June 30, 2006

The Myth of Al Qaeda

The Myth of Al Qaeda (Newsweek)

The ultimate tragedy of the Iraq war was not only that it diverted the U.S. from the knockout blow against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan—the deaths of bin Laden and Zawahiri would likely have persuaded most jihadis it was wiser to focus on the near enemy—but that Iraq also altered the outcome of Al Qaeda’s internal debate, tipping it in bin Laden’s favor. “Iraq ended that debate because it fused the near and the far enemy,” as Arquilla puts it succinctly. America ventured into the lands of jihad and willingly offered itself as a target in place of the local regimes. And as a new cause that revived the flagging Al Qaeda movement. It is, no doubt, bin Laden’s greatest victory.

When some people say Bush built up the threat of al Qaeda, they mean he took a truth and built up a useful fiction around it. In a sense, the administration’s mishandling of international affairs has created new threats. That’s a different kind of “building up.” But I think both are true.

Posted by James at 10:24 AM | Comments (1)

Seldom Asked Shotgun

  • 3LINES - Puzzle game of tiles (games, puzzles, flash)
    • Fun clickling clear-the-board puzzle. I was able to complete the levels without backtracking, but my time was horrible because I was AFK for part of it.
  • “Dear Cell Phone User” Cards (activism, humor, prank, cellphones, technology)
    • No doubt you've had occasion to use one of these whenever someone is loudly sharing their cellphone conversation with you in public. Against your will.
  • Disabled bay painted around car - BBC (government, wtf, news)
    • News story highlighting the case of a woman who went in to a shop and while she was occupied a handicapped space was painted around her car. Then she was ticketed.
  • Japanese SAQ (japanese, reference, trivia, weird, faq)
    • Seldom asked quesitons about Japanese culture.
  • Flash » Animator vs. Animation (animation, cartoon, humor, funny, flash)
    • A hapless animated character fights for survival in this amusing flash animation.
  • MC Plus+ (geek, humor, mp3, music, funny)
    • It’s programmer/rapper MC Plus+ coming at you with his album “Algorhythms.”

Weight chart.

Posted by James at 10:17 AM | Comments (5)

June 29, 2006

Windmills Are A Terrorist's Best Friend?

“While the Defense Department drags its feet studying if wind farms are a threat to national security, Americans are missing out on cleaner, cheaper energy,” said Sierra Club attorney Kristin Henry.

LNG — the worlds biggest roman candle — can be sited by FERC in a residential area. That’s not a threat to national security somehow.

However, freaking windmills are a threat?

Reporting from bizarro world, hat tip to Abacquer.

To be fair, the DOD wants to say these are interfering with radar. To be fair on the other side, the DOD hasn’t completed a congressionally-mandated study to provide evidence of problems related to wind farms, and wind farms and radar seem to coexist at Guantanamo.

Posted by James at 4:40 PM | Comments (1)

Afternoon Of Amusements

Sunday was an odd day last weekend.


Out Into The Rain


Last weekend, my daughter K was invited to a birthday party for the daughter of some old friends from college, Jeanne and Mike. The party was held at a skate and amusement complex in RI.

I am trying to find out if in-line skates would be a viable exercise activity for me. I don't have a history of being really athletic, so I wanted to test my abilities before spending a load of cash on my own pair of skates. This was the perfect opportunity. So instead of staying home and watching M, I tagged along with Maggie and K.

At noon the rain was coming down in buckets and we picked up H and B, two girls that a friend of ours had asked us to take to the party. Off we went to the Ocean State, with the ocean seemingly falling from the sky around us!


Some Form Of Skating


Skipping a lot of details, the kids had a lot of fun. I learned that I can in-line skate, and will probably invest in my own skates. I spent a good chunk of the afternoon on the parquet skate floor dragging the girls behind me, once they learned they could pretty much both get a free ride from dad. It's good exercise to skate with an artificially enhanced weight load. I would hold M's hand and then K would grab on and we had the beginnings of a human chain slowly touring the rink. On straightaways I'd get us going dangerously fast and then pull on M's arm when we hit the turn to whip K into a sort of slingshot effect and she would squeal loudly.


What's In A Game?


This amusement complex also hosted video games and those funny games of chance that give out tickets which can be redeemed later for prizes. When the kids weren't skating, they were playing the games.

If you're familiar with skee-ball and these other games that give out tokens, you'll know that you usually get, at most, about 10 tickets from these games. Usually they spit out a lot fewer than 10 if you didn't do too well.

There was one game called "Tower of Power" which wasn't much of a game at all. You watch a moving line and you try to hit it when it is positioned over the "bonus" if you miss, you hit one of the numbers from 1 to 10 and you get the number of tickets indicated. But if you hit the Bonus you would be showered with untold riches in tickets. This drew my attention, and the attention of a lot of the kids.

I saw a girl hit for ten tickets and watched it slowly spit them at about a ticket per second. I think that's part of the drama of winning. I bought a dollar in tokens for myself.

Broken


"Tower of Power" had stations to accept players on 3 sides. Kids were only playing on one of the sides.

K put a coin in one of the unused stations and the machine did nothing. Disappointed, she wandered off to another game. I checked the coin return and noted that there were two tokens there, so I gave them both to her. I returned to the machine and tested out that slot. Every time I put a coin in, it fell through to the coin return. I couldn't get it to work.

I looked to the other unused station and a 9 year old kid was just walking away. He noticed me looking at it and came back.

"Don't put a coin in there -- it doesn't work. I just lost my coin in there." he said to me. I thanked him and looked at the slot.

Indeed, the slot was jammed. I took out my Swiss Army Knife and used the saw to fish out a couple of the coins, but there were a ton still lodged in there. I kept working. I think I fished 3 or more dollars in tokens out of that slot. The slot still didn't work, but I was up a bunch of tokens. As I got up from my crouch, a kid in a white shirt was running through and bumped into me, then ran off. There was a lot of chaotic action at the arcade.

I spotted the kid who had warned me and wandered over to him.

"Hey there." I said. "Thanks for warning me about that slot. Here's the coin you lost." I then gave him half of the coins I fished from the slot. Then I scooted off before he could say anything back to me.


Weird


I looked for a cheap videogame to play. I like to spend my tokens one at a time. There were some cheap stand-up games, but two girls and what looked like their 6-year-old brother were at them. The brother was pestering one of the girls for more tokens.

I sat down at a nearby snowmobile racing game because it was one of the cheapest games in the place. One token. I started to play. After a minute or so, I sensed that there was a woman behind me and her son. They were really close behind me, for some reason. The 6-year-old kid who had been pestering his sister for tokens (I'll call him "Pesto Changeo") was also suddenly next to me. Now I had an audience of three people.

"What are you doing?" asked Pesto Change-o.

"I'm playing this game."

There was a long pause as I tried to extend my time on the game by picking up bonuses. The woman, her son and Pesto all looked on. I wondered if they were all together.

"Hey!" I said. Pesto was trying to climb into my lap. "Um. Please don't do that." I tried to keep him off my lap. Meanwhile, my game ended. That happens when you're trying to snowboard and keep a kid off your lap.

I thought the kid wanted the machine so I got up. The woman behind me put her son in the machine and he started playing. Pesto Change-o wandered off. I looked around. Where were this kid's parents?


Score!


The kids who were playing with "Tower of Power" were called off by their birthday party because it was time for them to eat pizza. I decided to plop in a token.

On the first try, I hit the bonus and the machine started counting down from 200 as it spit out 200 tickets. I stood there for over two minutes with kids staring at the tickets pouring out of the machine. They were amazed, but I felt like an idiot. Here's this 30-year-old with over 200 in tickets. I waited it out and played that game and a few other games, ending up with about 400 tickets total.


Sorry


I went out to skate some more. I skated with the kids some, and then let them go off and try actually skating on their own. Once I was alone, the white-shirted kid skated up to me and said "Sorry about bumping into you before!" Now there's a polite kid. I hope he didn't think I was angry at him. I had more than 100 lbs on him and barely notice when a kid bumps into me in an arcade.


Weird, Part Deux



As I was trying to round up my daughters to leave, I found Pesto Change-o interfering with some other kid's father who was playing Cruisin' USA. Unfortunately, he spotted me and for some reason thought he had to come over and talk to me.

"Do you have any money?" he asked.
 
"Do you have any money?" I asked back.

- pause -

"Do you have any money?" he asked again.

"Do you have any money?" I asked back.

"Do you have any money?"

"Do you have any money?"

"Do you have any money?"

"Do you have any money?"

At this point he got bored and wandered off.


Everybody Wins


When we left the party, all the kids took their tickets to the place where you redeem them for prizes. I probably could have gotten some sweet stuffed animals for my tickets, but instead I decided to give 100 each of my winnings to K, M, H and B.

Before I had given them the bonus tickets, H did a very nice thing for K. She bought one of those friendship necklaces that you separate into halves. You keep one and give the other half to your friend. Those are some good kids.

When we left, the torrential rain had stopped. It turned out to be a weird, but fun day.

Posted by James at 3:58 PM | Comments (3)

June 28, 2006

What's Important In Life

It’s either food or family. I’m not sure. But this image is about both.

Maggie called me at work yesterday to tell me that a package had arrived. She opened it and revealed the contents: a Tortuga rum cake. It’s a 2 lb cake soaked with pineapple rum.

These cakes come from the Cayman Islands, and so I am assuming that my cousin Bob and his family, who are visiting that region of the globe, have sent it my way. There was no note. There were no instructions.

So, naturally, after dinner last night we opened it and shared a slice. I love rum, so I really enjoyed this melt-in-your-mouth cake.

Mmmmmmm. Rum. Cake. Rum cake.

Posted by James at 1:50 PM | Comments (3)

Will Germany Run Out Of Beer?

Mirror.co.uk is reporting that the British World Cup fans are in danger of draining the Germany dry of their beer supply.

In Nuremberg, organisers revealed 70,000 England fans who flooded the city drank 1.2MILLION pints of beer - an average of 17 pints each.

Astonished bar keeper Herrmann Murr said: “Never have I seen so many drink so much in such little time.”

It boggles the mind that the entire country might be drunk dry. And the fact that it’s Germany is even more mind-boggling. I don’t expect they’ll import Budweiser any time soon to try to make up the difference.

Posted by James at 12:26 PM | Comments (6)

How To Improve The Scenery In MA

The Boston Herald reports that some right-wing groups have their panties in such a bunch over McCain and Kennedy’s stance on immigration issues that they have called for a boycott of Massachusetts (and Arizona’s) tourism industry.

“Massachusetts seems to have lost its way,” said Barry Weinstein, a writer for the influential right-wing Human Events magazine, in which Weinstein recently urged hundreds of thousands of like-minded activists to boycott the Bay State when going on vacations or short visits.

Memo to right-wingnuts: that’s really OK with us.

But since you’re putting your money where your mouth is, let’s check back with you in a year with the tourism statistics and see if this boycott amounts to anything. My guess is that any effect of this boycott will be unnoticeable. Ineffective. Lame. Like your whiny threats.

Ironically, some of the groups bashing Massachusetts boast logos that feature famous patriotic symbols from the Bay State - such as the Minuteman statue in Concord and Paul Revere and his famous lantern.
Posted by James at 8:23 AM | Comments (4)

June 27, 2006

It's not an upgrade

I rarely encounter a website that isn’t compatible with Firefox. But I recently encountered the Sony “Connect” music download site and got this message.

We appreciate your interest in the Connect music store, but our store currently only works with Internet Explorer 5.5 and above. You don’t seem to be using that particular browser at the moment, so, unfortunately, we’ll have to part ways until we support the browser you’re currently using or you upgrade to the latest version of Internet Explorer. Please click the Download link below if you’d like to upgrade now.

A few things.

  • It’s not an upgrade, and the cheery language doesn’t convince me. An upgrade” is when you get a later version of the same software. Your cheery language is condescending.
  • My browser is better than IE 5.5. I won’t go through the reasons, but previous versions of IE exposed me to malicious software (viruses, worms and trojans). So forgive me if I don’t click and download potentially dangerous software.
  • If you can’t make your software compliant with modern browsers, I have serious doubts about your software. Or maybe IE does something sneaky that I don’t want it to do, behind the scenes. Either way - I don’t want your software.

But, it’s not an upgrade.

Posted by James at 3:34 PM | Comments (4)

Customs Trouble Has Got Limbaugh Down

Limbaugh Detained at Palm Beach Airport After Authorities Find Bottle of Viagra

Problem is, the prescription wasn’t in his name. Rather, it was in the name of two doctors because he didn’t want anyone to know he was on the stuff.

Well, now we know why he’s been so soft on the administration. I wonder what aroused the suspicions of the customs officers?

His obsession with the sexual indiscretions of Bill Clinton starts to make a lot more sense. He was probably able to work up a pretty good head of steam after ranting for hours about Monica. And now the last 6 years must have been a major letdown.

It’s been difficult to view this loser with many emotions other than pity for a while now, and it’s even more pitiable that while Ann Coulter can still get people talking about how crazy she is, Rush has to get his name in the paper for aspects of his sex life he’d rather not disclose. As a media figure, he’s already been rendered impotent.

Posted by James at 8:30 AM | Comments (5)

June 24, 2006

Atheist vs. Da Debil

Congressional Hopeful Blames Troubles On The Devil

Jacob says that since he decided to run for Congress, Satan has disrupted his business deals, preventing him from putting as much money into the race as he had hoped.

Clearly nutty. But it got me thinking: who would have more of a chance getting elected to the presidency, an atheist or someone who goes around blaming the devil (out loud) for everything?

Posted by James at 7:17 PM | Comments (4)

June 23, 2006

Sniping Supported Mathematically

It’s generally recognized by eBay veterans that sniping (withholding your bidding until the last minute) is the best way to win eBay auctions.

Now it’s been proven mathematically.

This power law reflects the fact that bids become more frequent as the end of an auction approaches. The researchers used this equation to determine the best time to make a winning bid.

They conclude that sniping is the best approach. “Bidding at the last moment is a rational and effective strategy to win in an eBay auction,” the researchers write in the July edition of the journal Physical Review E.

I know I’ve had this conversation with a few people. Chuck definitely and maybe Julie. I don’t remember who else.

In any case, the (i.e. my) short non-mathematical reason that sniping works is this:

The eBay-style auction is designed to get the most money out of the buyer. They tell you to “just enter your highest bid and the item will go to the highest bidder” — and that’s the way a silent auction works. One secret bid allowed per person and you find out who won when the bidding is over. But the eBay system allows you to see that you’ve lost the bid as soon as someone outbids you. Human nature encourages you to rebid. You can fight it, of course, but eBay knows that the incentive is there and uses it to advantage. They’re taking a cut of the sale price, so it’s to their advantage to drive prices up. With the incentive to rebid, the individual is more likely to bid higher than he had before.
Is that really true? Yes, and it’s not just a psychological trick. If an item is starting at $1, you can ask yourself what it’s worth to you. And you have a certain amount of information to make that determination. Let’s say you have mediocre information. Once you’ve been outbid the first time, you now have more of an idea of what this item is worth to someone else. And it’s always more than you expected (because you were outbid). If you re-evaluate with this information, you will likely come to the conclusion that the item is actually worth more (to people). This conclusion could encourage you to bid higher, or you could conclude that it is out of your price range. But it has increased your idea of the value because you have new information you didn’t have before.

The mathematical analysis ignores all this and just observes that the bidding frequency increases (it doesn’t care why, since that’s out of your control).

If you wait until the last minute and bid, you are depriving others of the knowledge of what the item is worth to you. And in these exchanges, giving up information is giving the opponent an advantage.

I could go on, and I’m sure more experienced eBayers could go into better detail. I find it quite interesting, actually. Personally I would rather see eBay use a strategy that doesn’t maximize the price, but I understand their business reasons, and that people wouldn’t be as eager to post auctions if they were placed at a disadvantage to the buyer. And then there would go the whole business (maybe).

I don’t know nothin’ from business. But can often tell when I’m at a disadvantage for lack of information.

Posted by James at 1:19 PM | Comments (9)

Cool, Sweet, Awesome Shotgun

My weight chart. Still trending downward, albeit more slowly.

Posted by James at 11:02 AM | Comments (17)

June 22, 2006

Cool

When I talk to my friends, and they tell me something that I agree with, am happy about, or simply want to acknowledge, I say “cool.”

Do many people say “cool” anymore?

I’m in my late 30’s. I don’t know what 18-year olds are saying when they mean what I mean when I say “cool.” Whatever it is they say, there’s a good chance I would sound like an idiot saying it. I’m not 18, and these sayings are often generational.

We recently watched Back to the Future again. If you’ve ever seen it, you probably recognize this exchange:

Marty: This is heavy, Doc.

Doc Brown: There’s that word again, ‘heavy’. Why are things so heavy in the future- is there a problem with the Earth’s gravitational pull?

Marty: What?

It’s a funny joke, but I don’t remember using “heavy” that way in the 80’s.

What do you say? Let me know.

Posted by James at 12:31 PM | Comments (17)

Thank You vs. Good Job

Back in May I highlighted an article about saying “good job” to children as a form of manipulation.

I wanted to post again, briefly, on that subject because I have spent some time paying closer attention to what I say. (It’s interesting in itself that I was thinking more about what I say to adults than about what I automatically say to children.)

A lot of the times I felt like saying “good job” — when children were doing things that I wanted them to do like picking up their toys or clearing their dishes off the table — what I really meant was “thank you.”

“Thank you” is what I would say (and do say) to an adult that’s doing something that makes my life a little easier. Even people who do things that are their own responsibility. When you say “thank you” you’re not condescending. You’re recognizing that someone chose to do something that deserves thanks.

So, in those cases, now I just say what I mean. “Thank you.”

Posted by James at 7:55 AM | Comments (6)

June 21, 2006

Chuck Morse vs. Wikipedia?

If you’re like me, you’re probably asking yourself right now “Who is Chuck Morse?” And “What does he have to do with Wikipedia?” Well, maybe you don’t care. But the story behind the question made for an interesting late afternoon on Wednesday with the sleuths of theSC jumping to action. And it may just be an interesting example of how politicians who are unfamiliar with new forms of media/communications are going to come into conflict with them.

Chuck Morse is a man running as a candidate for US congress. He’s running for Barney Frank’s seat. Why should you care? You probably shouldn’t care too much. Last time he ran against Rep. Frank he lost by a worse margin than any other Republican running against a Democrat in that election.

However, his campaign issued a press release Wed morning. Keri had it on her blog and reported it on her show.

PRESS RELEASE…………………
FRANK CAMPAIGN TAMPERS WITH OPPONENTS WIKIPEDIA BIOGRAPHY
Brad Patrick.. Wikipedia technical director 727-231-0101
Chuck Morse 617-271-5044
Ben Kilgore 978-257-6282

6/20..Massachusetts Republican congressional candidate Chuck Morse accused his opponent, Democratic Rep. Barney Frank, of arranging for the tampering of his wikipedia biography. “Wikipedia is supposed to be an online encyclopedia, not to be used as a campaign screed” said Morse. Brad Patrick, technical director of Wikipedia, agreed and moved the offending information to the discussion section with Morse’s response.

Wow, that’s quite an accusation. When Keri tried to get details on the story, she ran into some drama with Morse, which she has detailed in her blog post. It makes for entertaining reading.

Since anyone can edit Wikipedia, I was wondering how Morse could know that Frank or his campaign had been responsible for the edit. So, I checked Morse’s Wikipedia entry. As you probably know, Wikipedia (like all wikis) stores the history of all its edits. Here is Morse’s page as it currently appears. And here is what the page looked like before a wiki janitor cleaned up the unfriendly details.

It actually doesn’t sound to me like it is written by an opposing candidate. It’s not nearly negative enough. It’s less like a screed and more like “unflattering.” Perhaps the worst of it are comments like these:

His first campaign against Congressman Fran was a dismal failure. […] He used the Republican label to raise funds from Republican donors which was, at best, unethical.
Congressman Fran?” If it were a staunch Frank supporter, I think you’d at least trust him to get the name right. But wiki also stores the identity of the editors, so I looked into that. This page highlights the offending change.

And that’s when I suddenly got interested. Because the person who added the comment didn’t leave behind an identity, but he/she did leave behind an IP address. 134.88.204.126 is an address from the block which belongs to UMass Dartmouth (134.88), so it immediately jumped out at me. The third number in the address was also familiar. As I read the number to Ryan he remarked that all the machines from our office have this number.

So, someone really close to us made that edit. What a bizarre coincidence! Ryan ran off to get Jake, because we figured he’d be able to help us locate the exact machine.

And he did. Some tracerouting and a phone call yielded the relevant information. I won’t mention who the machine was registered to, because we can’t be sure who made the edit; only which machine was used to make the change. I will say that it was a password-protected machine, it is in the building where I work, and it was not anyone from my project who made the edit.

And the chances are pretty good that it wasn’t Barney Frank, since we would have noticed him walking around in the office last Wednesday. We can be sure the edit didn’t happen from Washington D.C. I can’t say with complete certainty that someone who works for Frank doesn’t also have access to that machine.

I don’t see the threat online, but Keri mentioned that Morse was mulling a lawsuit. Who against, I can’t imagine. Wikipedia? They haven’t done anything to him. Frank? I haven’t seen any evidence that Frank’s campaign made the edit and I doubt they are working out of our building.

But perhaps the most obvious thing here is that Morse just doesn’t get wiki and rushed to judgment before finding out. He himself could have repaired the offending story. He didn’t and it remained until a janitor got to it. He could have put a more favorable bio up, but instead contacted the guy who runs the wiki and sent him some email comments, which didn’t on the page. They ended up instead on the discussion for that page.

From now on, candidates are really going to have to get familiar with these technologies. While flawed, Wikipedia is fast becoming the first place that connected citizens go to get definitive and organized information on subjects from apples to Zarathustra. And wikis are just one new way that people exchange information. Every day, people are trying to find new ways to share their knowledge with others. One way or another, people are going to have to deal with the explosion of access to information and opinion. Flattering or not.

Thanks for the help, Ryan and Jake, in our little bit of sleuthing today. It was fun! I called into Keri’s show and tried to explain wiki ot her audience, but I fear that I bored them to tears.

Posted by James at 9:09 PM | Comments (12)

Hacker ID Theft Overrated

Way back in 1986, if you were to describe a world in 20 years in which people had their identity information stored on computers, and many of those people had fallen prey to identity thieves, the image of a probable culprit would have sprung to mind.

That image would be of th super-smart, but socially maladjusted computer hacker! With a phone call and some little electronic device he’d built himself, he could hack into any local network and suck out the identities. Soon he’d just transfer money into his bank account and live the high life! Such was our vision of the future.

Here in 2006, there certainly are hackers who break into networks and steal identities. But how does most identity information get lost? Through hacking? No.

Ninety-one percent of the data was lifted via physical theft, where crooks stole tapes, printed records, or computer gear… especially laptops. In fact, over 30.5 million records skipped out via laptop. That’s 73% of the records lost through physical means.

And, by a factor of 5, government incompetence accounts for the majority of social security number losses.

On a side note, I saw this story on an interesting site called Email Battles. It’s a computer security news site/blog. Here’s another interesting story on the site regarding why the vast majority of physicians won’t correspond with patients via email.

Posted by James at 7:41 AM | Comments (3)

June 19, 2006

Our Namesake

Dave (from the neighboring office here at work) stopped by to inform my office-fellow Ryan that his wife had a son last week.

I’ve not mentioned Dave on the blog before; he’s a good-natured fellow who we often say “Hi” to in the office. He works for a different organization that shares our building. Sometimes he’ll stop in and we’ll give each other beer recommendations.

In any case, the kicker of this short story is that he and his wife named their son “Ryan James.” Afterward, he sat in the hospital and thought to himself “why does that sound so familiar?” Perhaps he should have asked Ryan and James back at the office.

I guess it’s a form of flattery, albeit an unintentional one. If he hated us, he probably would have shied away from the names.

Posted by James at 2:00 PM | Comments (8)

Creature Double Feature Is Back!

Julie tipped me off. Creature Double Feature is back, at least for the summer! Possibly longer.

Starting this weekend on Saturday at noon, WLVI will kick off the new round of Creature Double Feature with “Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster.”

Parents, you owe it to your children to introduce them to these shlocky movies. Don’t let another generation grow up without Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster.

Some Links:

Posted by James at 1:10 PM | Comments (9)

June 17, 2006

Knock, Knock - It's Well-Dressed People

The weather is nice, and so it’s the time of year when some religious folk go door to door with their beliefs.

Today, in the heat, we’re cleaning the house for guests. The bell rang. I was the nearest one, so I went to the door.

It was two smartly dressed fellows who, after I said “Hi” and opened the screen, introduced themselves as LDS church members. I replied “Oh, sorry, we’re atheists. But thank you for your time.” And they left.

That “thank you for your time” was meant to be both polite and final. I don’t actually appreciate being evangelized to. But I like to be polite. I don’t see a need to make myself act rude to get rid of them. Which, as I explained to Maggie, is about me and how I view myself and not them.

Next time I probably ought to say “nice to meet you” instead. I don’t mind meeting them. I just don’t want to talk religion with them.

I have excused these folks in the past, saying that “it’s just part of their religion; they are called to evangelize.” But after some thought, I think I have changed my mind on that. If they are called to evangelize, then they are required to go door to door (eventually my door) to fulfill the requirements of their religion. If that’s so, then they’re using me for their own gain. My annoyance serves a purpose for them, because they need to go out and do this. But it serves no purpose for me, since it’s unsolicited and unwanted. I rather resent being used, though their isn’t much harm in it. A week or two ago, another group was operating on our street. Same deal. So maybe we’re an easy neighborhood to use for their purposes.

I’ll still be polite next time. But maybe I’m a little more interested now. Not in their religion, but in what neighborhoods they visit, where their church is. I’m still not sure I want to waste their time or my own, but now we have something to talk about.

Posted by James at 1:58 PM | Comments (16)

Looking to Marry a 12 Year Old Girl?

Apparently, Colorado is the place you want to go.

“It appears that Colorado has adopted the common-law age of consent for marriage as 14 for a male and 12 for a female, which existed under English common law,” the ruling said. “Nevertheless, we need only hold here that a 15-year-old female may enter into a valid common-law marriage.”

Sanctity of marriage: UPHELD!

This sarcastic message brought to you by the laws of the state of Colorado.

Posted by James at 11:03 AM

June 16, 2006

Setback Shotgun

Here are this week’s links:

  • Community Solar System (astronomy, boston)
    • Saw this on Mike’s linkblog and was amused that this is the 3rd time in 3 weeks that completely separate people have raised the idea of large-distance solar system scale models with me. My FIL was working on convincing me to do this with geocaches.
  • Beached SUV limo (wft, photos, blog/entry)
    • Be careful with the hills when you are in a stretch SUV.
  • Liquid Nitrogen Into A Swimming Pool (video, fun, science)
    • What happens if you throw a bunch of liquid nitrogen into a swimming pool? Only one way to find out, and Bob McC provides the link to the video.
  • Limbs & Things - Rectal Examination Trainer (odd, wtf)
    • Someone (who didn’t want attribution) sent me this link and I felt the need to share it with you. It’s better to practice on the trainer than look for volunteers.
  • Perfect Bubble Rings Underwater (video, japanese, wtf, fun)
    • From a Japanese TV show. Fellow can blow a perfect air bubble ring underwater.
  • CalorieKing - Diet and weight loss. Calorie Counter and more. (calories, cooking, diet, reference, nutrition)
    • Yet another calorie reference site.
  • Massachusetts Farmers Markets (food, massachusetts, consumerism, bargains)
    • These are the locations and times of the local farmers markets. I’d like to do more shopping at them.
  • Iraq War Coalition Fatalities (animation, flash, iraq, war, reference)
    • An animation showing the location of coalition war fatalities over time in Iraq.

And, my weight chart. Note that I had a setback, which can directly be traced to Wednesday night’s long-planned Lebanese dinner at Opa on Federal Hill in Providence. (menu) Restaurants are diet killers. Before the Thursday morning weighing, I didn’t think one meal could set you that far off. Yowch.

BONUS:

  • myiTunes Sig (sound, music, MP3)
    • Jason Freeman’s iTunes signature maker makes a musical signature from your iTunes favorites/most played tracks. My iTunes signature is a mish-mosh of some of my favorite tracks, and it’s weird to hear them jumbled together like that.
Posted by James at 9:12 AM | Comments (2)

June 15, 2006

Horrible Fire

If you’re in the area, you probably have already heard. There was a tragic fire at a building on County Street in Fall River. It claimed four lives.

The building was being used to house the St. John’s Holy Ghost Association Inc. I am not very familiar with such associations, but I gather that they did charity work in the neighborhood and were a part of the neighborhood Portuguese culture and community. This association sponsors one of the Portuguese feasts in the area, actually scheduled for this weekend.

This section of Fall River is known as “the Flint.” It’s where my mother grew up and has been through some difficult trials lately, with a recent shooting death and gang activity. So this has been a challenging time for the community.

My heart goes out to the families of those who lost their lives, to all the injured, and to a community that is already pulling together in the wake of this.

Posted by James at 9:05 PM | Comments (21)

June 14, 2006

Suddenly, This Summer

Summer is back for the moment.

There are teenage boys playing basketball on the courts. You can hear motorcycles and watercraft.

Driving by the post office yesterday, I encountered local residents meeting in front of the door, discussing whatever local gossip there is to discuss. An old car pulled up with teenage girls in it and the driver jumped out and ran into Subway — the telltale morning paycheck pickup before a day of summer activities.

Now that the rain is gone for a moment, everyone is cramming in their activities.

On Saturday, the girls camped out with their friends and the Scouts. On Sunday we seized the good-weather-day by geocaching and visiting places where kick-scooters could be used as effective transportation.

That included Fort Taber (that link has sound) at New Bedford’s beautiful Taber Park.

The photos start in Flickr here and were taken on June 11. (By the way, if I know you in person, and you have a Flickr account, and you’re interested in my pictures, make me one of your contacts and I will add you as a contact and then a “Friend.” Some of the pictures I upload to Flickr are marked “Private” and only Friends can see them. Some of my friends have specifically asked to see more personal shots. This is how I can accomplish that and keep some of our privacy. So let me know your Flickr account, and add me as a contact. If you don’t care, then ignore this note. I’ll be using “Private” pictures more in the future.)

We didn’t find the geocaches, but we had a lot of fun scooting around. I walked around, but you get the idea. I’m thinking of taking up inline skating to keep up with the kids, but I wonder if my clumsiness will doom me to failure there.

Posted by James at 8:42 AM | Comments (4)

June 8, 2006

Dope Shotgun

  • The Dianetics Racing Team - Ignite Your Potential! (wtf, religion, sports)
    • Yes - Scientology is sponsoring a NASCAR racing team.
  • Crazy Tuesday grades are due soon… (music, video, humor, funny)
    • “Wer’e the boys from Social Studies - Check our dope rhymes.” Two Concord, MA teachers rap about their school day.
  • la la (p2p, shopping, trading, music)
    • Legally trade CDs online. You list CDs you want to trade, list CDs you want to get. The system will charge you $1 to receive a CD plus 49 cents shipping. A cut of the money goes to an artist fund, you get a legal CD.
  • Kitten vs Frontrow (animals, funny, video)
    • Too cute not to post. It's a kitten interacting with MacOSX frontrow software on a Powerbook. Meow! He's tryign to grab the icons and having a grand old time.
  • weirdurinal.jpg (wtf, images, funny, weird)
    • Possibly the most nightmarish urinal I’ve ever seen.
  • Young FrankenSteve (funny, video, windows, satire)
    • The “Steve Ballmer monkey boy” video is given a new lease on internet meme life with this mashup.
  • Eugene Mirman (flash, funny, wtf, music)
    • A creepy and strange crooning child flash thingie. You choose the song.
  • The Flipping Point — How the evidence for anthropogenic global warming has converged to cause this environmental skeptic to make a cognitive flip (articles, news, science, skeptic, politics)
    • Committed skeptic Michael Shermer thinks the tipping point has come from skepticism to activism in the global warming debate.
  • Turbulence (art, radio, media, sound)
    • When I was at SMU (now UMass Dartmouth) the radio station played this mesmerisingly weird show called “Turbulence.” I think it’s related (looseley? incidentally?) to this (now online) art project. No way to tell for certain.
  • Jackson Pollock by Miltos Manetas (art, drawing, fun, graphics, flash)
    • If you ever wanted to be Jackson Pollock, now you can be with the minimum of muss.

My Weight Graph

Posted by James at 3:37 PM | Comments (5)

Letters To Gore




The "American" People
United States of America
Al Gore
1 Observatory Circle
Washington, DC
August, 2000

Dear Mr. Gore,

Thank you for volunteering to clean our bathroom. We understand that the group you represent has chosen you to step forward for the job. We have a somewhat lengthy process in which we will be evaluating you against one other candidate. It hasn't gone unnoticed that you are currently employed with the man who has kept the bathroom reasonably clean. Thanks for your service!

We'll notify you of our decision sometime in early November.

Sincerely,
Citizens of the United States of America





The "American" People
United States of America
Al Gore
1 Observatory Circle
Washington, DC
Early November, 2000

Dear Mr. Gore,

Good news! The majority of us have decided to accept your volunteer offer to clean our bathroom! You will be contacted soon with the formal paperwork to complete this process.


Sincerely,
Citizens of the United States of America





The "American" People
United States of America
Al Gore
1 Observatory Circle
Washington, DC
Late November, 2000

Dear Mr. Gore,

First, we'd like to thank you again for generously volunteering to clean our bathroom.

As you are probably aware, our approval process is a somewhat complicated one, with a storied history and a rich tradition. While it's true that you were approved by the majority for this position (as the last letter stated), there were some unusual circumstances in the decision-making process. In the end, we decided to go another direction with this position.

Sorry for the confusion. Also, we are going to need you to move your stuff out of your Naval Observatory office. Thanks in advance for your cooperation and understanding, and we appreciate your role in having kept the bathroom clean up to this point.

Good luck in your future endeavors!

Sincerely,
Citizens of the United States of America





The "American" People
United States of America
Al Gore
Nashville, TN
June, 2006

Dear Mr. Gore,

Hey there!

It's been a while. Just thought we would touch base after not hearing from you for six years or so.

How have things been going? We hear you have a new movie out. It had the highest per-location average box office for its first two weeks. Congratulations!  Glad to see you've kept busy.

Anyhow, some of us were kinda wondering whether that offer you made before ... you know, when you volunteered to clean the bathroom ... whether that offer was still open. Is it? You don't seem like the kind of guy to let that funky business from six years ago get in the way of an opportunity to clean our bathroom.

In the interest of being straight, I have to level with you. And, honestly, some of us didn't want to say this but we figured that you might have caught wind of it on the news anyway. The bathroom isn't exactly in the same shape you left it, I am very sorry to say.

The people we put in charge of cleaning it let a monkey in there and he's been flinging poo for pretty much the entire six years. Right away it started to smell bad, but about a year ago the stench became overwhelming. Nobody will go near it now. You can see why some people didn't want me to mention that, but I felt we needed to level with you.

In any case, some of us are really hoping you are still interested. It's going to take us about two years to get the monkey out of there, but what's a little more poo in the bathroom? It's already pretty caked on.

You'll have to go through the same approval process as before, but that's old hat for you, right? We're sure it will be painless this time. Well, reasonably sure. But don't quote us on that.

Sincerely,
Citizens of the United States of America

(P.S. RSVP soon!)







Posted by James at 12:49 PM | Comments (9)

June 7, 2006

Locked In The Closet

If you’re in Senator Jim Inhofe’s family, and you’re gay, here are the possibilities open to you:

- You are locked in a closet
- You have been disowned
- You’ve been killed, your body dumped in an Oklahoma landfill, and all records of your existence have been erased.

And if you’re any member of his family, throughout recorded history, Inhofe knows what you’ve been up to in the bedroom.

You may remember Senator Inhofe from previous posts on this blog, such as the one mentioning his efforts to get our bridge torn down to make way for a Liquefied Natural Gas terminal to be built in a residential area. You may also remember that he’s a dominionist.

Now he’s on the Senate floor with a big picture of his family declaring that:
“I’m really proud to say that in the recorded history of our family, we’ve never had a divorce or any kind of homosexual relationship.”

This is reported on the Think Progress website and there is video.

We already knew Inhofe didn’t like gays. He won’t hire openly gay staffers. But the amazing thing about this stupid pronouncement is that he’d stand on the floor and tell the world how he supposedly knows the details of his family to such an extent that he knows what sort of sex they have ever had. Since he didn’t mention bestiality, I’m assuming he didn’t feel as confident to make a pronouncement on that score.

Has he inadvertently revealed the next big push once the dominionists get gay marriage banned? Is divorce in the chopping block?

There is something supremely saddening when his source of pride stems from knowing the sort of sex his family has.

Posted by James at 2:25 PM | Comments (3)

Druthers


I’d rather hunt with Dick Cheney than ride w— OW! MY FACE, YOU SHOT MY GODDAMN FACE!!!!

(Some context here, if it’s necessary.)

Posted by James at 1:17 AM | Comments (4)

June 5, 2006

Redbox - DVD Vending Automat

redboxThere’s a new video rental “store” in town. It’s called Redbox.

It operates like a vending machine for DVDs. I encountered our local Redbox in the Somerset Stop & Shop. It is, as the name implies, a big red box with a computer touch screen that lets you choose a movie to rent. Run your credit card through the reader and it spits out the little DVD case (seen here).

I rented When a Stranger Calls (a lackluster horror film remake that is not worth your time). The DVD itself and the DVD case are barcoded so that when you return the DVD, the machine knows you’re returning the correct one.

The service costs $1 per night. So, if you return the DVD the next day, you’re charged $1. There are not “late fees” per se, as you are renting the DVD at a rate. They’ll just charge your credit card accordingly the longer you hold the DVD.

The selection of DVDs looked good. All the relatively new releases were there, (King Kong, Aeon Flux) and they claim to update the machine every Tuesday with the new releases.

You can return Redbox DVDs at any Redbox location. If you want a receipt, you have to cough up your email address and it will mail you one.

The service is not without its snags. When Maggie tried to return our DVD yesterday, the machine was down. A group of townspeople were gathered around with pitchforks. I called the number on the DVD and they told me the box would be back up today, that I could return the DVD and any additional charges would be waived. Theoretically, I could have returned the DVD elsewhere. The website does not yet even list the known Stop & Shop location on its map, never mind alternate locations. But at least the problem was handled relatively easy (assuming I do not get charged the extra dollar).

If you’re interested in what the box looks like, keep your eye on my Flickr sidebar; I plan to add a phonecam pic after I return the DVD.

This seems like a decent, cheap alternative to Blockbuster and Netflix for those who only rent on impulse, don’t watch TV series on DVD, or just don’t rent that many DVDs at all. One dollar is cheap entertainment, as long as you remember to return the DVD the next day. With more locations, the service will be more convenient.

Have you seen these machines popping up in your area? Would you rent from one?

Posted by James at 8:43 AM | Comments (17)

Summer Mix Delayed

C’mon people, email me your summer mixes!

Sadly, I’m still arranging mine. I blame the wet weather. If 70-plus minutes of music seemed too daunting, then go with four or five songs. I want to know what music is making you feel summer is coming this year.

I have only one official submission, and I am delaying posting anything until I have put my list together. So there is still time!

So send me a short list of songs that you’ll be listening to while you enjoy the summer. It’s fun, and the RIAA can’t bust you (i.e. me) for just listing song titles.

Posted by James at 12:24 AM | Comments (13)

June 4, 2006

Did You Know? Bush Popularity

Did you know? Bush is still popular in Utah. According to this story in the New york Times:

Another student at Brigham Young, Danielle Pulsipher, a junior, offered blanket approval of the president. Asked to name which of his actions as president she liked most, she was hard-pressed to answer.
“I’m not sure of anything he’s done, but I like that he’s religious — that’s really important,” Ms. Pulsipher said.

And that’s your fun fact of the day.

Posted by James at 9:45 PM | Comments (6)

All America's Problems Have Been Solved

It’s official. All of America’s Problems are solved.

  • Global warming has been stopped in its tracks.
  • Energy prices are under control. Energy is cleanly and safely generated.
  • Iraq is a strong democracy, sectarian violence is a thing of the past, and we have withdrawn American troops.
  • The economy is growing at an unprecedented rate with inflation under control.
  • The budget deficit is small and manageable.
  • The dollar is strengthening.
  • Everyone who wants a job has one.
  • We’re prepared for the next natural disaster.
  • Political hacks have been flushed from the Executive branch.
  • The USA is loved for our global leadership
  • The president isn’t interested in deceiving the American people, and we’ve straightened out the leaking of secrets to attack political critics.
  • We’ve got huge diplomatic leverage.
  • We’ve been able to fully fund Homeland Security initiatives.
  • There is tax equity, and people have a general feeling that the people that have most benefited from increases in wealth have also paid their fair share.
  • Education programs are funded sufficiently and students are getting the services they need.
  • Heath care is available and affordable for nearly all Americans.

How do I know all this? I read the news, of course!

These aren’t the problems we need the government working on. These would be a joke if it weren’t obvious that they were targeted at the Americans that the GOP are worried won’t come to the polls in 2006. It’s a cynical distraction from the country’s real problems.

This is what the Legislative branch will be occupying their time with in the next few weeks.

All the more reason that this congress needs a radical reprioritization in November.

Posted by James at 11:29 AM

Patrick Wins MA Democratic Convention

Deval Patrick, making his first run for elective office, emerged from the Democratic State Convention on Saturday as his party’s endorsed gubernatorial candidate, while Tom Reilly and Chris Gabrieli also qualified for the ballot.

Deval Patrick won an overwhelming number of the delegates and took the endorsement of the Democratic party. Democratic voters will choose one of these three men to challenge Lt. Governor Healey.

Analysts are crediting Patrick with successfully using strong online support to fuel this victory in the traditional field of political battle. This is something that eluded Howard Dean. Reilly’s use of TV ads did not seem to serve him as effectively. But it’s yet to be seen whether this success will carry through to the primary when the general population has its say.

Gabrieli squeaked in to make the ballot cutoff:

Both Reilly and Gabrieli’s spokesman denied engaging in vote-swapping to ensure each reached the ballot, but House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, D-Boston, said he suggested that some of his North End supporters consider Gabrieli instead of Reilly.

Hmmmm!

Patrick’s politics run quite liberal. Reilly and Gabrieli may just split the moderate vote, giving Patrick that much more of an advantage in the primary.

Additional links:

Posted by James at 10:04 AM

June 2, 2006

It's Hot Out There For A Pimm's

After multiple urgings from Patti, I finally broke down and tried Pimm’s No. 1 Cup.

It was very satisfying!

Here’s how I made it. Very simply:

  • Glass of ice
  • 1 shot of Pimm’s, poured over the ice.
  • fill the remaining space with a few ounces of Limonata.
  • Drink

Experiments with 7UP were unsatisfactory. I didn’t love it in Sprite, either. Nor in diet versions of both.

The Limonata has the sour power to really make it a refreshing drink. Pimm’s shouldn’t be paired with anything wimpy.

My personal concern is that I’m not drinking sugared sodas lately, so I’d rather skip the Limonata if I can. After last night’s experiments, I am convinced that I can recreate a diet version of Limonata with lemon juice, water, club soda and Splenda which will serve quite well as a diet Pimm’s No. 1 Cup. Purists will want to stick with the Limonata. Recipe to follow, when I get through experimenting.

[Update: I realized I posted this without describing the flavor at all. Pimm’s has been compared to gin, because of the way it’s had flavors added to it, but it is not like gin as we are used to it. It’s a somewhat mediciney liqueur, which is why it needs something sweet and sour to balance it off. It overpowers Sprite. I haven’t tried it with ginger ale, but I’m willing to bet that it goes better with a real ginger beer than it does with ginger ale. Pimm’s is hard to describe, but I will say it was quite refreshing. It’s great to have another summer drink to turn to.]

Additional Info:

Posted by James at 1:33 PM | Comments (3)

I Miss Deadwood Shotgun


My weight graph.

Posted by James at 11:54 AM

June 1, 2006

Deadwood DVDs Wane - Summer Season Begins

I am a shameless consumer of video content. By that I mean to say, I am not ashamed of any of the video content I watch, and I enjoy it thoroughly.

This last week I have been consumed with watching the Deadwood Season 2 DVDs. Today I watched the last episode as I ran on the treadmill. I haven’t spent much time blogging because… well, a season of Deadwood is 12 hours you have to find somewhere in your week. I spent most of it exercising, but you know how it is when you’re addicted to something.

So, anything interesting happen while I was away?

Back on the subject of video content, I have my on-season TV obsessions. To list them: “Lost,” “24,” “Smallville” (for which I am taunted by my wife), “Battlestar Galactica,” “Alias” (no longer with us), “Prison Break,” “My Name Is Earl*,” “The Office,” “Saturday Night Live,” “Robot Chicken,” “CSI,” and then the various news shows on Sunday morning, and an occasional wander through the Food Network, especially for “Iron Chef America” which I watch with K. Those are all great shows, and some of them are not-to-be-missed.

But during the summer it’s time to catch up on the CSI episodes I’ve missed, look into any series I didn’t catch when they aired, but may be out on DVD now, and batten down the hatches for the summer TV season. Here are the prospects.

DVDs

  • Deadwood, Season 2
    • Just finished it. Excellent follow up to the first season. If you don’t mind lots of foul language and occasional violence, I highly recommend “Deadwood.” Great characters, great machinations, lots going on in this not-yet-legal settlement.
  • Rescue Me
    • Never seen it, but enough people tell me good things about it that I may give it a try. It runs in the summer season, and the first episode of season 3 was this week, I think.
  • Carnivale Season 2
    • Loved Season 1, but this show has been canceled. Still, I’m looking forward to Season 2, which releases in July on DVD.
  • Dead Like Me
    • OK - I admit that this show is on the list simply because I loved both seasons and am pissed off that they chose not to continue making it. At least they tried to bring it to a sensible end. Great fun, interesting premise, moving themes. I guess I’m recommending it.
  • The Shield
    • Another show people have recommended to me. I’m not sold yet, though. Four seasons are out, so at least it would keep me busy if it turned out to be good.
  • Veronica Mars
    • Acclaimed, but I’m not sure I could get into it. Apparently Buffy/Angel alum Charisma Carpenter is in the most recent season.

I’m no longer interested in trying to catch up to “Desperate Housewives.” Just not enough to sustain that one. “House” looked like a fun character, but to sustain my interest on the treadmill I need compelling story arc. But enough of you like it and Hugh Laurie is a good enough actor that I may give this a DVD shot.

Summer Shows

  • The Closer (Season 2)
    • The #1 new drama last summer, I was lucky to listen to the hype and catch it from the beginning. My favorite detective-type show since Columbo. Starts June 12 on TNT.
  • The Dead Zone (Season 5)
    • Can’t believe this series is already starting its 5th season (June 18 on USA). I can’t even remember season 3. Guess that was my summer season dead zone. I’ve grown to like this series better than the original movie, as it has extended the “mythology” of Johnny’s powers.
  • The 4400 (Season 3)
    • This is the kind of sci-fi that the SciFi channel should be doing. It’s about 4400 people returned from having previously been abducted throughout recent history by aliens… people from the future… aliens from the future? They’ve returned without aging a day but subtly changed. They’ve got strange powers. And over time it seems that these powers are not random in nature. Fun stuff.
  • Thirty Days (Season 2)
    • Begins July 12 on FX. Morgan Spurlock (creator of Super Size Me) is at it again, testing our assumptions and getting people to look at the world differently for a whole month at a time. This was good stuff int he first season, although I missed a few episodes. I recommend the DVDs, if you are at all interested in reality TV with an interesting purpose.
  • Monk (Season 5)
    • I admit it, I haven’t kept up with this one. Maggie and I enjoyed it together when it first began. Some shows are more fun to watch with a friend, and this was one of them. Maggie has stopped watching TV except for Earl, Office and HGTV. And SNL.

Maybes

The following are some definite maybes. Completely new shows (and new-to-me shows) that have piqued my interest, but I don’t know much about them.

  • Nightmares & Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King
  • It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
  • Blade: The Series
    • Based on the movies. On Spike TV. Honestly, I don’t think it’s that promising, but in the past I have been a sucker for this type of thing.
  • Chappelle’s Show: The Lost Episodes
    • Digging into unused episode footage from an unfinished 3rd season. They’ll get 3 eps out of it.
  • HGTV Design Star
    • I list this only because, if it’s at all interesting, I know it will be on in my house. HGTV is crack for my wife and younger daughter.
  • Hustle
    • A TV show about con artists, with Robert Vaughn??? Why didn’t anyone tell me about this before??? Do I even get AMC? It’s a BBC show, and I’m guessing Netflix doesn’t have the DVDs because they’re only in Region 2 format. Pthhhhhh.

( * Rumor is that Jason Lee is a scientologist. Sorry to break the news.)

Posted by James at 11:37 AM | Comments (15)