Wednesday, December 23, 2009

There Are No Hangovers in Heaven

I just got my PCS orders for Heaven. I called my sponsor and he said:

"Bill Dick, in Heaven, all your dogs are there; and all your cousins' dogs are there; and all the dogs you ever loved are there.

"Right out your front door are the Arizona mountains and every day you hike all day long. You work up a terrific thirst, but that's okay because the Hofbrau Haus is right down the block and all your friends are there. You listen to oompah music and sing.

"You wander home around 3am. You sleep well and in the morning you feel great... because there are no hangovers in heaven."

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Fair play?

Alberto Contador will stay with Astana. This is pretty interesting, because with the team falling apart it was widely suspected that Contador, despite having a contract through 2010, would sign with another team and deal with whatever legal battles would ensue.

The announcement made me do a double take, and it's so revealing of a sport that is so screwed up. For the agreement to be binding, Astana must, among other things "strictly comply with the code of ethics and internal doping control system that will be implemented by the new leadership of the team."

Has anyone else ever heard of an athlete holding his team to an ethics clause instead of the other way around?

Cycling is so great and so troubled at the same time.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Loving the Monster

The geniuses in New Mexico have been reintroducing the Mexican Gray Wolf to certain areas along the New Mexico/Arizona border. And now they are surprised that things have gone a little astray.

So I hardly know where to begin here. How about this: humans have spent quite literally thousands of years trying to rid the world of the things that kill us. In Europe, wolves were the predator that did the job of killing humans best. You don't get to be the star of essentially all of a culture's fairy tales if you aren't the thing of nightmares. They are, quite literally, monsters.

From the LA Times article:

Environmentalists argue that grazing practices are part of the problem and the wolf reintroduction program has failed because of mismanagement by the federal government.

Here's why the program has failed: they're wolves. They eat stuff that we don't want them to, like cows and small human beings. Ranchers are going out of business because, surprising to no one but "Bud Fazio, coordinator of the Mexican gray wolf reintroduction program", wolves are really good at killing cows. What?! Millions of years of selective pressure optimizing large predators made wolves good at what? Killing what? Yes, killing cows, you idiot.

Fazio says:

"One thing about wolves is they bring out extreme emotions..."

Yes... fearing for one's livelihood tends to do that. I am pretty sympathetic to the idea of protecting endangered species. I'm soft-hearted about it, and I hate the idea that we kill entire species for non-critical activities. But I consider ranching pretty critical.

I want to protect wildlife, but we can't be stupid about this... wolves are enormously dangerous and we can't pretend they are not.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


The question was asked by

As you can see, Junior the league average was a distant thing for the first 11 years of his career, but for his year-by-year and his lifetime average. These last 10 years he's flirted with, and failed to meet, mediocrity most years.

The specific answer to Steve's question is, Griffey, Jr. was a lifetime .299 hitter after the 1998, his first ten seasons. He is now sitting at .285. He's taken a 14-point hit, so the damage is worse than Steve thought.

As is my wont, I have shown the dividing line between the modern and steroid eras of baseball, the start of which, and I propose a universal adoption of this standard, is the season Brady Anderson first hit 50 home runs. I don't think Anderson ever tested positive for steroids, but look at his lifetime power numbers and I think you'll agree that this is the demarcation point.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009


Today I clicked on a CNNMoney article with the headline "Mac share grew after Windows 7 debut".  Okay, I'm thinking that's an interesting topic.  So I clicked. 

Turns out it's a regular column titled "Mac news from outside the reality distortion field."  So now I'm thinking that this is very interesting because I have Mac friends.  You know who you are.  I know who you are.  You and I both know that you are not rational.  So I figure I'll get the alternative viewpoint.  You know, the one that's an alternative to "Steve Jobs is like God, only perfecter."

Before I being reading, I see the headshot of the column's author, Philip Elmer-DeWitt. In the blurb about Mr. Elmer-DeWitt it says:

Philip Elmer-DeWitt believes that an ounce of skepticism never hurts when writing about the company. He should know. He's been covering Apple – and watching Steve Jobs operate — since 1982.
And now I'm thinking, "Whoa!  We're finally going to see rational news about Apple, how fun!"

The article begins:

If Microsoft (MSFT) was hoping that the launch of Windows 7 would halt the erosion of its operating system market share — and curb further inroads by Apple (AAPL)  — there is no evidence that it's working yet.
I don't follow the OS wars very closely, so I'm thinking that this sounds reasonable.  I know MSFT has had as high as 90% of the OS market, but I figure that this mus be slipping.  I wait for the next paragraph.  I see:

...preliminary data released overnight Sunday by Net Applications show Mac OS X's Internet share growing by 2.73% in October, from 5.12% to 5.26%.
And then:

Windows' Internet presence, meanwhile, fell from 92.77% to 92.54%

Seriously?  This is from "outside the reality distortion field"?  And he's written an article about "eroding market share" and "curb[ing] further inroads". 

For reference, Dell is the #1 seller of PC's with a 13.9% market share.

Nokia is the #1 cell phone company with about 38% market share.

Coke, the #1 beverage company in the world, has about 43% maket share.

MSFT?  92.54%

Mr. Elmer-DeWitt, you are firmly within the distortion field.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Why we love good writing

I consider John Feinstein the best non-fiction author today. I know I'll get disagreement about that, but it's my opinion and I'm sticking to it. Today on his blog he noted that he was struggling this morning because his coffeemaker broke and he is going to have missed his morning routine today. He finishes the introduction with:
I know I can go and buy coffee--or a new coffee maker after I drop my son off at school. Not the same.... I feel like Miss Clavelle in Madeleine
I feel the same way when I miss my routine coffee in the morning, but I am not clever enough to reference the great children's book Madeline while whining about it.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Thoughts on Art for the Day

One thing Picasso might have considered is naming his works something other than exactly what they are about.

"Woman in Blue"

Thanks, Pablo, I got that one on my own since it was, essentially, a photorealistic painting of a woman. In blue.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Indoctrinating our Children

My local school system has gotten dozens of calls about Obama's speech to our nation's school children.  I can't imagine what is on their minds.  The objection is that he is going to send a political message to our kids?  I don't buy it for a lot of reasons. 

From the Indianapolis Examiner, Samuel Bruce says, "The problem with the direct to the school speech is it not filtered through parents and guardians."

What on Earth is he talking about.  Everything message given at school is essentially unfiltered through me, and Disney has unfiltered access to tens of millions of American kids every day, and who thinks they have the children's interests at heart?

Second, in what universe do the people objecting to this live in? 
He's going to talk about the importance of education and public service and how the power of a single dream is blah, blah, blah.  He's going to bore school children of America for 20 minutes.  Since when is this a new event in school?

Ryan Witt, also from the Examiner brings some actual information to the "controversy" by reminding us that "
Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush did in fact speak to school children in national addresses...".  Check out the embedded video in his article to see the elder Bush boring school children in the 1980s.

I do agree with George Will, who was referencing an entirely different topic when he said Barack Obama is eventually going to have to realize that some things are not the president's business. I think this is a waste of *his* time and an over-reaching of why he was elected, but in a minor way that I don't think it particularly damaging to the Republic.

Like it or not, the President of the United States is a role model, the most visible and important role model we have.  It's crazy to think this is the worst message our kids will receive at school this year... or this week.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


I like the term, coined as far as I know by Richard Cohen in an Op-Ed piece in the Washington Post.  He points out the similarities between Palin's ability to drive the debate on health care as a death panel scare to MacCarthy's ability to drive the debate in Washington as a whole as a red scare.

He's right, in that both debates are trumped up, baseless lies, and are beside any kind of actual point.

He's also right in a way he didn't intend.  The red scare was fear mongering and insane, but there was legitimate cause to at least investigate a few people in the State Department and to oust a few sympathizers.  What it became--McCarthyism--was a crazy caricature of responsible security.

I am not comfortable with the current direction of Democratic health care reform.  The problem is that the only real opposition to their proposals is a crazy caricature of responsible debate. 

What to do when the enemies of my enemies are insane?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Possible Lifting?

In searching for the Jesse Jackson quote comparing Michael Vick to Jackie Robinson, I ran across this commentary from Mason Lerner of "The Faster Times".

Looking further I found this piece from James Causey of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Does anyone else think that Causey's piece (10 August) sounds an awful lot like Mason's (9 August)?

They both comment on the NY Times piece on Jackon's comments, as did I, but the pieces seem more than coincidentally similar to my ear.

Jackson on Everything

Jesse Jackson has recently weight in on Michael Vick's potential career in the NFL.  Seriously. 

Whatever credibility Jackson had left is now completely gone in my mind.  What on Earth does he have to add to this?  Well the New York Times reports that he says:

“I want to make it an issue,” Jackson said Thursday in a telephone interview. “I want teams to explain why they have a quarterback who has less skills but is playing or at least is on the taxi squad, and a guy with more skills can’t get into training camp.”
So this is crazy for two reasons. 

  1. Jackson wants teams to explain why they have quarterbacks who aren't as skilled?  In whose opinion?  Jackson's?  He knows who's better than whom? 
  2. He knows that the Bills *must* choose the more skilled backup quarterback?  And why? They have *no* other considerations?  Like maybe is he the kind of guy who kills dogs for fun? 
Where was Jackson when I was laid off?  Why didn't he require Motorola to explain why other, less skilled, project managers were being kept while I was let go?

And this is another quote from the reverend:

"Democracy does not guarantee success. Democracy guarantees an opportunity. It’s not fair to de facto try to lock him out of his right to compete."
What?!  This makes no sense at all.  Democracy is our form of government, not our form of running football leagues.  If he'd said this runs counter to our collective ethic of fairness... well okay.  He'd then have gotten off crazy and elevated himself to just being wrong.

The NY Times also had this to say:

Jackson, born in 1941, has been a civil rights activist for most of his adult life. He said that in some ways, Vick’s attempt to re-enter the N.F.L. was similar to Jackie Robinson’s entering Major League Baseball.
Now unfortunately they don't give us the quote and I've looked and can't find it, which I think is criminally negligent journalism.  Apparently it was confined to saying that Vick and Robinson both had to find courageous owners willing to make a controversial signing.  Could anything be crazier in the context of sports than to compare a criminal attempting to convince NFL teams he can still play to Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier?  Really, I need to see what Jackson said because while I think the NY Times is generally trustworthy, it doesn't seem possible that even Jesse Jackson is this crazy.

Friday, June 26, 2009


by Ethan

You are the one that puts me together every day.
I wish you were home.
you put me together.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Jelly Beans

This morning, on the free food table in the break room there sits an unopened bag of Jelly Belly jelly beans.

They were labeled Jelly Belly Sours. I looked at the front of the bag which was labeled "Sours" but which did not show the actual individual flavors. So being a reasonable person I looked at the back of the bag, which also contained not one hint as to the flavors the bag contains.

Now look, I seriously do not care how much riboflavin is in Jelly Bellies. But there on the back of the bag, taking up important Jelly Belly flavor information real estate, is a line telling me that one serving of Jelly Bellies contain some amount of whatever riboflavin is. But what I want to know, what is important to me as a consumer, is what flavors are in that bag.

Jelly Belly needs to be legally bound to label their beans with the flavors they contain... and in fact there needs to be consumer protection legislation about making it easier for me, the consumer, to distinguish banana from lemon from vanilla pudding.

Lindsay Graham and Chris Dodd spend a whole heck of a lot of time talking about things that they have no business talking about when they have a pretty clear obligation as the senior lawmakers of our land.

There ought to be a law.

There Ought to be a Law

So maybe this is the beginning of a series.

I'm a pretty fierce Libertarian: I really think that government has no business regulating things like whether or not a person wears a motorcycle helmet. Whose business is it how dangerous it is? My wife, my kids, my parents, my brother maybe. But it seems hard to make a convincing case to me that the Governor of Illinois needs to have an opinion on this.

But I'm not a crazy person, I recognize that there are things the government should and can do better than individuals, or the market, or private initiative. So this occasional series of posts will cover those areas where I think there is actually a need for new laws...

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


In a recent op-ed in the Washington Post, Colbert King writes:

The Anti-Defamation League reports that John de Nugent, a white supremacist,
Holocaust denier and von Brunn acquaintance, conjectured in a media interview
that von Brunn was driven to action as a result of the election of Barack Obama,
which de Nugent described as a "tremendous signal of alarm for" von Brunn.

So here's my conjecture: there is casual racism in this country. Non-violent, but insidious, a sort of passing assumption on the parts of some people that a certain class of minority or foreigner is just not up to the task of managing, or leading, or having a certain kind of life. These are the kinds of racists that having a president like Obama is going to help. I think a term or two of a sober, intelligent, well-spoken black man will educate these kinds of racists--as this is the racism of ignorance. So many white Americans have never had a great amount of experience with a black mayor, or boss at work, or what have you. They just assumed. This assumption goes away when Obama is on TV so often and at the end of 4 or 8 years the country is still here, in (probably) better shape than it was when he took office, and life is going on like it always has.

Then there is the racism of anger, hatred and frustration. Born of angry young men who need to find a home for their impotence. This is not an ignorance that can be taught, it's a hatred. This kind of racism will not go away, and even worse, will only be inflamed by a sober, intelligent, well-spoken black man as our ultimate authority figure. These violent racists are a fact of the human condition and we can never be rid of them. I think we need to shine a light on them and stomp them down when they rise up. You can't educate or exterminate them away. All we can do is never rest, and never stand by without opposing it. As Wendell Phillips said in exactly this context, "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty."

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Eat Fresh

I have the same problem with every Subway restaurant when I'm ordering more than one sandwich. The "sandwich artist" insists, even after being denied once, that I tell them up front what all my sandwiches are. Like they really need this to start out with.

Inevitable I consult my paper and say, "Okay, I'll take one six-inch on white..." and they immediately interrupt me and say, "What other sandwiches do you want?" I make a semi-show of being annoyed with being interrupted, and I say, "All right, two six-inch ham & cheese one white, one foot-long southwest chicken salad on whole wheat, and one plain tuna on ginger sesame."

And now this next thing, always, always, always happens, and is the reason I am so mad at having to list them all at the beginning. My sandwich artist then makes the first one, slides my sandwich along to the next artist and looks back at me and says, "and what was the next one?"

What. The. Hell?

Seriously, you needed me to list them all just so you could forget them, like we both knew you would, and have to ask again? If you need to know how many sandwiches I need so you can plan ahead to slide that first one along and get back to the bag of bread, fine, ask me how many I plan to be ordering. Which is also stupid, because my bread-retrieval artist always asks, "Is that all?" So we don't need this charade in the beginning when you interrupt my train of thought to pretend that your sandwich artistry is served by my upfront Declaration of Sandwiches.

So I'm not done. That is definitely frustrating all on its own, but then how they deal with the multiple sandwich order gets even more annoying and difficult. It's like when the bread-retrieval artist has to ask each and every time what sandwich I wanted, after she insisted on hearing every one in a leap of incredible optimism at her own memory, she and her artist of a husband now need to punish me for revealing them to have normal human memories.

So then this little dance ensues. I follow my first sandwich as the sandwich-assembly artist takes my order for what accouterments I want with it. I am some portion between 25 and 50% of the way through that operation when the bread-retrieval artist interrupts me to ask what I want to add to the second sandwich. Now unlike my personal sandwich artists, I am not laboring under the false impression that I am of super-human sandwich-making abilities. After all, I have not gone to sandwich-artist school to get my multi-threaded, interlaced super sandwich memory training.

So I have to stop thinking about sandwich #1 to now address sandwich #2, which has a different set of stuff on it. So I repeat that to the first artist and turn back to the second artist and try to remember where I was. This is clearly wrong, and bad, and leads to errors and this madness must be stopped.

Subway. Eat fresh.

Monday, June 08, 2009

The Long History of Now

I wrote the following to the historian Dan Carlin, whose podcast I thoroughly enjoy. In fact his is the first podcast I have ever been moved to pay for. It's free but he asks for you to feel guilty until you pay for it. Chris, specifically his Hardcore History Podcast is something I think you'd particularly enjoy. I wrote Dan the following:

I was reading Henry Kissinger's recent Op-Ed in the Washington Post (what a mind to still have in his 80s!).

It strikes me that the "multi-polar" world of today is not so unlike the world dominated by European powers 100 years ago. That multi-polarity, the world of semi-equals, perhaps was an important factor in the conflicts that raged in the first-half of the last century. Are we seeing the world cycle back to such times as America loses its grip as a super power to become simply the most powerful, but not the only power of consequence?

I am so tempted to look at history as an inexorable march toward the static now... but obviously that's childish and the fact is that human history from the earliest culture on into the future to the very end of human civilization is all the long history of now.

I think we need to see the emerging equality of many Asian nuclear powers as another period of continental pressure and stress. I'd be interested in your thoughts.

Simon Singh and the English libel laws

Simon Singh is a British science writer who has been embroiled in a libel lawsuit for the last year. This case raises a few interesting issues and highlights something very wrong in the English legal system.

About a year ago (In April of 2008), Singh wrote an article in one of Britain's largest daily newspapers about chiropractic and its basis in one man's 19th century misunderstanding of medicine, science, and the cause of disease. In it, he criticized the British Chiropractic Association by saying (among other things):

The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help
treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear
infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot
of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the
chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments.

For American readers, this seems like a fairly tame criticism, and it is, given that chiropractic is more than bogus, it's a flat lie. It's based in nonsense, and has no place in the legitimate medical standard of care. Some subset of chiropractors have abandoned the crazy origins of their discipline and now largely provide a service which is similar to (though less rigorously regulated than) physical therapy, centered around the relief of back pain. Those chiropractors would be well-served to drop the name "chiropractic" and devote themselves to straight physical therapy, but these are not the men and women who are doing harm. It's the other chiropractors who are doing the harm. These are the chiropractors who still subscribe to the theory that there is a mysterious, unmeasurable energy that can make you totally healthy all the time but that is blocked by "subluxations" in your spine and only they, from the delusions of a 19th century beekeeper can properly re-align you.

There has been a long history of chiropractic with almost no evidence suggesting it has any efficacy at all. The pattern that has emerged is that the better you design your study, the less of an effect you have on someone's help by using chiropractic on them. The exception is lower back pain where manipulating a person's back with chiropractic techniques seems to be about as effective in treating their pain as traditional massage. This is fine as far as it goes, but the various chiropractic organizations, including the British Chiropractic Association, maintain that they can cure a wide variety of disease by manipulating your spine. This is what Singh called "bogus".

Now Singh has been sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association. In the United States, we are innocent of libel until proven by the prosecution of having said something both false and reckless and harmful. In England (not strictly Britain), an assertion of libel places the burden of proof on the defendant. Singh, simply by being sued, must now prove that what he said is true. The problem, of course, is that he is forced to prove that the British Chiropractic Association "...happily prmotes bogus treatments."

Singh is doing what so many peoplw who are accused of libel in an English court do not do, he is fighting. This is costing him a great deal of money and may cost him quite a bit more. The problem of structuring libel in this way, backward from the American legal perspective, is that that the very structure of the laws of libel suppresses speech. It creates a chilling effect on journalism that even the threat of a lawsuit can result in being put in an expensive defensive position. In this case the British Chiropractic Association is suing Singh personally, and not The Guardian. Singh is on the hook for all of his defense expenses.

The latest setback for Singh is that an English judge has ruled that the use of the word "happily" means that Singh was arguing that the British Chiropractic Association knows that their treatments don't work. This, and the fact that the defendant must prove his case in England, means that Singh, to avoid losing the case, must prove that the British Chiropractic Association knew their treatments were ineffective.

Think that through... it means that in England it is essentially impossible to criticize someone who is honestly wrong about something.

I have not intorduced anything here that isn't covered in other venues, but I think it is incumbant upon concerned people to do what they can, and so I am putting out my own public call. We need to shine a light on this particular injustice and on England's misguided libel laws which have no place in a free society.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Bad Guys

There was some TV show on tonight as I was flipping around about the list of sexiest men in movie history. I love lists like that and in talking through similar lists I got onto best bad guys of all time (sticking to TV and movies).

I submit the following list and ask anyone who wants to add their own as I'm sure I'm missing some really good ones:

Honorable Mentions: Khan Noonien Singh (Wrath of Khan), Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty), Evil Queen (Snow White), Baltar (Original Battlestar Galactica), Clubber Lang (Rocky III), Boba Fett (Star Wars), Predator (Predator), The Kurgan (Highlander)

10. Norman Bates: The original psycho. Scary because he is so mild mannered, until his mother shows up. But don't worry, he wouldn't hurt a fly.

9. Annie Wilkes: You hear Annie and you don't tremble in your boots, but when she's standing over your bead with a sledge hammer, you come around. Kathy Bates nailed it, although her character was allowed to use a chainsaw in the book.

8. Brad Whitewood, Sr.: This is maybe an obscure pick, but Christopher Walken played Sean Penn's evil father in the most intense movie I've ever watched. This is worth seeing for the later seens between Penn and Walken. This is Walken's finest bad guy.

7. Nagina: The entire short special of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi had a manacing air about it (Orson Wells sure can set a mood), and by the time Rikki follows Nagina down her hole, I had to get behind the couch to watch the rest. I still get the creeps when I hear her voice in my head talking about getting the boy when he gets into the bath.

6. Alex Forrest: Glenn Close wasn't known as a bad guy for the first half of her career, and probably still isn't thought of that way... but you boil one pet rabbit and look what happens. Fatal Attraction was horrendously scary and Alex Forrest is why.

5. The Terminator: He got campy in the later movies, but the first time he is blown out of the plate glass window and gets back up, you know you're in for a ride. He later delivers the same thrills as he removes his eye with a scalpel, and later when he rises up from the wreckage of a blown-up truck. As Kyle Reese sums it up, "You still don't get it, do you? He'll find her! That's what he does! It's *all* he does!"

4. The Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow: The Johnny Depp movie was horrible and not even the HH could make anyone scared in that movie. But the Bing Crosby-narrated animated short film scared me no end as a kid. When Ichabod looks back over his shoulder and the flaming jack-o-lantern looks back--well it hardly gets scarier than that.

3. Hannibal Lecter: Lecter is utterly great, lovable while being as scary as a bad guy can be. He isn't higher because seeing him first as an adult, I just don't think he *can* be as scary to me as the next two. But the first scene you seem where he's standing so still in the middle of his cell--you've got to be kidding me.

T1. Darth Vader and The Wicked Witch of the West: I just could not find any way to put even a little separation between these two. Darth could strangle a man from afar, ruled the Galaxy, and commanded giant armies of Stormtroopers. The WWotW rode a fiery broomstick, ruled from the creepiest dark castle in the history of movies and commanded the flying monkeys--easily the scariest army of minions in history. And they both had great, great theme songs. Darth's one weakness as a bad guy is that he was ultimately redeemed while WWotW never was, but she also never really actually turned anyone into a toad. Darth blew up an entire planet, but WWotW stole a cute little dog from a distraught girl. WWotW creepily clawed her crystal ball while sending her monkeys out into the steel-grey sky... solidifying her extreme awfulness.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

What death penalty?

From CNN: 

A U.S. soldier convicted of murdering an Iraqi family issuing a public apology on Thursday for his crimes. Steven Green, who escaped the death penalty this month, told relatives of the victims that he is "truly sorry for what I did in Iraq." Green was found guilty in U.S. District Court in Kentucky of raping a 14-year-old girl and murdering her, her parents and her 6-year-old sister in the town of Yusufiya, about 20 miles south of Baghdad...

So isn't this the same thing as this U.S. District Court of Kentucky issuing the opinion that the death penalty is wrong?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Look, I like a good case statement as much as the next guy, but that is NO F-ING EXCUSE for your language not having an "else if" construct.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Forging Old Paths

If the first few sentences are impossible for you to understand, stick with it, I think it will be readable after that:

I was a software engineer in my early professional life. I did hard-core real-time programming using vanilla C in Unix for proprietary embedded systems. I primarily used vi (say the letters, it's pronounced "vee-eye". I could let you read that any way at all and it shouldn't matter to me because you are not even near me right now, but I can not let it go.) to write my code--this was before fancy development environments were developed. In vi if you want to save your document you hit the 'esc' key and type ":w". So save and close you hit 'esc' and ":wq". After ten to twelve years of this it was very, very hard to start using a mouse to do things like save documents.

I stopped programming much at all in about 2003 in favor of program management where you do everything in Windows tools. I spent perhaps two years having to delete ":wq" from the bottom of my word documents because when I was ready to close a document, that's what my fingers did. It was a muscle memory that was very hard to shake.

So for maybe the last 5 years I have done no appreciable programming and am quite over my vi training. In my new job I am programming again. For about two months I was doing some VB scripting in Excel and then in asp pages. I am using a new editor: Microsoft Visual Studio and nothing odd has been happening.

This past Friday I realized I should back up and start again in javascript (for reasons that are unimportant). So this morning I came in and wrote my first javascript program. Javascript is entirely new to me, but it uses a syntax just like C, from what I can tell. I have spent the morning trying to run scripts that fail because ":w"s are sprinkled all over the code. The muscle memory is back with a vengence--out of nowhere and it's a total regression.

It's like typing "{}" and ";" has awakened something in my brain. It's very, very cool in a freaky way. I mean it's not like you always type a semicolon before saving your file. In fact mostly you don't, because you see stuff you want to change in the middle of the line, for instance. So it's not like it's a key sequence like ";:w" that is from a long time ago and the semicolons just kick off the sequence. And further strangeness is that being a grammar nerd, I actually use semicolons when I write English (I use them appropriately, of course).

So something about addressing an editor int he C syntaxy way has made this come back from the depths of 5 years ago.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

My Fun Guy

Ethan and I went walking in the woods today. These were fabulous, dinner plate-sized fungi extending from the trunk of this tree. We also made it to a Northern League baseball game where he got *two* baseballs.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Rise of the Machines

I fear the rise of the machines, I just don't fear it like other paranoiacs fear it.  Your average nut buys a roomba and watches it make decisions about vacuuming the floor and then sees Terminator or Alien and figures someday roomba will come with a machine gun and the desire to enslave him.

But that's like worrying that your biggest threat from Ford is that someday they'll make nothing but tanks and inter-suburban warfare will claim you as its victim: it's one direction a thought experiment about cars can take you, but that conclusion is not a result of assessing the arc of greatest probability given what you know about Ford and cars.

No, the real threat from the rise of the machines is not that they will rise up and enslave us, the real threat is that some future robot's internet-connected janitorial thread is going to eat up 85% of the world's CPU capacity so it can clean an airport bathroom.

Idiocy is the world's real problem, and there's no power like a nearly omnipotent, infinitely patient idiot who is also a CPU-hog.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Bienvenido al mundo real, Mexico

The problem with the real world is that proof is impossible.  The swine flu may still get us in a big way in the fall, but for now it looks like it's under control, with almost no damage.  Compared to seasonal flu it was essentially completely harmless.

But we don't know why.  Maybe it is just a toothless virus.  Maybe Mexico just spent 20 billion dollars and saved the planet from total disaster.  We'll never know.  What we do know is that Mexico spent 20 billion dollars and the flu did not spread.  If it's a random correlation the 20 billion was wasted.  If it was causal, then Mexico just took a bullet for the human race, and that's not over-stating the case.

Our response needs to be clear, and President Obama needs to say this the next time he's at a podium:

"The recent swine flu outbreak did not kill 50 million human beings.  It is entirely possible that without Mexico having gone to tremendous expenditure and inconvenience the swine flu might have done just that.  The world owes Mexico a debt of gratitude for that sacrifice, and we will repay them.  We will not repay them in dollars or pesos, we will repay them by not interpreting this episode as an over-reaction, but as an appropriate reaction to a potential threat.  We will repay them by doing the same thing the next time the outbreak is within our borders.  I call on all nations to pledge similar action."

It sends the right message to Mexico, to American citizens, to the world, to WHO, to the CDC and it sets the table for continuing to do the right thing.  To not learn this lesson is to be Jenny McCarthy who is calling for us not to vaccinate our children because we've forgotten what a nightmare smallpox is.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Oprah is about to kill people

She is.  When Jenny McCarthy gets a show edorsing the discontinuation of vaccines, her immunity will drop and people will die.  All for a scare that isn't based in any supported fact at all.  Shirly Wu hits it right on:

You reach millions of people everyday and your words and
endorsements carry an incredible amount of weight. If you say to buy a
certain book, people will buy it. If you do a segment on a certain
charity, people will contribute. And if you say that what Jenny
McCarthy is saying has merit, people will believe you.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Living in the Shadows

Everything on my computer has shadows now.  Well... either shadows or the subtle two-tone 3-d button effect, or semi-transparent window borders.

And my computer is very slow.

I'm not saying vista is definitely slow on my computer because it's constantly rendering graphic effects, but just like a company that's laying people off shouldn't be planting flowers, a computer that is running really slowly shouldn't be producing cutesy graphics effects.  It's bad form.

You can be drawing cutesy graphics all the time or you can be a slow computer, both are excusable at times, but you can't do both. 

And why doesn't Windows offer a "work installation" that does away with all of this cute crap?  I mean I just can't deal with windows drawing crap all the time.  I can see it slowing way down and laboriously laying all of these window effects.  Again, I'm not sure what's making it slow, but it being  slow gives me time to reflect on the fact that I have a computer that can barely squeeze out a reasonable search through 100 source files that spends some amount of time primping for me.  I want a check box on my control panel that says, "I don't need my computer to act like I'm dating it."

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Establishment of a religion

In this bill, the House Republicans are proposing that 2010 be designated "The National Year of the Bible".

And I quote:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Is there an argument to be made that this bill is not "respecting an establishment of religion"?


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Pushing Up

I'm not saying that push-ups are the most important thing, or even that they are the greatest desert ever, but why on Earth do they make push-ups in a flavor other than orange?

The only reason to anyone would eat a red push-up is because there wasn't an orange push-up available.  So why not make more orange push-ups?

And don't even get me started on purple-flavored push-ups.

Monday, April 27, 2009

I have so much to say

It's hard to fathom how a benevolent creator might have dreamed this up.  This parasite attaches itself to the base of its host's tongue, cutting off the blood supply.  Once the tongue atrophies and dies, the parasite becomes the host's tongue.

Stephen King has nothing on nature.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Alternative Engineering

Engineering, in a broad sense, can be defined as the application of science to solve problems. 

We have all sorts of engineering, mechanical, electrical, software, civil, etc.  Each of these disciplines can be used to solve problems and to keep people safe, to save lives and to perform mission critical applications.  It would be hard to imagine accepting "alternative engineering".  If a company answered a request for quote from a state government by saying that they were using an alternative form of engineering, developed by ancient Chinese engineers, it really couldn't get through the process.  If the company made the claim that all of the engineering firms that normally pitch and win contracts are actually conspiring to keep bridge prices high, and to keep bridges constantly in danger of failing just to perpetuate the need for engineering bridge-building companies, the state government would most likely think of the company as cranks and would throw away their business cards.  But if they believed the company's claims, even a little, they might ask that company for evidence of those claims, and they'd certainly require a pilot study and proof of these better, cheaper bridges before they (the government) would allow their voting constituents to drive their cars on these new bridges.

The same is true for any kind of engineering that is important, like air traffic control software, medical equipment for hospitals, airframe manufacturing, etc, etc, etc.  We demand these engineers, organizations, and companies use the best practices which have been proven by science.  Stepping away from the long-standing traditional, tried-and-true path of building these things happens, but only after the process is thoroughly vetted against the traditional methods with plenty of science and testing behind it. Again, this is for mission critical or life-supporting applications.

Medicine is a kind of engineering in this sense.  It is the application of basic science to solve a life-saving or life-supporting function.  It is certainly more directly critical to those clients who seeks its services.  Why are we so much more willing to accept "alternative medicine" than we are to accept "alternative engineering"?

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Strange Consequences

On the problem that it's easier for a resident of Peoria to find the best restaurant in Manhattan than for that resident to find the best restaurant in Peoria:

The problem is the googlization of information. Google taught us that the masses -- en masse have something valuable for us: information on the collective mind. The problem is that when you diverge from the center, the fidelity of that information to your needs is exponentially eroded at the square of the distance

Newish Idea

I think I'll use this blog going forward to do a little something more than just pictures. I think I'll start posting thoughts as well--which will be new. We'll see how it goes.

Sunday, February 08, 2009


Ethan's car took 5th place in speed and 3rd place in design in the Boy Scouts' pinewood derby!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Mr. Squirrel

Obviously squirrels eat well in our backyard.