Friday, December 29, 2006

I was about due for an allergy shot when I mangled my finger, and didn't quite make it over there until last week. They told me then that because I'd gone so long, I was very nearly starting over with allergy shots. Which explains why my sinuses are killing me right now. So why am I smiling through the headache?

Because on the way to work today, Christie and I noticed that Wal-Mart had only one of its three automotive bays open. The ones labelled "Tires" were all closed, with chains across them, but the one labelled "Lube" was open. Now, I know the way you think, and I'm sure you're thinking I made some sort of stupid, off-color pun. I didn't. Christie suggested that maybe the tire guys didn't get there until nine, and I suggested it might be an inventory thing. "Maybe they don't have enough tires to do a whole car," I said, "Maybe they're just two-tired..."

See, not off-color at all.

And so I'm smiling, partly because I have a sweet-tooth for dumb puns, but mostly because Christie didn't pull the car over right then and make me walk the rest of the way to work.
I don't need it, or even, really, want it, but I'm glad someone's finally making a computer-driven carving machine for home woodworkers and small shops. My Uncle Jiggs probably has one already.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

From a purely acquisitive perspective, this was a pretty good Christmas. The gift theme seemed to be "workshop safety", which might seem a bit obvious, but it's what's been foremost on my mind lately for obvious reasons, and it's a much better theme than "let's find Mike a hobby that doesn't involve power tools". And I got an ice cream machine. I'm still trying to decide if I'm more excited by the ice cream machine or the new router and router table. I think it's a tie.

But the best part of Christmas is all the stuff I hated as a kid, the family time and food and laughter and such. We had thirteen for dinner on Christmas day, and it was not bad luck at all; it was a joy. Christie's folks have been with us a week now, and that's been a joy, too.

Of course, it's a season of expectations, and emotions run close to the surface this time of year, so there have been one or two little tiffs, but I can't imagine a group this size (there are eight of us, and we've been spending the better part of every day together) where that didn't happen. I expect the house will seem pretty quiet next week. Maybe I'll make some ice cream. That makes everybody feel better.
Make a Rubik's cube out of red dice with magnets.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The following is a real post on the Columbia craigslist:

Carpentry, plumbing, Heat or Air conditioning for companionship

I am able to do all of the above in exchange for some personal time with a female.


Huh. Where I come from, there's a name for that sort of thing: Marriage.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

I just noticed that AdSense has been putting up lots of ads about nail fungus lately, which is gross, but roughly 5% less likely to be a problem for me now.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Last night I had one of those really involved, cinematic, plot-based dreams. This one was a Jaws sequel, and featured Theron's dad as a salty old sailor, a thickly accented Belgian assassin who dressed like an art student, and a trained manatee that had been given plastic surgery to look like a shark.

My subconsious is such a hack.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Because I'm not typing as fast (or as well) as I once did, it's not as easy for me to dash off a post, hence the semi-silence here of late. But I figure I owe you guys an update on the finger situation. So here it is:

The doctor's optimistic about it. He likes the way it's healing and thinks I should be able to keep the tip. He's curious about possible damage to the bone, so when I go in for my checkup next week, the first thing I'm doing is getting an x-ray. If the bone is seriously damaged, it might get infected or die, in which case I will lose the tip, hence the concern. He is not, however, terribly optimistic about the nail. All of the nail is gone, as is most of the nail matrix, so if it grows back, it'll only be a partial nail. One option is to transplant one of my toenails up to my hand, but he wants to wait and see how my finger heals before we get into that. Basically, the idea is to deal with one problem at a time, which I applaud.

The pain is better, which leads me to think I can do more, which means I end up bumping it, which makes it hurt more. Even when I don't bump my finger against something (which believe me, hurts like a sonofabitch), just keeping it below the level of my heart for a while makes it start to throb. So I'm spending less time sitting on the couch with my hand in the air, but I'm managing to remind myself regularly that I'm not actually healed, yet.

I am itching to get back into the workshop. Part of my motivation is the whole bunch of projects I've been thinking about. Part of it is the new toys I plan to get so I can keep indulging my passion for wood without risking another injury. But there's one more reason, one I haven't really told anyone. So keep this just between us, okay?

I'm scared. Shredding your finger with a dado blade hurts. A lot. And it still hurts, almost three weeks later. When I think about the accident, read about tablesaw projects, or think about a whole range of topics related to the thing that almost cost me a finger, my stomach drops, my heart races, and my skin gets cold. I can't wait to get back into the workshop so I can stare down that fear and get back to doing something I love. Safely, of course.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Christmas Spirit in the Young
I can't have been much more than four or five, and getting ready for Christmas meant making that big honking list. As I figured, there were rules to such things. A list needed to be fairly long to give your parents, um, I mean Santa Claus, a nice selection, with a good price diversity. Order's important, too. I had figured out that you were pretty much guaranteed to get the first item on your list as long as it wasn't too expensive, and didn't involve serious ongoing maintenance, like a little brother or a pony.

I designed an experiment of sorts. This was my thought process:

Everybody knows that Santa makes his own toys. So if Santa's real, and I ask for something you can't find in stores, but that a talented toymaker could easily make, I should get it. If he isn't, I wouldn't.

This was the early seventies, when the stuffed animal universe was pretty limited. Bears, bunnies, that sort of thing. Definitely not gorillas, so that was what went at the top of my list.

Christmas morning came, while I don't specifically remember, I'd imagine my parents were a bit confused at my total lack of dismay when there was no gorilla. I was too busy basking in the glory of proving my very first hypothesis. Then my mother asked my dad, "What's that box?", pointing into the corner. Dad asked me to fetch it, and there was no missing the thatch of black hair and reflective, plastic gorilla eyes looking up at me from inside the box.

I experienced, for just a moment, a flicker of doubt.

Addendum: In my twenties, I told this story to a girlfriend in the presence of my parents, and my mother kind of freaked out. Laughing, she said, "What? Your dad and I spent hours trying to figure out why you wanted a stuffed gorilla, and never could. But I drove all over town trying to find that damn thing. I ended up at a carnival supply store down by the river!"

Finally, vindication!
I can't wait until Mara's old enough for an Avenging Unicorn Play Set!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Well, it's two weeks till Christmas, which means the in-laws are coming any day now. Christie's folks aren't big TV watchers, but they're from hurricane country, so her Mom gets a little twitchy when she can't watch the Weather Channel. Unfortunately, I've got a home theater set up I'm pretty proud of, which means I'm about the only one who can use it. Well, and Christie.

So I went out and picked up a Logitech Harmony 670 Universal Remote. So far, it's been great. All the other remotes have gone into the closet, since the new remote covers everything the old ones did, and much more easily. The real test, of course, will be when Mary gets here. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Our local paper's video game columnist is upset about the Nintendo Wii because non-experts can beat him at it. And because his mom thinks it's so much fun that she's buying one. The picture is a classic.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

"'Keeping us up here eats away at families,' said Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), who typically flies home on Thursdays and returns to Washington on Tuesdays. 'Marriages suffer. The Democrats could care less about families -- that's what this says.'" - Culture Shock on Capitol Hill: House to Work 5 Days a Week.

No comment needed, I think.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

For that hard to shop for do-it-yourselfer on your Christmas list: IBM 7535 SCARA industrial robot. I'm thinking about picking one up for myself.

Monday, December 04, 2006

This would be a good fabric choice for work gloves, too, if they can get it thin enough.

Update: They are using them in gloves, actually. Right now, it's all sporting goods, but they're working with firemen and such, too.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

I woke up about 4:30 this morning with a pounding head and got to do some early morning research on drug interactions to see if I could safely take migraine meds with the pain pills they gave me for my hand. That's an unequivocal "no", but the pain pills dull my head as well as my hand, so it was a non-issue, really.

Now I'm feeling better and can tell that this morning was actually the tail end of a migraine that manifested itself primarily through crankiness, thanks to the wonders of modern chemistry. Kudos to me for figuring it out, but next time I'd like to figure it out during the migraine, not after.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

For some, Thanksgiving is defined by popcorn, toast, and Charlie Brown. In my family, it's always been the WKRP Thanksgiving Turkey Drop.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Let's take a minute to talk about shop safety...

My mom likes to brag about the 2 a.m. phone call she got from me that opened "Hi, Mom. Everyone's okay." So I'll say that I'm fine, but I'm going to have one ugly finger. Depending on what the doctor decides, it might also end up being a bit shorter. I was rabbeting a small board, and it kicked up, twisting in the air, and kicked the first finger of my left hand into the dado blade.

I've been thinking aot about what I was doing and how I was doing it, and the simple fact is that using a tablesaw is somewhat inherently dangerous, but using the tablesaw to rabbet small pieces is especially so. That's a job for a router. When I get back on the horse, that's the plan. But that's a ways off, since no power tools on pain pills is safety rule one.

And really, I'm fine. Feeling a little stupid, and fairly heavily medicated, but I can count up a bunch of ways I was lucky. Just not on my fingers.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

More brilliant furniture: This time, it's a chair that converts to a table, using the same technology as a rolltop desk.

Meanwhile, I've been thinking lots of heavy thoughts about religion, largely, I think, because I've been running across a lot of religious books at work. And also because I got a new Flying Spaghetti Monster Gelaskin. Bertrand Russel used to compare a belief in God to a belief in a giant teapot the size of the Earth on the opposite side of the sun. Neither was provable or disprovable, but both were equally ridiculous.

That always bugged me, though, because no one ever quit drinking and cleaned up their life because of a giant teapot on the other side of the sun. Christianity as it currently exists marries Eastern compassion and introspection to Western individualism and drive to change things, combined with the Rabbinical tradition of scholarship and inquiry, and the impact on history was unmistakeable. And I can't escape the fact that my values have been shaped irretrievably by the church upbringing my parents gave me.

But it's not all a positive. Those values came with a boatload of guilt and judgement, mostly over stupid stuff. Kids raised in that environment are exposed to a heaping load of bigotry alongside the "judge not lest ye be judged", and the cognitive dissonance is bound to do some damage. And nobody ever burned down an abortion clinic or shot a doctor because the giant teapot told them to, and nobody ever drowned their kids in a bathtub because they believe the teapot's ancient adversary had possessed them.

And that's not even getting into politics, where the loudest voices proclaiming themselves Christian are the ones who want to turn our public schools into pulpits for their particular beliefs and enshrine those beliefs into law, all while dismantling our social safety net, looting the treasury, and lying us into a war of choice, all while shouting from the rooftops about their moral superiority. Nor have I mentioned the guy who brought all the wisdom his 22 years had given him to bear to the task of telling me why I was letting God down by getting a divorce, or the members of my liberal churche who brought a different flavor of guilt to bear on me for resisting my first wife's desire for a divorce.

All those negatives don't erase the positive feelings I have associated with church, but they do explain why I don't think I'll ever be comfortable setting foot in church again. There's just too much baggage and no benefit. It'd be one thing if I really, truly believed that what the Bible says is true. But I don't. I just think that it has been, to a certain degree, a socially useful message. That's just not compelling enough for me to put up with that knot in my gut. Or give up Pajama Sundays.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Christie and I were talking last night about why we're not interested in seeing Borat. For her, it comes down to the fact that Sacha Baron Cohen has, in essence, a giant pulpit from which to ridicule the people in his movie. After all, it's the number one movie in America. But the people he's making fun of have, for the most part, no pulpit, no power, no voice with which to defend themselves. It's bullying on a grand scale.

For me, yeah, there's that. But there's also the fact that he purports to be making fun of intolerance and stupidity in America, but the people he appears on film with are the ones open and tolerant enough to invite him into their homes or otherwise seek common ground with him. The intolerant ones are the ones who punch him repeatedly in the face until Dr. House can come to his rescue (man, to have been a fly on the wall for that altercation). As near as I can tell, the "humor" in this movie is based on Borat's pushing these people's tolerance to the absolute breaking point, well past what most of us would take. I just don't see the humor, I guess.

For both of us, though, the clincher is that comedy based on humiliation makes us cringe, not laugh, making this the cinematic equivalent of 90 minutes of fingernails on a chalkboard.

Maybe I'm just getting old (actually, I'm definitely getting old), but I can't remember how long its been since they made a movie I actually was excited about seeing.

Monday, November 13, 2006

TIME.com: Exclusive: Charges Sought Against Rumsfeld Over Prison Abuse

It's very odd to think that an American general might be appearing before a German court, using the "I was just following orders" defense.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

I'm bummed about all the gay marriage bans that passed across the country, but not exactly suprised. The gay marriage conversation only started a few years ago, and it takes people a while to get used to an idea like that. Christie was the first person I heard suggest that the government ought to get out of the marriage business altogether, and just do civil unions for everyone, regardless of gender. Now, though, I'm hearing that call from a number of people. As one pundit put it, "I keep hearing about the sanctity of marriage. Since when is it the business of government to sanctify things?"

On the bright side, I think every single minimum wage increase passed. That's a strong sign that people across this country are not happy to see the economic growth going exclusively to the Paris Hilton crowd.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

BBC News: "A genuine moustache has been proven to contribute to a significant Guinness wastage, as a result of inter-fibre retention at every sip," the company said in a statement.
Totally Anecdotal
There was one electronic voting machine in our polling place this morning, and a half dozen places to sit and fill out paper ballots. People were standing in line, waiting for a chance to sit down, but not one person chose to save time and use the computer. This in a state that requires electronic voting machines to have a paper trail. What's interesting to me is that lots of people chose to use the computer during the primaries. So in my neighborhood at least, people seem to trust electronic voting only enough to use it for relatively unimportant races. Of course, by the same anecdotal standards, all but one of the voters in my neighborhood have names starting with L-Z, so skepticism is certainly warranted.

I've still got this crappy cold, but I'm riding a nice election-day buzz. Voting was easy and straightforward, the lines weren't bad at all (it's depressing when there's no line at all), and just for spite, I voted to recall Stephen Limbaugh from the Supreme Court partly for being the lone dissenting vote in favor of requiring photo IDs for all voters, and partly for being Rush Limbaugh's cousin. I don't know that any state Supreme Court justice has ever lost one of these "shall _____ be retained in office?" votes, but I just couldn't bring myself to put a Yes next to a Limbaugh. Funny, though, how I'll have no problem voting Jay Nixon for governor in a few years.

Tonight will be crazy news watching, and then I think I'll be giving up on politics for a while. Unless the Dems take Congress and the Repubs do something crazy with their lame duck months, like invade Iran or scuttle Social Security.

My favorite part of voting, though, was the pile of political signs at the curb of the polling place. We vote at the Free Will Baptist Church, and this whole season, their yard has been littered with signs on this issue or that. Today was both election day and trash day, though, so they threw out all the signs. Originally, I was grooving on the symbolism of a church stripping itself of politics in order to do its civic duty. Now, though, I kind of enjoying the coincidence of Election Day also being Trash Day.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Talking Points Memo has the details, but here's the gist: If you get a recorded phone call purporting to be from a Democrat, or offering "more information about" the Democratic candidate, the odds are good that it's coming from the Republican National Committee. They've admitted to running these robocalls to swing voters all over the country, and the really fun part is that they call during dinner time or late at night, and if you hang up on them, they're programmed to call you back many, many times.

Basically, the NRCC is harassing swing voters in the name of their Democratic opponents, hoping to swing their votes. Charming. In some cases, the Republican candidate has asked them to stop, and the NRCC has refused.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Haggard
What is it with the Republican Party and dirty little secrets? There's Foley, now Haggard, and, well, all the other folks who've gotten caught with their pants down.

One could certainly argue that people with an unhealthy relationship with their own sexuality tend to be drawn to moralistic crusades, but I actually think it's simpler than that. If you're going to move up in the world of politics, you're going to need a hand up from the existing power structure. We left-wingers have always wondered at the party unity and discipline displayed by the right. Maybe part of why they have so much party unity is that they tend to promote people with secrets to hide, who can therefore be controlled.

Just a theory, of course.

Friday, November 03, 2006

US Presidential Speeches Tag Clouds - Drag the slider at the top to move through time. Wicked awesome.
In the category of "Too Stupid to Be Believed", the Gang that Couldn't Shoot Straight is trying to prove they had good reason to invade Iraq, so they put all the intelligence documents on the web, so we can all look at them. They included detailed instructions, in Arabic, on constructing an atomic weapon.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

WikiWalki only has two trails listed in Missouri, both of them in St. Louis. And there are none in Arkansas right now. Sounds to me like a job for Billie.
I've gotta tell somebody, so I'm telling you: Our neighbor stopped by with his 3-year-old to Trick or Treat, and the kid was the cutest Darth Vader ever. His dad asked him what Darth Vader liked to say and he said:

"Come to the dawk side!"

He's apparently also partial to "Wuke, I am your fadder!"
From the Poynter Institute, via Billia, 50 Tools to Stengthen your Writing Skills.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Monday, October 30, 2006

USA Today story on 'Partial-birth Abortion' - The focus is largely on a woman who would not have been able to have her most recent child if the ban had been passed earlier, since it outlawed the safest procedure in order to score political points.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Christie and I started our Halloween prep this weekend. It's nothing major, just some a string of pumpkin lights and some creepy eyes in the window. Pictures here.

I'm also putting some of my older pictures up on Flickr. I started with some old pics from Japan, since the originals aren't online anymore. They're here.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Once upon a time, I was talking with my mom while my dad was out of town on business. It was obvious that she missed him a lot, so I asked if he'd ever thought about travelling less. At the time, he was spending almost a quarter of his time out of town. She said no, that he really loved the travelling, and besides, that it was good for the two of them to find time to miss each other.

That's just my way of saying that while I've enjoyed having a bit of solitude this week, I've had this goofy grin just below the surface all day, because tonight I get my Christie back.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Poetry from the spam filter: "Any vacuum cleaner can non-chalantly make love to a chain saw around an eggplant, but it takes a real mastadon to teach a temporal roller coaster. A bowling ball inside the tape recorder hesitates, and a smelly apartment building feels nagging remorse; however, the feverishly cosmopolitan avocado pit brainwashes the fashionable bowling ball. A blithe spirit over the blithe spirit is hairy. Furthermore, the plaintiff living with a demon earns frequent flier miles, and a tripod of the defendant inexorably brainwashes the bowling ball over an oil filter. If the senator gives a pink slip to a Eurasian fundraiser, then a rattlesnake from a carpet tack hesitates. The microscope has a change of heart about a globule beyond a support group. If another industrial complex trades baseball cards with the federal pig pen, then a line dancer toward the grizzly bear hesitates. Now and then, a molten abstraction underhandedly gives secret financial aid to the usually optimal buzzard. A burglar for a class action suit tries to seduce a familiar chess board."

"Molten abstraction" I like that.
A year and a half ago, Scott Adams (yeah, the Dilbert guy) was diagnosed with Spasmodic Dysphonia, a neural disorder that shuts down the neural pathways between the speech centers and vocal cords. Because the brain is weird, it's a weird illness, with people able to sign, but not speak, or in Scott's case, able to do public speaking or to himself while alone, but not around family or friends (though he could sing to them). No one has ever gotten better from this disease.

Until now. Using his basic understanding of the way the brain works, a strong desire to get better, and a willingness to experiment, he found a backdoor to speech that is helping his brain reroute traffic.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Richard Dawkins: Why There Almost Certainly Is No God

There's some superb reasoning here, but I'd like to see someone do a more detailed takedown of the classic arguments for the existence of God. For instance, the teleological argument, or the argument from design, says that complex things in our world are designed, we are complex, therefore we were designed. But that first assumption's a doozy (not to mention begging the question). In fact, simplicity is much more often a sign of design. Think tree branch vs. wedge. I've never seen anything as simple as a wedge just show up in nature. Natural things are all fractally and complex and stuff. Sure, human beings are gradually learning how to design more and more complex things, but we're nowhere close to being able to design something as complicated as even a flatworm.

Monday, October 23, 2006

I could say it's for Billie, but he's knows so many knots by now, whereas I now finally understand a bowline after having it shown to me 34,328 times: Animated Knots
I'm waiting for a macro to finish that'll refresh the data I need to answer the questions that came up in a meeting that we had in the conference room that's found in the house that Jack built. Or something like that. While I'm waiting, I thought I'd share a couple of thoughts that I've been thinking about fleshing out, but, being the lazy fellow that I am, why not just put them out into the world half-formed?

Thought One: Fashion and food are, arguably, two of the most innovative creative industries in the US. It's not that most of us really eat or wear things that are that different, but the folks at the top of the heap have to keep innovating if they want to stay there. Why? Because there are no copyright protections for their creations. They can protect a particular execution of their designs, and they can protect their trademarks, but if they want those trademarks to hold their value, they've got to keep creating. If you're curious, this thought was inspired by Top Chef and Project Runway.

Thought Two: Now that true conservatives are finally letting their disgust with the Republican party drive them into the arms of the Democrats, we're ending up with a weird sort of three party thing. There are liberal Democrats, conservative Democrats, and Republicans. If things keep going like this, there will inevitably be a schism within the Democratic party, probably as the Republican Party dwindles, possibly resulting in the birth of a true centrist party. More likely, I suppose, is that Repubs will dwindle to the point that they're ripe for a takeover by the conservative Democrats, and we'll go back to the way things used to be, back before the Republican Party lost its mind.

Thought Three: I can't really take credit for this particular thought (and it's more of a thought-cloud than a thought). Christie and I were talking about Missouri's Amendment 3 after driving by a convenience store with one of those "470% Tax Increase!" signs. I'd googled it, and, yeah, the 470% claim is probably kind of an exaggeration, but maybe not. But it's a tax only on cigarettes, and while I know it'll disproportionally affect the poor, would it really be that bad a thing if smoking became one of those luxuries that only the rich could afford? Me, I was thinking that maybe more expensive cigarettes would cut down on teen smoking and college student smoking, which led Christie to suggest that maybe we should index the tax to age. If you're under 25 and want to smoke, a pack of cigarettes should cost $375 dollars, for example. Next chance I got, I shared this idea with my brother's family, and Dylan shot holes in it right away: "Kids would just get somebody older to buy the cigarettes for them!" Lisa then pointed out that it would at least get young people talking to the elderly, while Mark suggested that, if they split the price difference between them, the extra income could solve the Social Security 'Crisis'. Talk about a policy panacea!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Christie left this afternoon for a business trip in the Carolinas. She's actually not flying out until tomorrow, though. Today she's at the Chihuly exhibit at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis. With my Mom. Mom's been wanting to see the exhibit, and Christie needed a ride to the airport, so it sort of worked out. Except my wife and my mother are spending the day together, without me there to be sure nobody tells too much truth. But I'm sure it'll be fine. What could possibly go wrong?

In other news, you may have noticed a paucity of posts lately. I could, I suppose, talk about the first head cold of the season, weekend projects, a make-it-yourself Christmas, migraines, or any of the other things that have been eating my spare time, but I'm actually going to break one of my rules and talk (in suitably vague terms) about work.

There once was a time that I was desperate for some way to keep track of all the various projects that were stacking up around me. I picked up David Allen's Getting Things Done. Now, I didn't do the full 43 folders thing. I didn't need anything quite that involved. I just needed a way to track requests from my boss(es), a few recurring projects, and one or two pet projects of my own.

I picked up a few nifty tricks, but this isn't a post about Getting Things Done, it's a post about Not Getting Things Blogged. The GTD tricks got my in-box down to a manageable level, and, more importantly, brought my stress level down through the ceiling. A few weeks back, I started wondering if I was getting too good and tracking my to-do list. I never ran out of things to work on, but where I was used to having five or six major projects, a dozen minor ones, and at least a couple of amorphous head-scratchers, now I was down to less than ten projects overall. It was nice being able to close some old threads, but I'd be lying if I wasn't wondering if something was up.

Something was up, and my cubicle walls are now plastered with new projects, printed large enough that I can know what I need to be worried about without leaving my chair. The detailed view runs to some thirteen pages, I'm working on things I didn't even know about two weeks ago, and am in charge a web site I haven't had to pay detailed attention to since about three redesigns ago. And I still have some of the old projects, too.

Actually, it's probably good for my sanity for this to be happening so close to the election, because I am way, way too busy to be paying close attention. I will not, I expect, be busy enough not to miss Christie, though. There ain't no such thing.

Friday, October 20, 2006

M: So, Heather left a comment on my blog.

C: Which entry? The one about making your own sword?

M: Naturally. Apparently, Brian wants to use the Gandalf sword to beat the pinata at their next party.

C: Really?

M: Yeah, no way that could go wrong: a blind guy with a six-foot sword!

C: Blind?!

M: Blindfolded! Sorry. Not blind. Blindfolded.

C: Phew. For a second there, I was like, 'My god, what did Brian do to himself now?'

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Olbermann provides a valuable service. The tone of his piece is that the Bush administration is destroying the fabric of America, but the meat of the piece catalogs the presidents who've gone down this road before. John Adams, Woodrow Wilson, FDR and others have been granted the power to imprison American citizens on flimsy (if any) grounds, and all of them have ended up abusing it. And each time, the nation recovers.

So, yes, the Bush administration is acting reprehensibly, but America is stronger than the cowardice of the men who are currently running things.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

I want to emphasize to any concerned family or friends that might be reading that I will not be setting up a backyard sword forge to make my own sword. I also want Emily, Heather, and Dionne to know that it is totally not my fault if your husband reads this and thinks it looks like fun.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

There's a new link under News & Politics, but I'm not sure that's the right place for it. It's The Sandbox, where the folks at Doonesbury are publishing dispatches from military personnel and their family. It's definitely news, and it ought to be a major part of our politics, but politics these days is much more about posturing than it is about listening to the people quite literally under the gun as the result of our policies.
Last night, Christie and I volunteered to go phone canvassing for the McCaskill campaign. This morning, the radio comes on, and the first thing we hear is a pro-McCaskill ad by the Democratic party about her "Missouri Values" saying, among a whole bunch of other things, that "marriage is between a man and a woman."

See, and here I am, a Missouri man, married to a Missouri woman, and our values tell us that our gay friends have the same right to marry the people they love as our straight ones. I'm going to vote against Talent because he and his party have a record of sticking their noses where they don't belong, and using what they find (or lying about what they find) as a way of distracting us while they take our country further in the wrong direction.

I want to vote for someone who's going to espouse values I agree with, preferably in a way that helps people see that being a liberal happens because of our values, not because we don't have any. I want to vote to someone who's not distracted by the Republican bullshit machine, but actually spends her time on real problems, in areas where government can do some good. Is that candidate Claire McCaskill? According to that ad, it's not.

Look, I know this is a tight election, and that sometimes you have to strategize. But running to the right of Jim Talent doesn't give me a reason to vote for Claire McCaskill, it takes away from my reason for voting for her. And it makes me less enthusiastic about volunteering my time or money to help put more ads like that on the air.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The New Republic notes a new poll that says: "52 percent of respondents said that Democrats would make the right decisions on how to spend taxpayers' money, while 29 percent said Republicans would."

I'm not surprised, really. This summer I was talking politics with Theron's Dad, a dyed in the wool conservative, and a friend of his who is very involved on the conservative side of Michigan politics. I told them that I felt like the Republican Party was coasting on a reputation for competence and responsibility that they earned mostly before I was born, and they both agreed, albeit sadly. That was when I knew that the Republicans were in real trouble.

Frankly, it's about time. Because of Bush's tax cuts, state and local taxes are going up all over the country in an attempt to make up for the shortfall. They're spending enough money every single day in Iraq to make huge improvements to real problems here in the U.S. and around the world (including things that might actually help in the GWOT), and they're doing it without a clear plan or goals. And the interest on the national debt is going to be so much higher than it once was that we can kiss a lot of services goodbye even when we get some decent financial management back in Washington.

America cannot afford another 2 years of Republican rule.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Yesterday was a migraine day, as was today. And migraine days mean migraine nights, and that means migraine nightmares. The night before last had a doozy: Republicans were trying to seduce teenagers via crafting blogs, and every once in a while, this woman would pop up and rub a quilted iPod cozy against her forehead while a disembodied voice said apply directly to the forehead!

I'm serious. This was an actual dream I had.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Good geeky fun from Boing Boing.
Hey, Christie, check out the new eBook reader from Sony.
Novel police tactic puts drug markets out of business. They're mostly targetting crack markets in the inner city, but I'd love to see this approach adapted to meth in rural areas. It's not that I necessarily think it will work; it's that what we're doing clearly isn't working, and we need to try some new approaches.
Writing for TAPPED, Robert Farley has an excellent point about the expansion of executive priviledge in the torture bill. But he works hard to come up with a hypothetical involving a President Hillary Clinton. There's no need, really. Imagine the actual President Clinton with these powers immediately after the Oklahoma City bombing. How would conservatives feel about him having the right to lock up and torture, with no judicial oversight, McVeigh, Nichols, anyone that ever sold them a gun, the people that sold them the fertilizer, the right wing cult members that egged them on, the folks who taught them how to make home made bombs, etc., etc., etc. It doesn't take much to imagine the shitstorm that would have followed.

Personally, I don't think Clinton would have used that power even if he had it. He had his faults, but that particular sin didn't seem to be his drug of choice. But there's no telling, which is one of the reasons I oppose the idea of giving this kind of power to any president.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

As so many woodworking projects do, it all started in the fabric store.

I can't remember what Christie was looking for, but we ended up digging in the clearance section, where we found some tan ultrasuede for about $2 a yard. I said, "Ooh!" and Christie said it'd be all wrong for the thing she was working on, and I said, "Weren't you wanting a headboard?" Suddenly, we had a new project. I told her what I had in mind, and we headed to Home Depot and Lowe's to check out lumber. We picked out some stock molding, poplar, and some stain, then hit Westlake's for foam and Hobby Lobby for batting.

That was three months ago. I was, um, working out the details of the execution. Totally not procrastinating.

Anyway, the weekend before last, I did the cutting and glued up the frame. Last weekend, I stained it (I used a blend of cherry and walnut oil-based stain, then sealed it with two coats of water-based polyurethane). Today, Christie and I glued the foam to the backing, upholstered it, and mounted it on the bed. The last step was attaching some lights to the top, just for giggles.

I tried to take some in-process pictures so you could see how it all came together, but they didn't come out. Ah, well.

Photos of the finished product are here.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

yup
How to get fast service at the cell phone store:
"The customer service agent eyes me warily and says, 'I think your son is peeing in our fake plants.'

"I shrug. 'Unfortunately, my wife and I cannot guarantee parental coverage in all areas. Please try again later.'"
Not only was there a Zombie Rights March in Austin, but it even had a counter-demonstration by pirates. I think the "Keep Austin Weird" people have nothing to worry about.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Tempting: iRobot Dirt Dog, a Roomba specifically designed for garages, workshops, and decks. Only $130, too! That's cheaper than some shop vacs.
More good news. The Republican Congress wants to broaden the definition of enemy combatant in the new "compromise" torture bill to include those who have "purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States", which is an awfully broad net. Sure, it doesn't sound too bad, but the bill also removes the right to habeas corpus, and gives the executive branch the right to determine who does and does not fit that criteria. And remember that this is the administration that describes the New York Times as "giving aid and comfort to the enemy". Also, they want room to include U.S. citizens in the definition. Read the article: Detainee Measure to Have Fewer Restrictions.

Even if they never use it, this bill would give the President the legal right to lock up American citizens and use the same "coercive measures" that were used on our POWs that led us to push for the Geneva Conventions. I can't believe this is happening in my country. I really can't.
I have a feeling Christie's going to want this: Dremel’s Cordless Pumpkin Carving Kit
Concrete proof our media is broken.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

I like almost everything on this gallery page from Chicago Bauhaus, but the Triple Helix Table and the Fibonacci-inspired chests of drawers are particularly inspiring. I'm not saying I'm going to spend $25,000 for a dresser. But I might steal some ideas.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Sadly, this is news: Some colleges shifting focus to teaching.
The futurist in me has long expected new religions to start popping up. Our lives are so different from those of people even just a generation ago, let alone three generations back. New tech means new lifestyles, which means new emotional needs, at least to some degree. So new religions seem like a natural. The problem is that the sort of things that religions say are "truth" tend to be pretty weird if you're not brought up on them. Scientology gets around that problem by not telling its followers about their very, very weird metaphysics until they've invested a ton of time, money, and energy into the church.

But I'm starting to see a trend now. There are the folks who claim that Jesus hates gays because, well, yeah, they're a little light on the because part. Now there are megachurches saying Jesus is all about the accumulation of personal wealth. (thanks to Christie for telling me about the article) I don't know what's next coming down the pike, but I think the trend in new religions is going to be making up whatever the hell you want and pretending that it's Christianity.
Our bathtub has had issues almost since we moved in. It's got a spray handset, and the hose was old and had weakened to the point that it sprayed water in multiple directions, giving whoever was holding the handset a thorough soaking. Also the walls, the window, the cats, etc. There was also this little issue with the diverter valve that told the water whether it should go out the faucet or the handset. It has become increasingly indecisive in its old age, so the handset leaks even when the valve is turned to the "faucet only" setting, unless you futz with it. It's not as big a leak as the hose, but it's been bugging me.

But I've been putting it off because I know it's going to be a pain in the ass to fix. I can get to the workings of the tub, but only from the basement, and they're about 9 inches beyond my reach if I stretch to my fullest, and about 18 inches beyond my reach if I also want to see what I'm doing. And all of this is going on while I'm perched on a stepstool in the downstairs shower stall, reaching up between floor joists, electrical wiring, and plumbing.

I stuck conduit over the handles of my channel locks, and now I had a tool that would reach. So, to work.

I'll spare you the details, but it only took me five hours to get the old hose off and the new hose on. And just one trip to the hardware store for a replacement hose, since the one I had didn't fit down the hole into the basement. Nice. So nice, in fact, that I decided to tackle the diverter valve and see what it'd take to fix it.

End result: It's now permanently busted. I spent 6 hours to turn two minor problems into one major one. Which is progress, of a sort, I suppose. Luckily, Christie made me quit before I took a sawzall to the tub, and I've figured out how to fix it. I just don't know what the replacement parts will cost or whether I can get them locally. But, hey, what's life without a little mystery?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Everybody Poops, Especially Cats!
A little bird told me that Erin's getting a cat or two, and Rita was curious about how we manage three, so here's the straight dope on cat poop in the Terry household. Naturally, we've got a system. The first bit of it was inspired by Theron. Go out and get yourself a couple of big Rubbermaid containers. Like 60 quarts big. Ideally, you want ones with the smoothest bottoms you can get, since you don't really want nooks and crannies where cat litter can get stuck.

Step two is to cut a square hole in one side of the lid for the cats to get in and out. Doing it this way means they can't kick litter over the side and get it all over the floor, nor can they "miss" the litter box and piss all over the floor. This is the part I stole from Theron. Using a transparent or translucent storage bin was my idea.

Our cats don't like to share, so we have three litter boxes. Some cats are fine, so you might just need one. Regardless, buy one more bin than you need, and leave one lid uncut.

Next step is to pick up a sifting litter box insert. I've only ever seen these as part of a set, like this one from Amazon. If you're handy, I'm sure you could probably make one, but I had this piece laying around the house. If you do make one out of wood, be sure to seal it really well! You keep the sifter in the spare bin, tucked away when you're not using it.

If you've done your measuring well in advance, or if you're just really lucky, your sifting screen will fit perfecting in the bin when the lid's off. When it's time to clean the litter boxes, you pull out your spare bin and set it up with the sifter right next to the litter box to be empty. Pour the litter from the full bin to the empty one, and all the nasty bits stay in the screen. Empty that into a trash bag, put the lid with the hole on it onto the bin that used to be empty, but now holds litter. Put the screen into the now empty one, move onto the next litter box to be cleaned, and repeat as needed.

I've got the whole process down to about 5 minutes for three litter boxes, and a minimum of ick factor. It's like I always say: If you want to know an easy way to do a job, give it to a lazy man. That's me! Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Friday, September 08, 2006

Two things that have been rattling around in my brain lately:

Intelligent Design vs. Evolution. I've got enough of a background in science fiction, fantasy, and religion to acknowledge the possibility that entities so far beyond our understanding that we would almost certainly call them gods (or even the prime mover itself) might have intervened in the processes of our evolution in order to steer things in a direction more interesting to them. Heck, we do it all the time. (I dare you to look at my mother-in-law's Pomeranian and tell me that nature's going to produce something that puffy and photogenic.)

But if that's the case, I want to know the details, and I'm confident that if it's the case, the evolution guys would figure it out infinitely faster than the I.D. guys. And I mean that literally. I don't know how long it'd be before the evolutionists starting noticing something hinky, but intelligent design as an epistemological movement isn't about changing the direction of our enquiry, it's about calling off the search.

Thing Two - Path to 9/11, the silly movie from ABC: I've sent a couple of emails to our local ABC affiliate over the issue, but I don't feel 100% that I'm in the right. Not that I ever feel 100% that I'm in the right. Self-doubt is, after all, my drug of choice. But here's the thing: The writer has a history as a right-wing activist, and the producers invited lots of input from Republicans, but none from Democrats. The provided preliminary screeners to right-wing bloggers, but none to left-wing or moderate bloggers. And several Republicans have said, in essence, "I told them I thought they got this scene and that scene wrong, and they changed them", while the Democrats who provided the same sorts of critiques eventually quit the film in frustration at not being listened to.

I haven't seen the film, nor do I plan to. And I'm uncomfortably aware that this puts me in the same boat as the folks who burn Harry Potter books. The difference, for me, is that this film purports to tell a true story and claims to be based on factual sources, but the producers seem to have taken a strictly partisan approach to the truth, and left the facts to languish. Finally, a good part of why the media in this country is so conciliatory to the right wing is because they squawk so damn loud when something offends their sensibilities. The result has been that liberals, even moderate ones, are almost never seen on TV while the likes of Ann Coulter get carte blanche to tell lies about us. Maybe it's good for the media to know we can squawk, too.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Color me just a little freaked out. I know we live in a deeply weird world where it's not hard to find somebody who believes just about anything. Look at the flat earth dudes. But I just overheard two guys in the bathroom talking about nuking the entire middle east because, in their words, "they started it". Naturally, of course, there was the usual fun stuff about Democrats being traitors who want to destroy America, cut and run, and should just go ahead and change their name to Islam because they're allies. With the Muslims who all want to kill us. And, yeah, they were pretty clear on the fact that women and children would have to go, too. "No mercy", to use their phrase, is apparently the only way to 'win'.

I did speak up, but got dismissed with a "yeah, yeah, yeah" and a wave of the hand as dude one, the one who brought up nuking, walked off.

We have talk radio to thank, I guess, for people who think that the wholesale slaughter of millions of innocent people is not only appropriate urinal conversation, but also a legitimate foreign policy option for the greatest country in the world.
We've got an open staircase that's kind of a safety issue for our friends' kids, so we're looking for ways to make it not so without ruining the look. This homebrew baby safety gate could be a nice addition, with some modifications to suit our needs, like maybe a flipper door hinge so the gate could slide back alongside the stairs when not in use. Or rigging the hinge so it could flip all the way around onto the front side of the stairs, which would be a lot easier to build, and just as out of the way.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

We've all known a toddler that insists on doing it all themselves. Jeanne at HouseInProgress is pondering how to design for it. An issue, though, is how to incorporate the fact that your kids are going to grow, usually very quickly. Christie has a little stool from her childhood with the message "Stand Up to Be Tall, Sit Down to Be Small" painted on it, and we both use it to reach high shelves, but our friends' kids use it, too. Maybe as those kids get bigger, I'll build a raised walkway on the back side of the kitchen counter so they can participate in dinner prep.

Friday, September 01, 2006

This isn't necessarily something everyone would be interested in, but I found a source online for Hoosier Cabinet Parts, which means that, even though I don't have room in the kitchen for a Hoosier Cabinet, I could still have a flour bin with built in sifter installed in our baking cabinet. Or, you know, I could just add it to the list of future products, guaranteeing that it will never actually be done.
For Billie, and for my dad, PRESS-BOT, which turns your wide-mouth Nalgene bottle into a french press.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

If you haven't already heard, there's a new Frank Lloyd Wright house going up. It's based on one of his hundreds of unused designs. Should be interesting.

Thursday, August 24, 2006


At this moment, Jewel is riveted. Why? Because somehow a frog managed to climb up two stories of chimney, and is hanging out in our fireplace. Now I've got to figure out how to get it out of the fireplace without turning it loose in the living room.

Here's a close up of the poor little fella.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Important Safety Tip
This is the sort of thing that pops up in after dinner conversations with metallurgists. I'm sure this is old news to all of you, but it's apparently important to clean up your grinding wheel (and the surrounding area) between grinding different types of metal, particularly between aluminum and anything ferrous. See, if you mix aluminum dust with iron oxide (which is what iron or steel dust turns into in the presence of even a little bit of moisture), you get Thermite, which can then ignite with a spark from the grinding wheel, which can then cause a giant fireball of nastiness.
Christie's heading out of town for a few days, which means it's going to be just you and me for a while. Who else, I wonder, will appreciate this story from the Chicago Tribune? Chicago, you might have heard, banned foie gras. The ban took effect yesterday, and pretty much every restaurant in Chicago added foie gras to its menu out of protest. They mentioned foie gras pizza, but no word on foie gras Chicago dogs.

So they try to ban it, and the end result is that more people have tried it than ever would have if they just left well enough alone.

Friday, August 18, 2006

I just had an idea while talking to a friends at work. He's sick of going into businesses (mostly restaurants) with Fox News on the TV and being forced to listen to their crap. Do you think there's a place for a nationwide campaign to not patronize businesses that play Fox News in their public areas? Or is that flirting with censorship?
Quote of the Day: "There is considerable overlap between the intelligence of the smartest bears and the dumbest tourists."
More Flickr fun: photos tagged with "crazy house".

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Craig Murray knows enough to make educated guesses about what's going on behind the curtain with the UK terrorism arrests, and he's skeptical.
There really is a web page for everyone: Celebrities Playing Table Tennis

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Something else Christie will never let me do. But Karl, I think I found a use for the bus!
Election season is coming up, so I've been trying to find a bumper sticker that sums up how I feel about New Orleans, the Republicans, and all that jazz. There are a bunch that come close, but I think this is the one. This one's a close second. And I'm considering getting this t-shirt for Mary.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Since Christie and I were arguing the merits of various programming languages this weekend, I present The Hierarchy of Programmers, styled after the Geek Hierarchy.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Christie wants a pop-up, but I think I'll see if I can talk my way into building a teardrop camper before we buy one.
I've been trying to come up with somethign smart to say about the latest security steps taken by TSA, and, as usual, Yglesias beats me to it. There's a small chance that this will actually make us safer, but the odds are huge that it won't. But there's a 100% chance that many people will simply stop flying. I know that I won't be volunteering for any business trips any time soon, and if there's another way to get there, I'll drive, ride the train, or whatever. Flying is just too much of a pain in the ass with our airport security regulations being secret, arbitrary, and politicized.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

I love tilt-shift photography, which takes real-world landscapes and makes them look like models. Now that people are figuring out how to do it in Photoshop, there's a Flickr Pool devoted to the phenomenon. Much fun browsing.
Here's an interesting article on immigration in rural Delaware, some of which probably applies to the midwest as well. For instance, according to the article, the reason the chicken processing industry is dominated by Hispanics isn't because the jobs are low paying, or dangerous, or anything like that. It's about retention and attrition: "Two decades ago, a plant would lose 10 to 15 percent of its workers per month--that is, at any given moment, most of the workers in a plant would have been hired in the past four or five months. This is how immigrants wound up dominating the poultry industry. It is not that corporations sought to unload their local workers wholesale and replace them with cheaper and harder-working ones. It is that every time a local worker quit, he was replaced by a Guatemalan who didn't".

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Over at TAPPED, Alec Oveis is arguing that the Lieberman loss is bad news because all the effort that went into kicking Lieberman out of the party could have gone to defeating actual Republicans.

Look, I agree that the Republican party is the biggest problem facing our country right now, but I also think that the Democratic party is a close second. While the Republicans were dragging us into an elective war that did nobody any good unless they owned stock in Halliburton, the Democrats pursued a bizarre strategy of capitulation and triangulation that made it much harder to get the truth out there in the media. The leadership of the Democratic Party needs to understand that they can be fired for their incompetence. Call me an optimist, but I think firing Lieberman sends that message loud and clear.

The fact that he himself is refusing to hear that message and is instead planning to run as an independent this fall just drives home why he needed firing in the first place.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

If I ever find myself in Beijing, I'll have to remember that my usual travel strategy of just wandering around until I see something interesting is not necessarily a good idea in totalitarian countries.
Just had a watercooler chat with Lena that sort of blew my mind. At the very least, she gave me something to think about for the rest of the day. Possibly the rest of the week.

Islam was started about 600 years after Christianity. What was Christendom up to 600 years ago (roughly)? A Dark Age coupled with a violent crusade against an economically and technologically superior empire. But then came the Reformation and the Renaissance, which led to an increasingly secular political structure, which led to greater peace, prosperity, and diversity.

Basically, Lena suggested that religions go through a period of early religious ascendancy, then a decline, then a period of reform and rebirth that is also a decline, as secularism takes hold, and then they kind of chill out and become more about tradition and custom than about dogma and metaphysics.

I'm not sure I buy the idea that religions have a natural lifecycle. For one thing, religions have a very high infant mortality rate, so very few survive more than a few hundred years. And the written historical record is spotty at best when it comes to the early lives of most of our extant religions. And then there are the differences between types of religions. Maybe only monotheistic religions go through these sorts of violent conflicts. How important are the various geopolitical factors surrounding the faith?

This is one of those ideas that bring up more questions than answers, but they're terribly interesting questions.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Christie and I both are looking forward to the new movie, Idlewild, but I was sort of hoping it was set in Idlewild, Michigan, which was an all-black resort town from the 1910s until the Civil Rights Era. No such luck. Ah, well.

Friday, August 04, 2006

From the Department of Guarded Optimism:
Ed tech scores Senate victory. The House voted to zero out funding for educational technology, but the Senate Appropriations Committee has voted to restore it. It still has to go before the full Senate, and then to a conference committee, but this is a very good sign. If you have a Senator on the Appropriations Committee, thank them, and if your Senator isn't, this would be a good time to let them know how you feel about it.

And from the Department of Giving Credit Where It's Due, Kit Bond is on the Committee and voted to restore funding. It's a very unusual feeling, being grateful to Kit Bond, but, hey, he did good.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Somewhere between talking with my father-in-law about engineering challenges, talking about a conservative friend about war in the Middle East, and reading a batch of P. J. O'Rourke quotes, it occurs to me that not enough people understand the difference between managing a problem and fixing it.

It's easy to attack Clinton, for example, because he held a series of peace talks which ultimately fell apart and did not, in fact, result in a lasting peace in the Middle East. That ignores, however, the fact that in the lead up to the peace talks there was posturing and hope and rhetoric being thrown around, and then during the talks there was more of the same, and for a while after the talks even more, and that the throwing around of rhetoric is infinitely preferable to throwing bombs and such. And that about the time that the bomb throwing was starting up again, another rounds of talks would be announced, and the posturing would begin anew.

When a problem can't be fixed, it needs to be managed, which can either minimize the harm or, at least, prevent it from growing.

Like the Middle East, government is a problem to be managed. Most of us vote once every four years or so for the same party, and we imagine we've actually accomplished something. Right now, the Republicans are running things, and they're doing it with a mixture of incompetence and corruption that leaves me with my head in my hands. We absolutely need to kick them to the curb. But if all we do is replace the "Bad Guys" with the "Good Guys", we're not really solving the problem. Corruption is an inevitable consequence of power, and history makes it pretty obvious that Democrats are not immune. We're in for a world of hurt if we think kicking the Republicans out of office means that we're done.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Problematic Technical Documentation
For one thing, it's not that easy to roll your cat up in a newspaper. And don't even get me started on step 6, which is apparently being done by Zaphod Beeblebrox.
I find it a little sad that I actually understood all of this.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Stephen Colbert's Nightmare
I swear I had this exact same conversation on Friday (except about the ten commandments being the basis of our legal system) and it was close to midnight before I could stop banging my head against the wall.

Thursday, July 27, 2006


This is the sort of post that's likely to get me into trouble with Christie, but I can't resist on account of this picture being so damn cute.

Besides, it's really Kate's fault for sending it to me in the first place.
Salon reviews a new book on Homer. It revisits old questions of who wrote the Iliad and Oddysey, and under what circumstances, adding the rarely asked question, And might it very likely have been a woman?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Overheard in the Drugstore
Girl 1: I don't know what's up, but lately it's either diarrhea or constipation.

Girl 2: Feast or famine, huh?

Girl 1: That is the most disgusting thing I have ever heard.

Girl 2: Oh. Yeah. Sorry. Wow, I really didn't think about that.
Good news from Blogger this morning. I've been having to type in a word verification thingy for the last week or so because they flagged my blog as a "potential spam blog". But now they've verified that I am an actual person, so it's back to seamless posting.

What's a spam blog, you ask? According to Blogger, "The ease of creating and updating webpages with Blogger has made it particularly prone to a form of behavior known as link spamming. Blogs engaged in this behavior are called spam blogs, and can be recognized by their irrelevant, repetitive, or nonsensical text, along with a large number of links"

Irrelevant, repetitive, and nonsensical? Dude, that's harsh.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

I'll come right to the point. I think the works common attributed to William Shakespeare were actually written by ... William Shakespeare. The arguments for other authors generally boil down to snobbery about class or education level, and ignore that Shakespeare's earliest plays are really not all that great, to put it kindly. There are seeds of greatness there, sure, but they wouldn't be widely known or read if Two Gentlemen of Verona was all of his work that survived. Shakespeare learned the craft of writing by writing, not by education. And as far as class goes, most of the plays produced by the upper classes focus on the upper classes almost exclusively. Shakespeare covered a full spectrum of the human experience, irrespective of class. To me, that argues for someone with experience of both upper and lower class life, Shakespeare's biography fits that criteria better than most of the candidates put forward.

But there's a book out that suggests a new candidate for the authorship of Shakespeare's plays, and I'm at least curious enough to want to read it. The candidate is Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke.

Monday, July 24, 2006

The New York Times has a very good explanation of why it's a good idea for a man to know how to fix things around the house: The Allure of the Tool Belt.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Roger Ebert really didn't like The Lady in the Water:
"Were I the late Joseph Campbell, who devoted his life to exploring how myths are not arbitrary shaggy dog stories but speak to the hunger for meaning deep within our species, I would will my spirit to return from the Land of the Dead, raise my hollowed body from my grave, and pelt this movie with rotten lotuses."

And there's a nice Colbert Report reference in the first paragraph.
Let's Not and Say We Did
As I was growing up, my Dad had several, well, I guess you'd call them catchphrases. It was a little like being raised by Stan Lee, or maybe Howard Cosell. He called us "Sports fans" and woke us up in the morning with "Let's see a little vim! Vigor! And enthusiasm!" Exactly like that, with little exclamation points and everything. I have a feeling most of them were pop culture references I never got, but a few of them were punchlines to often-told jokes, like "What you mean 'we' white man?"

And then there was the title of this post, which he often said in response to his own suggestions. He'd think of something funny, suggest we do it, then pause and say, "Ah, let's not and say we did."

Why am I telling you this now? Because I just ran across this title in the database and thought about getting it for Christie as a gift. I'd take it home and before giving it to her, explain that I was absolutely, positively not a doubt in my mind sure it was going to be a surprise. Then she'd ask why, and I'd whip the book out from behind my back and say "Because no one expects The Spanish Inqisition!"

I'd laugh hilariously, while Christie gives me that look she gets when I've done something very mildly amusing that I think is much, much funnier, and then she'd ask how much money I spent on this stupid joke.

And then I thought, "Nah. Let's not, and blog about it."

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

So, Harpers.org found a message board devoted to the Rapture, populated by gleeful folk pondering the implications of the current fighting. I suppose this could be one of those "look at the kooky Christians" kind of posts, but I can't really get past appalled and pissed off. I haven't written about the latest round of fighting in the mideast because I don't know what to say or what the point would be, even. Israel's government seems to be responding in exactly the wrong way to an attack, and have entered into a course of action with no defined endpoint and no rules of engagement. There seems to be no voice of reason in the region, and no one who would listen to reason even if there were. The only constant is lives being ruined and people dying. Meanwhile, a group of safe, comfortable people are watching the violence on CNN and celebrating as things get worse, claiming it's in the name of religion. Yeah, appalled and pissed off pretty much covers it.

On the plus side, though, I did find this rapture smiley face which makes it hard to take anything on that site seriously.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

WordQuest and Weird Stuff
I'm looking for a word, one that probably doesn't exist. Well, maybe in German. The word I'm looking for would refer to a sudden and complete loss of credibility due to the contents of a single paragraph or, in the case of film, a moment. If you'd like an example, I'd invite you to read The Oil We Eat at Harpers.org.

It's an interesting essay, talking about the energy human beings consume in biomass, and our impact on the globe. There are lots of threads he's tying together, and most of them lie just to the outside of areas I've studied, so that I can't decide for myself whether what he's saying is bull or not. And then comes the paragraph where he calls Cro-Magnon a "different race of humans" and then asserts "The Basque people are probably the lone remnant descendants of Cro-Magnons, the only trace."

Okay, depending on how you define "race" (a huge, huge issue), this is not an impossibility. But even a casual look through the scholarship on the issue shows this to be a contentious issue, to say the least, and definitely not something to be put forward as 'probable' without even a nod to the controversy. So when I read that paraphraph, I mentally went back over the entire essay so far and retracted the benefit of the doubt I had given the author. Once that had happened, there was little point in continuing. Information I knew to be correct was nothing new, and anything new was suddenly questionable.

I had the same thing happen the other day reading an article on cryptozoology and the Bible. There are a number of unidentifiable or otherwise weird creatures mentioned in the Bible, but the one most often cited is the unicorn. This is handy, because the unicorn reference comes from the King James version, and is a mistranslation of a word that almost certainly refers to a now-extinct species of wild ox. It doesn't take long with Google to find this out, and it's so clearly the simplest explanation that it makes a handy Shibboleth. Folks who talk about unicorns in the Bible clearly either haven't done the research, or have let their will to believe in weird stuff overcome their will to reason. Which is fine, but I'm only willing to believe in weird stuff that I can actually believe in, and if there's a reasonable explanation, I can't believe.

Of course, these little moments for me aren't always based in reason. There was once a time when I believed in all sorts of stuff, and spent a fair amount of time and money in the New Age sections of various bookstores. And I could be cruising along, learning how to rebuild my energy fields by doing this or that and then the author would throw out a line about when the aliens would come and usher in a new age of peace and understanding, and I'd want to throw the book across the room. And as I got older and learned more and studied more, I started having more and more of those moments, which is why, I suppose, I no longer go to the New Age section.

Speaking of which, I had one of those moments watching "What the Bleep Do We Know?", right at the end. See, the whole movie is interspersed with expert testimony about quantum physics and health and so on, and it was all very convincing, but they left the experts' qualifications until the very end of the movie, at which point I found out that one of the guys talking to me about physics was a chiropractor, and that the woman spouting vague platitudes about man's role in the universe was actually a channeler, and bloop, there went the benefit of the doubt.

So is there a word for that? Other than "bloop"?

Monday, July 17, 2006

Husbands, are you worried about your wives and daughters showing too much skin at the pool? Now, there's WholesomeWear. 21st century technology, 18th century aesthetics. Oh, brave new world that has such people in it.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Congress is getting ready to vote on Educational Technology again. Their track record is pretty lousy regarding funding ET, so it's pretty crucial that as many people squawk about it as possible. Go to EdTech Action Network to contact your rep and senators the easy way, or just call them up.

If these programs were just about teaching kids how to use computers, they'd still be crucial, since there isn't an industry in America that hasn't been overhauled with tech. But they do a lot more. Technology is just the spoonful of sugar that lets in a revolution in pedagogy, replacing 1950s teaching styles with ones better suited to the world we actually live in. There are some amazing programs out there that depend on this funding for survival, and that funding depends on we the people letting our elected representatives know that we want our money invested in the future of our country, not pissed away on no-bid contracts, tax cuts for Paris Hilton, etc. etc.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

For those of you who thought Chuck Norris was a bad-ass (Kate, I'm looking at you), I give you: Thirty Facts About Alton Brown

Monday, July 10, 2006

Jon Udell: The LibraryLookup Bookmarklet Generator
If you're looking at a book on Amazon, you can use this bookmarklet to check if your library has it available, assuming your library uses one of the common software suites. For our local library, use http://catalog.dbrl.org as the base URL, and Sirsi (WebCat) for the software system. It works great for me, but your mileage may vary.

Update: If you're local, just drag this link to your toolbar: DBRL Check.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

First vacation pics are up.
Spoiler Alert: There has been much discussion on the internets about the exact flavor of Blue Moon ice cream, a flavor found in some northern sections of the US. Well, click on the pic to see the solution, made public at long last, thanks to the House of Flavors in Ludington, MI. Posted by Picasa

Friday, June 30, 2006

The older I get, the more inertia I acquire, and the harder it becomes to pack up my life and head north to get away from my to-do list. Or so it seems. Really, though, most of the prep work this week has been about making sure the house is in decent shape, partly because folks will be staying there while we're away but mostly because there's no buzz-kill like coming home from vacation to a messy, stinky house. So that means doing laundry, cleaning the litterboxes, washing dishes, etc., etc., and so it goes.

Somewhere in there, there's packing, but then there are the birthday parties to attend, a friend who would very likely live the next few weeks without emails from her grandkids if Christie and I don't take time to help her get set up, and the very next thing you know, it's the day before we're supposed to leave for vacation, and I don't at all feel ready, except that in my mind I can already hear the surf and feel the cool wind off Lake Michigan, and it hits me that I don't care if I show up in just the clothes on my back, as long as the road takes me north, where there are people I love and a ramshackle old cottage and a to-do list that's as empty as that long, blue horizon to the west.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Nice poem from Maya Stein on that moment when you're in the process of changing your life, and you step out into the world as naked and terrified as a turtle without its shell: the glance backward
Lot's of folks are upset about this Lee Siegel post, where he calls the Connecticut Democrats lined up against Lieberman "fascistic". Me, I didn't even notice the slur, maybe because I'm used to stupid people saying thoughtless things. No, I got caught up in his analogy of bloggers to mixed martial artists, especially the line: "No wonder the sport flourishes mostly on the Web. It is a precise corollary of most blogospheric commentary, which requires no special training or skills, and which attempts to parlay street-fighting skills into fame and riches."

Um, yeah. Dude, that's just dumb.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

I've been looking for a bed-side light, and this is pretty cute, but I don't like that it takes a silver-tipped bulb (which I can't get locally) and isn't compact-fluorescent friendly.

On the bright side, I think I could totally make something like this.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Now that we're finally having a national debate on the war in Iraq, I thought I'd bring up something that's been bugging me since the beginning: The most important part of planning is to define success so that you can recognize it when it comes along, and come up with metrics that allow you to recognize progress toward it so you can correct course if it turns out you're going the wrong direction.

Because they keep revising why we're in Iraq, it's impossible to clearly state our goals, making success in Iraq a logical and practical impossibility.

Friday, June 16, 2006

While fictioning tonight, I ran across this entry in The Columbia Guide to Standard American English:

aerie, aery, eyrie, eyry (n.)

All these are variant spellings of the word for an eagle’s nest (and figuratively any other high habitation). Pronunciations are just as numerous, and include AI-uhr-ee, EE-ree, UHR-ee, and ER-ee. Say it firmly in a loud voice while looking your listeners straight in the eye: most of them will be every bit as unsure as you are.
Because I know not everyone has had positive experiences with Dell technical support, I thought I'd take the time to pat them on the head. Christie just bought me a really nice present (a really, really nice present), and it's beautiful and I love it, except that the wireless card has this habit of dropping connections at annoyingly random intervals. Anyone who's ever done troubleshooting knows that randomly recurring problems are the biggest hassle in the world to fix, but Dell has been very patient, and seems to be taking the problem seriously and working hard to help me resolve it.

They say that a happy customer will tell no one, and an unhappy customer will tell everyone, so this is me saying that I'm happy with Dell. And also that if you're getting a laptop from them, you might consider spending a little coin to get a higher end wireless card, just in case. My bad.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

a beautiful little story about being polite
Salon Comics: Disney's Inferno
Why am I not surprised to hear that FEMA paid out millions in hurricane aid it never should have? After all, the stories out of New Orleans that I'm hearing include a FEMA crew of 4 taking all day to build new steps for a trailer that's no longer being used, while insisting that they don't have the personnel to haul it away and give it to one of the many people who still don't have a trailer, which is what the former occupants have asked for. Why new steps? Because OSHA says the old ones aren't sturdy enough.

Duh. It's a trailer.

Then there's the couple that called FEMA to have them pick up a rootball out of their front yard, only to have a wrecking crew show up, ready and eager to knock down their newly renovated house. The neighbors were just able to stop them, but it was a challenge because "They were on the list."

My favorite, though, is this: Getting your roof done takes months. It's not about money, or insurance companies, or red tape, or any of that. It's a simple equation where the work to be done exceeds the capacity to do it. Some friends of Christie's folks waited their turn, sweating out their blue-tarped roof, hoping they'd get it done in time for hurricane season. The roofers finally got to them, and the finished the new roof last week.

The next day, FEMA came and nailed a new blue tarp to it, so now their back in line for roofwork, but it's too hot to do it, and the hurricane season has arrived.

It'd be so easy, hearing these stories, to "blame the government." And I do. But I'm a little more specific about it. FEMA hasn't always been a clusterfuck, and they haven't always been incompetent. But when you put political appointees in charge, and they're folks who've spent their whole policical careers decrying government and claiming that government is incapable of being a force for good.

What surprise, then, that when they take over the government, they proceed to prove themselves right?

Update: Kevin Drum says it better.

Monday, June 12, 2006

World Cup
Went home for lunch today and ended up catching a bit of USA vs. the Czech Republic. Now this isn't an expert opinion or anything, but I really think our team would do a lot better if they would just stop sucking.

I really hope I just caught them on a bad day.
Barefoot shoes: Weird.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

This is a pretty good rundown of reasons to support national healthcare. It also covers why people insist on calling it "socialized medicine". As far as I'm concerned, you can call it Willemina Flibbertygibbet if it trips your trigger, as long as you treat this as a serious problem deserving of serious thought. Healthcare is seriously FUBARed in this country right now, to the point where people are too scared to change jobs, start a business, or be self-employed, because they can't afford health care if they do, and they're taking whatever crappy job they can find, as long as it comes with health insurance.

Entrepeneurship is the single most effective path to wealth in this country, and the one that also creates the most wealth for other people. And lack of health care coverage is the single biggest barrier to entrepeneurship. We've got to fix this.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

I just finished Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, and it's not just well written, but it's got the kind of staggering imagination behind it that's actually kind of demoralizing for somebody like me with aspirations to the production of novels. Or at least novel. On the other hand, this is a novel that's truly worthy of the name, and Cory Doctorow has kicked the gates a bit wider in terms of what's possible with the written word.

In other words, it's good.

Friday, June 09, 2006

So I popped into the Tribune's web forums for a little look see. Somebody asked a general "what should we do about the estate tax?" kind of question, and there were about thirty different flavors of "TAX BAD!" in response. I thought I'd pop up to dissent and sort of got smacked down. Sort of, in that they flamed me, and I don't see the point of arguing. I mean, when somebody asks, "How would you feel if they took thirty percent of your money away?" How are you supposed to argue? If I'm dead, I won't care.

But the fact is that the government does take about thirty percent of my money every year, and I'm more or less cool with it. That money goes to maintain the kickass parks in my neighborhood, the streets I drive on, the interstate highways that can get me into Kansas City in under two hours, the scenic riverways I dearly love, keeps up our economic system, provides for relative peace and security, secures that I won't be eating monkey chow in retirement, etc., etc., etc. If the federal government hadn't created and nurtured the Internet, my career as it currently exists, well, wouldn't.

I walked away. I have better things to do than get into a flame war with people who have no interest in reason, economics, or anything more complex than "what's mine is mine."

So why do I have this knot in my gut? Why am I surprised after all the flame wars I've seen to see once again this style of conversation that is really just screaming across a divide inpenetrable to argument? I suppose I expect better from my hometown. I can console myself, though, that the people with time to post repeated screeds to a web forum are, by nature, not the folks running things.

Unlike, you know, bloggers. That's completely different. Ahem.