chess player.

Life, thank god, is not chess, and Christie's no horse-headed piece of resin. She's the smartest, sanest, funniest, sexiest person I know, and I'm happier with her by my side than I have ever been. Do I see that changing? As a matter of fact, I do. Every day, I'm a little happier than the day before, and a little more sure. But I'm never 100% sure of everything, and this is not a question that can be answered with, "Um, yeah, probably so." I've maneuvered myself into a yes or no corner, and, teetering on the steps, I've got to make an answer.

Reader, I married her.

Pictures to follow.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Quote of the day, from Bill O'Reilly: "Having survived a combat situation in Argentina during the Falklands War, I know that life-and-death decisions are made in a flash." And then, of course, there's the lasting trauma of his time in Grenada, but he still really can't talk about it.

Now go eat some turkey.

Monday, November 22, 2004

T minus four days. Ladies, prepare your mourning clothes.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Well, the most dangerous toys of 2004 list is out. Going by name alone, I'd have to put the "Pound-A-Ball" on the list, but not for the reasons they give. As usual, they have a fixation with "realistic toy weapons designed to produce dangerous and unnecessary thrills". Dangerous and unnecessary thrills? I think I know where at least one of my ex-girlfriends is working now. (Don't get me started on "choking hazard".)

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Friday, November 12, 2004

A few weeks ago, I got to stand up beside Billie and Emily while they got married. This being a wedding, there were plenty of opportunities to stand up and say a few words, and I wanted to, but I couldn't quite get my thoughts and feelings to hang together enough for a speech. It's been bugging me ever since then, so I'm going to take a stab now at what I would have liked to say then.

I met Emily when I was fifteen, so she would have been about eleven. Theron was my friend, which made her my friend's little sister. TV, movies, and pop culture dictate that a friend's little sister must be, by definition, annoying, but Emily never was. Since she lived most of the year in Texas, with her mom, and only spent every other holiday in Missouri, Emily didn't have much of a social network in Kansas City, so when she was in town, she was usually tagging along with Theron and I. That was a long time ago, but I don't remember even once thinking of her as anything other than a joy to have around.

It's not a story I tell too often, but when I was eight or nine, my mom was pregnant with twin girls. I was too young at the time to know the details, but I do know that she went into labor a little early, but not so early that we expected anything other than Mom and Dad to come home with two baby girls. Instead, Dad came home alone, gray-faced, to tell us that the girls hadn't made it, and that Mom was going to be in the hospital for a while. It happened long enough ago that it's not something I think about that often, but it does pop into my head now and again to figure out how old they'd be now, and wonder what they'd be up to.

This might explain why I feel so lucky to have Emily in my life, but just about everybody that knows her seems to feel lucky, and they can't all be haunted by the ghosts of almost-sisters, so maybe it's just a coincidence.

Now what about Billie? Knowing, as you now do, how I feel about Emily, the fact I not only endorsed but actually encouraged their engagement should tell you I have a high opinion of him. But I'll go a little further and tell you that he's one of the few people out there I still enjoy debating politics with, exactly the guy you want with you on a hike, easy to work with on home improvement projects, and on my short list of people I'd call if I ever needed to bust Christie out of a Turkish prison.

That's it really. I just wanted to say that I love you both, that you both excel at finding the fun where other people only see a pain in the ass, and that I wish you both every possible good thing in your life together.
Remember that choral piece I'm supposed to be writing for a friend? Well, I think I know how I want to do it. Since it's for an unaccompanied SATB choir (soprano, alto, tenor, bass), I'm thinking of four inter-related pieces, tied together around certain key words or phrases. A lot of the implementation is going to be up to the composer, obviously, but I think it's an idea with legs. We'll see how it goes. Anyway, here's the second draft of the first piece:

  Tokyo nightmare waking, smoke a lucky strike to clear the air
  and know it's somehow lunchtime yesterday at home to think of calling back
  in time to hear her voice but fifteen hours not nearly long enough
  and so I light another, lean against the railing barefoot on the balcony
  concrete cold and buzzing streetlight, head swimming back and forth in time to
  find a future full of you and wonder: Am I lost yet? Can I go home?

   The ticket's in my suitcase pocket,
   but crossing the dateline is tricky,
   and I won't know till I've landed
   exactly when I am.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

If you're depressed about the election and feeling alone in the world, Sorry Everybody is good therapy. If you're not, it's just kind of entertaining.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Last year, I got the stomach flu on my birthday. The year before that, a migraine. The year before that, a divorce.

This year, Christie had a training session in Sedalia, so I got the house to myself to watch Stargate reruns and finish my book. Somewhere in there, I took the time to put a second coat of poly on the new bookshelves that have been in progress for something like 6 months now. Jeesh. But there're just about done now. I think I might have sneezed once, but other than that, no health problems of any kind, leading me to think that keeping things simple might be the key to surviving my birthdays.

Of course, I did wake up with a migraine, and it took till almost 10 am for the drugs to kick in, but I'm sure that's just a coincidence.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

These are the things that matter to me: The way Christie's breath changes when I kiss her just so, the way my grandfather's try square fits in my hand, a good meal coming together, the laughter of friends, the smell of oak sawdust, a door closing properly after I've worked on it, finding the right words, and telling a good story. Compared to these things, politics is a fly buzzing in my ear on a beautiful fall day.

I'm less than a week shy of being 34 years old, and there were only eight of those years in which I actually liked the man who was president. This is just more of the same.

Don't get me wrong, I think George W. Bush has the potential to totally screw up the country, but he can only do as much damage as we the people let him. And I'll be damned if I let him start off by stopping me from having a good time.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Yesterday's opening monologue from the Daily Show is a perfect example of why I (and so many others) love Jon Stewart. Warning: It's a 3.6 mb download.
The first words anyone said to me at work this morning were in the breakroom, from a guy I barely know, who pointed at his "I voted" sticker and said proudly, "I trimmed a Shrub today."

"Me, too," I said, and pointed to my own.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Mike's pumpkins

Mike's pumpkins
Originally uploaded by Litcritter.
No halloween party this year, between car wrecks, wedding planning, and all that jazz, so we put our energy into carving pumpkins.

Christie's, of course, put mine to shame.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Here's a decent overview from AP of the missing explosives problem, laid out in question and answer format, listing what we do and do not know.

Let me start by saying that I really, honestly don't care about the politics of this story. I do, however, want the facts to keep coming out so that the American people can come to an informed decision next Tuesday.

What do we know so far? We know that 377 tons of RDX and HMX explosives are missing. They were in powdered form, making them stable and easy to transport, but still fairly easy to make into a weapon. We know that RDX and HMX can be used as rocket fuel, made into plastic explosives, or mixed with binders and formed into a variety of shapes, including innocuous ones (toys, stereos, etc.) that could easily be smuggled past any security that doesn't sniff for explosives. We also know they could be used to make a nuclear weapon, but that's less of a worry, given the difficulty of getting fissionable material. A dirty bomb, on the other hand, is a real danger. Remember the unsecured nuclear waste dumps? We know that, by themselves, these explosives have a total concussive force around 4,000 times that of the Oklahoma City bomb.

We know that the Bush White House was warned by the IAEA before, during and after the invasion that these explosives were there. We know that the explosives were sealed in January 2003, and that the seals were intact in early March, 2003. We know that American troops were in the compound in early April and didn't see them, but that they hadn't been told about the explosives, and didn't perform an exhaustive search. We know there was extensive looting at the site both before and after the Americans came through.

What's been claimed? The Iraqis claim they told Paul Bremer about the missing explosives in May, 2004, and that they were told not to tell anyone else. The White House claims they didn't hear about the missing explosives until October, 2004, the same time as the UN, the New York Times, and you and I. The White House has also claimed that the explosives were moved in the two week window before the war, rather than during the months after the war in which the site was left unsecured, but there's no evidence for this claim, and some evidence against it. A number of people and organizations have claimed that the White House has known about this at least since May, and rather than trying to find the explosives, has concentrated its energy on keeping this story out of the media before the election.

What don't we know? We don't know where the explosives are, if they're being used against us, or if they even still exist. We don't know when they were removed from the depot, nor have I been able to find a clear answer on when, if at all, our military was ordered to secure the munitions dump. We don't know if our military did an exhaustive search in April 2003, but we do know that neither the 101st Airborne (who was there on April 10) or the 3rd Infantry Division (April 3-4) did so. Obviously, though, it cannot be true that we found the explosives to be missing in April 2003 and that we didn't know the explosives were missing until October, 2004.

The White House is treating this as a political story, attacking Kerry for "blaming the troops", when he's very clearly holding Bush responsible, or talking about how untrustworthy Saddam Hussein was. But this is not a story about politics, it is a story about whether the invasion of Iraq has made us more or less safe, and it is a story about the competence and honesty of the Bush administration. In other words, it's not about rhetoric, it's about reality.

If the White House is right, and the explosives were removed before the war, why didn't they know about it sooner? Why are we just hearing about it now, when it's too late to get a full picture before the election? If the White House is right, why didn't they know about the missing explosives before the Iraqis told them in May 2004? And why didn't the White House know until October if Paul Bremer knew in May? Why did the chain of command break down? And why isn't Paul Bremer talking to the press?

Given the unknowns, there's a wide matrix of possible realities, but I'll boil it down to two:
  1. We left the site unsecured, and the explosives were stolen on our watch If true, then the invasion of Iraq has made us, and the world, less safe, but putting 377 tons of plastic explosives on the black market.
  2. The explosives were moved before the war, but we didn't find out about it for months, and made no effort to find them until very recently, when the story was on the verge of breaking in the press. This is the current White House version (it took them a while to settle on a story, which is never a good sign). If true, this would mean they took us to war under the pretext of making us safer, then made no attempt for months to secure a major threat to US security.
I've tried, but I really can't see a way that this isn't a firing offense.

Update: Click here to see pictures of the explosives taken in Al Qa Qaa taken on or around April 18th by a news crew accompanying US troops. Click here to see the IAEA seals.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Five good reasons to vote against Bush:
  1. Iraq - Maybe it was the right thing to do, maybe it was the wrong one, maybe it was just the wrong time. It is, however, incontrovertible that this war has been marked by easily foreseeable errors that have done serious damage to our credibility, stability, safety and military readiness. Al Qa Qaa is only the most recent example, but it's a big 'un. 850 lbs. of some of the most powerful explosives we're capable of manufacturing are missing, and the Bush White House was more concerned with keeping that knowledge from the public than they were with keeping us safe.
  2. Homeland Security - Our ports are still unsecured, as are countless other points of vulnerability, and this administration has resisted every single suggestion for ways to improve our security that did not originate inside the White House.
  3. Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay - Thousands of people have been jailed with scant evidence of guilt, and there is strong evidence that they've been badly mistreated to boot. Personally, I have faith in the ideals of our nation, and think we can win the fight against Islamic fundamentalism without sacrificing those ideals.
  4. The Economy - I don't blame Bush for the recession. The internet bubble was on the verge of bursting when he took office. But there are right things to do when you're facing a recession, and wrong things. Bush did all the wrong things, resulting in net job losses and decreasing the wages of the working class while increasing the incomes of those at the top of the heap.
  5. Responsibility - Whether it's a presidential briefing on a prospective terrorist attack, the economy, or problems with the war in Iraq, the people who work in the Bush White House, including Bush, act as though someone else were really in charge, and was bound to take care of things. At the same time, they refuse to listen to good ideas from outside their inner circle, or answer to critics. That's not the way leadership works.

Five good reasons to vote for Kerry:
  1. Terrorism - Kerry was shutting down terrorist's financial networks almost twenty years ago. And he understands that we're fighting organizations that transcend national borders. That kind of battle requires flexibility of mind and a willingness and ability to work with our allies, but of which John Kerry has. Which brings us to:
  2. Diplomacy - Kerry's international bona fides are impressive as hell. That doesn't mean that he's accountable to foreign governments, or that he's give up any of our sovereignty to them. It just means he knows how to talk to them.
  3. The Economy - Entrepeneurship is crucial to the success of our nation, and Kerry has actual experience running a successful small business, unlike his opponent, and he was chairman of the Senate Kerry Energy Policies Committe. And Kerry's plan will actually help small business owners by making their lives easier, while Bush's "plan" is just more tax cuts, which seem to be the only tool in his toolbox. Also, Kerry has a proven record as a deficit hawk, which we need.
  4. Red vs. Blue - If we're going to survive as a nation, we've got to do it together, which means we can't afford leaders whose response to any criticism is to call "traitor!" Kerry's got a record of working across the aisle to solve problems.
  5. Character - Both candidates are rich, ivy league educated white guys, and both were given much by the circumstances of birth. One squandered those gifts, and the other turned them toward a lifetime of public service. One has drifted through life until a group of people said, "Hey, George, you ever think about running for governor? How about president?" The other has, again and again, made hard choices and done the right thing.

So, that's it. That's my list. What's yours?

Thursday, October 21, 2004

First things first: Everyone's okay. And by "okay", I mean no serious injuries. And by "everyone", I mean everyone except Christie's car, Bubba. We've been operating under the assumption that Bubba was totalled, but we heard from the good folks at State Farm today that they consider him salvageable.

The long story short version of events is that somebody pulled out in front of her in Sedalia on Monday night, so close that she barely had time to brake before hitting him at about thirty miles an hour. Thank god for airbags and crumple zones.

All told, it could have been much worse. Christie's stiff, sore, and sporting a couple of deeply impressive bruises. Her passenger has a stiff neck. The moron who caused it had insurance, admits he was at fault, and there were plenty of witnesses. That's enough to make this a pain in the ass instead of a tragedy, so I'm grudgingly grateful.

In other news, here's a ridiculously over the top Halloween costume.

And here's the quote of the day, from William Gibson, who's blogging again: "Believing Bush is conservative in any traditional sense is like believing that a Formula One racer with the Perrier logo on its side is full of mineral water. " He also raises the excellent point that now is a really sucky time to be an actual conservative.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Billie and Emily's Wedding

Billie and Emily's Wedding
Originally uploaded by Litcritter.
Minister: Repeat after me. I, Billie Cleek, promise...

Billie: I, Billie Cleek, promise...

Minister: to laugh with you and cry with you...

Billie: to laugh at you...

Emily: That is so true!
The photos from Billie and Emily's wedding are up over at Flickr. If you were there and want a high quality version of one, lemme know, and I can send it your way.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Well, I'm off the Ozarks for a wedding. Look for pictures next week of people you don't know and yours truly in a tux.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Monday, October 11, 2004

News from small town Missouri: Christie just called me from Marshall, Missouri, where she just finished a school visit. Apparently the Republican candidate for Southern District Commissioner is named Dick Hassler.

Well, I guess, in this case, hassling is better than teasing.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Things I am thinking about that are not the project I need to be working on:
  1. The best way to attach the rear legs to the bookshelves I almost finished last night.
  2. The best way to conceal the fucked-up, uneven cuts at the top of the bookshelve I almost finished last night.
  3. The best way to paint the hallway.
  4. Dinner (including what we need from the grocery store).
  5. Twisted Metal: Black.
  6. I got an email from a friend last week who's working on his PhD. in Music Composition. He wants to do a choral piece and can't find anything he really likes to adapt. He's previously done a piece of music based around one of my poems, and wants to know if I've got anything. I said I'd pull something together, but now I'm wondering if the intimate voice I've cultivated is well suited to a chorus, not to mention that it's been a long time since I've done any serious metrical work (doggerel doesn't count). Maybe a dialogue? Or a conversation? Is it okay to be funny in a choral piece, or should I go for a more serious tone? What if I overshoot serious and end up writing something overblown? Would the ordinary language I'm inclined to use exist in tension with the elevated expectations that a chorus might create, but still hold together? Or will the whole thing fall apart?
  7. I went to the hardware store over lunch to buy screws and dust masks, but I picked up a pack of Rolos while I was there. Now it's mid-afternoon, and I'm wanting those Rolos, but I left them in the car, and now it's raining. Is their chocolatey goodness worth getting soaked? And if the sun comes out, rendering the Rolos gettable, will they end up melted?
Whassup? I've been a bad blogger, and this is mostly just a post to let you know that I know it, too. Thing is, I've got three projects at work, two of which are at that all important "scratch your head and stare at the ceiling" stage, a hallway to prep and paint at home, bookshelves to finish building, a wedding to attend and another to plan, my country's 500th anniversary to plan, my wife to murder, and Guilder to frame for it. I'm swamped.

So I'm taking it as easy as I can. After all, if you haven't got your health, you haven't got anything.

Back soon. Probably with pictures of the shelves, and maybe the hallway.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Miki at Theory of the Daily has a nice post up on marriage and eroticism. The whole thing is worth a read, but the big piece I took away is that it's not so much that libido decreases as a relationship ages as it is that libido changes. So, we should aspire to a more holistic eroticism that is incorporated thoroughly into our domestic lives, rather than the crazy gymnastic sex we might have enjoyed when we were dating.

I'm not saying there's no more porno-movie sex after marriage, though. Just that a little grab-ass in the kitchen helps keep the home fires burning until you've got the time and energy for a real bonfire.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Quote of the night, from Rudy Giuliani on the Daily Show, on Saddam Hussein:

"He himself was a weapon of mass destruction!"

Yeah, but only when he'd had too much falafel.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Obviously, there are going to be a lot of new voters this year, not to mention folks who have moved since the last time they voted, which may very well have been eight years ago, given the general level of excitement we had last time around. If you were in charge of elections, what would you do to make things go smoother? Probably something like this. Kudos to Wendy Noren, Boone County Clerk, for having her heart in the right place, and her brain right beside it.
Every once in a while, a post gets stuck in the queue, and nothing else gets through for a while. Had I been so inclined, I suppose I could have hunkered down and worked it out (What does a mathematician do when he get's constipated? he works it out with a pencil!), but this was do-or-die week to get the invitations out, and that took up all my spare cycles. But they're done, and should be going in the mail this afternoon, so back to the blog!

Unfortunately, there's still the matter of that stuck post. The problem, if you can call it that, is that I don't just want to tell you that I went camping with Billie, Theron, and Curtis last weekend, and that it was awesome. I want you to feel the buildup on the drive to the trailhead, the added tension that came from the sun's setting just as we were heading out, and the laughter over who brought too much, and who brought too little. I want to stretch out the words to form the strings of a hammock, and sharpen their points to poke more holes in the night sky than I've seen this side of the desert, with a dusting of the Milky Way girdling the world.

But since I can't throw my words at your feet to ball up like ankle-twisting scree, turn your walls to trees, or bring the Ozark wind into your cubicle, you'll just have to take me at my word when I tell you that it was a damn near perfect night, the kind of night that cuts into life like Michelangelo's chisels cut into granite, removing everything that isn't right.

If I could just find the words.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Christie's folks live just outside New Orleans, so it's a relief that they won't be coming home to a flooded, snake-infested crocodile habitat. They evacuated north and east, to stay with family in Oxford, Mississippi, home of Ole Miss. But a quick Google News search reassured me that Oxford hasn't let an impending hurricane effect their priorities: Ivan Hampers Game Day Security.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

What it is about New York? It's dirty, crowded, and smells bad, like any other big city. And like any other big city, it's got art, culture, money, great food and shopping that you can't find anywhere else. Beautiful people walk the streets, and there's good coffee on every block. And you could easily go months without walking on grass or seeing the stars.

New York's just another city, but because so much of our art, literature, music and drama comes out of New York, it looms large in our internal landscape. If you can make it there, they say, you can make it anywhere. But if you can make it anywhere, why New York, where your eyes are drawn always upward, and there's always somebody higher, making more money, with a bigger apartment, better abs, cooler hat, or what have you, and "making it" just means a higher level of aspiration, with "good enough" alway just out of reach?

For a kid that dreams of being a writer, it's easier to dream of being a writer in New York than in any other place, and for a reader, to walk the streets of New York is to walk the streets of dreams dreamed over and over again in the pages of this or that paeon to the wonders of Living the New York Dream. This can create vertigo, as when I opened the window of my 8th floor hotel room to hear the city, after walking 5th Avenue in first-night-in-town boredom, then sprawled on the bed and turned on the TV to see Carrie sprawled out on her Sex in the City bed, writing her column while listening to the sounds of the city, and they cut to the girls walking down the same streets I just walked, and a circuit breaker in my head went "pop" from one too many layers of meta.

I was in my thirties before I ever made it to New York in person, having already been to Chicago, Boston, London, Tokyo and Seoul, and having lived for 15 years in towns so small you could walk across them in a day, so that I know it's just another city and I know I'll never live there, because the part of me that feels at home there isn't the man I want to be, and doesn't live the life I want to live, but still a part of me does feel at home there, and that little part can't help but wish that the rest of me didn't love the stars, the grass, and Missouri quite so much.

Friday, September 10, 2004

If you've heard the arguments that the CBS documents might have been forgeries, and you've found them persuasive (as I did at first), then this is very worth a read.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Christie and I are in the religion section of our local Barnes and Noble, looking for a particular translation of Song of Songs to use for a reading in our wedding, and Christie, looking over the plethora of books on every imaginable topic (i.e. "Christian Carwashing Made Easy"), sees an obvious business opportunity.

Her: We should design a Christian videogame. Maybe something based on The Passion.

Me: No, too passive. I think Old Testament would be the way to go. Lots of smiting. Like Samson vs. the Philistines. But there's a problem: no power-ups. The only weapon you could use is the jawbone of an ass.

Her: You could pick up hair extensions...

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I'm marrying her.

Back in a few days.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Great post from Bob Harris over at This Modern World. It's a meditation on travel in the mideast, and the whole thing's worth reading, but here's the climax, for the ADD crowd:

"Someday there will be people speaking languages vaguely resembling our own but indecipherable if we could eavesdrop. Their maps will not be our maps. And they will look at our wars over half-forgotten gods the same way you and I look at the struggles between the tribes of Ur, very possibly while killing each other in the name of gods which do not yet exist.

"They will dig and puzzle and speak of the Oil Age and how its brevity stunned humankind toward the end.

"If we make good choices, perhaps they will remember us fondly for they way we handled the first truly global period in human history, and they will carry our wisdom forward to our children's far descendants.

"If we don't, they will more likely make small figurines of oxen and bury them in mud brick dwellings with their infant dead. With luck, maybe someday they'll develop bronze."
I thought I was off quizzes, but...
The Changeling
Category X - The Changeling
Witty, amusing and a bit weird, you're welcomed into most social groups, even though you don't 'fit in' perfectly.

What Type of Social Entity are You?
brought to you by Quizilla
Now that's the way to start the day!
The first thing I see when I open my browser is a headline on Google News, "Spiceless Atkins diet 'bores you thinner'", followed by an email from one "Mr. Long", entitled "Wow! Look It The Size Of That Thing".

Must be Friday.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

On Travelling as a Boy Scout
One of Christie's jobs is to take the piss out of me when I start believing my own PR. Hence her regular giving me a hard time about overpacking. On the flipside, though, she's the first to sing a song of praise that I've thought ahead enough to bring a flashlight, compass, diarrhea medicine, Epipen, satellite uplink, portable toilet, or what have you. The name of this song is "What Fun It Is to Travel With a Boy Scout."

Feeling, as I do, the need to Be Prepared™, I tend to get stressed out when I'm getting ready to travel, particularly when I'm travelling by air, which means I can't have a milkcrate full of emergency supplies in the trunk, nor can I carry a pocketknife, unless I want to check my bag, and I don't like to check my bag, because, well, baggage check sucks.

So I freak out, my brain whirring and clicking over this and that worst case scenario, until I sit down on the plane and all the worries hiss out of my brain like air from a balloon. Then I start thinking about the next leg of the trip and will I get a taxi and what if I can't find the hotel or they screwed up my reservation and I'm left wandering the streets of Manhattan helpless, hopeless and friendless, until I talk myself down with a recitation of the places I've flown into armed with nothing but scrawled out directions and a dog-eared Lonely Planet guide. Sure, Manhattan's a foreign country to a Missouri boy like me, but it's got nothing on Kyoto. I mean, at least they speak English. Sort of.

But what's really freaking me out is that I'm going in for business, and the airport shuttle leaves so early on Tuesday that I won't be able to come in to the office beforehand. Meaning that I've got to be ready tomorrow, rather than three days ago, and this is for a project a few weeks from launch where we're still just starting to figure out what it is we don't know yet.

Some fun, ain't it?

Oh well. It's just travel, and it's just business, and it's just a couple of days. Ain't nothing worth losing sleep over.
Thanks, Patrick to remind me that Saletan's got a great article up on Slate. And he's got another one up today.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Oh, this pisses me off. The party that claims a monopoly on "supporting our troops" is making light of Purple Hearts on their convention floor. How can anyone support these people? I just don't get it.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Went north for the weekend, which helped a bit, and quite literally started my week with a massage (I'm serious, it was at 7:30 am Monday), which helped tremendously. And there have been no catastrophes so far this week, except maybe one or two, but they were resolved quickly.

In other news, why does this seem so eerily familiar? And can my car handle another bumper sticker?

Friday, August 27, 2004

Dude! I went to high school with that, um, guy! Granted, her name was Ben back then, not Brini, but still it's good to see somebody from the old stomping grounds getting some props.
The desire to write is running in circles in my head like three notes from a snatch of a song from a car driving by that I know I recognize but can't quite place. And it's not like nothing's happening, either. More the opposite, really, with work putting interesting problems in front of me and Christie and I loving each other and weekends (remember weekends?) spent visiting friends and family and having fun with desperate end-of-summer abandon.

I know I'm taking too much on by the pain behind my eyes and the little collapse against the door I do when I first come home, but what to drop? And how can I drop anything when my body butts in with a migraine every. single. night. this. week?

I've long since grown comfortable with the fact that there is no answer to this question. And besides, there's a three day weekend coming up, and the week after that, a business trip to Manhattan, with long, silent plane rides, and the crazy, speedy shock of the city that always whacks me upside the head and knocks loose the crufty nonsense that has my ass dragging.

Meantime, though, there's yet another conference call, followed shortly by a weekend in the woods with friends.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

I just got an email from my Mom that her dog died, and now my monitor's all blurry. Damn.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Spent a good part of the weekend with Kelyn, who's young enough yet to remember his last time around. Turns out he was a tree, and he was able to confirm for me that ripe peaches taste exactly like sunshine.

Friday, August 13, 2004

People ask me where I find this stuff, but if you're looking for a description of fertility problems that'll have you spraying your monitor, Chez Miscarriage is the place to go:

"At one point, a newcomer to the group queried, 'What's colon hydrotherapy and how can it cure infertility?' and another member authoritatively responded, 'You insert a hose into your anus,' and I volunteered, 'Have you ever considered the possibility that the reason you're not pregnant yet is because you keep inserting the hose in the wrong place?'

"My days in that group are numbered, I tell you."

Oh, and to answer your question, I found this particular bit of stuff over at Maud's.
Proof positive that Kerry has bigger balls and better taste than Bush. I mean, come on, "The president would never take sides on such an important issue."? What kind of a pussy answer is that?
Lies, liars, and delicious fudging of the truth
Looks like Kerry's trying to have it both ways on Iraq. Again. It's annoying, mostly because this is the kind of shit that makes my friends say, "See! They're both liars!"

And, yeah, sure, they are. It's tempting to say that it's because they're politicians, but how honest are you when you're presenting yourself to strangers? Some guy at work finds out I'm divorced and asks me, "So what happened?" (Implausible? Sure. But it actually happened.) My answer to him is short, simple, and far from true ("I haven't got a fucking clue."), but it gives him a complete answer in a socially acceptable period of time, as opposed to the hours it would take to cover all the complexities, nuances, and feelings involved.

But that hardly makes Bush and Kerry "equally dishonest".

Say I'm interviewing two guys for a job, and it turns out both of them told a few lies in the interview. The first guy grossly exaggerated the duties of his previous position, claimed credit for the success of projects that he'd opposed, laid the blame for his failures at the feet of his employees (or on sabotage from shady coworkers), and flat out lied about his college education. The second guy, when he found out I grew up in Kansas City, pretended to be a Royal's fan as opposed to a rabid Cardinal's fan (is there any other kind?). Also, he'd left his previous job because his boss was a psycho jerk, but he glosses over the conflict, knowing that talking trash about a previous boss tends to raise red flags.

Who are you going to hire?

Thursday, August 12, 2004

I could go into the reasons why I haven't been writing as much lately, but I'm not entirely sure what they are. I've got a number of building and home improvement projects going, for one thing, which means that when I sit down to get creative, it's more likely to be with graph paper than college ruled. I've been following politics, of course, but even I'm getting bored with talking about how the Bushies are screwing up the country. It used to be that opposing their policies meant arguing with them, in the sense that you could dissect their logic and see where the two of you diverged.

Nowadays, though, the difference is not one of approach, values, or reasoning; it's one of facts. And it's no fun saying, over and over again, no, Iraq was not a serious threat to our security, no, Afghanistan is not stable, yes, Bush has lied to us about a great many things, and no, Kerry and Edwards are not the first and fourth most liberal Senators. Anymore, if I get into a political argument with somebody, it takes about five minutes before we're both sputtering like morons and our eyes are popping out of our heads. Like I said, it's no fun. No fun at all.

So instead I've been thinking about furniture, landscape timbers, and renovations. That's how I stumbled across, a chronicle of a young couple's renovations to a classic bungalow. In their own words, "It's like camping with a mortgage." If sustainability's more your thing, you might check out Glen Hunter's Straw House blog. But if weird furniture's your thing, there's FunFurde.

But if you insist on thinking about the direction our country's heading in, may I suggest reading Kevin Drum's post on economic security? He suggests that recent Bush policies are offloading the economic risk from businesses and government onto the shoulders of individuals, with the result that all of us are closer to catastrophe, with the result that even if we're doing okay financially, the increase in fear wears at us. Not to put too fine a point on it, I think he's exactly right.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

For your procrastination pleasure, may I present The Hoopla500! No flash games or pumping electronic beats, just loads of good writing.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Horribly wrong on oh, so many levels. But as a man with a crucified Santa bendy-doll hanging in his cubicle, I have no room to criticize.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Believe me or don't believe me, but this is an actual Family Circus cartoon.
Money can buy happiness, as long as you spend it properly. For instance, a bigger house or fancier car probably won't do much to increase your actual happiness. But how about a shorter commute and more time with your family? (via kottke)
While I was off puttering my way through the weekend, the Bushies managed to out yet another intelligence asset, this time, a mole in al Qaeda.

As near as I can figure, this is how it went:

The Administration That Cried Wolf: Stop paying attention to Kerry. We're at war! On terror! And they're going to strike any day now! Thankfully our president is a Strong Leader™ who takes terrorism seriously, and we were able to get the information that allowed us to warn you!

Media: Why are you telling us this now, when most of the information you're talking about is years old? You're not playing politics, are you?

TATCW: What?! No! Never. You must be thinking of that other party! We take this sort of thing very seriously, and would never play politics with the War on Terror™! Just as an example, we've got this guy, his name's Khan, who got busted by our buddies in Pakistan, and he's been giving us all kinds of useful information! He's even emailing his old buddies in al Qaeda and getting them to tell us stuff, though of course they don't know it, because they don't know we busted him! Isn't this spy stuff cool? Doesn't that prove how seriously we take this whole War on Terror™ thing?

Media: Um, you do know your mic's on, right? And that al Qaeda has cable?

Read Juan Cole for more on the repercussions.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

This is just appalling, but it's also confusing. I mean, if you think the 9/11 Commission's recommendation that a central coordinator of intelligence be appointed is a bad idea, then why not say so and have an argument on the merits? And if you think it's a good one, then why not do what they say? Why on earth would you create a position with the right name, that looks a little like what they're recommending, but with so little authority or influence that all it's going to do is muddle the flow of information?

Maybe I've just got my cranky pants on extra tight this morning, but sometimes it seems like they're trying to fuck up the country.

Update: Confirmed

Friday, July 30, 2004

Respectful of Otters has a nice post up on Bruce Schneier's Beyond Fear.

Oh, and tell me if you think this passes the sniff test: Matt Blunt, the Missouri Secretary of State, is appearing in newspaper ads that say "Don't Forget to Vote on Tuesday!" The ads feature his name and his face, and they were paid for with federal funds. Matt Blunt just happens to be on the ballot, in the Republican primary.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Since Christie's cats moved in, I've been running the Roomba a lot more. It's not so much about the cat hair, though, as it is about strategy. See, they've been fighting a lot, and I keep thinking they'll band together, Independence Day style, to defend against the attack of the robots.

Doesn't seem to be working, though. Damn.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Great fridge. It's the appliance equivalent of a concept car, so we'll probably never see it, but it's got some great ideas that hopefully the powers that be will use.

Friday, July 23, 2004

So, about that letter. Turns out that the Tribune considers letters to the editor on political topics to be, in essence, political ads, which means they charge money to publish them. I'm torn between the desire to change minds and the principle "never pay to be published."

Central to that question, of course, is the question of whether a Columbia paper is really the best place for a piece of writing designed to change the minds of people inclined to vote in favor of Amendment Two. I'm stuck. What do you guys think?
In case your world is insufficiently weird today.
For those of us planning to vote for the "Anybody but Bush" platform, Tom Oliphant presents a solid case why Kerry would make a good president.
Of course, is Edwards really is a vampire, then garlic powder is hardly a harmless substance, is it?

Thursday, July 22, 2004

A wise man once told me, "Resist the urge to write letters to the editor." But I live in Missouri, where the bigots have managed to get an anti-gay marriage amendment onto the ballot, and the thought that it might pass has me sick to my stomach. I'm a realist, and I know that Missouri's not going to recognize gay marriage for at least a decade or so, if then. But it's the right thing to do, and I'm confident we'll get there eventually. Enshrining the current benighted state of our state in the constitution is just going to make it harder for us to do the right thing when the time comes.

Besides, I love this state and don't want to see us institutionalizing bigotry any more than we already have. Leave that to Mississippi.

Unfortunately, the religious right thrives on this bizarre notion that they're a besieged minority, and bumper stickers, marches, etc. just fan the flames. What, then, is a way of expressing my opposition that stands a chance of changing someone's mind? Here's what I came up with. I'll let you know if the Tribune prints it:


Anytime I hear someone condemn the sinfullness of "the homosexual lifestyle", I think of a church organist I used to know. All he asked was to be able to express his love of God through music, and for fifteen years he did just that for a small Baptist church, until one day someone asked him if he was gay. It wasn't the first time he'd been asked, but he'd been praying on the topic lately and had decided that the next time he was asked, he'd give an honest, simple aswer, "Yes." Within three days, he was out of a job.

At the time, I was on the board of a church that was looking for a music director, and we counted ourselves blessed to find a replacement with so much love, joy and spirit to give. Over the next few years, I had the honor of watching a soul bloom.

Think about your husband, or your wife, and how much their love and support means to you. Now imagine keeping that love secret from the people you sing God's praises with for fifteen years because you know they'll reject you if you told the truth. That's what our organist faced, and the look on his face the first time he introduced his partner (of more than ten years!) to the congregation was like sun hitting a stained glass window after fifteen years of cloudy days.

The church I attended as a child taught me that God is love, and sang songs about letting your light shine. Now they have a "Special Announcement" at the top of their web page saying, "Help Protect Marriage!" I suppose it's possible that they're right that two people of the same gender wanting to stand up at the front of a church and swear to love, honor and cherish one another is an affront to God. But for me to believe that, I'd have to forget most of what they taught me about God, and everything I know about love.
Great DIY idea for photographers: Build your own bottlecap tripod.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

How Not to Talk is a great list of conversational gambits that shut down the flow of actual information, hurt feelings, and just generally fuck everything up. From now on, whenever I'm talking politics with someone and they disagree with me, I'm just going to say, "You weren't breastfed, were you?"
So have you heard about the problems Iowa's having with terrorism?
Red vs. Blue? What about Purple? The next time you hear something about how divided we are as a nation, take a look at this map, which colors the states according to the percentages which went for Bush or Gore, rather than the winner-takes-all approach most of the red/blue studies opt for.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Fast Company's profile of John Mackey, founder and president of Whole Foods is worth reading if you're interested in how to succeed in business while nurturing your soul.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Assuming you own the home you live in (as opposed to renting) and are in a relationship, it is inevitable that one of you will at some point say, "I wonder what's behind that wall?"

Sure, you could run. You could hide the sledge hammer, turn on the TV, go to a movie, or any of a dozen-odd options that won't cost you a hundred bucks or so in lumber, not to mention lost sleep, sore muscles, minor injuries, and a fine sheen of plaster dust throughout the house.

But where's the adventure in that?

Friday, July 16, 2004

Laws Concerning Food and Drink for the new father, and those who've been at it for a while. For example:

"For we judge between the plate that is unclean and the plate that is clean, saying first, if the plate is clean, then you shall have dessert. But of the unclean plate, the laws are these: If you have eaten most of your meat, and two bites of your peas with each bite consisting of not less than three peas each, or in total six peas, eaten where I can see, and you have also eaten enough of your potatoes to fill two forks, both forkfuls eaten where I can see, then you shall have dessert."

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Courtesy of Rebecca's Pocket, here are a few links worth your time:

Hilarious story on scamming an email scammer.

The reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone is have cascading positive effects.

Harlem finishing school teaches life skills as well as social ones.

A 'green' apartment building in Brooklyn isn't just environmentally friendly, it's cheaper to build and maintain.

And finally, reading is down. Sort of. I'm of two minds here. Let's start with this sentence: "As websites and talk radio proliferate, reading is no longer the only way, or even the primary one, of getting information." First of all, how are they getting the info from web pages if they're not reading it? And secondly, isn't this study about literature? How is reading for information related? Those objections aside, though, the writer does a good job of balancing the story, so click away.

Rebecca's got some thoughts on the study as well, mostly revolving around the fact that, as a web tech, she spends her entire day reading, which leaves her less inclined to do so when she gets home.

On a related note, since I came down with a migraine on the way home from Michigan, Christie thought maybe a book on tape was a good idea to keep her occupied while she drove. Here's what the gas station clerks in Joliet had to say on the matter:

Clerk 1: A what? A bookstore? Around here? Nah, we don't have anything like that around here.

Clerk 2: You might try over by Wal-Mart.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Things that make me smile #236: I look down at my plate and notice that the pickle, which had two pointy ends when the waitress set it in front of me, now has one pointy end and one crescent-shaped one. I look pointedly at Christie, then down at my plate. With all the credibility she can scrape together, she says, "It was an accident. I was walking, and I tripped, and my mouth landed on your pickle," and the corners of her mouth are twitchy, but she holds her eyes wide, daring me to laugh.
Jorge Layne Borges. Will anyone care now that the curtain is down? Does a fictional character have a right to self-expression? And will the writing stay good now that the author's out of the closet?
Quote of the week, from Christie: "It's pronounced patronizing."

Runner up, with distinction, from some guy on the streets of Ann Arbor, the most liberal city in Michigan, when asked to sign a petition to get Nader on the ballot: "No way in hell!"

This was an odd vacation. First of all, instead of going straight to the cottage on the lake, we first spent two days in Ann Arbor, visiting Christie's grandparents, who won't be able to make it to the wedding. I was reminded again and again of Christie's very wise words on my (occasionally contentious) relationship with my mother, "Of course she can still push your buttons! She installed them." 'Nuff said.

Second of all, we didn't bring the camera, and were mostly inactive, instead of the usual array of daytrips, long walks, etc. Some of it was the weather, which was cool, gray, and rainy, but I think mostly it was about temperament. Last year was Christie's first at the lake, and there was so much to show and do, and for the previous two years there was so much not to think about that keeping busy was a survival issue. This time around, I wasn't freaking out, wasn't stressed, and didn't have anything I particularly wanted to do except spend time with my second family and read a few good books.

Speaking of which, I heartily recommend Michael Chabon's Summerland and Arturo Perez Reverte's The Nautical Chart.

On the way up, we spotted a billboard for a Crate and Barrel outlet store in Michigan City, IN, and resolved to check it out. There turned out to be a massive outlet mall there, that would have been well worth the side trip if Christie wasn't feeling a summer cold looming and I didn't have a migraine. No, actually, it was still worth the side trip, as we got a massive butcher's block at Crate and Barrel, and this (though even cheaper than Amazon's clearance price!). Christie and I both love to make soups and stews, but have to choose between a crappy old stock pot that just doesn't do the job or an antique cast iron dutch oven that my dad gave me a few years back. The dutch oven's great, don't get me wrong! Cast iron is, in fact, my favorite surface to cook on. But it's reactive with a lot of foods, which can effect the food and the pan both. And I've been wanting to have some Le Creuset in the kitchen pretty much since I started cooking. It's impractical as hell, I'll admit, but so what?

Now I just need to find someplace to put it.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Via Eschaton, here's a nice bit about the felons "purge list" in Florida. The Repubs have decided not to use it after it turns out they left Hispanic felons off the list (Hispanic's in Florida vote overwhelmingly Republican. It was, of course, purely accidental.

Jeesh, these people can't even cheat well.

Oh, and I'm back from vacation. Michigan was wonderful as always, but you know I missed you all terribly. Well, not all of you, as approximately half of my audience was up there with me. But the rest of you, like, totally!

Thursday, July 01, 2004

A private company wanted to test 100% of their cows for mad cow disease, partly due to US demand, but mostly so that they could export to Japan and other markets that are refusing to take our beef until it's more rigorously tested. The USDA won't let them. Why isn't this front page news?
If you're looking for ways to punch up your writing, you could do a lot worse than these Fifty Writing Tools from Roy Peter Clark.
Forget Atkins, the latest craze is the Da Vinci diet! Sure, it's more than a little silly, but it's mostly mediterranean foods and is based around my favorite number.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

I've read that visualization can be a real help in fighting cancer, particularly if you're very specific in visualizing your immune system fighting it off. That's one reason why I think it's such a good idea to create a video game around fighting cancer. The fact that it was designed by a kid with leukemia is just icing on the cake.
My horoscope this week starts with "The astrological omens are telling me you need a vacation from media babble." How fortunate, then, that I'm leaving Saturday morning for my annual media fast in Michigan. This year will be a little different in that we'll be shoehorning in a visit to Christie's grandparents in Ann Arbor, but I still plan to avoid electronic media as much as possible.

Except Spider-man, of course. I mean, let's be reasonable.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Wil Wheaton put up a link to gmail4troops, which is set up to facilitate donations of gmail invites to our troops overseas. The good news is that it looks like they have more haves than needs. The bad news is that I've got a handful of gmail invites burning a hole in my pocket. I've been using it for a couple of months now and like it a lot, so if you're interested, drop me an email, and I'll invite you.

Priority, as always, will be given to people I know in real life, but anybody's eligible.
Oh, and I have a new hero.
Kevin Drum's posted his take on Fahrenheit 911, and it's the typical "I'm a liberal who doesn't really like Michael Moore" sort of review. He specifically compares its "slanders and cheap shots" to those of the pro-war crowd, saying "He never flat out says that the Bush family is on the Saudi payroll. Rather, he simply includes '9/11,' 'Bush,' and 'Saudi Arabia' in as many sentences as possible, thus leaving the distinct impression that George Bush is a bought and paid for subsidiary of the Saudi royal family."

Um, okay. Except Moore's "insinuations" are filled to overflowing with facts, not one of which I've actually heard refuted. And I must have seen a slightly different edit from the one Kevin saw, because the argument I saw presented on screen on Saturday was that the Bush family's long-standing personal and financial friendship with the Bin Ladens and the Saudi royal family created a blind spot that got in the way of Bush doing his job properly.

And then there's Afghanistan. Many reviewers have characterized Moore's 'argument' like this: "The invasion of Afghanistan was a sham, and we didn't send enough troops!" Sort of like the classic restaurant review, "the food was no good, and the portions too small!" Some have also brought up Moore's objections at the time to our invasion of Afghanistan, or, more accurately, to the way in which we invaded Afghanistan.

There's a difference, you see, between agreeing on a goal, and agreeing on the means. I've got a great-uncle out in Santa Cruz, for example, who's something of a family legend for having invented the most effective gopher trap ever. I'm probably violating some sort of secret family compact by telling you this, but the secret ingredient is a blasting cap. Trust me, it's very effective, and the damage it does to your yard is minimal, geologically speaking. It is a little hard on your sleep schedule, though. And the water main. But it's very effective, and you want the gophers out, right?

Moore's complaint regarding Afghanistan is that we used so few ground troops that the people we were after got away, set up a puppet government certain to be sympathetic to business interests friendly to Bush, et al, then moved on to going after Iraq without doing enough to protect against Afghanistan dropping back into the chaos that allowed Al Qaeda to find shelter there. That strikes me more as a listing of facts than a structured argument, and it's a pretty damning set of facts.

The negative reviews I've read of F911 fall into two camps. They either say Michael Moore Hates America! And You! or they bemoan the sorrow of having such an intellectually dishonest person on their side, and why don't his arguments make sense?

You can't even talk to the first group, but it's sure fun to watch them sputter while their heads turn red. As for the second, his arguments don't make sense because he's not making arguments, he's telling a story. That's generally what documentaries do.

Here's the story he's telling: an incompetent, corrupt son of priviledge finagles his way into the White House, where he glided through life screwing things up but doing relatively little actual damage, until terrorists attack New York. If he'd been paying attention, he might have seen it coming, and possibly even taken steps to prevent it, but we wasn't. Ironically, though, the attacks give him political power like he's never tasted before, as the American people rally behind their leader. Logic and political realities dictate that he go after the people who attacked us, but that's not exactly in our hero's best interest, since his personal wealth was largely created by and is dependent on the same people who support the terrorist who attacked us. So he leads us instead into Iraq, where things go terribly wrong.

There's another, parallel story being told, of an Everywoman who loves America and supports our president, but comes to realize after her son is killed in Iraq that she's been conned, as have the rest of us. It's a much simpler story, and definitely more emotionally powerful than the first, but it would lose its power without the first to give it context, just as the Bush story would, on its own, lack real-world impact. The two stories need one another.

So it's fair to ask if the stories hold together, and if they fit the facts. Unfortunately for Bush, they do - much better than the assortment of stories we hear from the mainstream media these past few years.

Does that mean I think it's the literal truth? No. I think the truth is probably less interesting. Incompetence is a thousand times more common than corruption. But we live in a country where more than half of the populace think Bush is doing a bad job, while the media continues to ignore basic facts of his biography and job performance while broadcasting out and out falsehoods put out by his supporters. No wonder Moore's getting standing ovations across the country.
Two great stories are featured in The Anomalist this week. The first points to evidence of toolmakers in North America at least 16,000 years ago, well before current scientific theory says there should be. The second revisits a story they covered last week about an unusual rock found just north of Abilene, TX. Apparently it' oddly shaped rock. Here's my favorite bit: '''Why is it so heavy?' Oliver asked. Ouimette said, 'Because it's a rock.'"

Friday, June 25, 2004

Apparently she was fake. I knew it all along.
What happens when a gear-head becomes a dad. It's a nice little article, but what about those of us who are both gear-heads and geeks? Oh well. Any taxonomy is going to have gaps. And it was worth it just to see this. Who knew you could get a crib that padlocks shut?

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

I've been arguing about language with Billie in a comments thread, though it started in real life. As is so often the case, it started with Alanis Morrissette. Now I have nothing against the woman, but that damn song of hers is full of things that are not ironic except in the loosest sense of the word. Billie, chivalrous soul that he is, leapt to her defense, citing the sixth definition found in my massive unabridged dictionary, since the cable modem was out at the time, which included "surprising or unexpected." Later when he went home and we took the argument online, he cited's fifth definition "an outcome of events contrary to what was, or might have been, expected", and the sixth, "the incongruity of this."

I won't try to sum the whole thing up. It's here if you really care. Suffice it to say that we very quickly found ourselves in a deep structure conflict, where the conflict was ultimately in our assumptions as much as in our conclusions. For instance, we have very different attitudes about the dictionary. It'd be a sidetrip on a dangerous road to give voice to how Billie views the dictionary, but I'm finding it very interesting to try and articulate my own, so that's what I'll stick to.

Language is a river through diverse landscapes, not even as simple a thing as a lake, but dictionaries do their best to treat it like a swimming pool, all smooth edges and clear water. At their best, they're a snapshot of the way the language is used at a given moment in history, and as such are very useful. At their worst, they're an attempt to nail fire to a log, and just about as safe.

When we speak or write, we conjure words from behind some curtain in a process that no one really understands. For the many thousands of years in which dictionaries did not exist, this was a fuzzy, haphazard process, and the meaning of words depended entirely on how they were used. Saelig is an Anglo-Saxon word meaning, variously, "blessed", "holy", or "sacred". We don't know this because we found an Anglo-Saxon dictionary, we know this because it's used to describe saints, churches, and other places we intuit to have been holy to the people using the word. The same word in modern English, "silly", has a slightly different meaning.

Sometimes when we're dealing with dead languages, there's hardly any context at all. For instance, at one point in Beowulf, Grendel is described as ____ing across the swamp toward the great hall. What is ____? Damned if I know, but it shows up one other time in the Anglo-Saxon literature that survives, describing a group of clouds moving quickly across the horizon in the evening. Clear? Not particularly. But evocative as hell.

Language is a tool for messing with other people's heads, and words are tiny evocative units, used to conjure pictures, tug at the heartstrings, bring anger to the surface, or whatever we need them to do. They derive the power to do this from the ways in which we hear them used throughout our lives. "Fuck!" has a lot more emotional weight to my parents than to me because they've heard it almost exclusively in highly emotional circumstances, while I hear it just about every fucking day. "Bloody" sounds pretentious to me because I only heard it on PBS when I was a kid, but to a Brit, I've been told, it sounds course. Very different emotional loads.

Gone are the days when dictionaries stood as prescriptive edifices telling us the correct way to use our language. Editors today recognize that the ultimate arbiters of a language are its users, not themselves. That's how we get words like orientate. A good dictionary will, if space allows, address these sorts of issues, such as in the American Heritage's usage note for "utilize", which points out that, while "many occurrences of utilize could be replaced by use with no loss to anything but pretentiousness", there is a legitimate and very specific meaning which would be lost if we completely purge it from our vocabulary. But that's not the point, really.

The point is that a dictionary is really just a tool for finding out how language is used by its community. If we're curious about how to use a word, the dictionary tells us what everybody else is doing. But not every use is created equal. To go back to "ironic", it's true that a lot of people use it so casually anymore that it might as well be a synonym for "surprising". Of course, a lot of people say "literally" when they mean exactly the opposite.

So, yes, when Alanis says that a black fly in her chardonnay is ironic, it might be considered surprising (if you've never found a black fly in white wine before, and are an incurable optimist). It might even be considered inappropriate, though I can't really imagine why, since fruit flies feed on yeast, and are therefore attracted to the smell of fermenting fruit. So if ironic means unexpected and incongruous, and incongruous means inappropriate, and you've limited your worldview to only include the best possible outcome, therefore ignoring the existence of flies that might land in your wine, then calling that outcome "ironic" could technically be considered correct.

But you'd be modeling your language use on the sloppy end of the scale, and why do that if you know better?
Future voters against Bush - A group of 13 year-old girls advocating against Bush. I'll be downtown during the Twilight Festival tomorrow night; I'll keep my eyes open and see if I can get one of those "President Bush went to the White House and all I got was $20,000 in debt" t-shirts.
I finally got around to taking down the link to Plain Layne. She took her site down weeks ago, spurring a tempest in a teapot, the result of which was a bunch of people deciding that she was a fake and her blog a fiction. As I've said, I think she's probably real, though her name might not be Layne Johnson, and she probably fictionalized at least part of her life (who doesn't). Why? Mostly it's a gut thing, but really it comes down to a lack of convincing evidence either way.

Here's my problem: Some of the folks who read her blog are completely convinced that it was fiction, and they've hit the various archives available to the Internet community and created a nearly complete archive of the site. Now, one of two things is possible here; either she's real, or she's not.

If they're right, and the site's fiction, then they're appropriating the work of a living author and republishing it without her permission and more than likely against her will. That's a bad thing to do.

If they're wrong (which they don't seem to be considering even as a possibility), then she took her blog down for a reason, and they may well do serious harm by reposting it. Just to pull some possible examples, her last few entries talked about romantic relationships on the verge, professional opportunities, and her parents moving to town and becoming more a part of her day to day life. Any or all of these could motivate her to want to be a little less visible on Google. And then there are the psychological issues that can come from living too public a life. Her every decision was weighed and commented on daily by a raucous peanut gallery. It's easy to see why somebody would want to escape that, but I can't see how it'd be helped by having strangers write bad "fanfic" about her life.

As for the good that comes from reposting the site, I can only think of one: entertainment.

So how selfish do you have to be to think that your own entertainment is worth possibly screwing up somebody's life?

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Dr. William Hatcher, Platonist, puts forth a new argument for the existence of God. Here are his premises, listed without the steps taken to get to them:

1. Something exists. Even an illusion is something, so this is clearly true.

2. Everything that exists has a cause (this is not the same as a purpose).

Intermission: In order to be God, an entity must exist, must be unique, must be self-caused, and must be the ultimate cause of everything else. Please note that no particular attributes beyond this are given.

3. All somethings (with the possible exception of sub-atomic particles) are made up of other somethings.

4. Something cannot be the cause of its own parts. i.e. If A is a part of B, then B cannot have caused A because B is not B without A.

Conclusion: The universe, being a composite, cannot be the cause of its own parts, and cannot be self-caused. Therefore there must be something outside of the universe that caused it.

Fucking Platonists. They really need to read more physics. First of all, if sub-atomic particles are not composites, then the whole thing falls apart, since they may, in fact, be self-causing. Secondly, what's the deal with premise 4? My blood is a part of my body, but it is also caused by my body, and if I lose some of it (which happens whenever I work with tools, it seems), I may be diminished, but I am still me. In fact, I'm constantly shedding pieces and taking up new ones, as is everything other composite in our Heraclitean universe. And even if his argument held together, he's still only proven that the universe depends on a logical cause that stands outside of it. This is not news to anybody with even a moderate familiarity with cosmological physics.

Still, a nice try and a fun diversion for a few minutes.

In a similar vein, here are 38 dirty debate tricks and how to argue against them. (Thank Rebecca for the links.)

Monday, June 21, 2004

Quote of the Week
Christie: A black fly in your chardonnay is not ironic. Now, if it were a bottlefly...
Defective Yeti's got a new, chuckle-provoking article up on The Morning News:The LiveJournal of Zachary Marsh.

Friday, June 18, 2004

McSweeney's has a number of Open Letters to People or Entities Who Are Unlikely to Respond. Each one I've read has had its own particular charm, but I particularly liked An Open Letter To The Strange Red Bugs With Many Legs Living In My Basement, Which Is Where My Roommates And I Sleep.
This Craigslist entry entitled "I almost won a Darwin Award" brings a chuckle or two, even though when I saw the link on Kottke, I wondered if I'd taken the time to write up the white gas incident from my last camping trip with Billie and Emily, and then forgotten about it. But no, this is nothing so mundane. After all, any yahoo can burn his eyebrows off trying to start a campfire, but it takes a special kind of genius to run yourself over with your own car. Christie, please take note of this, and remember that I've never done anything even close to this. Not that I can think of, anyway.

House Update: When I came home last night, there was a steady stream of water coming out of the iron cover on the water meter that's buried in the front yard. Turned out to be a broken gasket on the city's side of the water meter, so not only did the city fix it for free, but since the leak was on the other side of the meter, my water bill's not going to go up. Still, I'm looking forward to Christie coming home so that things'll stop breaking.
My dad's a bit of a storyteller, and one of the recurrent characters in the stories he'd tell my mom in the early years of their marriage was a guy he grew up with named Soapy Gommerginger. The only one of the stories I can even vaguely remember now revolved around the fact that Soapy lived in a house on stilts down by the river, but the impression I get from my mom is that they were all similarly implausible. La Cygne's not a big town, so they don't have high school reunions, exactly. But they'd have a big get-together every year where whoever wants to show up, shows up, regardless of when you graduated. It's held at the high school, so there was never any booze, unless you wanted to count the coolers of beer everybody had in their cars. Naturally, then, the real party was out in the parking lot, and that's where my parents were, young and fancy-free, having dropped my older brother with my grandparents for the evening.

"I'm standing there talking to your Aunt Joyce," my mom says, "When your dad, who's standing next to some car, get's all excited and starts motioning me over. 'Dotty, I'd like you to meet somebody,' he says. 'Dotty, Soapy Gommerdinger.'"

At this point in the story, my mom would pantomime her younger self shaking hands with the air, and incredulously say, "I never believed in you."

I, on the other hand, grew up steeped in "I'm not making it up, I'm making it good", so I like to think I'm a little better at telling fact from fiction. And if I ever meet Layne Johnson of Minnesota, I'll have no problem saying, "I knew you were real." Not everybody agrees with me, of course, but it takes all kinds of folks to run a railroad.

In a fascinating development, over at Plain Layne, the inmates have taken over the asylum. Should be an interesting experiment.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

So, how's your week been? Mine? Well, let's see...

Monday night I dropped Christie off at my parents' house in Kansas City so she could catch an early morning flight, had dinner and a little facetime with the folks, then headed home about 10:00, putting me in bed by not too long after midnight. No stress, I can just go to bed early tomorrow night, I thought.

Tuesday night, the cable goes out, as does the cable modem. Fine. It happens. I mean, sure, it sucks when the girlfriend leaves town, then the porn pipeline shuts down, but I've got a Tivo full of shows to watch, laundry to do, books to read, and boxes full of stuff to be put away in the kitchen. Besides, the cable generally fixes itself in a matter of minutes. After a couple of hours, though, it's still out, so I decide to check all the connections, then call the cable company. Everything looks fine inside the house, so I check the box outside. The first thing I notice is that it's warm. And when I open it up, there are sparks coming from the ground wire connection, and I can see that the insulation around the cable where it comes into the filters is starting to melt! Nice.

While I'm on hold with Mediacom, I call the city (which provides my electricity). I know cable isn't supposed to carry any current, just data, so maybe something got crossed up on the pole? The promise to send somebody right out. Meanwhile, I disconnect the cable in the house so I don't do anymore damage to my equipment than might have already happened, and tighten the almost completely loose ground wire on the cable box so that the current will have somewhere to go.

I finally get through to Mediacom, and the guy on the other line makes notes on my problem and agrees that it sounds very, very serious. However, as I found out when I called them today to find out what they were doing to solve my problem, he apparently forgot to press the "do something" button or whatever the hell it is you're supposed to do that makes men with trucks come to your house and fix things. But I didn't know that at the time, and get off the phone feeling like something's being done.

About this time, the guys from the city show up. They can tell right away that it's not their problem, but they stick around anyway, checking the voltage from various things to ground, opening up my main breaker box, checking the meter and just generally poking and prodding until they're pretty sure it's a problem with the cable and nothing with the house, but I might want to call an electrician, just to be sure. In the words of one of them, "You got me, chief. It's a head-scratcher, alright."

Before they leave, they uncouple the house from the wire coming off the pole, so I no longer have firehazard screwed onto the side of my house. Nice guys. I go to bed not too long after midnight, thinking as I plummet into sleep that I need to get a surge protector for the entertainment center that covers the coax as well as the plugs.

Wednesday: There's no point in surge protection if you're dealing with an ungrounded outlet, and that's an ungrounded outlet. So I spend my lunch hour buying 50 ft. of 14 gauge wire, fish tape, outlet boxes, wire staples, and, of course, a surge protector. Oh, and Rolos.

It's getting hot outside, and the AC's been sucking wind lately, so I call Reed Heating and Air Conditioning. They think maybe they can get somebody to come out the next day. Great, I say. About 4:30, I get a call. Can I be home in ten minutes? Turns out somebody got done early with another job, and he can come by right away. Really great, I say. So I'm doing wiring while he's hunting down a freon leak. Being a professional (and having a task that's a little more limited in scope), he's done well before I am. But I am, once again, in bed not too long after midnight.

What did I learn? Well, my belief that nothing ever goes as plan was once again confirmed. And I've expanded my belief that somebody's drunk brother-in-law wired my house has been expanded to somebody's drunk, insane brother-in-law wired my house. That impressive looking fifty year old fuse box at the bottom of my stairs? It turned out to control a single light switch that, in turn, controlled a single 40 watt light bulb. I'm keeping it, though, to be used for some sort of mad-scientist project down the road.

And then there's my totally irrational belief that blood must be shed before the home-improvement gods will allow any significant work to continue. In addition to the usual ephemeral scratches, this time I got a nice puncture wound right between my fingers from (wait for it) a rusty nail. So not only does it hurt in that deep, I-think-I-cut-into-muscle kind of way, but I get to go in for a tetanus booster. Whee!

Oh, and the cable is still out, but they say they'll be able to come fix it on Monday. Monday! Jeez. Mediacom could definitely take a lesson from the air conditioning guy.

In other news, Hoffmania is back from vacation with some truly funny Florida stories.