Friday, May 20, 2011

Sometimes I hate being right.

So two days ago, somebody posted this satire link to lily. It's a joke about how Planned Parenthood is opening an $8 billion abortionplex.

My comment: "I give it no more than 2 days before it's being forwarded around as The Truth."

It is now two days later.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Eighteen Years

"Isn't it amazing how someone who was once a stranger, suddenly meant the world to you?"

I saw that quote recently, and immediately thought of someone who means the world to me.

Eighteen years ago today, we made that a formal promise. It's a big deal number for me - my parents didn't make it to their eighteenth anniversary. And now, I have.

We've got a long ways to go to catch her parents, though. They're somewhere north of 40 years and still going.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Random Counterfactual

Time for 'what if?' Point of departure: Nixon, finding out about the Watergate break-in, is shocked - shocked! - that his people would stoop so low and hands them over to investigators. Nothing is pinned on him, nobody rats, but suspicion remains. So...then what?

Presumably, Agnew still gets forced out and Ford takes over as VP. Nixon, politically wounded and unable to accomplish much, serves out the last of his term through to '76. Ford, presumably, runs for the nomination, but it's unclear he can get it without the imprimatur of being the incumbent. Given how close it was, it's probably not unreasonable to guess that Reagan takes it. Carter can still ride the anti-establishment wave (which would probably still be there, but not as strong), so we get Carter vs. Reagan in '76. This is a tough call - Carter barely squeaked out a win against Ford, and Reagan was a phenomenal campaigner. I suspect Reagan's better campaign skills would offset the loss of incumbency and still call this a narrow win for Carter.

We'll assume no other major changes through to '80. So...Reagan runs again, but does he get it? American political parties haven't been fond of giving second chances at the Presidency in the recent past - the last time a losing candidate was renominated four years later was Adlai Stevenson in '52 and '56. In our world, he won this one definitively, so I'd be tempted to say he pulls it off but with more competition, maybe co-opting Anderson as a VP pick instead of Bush.

That's as far as I've gotten so far. I may play with this idea some more, or possibly take it down an alternative leg of the trousers of time: what if Reagan won in '76?

Monday, May 2, 2011

On Death

So, apparently there was a big dust-up recently and somebody who'd done some very bad things got killed.

I don't like to celebrate the death of anyone. And, to be honest, I don't think most of the celebration is that he's dead. People would be celebrating the same if he'd just been captured. (Admittedly, a lot of them would be building gory fantasies about how he should die. These are the same folks who are now building these fantasies about how he should have died. Their disorders are their own problems.)

Before death, there's always the possibility that someone can change their mind. Repentance is a powerful thing, and there's always hope. (Yes, I'm an optimist. Sue me.)

But, he's dead, and it's probably better that way. Yes, now he's a martyr, but as a prisoner he'd have been a bargaining chip. One can threaten to kill people if a prisoner isn't released, but it's hard to do that with a martyr. The terrorists can just kill people in revenge, but it's not like they weren't trying to do that anyway while he was alive.

So, he's dead. I won't rejoice in his death. But I'm not about to mourn him.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

#26: Z is for Zebra

Because it is. It's always for Zebra.

Because, like X, there aren't any other interesting things for Z. The Romans dropped it from the alphabet they stole from the Greeks, then had to put it back in because they needed it for loan words. (Which is why it's sixth letter in the Greek alphabet, but dead last in the Latin one.)

And so we come to the end of 26 in 26. I'm mostly pleased with it, and hope to continue regular blogging service going forward.

Friday, April 29, 2011

#25: Y is for Yahoo!

Here's your old-fart comment of the day:

I remember when Yahoo! was at

Thursday, April 28, 2011

#24: X is for X

X isn't really for anything. Few words in English start with X; it's one of those odd letters that got glommed onto the end of the alphabet to make stealing from Greek easier.

Even worse, it gets used even less often than its companions W, Y, and Z, and rarely starts a word. Frequently lists cheat this with 'ex' words (a relatively common Latin prefix, meaning 'out of'), or fall back on X-ray or xylophone.

So, I'm going to say that X is for X, the letter itself. It's actually a nice letter. Just...not as the beginning of a word.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

#23: W is for Work

Work is looking up these days. Design doc that was a cast-iron pain in the butt is complete and the work involved in it handed off to various folks, including me. And now I get to ramp up on C++.

That may not be much of an upside, but my biggest concern is stagnating. Programming can be a young man's game, and I've seen what happens to folks that let themselves stop learning. The last thing I want is to be in the position of the old dog that can't be taught new tricks.

So, C++ time.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

#22: V is for Vegetables

One of the biggest problems I have in eating properly is: vegetables. I don't like most of them.

I like peas. And corn. (Both of which are more 'starch' than 'vegetable'.)

And potatoes and sweet potatoes. (Them too.)

And tomatoes. (More 'fruit' than 'vegetable'.)

And onions and carrots and celery. (Yay aromatics.)

And...not a lot else. I'll tolerate asparagus and zucchini and squash. Can't stand broccoli or cauliflower or brussels sprouts. something I need to work on, I think. No good ideas, unfortunately.

Monday, April 25, 2011

#21: U is for Ubiquitous

At some point, computing power went from 'something at work/school' to 'something at home' to 'something ubiquitous'. Exactly when it happened varies by person, but I can identify mine.

Summer 1996, my in-laws visited and my father-in-law gave me a small pocket data bank. Stores 100 phone numbers, basic calendar, etc. It was nice, but nowhere near seriously useful. Then I went to visit a friend who had a Psion S3a. Revelation. It was a small computer that went everywhere.

I looked into what was available, and decided a S3a was what I needed as well. (Palm devices - then the Pilot 1000 and 5000 - were 'portable extensions of your desktop', when I wanted a portable computer in its own right. The tiny clamshell DOS machines were the other option, and they weren't terribly good at actually doing anything.) And so, despite money being a bit tight, one was purchased.

It paid for itself within a year. With calendaring and notes in my pocket, I earned a large raise and bonus that year. So much so that, when the Psion S5 came out the following summer, I purchased one of those as well. (The S3a had many nice things going for it, but the hinges on the screen weren't one of them.)

The S5 lasted for a couple years, but Psion didn't have anything better coming out, so with a sigh I went to PalmOS when it was time to upgrade again. The Handspring Visor wasn't quite as good at calendaring, but was much much smaller. An ill-timed drop on concrete a couple years later led to replacement with a Sony Clie SL10. The high-resolution screen was a revelation, and I never wanted to switch back.

It was followed by a Tungsten C, which I loved for its keyboard. A dead logic board caused an emergency switch to a Tungsten TX, which was never particularly well loved, but was functional.

It was time to give up on PalmOS. OS5 was clearly a dead end, and OS6 was stillborn. The Nokia N800 was a beautiful (if somewhat large) replacement, with a glorious high-resolution screen. But the next generation of ubiquitous computing was already here: the iPhone had launched to much acclaim and snark.

I waited in line for an iPhone 3G, and used it for quite some time. Even when my employer gave me a G1, the iPhone was my go-to device, until its battery got flaky. I swapped the SIM over to my employer's newly-provided Nexus 1, and kept the iPhone for its apps.

Now I use a Nexus S, and keep an iPod touch as well. I love Android for its networking and integration with my Google accounts; I love iOS for its beautiful apps. Use the right tool for the job...sometimes that means carrying two tools.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

#20: T is for Teamwork

Tonight my older son and I worked through a level and a bit of Portal 2 co-op. It's interesting to see how we work together - we do most of it without any explicit communication. Typed messages back and forth are more likely "oops" than anything else. (Especially when one of us drops the other into the sludge. "Accidentally.")

He's scaring me now - he's figuring out the puzzles faster than I am. Good thing he's on my team.

Friday, April 22, 2011

#19: S is for Simplicity

Today I got a CR-48 Chrome laptop.

It's beautifully simple. It's a tool that does one thing - run a web browser - but it tries to be the best web-browser-runner it can.

It needs a bit more horsepower, I suspect - an Atom N455 is just a tad underpowered for the modern web. (An N570 would probably be fine - dual core would help.)

Other than that, though, it's excellent. And it comes with 100MB of free 3G data per month.

There's something to be said for tools that do one thing well. I'm less enamored of the tools that try to do everything - the right tool for the right job is more important.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

#18: R is for RSS

It's interesting to think about how RSS has changed my Internet time.

It used to be that I had folders and folders of stuff, and I checked various ones daily or weekly.

Now, it all just shows up in Reader. I can follow more stuff because it only comes up when it changes.

Of course, the downside is that I'm following more stuff, which means more time thinking about it. That's hard work.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

#17: Q is for Quotations

A couple quotes I like:

"The line between good and evil, hope and despair, does not divide the world between us and them.  It runs down the middle of each one of us." -- Robert Fulghum

"But the truth is, I could no more stop dreaming, than I could make them all come true." -- Buddy Mondlock

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

#16: P is for Portal 2

I swear I didn't plan this. P landing on Portal 2 ship date is purely coincidence.

I'm about 4 hours in so far, just at the point where you first deal with the repulsion gel. Lots of good bits, hard to choose the best, but some personal favorites that stuck with me:
  • Being launched through the Aperture Science logo.
  • GLaDOS starting in on fat jokes.
  • Potato.

Monday, April 18, 2011

#15: O is for Outside

There's a rumor that there's a big room outside with a blue ceiling. (Sometimes. Sometimes it's black. Sometimes it's grey.)

I get to spend about 40 minutes a day there when I walk to the shuttle and back. And I try to walk to a different part of campus at least once a week. I'm involved in a program at work where I'm trying to walk at least 175 minutes a week. Four shuttle rides a week is 160 minutes, so I just need to find another 15 somewhere.

The weather's getting nice, so it's easy to spend time outside now. Maybe it's time to bring the bike in for a tune-up.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

#14: N is for Navigation

I don't get lost often. (It has happened occasionally. Not really 'lost' at that point, but 'I appear to not be where I thought I was, and not going in the direction I expected'. But, you know, still able to find my way out.)

And yet I find myself leaning on GPS navigation, even for places I know where to go. I set up the GPS when driving home from work. It helps with routing around traffic, and gives time estimates, but I think part of it is that it's just nice to have something to lean on.

I'm trying to decide if the solution is to use it less...or more.

#13: M is for Museums

We have memberships at several of the museums near here. Some favorites:

  • CuriOdyssey (formerly Coyote Point Museum) - a great little combination, a small zoo with a small science museum and a small environmental museum, all set on a gorgeous point overlooking San Francisco Bay. A family favorite. (Side benefit: as a member of both AZA and ASTC, membership gets reciprocal admissions to both zoos and science museums.)
  • Hiller Aviation Museum - lots of fabulous old planes, the front end of a 747 that the kids can man the controls of, flight simulators, and a great view of San Carlos Airport for those who like to watch the planes take off and land.
  • The Tech - very nice science museum in San Jose, and well-loved (and well-supported) by the local tech industry. Complete with giant domed IMAX screen.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

#12: L is for Languages

I'm fascinated by languages. The different ways concepts are expressed, the information on a culture's focus you can get from their languages, all interesting things. (I'm fascinated by information in general, but this is a particularly interesting subset.)

Some particular favorites:
Hawaiian first-person plural pronouns. English has one ('we') with variants by case ('us', 'our', 'ours'). Hawaiian has four, but they carry distinctly different meanings: 'kaua' is 'you and me', 'maua' is 'someone who is not you, and me'. (Inclusive and exclusive pronouns are distinct.) Likewise, 'kakou' is 'you, me, and at least one other person' - two-person plurals are distinct from three-or-more-person plurals - and 'makou' is 'at least two people who are not you, and me'.

Japanese personal pronouns. TV Tropes lists over 20 versions of 'I', ranging from 'this humble individual' to equivalents of the Royal We, along with 17 versions of 'you'. Fine gradations between them are one of those cultural minefields that it's far, far too easy to step in.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

#11: K is for Knives

Knives are tools used to cut things. Handy things, to the extent that I've carried one regularly for probably 25 years now.

I don't remember my first knife terribly well. I think I got a rusty old two-blade knife used at some point. I started carrying one regularly by high school, and lost a couple when I worked for Ames. (Including one I really wish I still had, a boating knife which had my father's - and my - name on it.)

At some point I picked up a Bucklite, a very nice little plastic-handled knife by Buck which went on my keychain until the lanyard hole broke. In college, I got a Swiss Army knife, which also went on my keychain, sharing space with the Bucklite for a while. (Whatever other tools it provided, I liked the blade on the Bucklite more than the blades on the SAK.)

I stopped carrying the Bucklite and just kept the SAK for about 10 years, until wear-and-tear on the red plastic became problematic. The replacement came in the form of the newly-released Leatherman Juice S2, which added a decent pair of pliers to the mix. (The knife blade was still not as good - too thin - but better than the SAK's.)

The Juice was carried for 9 years or so, but time came for it too to be replaced. Not for wear this time - the anodized aluminum is definitely worn but not breaking like the plastic did - but just because its shortcoming finally annoyed me to the point of replacement. The knife blade had never pleased me much. The screwdrivers (other than the Phillips) were painful (literally) to take out. The lanyard ring made it hard to use the Phillips screwdriver, because the driver was next to the ring but removing the ring was frustrating.

So, time to upgrade again. Criteria: better knife, pliers, screwdrivers I didn't hate. I had to go up a bit in size for what I wanted, but I did find one I liked - the Skeletool CX. Very nice high-quality blade, pliers, a changeable-bit driver (with optional extender that takes normal bits, and optional set of 40 bits). And things I didn't even know I wanted - I've come to love the pocket clip. I wasn't expecting to like the carabiner/bottle opener, but it combines so well with the pocket clip to make it easy to switch my keys on and off it while the tool hangs from my pocket. I'm very, very pleased with it. The only thing I really lost in the upgrade was the scissors, and I'll take that as a cost. (At least for now. Next time I upgrade...)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

#10: J is for Jones

Jones is the 5th-most-common last name in the US as of the 2000 Census. (I haven't been able to find 2010 data yet.) This is a small slip - it was 4th in 1990, behind Smith, Johnson, and Williams, but Brown managed to just barely pass it.

Jones is an interesting name, because it's common enough that it's entered slang in at least two different ways. The first is as a term for addiction - a jones for something, jonesing for it. I'm certainly addicted to being me.

The other, though - Keeping Up with the Joneses. It bothers me, because really, we shouldn't care about that sort of thing. If my neighbor buys a nice car, it doesn't hurt me, and I shouldn't spend money just to match.

But then, that's the advantage of being a Jones. I don't have to keep up with them. They have to keep up with me. And if I don't feel like making that a challenge, then everybody's happy.

Monday, April 11, 2011

#9: I is for Independent

Politically I am an Independent, not being a member of any party. There's a reason for this.

I'm morally opposed to political parties. I consider them - all of them, whether I agree with them or not - an unconscionable intrusion in the proper priorities of elected officials.

The proper priorities of an elected official should be the people of the area that elected him or her, and the people of the entire area served by the body he or she was elected to. (So, for a US Congress member, his or her district and the country as a whole.) There is a natural tension between these two priorities, which the official needs to balance - getting government benefits for your district vs. the cost on the rest of the country. Is it right to fight for a defense contract in your district? How about if the military doesn't want or need the item?

Political parties want themselves to be the first priority. Defeating the other party is more important than improving your district, state, or country. (They argue this by claiming that letting them win is better for the country; any look at their actual performance tends to disprove their point. Leaving corrupt members in place because they're on your side is not good for the country.)

But then, this is normal for any organization. The first goal of any organization is always to perpetuate itself, more than any nominal goal they carry. An organization dedicated to ending some form of suffering can never declare victory and disband; instead, it will find new things to fight, even if it's not the right group to fight it. (MADD has pretty much defeated drunk driving as much as it's possible; it's gone from 'something to joke about' to 'morally abhorrent' in the past 20 years, largely through their efforts. They won. So they've moved on to fighting against alcohol in general.)

Saturday, April 9, 2011

#8: H is for Home

Home is an interesting concept. Is it a building? A town? A region? One or more people?

Where is my home? I have a lot of places that may qualify.

My childhood home was a little house on Route 99 between Kennebunk and Sanford, Maine. I moved around to some other places, but they don't carry the notion of 'home' the same way.

For a town, it's a bit tougher. I typically think of Kennebunk, but I lived in Sanford for four years, and that has a distinct feeling of home as well. I think that Kennebunk was my first home, but I grew up in Sanford. (7th-10th grades are an interesting time.)

Region - I still think of myself as a Mainer. I was born in California, I've lived outside Maine longer than I lived there, but it's still where my attitudes were formed. (With the help of a mother who grew up near LA, so I wasn't quite normal even there.)

People - I suspect that's why I don't think of anywhere I've lived post-college as 'home' the same way - because the home since then isn't a place, it's the people in it. It's my wife, and now our children. Gilbert was going to be our forever home, but it didn't work out that way...and that's okay, because we're together here. Some day we'll find a house to buy here, but the house still won't be home...the people in it will be.

Friday, April 8, 2011

#7: G is for Games

While we don't play enough of them, we have a nice collection of board games. Some current favorites:
  • Dominion: We now have all the cards currently available, all 5 sets plus the three promo cards. Very nice game, lots of interesting things that can be done with it.
  • Power Grid: an interesting but long game. Some minimax issues at the end of the game, though.
  • Ticket To Ride: Very nice train game, with some interesting play choices. Multiple versions are available; we have original with the 1910 card set, Marklin, and the dice expansion.
  • Magic: the Gathering: an old classic, which my sons have gotten into. I still have a bunch of my old cards, plus some newer ones.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

#6: F is for Five Gods and Fantasy Fiction

Recently, I've been reading a serious of books by Lois McMaster Bujold, a fantasy fiction series referred to as the Five Gods universe, or the Chalionverse. It's currently three books: The Curse of Chalion, Paladin of Souls, and The Hallowed Hunt, with a tentative plan to add two more and have one per god.

The key to the setting is the Five Gods: The Father of Winter, The Mother of Summer, The Daughter of Spring, The Son of Autumn, and The Bastard, God of disasters and all things "out of season". They cannot physically intervene in the mortal world, but instead must guide humans to do what needs to be done. Free will being what it is, they may need to send hundreds of people for even one to accomplish what needs to be done.

In particular, the Bastard interests me. His sphere of influence includes anything that doesn't fit the normal expectations: in addition to the children born of adultery that you'd expect, he also includes orphans, homosexuals, and anyone else who doesn't fit in the neat niches society creates for them. I'm very pleased to see a system that explicitly provides a place for the people who just don't fit; it's relatively uncommon. (Another that provides it is the Glorantha setting for Runequest; the "Orlanthi all" is used, where if you say "all Orlanthi are farmers and herdsmen" it's understood that you mean about 6 out of 7; the other 1/7 perform support tasks of various sorts, but there's no shame in being part of that 1/7 or the traditional 6/7.)

Think how much easier life would be for everyone if this concept that "not everyone has to be normal" were more prevalent. Not everyone fits into the little niches. Maybe we should plan for that.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

#5: E is for Exhaustion

Up at 4:15 to get daughter to the airport. Blah. Today's going to be a long day.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

#4: D is for Daughter

So this morning I got up about half an hour early to check in for a flight. (Yay Southwest.) The flight wasn't for me, though. Bright and early tomorrow, I bring my daughter to the airport to send her on her way. Just for a little while - she's going to Denver for a conference with her Latin class. But this is her first solo trip, so it's a bit stressful for all of us. (Especially given Southwest's recent plane-integrity issues. Um.)

But I'm sure she'll be fine. She's bright, and well-centered. She'll have a cell phone and some money, and people looking out for her at the other end.

It's fascinating to watch her as she grows up. She's not a small version of me, nor of her mother, but an entirely new construction, built from the best parts of both of us and yet with a core that is no one else but herself.

I'm looking forward to seeing what she'll become.

Monday, April 4, 2011

#3: C is for Choices

"Success is made of hundreds of small choices. This is one of them."

This is the new motto. The current plan is akin to Alton Brown's; not to diet, but to change lifestyle in positive and long-lasting ways.

To that end, I have lists of things to do and not to do.

With that, the lists:

  • Fruit
  • Whole grains

At least 3x weekly:
  • Exercise
  • Salad

No more than 3x weekly:
  • Dessert (non-fruit)
  • Red meat
  • Pizza/Pasta

No more than 1x weekly:
  • Dining out
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol

We'll see how this goes.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

#2: B is for BMI

B is for BMI, the Body Mass Index. As with any single formula that attempts to describe a complicated situation, it's seriously lacking in providing useful sharp lines, but still can be handy for some uses.

For example: somebody with a BMI of 27 is listed as 'overweight', but may just be muscular, or large-framed. The categories are themselves suspect, with studies showing that people live longer in the 'overweight' range than the nominal 'normal' range.

And yet, some generalities are useful. Somebody with a BMI in the high 30s (like me) is seriously overweight and should deal with it. Somebody with a BMI in the high 80s (like one of the competitors on Biggest Loser: Australia) is massively overweight and in desperate need to lose some weight.

And so I'm starting a new plan on Monday. More details will come then.

Friday, April 1, 2011

26 Letters, 26 Posts: A is for April Fools' Day

[I saw a comment recently on blogging daily during April, except for Sundays - 26 days, and therefore 26 letters. I decided that it beats leaving the blog fallow any more, so we'll try it.]

Today's letter is A, and an obvious choice of item is April Fools' Day.

A coworker's comment sums up my attitude fairly well: "I hate April Fool's Day and St. Patrick's Day with equal vigor and for the same reason: both encourage amateur hour bumbling in areas I consider myself a semi-pro."

Except I'm not a semi-pro at either, but most of the April Fools' pranks out there really feel like amateur night. (As it has been said, Sturgeon was an optimist.) Even Google's famous ones haven't thrilled me much recently, although YouTube has generally done well. It's hard to top Rickrolling everyone, though.

That said, there have been some good ones. Thinkgeek usually has some impressive products lined up for the day (favorite for today: plush bonsai kitties).

I think my favorite for sheer effort so far is Scalzi's The Shadow War of the Night Dragons Book One: The Dead City. It's hard work to write that badly.