Monday, March 31, 2008

Joe Scarborough thinks Obama's low bowling score makes him less of a man. That's taking it a bit far, but I do think Obama needs to work on his game. I know of a house that has its own bowling alley, and maybe we need to send him to live there until his game improves. I'm pretty sure the current occupant has gotten at good at bowling as he needs to be.

Building a Portable Step

This was this weekend's big project. Christie's in her third trimester now, and needs a little help getting in and out of the tub, so I built her a step. It's a tricky spot, though, with only nine inches between the door and the tub surround, which isn't deep enough for a good step, so I decided to curve the front, which I laminated out of three pieces of 1/4 inch plywood. You can see it in place here.

I'd never done a curved lamination like this before, and I learned a few things. First off, while I've long known that you can never have too many clamps, I generally think I have enough. Not true. I do not, in fact, own enough clamps. At least not for this kind of project.

Secondly, I learned that it's worth the time to build a curved form and laminate to that. As it was, I had to put a line of screws along both edges to keep everything in line while the glue dried, then cut off the bit with the screw holes.

The other lesson I learned was to check the depth on the pocket screw jig. As it was, I poked a number of holes through from the backside of the curved front. I was worried that I'd ruined it, but I brought a spray bottle and the iron down to the workshop, and was able to swell the holes shut with a little water and heat (another thing I'd never done before, but had read about).

Oh, and I put up a pic of my extremely messy workshop, just for grins.

Update: Title added for clarity's sake, after a reader pointed out the resemblance this step bears to a coffin. Which is kind of funny, as I've actually been asked to build a coffin before, albeit not for anyone who was actually dead.

Home Improvement Punch List

In reverse chronological order by need:

1. Remove shower doors in guest bath.

2. Step to help Christie get in and out of tub.

3. Changing pad tray, including cubbies for diapers, ointment, etc.

4. Outside railing for open staircase.

5. Install baseboard molding and trim in upstairs bathroom.

6. Do the same downstairs.

7. Baby proof the entertainment bench.

8 (and beyond). Pull out trays for kitchen shelves? Put a lower railing on the back deck? Patch the hole in the back deck? The driveway retaining wall? I don't know. I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.
Awesome collapsible playhouse.
Christie had a girls' weekend at the lake, and I had a guy's weekend in the garage. I'll put pictures up tonight of the completed project, but it was one of those things where I was trying a number of new things, and things went wrong at every single step, and yet, somehow, it all worked out okay, and I learned something from every step. Details to follow.

The only downside was finding a leak on the toilet in Christie and I's bathroom Sunday afternoon, while doing my traditional "Christie's out of town" cleaning. I was thinking I was going have to do a Westlake's run over lunch to get a new valve, but a late-night inspection revealed a loose water intake, which I tightened, and it was still dry this morning, so I saved $12 and the hassle of turning off the water to replace that valve. Which makes this a uniformly excellent weekend.

Oh, and I watched Michael Clayton, and it's excellent. Good writing, good acting, good direction. I highly recommend it. The overall plot works very well, and there are one or two moments that are simply perfect.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

I've been thinking about Iraq and the surge, and I should say right away that I really don't know what I'm talking about. But that's never stopped me before, has it?

Here's the timeline of what our leaders have been saying:

Before the surge: We need the surge to get violence down and create political stability so we can leave Iraq.

Now: The surge is working, so we can stay in Iraq indefinitely.

As long as we were saying that a drop in violence would lead to the US leaving Iraq, the violent extremists who want us out had an incentive to reduce their level of violence. Now that we're not saying that anymore, their incentive is gone, and violence is going back up.

Obviously, there are complications and nuances of virtually infinite depth at work here, but this is the blurry 10,000 foot view as it appears to me.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

How a neuroanatomist studied her own stroke as it happened - Boing Boing

As her left brain shut down, she experienced a classic non-dual experience of the universe without separation, labeling, or distinction. And, of course, she was completely unable to function.

There is a portion of the mystical experience that is referred to as "oceanic", which is when the individual is completely subsumed into the whole, and the "I" through which we relate to the world ceases to exist. There is a tendency among those who have had this experience to romanticize it and talk about it as if it were the key to greater understanding of the world, and to say things like "if everyone would spend more time like this, we would have world peace". (I'm paraphrasing.)

I'm not saying it's not valuable, but we need both the recognition that we are more than ourselves and the recognition that we are autonomous individuals. People participating in riots report the same sort of loss of individuation that Dr. Bolte Taylor had. It's important to remember that.

On the flip side, though, we do spend entirely too much of our lives caught up in planning, anticipating, remembering, categorizing and narrating our lives, and not enough simply experiencing it. That is entirely correct. The key is balance.
Lumber in the back seat of your car: macho.

Lumber in the back seat of your car, underneath a Dora the Explorer kite: not so much.
When I watched the Transformers movie, and they cut from the Allspark cube falling from space to our troops in the Middle East, I thought for just a second that, in the world of the movie, the Kaaba was the Allspark.

Of course, it wasn't, and I'm not saying I was disappointed, exactly, but having the most sacred object of one of the world's major religions as the McGuffin would have made it a much more interesting movie than it was.
I don't even have the words to cover this. TPM Muckraker calls this one "Dude, Where's My Defense Contract?" and that about covers it. How else do you describe a company with hundreds of millions in defense contracts with a vice president who is 25 and a licensed masseur?
I love this Zen Habits post on 25 Ways to Simplify Your Life with Kids.
This morning on my way into the building, I passed a truck with an Obama sticker on the back. And as I walked past the driver's side door, I had to step over a big clump of chaw someone had spit out onto the pavement.

I wouldn't call it proof of a tobacco-chewing Obama voter, but it's certainly close, and the idea makes me smile.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Apparently, over the weekend, a member of Clinton's finance team was on the radio in Ireland and compared the Rev. Wright to David Duke.

Let me say right away that I'm not blaming Clinton for this, nor am I claiming this is part of any deliberate strategy on anyone's part. Rather, I want to attack this comparison on its merits, of which there are none.

First off, I haven't heard any of Wright's sermons that could legitimately called racist. Yeah, he attacks the US Government, and he spouts some nutjob conspiracy stuff. But he also talks a lot about reconciliation and self-examination, and when you look at his work as a whole, he's clearly of the "what should we do" school of Christianity, not the "what should they do" school. Duke was of the "all our problems are their fault" school of politics. So it falls apart right there.

But I've got to take it a step further and say that even if Wright was a racist of the Farrakhan mold, I'd still say David Duke was worse. Yes, racism of any stripe is bad. But grouping things and people into easily identifiable clumps is something that seems to be hardwired into our brains, and fighting against racism (in yourself) is a hard thing to do, and I'm not convinced we can ever completely win. And there are degrees of evil.

I think it's pretty definitive that the racist opinions of a member of a group that has been oppressed, often violently, for generations, and that still faces discrimination today, not too mention the lingering effects of all those generations of slavery and violent oppression, those racist opinions are less evil than those of a member of the group that did the oppressing.

Monday, March 24, 2008

One man, working alone, building a Stonehenge replica using only simple machines. More than anything else, this reminds me of a professor I used to have that cautioned against assuming that we are actually smarter than our ancestors. We may have more knowledge, but pretty much the same brains.
Because I'm looking for things other than politics to blog about, I should tell you that I'm excitedly waiting for Rockler to ship me a new toy. I've got a load of planes and chisels that need sharpening, and I've been wanting to try the Scary Sharp System ever since I read about it years ago on some woodworking forum.

Yes, you read that correctly. I am excited about the prospect of sharpening tools. I am, indeed, a dork.
On the one hand, this was the kind of weekend that leaves you feeling like you maybe need another weekend to recover. But on the other, there was cake, kites, playground time, birthday presents, dyeing eggs, Easter dinner, giving my niece a hard time, banter with my brother, and Jane Austen.

So no complaints, really. Quite the contrary.
I'm with Andrew Sullivan on this. Here's a Youtube video showing the profound difference between the stories Hillary tells about a Kosovo trip and, well, reality.

My first thought is that this is the result of the all-too-human tendency to believe our own bullshit, and to double-down when caught in a lie. But until someone asks her about it, we won't know if she's thinking of some other trip, or this news coverage is of a different landing, or what. So I'm hoping someone asks her about it.

Update: They did, and she said she "misspoke".

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Funny: The Onion - Black Guy Asks Nation For Change
Because it's the five-year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, the news media is filled with images of the dead, the brutalized, and the displaced. What's missing is imagery of the reasons we went to war, because those reasons were never made precisely clear, and the goalposts have been moved so many times now that it's difficult to recall what was said when.

I remember what it felt like 5 years ago, blogging about the coming war, screaming at the TV, writing letters, making phone calls, and doing everything in my meager power to slow down our inexorable march toward disaster, while our so-called leaders took the coward's path of political expedience, sending our young men and women into harm's way because they were afraid of some idiot on Fox News impugning their patriotism.

I remember what that felt like, and I feel my anger rising again, and I realize that I still haven't forgiven Hillary.

Update: Several times today I have heard John McCain's trip to the mideast described as a "fact finding mission", and it never fails to crack me up. Apparently one of the facts he uncovered is that Sunni and Shia Muslims sort of have a history of not getting along.

Sigh.
I'd love to have something with which to bump politics off the top of the screen, but it hasn't been that kind of week. Christie's got my cold, now, so a lot of my spare cycles have been spent worrying about her. When I'm not thinking about that, I've got a handful of home projects and one bear of a data project at work to think about.

So no big new post, alas. But keep your fingers crossed.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Obama's got his preacher problem, McCain's got multiple preacher problems, and I'm sure the fact that Hillary doesn't have one yet is probably because she doesn't really go to church much. I was going to say something about how this is the sort of problem that's going to keep coming up as long as we refuse to elect atheists, but now that I think about it, I guess the path that the Clintons and the Bushes and, in fact, most of the office holders in this country have taken is the way to go. Say you're religious, but be vague on the details and try to spread your church attendance around, if you go at all.

Obama, who seems to authentically have a faith, and McCain, who has to provide bona fides to the religious right, are both now getting bitten in the ass by the particulars of their faith. Like a lot of things, faith looks best from a distance, with a good bit of vaseline on the lens.

Note: I should add that I think there's a serious gap between Obama's pastor holding offensive views and saying offensive things and Obama being blamed for them. He's been asked, he said he strongly disagrees with his pastor, and I think that's enough. McCain, on the other hand, continues to keep his lips firmly planted on the butts of a couple of pastors who believe some truly repulsive (and sometimes laughable) things.

Update: As usual, I spoke too soon. Now Hillary's got a preacher problem, too.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Apparently I have the plague. Last week's fever dreams have nothing on these, as I'm now going on 4 days of 101 degree temps. The last couple of days have actually been oddly productive, though, as I can work on backburner projects at home without interruption. Unfortunately, I'm back at work today for a couple of unmissable meetings. The real bummer is that we were supposed to go to Springfield tomorrow, which now seems ill advised.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Not too long ago, my brother broke his arm by falling off the desk chair he was standing on to change a light bulb. A rolling, spinning desk chair.

So this morning, when I look up and see a spider on the ceiling, I learned from his mistake a bit and grabbed an ottoman. After all, it doesn't spin, so I'm cool, right?

Kidding. There was no learning involved. The spider dropped down on her web, I tried to step out of the way, the ottoman went out from underneath me, and the only reason I didn't break my damn fool head open is partially because I took a grappling class from Theron that included hours of practice on how to fall without breaking your damn fool head open but mostly pure dumb luck.

My penance for the event is to tell the world what a dumb ass I was in the hopes that doing so will help me remember not to do that so much anymore.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Not only is the house I grew up in now visible in Google Street View, but you can see the ridiculously massive addition someone stuck on it. I swear that house must have no backyard anymore.

Update: This could become addictive. In a just a few minutes, I found a tree I loved to climb when I was a kid, the church Theron and Emily's grandfather founded, my favorite kitchen store, and the cul-de-sac where I lost my virginity. Sorry, no link on that last one. You'll just have to live in the mystery.

One more: This house used to freak the shit out of me when I was a kid. We used to have to walk past it every day on the way to soccer practice, and I swear on my life there was a freaky statue of Kali or some such thing in the backyard, facing the street. To this day I have no idea what it was about, but we used to dare each other to run up and touch it. Only one kid ever did, and he grew up to be an orthopedic surgeon. Coincidence? I think not.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Remember that thing about your gym tracking your workouts via your membership card? Well, this is close enough, and I claim credit!
This morning was my first solid food in about 36 hours, and now here it is mid-afternoon and I actually can't tell if I'm hungry or not. That, combined with my general fuzzyheadedness tells me that I'm still at least a little sick.
A stomach bug hit me sometime in the middle of Sunday night, and it stuck with me through yesterday, which meant I missed all of the meaningless pontificating in the lead up to today's primaries.

It hit Christie a little later and a lot more mildly, so while we both were on the couch watching Pride and Prejudice yesterday afternoon, she was actually watching it, and I was sweating out a fever, mostly just listening. When it ended, I took my temperature, and it was 101.9, which is my cue to take lots of pills, which I did, then staggered into the bedroom to wait for the drugs to bring down my fever.

The phrase "fever dream" gets tossed around a lot, but I really can't think of a better way to describe what was going on in my brain as it ran through the various relationships in Pride and Prejudice in light of the fact that reputation is important currency in that society and that the plot arises mostly from the uneven distribution of information that results from that fact.

It quickly ceased to make sense to me as soon as I woke up, but I remember thinking how complicated it all was, especially considering how closely Elizabeth's reputation is tied to that of Darcy (once they are married), and vice versa, which incents them both to only disperse information which makes them both look good, and thinking that the application of game theory to literature would be a fascinating thesis topic.