August 31, 2003

Making Things

AIM Manufacturing Videos are a bunch of handy streaming videos describing the manufacturing processes that go into the creation of a number of everyday things.

This just scratches the surface of our lives which rely on so many manufactured items.

Posted by James at 12:13 AM

August 29, 2003

Malaise

For the last couple of weeks, following my vacation time, I've felt malaise just sink into my skin, feeling like it is making a home. I read the news less and less because I can't believe a lot of what I'm reading. My sense of humor is still intact, apparently one of the last senses that dulls as you descend.

So, if you have a good laugh, post it in the comments.

The most recent setback? I'm trying to pull up the kitchen flooring safely and it turns out to be extremely tenacious. It's going to take a lot more work than I originally thought. Sometimes life feels like you're moving through stone-cold molasses.

Posted by James at 12:16 PM | Comments (5)

August 28, 2003

Wildcard dictionary search

Here's a great online resource if you like to search the English dictionary with wildcards. OneLook.

Posted by James at 7:06 PM | Comments (4)

August 27, 2003

Ker-thump!

My work machine is not really working, so no substantive posts until things stabilize.

Posted by James at 4:05 PM

August 26, 2003

Repeated Liberal Postings

I never really intended this blog to be an anti-conservative blog. However, what I've noticed is that in busy periods I have less time to devote to actually writing entries. So I make quick posts on things that I find bug me, or things that just leap to the front of my mind. Or things that friends send to me.

There seems to be a whole host of Republican and conservative shenanigans going on since Bush entered the office. And it's not just the government, since we also have FOX news to kick around.

So excuse me if the blog has lately bogged down with these posts. The feeling of the blog waxes and wanes political. But, as always, we are fair and balanced here. As in "we have a fair grasp of reality and balance our scorn with humor."

Posted by James at 5:06 PM

Low Expectations Justified

Patti sent this along from Nature:

The scientific community had low expectations for the Bush administration when it was first elected. The record since 2001 shows that these expectations were justified. [...]

this month's report by Henry Waxman (Democrat, California), the senior Democrat on the Government Reform Committee in the House of Representatives, should be welcomed. In a relatively comprehensive and succinct 33-page document, Waxman's staff have, at the very least, put together a cogent case for the prosecution ( http://www.politicsandscience.org ; see Nature 424 , 715; 2003 ). "The Administration's political interference with science has led to misleading statements by the President, inaccurate responses to Congress, altered web sites, suppressed agency reports, erroneous international communications, and the gagging of scientists," it states.

The article specifically mentions how previously independent organizations within the government have been subject to political pressure and made to do the bidding of the administration, a huge step in the wrong direction and something that adds to the fears that there is a pattern of politics before truth in the Bush game plan.

Posted by James at 3:26 PM | Comments (2)

Fox Epilogue

Franken, who won four Emmy awards for his work on "Saturday Night Live," is the author of four previous books, including the recent best seller, "Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot." He is appeared on Monday as a substitute liberal co-host on the political debate show "Crossfire," which airs on Fox rival CNN.
When asked to comment on its decision to drop the case, a Fox spokeswoman said "It's time to return Al Franken back to the normal obscurity he's accustomed to."
Now I'm upset. I have to earn 4 Emmys, become a bestselling author and get hired to host Crossfire to work my way up to obscurity?

Somehow it doesn't seem worth the trouble. (Link)

Posted by James at 2:43 PM

August 25, 2003

Who To Avoid

Young men, listen up! Looking for a guide for what women to avoid in your search for a prospective mate? Here is a handy guide, provided by some conservative women interviewed for the American Enterprise Online. Heed these warning signs so you don't stumble into a relationship with someone who has a serious gender role fixation, and, frankly, just plain confusion.

"The modern-day loss of respect for manliness is an aberration." ("Real" men have lost respect) yet...
"How can men treat women in special, flowery ways, yet walk into a boardroom and face them as hardnosed equals? Iím not sure thatís a balance men are capable of." (Men, for all their manliness, are so stupid they can't distinguish between a business relationship and a romantic interest. Therefore they should treat all women as potential objects of romance. Now [i]there's[/i] respect!)

Look for other exciting things, like how hot Donald Rumsfeld is and the allure of your grandfather.

"Women donít want a guy to feel their pain, they want a guy to clean the gutters." Remember, these are conservative women talking. I suppose they expect to be slapped around a bit once the gutters are cleaned. After all, a man can't handle using his muscles [i]and[/i] his brain.

For those of you who men are thinking, "Hey -- waitaminute! These gals sound like quite a catch!" I suggest you grab your club and head out. You've got a few women here with their long hair waiting to be dragged to the nearest cave.

But just remember -- conservatives are the real men. If you're man enough (meaning you won't discuss the drug problem in your past, went AWOL from your military post, lead a playboy lifestyle off your dad's money and got a nerd to plan out all your strategy) you can even be elected leader of all the manly conservatives.

Posted by James at 10:55 AM | Comments (7)

August 24, 2003

August 23, 2003

SPeeling counts

Wow. I spelled "here" h-e-a-r in that last post.

Score:
Spell-Checker: 1
James: 0.

Posted by James at 8:22 AM | Comments (1)

August 21, 2003

Ear, Nose, Throat and Cajones

A Brazilian man who went to a clinic to have an aching ear checked ended up having a vasectomy after mistakenly believing that the doctor had called his name. [...] "He was called by the full name and yet thought it was him. But the strangest thing is that he asked no questions when the doctor started preparations in the area which had so little to do with his ear," Vanessa Guimaraes said.

"He later explained that he thought it was an ear inflammation that got down to his testicles," she added. - [via reuters and MyWay.com ]

My doctors always say something like "so you're hear for the gastroenteroscopy, right?" It's very reassuring and probably useful for them to double-check.

Posted by James at 3:18 PM | Comments (1)

Thank You Microsoft

Thank you for having mail software that is so bad that it not only screws up the people who use it, but it screws up nearly everyone else. Thank you for creating a monster that reaches out of its own world, crosses boundaries, slows productivity, causes admins to scurry and users to fear for their data. Thank you for giving my website intermittent access problems even though there are no Microsoft products involved. Thanks for crappy security.

Thanks, Microsoft. And thank you Bill Gates.

[But, for real, thank you dear reader for your repeat visits even though this website has been flaky. Maybe Microsoft will fix its lousy software. Someday.]

Posted by James at 1:49 PM | Comments (3)

"Victory" is spelled VIOCTO

The Vital Interdiction of Criminal Terrorist Organizations Act of 2003.

Orrin Hatch and John Ashcroft are at it again. While Ashcroft takes his Patriot Act on tour, Orrin Hatch is getting ready to introduce a bill, (the one mentioned above) which will extend the most fun parts of the Patriot Act.

This "Victory Act" will classify drug users as terrorists and allow those secret "sneak-and-peek" subpoenas to be used against suspected drug dealers. This is amazing.

Here are some excerpts to give you a flavor of what is going on:

Vital Interdiction of Criminal Terrorist Organizations Act--will enable Ashcroft and clan to: [...]
Track wireless communications with a roving warrant. Roving wiretaps are now allowed for cell phones and laptops. This provision pulls in wireless communication devices so Big Brother can follow you all over the globe.

Increase sentences for drug kingpins to 40 years in prison and $4 million in fines. This provision suggests that Ashcroft has taken the leap that drug dealing equals terrorism. - Counterpunch

On August 19 th , John Ashcroft  begins a national tour  promoting an extension of the USA PATRIOT Act. We need your help to make a strong statement  to stop John Ashcroft from doing more damage to the bill of rights.

As Americans, we have a long standing tradition of  defending not only our own  liberties and civil rights, but  also standing up for  equal rights for all . - Howard Dean for America

"The Victory Act represents a major expansion of federal surveillance, asset forfeiture and other powers under the guise of linking the war on drugs to the war on terrorism," said Tim Edgar, legislative counsel for the ACLU. "It does not address the intelligence problems that led to the September 11th attacks, continuing a failed policy of simply granting more power to the government instead of ensuring the government uses its existing powers effectively." - Washington Post
Watchblog is also worth a look:
Remember - always dehumanise those you want to attack. They're not college students experimenting, they're terrorists! He's not buying some marijuana for his mother with MS, he's a terrorist! And so is she!

Posted by James at 1:23 PM | Comments (2)

August 20, 2003

Melanin Overdrive

The skin-darkening rays of the sun still compel many people to shed their clothing and expose themselves to dangerous radiation. Agreed, it feels good to let the sun shine on you. But we know enough about UV exposure that no one should be intentionally bathing themselves in cancer-causing energy. And there are products that reduce sun exposure risk dramatically.

Folks who are afraid of radiation from mysterious sources somehow give the suns rays a pass and see no problem spending hours being bombarded with high energy photons which penetrate their skin and mutate their cells.

And then there's the whole attractiveness issue. What's wrong with pale-colored skin anyhow? Whatever happened to the ivory-hued allure of Poe's Ligea?

I have no problem with a naturally dark skin tone. In the rainbow of skin tones, each has its own merits. However, it's not difficult to spot an artificially-"enhanced" complexion. I'm not speaking of someone with incidental sun exposure, I'm talking about the treated-leather look of an intentional work of solar cosmetology. Are these "crispy critters" aware that, while they're damaging and prematurely aging their skin in a manner that could even be life-threatening, it just plain doesn't look good?

This post inspired by this week's "The Onion."

Posted by James at 12:14 PM | Comments (1)

August 19, 2003

'Tracey Emin is innocent'

The lengths to which someone with a grudge will go are amazing. I've held a grudge before. There is something satisfying about contemplating revenge when you feel you've been wronged. Revenge can be taken creatively, or in a straightforward fashion. I've read books on revenge. But in the final analysis, I've perpetrated few if any spiteful acts.

Sure, I've had my dark moments. But I think that most sane people realize that thoughts of revenge are nothing more than an unhealthy fixation that drains your time and energy. In a way, they drain your life itself. And so we hopefully stop short of exacting our retribution on whatever unsuspecting target has drawn our ire.

A poker metaphor here is apt, if only to illustrate the practical reason to eschew spite if you can gain the upper hand on your emotions. When you take a particularly bad beat (someone beats you out of a hand you feel you should have won) there is sometimes the feeling that you need to "get" that other person at the poker table. You want to return the favor. And if the urge is strong, and you wallow in your misfortune and/or entertain thoughts of anger, you will, as poker players say, "go on tilt."

When you're on tilt you're neither thinking nor playing clearly. People on tilt are off their game, they're playing poorly because they have lost focus. Something is in the way of their mind.

Life is the same way. When you "go on tilt" in real life, you have lost your general perspective of the world. You have narrowed your focus to the point where you no longer see the bigger picture.

Speaking of that, the Guardian has a bizarre story of a homosexual columnist who is being stalked by a homophobe. The columnist is being harassed in a number of ways through telephone and post. It's an amazing waste of time, and it underscores how much further there is to go in the western world before we can live and let live.

Posted by James at 1:42 AM | Comments (4)

August 18, 2003

Ovoid Creature? We can help.

OvoidProloxil. Just the thing for you if you are a horribly depressed and miserable ovoid creature. Get yours today, but mind those side-effects. (Flash required. NWS)

Posted by James at 6:31 PM | Comments (12)

Tough Time for Card Counters

Casinos have a new tool to use against blackjack card-counters, as described in this Wired story. The tool is designed to help casinos calculate comps (compensation given to good repeat customers which keeps them coming back). However, it could easily be used to detect someone who varies his bets depending on whether the state of the deck favors the player or the house -- the basis of card counting.

It seems to me that blackjack is becoming more and more of a losing game. I've never played it for money myself. I just couldn't get into all the memorization. At least I have a shot at poker.

Posted by James at 6:04 PM | Comments (2)

Some people don't like surprises

Reuters is reporting that a Norwegian turned the tables on some folks who were throwing a surprise part for them. He hid behind a tree and shot off a gun to startle them. Then he tripped and shot six people.

"You said you were just gonna scare him!"
"Doesn't he look scared?"

Posted by James at 1:10 PM

How much is that gun?

Drinky Crow Gets a Job. Not work safe (Quicktime animation)

Posted by James at 12:24 PM

WOTW

Word o' the week: highfalutin. Use liberally.

Posted by James at 12:20 PM

August 15, 2003

Car Sale Scam

There's a new scam in town.

You're selling something expensive, like a car. You get an offer to buy for the price you're asking. The buyer sends a cashier's check for the price plus a bunch of extra money. Buyer merely asks you to forward the extra money along to a third party once the check clears. Later he will be by to pick up the goods. The check clears, you send the cash, but no one comes to pick up the car. Weeks later, the money is gone from your account; the bank has rescinded the ammount of the cashier's check because it was a forgery.

This takes advantage of an FDIC rule which forces banks to clear a cashier's check within 5 days. Apparently, they don't actually verify the check in that time.

I have it on some auhtority that you could go after the bank if this happened to you (after all, the bank did clear the check). However, it's best to avoid the scam altogether, methinks.

Urban Legends Reference Pages: Inboxer Rebellion (Car Sale Scam)

Posted by James at 2:12 AM

August 14, 2003

Bonehead Play #1

The Lightolier (lighting products) website has information on all of their products. Conveniently, it's in a cross-platform format (PDF). HTML would have been better, but at least PDF is cross-platform. They wanted to make the files smaller, so they used ZIP compression. Well, there are tools on all platforms that support zip, though it's a little less cross-platform than PDF.

Finally, they contained the ZIP file in a self-extracting .EXE wrapper. So this cross-platform file cannot be read unless it's run on a Windows machine.

Bonehead website play.

Posted by James at 6:18 PM | Comments (2)

Hello, This is the Hulk

Maybe you want the Hulk to say "Hello." Or you'd like "Q" to wish you a happy birthday. Maybe it's been a while since you heard from Tuvok.

Well, then have them drop you a line for $20. For real.

Through "Hollywood Calling" celebrities will give you or a friend a 15 second greeting. For an extra 10 bucks they'll deliver a 30 second message.

Posted by James at 4:03 PM

Strong Bad Knows Web Design

"The internet is a place where absolutely nothing happens. You need to take advantage of that." - Strong Bad.

See Strong Bad's web design tips. Requires Flash.

Posted by James at 2:30 PM

When It Rains, It Pours

Stories of my own stupidity make great journal fodder because there are so many of them, and I'm adding to them daily!

Yesterday I was a little late leaving work, and I was due at my cousin's house, but I wanted to fill my heating system with water, now that it has been repaired. I needed to purchase some "corrosion inhibitor" to prevent internal rusting of the iron pipes. Home Depot had never heard of the stuff, which is par for the course for shopping at Home Depot. If they don't carry it, they've never heard of it. So I decided to fill our heating system with water without it; it's largely optional and we've never used it before anyhow.

On the way home, comically, the radio station DJ proclaimed that the thunderstorms were going to end. The sky was fairly clear where he was, I suppose, because he mentioned that there hadn't been any thunderstorms and that he expected there wouldn't be any at all. It was about 20 seconds later that the first raindrop hit my windshield.

Soon I was in the midst of a full-blown torrential New England thunder storm. I stopped to get some sweet corn to steam while I was filling the heating system. Leaving the supermarket was an adventure as twin forks of lightening arced from the sky with an almost immediate and dramatic crack-boom. I ran.

Once in the safety of my house, I turned the water to the heating system on and closed the petcocks (a.k.a air cocks -- valves to release air pressure) on the downstairs radiators to prevent it from overflowing once the water level got above the first floor. I boiled some water for my corn and went upstairs to turn off the computers as thunder actually shook the house. While I was there, I changed into more comfortable sneakers.

Rain was filling up the gutters and rushing urgently through the aluminum downspouts. It's amazing how quickly a summer storm can quickly flood everything. The roads leading down towards the river had turned into tributaries. Riverside Ave began to full up like a basin, with silt and sand from higher playgrounds, yards and roads deposited across its width. All accompanied by loud splashing, rumbling, dripping, pelting, banging and cracking.

When my corn was ready, the phone rang. It became a juggling act as I tried to handle the steaming cob and talk to Mattie's new soccer coach who wanted to set up a practice schedule. I was late, trying to handle my dinner and in a rush, but I spoke to him for a little while while I could hear water rushing and spraying.

As I climbed the stairs it occurred to me that I hadn't closed the valves on the upstairs radiators. And that the sound I was hearing might not be all rain-related. I had to rush the coach off the phone when I saw that the bedroom carpets upstairs were beginning to be soaked by water spraying from the radiators. What followed would have looked comical had there been anyone there to enjoy it as I forgot what I was holding and scalded myself as I ran down the stairs to get a radiator key, tripping over my not-quite-tied shoelace.

I avoided injury while turning off those tiny (unintended) water faucets, and turned to the task of sopping up all the water. What a mess. I called to my cousin's house to explain I was going to be late and found out from Liz that poker had been basically cancelled. There had been no need to rush. I would have had the evening free.

But now I had given myself something to do.

Epilogue: Thank goodness for A/C. The only rooms that got wet were the bedrooms - all air conditioned. If it weren't for that, the carpets would be a musty, smelly, soppy mess despite all my efforts. We'd be on our way to mold city. Instead they were almost completely dry this morning. No harm no foul, except for a wonderful evening spent cleaning and how thrilled Maggie was when she got home.

Posted by James at 12:36 PM

Cheap-labor Conservatism

Is conservatism really all about cheap labor?

The rhetoric in this article is a little rough for my taste, but the point it makes has got me wondering.

Cheap-labor conservatives don't like social spending or our "safety net." Why. Because when you're unemployed and desperate, corporations can pay you whatever they feel like – which is inevitably next to nothing. You see, they want you "over a barrel" and in a position to "work cheap or starve."
[...]
Cheap-labor conservatives hate the progressive income tax like the devil hates holy water. Cheap-labor conservatives like budget deficits and a huge national debt for two reasons. A bankrupt government has a harder time doing any "social spending" – which cheap-labor conservatives oppose [...]

The tax cuts are causing the deficit to grow.

Why is Bush growing the deficit, spending huge amounts of money abroad and adding fuel to the fire by emptying out the bank account before the bills come due?

If you follow the "work cheap of starve" line of logic, a desperate workforce means a workforce demanding less. That's more money for big Republican campaign contributors. Hmmmm.

Posted by James at 11:33 AM

The Genius of Bush

Bush proves he understands people at all social strata:

"First, let me make it very clear, poor people aren't necessarily killers. Just because you happen to be not rich doesn't mean you're willing to kill." óGeorge W. Bush, Washington, D.C., May 19, 2003
Bush has a firm grasp of the consequences of war:
"I think war is a dangerous place." óGeorge W. Bush, Washington, D.C., May 7, 2003

[Bushisms @ About.com] [Bushism's @ Slate]

Posted by James at 9:51 AM | Comments (2)

August 13, 2003

Giving Weblogging A Bad Name

You know, some people just can't relax.

I see weblogging as a fun diversion. Some writing, some recording, some contact with my friends, some venting. I'm not out to win any awards here. This is the logical next step in merging email lists with your website.

But some people want to drum it into the world that they are involved with weblogging, that weblogging was their idea and you'd better not forget it. Dave Winer is one of those people.

This story in the Register makes it clear that some of these folks ar eliving in an alternate universe. They want people to show up at Harvard and pay $500 to listen to people talk about blogging? Are they nuts?

We need a new blogging slogan like "Just Do It" or "Shut up and blog" or "Reality check, you're a fricking blogger -- ease off on the delusions of grandeur."

You may not be interested in the soap opera of the uberblogging community, and I wouldn't blame you one bit, because neither am I. However, this story is interesting just because it makes the point that content is still more important than delivery.

Shocked cartoonist and blogger August Pollak points out that:

"If Blogger and MT and LiveJournal all dissolved into the ether tomorrow, I would still be a cartoonist. I would still be trying to do cartoons and animation, and I would still be trying to post news links and interesting things on my website. The only thing that would change would be the level of convenience. That's why I find the blogging paradigm overplayed.

[...]

"The core element, to me, is still not the blogging software. It's that those people exist in the first place."

When I started out with weblogging, I didn't want to tell anyone I had a blog because, well the name kinda sounded stupid (see discussion on Brights for the difficulty of identifying with new names or name usages), but now people are getting used to hearing about blogs. But there are still folks who are going to try to make too much out of blogging, and give us a bad name in the process.

Dave? "Relax. Don't do it."

Posted by James at 1:05 PM | Comments (2)

August 12, 2003

QNR: Franken, RIAA, AI, Worms

RIAA Suffers a Setback in Piracy Battle (via Yahoo News). The court ruled in favor of the universities resisting RIAA subpoenas. They were arguing that since the subpoenas were issued in Washington, they didn't apply in Massachusetts. I don't imagine this is much of a bump, really. They'll just have to figure out where the IP addresses were from regionally and issue the correct subpoenas in the correct state.

Fox Sues Humorist Al Franken Over 'fair and Balanced' Slogan via Metafilter and TBO.com. Fox is all hot and bothered over Al Franken's new book title: Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. Fox thinks that because it has trademarked "Fair and Balanced" no one is allowed to make fun of it. WRONG! But, we'll see what the law says, I suppose.

Internet Worm Targets Microsoft Windows. Wow, it targets Windows? What a refreshing surprise! (via Yahoo)

The Man Who Mistook His Girlfriend for a Robot (via Popular Science). These things are starting to get freaky, and catch up with contemporary SciFi. "AI" anyone?

(QNR stands for "quick news roundup" just so you know)

Posted by James at 9:52 AM

August 11, 2003

Momsen Christening Brief Comments

A ship like the Momsen (DDG 92) is an impressive sight, as is the gigantic dry dock used by Bath Iron Works to do the building and repair that they do.

My pictures don't do it justice, and I blame both my photography skills and my old digital camera.

But I was more impressed with my cousin, his commitment and discipline, some of the words of the speakers and the description of Vice Admiral "Swede" Momsen, the namesake of the ship.

"Lucky Swede" as he was known to some of his friends and opponents at the card table was a persistent, driven man who was also a bit of a rogue. Given to playing the ukelele and singing bawdy songs, he was also haunted by the memory of a terrible sub accident in his past. Though the naval brass did not appreciate his efforts, recognize his ingenuity or support his endeavors, he persevered in creating tools for successful sea rescues.

The details of the event itself were interesting. My companions had been concerned about rumors that protestors would be out in force. However, nary a peep was heard. If there were protestors to the event, they must have gotten lost, or didn't know where Bath Iron Works was.

We sat beside the ship, before a large raised and covered platform, aided by a "jumbo-tron" type TV screen for those in the back. We were lucky enough to be up front. Commemorative coins were distributed by the BIW employees, and water. The daughter of VADM Momsen (once a state senator) broke a bottle over the bow and we were shuttled over to the reception where copious amounts of lobster sandwiches and other goodies were available. We didn't stay long after that, with the long drive ahead of us.

But, as I mentioned before, the words of Momsen's grandson (Dr. Christopher Thomas Hailey) struck me most when he spoke at the podium. He spoke glowingly of his grandfather and his exploits in the navy. But then he brought up a fact that rings true to me. These ships are warships, but they also represent us as Americans when they travel the globe. Dr. Hailey revealed that his wife, who was not a US citizen before they met, had a childhood memory of eating ice cream on the deck of a destroyer that was docked in her country. The timing was such that it very well could have been "Swede" Momsen's destroyer when he was a captain. Dr. Hailey noted that he might have his grandfather to thank for his wife's positive view of Americans.

These warships are not designed for delivering ice cream, of course. However they do represent us abroad. Dr. Hailey spoke directly to the prospective crew of DDG-92 and reminded them of this responsibility. This struck me, because I believe it should be an obvious truth. Our actions have consequences. And often those dedicated military folks we send abroad are a form of diplomacy.

This idea can easily be extended to our political leaders who command our military. Their decisions not only send the military hither and yon, but they also set the tone. Perhaps even more importantly, those decisions have their own repercussions as people abroad form opinions about Americans based on our leaders and the decisions they make.

I wish I had taken exact notes, because he mad a specific comment about making friends and strengthening friendships -- words I found especially appropriate. In the war against terrorism we need strong friendships, not alienated allies.

I wish we had leaders who shared that view.

Some Links of Interest:

Posted by James at 1:02 PM | Comments (2)

August 10, 2003

Not a Joke?

You'll think it's a joke, but it's not. Our president has his own action figure.

Elite Force Aviator: George W. Bush - U.S. President and Naval Aviator - 12" Action Figure at KBtoys.com


Update: I like what billmon did with this story on Whiskey Bar.

Posted by James at 6:37 PM | Comments (1)

August 8, 2003

Maineward

I'm off to Maine for the christening of the Momsen, our newest destroyer. I should be back with notes and perhaps pictures. Later!

Posted by James at 12:48 PM

Ashcroft To Judges: I'm Watching You

Attorney General John D. Ashcroft has ordered U.S. attorneys across the country to become much more aggressive in reporting to the Justice Department cases in which federal judges impose lighter sentences than called for in sentencing guidelines.

[...]

Ashcroft's critics reacted angrily to the memo, which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) accused Ashcroft of engaging in an "ongoing attack on judicial independence" and of requiring federal prosecutors "to participate in the establishment of a blacklist of judges who impose lesser sentences than those recommended by the sentencing guidelines."

Do you ever get the feeling that Ashcroft is a control freak?

[Link] (washingtonpost.com) (via 525 Reasons To Dump Bush)

Posted by James at 9:56 AM | Comments (1)

Blame The Gullible

Wonder why you have so much spam in your email? Why do spammers bother? The answer is simple. Spam works. A Wired article explains:

An order log left exposed at one of Amazing Internet Products' [Ed. Note: purveyor of penis enlargement pills] websites revealed that, over a four-week period, some 6,000 people responded to e-mail ads and placed orders for the company's Pinacle herbal supplement. Most customers ordered two bottles of the pills at a price of $50 per bottle.
Do the math and you begin to understand why spammers are willing to put up with the wrath of spam recipients, Internet service providers and federal regulators.

6,000 people naive and gullible enough to respond to one of these ads.

How can the mind not boggle?

[Link: Wired News: Swollen Orders Show Spam's Allure] (Thanks, Jim, for the link)

Posted by James at 2:15 AM | Comments (1)

Wiring and Plumbing

Kitchen Renovations continue with a new set of pictures of the work we're doing. Kitchen Renovations 2 is the second page of this chronicle.

In this exciting episode, a leak is found in the heating system! When you start doing renovations on your house, you always find stuff that needs to be fixed. That's one of the many hazards. The other is possibly dropping a radiator on your foot. The radiator one is, hypothetically, worse.

Posted by James at 1:57 AM | Comments (1)

August 7, 2003

Moron Brights

(Or, "More On Brights")

Greg's take on the "Brights Movement" has prompted me to write further on the subject. And I'm sure this won't be the last.

People don't take well to different belief systems, especially ones they see as in conflict with their own. So some flack is expected, and some of it will be thinly veiled reactions to the group itself. I know Greg well enough to know that this is not behind his comments, but it's out there in the discussion of some others.

Coining the name "Brights" has already accomplished something. It's spurred discussion. Opinions will vary on whether that discussion needed to take place, or whether the discussion is framed right. But I'm nearly always for more discussion where there was none or little previously. So it's a plus in my book so far. And that it has brought some of the negative feelings to the fore is just like shining a light out there.


Greg hit on a lot of intriguing points, and things I've thought about before, so it makes an excellent jumping-off point for further discussion.

Groups name themselves, or they get named by others. But once the name is coined, it's there. It may catch on, or it may fade away, but it only takes a few people to use it for it to stick around for a while. In this case, it's sticking. And there are various complaints about it - among them the connotation that in comparison everyone else is "a dull." Frankly, I find that a superficial complaint. Does the existence of the term "gay" imply that heterosexual folks are sad? If taken literally it does, as much as the new noun use of "Bright" implies dull. But apparently people have gotten over it. "Bright" as a noun has a clear definition:

A Bright's worldview is free of supernatural and mystical elements. The ethics and actions of a Bright are based on a naturalistic worldview.
To me it seems that the connotations are merely temporary until people get used to the new usage. Religions use all sorts of terms to refer to themselves and their activities. "We're saved." "We're the chosen people." "We're born again." In these, the meaning is not implied - it is explicit. If you are not saved, you're not saved -- period.

Is the name self-congratulatory? The Brights have said they don't want it used as an adjective. We could take them at their word, or not.
What about getting hung up on naming in general? Greg makes an accurate observation that when a name sticks people see the name and not the thing. People put things into a box and stop considering them. That's exactly the reason coming up with a new name shakes things up (and it is difficult to deny this has happened). When people go back to sleepwalking, the Brights would like a positive name to be in place of the negative term. But in the meantime, people have an opportunity to look at the worldview itself. I say "opportunity" because you can only lead a horse to water.
This effect of sleepwalking has little to do with naming, however. It can be seen in any pattern. The drive to work, for example, becomes monotonous, and you fail to notice things until you take a new route and break the pattern. Does this happen because you have named it "my drive to work?" No - it's because the repetition lulls your brain to sleep. It is your personal responsibility to wake your own brain up, not by avoiding names, labels and patterns (which are all inevitable) but by using them in a conscious way. Whatever you are doing, do it consciously. Using an inadequate name out of practicality should be an opportunity for you to think about where the name's usefulness has its boundaries.

I don't feel I can help people be more conscious of the world by refusing to name or use names. But I can use care in the labels I choose, and use labels that I feel suit me. And I can hop on a bandwagon that tickles or upsets people enough that it gets them thinking about something they had previously dismissed out of hand.

The only way to make one's own motivations more clear is to spell things out. I can't speak for other people and tell you whether they are over-compensating with the positive term "Brights." I can tell you that I didn't feel particularly oppressed because my beliefs are somewhat personal and I didn't feel the need to share them much in any case. I also don't feel the need to join a group for validation purposes. I'm not much of a joiner. If I wanted validation, and the need to be part of a group, I'd start going to church again. I can tell you that part of the

What I do want is a term that at least means something. Skeptic doesn't work well because it already had too many meanings. Skeptical of what? "Bright" as a noun doesn't have an existing meaning. Therefore it elicits a question: "what is 'a bright?'" Either you're asking that question of the speaker, or you're doing a web search to find out. Sounds awake to me.

My advice to those who don't like the word "Brights" is you already know what it means. There is nothing more you need do. At least you'll know what I mean when I use the term.

Posted by James at 4:39 PM | Comments (9)

Embrace Uncertainty

A number of things (this Brights Movement among them) have me thinking about what I hear people say when they challenge the naturalistic worldview.

I hear a lot of ďscience canít explain X, science canít explain Y, therefore I need to believe that the world is balanced on the back of a giant turtle.Ē Or somesuch.

I say: believe what you like. If you want to believe in a giant turtle, go right ahead*. But donít go blaming science. You see, science doesnít have to explain everything. Itís the best system we have for explaining the physical world, but itís still a human endeavor, and that means it takes time to grow its body of knowledge.

I have seen some strange things in my life for which I didnít have an explanation. But just because they were beyond my ability to explain doesnít mean that a force from another plane of existence was involved. And wouldnít that be rather presumptuous of me? If Iím not smart enough or knowledgeable enough to explain something, it must be pixies or aliens doing it, right? Wrong.

Why not cast aside your fears of doubt and ignorance? You canít avoid uncertainty, so you might as well accept it. Iím willing to admit I donít have an explanation for everything, and I donít need those loose ends tied up by ghosts and spirits. Or deus ex machina.

So, have your beliefs. But if the failings of science are leading you to believe strange things, you were simply setting it up for a fall in the first place.

[* I am not trying to ridicule people who believe in god(s). I am not comparing god(s) to a giant turtle. I seriously do believe that religious beliefs are a personal ďwhatever gets you through the dayĒ sort of thing. My only gripe will be if your religious beliefs leak over into your beliefs about the workings of the natural world and you start telling me that the turtle is going to consume the world if we donít start killing Star-bellied Sneetches posthaste. Or unless we honor the Wednesday Sabbath by prohibiting the sale of Hot Tamales and limes.]

Posted by James at 11:45 AM | Comments (1)

August 6, 2003

More On Renovation

When we were in Senior Seminar, Chuck got assigned to present the chapter "More On Student Models" to the class. It always made me think "Moron Student Models," but I digress.

Today Maggie and I reclaimed wood and nails from the old wall and used them to build the frame inside the old Kitchen->Dining Room doorway. There will be pictures to follow, but not today. When I have something more exciting to show.

After a pretty decent afternoon's work, we went out to get ice cream. Then I went in search of the biggest darn pipe wrench I could find. There was a 4 foot long specimen at Home Depot, but none of the cheaper tool places had anything like that. Besides, a 4 foot long steel pipe wrench isn't something you purchase lightly. So I tried to get by with a 2 foot long wrench. I extended it another 18 inches by lashing a wrecking bar to it with fairly heavy gauge electrical wire.

The reason I need such a long handle on the wrench is leverage. It's all about the leverage.

Well, the wire lashes held quite well, but I could not budge the pipe with all my strength, legs included. I did gouge up the floor with the wrecking bar, though. Good thing we're replacing the floor.

Unfortunately, it looks like we're going to have to cut the pipes. They're old cast iron steam pipes... 2 inch pipes, I think. A real pain in the butt to cut.

Bah. I should try shattering it with my sledgehammer.

Luckily, I also picked up some Segrams Gin while I was out looking for wrenches. Went to the Liquor Barn in Swansea and tried to buy a .75 Litre bottle. But they didn't know the price. In fact, no one in the store could tell me the price. So I bought the 1.75 litre which was reasonably priced... and at least it was priced. So, there was a gin and tonic waiting for me at the end of my exertion. I could go for a lemonade right now...

I think I have a drinking problem. No, not alcohol -- although I do like alcoholic drinks. I mean that I just plain like to drink stuff. Lemonade, Orange Juice, Iced Coffee, Iced Tea, Coolottas, Slushies, Coca-Cola, Root Beer, Strawberry Milk, Coffee milk... the list is very long. Even water is on it. I'm thirsty all the time. I know it's a symptom of certain diseases, but I've been checked. No diseases. I'll even ask again at my next physical, but I don't think it's a problem. I just like liquids.

Now that that's said, where is that lemonade? (Thanks to Patti for the right info at the right time, even though I chose a lousy place to pull over and use my cell phone).

Posted by James at 12:54 AM | Comments (4)

Hot Tamales ^2

Came across these in the unfinished furniture factory. "Super Hot" Hot Tamales.

I've died and gone to cinnamon Heaven. O dios mio.

I have to say, aside from their addictiveness, there is one thing I don't like about Hot Tamales. The whole NASCAR tie in. What's the deal there? Is Hot Tamales the official NASCAR breakfast of champions?

Posted by James at 12:36 AM

August 5, 2003

Elementary, My Dear Watson

This tidbit fits neatly in the "No sh*t, Sherlock" file.

Remember on our TV screens -- I'm not suggesting which network did this -- but it said, 'March to War,' every day from last summer until the spring," Bush said. "'March to War, March to War.' That's not a very conducive environment for people to take risk, when they hear 'March to War' all the time.
This, from NPR's All Things Considered.

No further comment necessary.

Posted by James at 9:21 PM | Comments (1)

Renovating For Fun


So, I've begun the kitchen renovations. Rain has hampered my outdoor efforts, so indoor it is. Can't waste the vacation time.

I've created a page to describe the first phase of out house renovations: the kitchen. Later there will be changes to the living and dining rooms and then the kids' bedrooms.

Kitchen Renovations 1 shows you the old floor plan and the new floor plan of the kitchen. It's not a huge renovation, but as I am doing it myself (with some help from my father) we have to keep it reasonable. DOing it myself also will save a ton of $$$ which can be better spent on decent materials.

Posted by James at 2:24 PM | Comments (4)

August 4, 2003

Cat Games in Japanese

9 Cat Games - Even if you can't read Japanese, these are easy to figure out. Flash required.

Posted by James at 10:48 AM

Vacation (read: work) Begins

The vacation officially began last Friday, but it felt like it began yesterday as I took up the shovel and pick axe and began to move some dirt. Unwisely, I chose to work in the early afternoon, at the height of the heat and humidity. Sunscreen saved me from a nasty burn, but tossing shovels-full of dirt into a wheelbarrow and moving them across the yard quickly wore me out. Is it just me, or does the beating sun sap your energy like a big ole cheery vampire?

Caught the neighbor chick camped out on her porch watching. Having put on a few pounds since I stopped running, this was undesirable attention. However, after one of my trips behind the house she thankfully found something better to do. I donít know how many loads of dirt I moved, but it was fewer than I had hoped Ė I know that much. The good news is that it looks like I will definitely be able to move that dirt pile once and for all.

I had planned on getting this siteís new layout in place over the weekend, but real-life tasks have come to the fore. I have new graphics and have made progress on a decent layout, but the font sizes and sidebar need to be tweaked before they are ready for prime time. Stay tuned for that.

It looks like Iíll be able to take advantage of this time off and start our kitchen renovations. The plans we have are much simpler than what we had previously envisioned and weíll be able to do nearly all of the work ourselves, saving considerable $$$ in the process. By December, we will have a larger and more convenient to use kitchen.

Coincidentally, our appliances are on strike, since they know they will be replaced soon. The oven decided to release a bunch of gas and failed to get up to the required temperature while I was trying to make pretzels yesterday (luckily, I finished them in the broiler). The dishwasher dumped a few gallons of water on the floor which leaked under the baseboard and shorted out the circuit that the refrigerator is on. ZZZZZT. The smell of ozone and the loud zapping sounds convinced me not to turn the circuit back on until it dried off. So, yeah, weíre shopping for appliances.

I think Iíd better mow the lawn before it rains againÖ

Posted by James at 10:12 AM

August 2, 2003

Sorta 3D

I love simple little tricks that are visually interesting. Take this series of animated gifs by Jim Gasperini. He uses a jittering effect to create a cheap but decent illusion of 3D. And anyone with a camera can emulate the effect simply by taking 2 pictures close together. These are basically very short flip books. Neat! I have to try this. (source: Lies.com)

Posted by James at 8:34 PM | Comments (2)

August 1, 2003

Beautiful Weather and Vacation

We've had simply beautiful weather lately. And my vacation begins today -- it's a week or so long. Here's the forecast:

  • Fri: Chance of T-Storms
  • Sat: Chance of T-Storms
  • Sun: Chance of T-Storms
  • Mon: Chance of Rain
  • Tue: Chance of Rain
  • Wed: Chance of Showers
  • Thu: Chance of Showers
It's nice to at least see some variety. So much for the yard work. Maybe I will don a swimsuit and work in the rain.

Posted by James at 10:39 AM | Comments (6)