Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Joys of Being a Homeowner, part II

Been a little busy the last two days.

Yesterday was sunny for the first time in a month (and based on the pouring rain this morning, the only time this month), so I was out in the yard all day, working to get ready for winter. Snow is now just over halfway down the mountains behind the house and it could start snowing in the valley at any time now. My property is heavily wooded, and the cleared grassy part that is my front yard is about an acre, which means I've got a shitload of leaves to pick up every year. So that's what I was doing yesterday. Most of it I can pick up with the bagger towed behind my garden tractor. I had to trim back some of the trees and cut down all the pulpy dying rhubarb. I probably hauled ten to twelve bagger loads and a couple of garden trailer loads of yard waste back to the compost heap behind the shop. I also needed to make some repairs to the soffits and eves and replace a few cedars shakes. Recaulked the sunroom windows. All in all, I was pretty happy with what I got done yesterday.

Last night it stormed, and the yard of full of crap again. Sigh.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Help you, I will

Today's favorite spam email subject line:

"Thanks, a girl to be yours in here found!"

Yoda, the spammer, the Jedi have indeed fallen on hard times.

Friday, September 28, 2007

One of these days, Alice! To the Moon!

I watch a lot of nerd TV: the Discovery Channel, The History Channel, The Military Channel, National Geographic, The Learning Channel, The…well, you get the idea.

Something I’ve noticed - almost every show employs some fairly ill-defined units of measurement.

For example: tonight I was watching Modern Marvels – Snack Food Tech II (Hey! I like to know stuff) and the show made the following statement: “If all the Coca-Cola ever made was bottled in 8oz bottles, stacked end to end, it would reach to the moon and back 136 times.” Holy shit! That’s a lot of brown carbonated beverage, but that’s not what I’m getting at. It’s that whole “…to the moon and back…” part. This type of comparison is used a lot on these shows, I think a little clarification is in order.

This measurement is not well defined, do they mean from center to center of the two bodies? Or from surface to surface? Logically, I assume surface to surface, surface being sea level on Earth and the average surface level on the Moon. Now the Moon is in an elliptical orbit around the Earth so the distance between the two bodies doesn't remain constant, but mean distance, center to center, between the Earth and Moon is approximately 238,863 miles. The Earth is about 8,000 miles in diameter, and the moon is roughly a quarter that at 2159 miles more or less. Subtracting the radius of the moon, 1079 miles, and the radius of the Earth, 4000 miles from the mean Earth/Moon distance gives us roughly 233,784 miles surface to surface, plus or minus a certain margin of error which I’m just going to ignore. 233,784 miles, times 2 (there and back again), times 136 equals 63 million, 589 thousand, 248 miles. Like I said above, holy shit! That’s a lot of Coke.

Another common measurement on these shows is the Earth’s circumference. I.e. if all the iPods currently in existence were laid end to end, they would make a line long enough to stretch completely around the Earth. Again, just a little vague here, which iPod model? The numbers vary significantly depending on if we're talking Classic or Nano for example. For the purposes of convenience I'm just going to average all the models together. Now the circumference of the earth at the equator is 24,901.55 miles. But, if you measure the earth through the poles, the circumference is a bit shorter - 24,859.82 miles, because the earth is an oblate spheroid. In other words, it’s a little wider than it is tall, giving it a slight bulge at the equator. The difference is only 41 miles or so, but 41 miles is a lot of iPods, about 3.6 million by my calculations (based on an average of 6 inches per iPod). So, which measurement do they mean? Since most people think equatorial rather than circumpolar when they talk about Earth's circumference, I’m assuming we’re taking the 24.901.5 measurement.

And finally, another common unit of measurement on these shows is the distance between New York and Los Angeles, which is about 2445 miles. Now is this as the crow flies (assuming a crow would want to fly in a straight line between these two cities. Hey it could happen, New York ravens might get the urge to go Hollywood and find their fortunes), or are we talking highway miles here? Beats me. All I know is that if you took all the Starbucks Venti-sized paper cups and stacked them up, they’d make a line stretching from the Big Apple to the City of Angles. That’s a lot of Carmel Macciatoes, and would explain all those white paper cups I see alongside the road.

My question is this: who figures this out? Is there some kind of Office of Really Big Vague Measurements, manned by guys from the old Monty Python sketch comedy troop somewhere? As the future Ultimate Emperor of the Universe, I think it's just about time we did something a little more official about this.

ATTENTION International Standards Organization (ISO): It’s about time you got off your Swiss Chocolate yodeling asses and did your jobs. I’ve already done most of the math for you (see above), and I’ll even go the final step and suggest a couple of unit names as follows:

The Alice: the basic unit of mean distance between Earth and Moon, surface to surface, 233,784 statute miles (376,238 Kilometers). Named for Audrey Meadow’s character Alice Kramden on the hit TV show The Honeymooners. “To the Moon, Alice, to the moon!”

The Clemens: the basic unit of measurement around the Earth’s circumference at the Equator, 24,901 statute miles (40,074 kilometers). Named for Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, who in 1897 wrote the famous travelogue Following the Equator. Which was immortalized in one of my favorite Jimmy Buffet songs, which I'm listening to right now.

I’ve got no idea what to call the NY to LA measurement. You guys at the ISO need to do some work. Figure it out.

Maybe if you ask real nice, somebody here can come with an idea?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Stupid Congress Tricks

Well, at last, Democrats and Republicans have buried the hatchet and are making real bipartisan efforts to fix America's problems. At last they've put aside their bickering to work on the things real Americans are concerned about. Rep Heath Shuler, D-NC and Rep Walter Jones, R-NC are pushing the Family Friendly Flights Act. You know it's a good law, when it's got a catchy title.

"The airlines have chosen to put our children in a situation that I don't feel comfortable with," said Shuler.

They are, of course, talking about movies on airplanes. Oh God, the horror, the horror! The crux of the FFFA being that these two dipshits want the airlines to create "Kid Friendly" areas on each commercial plane.

ATTENTION NORTH CAROLINA IDIOTS: here's a better idea, let's pass an act that creates passenger friendly areas on airplanes.

Between the endless Gordian knot of asinine government regulations we already have, and the out and out incompetence and stupidity of the air carriers, air travel is one of the most irritating, aggravating, and miserable trials of modern life. Rep. Shuler isn't comfortable with the situation? I'd be willing to bet my next airline "snackbox" that he's a hell of a lot more comfortable up there in first class than I am back in the livestock section. Hey, Shuler, when was the last time you tried shoehorning your giant pro-football playing ass into one of those coach class seats? When was the last time you bought tickets a month in advance, reserving an isle seat because you've got knee and shoulder problems from defending your country and not your million dollar NFL career - only to check in and find out you've been moved into a middle seat because some fucking amateur sports team decided to change flights at the last minute and the plane is full of juiced-up teenagers and we're so sorry? I'm curious, Representative Jones, when was the last time you checked in for the redeye home with your children, only to be told by some check-in counter robot refugee from the DMV that, oopsy, we oversold the flight. But, hey, we'll put you on standby for the next flight. That next flight being 6 hours later. I'm curious, you two vote-pandering Congressional jackasses (yes, I know that's redundant), when was the last time you booked seats in advance for a family trip, checked in online, printed the adjoining tickets - and got to the airport only to find that the airline has reassigned your family to three widely separated seats (all of them middle seats) for some unknown reason? I have to wonder when these two privileged jerkoffs have had to stand for an hour with their kid in the TSA security line, so some former mall-cop Gestapo wannabe can check their shoes and make sure they don't have any of that dangerously explosive bottled water on them. These two morons should try sitting in an overloaded, poorly maintained piece of Boeing crap with over-flowing toilets and screaming kids on the tarmac at O'Hare for fours hours because the plane can't take off and the pilots aren't allowed to return to the terminal.

You want to make air travel better for children? Let's pass a law that allows passengers delayed by airline incompetence to camp out overnight at the airline CEO's house, and Mrs CEO has to fix them breakfast the next morning. I guaren-goddamm-tee you she'd make sure those people got where they were going on time. Let's pass a law that sends the airline board of directors to one of those secret CIA prisons in Bulgaria every time their reservation department "overbooks" a flight. I mean seriously, how hard is it? You've got 150 seats, you sell no more than a 150 tickets. This isn't rocket science, my 6th grader can figure this out. They can sure as hell do enough math to calculate their million dollar annual bonuses, they can do the seat math. The average American's ass gets wider by at least an inch a year, yet airline seat width is retreating faster than the Greenland ice sheet. Let's pass a law that mandates that the ergonomics of airline executives' office chairs must match those of their airline coach seats exactly, inch for inch. Make the seats better, you get a better office chair, otherwise you can suffer, bitch. Let's make a law that says every single time an airline imprisons it's paying customers in an airplane stuck on the runway for more than two hours because of "weather" or some other such bullshit, the children of every FAA employee are rounded up, put in a small room with one overflowing port-O-potty and no air conditioning until the situation is resolved.

Seriously, this is the top priority in North Carolina? Here's a real idea: let's let the free market sort it out. People who don't want their kids exposed to online movies should get together and petition the airlines. Don't take your kids on airlines that show gay snuff porn (seriously though, what the hell airlines are these people flying on? The last three flights I've been on have shown Shrek III, Night in the Museum, and The Astronaut Farmer.) Eventually major carriers will take a lesson from Alaskan Airlines, they don't show movies, they rent "Digi-players" at four bucks a pop. It's basically a portable DVD player with a variety of programming, you put on the ear phones and watch whatever the hell you want, when you want. Simple, easy, popular, no laws required - unfortunately, it's low profile so there's not enough controversy for Representatives to grandstand their way into the "Outraged Parent" voting demographic.

Listen Shuler and Jones, please, go back to doing nothing about the war and leave the rest of us alone. Oh, and somebody get me another bag of peanuts.

Hmmm, Tacos!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

One of those days, AGAIN

You know, I'm getting sick and tired of seeing my own blood. Really, enough now.

So after regaling you all with tales of woe with the lathe chisel across the knuckles of my left hand yesterday, I managed to do this today:

No, this is not what I intended.

This is, was, an eggshell turning. When finished (never!), the walls of the bowl should be no thicker than 1.5mm, thin enough that light shines though. This is quite difficult. I had the upper portions of the wall turned to about 3mm thickness and was slowly thinning down the bottom portion. I reached inside the bowl while it was turning to smooth the inside wall with a piece of sandpaper, so that I could get a good caliper reading on it, and BOOM! Pieces everywhere. Razor sharp pieces. Flying shards sliced three deep parallel cuts across the first three fingers and thumb of my right hand.

If you're going to injure yourself repeatedly, keep it bilaterally symmetrical I say.

Should you ever decide to take up wood turning, remember one of the best things you can invest in is a quality full-face shield. Just saying.

Oh, and get a good First Aid kit.

Gone Fishing

Actually I'm off for a couple of hours to the sawmill. I need to pick up some more rough cut birch planks and chat with a couple friends who own the place. The owner is a Vietnam vet, and his son is an Army vet, purple heart recipient (IED in Iraq), dammed nice people even if I wasn't buying wood from them.

Back in a couple hours.

The Accidental Time Machine (corrected)

Being somewhat limited in my activities today (see previous post), I decided to spend the morning reading Joe Haldeman's new book, The Accidental Time Machine. I'm a fast reader, 2 hours last night before bed and two hours this morning, 278 pages, and I'm done. That's about average for me.

Don't worry about spoilers, I won't ruin it for you.

I've always been a fan of Joe Haldeman. The Forever War is one of my favorites, especially the author's special edition, with the central section restored to Haldeman's original. I reread the Worlds trilogy every couple years, and All My Sins Remembered. I didn't much care for the sequel to The Forever War though, Forever Free* because I just didn't like the ending. And I really didn't like Old Twentieth, for the same reason, I hated the ending. But, hey, it's Haldeman, and there are dammed few authors I really like, so when Amazon offered me a discount on a hardcover of the The Accidental Time Machine, I bought it.

And I'm glad I did.

The Accidental Time Machine is like the Haldeman of old - only more light hearted and funnier. There's a humorous undertone to the narration that is missing from his more serious books. The story is interesting, the characters are thoroughly enjoyable people, the pacing is fast, and it ends on an upbeat. There's a little of everything, danger, technology, religion, mysterious intelligences with unexplained motives, and a turtle. Haldeman doesn't explain everything, you're left with a few mysteries to flesh out for yourself. Haldeman gives you plenty of clues, but doesn't beat you over the head with the details - in other words, he assumes his readers are smart and imaginative and they don't need every little subplot explained. I consider that a compliment.

Unlike much of Haldeman's previous work, The Accidental Time Machine is not military, the protagonist is a lowly, under-achieving research assistant at MIT, who makes an accidental discovery resulting in a strange and sometimes dangerous trip into the future.

Haldeman is back on track with this one, and I'll give the book the highest compliment I can - I wish it was longer, because I would have liked to have seen just a bit more of the world he created.

* Correction: In the original post I had incorrectly said the sequel to the Forever War, was Haldeman's Forever Peace. David Kletcha pointed this out in the comments and I fixed it in the post. So David's comment no longer makes any sense, but that's OK, better he look crazy rather than me. Thanks David.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

One of those days

Don't expect any long posts out of me for a day or so. I had a lathe chisel kick back at me today while turning. Not just any chisel, but the 2lb Sorby hollowing scraper. Hit me right across the knuckles of my left hand. I hit the kill switch on the lathe and turned off the shop dust collector system with my elbow before the pain and swelling started. I was pretty sure I'd broken at least one knuckle, maybe two. But, good news, they're just bruised - and swollen, and turning black and blue and yellow. And I got a pretty good cut on the index finger. No stitches, just a couple of butterflies and a bandaid.

Of course, this is the hand that I already have problems with, and hurts all the time. Of course it is. I'm typing one handed at the moment, so if my typing is even more crappy than usual, you know why. I've got my injured hand wrapped around a cold beer, that seems to be helping.

I heal fast though, and this isn't any big deal. Just the usual shop injury. I just may not feel like typing for a day or two. The management apologizes for any inconvenience this may cause you.

Reinventing the Wheel

I get a lot of magazines, most of them dealing with science or technology in one form or another. Most of them publish a “Top Ten List” of history’s greatest inventions at least once a year. Teh interweebs are full of top ten lists as well. All of these lists are pretty similar, the wheel, the clock, antibiotics, the personal computer, the telephone, etc.

Bah! I shake my little arthritic fist in derision at your lists. Bah!

Those things are okay, I guess, but great inventions? Hardly. The wheel led to the car, which led to California highways, which led to highway shootings. The clock? I’m retired, I don’t care what time it is, half of the time (heh) I don’t even know what month it is. Antibiotics are just making the germs stronger and more intelligent by killing off the weak ones, pretty soon they’ll own us. The PC? Yeah that led directly to Windows Vista, there’s a great invention, sure. The telephone gave us telemarketers and “Family Plans" and people who discuss their intestinal polyps in loud voices on public transportation. I could go on, really I could keep this up all day, but for your sake I'll stop there.

You want the best of technology? Try this:

1. Indoor plumbing: A couple of years back we went to the Maryland Renascence Festival. It was a fun day, no doubt about it. Where else can you dress up in coffee can armor and eat roast turkey legs with your bare hands, dripping grease on your sandals like some medieval barbarian? But there are people who seem to think that this is somehow an accurate representation of life in the Dark Ages. I’ve heard people talk, in complete sincerity, about how much simpler life was back then, easier, better, every day like the Renascence Festival. Are you kidding me? I could make a list, a long list, of why these people are dangerously insane and why they shouldn’t be allowed to wander around without a keeper. That list would include things like, oh, not being somebody’s property (what? You don’t know what the word ‘surf’ means? Not everybody was a knight, princess), eating on a regular basis, dentistry, and on and on. But I’ve gotta tell you, right at the top of that list would have to be not having to go outside at 3AM in 10 below weather to take a leak. If you don’t have to get up twice a night, don’t gloat, you’ll be in your forties sooner or later, and then you’ll see I'm right. Hot showers, too, also.

2. Internet: Seriously, how can you live without online Poker and free porn? Okay, I don’t gamble, online or otherwise, and pixels, no matter how they’re arranged, don’t do much for me. But seriously, before the internet how did people find out the really important things? Take this show I’m watching, I know I’ve seen this supporting actress somewhere before, something about her reminds me of Firefly but I know she was never in the series or the movie because I just watched the whole dammed thing on DVD. Before the internet I would have had to just live with the aggravation of not knowing, like an itch in my brain. Arrgh! But, with the internet, viola! It’s Moon Bloodgood from the canceled show Daybreak, also starring Adam Baldwin from the canceled show Firefly. Hah! See? See? The entire world’s information at my fingertips, all the time. God bless Al Gore for inventing the Internet.

3. Self Cleaning Cat Box: That’s right, a self cleaning litter box. See, we got cats, big ones, one grey, one white, brothers. So far as I can determine the only purpose they serve is to generate big balls of hair (seriously, I get enough hair on a daily basis to knit another cat, twice life-size) and turn perfectly good Frisky Liver Bits into cat crap. Do you know how much manure two big cats generate? I could do nothing with my day but clean the dammed litter box. Internet Friends, there’s something you should know about me – I’m squeamish when it comes to cat boxes. I don’t know why. Some people fear snakes, or spiders, or big-nosed men in turbans – me, it’s cat boxes, they just give me the willies. Why doesn’t somebody else in your family who likes cats clean the box, you ask? Yeah, why is that, I wonder. Anyway, we got one of those self-cleaning jobbers, but get this, you have to empty the little plastic tub like every day. Duh, what the hell good is that? I cut the bottom out of the waste bin, mounted the whole gizmo on top of a stand, put a large tub under it with a hinged plastic flap door, and lined the tub with one of the those industrial strength flex garbage bags. No smell, no muss, no fuss. Every couple of days toss in a scoop of litter, and empty it once every two weeks. Easy, sanitary. I’ve also got an automatic cat feeder too, that holds fifty pounds of cat food. It’s like the 21st century they always promised us on the Jetson’s, robots shovel it in, robots shovel it out.

4. Automatic Drip Coffee Maker: If I have to explain this one to you, you really wouldn’t understand the answer. There’s also something seriously wrong with you.

5. Heated Leather Car Seats: Whoever came up with this deserves a Nobel Prize. I’m in pain most of the time these days; I use the heated leather seats in my truck as a heating pad. They’re wonderful. I’ve got them turned on pretty much all of the time. In fact there are nights where I’m temped to get out of bed and go out to the garage and sleep in those seats. I will never own a vehicle without them again. After I become Emperor of the Universe, I’m making it mandatory that all vehicles incorporate heated leather seats – and that most especially includes commercial aircraft.

6. TiVo (or even better, HD DVR Cable Boxes): Being able to watch what I want, when I want is the one of the great ideas ever. Being able to pause a live show or fast forward through Cialis commercials? Genius! Throw off the chains of network programming, free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, I’m free at last!

7. Amazon: I pre-ordered Larry Niven’s Fleet of Worlds from Amazon last week, while I was on the site, Amazon (who knows what I like, how do they do that?) asked if I’d like to also order Joe Haldeman’s The Accidental Time Machine. At a significantly reduced price if I bought both books. Hell yes! No muss, no fuss, they already know my credit card number and I get free shipping (to Alaska!), I push the order button and three days latter Haldeman arrives in my mailbox. Brilliant! Other retailers need to take a lesson from Amazon, to wit: Alaska is a state. The 49th State, the biggest state (you could cut Alaska in half, and Texas would be the third largest state) with the single largest per capita pool of folks who order most of their goods via mail, with the largest USPS and FedEx hubs outside of Memphis. Half of online retailers won’t even ship to Alaska, or want to charge more for shipping than it would cost to ship the product to Zambia! Jerks.

8. Hi-Definition TV: We bought a 70” Mitsubishi Plasma TV and a Toshiba HDDVD player a while back, plugged into the living room Sony surround sound system, all I can say is Holy friggin’ crap! It’s realer than real. When we watched The Thirteenth Warrior (one of the best movies ever, screw the dammed critics) I could practically smell the blood. I can’t hardly watch regular TV any more, if you haven’t seen Raging Planet on The National Geographic HD Channel, you really, really should. More HD, more! In the future, scholars will divide history into BHD and AHD (figure it out).

9. Portable Video/Music players: Because it’s the only thing that makes 10 hours on an airplane, shoehorned into the torture device they call a seat next to some sweaty sumo wrestler, tolerable. I’ve got a Creative Arts ZEN and I can load a dozen movies and thousands of songs and I put the headphones on the minute I sit down. Never, never again will I have to listen to that irritating “safety brief” (Yeah, right, you go down in the Pacific and you’re going to live long enough to deploy the life raft, sure. How often has that happened, ever?) or the bored pilot who thinks he’s some kind of tour director constantly telling passengers to look out the window at things 30,000 feet below on the other side of the cloud deck. Shut up and drive already.

10. Duct Tape: which really doesn't require elaboration, other than to say: is there anything it can't do?

Me likey

I just finished watching the 2nd season premier of Heroes, and I just gotta say, I'm giddy, like a schoolgirl. What a truly excellent show.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Starship Troopers

One of my favorite books is Robert Anson Heinlein’s Starship Troopers.

Few books, of any genre, can stir controversy the way Starship Troopers has for the last 50 years. People hate it, people love it; few people are ambivalent about it – even those who haven’t, you know, actually read it.

In early the 70’s, when I was a young teenager, I stumbled across Heinlein the local library. Up to that point I had never read much Science Fiction. I had read H. G. Wells The Time Machine in 5th grade and it scared the crap out of me - so I stuck more to WWII submarine stories, the Hardy Boys and Westerns. But one day I passed a rack of tattered paperbacks and a copy of Heinlein’s Farmer in the Sky caught my attention. The cover art was what did it, a big spidery looking purple machine on rocky ground under the light of Jupiter, surrounded by men in spacesuits (fairly obvious in retrospect that the artist had never read the book, or actually knew what Jupiter really looked like). On a whim I read it, and I was hooked. I loved Heinlein, it was like he was writing specifically for me, which in a sense he was, since his Young Adults where intended specifically for the demographic I was part of. Over the next year I read every Heinlein I could get my hands on, including his ‘Adult’ novels. I found that I didn’t, and still don’t, care much for his adult novels (Stranger in a Strange Land does nothing for me) but I loved his Young Adult stories, and I still do. The protagonists in his books were not much older than me, as group they tended to be awkward teenagers who didn’t fit in, they tended to think differently than their peer group, they tended to be talented, they tended to be opinionated, but by and large they stuck to their opinions even if that made them unpopular. They faced adversity, but with brains and wit and quick thinking they always overcame it.

Eventually I got around to Starship Troopers. I loved it. As a kid, what I took away from the book was honor, duty, and service above self, courage in the face of adversity. I hardly noticed the political stuff that others took so seriously, in fact I didn’t really notice it at all. In those days, before Star Wars made Science Fiction generally popular, if you read SciFi, you didn’t talk about it. In an age where man had recently walked on the moon, even my own peer group had little use for “that Buck Rogers Stuff.” It wasn’t until after I joined the Military and saw Starship Troopers on the CNO’s preferred reading list that I started to hear unflattering things about the novel.

Right from the first day I started this Blog I had intended to one day write a rebuttal to the nonsense I’d been hearing both in and out of the military over the last two decades. I intended to go through the novel chapter by chapter and address each of the idiotic statements I'd heard from others over the wardroom table and elsewhere. I intended to do this not just because those statements are wrong (Heinlein was a fascist, its true!), but also because Heinlein had made such an impact on my own life.

As it turns out, somebody beat me to it. In researching this subject online I came across a piece written by Christopher Weuve. I was so impressed by his critical research and solid analysis that I emailed to compliment him on the article and ask for permission to link to it from this site. As it turns out, Chris is an Associate Research Professor at the Naval War College in Newport, RI, one of the finest institutions of higher learning in the world (though he said he wrote the article prior to his tenure there). Chris also turns out to be a dammed nice fellow and he gave me permission to post a link here.

Go, read this. I think you’ll enjoy it. I wish I had written it. Thanks, Chris.

Note: I’ve been meaning to create a link section on this page, pointing to articles and information I fine useful and interesting, Chris’ article will certainly be on that list. Specifically because not only is it an insightful and thorough analysis of a controversial subject that is near and dear to my heart, but also because it is a perfect example of doing the legwork before forming an opinion. Chris tells me he intends to migrate the document over to PMWiki in the near future. I’ll update the link as necessary.

Weekend Stat Update (updated)

Well, so far the statistics I reported last week are holding steady. More traffic in the first 4 hours of this fine Monday morning than I had all weekend.

Again, nothing Earth shaking, but I find it interesting on both a personal and professional level. One of my goals with this site was to learn more about how blogs and other general interest sites attract and maintain readership and how rapidly information propagates through the general data sphere without special effort (there may be a book on this subject in my future). As some of you may know, my professional background is in the field of Information Management and the Perception of Information, and I'm highly interested in how a single site grows and connects to the larger data sphere, how connections develop, strengthen and refresh or fade, attract new connections, decline new connections, and how information moves from one site to another. Specifically I'm interested in the information itself, independent of the site or platform, i.e. when does the information become an entity of its own, and not part of the site or database where it was created? Does this happen automatically? Does it always happen? Does it never happen? Can it be made to happen? Can it be prevented from happening? How does the information change? Etc. If this sounds like I'm talking about Information as if it is alive, I am in a way. It may help to think of how the human brain stores information, maintains it, changes and perceives it over time based on new information and experiences, and how information fades over time without refresh. Personally, though, I tend to think in terms of Object Orientated Programming, where Information and the code for manipulating it are considered to be a single object. The data object can inherit properties from parent objects, can spawn descendants, and can connect to other objects.

I use the stats from my blog as a basis for observation, but I also use a large number of other sites as data points. Both well traveled sites and those that aren't visited often. These are simple observations, not empirical data points, so take the below with a reasonable margin of error.

Couple things I've noticed:
1. To maximize data connections, a blog should post a wide range of topics.
2. To maintain data connections and provide for maximum refresh, a blog must post as often as possible - at a minimum of once per day. More than once per day is better.
3. Controversial topics may develop a momentary boost in connections, but do little to maintain or refresh long term connections. Connections developed from controversial topics tend to fade rapidly unless controversial topics are the norm. If controversial topics are the norm, connections tend to be confined to a specific interest group, and other general interest connections tend to fade rapidly.
4. Humorous content tends to propagate widely, becoming independent of source more quickly than other topics. Humorous content tends to attract, maintain, and refresh data connections more rapidly and reliably than other forms of information.
5. (Update, I had this in my outline [and yes, I do outline more serious posts], but somehow I overlooked it). Feedback. Blogs that tend to attract and hold readers are those blogs that are interactive - even if they don't interact with you in particular. In other words, blogs (and even news or topic specific sites in broadcast mode) that have active comment sections, and especially where the blogger and commenters maintain active dialog with each other, tend to attract and maintain readership. They also tend to generate spontaneous connections to other data nodes. This appears to be true even if the reader is not a commenter him/herself. It may indicate that people are more interested in conversation, instead of simple lecture formats. This is my experience in public speaking and teaching as well. When I taught military doctrine theory, I very much made my lectures interactive as well as dynamic and tied directly to the target audience. I think this is one of the major reasons I was so successful at it.

Tentative Summary: Talk about a number of different things, talk a lot, talk often, sensitive subjects attract new readers, but non-offensive humor keeps them. If you want to become immortal, be funny. Update: Engage in dialog, listen to your readers.

Question: What do you think makes a good blog. Design and layout. Topics. etc

Sunday, September 23, 2007

What I did with my Sunday morning

I've been busy this morning. I've been turning these:

Into this:

What the hell are those, I hear you ask. Well, they are the fruiting body of the Prickly Wild Rose, around here usually referred to as the Sitka Rose. Called rose hips, they are extremely high in vitamin C, and are a common berry used in many traditional Alaskan dishes, jams, and candies and syrups. The Prickly Rose and Woods Rose are fairly common throughout the area were I live, mostly in bogs and clearings along the edge of the woods, my property is thick with them. The Nootka Rose is similar, but mostly grows only on Kodiak Island and the Cook Inlet area. Woods Roses produce large pink flowers and grow as far south as the central United States, but only in the Rocky Mountains.

Making jam from rose hips is a labor intensive process. First they've got to be picked. The best time to pick them is right after the first frost, which for us was about two days ago. Picking rose hips is a wet, sticky process, usually in the rain because that's the type of weather we have in the fall. Like their domestic cousins, wild roses have thorns, little tiny sharp thorns, lots of them. Once picked, the hips have to be washed in cold water and have the dried flower buds pulled off the end, this is a major pain. My son and I picked about 6lbs, and sat on the floor in the living room watching Star Wars episodes IV and V all the way through while we were preparing the berries. Once that's done, you need to boil them, 2 cups hips with 2 cups water for about 15 minutes to soften them, then they need to be run through a food mill, and the resulting pulp and liquid drained through a jelly bag. Most people give up at this point because the smell is fairly disgusting, kind of a cross between rhubarb, hot tomato juice, and boiled grass.

Once you've got the clarified juice, you turn it into jam just like any other fruit juice. In my case I use 4 cups rose hip juice, 5 1/2 cups of sugar, and one pack of pectin. What you get for your efforts is a jelly that has the color of rich port wine, tastes and smells like tupelo honey, and is high in vitamin C.

And what have you done with your day? I hope you didn't waste it.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

I'm going to be rich!

Ah, nothing like finding the classic Nigerian Letter scam in your inbox in the morning, eh? I haven't seen one of these in a while - lately my spam has been a bit more sophisticated - and this almost makes me nostalgic. The Nigerian Scam or 419 Scam, usually called the Advance Fee Scam by law enforcement, is a variation of the classic Spanish Prisoner Scam, which used to be propagated via snail mail and is at least a hundred years old.

But, seriously, do people actually fall for this? You'd think that there was nobody left on the planet who hadn't heard of this. If you think that, you'd be wrong. Monetary loss estimates vary widely depending on source, but it's at least $100 Million annually in the US, and somewhere around the same in the UK. Most of you know, or have figured out, that I have a fairly low opinion of most of the human race's intelligence, but you've got to be kidding.

Let's take at look at this one, shall we?

I am Mr. Charles Brown, a Canadian Attorney based in Manchester, United Kingdom and the personal Attorney to Late Mr. Mark Michelle. Late Mr. Mark Michelle was a private oil consultant/ contractor with the Shell Petroleum Development Company in Saudi Arabia before his death, hereinafter shall be referred to as my client.

Okay, a Canadian, living in England. An attorney. So we're talking a guy with an advanced education in an English speaking country, working in an English speaking country - who calls his client "Late Mr. Mark Michelle," not the late Mr. Mark. Sounds like a character from a Sitcom, Late Mr. Mark! His engrish and sentence structure elsewhere in the letter indicate English isn't exactly Mr. Brown's first language. Possible, no doubt, he could be a Canadian immigrant, or, you know, one of them Quebec types.

Something else interesting in this paragraph: Nigeria. What, you don't see it? Look again, Shell Petroleum Development Company. See everywhere else in the world, it's just Shell Oil, but in Nigeria it's called the Shell Petroleum Development Company LTD of Nigeria. Oops.

Personally, I kind of like that whole hereinafter bit in the last sentence, gives it a nice lawyerly sounding tone.

On the 3rd day of January 2004, my client and his wife along with their two children were among the victims of Boeing 737 Egyptian Airliner that crashed into the Red Sea. You can read more about the crash by visiting this website: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/3365769.stm

This is a valid BBC website containing a story about an actual airplane crash. True story. It was Flash Airlines (an Egyptian charter company) flight 604, filled with French tourists on the way home to Paris from a resort in Egypt. Because it was a private charter, I was unable to find a passenger list confirming the existence of Late Mr. Mark Michelle and his family. However, a Google search for "Mark Michelle" and "Flight 604" leads directly to this site, dealing with UK Money Laundering and 419 Scams.

Since then, I have made several enquiries from the French embassies to locate his next of kin or any of his extended relatives, but all to no avail. My client made a deposit in a bank at Manchester valued presently at US$45,000,000.00 (Fourty-five Million United States Dollars) and the bank has issued me an official notification to provide his next of kin or beneficiary by will, otherwise the account will be confiscated within the next sixty (60) working days.

Enquiries (sic), Fourty (sic)? You'd think an attorney trusted with millions would have a secretary, or at least a spell checker, wouldn't you? What was the the name of that bank again? There's a whole bunch of other stuff in this paragraph, but I'll leave that up to you to discover for yourself - seriously, tell me what you see in the comments section.

Since I have been unsuccessful to locate any of my late client's relatives for over three (3) years now, I seek your consent to permit me present you as the next of kin/ beneficiary of my late client’s estate so that the proceeds of this account would be transferred to you.

There's that engrish again. But now we're getting down to it. How would you like to help me commit major international fraud, eh?

Already, I have set out modalities for achieving my aim of appointing a next of kin as well as transfer the money out of this country, for us to share the money in the ratio of 53% for me and 35% to you, The 2% of the fund will serve as reimbursement of expenses any of us will make in the course of this transaction. While we shall collectively donate the remaining balance of 10% to Tsunami Relief Organizations.

You've really got to admire an attorney who would admit his goal (fraud in the previous paragraph) and illegal aims (this paragraph) so directly. Honesty, it's so refreshing. We need more lawyers like this. I also admire the part where Mr. Brown admits just exactly how much this is going to cost me, 2% of $45M is $900,000! But the cherry on top is that last bit, Tsunami Relief. Ho! We're going to be crooks here, but, hey, at least we'll be able to feel good about it. Brilliant touch, really.

It is my intention to achieve this transfer in a legitimate way, all I required is your honest co-operation,confidentiality and trust to enable us see this transaction through. This is a very legal business that I am very sure of its success and is absolutely risk free.

What? Wait, now I'm confused. Honest, trust, very legal? Hmmm, I thought we were defrauding a Manchester bank to the tune of $45M? Well, this must be that whole "Honor Among Thieves" thing, forgive my slowness, I'm new to this whole life of crime thing. Absolutely risk free? Well, yeah, except for that part were we get used like inflatable livestock in the prison shower if we get caught.

Kindly signify your willingness to assist by sending me an email for further procedures relating to this transaction. The email shall include the below information:
1. Your telephone and fax numbers.
2. Your complete location address.
Once I receive your positive response, I will then furnish you with more details on how we shall proceed with the claim. I look forward to receiving your prompt response. Regards, Mr. Charles Brown

Tell you what, Charlie, why don't you send me your complete location address and business card, and I'll have somebody contact you.

Update: Surfing around looking for information on 419 scams, I came across something on the subject by Cory Doctrow, and a link to 419eaters: Cory thought it was clever, and so do I.

Friday, September 21, 2007


I'm getting some odd behavior in the previous post, so if you're seeing strange things it's obviously because I need to blow some dust out of the machine. I'm trying to fix it.

Update: somehow, during upload to blogger, the previous post ended up with some spurious HTML code embedded in the text. Not sure how it happened, probably something I did. I have a bunch of pre-programmed keyboard shortcuts and I probably hit one or more without noticing. This happens to me once in a while, especially with my left hand. I think I'm pushing the shift key and I'm actually pushing the alt or control key. Sigh.

If the previous post looks like a management memo, where the pointed haired boss has been fooling with the font settings, just hit refresh and the world should be right again.

If you have no idea what I'm talking about, don't worry it's fixed, move along nothing to see here.

Hey, I'm on TV!

USS Valley Forge at sea in the Arabian Gulf

I dropped my wife off at the Anchorage International Airport last night, she's off on a business trip for the next week. Argh! I don't sleep well when she's not here, but, hey, what can you do, right? For twenty years, she waited at home alone for months, while I was deployed in the field or at sea, so I shouldn't complain (not that I won't, mind you). The one advantage of her being gone is that I can watch Modern Marvels and the Military Channel at night without hearing complaints (What? Another special on WWII?).

So this morning I came downstairs and flipped on the TV like I usually do, to watch the news while the kid gets ready for school, and it was still on the Military Channel from last night. And what were they showing? Operation Iraqi Freedom (yeah, yeah, there's an operational title that will haunt us for years). The special contained about five minutes of Infra-red video from the Mina Al Bakr Oil Terminal take down (a massive Iraqi off-shore oil loading terminal). In fact, the video was labeled "VFG FLIR" (USS Valley Forge, Forward Looking Infra-Red). I took that video. I and my team designed, procured, and installed a high resolution video capture system on Valley Forge when everybody in San Diego told us that it couldn't be done, and wasn't necessary in the first place. In fact, we ended up with two systems for less than the original cost estimate for one. We ended up using the information collected from that system on a daily basis, and six years later a small bit of it is on TV. And it looks good.

How cool is that?

I had a hand in the oil terminal missions. Most of what I did I can't talk about, but as Valley Forge's Intelligence Officer, my team and I did most of the scouting missions and intelligence work for the off-shore oil platform missions in the months leading up to the war. Some of it was under pretty hairy conditions. But that intelligence was spot on the money, the SEALs took down that platform without a shot being fired or a life lost on either side. There are dammed few other missions that went as smoothly. Despite how this war is turning out now, I'm still more than a little proud of my part in that operation.


The picture is my last ship, the Aegis Guided Missile Cruiser, USS Valley Forge, CG-50, in heavy seas in the Northern Arabian Gulf. I took the picture from one of the ship's RHIB's (rigid hull, inflatable boat) returning from a scouting mission, about three days before the start of the war. I loved that ship, I miss her. Valley Forge is gone now, decommissioned and sunk as a target off Hawaii, because of a bunch of short sighted fools in the Pentagon.

You can click on the picture for a much larger image.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Protect and Serve, maybe not so much

I assume you've seen this:

Or this one?

And this? or this latest one from Warren Ohio? (these last two begin with CNN adds that you have to sit through. The first one you'll have to click on "Taser Catches Suspect, Officer" and that last one you'll have to click on "Officer on Leave Over Stun Gun", I can't link directly to the video or do an embedded video, though I expect it'll end up on youtube sooner or later).

What do all of these incidents have in common? Well, for one thing in each case, the individuals tazed were acting in a fairly obnoxious manner. In the embedded video of Andrew Meyer getting tasered during John Kerry's speech at the University of Florida, Meyer obviously went there looking for a confrontation. In the second video, Victoria Goodwin was uncooperative with police, she refused to halt her conversation and clearly exaggerated the situation to her mother on her cell phone. In the third video, Hollingsworth is major caliber batshit, and in the last one the women is an obnoxious, unruly drunk.

What else do they have in common? Well, massive overuse of force for one thing, to wit: repeated and excessive use of Tasers. And police officers that obviously either do not have an understanding of, or are ignoring, the the basic rules governing the use and escalation of force in law enforcement. I get the feeling that they are enjoying the amount of pain they are inflicting as well in a "Bastard, since you won't bow to my author-a-tee (best Cardman impression here), let's see how you like this!" manner.

Before I go any further, let me say that I have been on the receiving end of "non-lethal force," both pepper-spay and electronic stun guns. No, I didn't get taken down by campus police while disrupting a politician's speech, it happened as part of my training as military security forces and as a Navy Boarding Officer. To qualify to carry such weapons, and make no mistake they are weapons, you get the privilege of having them used on you. I've been pepper sprayed three times, and tasered once. Of the two, I'd have to say I'd rather be pepper sprayed - but this is a lot like getting your choice of torments in an inner circle of hell, both suck beyond all conception. Also, a word of advice - if you do get tasered, try to make sure you empty your badder first. No, I didn't piss myself, but I know people who have. It ain't pretty.

Moving on. I understand law enforcement. I trained in military law enforcement, and I trained with New York and New Jersey cops. I know a few police officers. And it's a dammed difficult and sometimes extremely dangerous job. But, the thing to remember is that cops are not above their fellow citizens, their job, first and always, is to "protect and serve." The cops in the above videos have forgotten that, and have allowed themselves to become thugs, enjoying the power they have over others. I'd be the last one to condemn an officer without the whole story, and obviously we're not getting the whole story from those little video clips, but we're getting enough. Rules of force, i.e. the rules governing the escalation of force, stipulate first and foremost that the officer use only the minimum force necessary to resolve the situation. Period. This is the first rule in any police department, military or civilian.

There is no excuse for the repeated tazing of Andrew Meyer, there were more than enough police present to remove him from the situation without use of a weapon (this is, of course, assuming you agree he should have been removed in the first place). Meyer was unarmed, he presented no physical threat to either the officers, the crowd, or Senator Kerry. His behavior was obnoxious, true, but there is no evidence of physical threat. Tazing, let alone repeated tazing, for what amounts to nothing more than heckling is way over the line.

Unless there is off-video evidence that Victoria Goodwin presented a threat, the same applies in her case. There were two officers present in the video, certainly more than enough to arrest a women on a cell phone. Of course, we didn't see her speeding or the events leading up to her traffic stop, the officers may have legitimately believed she was dangerous. But then why did they approach the car as if it were only a routine traffic stop? Something doesn't jib here.

I can see how court officers may have considered Hollingsworth a threat. I think a case can be made that the first taze was justified, but what came after was not. Use of disabling weapons, in close quarters during a struggle where you have more friendlies than hostiles is just plain stupid and dangerous, indeed one of the officers was hit by a fellow officer's weapon. But, and here's the crux, if Hollingsworth was a such a threat that he needed to be cuffed and have his head covered in mesh (to prevent spitting), why weren't his feet shackled? Believe me, when I say that I am in no way defending this asshole, but some forethought and common sense on law enforcement's part could have prevented this whole thing.

And then there's the drunk woman. Any beat cop knows he's going to have to deal with obnoxious violent drunks sooner or later. I've dealt with many in my time as Navy Shore Patrol or as the Duty Watch - I've gotten a few black eyes and bloody noses, but I've never had to taser anybody. We don't see the part leading up to how the cop got her into the back of the cruiser, but he did. Again, why were her feet not secured? Or her hands secured via cuffs to lock-down hard points? I can see at least two in the video. If the cop couldn't do this, because it presented a risk to himself since he was alone and awaiting backup, why put her in the cruiser in the first place? Again, it may be possible to justify the first taze because it appears she tried to kick the police officer when he opened the car door, thus presenting a threat (of course this begs the question of why he didn't go around to the other side and come at her head first). Once she had been removed from the vehicle, and back-up had arrived, there were more than enough officers present to get her into ankle restraints. That's why cops carry riot cuffs (the plastic zip-tie jobbers) in the first place. Hell, the first cop could have sat on her, considering how far his belly was hanging over his belt, I don't think she could have struggled much after that.

In each of these cases, the cops reached for their tazers as a first response. And this is becoming habit across the nation. It's a matter of I don't want to deal with you, so Zssspt! Especially in the first two videos above. And in this incident at Powell University. Understand, I am not calling for the removal of this tool from law enforcement, and I have no desire to make law enforement even more difficult than it already is. But, sooner or later we're going to need some strict federal rules governing the use of these weapons by law enforcement, with absolute strict accountability. For their own sake, cops need better and repeated training in the use of non-lethal force, and we need it mandated by law. But what we really need, are cops who have it pounded into their heads over and over and over that their job is to "protect and serve."

I really don't like this guy, seriously

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad asked permission to lay a wreath at the World Trade Center site when he comes to New York City next week.

Permission was denied.

"President Ahmadinejad intended to lay a wreath at the site of ground zero in order to pay tribute to the victims of the terrorists attack of Sept. 11, 2001," said Mohammad Mir Ali Mohammadi, spokesman for the Iranian mission to the U.N.

You've got to be kidding me.

Pay tribute to the victims of the terrorist attacks? It's a foregone conclusion that Ahmadinejad intends to use his visit to the UN as a way to kick the US in the teeth, but visit Ground Zero and pay tribute to dead Americans? This makes no sense to me, until suddenly the light goes off in my head. Sure, he intended to pay tribute - to Mohamed Atta and his 18 buddies.

Choke on your tribute, Ahmadinejad, say your peace at the UN and then go home. The last thing America needs is your tribute.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

When Children Go Bad

Bad news, my son has become a Dark Lord of the Sith. His mother and I are somewhat less than thrilled, but we respect his career decision. Truthfully though, we're hoping it's just a phase and he'll grow out of it before he, you know, subjugates whole star systems or blows up Alderan or something. Until then, we're having to call him Darth Catastrophe.


The helmet has a vocoder that changes your voice into a weird parody of James Earl Jones. It also has a button that makes genuine Darth Vader wheezing noises. It's just so cool. I would have killed to have a Halloween costume like this, even if I was a teenager when the original Star Wars came out.

The crappy resolution is because this is a cell phone picture. And yes this is one of the pictures I was trying to get off my phone this morning. Ah ha! I must have solved my software/sync issue say you. Wrong!

I did an end run. I transferred the pictures using a mini-SD card. Because the stupid software is still choking on the phone. I may have my son give it a good dark side of the Force neck squeeze, that ought to fix it.

Technical Woes

I am a technophile, I love blinking lights and cool black plastic and shiny stainless steel gadgets. I buy them not because I need them, but because I deserve them. But I am not a patient man, and I tend to violence as the first option, not the last. There are days when I have the almost overwhelming urge to smash electronic things into tiny pieces, pour gasoline over the mess and light it on fire, and then dance naked around the resulting bonfire howling at the moon. Would that make things better? Maybe not, but it sure as hell would teach technology who is boss, now wouldn't it?

I took some photos using my cell phone camera yesterday, and this morning I wanted to download them to my laptop. I've done this a hundred times and never had a bit of trouble - as long as the Sony Clie sync manager was shut down. This morning when I started the phone sync software it informed me that Motorola had an upgrade available for the phone tools package. Hey, I'm all about upgrades (as long as it's not, you know, Vista). It may be that I hadn't had enough coffee yet this morning to be making intelligent software decisions, I don't know. So I clicked "upgrade." Argh! Stupid Stupid Stupid (if you're picturing me banging my head on the desk, you've got the right image). 30 friggin' megs? Hey, Motorola! How about a heads up on file size before you start the download? That would be nice, you dipshits. Anyway 30megs later, then a full reinstall, then the software has to initialize with the phone. You see where this is going right? The stinkin' software wouldn't talk to the phone, in fact it crashed my laptop, which has never happened before. Bastards.

Reboot, re-initialization, this time I've got communications. Everything finally looks good, but now the pictures don't show up on the laptop. More fooling around (in the middle of all of this, I have to stop and take the kid to school because it's band day and he can't take his big honkin' horn on the bus for some reason). Finally I can see the pictures, but every time I start the transfer, the phone drops sync. Argh! Man, this is pissing me off.

I have advanced degrees in computer science. I have thirty years experience with computers and advanced digital communication systems of every type, and I'm certified in 6 computer languages by the ACM. I have the A+ certification. I have both the MCSE+I and MCSD certification (yeah, yeah, I was picking on computer geeks yesterday, so what? I'm qualified to do so). Additionally I have twenty years experience in Information Warfare under extreme circumstances and in the R&D environment. You'd think I could transfer 6 lousy pictures from my phone to my laptop.

Goddamn, shoddy programming pisses me off. Attention Motorola, get your shit together! This is not optional, you have extremely competitive competition. Don't make me go somewhere else, because I will. I don't want to download juvenile ringtones, I don't give a shit about Gucci cool screen savers for my phone, I just want to download my Goddammed pictures. Remember yesterday, when I mentioned roof, rifle, and Catcher in the Rye? I don't miss, just so you know. Think about it.

And Steve? I don't want to hear about Apple products at the moment. Gloat in private, please. And wipe that smirk off your face.

Legal disclaimer: The above is NOT a real threat to anybody. It's a snarky rant. My wife wouldn't let me shoot anybody, including the feral cat that keeps killing the spruce grouse in my back yard. You're safe, but for the love of God, fix your stupid software, please.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Inconvenient Convenience

There is no technology so useful that certain elements of the human population won’t find a way to make it into a painful and irritating experience. What is it that drives certain people to add static to the environment just to annoy the hell out of the rest of us? Things like all the extra crap I have to do just to use my dammed debit card. Debit card, right? Great idea. Easy, cashless method of transferring my wife's money into a vender’s account, right? Perfect for people like me who think the register in a checkbook is for doodling stick-figure cartoons while my wife is in the bank trying to figure out who screwed up our account. My wife also doesn't let me have cash, because I'll just spend it on strippers and booze. So debit cards, great idea, all I have to do is swipe the card, enter the PIN bip bip bip bip and I'm on my way with the booty. Bing bang boom, out the door. What could be easier? Except, every single day, some nearsighted, sexless, cave dwelling Dark Nerd of the Sith adds yet another hoop I’ve got to jump through. You can see them sitting like maggots in their pithy white Apple basements, surrounded by piles of empty Mountain Dew cans and moldering Wired magazines, mumbling to themselves in Klingon, “Convenience is a dish best served cold, bitches!” They hate the human race, these Visa card programmers, but perversely these socially-retarded n00bs still crave human contact. They want to dazzle geeky cheerleaders with their coding prowess, they want to talk to somebody, anybody, they just want somebody to notice them.

There’s an old saying in Emotional Literacy circles, to wit: “Bad strokes are better than no strokes at all.” Stripped of psycho-babble, what this means is that having somebody yell at you and call you names is better than being ignored. In certain extreme circumstances, getting punched in the face or having your skivvies pulled up over your head in the Mother of All Wedgies is better than being invisible. The socially inept often find ways to desperately goad others into hostile action, just to get a little of the attention they pretend they don’t want – they also tend to wear loose fitting, highly elastic underwear, which explains why programmers often wear those stupid baggy shorts. It is my theory (and remember folks, you heard it here at Stonekettle Station first!) that for this reason programmers add options to the debit card reader code that, in their soulless sterile Star Trek universe, passes for human conversation. Things like:

- “Please swipe you store discount card” I’ve one item, toilet paper. I’m in a hurry. I don’t give a shit about discounts at the moment. Get out of my way.

- “Amount Okay? Press YES.” If I press “No” can I change the total to a lower amount? Of course the amount is Okay, you idiot, I put my friggin’ PIN in didn’t I?

- “Do you want stamps?” What is this, the friggin’ Post Office now? If I wanted friggin’ stamps, I’d friggin’ ask for friggin’ stamps. Goddammit!

- “Do you want to donate $1 to the Jerry Lewis fund for socially backward online gamers?” Arrrgh! Die, stupid Debit Card Reader, Die!

This is exactly why people like me end up on the roof of the Visa building with a copy of Catcher in the Rye and a high powered rifle. At the very least, somebody is getting a wedgie.

Monday, September 17, 2007

It's my fault

Yeah, it's my fault. On Sunday, 9 September, I penned this post about the decay of Cable News Channels, CNN in particular. In the post I mentioned how, in my not so humble opinion, the downturn came with the O.J. Simpson trial in the mid-1990's.

Mention the Devil and he appears. Gah!

The Juice is plastered all over my TV these last two days. What is it with this idiot? You'd think having barely escaped conviction for the murder of his ex-wife and her boy friend, he'd be on the straight and narrow for the rest of his life. Seriously, he must believe his own press releases. This time though, I think he is well and truly screwed.

And with that, I will never mention O. J. Simpson again on this blog.

Home Owner Blues

You may have noticed I haven't been online much today. That's because I've spent most of the day in the basement utility room working on the water heater. Ah, the joys of being a homeowner.

Like most Alaskans in the MatSu, indeed most Alaskans period, we have well water. It's pretty good water as such things go, but it's heavy in calcium and iron. I put an over-sized, whole house reverse-osmosis filter in a couple of years ago, right after we installed the new bathrooms and dish washer, but somehow I never quite got around to flushing out the water heater. So, the last couple of months the water heater has begun to make odd noises, almost as if there is a small angry man trapped inside who wants out, now! Which, you know, would figure. If I was trapped inside a water heater, I'd want out too. It's dark in there.

So anyway, noise inside a gas water heater usually means sediment build-up, and you need to flush it out. Excessive sediment reduces water volume and heating efficiency. Get enough sediment, long enough, and you're in Lowes buying a new heater. As we used to say when a mission had gone completely to hell, not exactly an optimal solution.

Today I finally had enough of the noise. I killed the gas, secured the fresh water feed, hooked up a hose to the heater drain and ran it out the basement door into the woods behind the kennel. Then I opened the pressure relief valve to allow air into the tank and cracked the drain valve on the heater and went back outside expecting to see a large steam cloud in the 37 degree morning we're having today.

Hmmm, no cloud, no steam, no water coming from the hose.

Not good. The lack of water and steam meant that my procrastination had allowed sediment to build up in the bottom of the tank, where it no doubt hardened into a solid mass blocking the drain valve. Fortunately for me, twenty plus years in the Navy had prepared me for this exact situation - I knew exactly what curses were most appropriate, and I was able to swear for a full five minutes without repeating myself. Unfortunately, even Navy cursing wasn't enough to unblock the drain valve.

Remove the hose, unscrew the valve spline cap, pull the guts out of the valve, poke around with a thin blade screw driver and Foosh! a face full of hot water, calcium debris and brown irony goop. Not one drop of which ended up in the bucket I had placed underneath the drain valve. This time, while cursing, I did repeat myself. Several times. I got the hose back on and reinserted the valve innards. Got everything tightened down. I suppose it is unnecessary to say that at this point I was dripping wet from head to toe? Went outside and and watched the steam clouds rise with no small degree of satisfaction.

Until the flow of water tapered off much to soon. That's right, the valve was clogged again. Repeat steps above, about, oh ten more times. Don't forget the cursing. Fill tank, repeat. Fill tank, repeat. Change the water filter for good measure. Refill the tank. Then lay in the wet mess and relight the pilot light.

The heater is now up and running, no noise. As soon as I have hot water I'm off to take a shower. Wish me luck.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

According to Blogthings the Muppet character I most resemble is:

You Are Animal

A complete lunatic, you're operating on 100% animal instincts.
You thrive on uncontrolled energy, and you're downright scary.
But you sure can beat a good drum.
"Kill! Kill!"
The Muppet Personality Test
I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

Privileged Information

I try to avoid posting on the same subjects, especially on the same day, as the other blogs that I read. However, over on John Scalzi’s Whatever I wrote a comment in response to one of his posts. I realized I wanted to expand on that comment here, and since my personal rules are more like guidelines than actual law, that is exactly what I’m going to do.


A few thoughts on the nature of Privilege and Responsibility in America

The founders of America were men who risked their lives to give the finger to King George with the Declaration of Independence, they were men who risked their lives and livelihoods and loved ones in the Revolutionary War, and they were the ones who forged a new country based on a Constitution they had written with a radical revolutionary idea in mind – that all men were created equal, and had equal rights, even if they didn’t enjoy equality in rank, station, or birth.

Of course, even in those first days of the new country, some were more equal than others (and despite the lofty ideals, some were decidedly unequal, more like property actually or inconveniently in the way). But the ideals of the Constitution were so powerful, that eventually, over time, the average citizen did become more or less equal. Strangely though, at the same time that such issues as slavery, woman’s suffrage, the rights of non-property owners, color, religion, and etc were being resolved, something directly contrary, and very subtle, was happing unnoticed in the background. In the early days of the country, the privileged were the ones who led the revolution. Don’t get me wrong, I doubt they were all that altruistic. Despite the often stated principles of freedom, democracy, equal representation, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, I doubt that there would have been an American Revolution if George III hadn’t been over-taxing the crap out of the Colonial landowners. Whatever their motivation, there can be no denying that the first leaders of this country were the type of men who fought, and bled, alongside their fellow countrymen. They didn't send others to achieve what they themselves wanted, they went themselves.

A hundred years down the line, and we still had leaders of vision and with a sense of service to high ideals. Men like Teddy Roosevelt. Who advocated a highly unpopular war with Spain, and then joined the US Volunteer Cavalry to put his money where his considerably large mouth was. He served alongside men from all walks of life, from highwaymen and cattle rustlers of the western frontier, to former slaves, to the highest society boys of New York’s 5th Avenue. His service in the USV and alongside the US Army 10th Cavalry (the African American Buffalo Soldiers) made such an impression on old Teddy that it fundamentally changed his thinking regarding rank, status, color, and privilege. Roosevelt imbued his children with his ideals, and as a result his son Quentin died in uniform chasing down German fighters in WWI, and his son Theodore Roosevelt Jr., who also served in WWI, won the Medal of Honor while leading the assault at bloody Utah Beach in WWII – and died a month later in France, of an ignoble heart attack.

Military service, even service in combat, does not automatically imbue a person with some kind of special insight, or magical leadership ability. There have been plenty of lousy Representatives, Senators, Judges, and yes, even Presidents with military experience. However, military service, especially combat experience does change you in ways that tend to be often indefinable. What those things are, I can’t say with any certainty other than that it has to do with service, obligation, and responsibility. There’s an old saying in the military: “Rank has its privilege.” This is true, but what is often left unsaid is the rest of that statement, which is “but the privilege of rank is often far outweighed by its responsibility.” And responsibility is something that many in power these days seem to forget. Responsibility to those that elected them, responsibility to those that did NOT vote for them but they represent anyway, responsibility to the nation as a whole, and most especially responsibility to those who defend this nation. I have to wonder: on a daily basis, how many sons, daughters, wives, husbands, sisters, brothers, and friends in uniform do the leaders of this country actually know, personally, or even peripherally. It's not just a matter of if they have served themselves (since most of them emphatically have not) it’s also that their social circles no longer include the kind of people who do. Their kids go to private schools, and it’s unlikely that those kids have schoolmates whose parents are deployed in uniform, since most military folks don't make enough money to send their kids to such institutions. And they generally don't let working-class military types into the upper-class restaurants, private sports boxes, gated-communities, private planes, or the country clubs that the Government and Industry leaders frequent. Not too many military folks attend those $10,000 a plate fund raising dinners either. Shaking hands with a captive military audience while the cameras snap away within the protected confines of the Green Zone does not constitute knowing somebody in uniform.

How many of our leaders have the moral courage, the strength of conviction, the sense of service and duty that their predecessors did? How many have the courage to risk their privileged positions, as George Washington did, or John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, or the countless others of the American Revolution? How many leaders today would have the courage to do what Roosevelt did? Somehow I have a hard time visualizing these people giving up their positions of power, the way Roosevelt resigned from his position Assistant Secretary of the Navy to join the USV, and leading a patrol in Anbar Province or along a mountain trail in Afghanistan.

Rank indeed has its privileges, but when those privileges far outweigh the responsibility and obligations of that rank - when privilege, but not responsibility, becomes hereditary - well then you’re no longer living in the democracy our ancestors fought so dammed hard for. When you go to the poles a year from now, bear that in mind.

Winter is upon us

This is the view out my sunroom window. That's Pioneer Peak, about 3000ft of elevation, of which the top 500ft or so is covered in snow this morning. Yesterday it was bare. The Chugach range behind Pioneer Peak is solid white.

Winter is coming early this year. Maybe the Republicans are right, global warming is a myth!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Lies, Dammed Lies, and Statistics

If I remember my geometry correctly, you can't plot a curve from a single point. And while it's possible, it's generally not a good idea to plot a curve from just three points either. Which is what I'm about to do. So, if you're some kind of statistics nut (or you know, like an actual scientist), look away now.

Stonekettle Station has been online for a month now, 34 posts, 35 if you count this one. I've been collecting stats on this blog since the first post, using an online service. Daily, I look at page loads, unique visitors, returning visitors, first time visitors, etc. If you look down at the bottom of this page you'll see a grayed object labeled "Secret UEU Monitoring Device", that's the HTML code which provides the link to the statistics service. I do this not because I have some pathological need to collect statistics, but because I'm interested in how a new blog site grows and develops over time.

Currently I'm averaging between a hundred and two hundred visitors a day. Around two dozen regular readers, who view the site at least 3 or more times a day. Another dozen regulars who view the site at least once a day. The stat chart shows a steady increase in readership, of around 2-5% daily. Considering that I've done nothing to promote this site, and I've only been at it for a month, I'm pretty satisfied with how things are shaping up (and personally, I can't believe that with those kind of numbers, advertisers aren't just beating down my door. What? Did you say something?).

I've noticed something interesting, or at least interesting to me.

And again remember the above disclaimer, I'm looking at only three weeks worth of data (or three expanded data points). It is possible to plot a curve using only three points, the curve isn't likely to be all that accurate, but you can see the basic online. This is what I'm seeing:

I get the largest number of visits on Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday through Friday visits are about 80% of Monday/Tuesday. Saturday and Sunday, not so much. The weekends show about 5-10% of the peak weekday traffic. Looking at IP addresses, a significant fraction of the weekday traffic is coming from corporate or government gateways, weekends show almost no corporate or government IP addresses.

Hmmmm, again, hard to make high confidence observations from only three data points, but it would appear that many of you folks visit on company time - and don't waste your preciously weekend time by surfing my site. Can't say I blame you. Looking at the data graphically, it would appear that most of you spend Monday and Tuesday surfing away your weekend hangover and not really getting much done. Somewhere around Wednesday, that sense of "Crap! I've got to get this done by Friday" kicks in and traffic steadily declines the closer to quiting time on Friday. Saturday and Sundays you're all obviously out hunting dinosaur fossils or playing bingo at the YMCA.

Nothing earthshaking, I just find it interesting.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Mysteries Revealed

Yesterday I posted a couple of pictures of my artwork. In the comments section there, and in a previous post - and mostly in a large number of emails I've received - a number of folks asked about buying some of my turned bowls.

Currently, I'm not selling bowls over the internet. This will change eventually, probably after the beginning of the year. This is for a number of reasons: first I've got to set up payment methods, probably a PayPal account. I've had problems with PayPal in the past, and I'm a little wary of that process. However, for most people, PayPal is the most convenient method of payment, but I need to make sure that it works for me. Second, and more importantly, I have to set up a separate catalog page with a way for folks to view each piece in detail. It is extremely important to me that anybody who buys my work has a complete understanding of what they are getting, and that's difficult to do on a computer screen. Buying art, especially woodwork, is a visceral experience, you really need to touch the piece to fully appreciate it - and to decide if it's worth your money. And my bowls are expensive. This is not because I have an over-inflated sense of my craft, but because of the amount of time and effort involved. Each piece can easily cost me well over a hundred man-hours. For example: the raw wood itself has to be harvested, i.e. I have to go into the woods with a chainsaw and ATV. For the heartwood bowls, I can't use just any tree - I need large, older trees that are at least 24 inches in diameter. I'm not big on indiscriminant cutting either, so each tree is carefully selected from areas where the impact on the environment is minimal or from where trees are being cleared already. Not all trees are suitable for the type of work I do. Selection and harvesting is hard work, a three-foot long 18inch in diameter green log can weigh over over a hundred pounds. Because of the area where I'm cutting, each log has to be hoisted up onto the cargo deck of the ATV, strapped down, and brought out through the woods to the truck. Usually this is over pretty rough terrain and through thick Alaskan woods, so I can't use an ATV trailer. This means I can only move two logs at a time on the ATV. Very time consuming. It normally takes two days of backbreaking labor to get enough stock for a month's worth of turning. Once home, each log must be cut into segments, then cut into slabs with the chainsaw. The slabs are then run through a thickness planer to smooth them, then scribed and cut into circular blanks on the bandsaw. Then they are turned on the lathe, this is a lengthy process (but it's also the best part, turning is extremely addictive). Then, depending on the piece, carved or otherwise decorated. The picture above, which is actually made from Sitka Spruce, not birch, is decorated with carved salmon, a bowl like this can easily require over a hundred and fifty hours to complete. Filigree cut bowls, like this one, can take even longer. So with that said, each of my pieces can go for several hundred dollars, and even at that high of price I'm not making any profit on them. Which is fine, because I'm not doing it for money.

Lastly, I'm preparing for a show in December, so I'm building inventory for that and right now, I just can't sell the pieces I have. Come January, I should have a large enough inventory and the other technical problems resolved so that I can begin selling online.

Hope that answers your questions. And with that , I'm off into the woods today to retrieve the rest of yesterday's harvest.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

What I did with my day

Just so you don't think I wasted my day, this is what I was up to today. Looks like a pile of firewood doesn't it? But it is really diamonds in the rough. This wood comes from a friend's property in South Central Alaska, it is a stand of genetically unique Baltic (White) Birch. In the cut ends of the large logs on the near end of the wood pile, you can see unique and distinctive heartwood grain figure, which in cross section resembles a rose. This is amazing material, similar in hardness to old growth maple.

If you're not a woodworker it may be hard to visualize these logs as anything other than firewood, so here's a couple of pictures of what it looks like after I've pushed the wood through my shop. The first picture is a pair of heartwood bowls with some of the softwood removed in interesting patterns along the grain line. The exterior of each bowl is textured in curved bas relief, again along the concentric gain lines. Both bowls are finished with walnut oil and coated in a glossy polycrilyc, giving them a glass-like finish. They are not intended to be practical containers, they are art. With a devotional candle (safely inside a candle glass) inserted inside, they radiate yellow light in organic patterns.

And finally, this dish, with filigree carving around the rim, is turned from sapwood (the lighter wood surrounding the heartwood inside of the bark. The filigree is cut with a Foredom tool using a fine carbide rotary bit. Like the bowls above, this one is finished with oil and polycrylic.

See? and you thought I was wasting my retirement. Ha!

Note: you can click on each picture for a larger image. Go on, do it, you know you want to.