May 31, 2007

What Does "Guarantee" Mean?

I have a wheelbarrow that’s been unusable for over a year now because the tire went flat and came off the rim, and I didn’t know how to fix it. I decided to get a replacement tire from Home Depot, assuming they would have such a thing.

I brought the broken wheel with me, assuming I’d face a choice of sizes.

I was a little surprised to see there were a couple of types of wheelbarrow wheel, but not different sizes. There was a solid rubber wheel and an air-filled wheel. They were the same size, both slightly larger than my old tire.

The box proclaimed “one size fits all” and, more compellingly “Guaranteed to fit your wheelbarrow.” I figured they knew something I didn’t; this is often a bad assumption, even when they are wheelbarrow experts and I am not.

I bought the wheel, rushed home excited at the prospect of a repaired wheelbarrow and, of course, the wheel was too big. It hit both the bottom of the bucket and the wheel guard.

I returned it, of course, and got my money back. But then I thought about what “guaranteed” means. It doesn’t mean “guaranteed to fit, or your money back.” Because, of course I would have returned it for my money back whether it was “guaranteed” or not; I have a need for a wheel that doesn’t fit my barrow.

I looked up “guaranteed” to see what the dictionary people think it means.

The first definition of “guarantee” I came across was:

Something that assures a particular outcome or condition.

And the other definitions are not far off from that. So, it doesn’t mean that I am guaranteed to get my money back. It doesn’t mean I am simply guaranteed to not waste my money. The copy on the box actually meant that they were assuring a specific outcome: this wheel will work on my wheelbarrow.

I didn’t look it up with the intention of calling them and demanding that they make the wheel fit for me, like they promised. I did not have the intention for telling Home Depot that they owed me some money for the time I wasted trying to install this non-fitting wheel, or having to return to the store to get my money back. I looked it up because I see words used so cavalierly that sometimes I think maybe I’m going insane and the language doesn’t mean what I think it means.

We have specific meanings for a reason, right? The reason here is to get me to buy the wheel rather than leave the store and go elsewhere looking for a wheel that appears to fit better. It worked! So they are using language effectively in their interest. However, I get the feeling that their use of language is not in my interest. Because not only did they waste my time, but now I know that “guarantee,” used in marketing, really doesn’t mean anything.

My innocence has been shattered!

Posted by James at 12:52 PM | Comments (21)

May 30, 2007

Once Around the News

Officer Shoots Daughter Mistaken For Intruder

An off-duty New Haven police officer shot and wounded his 18-year-old daughter, apparently mistaking her for an intruder after she sneaked out of their Stratford home and re-entered through the basement.

Hey, I’ve got an idea! Know who it is before you shoot them. That way you only shoot a family member if you intended to shoot a family member.

Romney, Lauer Apologize For Not Wearing Seatbelts

After challenging New Jersey Gov. Jon S. Corzine for not wearing a seat belt, “Today” show co-host Matt Lauer apologized Wednesday for an interview with Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney in which neither man wore a seat belt while driving through New Hampshire.

Apologized to whom? His family? I don’t care whether Lauer wore his seatbelt. What is it with people making these blanket apologies? If you were a jerk about it in the past you should apologize for that. On wearing the seatbelt, you should simply acknowledge that it was stupid to go without.

As for Romney, his seatbelt usage is the least thing about him that worries me.

Administration Will Fight Voluntary BSE Testing

The Bush administration said today it will fight to keep meatpackers from testing all their animals for bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

Read that again, slowly. There is a company that wanted to test all its cattle for BSE, so you would have a choice to buy meat from a producer that was extra-careful regarding Mad Cow disease. Should be OK, right? They should have the right to distinguish their brand. You should have the right to choose, right?

The Bush administration is fighting them because large meat companies complained that they were afraid there might be public pressure for them to also test their cattle.

As far as freedom is concerned, Bush is an embarrassment. Look for the “So glad I voted for BSE” bumper stickers available at a Young Republicans meeting near you.

Next: FDA ordered not to test drug safety because knowing which drugs are actually safe would hurt the bottom line on drugs that aren’t safe.

Miss USA Booed Off Stage Because of Immigration Policy

“I don’t think they are booing because of Rachel,” said Donald Trump, co-owner of the Miss Universe pageant. “They are booing because of the immigration policy.”

Blaming Miss USA for immigration policy is like invading Iraq for something that al Qaeda did.

Patient IQ Zero

A man who may have exposed passengers and crew members on two trans-Atlantic flights earlier this month to a highly drug-resistant form of tuberculosis knew he was infected, and had been advised by health officials not to travel overseas.

This guy was warned not to fly, but flew anyway, exposing dozens of passengers and people in a number of countries to his resistant form of TB.

When the outbreak begins, how confident are you that the CDC, who could not seem to get this guy to cooperate, can put the breaks on it?

He told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he was planning to undergo an intensive 18-month treatment at a hospital in Denver, and that he did not understand why he was not ordered into isolation before he left for his wedding in Europe. “I’m a very well-educated, successful, intelligent person,” the man, who declined to give his name, was quoted in the newspaper interview as saying. “This is insane to me, that I have an armed guard outside my door, when I’ve cooperated with everything other than the whole solitary-confinement-in-Italy thing.”

What good is an education if you don’t appear to be able to use it? The question is about his lack of concern and willingness to expose others to his disease. TB dude, you get Aces Full of Links Asshat of the Week.

Posted by James at 5:11 PM | Comments (9)

Thoughts On Memorial

When a high cost is being paid, we deserve assurance that the goals are worthy of the cost. If the path is unclear and long, we should expect milestones. We should demand accountability.

In the case of the Iraq war, there is a price in treasure being paid. But our service men and women are, in ever-growing numbers, paying the ultimate price.

Some would tell you that to honor the fallen we must only continue along a course with no accountability and no apparent progress. My view is different. I believe that everyone involved, and especially the family and neighbors we have sent to do our fighting for us deserve to have someone in charge put pen to paper and commit to goals and milestones. Aren’t their lives worth at least that consideration?

As I thought about the people who have given their lives for this country, I thought that we should do more than honor them with ceremonies. We should honor them by making sure they are deployed wisely and effectively and that the lives lost during deployment are not simply to run out the clock on a presidency.

The president has said he wants no strings attached to his Iraq war spending. “Strings” is another word for responsibility.

Tech Tags:
Posted by James at 7:51 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 29, 2007

Creation Ham Sammitch

Skepchick alerted their readers to a face-off between Ken Ham and Nica Lalli on “Fox and Friends” this morning. So I set the DVR, went to sleep, and dreamed of cowboys riding dinosaurs.

Whenever you hear that something is scheduled to be on Fox, and especially on Fox and Friends, you have to be prepared to absorb some drivel. “Fox and Friends” is a lot like the worst of the second hour of the “Today Show” only more crass, more snide, less helpful, more patrioholic1, and even less substantive, as the “debates” are timed to fall within a 6-year-old’s attention span.

Basically, the debate consisted of Ham repeating “come to the museum” as many times as he could, while telling Lalli she was irrational for not believing in everything he believed in.

The Fox host tried to cast Lalli as a kook who would object to any museum involving religion, but gave her a chance to respond and she clearly expressed the difference: Ham’s isn’t a museum dedicated to knowledge about a religion. It’s dedicated to promoting a belief.

It was a funny moment when Ham said “but that’s an irrational belief” and it sounded like he was talking about “belief in God.” This was too much for Lalli, who vocally agreed.

They showed footage of the museum while the two were talking, including pictures of dinosaurs. Lalli noted the dinosaurs and pointed out that they weren’t mentioned in the Bible. Ham responded by saying that they were mentioned in the Bible2 but that the word “dinosaur” wasn’t invented yet. Lalli came back with, “Well why not include evolution, which also wasn’t invented yet?” And so it went.

I have to give Lalli credit for even appearing opposite this guy. But she reinforced something important. You can’t “do science” in the 3 minutes that you are given for a segment on a “news” show like this. Creationists have known for a long time that you don’t reach the general public by arguing rationally. When 3 minutes, or a biased audience, are all you have, you have to stop being a scientist for a bit and go for the rhetorical jugular.

Just being intelligent and well-spoken isn’t good enough. It helps to be able to “have good comebacks” for the opposition’s assertions. But I think it is better still to have a very small handful of points (maybe just one or two) hammer at them, repeat them, and be ready for the kind of response you’re going to get. But don’t get run off into a rabbit-warren of argument. In 3-or-so minutes you’re only trying to make your point and so repetition is your friend.

I think Lalli did a decent job, and I think it’s important that there are people willing to do what she did. She didn’t push her book at all, though the host did mention it. Her points came across as “you’re wrong about dinos in the Bible and it’s not a real museum if you’re asked to ‘prepare to believe.’” I think the tactic of “you’re wrong on the dinos, and that calls your whole museum into question” is a good point.

These shows are how many people get their information. Scientists concede this ground at the peril of public support for science.


1 pa·tri·o·hol·ism n. A disorder characterized by the excessive focus on the superiority of your love for your country leading to psychological harm and impaired social and vocational functioning, eventually rendering you capable only of working for right wing bloviators.

Posted by James at 8:09 AM | Comments (0)

May 28, 2007

Creationism Museum A-OK

There’s been a lot of hubbub lately over the erection of a creationism museum.

I don’t know why people are so hot and bothered about it. If you ask me, this is a brilliant idea.

Moldering away in some museum is exactly where creationism belongs. In fact, I think every natural history museum ought to have a small exhibit on creationism, for a refreshing contrast to reality.

If museums have the resources to set up their own zoos, why not have a few creationists behind glass as well? Keep them safe from what must be a fairly frightening world of facts and research, and preserve them for future generations who would like to know how far we’ve progressed.

And the humor factor? The fact that there are still creationists is an under-appreciated source of amusement.

Creationism finally admitting its obsolescence and retiring to a museum? Where do I send the check?

Posted by James at 10:25 AM | Comments (4)

Would You Rather?

Would you rather…

  • Be banned from the Internet for a year or
  • Be banned from eating chocolate for a year?

The internet ban also means you cannot ask anyone to be your internet proxy (i.e. you cannot tell someone to post something on the internet, or ask someone to communicate for you on the internet) and you can’t discuss or write about the internet. Although if you happen to watch a broadcast or cable TV show or read a newspaper that mentions the internet, that’s OK.

You can talk about chocolate all you want.

Posted by James at 10:04 AM | Comments (23)

May 26, 2007

Game Day May 2007

After standing in for Maggie for an hour supervising the girl scout renovation of Chelsea’s Garden1, I headed north.

As usual, a successful Game Day at Bob and Patti’s. Seven lively people were in attendance: BOB, Patti, Gary, Lauren, Bill, Pat and I.

We enjoyed lots of excellent BBQ supplied by our hosts including pulled pork, burnt ends, chicken, cornbread, collard greens, beans, rice and beans, sauces… the works2. Many limes were squeezed in the preparation of Papa Doble daiquiris, a number of beers were enjoyed, Pimm’s No. 1 Cup was shared and Vietnamese iced coffee kept us refreshed. BOB and Patti also collaborated on a gluten-free castle cake with a sweet moat made of of some sort of yummy sliced nuts and sugar.

On the game front, we started with the game “Bang!” - a spaghetti-western—themed game where the outlaws try to kill the sheriff, the sheriff and deputies try to kill all the outlaws and the renegade simply tries to survive to face the sheriff in a showdown.

It’s a very active card game, with people shooting people or trying to avoid getting shot, and people trying to guess who are deputies and who are outlaws (only the sheriff is explicitly revealed). The rules require frequent reference at first, but eventually you’re only referencing the finer points of the special action cards.

The second game we played was “Bohnanza” - a German game which challenges you to plant bean fields and later harvest them for money. It’s not a boring game about farming; the fun is in the decisions you make about which types of beans you plant (you’re only allowed two active bean fields) and, more importantly, the trades you arrange with other players. I’ve played a few games in which you were allowed to “deal” with other players, but Bohnanza is the first game I’ve encountered where it is essential, easy and fun to do.

The rules are very simple compared to Bang!, but players are often forced to arrange creative multiplayer trades that are amusing and satisfying when they are successful. We all ended up with nearly the same number of gold coins (the money in the game) but BOB was the winner with 12. For a while there we were quite afraid that BriWei was going to win, as he has shown uncanny skill at Bohnanza in the past. Then we realized he was a few thousand miles away. Still, many of us had the strong urge to trade with BriWei. You are always missed when we game.

I highly recommend both games for groups.

Notes:

  • BOB recommended making ginger-infused simple syrup.
  • I was informed that Seagrams is no longer making their excellent “grapefruit twisted” gin.
  • The cat of the house caught a chipmunk and brought it in to show us. Patti saved the injured chipmunk.
  • Don’t strain a beer through a drink strainer, even if it was bottle conditioned and you decanted the yeast by mistake.


1 Maggie wasn’t feeling well — probably a cold aggravated by the heat and allergens — and kept a last minute Dr’s appointment. She came back to supervise the bulk of the girls’ service project. The garden is in memory of a fellow scout and friend.

2 The leftovers you sent home were much appreciated by Maggie - thanks!

Posted by James at 11:16 PM | Comments (8)

May 25, 2007

Cheap Stuff and Strange Kids

Yesterday at Ocean State Job Lot (a local discount store chain where they sell miscellaneous stuff at discount prices) we were buying casters for M’s school “invention” project. Ocean State Job Lot is a good place to get cheap parts. The casters were a buck and change apiece. M promised to pay me back the 6 or so dollars. We had a brief argument in which I explained that I wasn’t going to make her pay for a school project out of her birthday money. Not if the only outlay is 6 dollars. If she wanted to build a $200 robot, we might have more of a problem.

K has fewer qualms about asking for stuff. She ran up to me with a $1.99 math workbook that is intended for testing the proficiency of 6th grade students. We’re lucky enough that $2 is not going to make a difference in whether we eat or not, and so it seemed impossible to say “no.” It’s very difficult to say “Please don’t ask me for things; you can put that math workbook on your xmas list.” In any case, she offered to pay the $2, having heard her sister’s offer, and knowing she had $2 of birthday money.

I took them to my favorite soft-serve ice cream place for cheap cones: Eskimo King. While we were on the road, M said to me: “Ice cream isn’t necessary.” I said: “Who are you, Mr. Spock?” She told me that ice cream was for kids who hadn’t just been treated to 4 wheels from a surplus store. What?

We had the ice cream anyhow. But when we got home she tried to slip a $10 bill under my keyboard. She has her pride.

In other cheap news, top round is not the best grilling steak, but it is cheap. And, even if you’re short on time, you can make it yummy. A sprinkle of meat tenderizer on both sides of the steak, and then the liberal use of a steak tenderizer prepares the steak for a bath in the cheapest (on sale, even) Italian dressing you can find. Soak it for at least a half hour while you heat up the grill, an hour if you’ve got the time. Then cook it up however you like. It’s not a filet mignon, but it’s really tender once it’s had this treatment. It’s quite flavorful, and top round has very little fat on it.

Posted by James at 9:36 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Injury to the Eye Shotgun

Disruptive blog problems made this a rocky week. But we're still here.

Here are some links for you. Enjoy

  • Eye Defence (game,flash,weird)
    • Weird game where you try to defend an eye. You have to figure out what the "tools" do.
  • Hackety Hack: the Coder's Starter Kit (programming,reference,tutorial,education)
    • Newbie adults and curious children: here's your ticket to joining the glamour-filled world of the COMPUTER PROGRAMMER!
  • reCAPTCHA Mailhide (email,spam,tools,free)
    • Don't want spambots to get your email, but want to post it online? This service will only give your email out to humans. As a bonus, the CAPTCHA you solve helps computers that are trying to digitize classic texts.
  • SF PaperCraftGallery (origami,paper,starwars,crafts,diy)
    • Galactic Empire paper crafts.
  • A Full Cup - Coupon Generator (deals,shopping)
    • Print out your own coupons for Target!
  • Dribbleglass.com--Monopoly Cards We'd Like to See (funny,humor,images,art)

Check back soon for at least one new drink recipe over the weekend, when I experiment with pomegranate-flavored seltzer. If you're bored until then, why not make something useful.

If you're still bored, there's always checking up on your friends via Twitter. It costs you nothing to sign up except that dignity you haven't been using.

Posted by James at 7:59 AM | Comments (6)

May 24, 2007

What's The Point?

So, more evidence came out that Bush ignored warnings that invading Iraq would help Iran and strengthen al Qaeda.

Well, not just “evidence” but proof. Yeah, Bush looked for people who would tell him what he could use to promote the war and ignored warnings. The shifting justifications for the war are all unnecesary because it’s clear that Bush just wanted to invade Iraq and it was a marketing problem, not a foreign policy challenge to be solved.

Dear lord, who cares at this point? I have to figure that the remaining Bush Boosters would have to be personally punched in the face by Dubya before accepting that maybe Bush didn’t have the best judgment when he convinced the country to back his leadership on Iraq. And the rest of us seem to be in this “well, not much we can do about it now” funk.

The only point has to be simple blowing off steam — expressing frustration. Because, really, it wastes your time and annoys the pig.

Updated to add, When He’s Right, He’s Right:

The president said:

Failure in Iraq will cause generations to suffer, in my judgment. Al Qaeda will be emboldened. They will say, yes, once again, we’ve driven the great soft America out of a part of the region. It will cause them to be able to recruit more. It will give them safe haven. They are a direct threat to the United States.

Best thing I’ve heard Bush say recently. The only problem is that we seem to have a disagreement about what “failure” means.

Failure is not a mark on a calendar. A whole day can be a failure. A whole week. A whole year. A whole plan, or policy, or lack of a plan… the effect of which spans years and generations. In some cases, it might even seem like a whole presidency is a failure, or a whole life.

So, yes, Mr. President. We agree that your failure when it comes to the totality of your policies on Iraq will cause generations to suffer. The troops have not failed us in Iraq. You have failed us by sending them there. You talk about these things as if you had some grand plan that would have worked wonderfully except for… I don’t know… poor execution on the part of unnamed parties. In reality, the fish rotted from the head down. It stunk at conception.

But I am being insincere. I know this is not what Bush means. He means that he has an unlimited supply of chances to erase his failure. In other words, if you fail, and then promise to fix it sometime in the future, you haven’t really failed. But how can you possibly fix it if you can’t even admit you’ve failed in the first place?

You just hope against hope that someone will take over before anyone holds you accountable.

Posted by James at 10:37 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The Science of Gifting

Maggie posted about the crassness of the concept of “a greenbacks party” on her blog. I’d never heard of such a thing, and I agree with her reaction and with the comments my friends have made thus far.

A greenbacks party is a good way to tell me “please don’t come to my child’s party.”

A gift is supposed to please two people: the giver and the recipient. Telling someone to give you money takes away the enjoyment of the giver. That’s why it’s tacky, because taking away someone’s fun is rude.

Unless someone has asked for a suggestion, it’s never appropriate for an adult to tell people what you or your child wants for a gift. If you’re a kid and you’re asking your parents, you’re in the clear. If you’re making a list so that interested parties can figure out your interests, that’s fine.

With a gift, there is a risk the recipient won’t like it. Oh well! For a child, this means being exposed to something that, perhaps, wasn’t a desire that was placed into his head by some marketing drone who scripts commercials. Just because a child doesn’t want something doesn’t make it a bad gift, except perhaps if you live in the world of Willy Wonka children.

If a child has never (or has rarely) known what it is like to get something he asked for or wants for his birthday, I can certainly see a parent asking another adult for assistance in making a birthday wish come true. But if you’re asking for a greenbacks party because you’re going to Florida, that probably isn’t your child.

Posted by James at 9:53 PM | Comments (0)

Thought Thursday

Here’s your “Thought Thursday” question to ponder:

What do you think of the idea of an online identity, and what would you consider to be some of the responsibilities of an online identity as member of the “online community” of blogs, discussion groups, email, chats, etc?

(Edited to add the important word “what” to the sentence)

Posted by James at 1:07 PM | Comments (6)

May 23, 2007

Lost Season Finale

Anyone up for a lost season finale chat tonight?

I’ll be in and out of the Aces Full of Links Meebo Room. Meet me there if you want to enjoy or poke fun at the Lost Season finale tonight.

Here’s the link to the room.

Just show up in the room if you’re interested. Sorry, other time zones — Eastern Daylight Time.

Posted by James at 2:00 PM | Comments (12)

So Glad I Voted For the Patriots

Not the Patriot Act, the New England Patriots.

I wish I had been able to take a picture, but on my way to Fairhaven today, I saw an SUV on the highway.

On the rear bumper was a sticker that said “So Glad I Voted For Bush.” Well, I assume that’s what it said. I’ve seen that sticker before. On this particular car I couldn’t actually see the name “Bush” because it was obscured by a New England Patriots logo sticker.

I think someone had a change of heart during football season.

Posted by James at 1:50 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Blood Melon

In search of a new drinks using pomegranate. I have concocted the Blood Melon.

  • 3-4 oz. chilled pomegranate juice
  • 1.5 oz. Midori
  • 1.5 oz Strawberry Vodka (Stoli Strasberi, freezer temp)

Stir in a tall glass. Add 2 ice cubes. It’s blood red.

The one I made is caramel-ish, slightly melony.

More work needed.

Posted by James at 2:20 AM | Comments (8)

May 22, 2007

Jayjay

Trying to process the new slang.

Oprah’s Vajayjay is painin’.

(Reference: Mentioned in passing in Maggie’s post here, you can see the Oprah clip as part of Jimmy Kimmel’s monologue here. The relevant part is about 5 minutes in).

There was an Austin Powers villain named “Alotta Fajayjay”

Julie says that Pizzeria Rejayjay is one of her favorite restaurants.

If you have coronary artery disease, you might experience acute anjayjay.

The capital of Confederacy was Richmond… um.

This joke didn’t go nearly as far as I thought it would. I guess that’s for the best. I should leave the entertaining to people like Jayjay Lollobrigida.

Posted by James at 9:49 PM | Comments (0)

New Atheist Affiliations

I’d like to announce that Aces Full of Links has just been accepted into two online groups:

Atheist Blogroll is a list of blogs by atheist. They’re not necessarily atheist-themed blogs, merely atheist-authored. You can see a scrolling list of the Atheist Blogroll blogs in my sidebar under the “from others” section. If you’re interesting in reading what other atheists have to say, check those blogs out. I found this blogroll through Barry’s excellent “Staring at Empty Pages.”

Planet Atheism is a group blog of aggregated feeds from a number of atheism-related websites. A subset of my posts will be contributed to their site — specifically, the ones most relevant to atheism. I have added a green badge for Planet Atheism below the Atheist Blogroll (and not-coincidentally, Planet Atheism is also a link in that blogroll.)

If you are putting a link to “Planet Atheism” on your site, feel free to steal the “Planet Atheism” badge I made and use it for yourself. Just save the image to your hard drive, upload it to your web server and link to it there.

Why?

I’ve never found it difficult to get a theistic take on events, since I feel surrounded by such opinions. So I appreciate having a place to go to read an atheistic point of view, and having a place to add my own thoughts to the conversation. Maybe I’ll get some useful criticism, and I hope I can make a useful contribution.

One might not think that there is a need for a specifically atheist point of view. If what binds you together is not believing in something, then what are you discussing? But there is a lot to discuss. I have three main interests.

  1. We live in a world where theism is nearly always assumed. So we have a common experience to explore and questions to answer: Why? How does it affect us? What should we do about it?
  2. There are misconceptions about atheism. If we care about how people are treated, we should care about dispelling misunderstanding. And getting a better understanding of ourselves and our fellow atheists.
  3. We are atheists because we distinguish ourselves from theists. But we often identify as something other than “atheist” because we have positive beliefs. Humanism, for example, is compatible with atheism. I want to draw from other people’s ideas; I want to take advantage of the people who have already had good ideas.

A fourth item, maybe interwoven among everything, is our sense of humor. No matter how serious I try to be, I lapse into humor often to blow off steam. I hope people enjoy that more often than not.

We’re all in this together. May as well drink from the fire hose.

Posted by James at 5:20 PM | Comments (7)

Technical Difficulties

Thanks for bearing with me.

I don’t yet have an explanation for yesterday’s problems, but the blog is now working again. The problem could have been external, or it could have been related to how crappily Movable Type has been running. In any case, I’ve re-enabled commenting on the last 20 posts and we’ll hobble along a little while longer while I decide on a permanent solution to this blog’s speed problems.

Onward.

Posted by James at 8:50 AM | Comments (3)

May 19, 2007

Blogger Gets $12K Anon Donation

A blogger was posting about the difficulty he was having in paying his wife’s medical bills. Then, he was anonymously contacted and asked if he would accept $12,000 to pay for a year of his wife’s insurance.

The man accepted. He verified that the donation was real, and investigated the bank it came from (curious, I guess about the source of the money.) Eventually, a newspaper found out who the donor was.

The presumed donor has yet to comment about the situation, but the guy who received the donation had these words of thanks:

“I knew he was using me. I knew he would try to turn this to his advantage some day.”

The recipient of the donation? Webmaster Jim “Neef” Kenefic of the anti-Michael Moore website, “MooreWatch.”

The anonymous benefactor that had to be tracked down? Michael Moore.

Clearly, opportunistic Moore donated the money anonymously for the publicity. I’m sure he had no thought that reaching out to someone who dislikes you is a kind thing to do. The conventional wisdom about Moore is that he’s pretty much the devil incarnate. And when the devil gives you $12,000 to pay your bills, it’s clear that he’s doing it to promote his devlish ways.

And it doesn’t hurt that he’s now releasing a new movie about the medical problems of our country. This is the perfect promotion. Anonymously! And boy, did he show you by trying to pay your wife’s bills. Don’t you hate that? And I don’t think it’s self-promotional of you at all to do all that detective work and then dramatically reveal it on your blog. No, only Michael Moore is self-promotional. Bloggers with ads on their sites never self-promote. I believe you that you HAD to reveal it to protect yourself from the villainous Moore. The scoundrel!

Are people calling you an asshat? That’s a shame. I wonder why they feel that way.

Please note, Mr. Neef, that I have taken your advice on spelling your name. One “N”, two “E’s” and one “F.” I think you’re just the most awesomest and you win my “Dr Momentum Thinks Other People Call Me An Asshat” award!

Link to story on Slashfilm.

To Mr. Moore: I have two kids who will probably need orthodontics. If you plan on doing a movie on dentists please keep your dirty money to yourself. If you donate $12,000 to me anonymously, I swear I will find out and boy will I publicize the living heck out of it. Do you hear me, you scoundrel!!!??!?! It’ll be all over the news! Are you listening???!!!1111

[P.S. To Mr. Neef… Moore didn’t make you look like a jerk for taking the money. Anyone would understand that. The looking like a jerk part was all your doing.]

Posted by James at 4:04 PM | Comments (6)

Shrek 3 Non-Review

It was sold out on Friday night, but, as usual, you can go to a popular film on Saturday morning, first thing, and avoid the crowds. That’s because the smart people are all still asleep.

You may not have noticed, but I usually find the annoying people in the theater more interesting than most movies1.

We had a “talkie” family sit behind us. Two parents around our age (maybe a bit younger) with two boys who were younger than our daughters. Maybe 6 and 7? I don’t know. They had that “this is the voice I used to talk to my kids when they were 6 months old and I still haven’t given up on it, even though my kids have long since learned to understand complete sentences” voice. You know what I’m talking about. People who have to reassure their kid about the teeniest, tiniest thing in the movie, like when the princesses are locked in the dungeon, her son gasps and the mom has to tell the kid “Don’t worry - now they’re going to get all tough!” Jeebus, lady. It’s a good thing we have you to give your assessment of what the writers have in store for us. Your son was just expressing an emotion. He wasn’t freaking out.

They really weren’t so bad, actually, even if the older son kicked my chair a few times during the film. Getting my chair kicked during a kids’ film by a kid is pretty much expected. I actually find that much less annoying than the parents. Kids are kids; you don’t go to a kids movie expecting the kids to stay seated or keep quiet2.

But what you don’t necessarily expect is the mother scolding the father for not watching the younger kid, which allowed the younger kid to start playing with the old chewing gum he found under the seat. Have your family crisis elsewhere.

Most amusing moment: When a character onscreen farted, the fart ignited, the mom laughed and told her son that was “a little adult humor.”

Lady, you need to get away from the Wiggles a little more often.


1 Quick-take review: Not enough of the pop culture references that made the previous films so entertaining. Some charming parts, but I felt the kids in the theater were bored at times. The story dragged. It was darker than previous films, but with insufficient payoff. Entertainment Weekly gave it a B-, and I’d say it deserves a lower rating if it weren’t for the fact that it is still better than most child-movie-drek. Meet the Robinsons was much better.

2 Do parents just get used to a certain amount of annoying behavior? Do we learn to filter out a certain level of it, once we know it’s not a life-threatening problem. Perhaps so, if just as a survival mechanism. Or perhaps parents only survive with their mind intact if they develop this filter.

Posted by James at 12:53 PM | Comments (1)

May 18, 2007

Dictators of the World Shotgun

Apologies this week for not giving the proper acknowledgements. I didn't keep good track this week of my link sources. Some from Reddit, some from Digg, and then Chuck, Amy, BobMcC... and other people/places.

If you have a link you want to share, toss it into the comments.

In addition to the links...

  1. There's the Aces Full of Links Chat, with videos and weblinks. It's a crapshoot as to whether anyone will be there, but you could always organize a meeting by telling poeple you're available in...
  2. Twitter. Twitter has been flaky this week, but when it works, I have been enjoying hearing updates from Sara, Mike, Sharon, Julie, Leslie and others. My Twitter profile is here. Visit, sign up and add me. I find that having the webpage open with a periodic reload (thanks to a Firefox plugin) works best.
  3. Finally, see who has been worthy enough to fall into "Other People's Posts" lately.

On with the links...

Additional note: You guys have been busy! There are over 160 comments submitted to my blog this week. On the last 2 week's worth of blog posts, there are 200 comments, most submitted since last Friday. Thanks for adding to the fun.

[BONUS: This video scrolled off the edge of the chatroom log. I don't want to lose it. It's Orson Welles Drunk, trying to sell champagne. Ahhhh... the French champagne. It's fermented in the bottle. Reminds me of my high school English teacher.]

Posted by James at 9:18 AM | Comments (6)

May 17, 2007

Dictators of the World, Unite!

…onto one website, that is!

While looking up info on Nicolae Ceaucescu I encountered the “Dictator of the Month” website. A rather unique idea for a website, Dictator of the Month has featured a different dictator every month starting in August of 2001 with Enver Hoxha. This month is Nicolae Ceaucescu, one of my favorite dictators. This is partly because he and his wife were so bizarrely out of touch with reality during their trial after they were overthrown; I remember hearing their translated comments on NPR when I was in college.

Ceaucescu was popular for his defiance of the Soviet Union. In 1966 he banned abortion and contraception, which drove up deaths and serious injury for clandestine abortion (serves ‘em right, eh?). During the Reagan years, Ceaucescu faced an orphanage crisis as a result of the increasing problem of AIDS, a disease that he, like Reagan, failed to acknowledge. And he went down hill from there into complete disconnectedness from his unpopularity and… well, from reality.

If you can’t go more than a month without reading a detailed summary of one of the dictators of the world, Dictator of the Month will more than accommodate you while you seek professional help. For extra fun, read it in German!

Posted by James at 7:37 PM | Comments (26)

Thought Thursday

New theme for Thursday. A thoughtful question each week. Feel free to participate here in comments, or on your own blog.

It is often heard that we should respect other people. Having respect for people affects how we treat those people. But what about ideas? Should we respect all ideas equally?

Question for Thought Thursday: How do you decide whether an idea/belief deserves your respect?

Posted by James at 4:51 AM | Comments (25)

May 16, 2007

Falwell

I guess I'll say "congratulations" to all the liberal Christians who were probably appalled every time Falwell came out with a gem like:

"AIDS is not just God’s punishment for homosexuals; it is God’s punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals." - Jerry Falwell

The mainstream media has one fewer embarrassing example of right-wing Christianity to kick around; someone who said aloud the things that so many other people know enough not to say in front of the cameras, though they actually believe those things. You don't say that stuff out loud! It doesn't play well when you're trying to convince people you're mainstream.

For that reason, some right wing Christians might breathe a sigh of relief as well. I can only guess.

Post online about Falwell's antics and you might well be confronted with the comment: "Nobody listens to Falwell."

Yet Falwell's opinions didn't prevent him from running a university and populating it with students. And even getting John McCain to speak there. He had somebody's ear, for sure.

And Southern Baptist leader Richard Land would probably be the last person to belittle Falwell's influence:

If you're looking at people of faith who believe that we have a public dimension to our faith and have a right and an obligation to that public dimension, they see him as someone who was an absolutely critical leader in causing more conservative evangelicals to be engaged in culture in a way they hadn't since the days before World War II.

By politicizing his religion, he started the same ball rolling that brought us our current president. I'll reserve my tears.

The world is better off without him. I'm sorry if it offends some for me to speak ill of the recently dead. Falwell gave the victims of September 11, 2001 a week before blaming their fate on "people trying to secularize America" and bringing down god's wrath on them. Would a week's delay be better in giving my assessment? Well, by then, I'm hoping to have mostly forgotten about Jerry Falwell.

If you believe people like Land, Falwell's effect will live on. More's the pity. Falwell had contempt for the separation of church and state that is vital to this country's survival as a free and thriving society. He sought to eliminate it through his efforts. Thus, he earned my contempt, and I will not pretend otherwise.

Jerry, say "hello" to Tinky Winky for me in the afterlife.

Posted by James at 4:51 PM | Comments (11)

In Cars

Having moved my offices from a place where I could identify every car in the small parking lot to a place where there are an order of magnitude more cars, I am seeing a behavior I’m not used to.

On a sunny day last week, while I was backing into a space so that my dark rear window would be facing south, I looked to my left to check my distance to the car in the next space and was startled by a woman who was staring back at me from about one and a half feet away. She was sitting in her car with her windows up.

As I hopped out of my car and stepped toward the building, I immediately faced another car with a man in it; he had the radio up loud with the news on and the windows up.

On my trip to the building I saw one more car, with someone sitting in it, quite a ways away.

It seems like almost every day, and almost no matter what the weather is, people are sitting outside in their cars. Often with the windows rolled up (although I expect this will change as it gets warmer.)

And it seems a little strange to me. Sure, I understand getting outside. But when I, or the people I work with, take a break like that, we go for a walk. There are plenty of nice places to walk around our building.

Sometimes, the people are taking phone calls. On a windy or rainy day, I fully understand this. But even without the phone callers, there seem to be an odd number of car-sitters.

I have sat in my car before. But I don’t remember seeing people sitting in their cars so often in parking lots of other jobs where I worked. Are people trying to get away, to get some privacy, in a world where they feel they have very little time alone with their own thoughts? Driving is one of those times when we have a chance to reflect, because there are fewer outside demands on our thinking (aside from navigating the car). Do people retreat to their cars because that’s where they feel safe, familiar and alone with their thoughts?

Posted by James at 7:18 AM | Comments (15)

May 15, 2007

Our Chat Room

Meebo has added a new Chatroom feature. So, I have created a chatroom for Aces Full.

I will find a permanent place for it on the site, but for now it's here. It's like the Meebo widget on the contact page, except it works even when I'm not online, so you can talk to each other.

(Click through to the extended entry to join the chat room -- I moved it off the main page because the embedded videos were making noise, and that's generally considered NSFW. So turn your volume down or put your headphones on, then click through.)


http://www.meebo.com/rooms

Posted by James at 1:16 PM | Comments (6)

Antiatheist Bigotry

Chuck brought to my attention a segment on 20/20 about a girl who appears to have been pressured out of school because she did not follow the same religion as her classmates, or the teachers and administrators who ran her school.

In a conversation with Chuck on Sunday, I mentioned to him something I’ve said before. I’d rather identify as a Humanist than an atheist because Humanist is a positive (and useful) description about what I do believe, rather than focusing on what I don’t believe. It’s true that “atheist” is an accurate descriptive term1 for me, but I feel that it’s got an element of slur to it.

It’s used divisively. Humanism, is something we all share, but we don’t all agree on our belief or lack of belief in god.

And then I hear about stories like this. And I can’t help but think that this is that divisiveness in action. Sure, she makes herself stand out by refusing to take part in rituals that would make her a hypocrite. But this is supposed to be the country where she’s got a right to do that. This is supposedly the country where your choice of belief system is your business. It doesn’t belong as part of an endorsed school activity. It was the school that, by endorsing a particular religion, created the situation that led to this girl’s trouble.

Would this have happened if she were a Jew or a Muslim girl? I think not, and the reasons are probably complicated. In certain sects of Christianity there is a belief that the Jews are important because they are involved in the second coming (to their detriment) and this has led to happier relations. (Seems odd to me, as it is based on the idea that many of them will die fulfilling a prophecy, but people aren’t looking this gift horse in the mouth.) Also, while there is still anti-semitic bigotry in the Christian population, there is a (thank goodness) strong popular social pressure against anti-semitism2. Thirdly, it’s possible that people just automatically have some level of respect for other theists. I think that’s true to some extent3.

We can debate specific reasons, but ultimately I think it comes down to awareness. Acceptance only comes after some awareness and some understanding. This girl endured accusations that she was a devil worshiper, and the people who were interviewed clearly just didn’t get atheism.

So, if here I sit saying I’m going to give up the term “atheism” and switch completely to Humanism, where does that leave other atheists? Do I have an obligation to be more vocal, be more visible?

You must have awareness first, then acceptance and understanding. If atheists are timid, they’re just standing by while misconceptions about atheism thrive. If I am outraged by this girl’s treatment, I should work to raise awareness of atheism. That can mean a number of things.

  1. Being a good example of a Humanist atheist by my actions toward others
  2. Being unafraid to talk about my lack of belief in any setting (being at least as courageous as this girl)
  3. Explaining my understanding of atheism
  4. Explaining the richness of atheism in contrast to the popular belief in atheism’s poverty
  5. Encouraging other people who are atheists to give up their reticence
  6. Encouraging fence-sitters to understand atheism, and if not becoming atheists themselves to perhaps at least identify with atheists.

I don’t think atheists actively need to convert others. I think that many people are coming to an atheist worldview on their own; what atheists need to do is to help these people realize that atheism is a valid worldview, and why. And for the remaining theists, they just need to see that we’re their good neighbors.

It’s easier to be quiet. But this story shows that other people will reap the results when most atheists remain invisible.


1 I am an agnostic atheist. I am agnostic because I do not believe I (or anyone, truth be told) know for certain whether god exists. I am an atheist because I believe that the existence or non-existence of god is a fact of the universe like any other fact. Therefore, we could, conceivably, know that god exists. But I believe we have no basis for believing that god exists. I fail to believe this in the same way you (most likely) do not believe Thor exists. Or Baal, or Marduk, or Ra. If you do not believe that an invisible version of Gamera created the Earth and is currently living inside Mars, even though you know you can’t actually prove it, then you should understand my agnostic atheism.

2 It baffles me why this doesn’t automatically translate to all belief systems, but people seem to think that the lesson of the Holocaust was about Jews, not about people. I guess some have trouble seeing just people when they look at humans of different belief systems. They still see a Jew.

3 I’ve heard people rationalize that “we’re all worshipping the same god.” It’s a nice thought and I see this as one reaction to living in a land of multiple religions. But it inadvertently pushes pagans and atheists further out. And it is on shaky ground. There is no overarching meta-dogma I know about which says that different people will have differing rituals for worshiping the same god. Although one person once explained some Jewish beliefs that seemed to go into a good bit of detail about the path of non-Jews, and how that fit into their dogma.

Posted by James at 8:33 AM | Comments (16)

May 14, 2007

Would You Rather?

Assuming the job does not involve something that has to happen at a specific time (like taking phone calls) but also assuming it’s an office environment where there will be other people working together…would you rather:

  • Have an employee who works from 7AM to 3PM or
  • Have an employee who works from 11AM to 7PM
Posted by James at 9:08 AM | Comments (21)

Once 'Round the Bonehead News


Conservatives Block Cancer Vaccine

The fight against promiscuity continues, and according to conservative groups, cervical cancer is on their side.

President Disses Plymouth, MA

Jamestown was the first permanent English settlement in America; it predated the Mayflower Compact by 13 years. (Applause.) This is a very proud state, and some people down here like to point out that the pilgrims ended up at Plymouth Rock by mistake. (Laughter.) They were looking for Virginia. (Laughter.) They just missed the sign. (Laughter.)

Actually, the pilgrims landed there because they ran out of beer, and without safe provisions they were dying.

But how like this president to overlook the sacrifices of other people.

And, his history is rusty according to, you know, experts:

It was certainly this New England colony that the President had in mind when he made his speech, and not the puttering Virginia colony of Jamestown. “The advance of freedom is the great story of our time, and new chapters are being written every day,” Bush said, and mentioned Georgia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq as shining but tottering examples of American craftsmanship. Trying to equate these claims with the early history of colonialism in America is either a wake-up call to our schools or simply new doctrine that will be amended to the Patriot Act when no one is looking. […]
But the colonists in Jamestown had neither democracy nor religions freedom in mind when they landed in mosquito-infested Jamestown- they were hot in pursuit of the real American dream: to make money. The colony was actually a company- the Virginia Company- and their job was to return a profit to the shareholders and devil take the hind share- nothing more.

Surprise - It’s a fake school shooting!

Students from a school in Murfreesboro were on a week-long trip to Fall Creek Falls State Park. On the last night, several teachers and an assistant principal convinced students there was gunman on the loose. The kids say they were told to hide under tables and stay quiet. “They turned out all the lights,” said sixth grander Shay Naylor. “They said they had just got a call that there was a random shooting at park.” After several students started crying, the teachers announced it was all just a joke.

No disciplinary action has been taken. Because it’s important to have our children scared senseless for no reason. Holy crap. Sorry, Tennesee!

Posted by James at 9:02 AM | Comments (17)

May 11, 2007

Neutral Net Shotgun

As usual, distracted by Friday excitement and late with the Shotgun post.

Also: remember to check my shared items for Other People's Posts.

And, of course, you need to be checking on Twitter. Once you've added me, check out my friends there, too.

Posted by James at 4:25 PM | Comments (2)

USS Constitution Surprise

Old Ironsides

Picture by Wonderful Life 06

hosted by imageshack.

I did a double-take this morning when I read:

Navy Removes Commander From USS Constitution

The important part being:

Commander William A. Bullard III assumed command of the Constitution on Thursday morning. Bullard had been scheduled to take command in July.

Commander William Andrew Bullard III is better known to friends and longtime readers here as my cousin and good friend, Bull. But I wasn’t expecting this to happen until July.

They updated the website quickly, but no pix of CDR Bullard in the 1813 uniform yet!

“Old Ironsides” is a ship with a storied history, and I’m excited to learn more about it. Over time, I’m sure there will be more posts on this blog regarding the USS Constitution, this country’s oldest commissioned ship afloat… in fact the world’s oldest commissioned ship afloat (and, clearly, still in service). I haven’t seen the ship in person in years.

Congratulations, Bull! Let me be (one of) the first to say: “Woo-hoo!” And let me add that they’re lucky to have you.

Posted by James at 7:55 AM | Comments (14)

May 10, 2007

Bathroom Sink Drama

Bathroom Sink Drama

Dramatic moment

I came home from work today to find this drama playing out on the bathroom sink. I can only interpret this as Spider-Man preparing to rescue a drowning cat.

Or maybe I am just reading too much into this and they’re just two unrelated toys left on the sink.

Nah, I prefer my original interpretation.

Posted by James at 10:13 PM | Comments (5)

Kaput Center Announced

Kaput Award

Jim Kaput, teaching.

The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth today announced the creation of the James J. Kaput Center for Research and Innovation in Mathematics Education, named for the late UMass Dartmouth professor whose innovative thinking and leadership inspired many around the world in the field of mathematics education.

It’s official. My project is now part of a research center for the university!

We’re starting to get some press. The above press release is on the front page of the university’s website. We’re also mentioned in the following story, which is on SouthCastToday.com and appeared in the local Fairhaven paper as well: Innovative education in Fairhaven.

If you poke around on that story, you can even find a picture of me. (Click on the “zoom photo” link.)

(Disclaimer: the opinions in the posts of this blog reflect the thoughts of the author alone and do not represent opinions of the Kaput Center, or its members and associates.)

Posted by James at 11:21 AM | Comments (7)

Subsidized Religion in MA

I want to throw this out for criticism.

In our Bristol County jails, we have a religious group being subsidized by the Sheriff. They operate a rehab program which blends in religion, requiring worship as part of their rehabilitation. You enter the program, are isolated, and are indoctrinated into Pentecostal Christianity.

A defiant Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson says it’s “absurd” to complain that an overtly Christian after-prison rehabilitation program using a county-owned building on Cherry Street is violating the separation of church and state.

My questions:

  • Should the group be allowed to use government buildings without paying rent?
  • Does this violate the establishment clause?
  • Does the success rate of the program matter if it is unconstitutional?

And I’d like to hear any of your other impressions about the story.

Also note, that there is a question about the 86% success rate they quote. According to this piece:

Teen Challenge measures participants’ drug use after graduation from the program by asking them to volunteer the information. Most secular programs determine success by testing former participants’ urine for drug traces. Brooklyn Teen Challenge Women’s Program director Dotty Bolger pointed to one State University of Southwest Missouri study that used urine tests to determine that 67 percent of Teen Challenge graduates were clean after a year, but the study was conducted 24 years ago.

Teen Challenge is more interested in participants’ relationship with Jesus Christ than their relationship with drugs. Those who still worship Christ as their savior one year after they leave the program are placed on the success side of the ledger.

“If someone uses drugs during that year, it’s not an automatic failure,” said Joceline Tulier, a counselor at the program.

So, if you remain a Christian, that’s a success, even if you take drugs. In fact, if you say you’re clean, you’re a success. That’s rigor? If their criteria for success is so lax, it sounds more like a scam.

What do you think?

Posted by James at 8:55 AM | Comments (11)

May 8, 2007

Evolution Is Not God

I’m no evolutionary scientist, but I understand a few things about the phenomenon of evolution. And one of the things that I understand is that it is not god.

An understanding of the theory of natural selection provided humankind with the first good explanation of how complex life has formed in the universe without any sort of creative force, or any sort of plan. It appears to simply be a fact of nature, a fact of this universe that favorable traits become more common in a population and unfavorable traits become less common. “Favorable” is defined by the particular environment of the population.

When some folks look around at all the amazing and complexity of the universe, they postulate a god, or some sort of creator, just based on how amazed they are that such complexity can exist. Before Darwin, you might have been hard pressed to argue, except perhaps on the basis of “which god?” But today we know (we’ve seen it happen) that complexity arises out of the universe naturally, not according to some plan, but according to some simple rules and the particular environment.

God as an explanation for complexity is no longer needed, but people will come to their own personal conclusions about whether they need god for some other reason. However, what we should all agree on is that the process of evolution itself is not god.

By this I mean that evolution has no plan, is not personified, is not to be worshipped, and should not have its own mythology.

I recently saw a post on Kuro5hin that made me realize that people get part of the theory of evolution into their heads, get excited, and then wander off into gibberish.

The article I linked above starts off on the wrong foot and goes downhill from there.

Artificially prolonging the lifespan of genetically inferior instances of the species runs counter to the purpose of evolution. It makes us all weaker.

The phrase “genetically inferior” has a ton of misunderstanding wrapped up in it. Evolution is a process that takes place without creativity or intelligence.1 “Inferior” is a judgment. There is no creative moment when a judgment is made that one organism is inferior to another. The only decisive event is whether an organism survives to pass its traits on, or it does not.2 So, if an organism has survived to reproduce, it’s succeeded. There is need to layer some judgment over that.

The reason for rejecting the idea of “inferior” is not political correctness, as the writer implies. Rather, it’s plain bad science.

We are not acting outside of evolution. Our actions help to form the environment in which we, and other organisms, continue to evolve. It’s true that the more power we have to change our environment, the more effect we have on how things evolve, intentional or unintentional though it may be.

The writer’s argument might be that we are unnaturally selecting physically weak or diseased people and the result will be that we will unintentionally engineer a physically weak human race. He has inexplicably focused on the purely physical aspects of the human phenotype. In truth, we are more than just our predisposition to certain diseases.

When we help certain of our population to survive, we’re changing their environment, but we’re also following morals that we evolved. Perhaps what we’re doing is perpetuating the behavior of placing a high value on life. We can only guess.

What we’re not doing is harming evolution, any more than we are harming gravity when we throw a ball up in the air. Gravity is not a god who pulls balls back down to Earth. Evolution is not a god who is trying to make humankind physically stronger.

We can joke about “Darwin awards” and such, but those are only jokes. Evolution through natural selection is a fact of our universe; it describes how we got here. It doesn’t have wants, needs, intentions or opinions. It is a phenomenon we study to understand how the universe works, not a law to be followed.


1 Which is why Intelligent Design is unnecessary.

2 Please forgive the over simplification.

Posted by James at 8:16 AM | Comments (60)

May 7, 2007

Using Twitter

When I was in college, my friends and I would log into the mainframe to send mail, do work, play games, write, etc. We didn’t have the internet back then, but we somehow kept ourselves busy.

When you were logged on to the system, people could recognize you by your user name. But each logon also had its own process name which could be used as a nickname, or a message. This was my early introduction to electronic social networking.

Instant Messenger comes with a vaguely similar feature called “away messages” which some people use heavily while others pretty much ignore. The folks who use it, usually use it to leave a message for their friends. “See you at 99’s” or “I’m trying to work!” or somesuch.

The idea of Twitter is to give people the ability to leave an “away message” any time; not just when they’ve turned their IM off. Also, as people splinter off into different IM services and clients, non-immediate messages suddenly need a less proprietary and less tied-down place to live.

Twitter is a whole service based on leaving short messages on whatever you’re thinking about instead of long blog posts. It keeps a running log of those messages. So, if you and your friends join, you can quickly see what people are thinking about/talking about. You can warn them not to waste their money on that new movie you were talking about. You an tell them you’re going to be hanging around at the local pub. You can tell them something silly.

I’ve never been able to get into away messages, mainly because you have to leave your chat client running for them to be visible. I don’t like to leave my chat client running, and I often forget to set the away message. There are tools that can integrate Twitter with your browser (twitbin , for Firefox) and there are Twitter client apps.

Other things to know about Twitter:

  • They call the messages “tweets.” I guess that’s better than “twits.”
  • You can see everyone’s tweets, or just those of your friends.
  • You can post URLs.
  • You can set it so that only friends can view your tweets.
  • You can update your current tweet by sending a text message to 40404 once you’ve associated the phone to your account.
  • You can either receive your tweets via the web, via phone, or via your IM client.
  • You can also send tweets directly through the website, from your phone (text 40404), or through your IM client.

There is a trend, apparently, toward smaller versions of blogs. Linkblogs have been around for a while, but Twitter is rather like a tiny cooperative miniblog; especially if you look at the time line. Tumblr is another service that allows people to have a tiny blog with an RSS feed. But Tumblr lacks some of the social and connected aspect of Twitter.

I like the idea of having a smaller blog for logging stuff that is just going by on your mind. It’s like having your friends nearby, but it’s not as intrusive to them as IMs are. You don’t demand their immediate attention.

The problem, as with all of these things, is getting a critical mass of people using it.

Apparently, there are quite a few people who are crazy about Twitter. I’m undecided, but willing to give it an extended try.

So, if you want to see my “away messages” don’t look at my IM anymore. Look me up at Twitter.

Posted by James at 2:39 PM | Comments (4)

Would You Rather?

Would you rather…

  • Have a voice that was too loud or
  • Have a voice that was too quiet

The too-loud voice is just loud enough for people to wonder why you’re talking so loud. The too-quiet voice has people straining to hear and asking you to repeat yourself.

Posted by James at 8:33 AM | Comments (12)

May 4, 2007

WGBH, Disbelief, and License Plates

In 2005, a documentary on atheism aired in the UK. It was called “Jonathan Miller’s ‘A Brief History of Disbelief.’” This documentary has been released to be aired in the United States.

Unfortunately, our local WGBH PBS affiliate currently has no plans to air the 3-part documentary. I am not sure why. I contacted them through their web page and they got back to me within hours with this message:

Thank you for your interest in WGBH. We always appreciate hearing from our viewers, listeners, and Web site visitors.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF DISBELIEF is not currently scheduled to air on WGBH 2 or 44. However, we have forwarded your request for WGBH to air this program to our broadcast manager.

We value viewer and listener opinions, indeed audience feedback is an important part of the process of programming for public television. All comments are carefully reviewed and considered in light of our planning and programming process.

Thank you for taking the time to write and for expressing an interest in WGBH programming.

If you are interested in fostering greater understanding among people of differing belief systems, and you are in WGBH’s broadcast area, please consider dropping them a short note informing them that you’d like them to air “A Brief History of Disbelief.”

WGBH also sent along this notice:

WGBH has designed and proposed a new Massachusetts license plate. Proceeds will benefit WGBH programs that inform, inspire, and entertain millions of people every day. WGBH needs 1,500 subscribers to launch the new WGBH License Plate Program. Visit wgbh.org/plate http://www.wgbh.org/support/licenseplate to download your application today!

If WGBH decides to air this program, I would be keen to support their license plate idea. I think WGBH is a good cause, and I’d like to see them continue to inform and inspire. What better place to shed light than on a generally misunderstood subject like disbelief?

In any case, take a moment or two and fire off a friendly message to WGBH telling them whether or not you would like to see A Brief History of Disbelief. Or, move to Wichita, Kansas, because they’re showing it there.

Posted by James at 11:32 AM | Comments (7)

Stinking Flower Shotgun

There's also Dr. Tran.

That Corpse Flower is huge. They say it's going to bloom within a week. Keep checking -- it doesn't last long!

Posted by James at 11:27 AM | Comments (2)

May 3, 2007

Vaccine Vindication

The 3-year-old to 5-year-old autism caseload continues to rise despite the fact that Thimerosal was removed from vaccines in 2001. As Dr. Flea reports.

This rather makes it harder to argue that mercury in vaccines was causing all sorts of autism. And makes it more clear that scaring people away from vaccines is irresponsible.

Hat tip to Tiggers Don’t Jump.

Posted by James at 3:12 PM | Comments (26)

May 2, 2007

31 Cent Scoops

Remember, tonight is 31 Cent Scoop Night at Baskin Robbins.

It begins just over an hour from now at 5PM and lasts until 10PM.

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

Bush Vetos Funding for Our Troops

Bush refused to sign a bill yesterday to fund the troops that he's sent to occupy Iraq.

He doesn't like the fact that congress has asked him to at least begin to clean up his mess before he leaves office. He'd rather deny the troops money than acknowledge his responsibility to end the occupation, a disaster caused by his administration's multiple failures of character, vision, competence, motivation, and focus.

He can spin it however he wants, but congress sent him a bill funding the troops and he refused, and also refused to end the occupation that the American people want him to end. Of course, he was for funding the troops before he was against it. Does that count for something?

Posted by James at 10:21 AM | Comments (11)

Dr. Tran Saves Your Wednesday

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Operation Dr. Tran!

I haven’t visited a Spike and Mike’s Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation in a couple of years. I remember going with Brian at least once. Brian and I first saw Wallace and Grommit in “The Wrong Trousers” before you could see it anywhere else. That was a blast.

Of course, a trip to Spike’s for a hot dog with Mike, and then across the street to see Spike and Mike’s seemed to make a sort of weird sense.

The last time I went to see strange, rude, and funny animation that you couldn’t see anywhere else, I went alone and blogged about it. The blog tells me that this visit was in May of 2004 (I’m a little shocked it was 3 whole years ago).

In May of 2004, the attraction was “Dr. Tran” which is now online for your viewing enjoyment. Keep in mind that Dr. Tran is NSFW (not safe for work, nor for children) for reasons of language.

As we entered Avon Cinema to see this festival, they handed us programs touting “Dr. Tran” and everyone got their own pair of red/blue 3D glasses. We weren’t told which animation was 3D, but we knew “Dr. Tran” was one of the main attractions, near the end of the show. We waited patiently, ready to don our specs when the time came. If you have some in the house, you might want to go find them now so you can properly experience Dr. Tran.

Here, now, is Dr. Tran. Get the 3D glasses ready, send the kids into the other room and enjoy. (The 3D part starts about half-way through the clip.)

And you can also read my post from May 2004. Animation Hangover. The hangover was not from animation or alcohol. It was from caffeine.

Posted by James at 7:12 AM

May 1, 2007

Superadio

I was asked, so I thought I’d give an update.1

I bought a GE Superradio III to solve the problem that I cannot seem to get good WSAR reception at work. This means I can’t listen to Keri’s show, because I’m at work the whole time it’s on (although I am going to try to shift my hours earlier once the kids get out of school and actually leave the office at 5 for a change).

The Superadio is known for it’s good reception, and it’s a reputation that is well-deserved. It’s truly a great AM/FM radio. It’s not stereo, but it has a big honkin’ speaker. This is the perfect radio for listening to Red Sox games out in the yard while you’re doing yard work. It’s got the power to fill the yard with the cheers of the crowd as David Ortiz hits a walk off home run.

The numbers, btw, on the dial are way off. I had to take the radio home, tune it to WSAR, and mark the dial, otherwise I never would have found the station at work.

It did improve my reception of WSAR at work, but not to the point where I can listen to Keri. Static made casual listening impractical. I’m in a huge metal building that is just eating up the signal. The windows are big, glass, and solid. No way for me to get an antenna outside. There are AM signal boosters, but I’m not buying one without knowing whether it would work.

Over the weekend, I hooked the thing to my computer at home with the intention that I might try to record the show to MP3s and listen to it like a podcast, or connect to my computer from work and listen to it that way. Unfortunately, I wasted a bunch of time and still didn’t have a good software solution for sending the audio. And the podcast idea is work intensive.

So, for now I’ve effectively given up. If someone knows about (i.e. has used) some good software for sending audio over the internet, let me know. Otherwise, it looks like I’m in a dead zone.

1 Lefty tried to send me a message through my “contact me” box on the blog. I have the sound off on my computer so, while I was logged in, I didn’t see that someone was trying to IM me. Sorry ‘bout that, Lefty. I wasn’t ignoring you!

Posted by James at 12:10 PM | Comments (3)