December 31, 2007

Wii & DS

I have to say, I’m happy to see Nintendo getting some success with the DS and the Wii. I’m happy because it is nice to see a company trying to be innovative about how to make games more fun, something I think that Sony and Microsoft don’t really have a handle on.

Don’t get me wrong, I love to look at those high-end graphics, but I remember the days when graphics meant actually seeing the pixels, and I remember the excitement of a really good game. I don’t remember ever thinking “if only the graphics were better” about any of my favorite games.

The only thing I’ve ever lamented was speed: speed in loading a game, choppiness in the video processing, etc. And a lot of that is a result of trying to increase the flashiness of a game. Pushing those boundaries has rarely had anything to do with increasing gameplay.

To each his own. I’m sure 1337 gamerz get a chuckle when they hear that retirees and kids love both the Wii and the DS. But young kids haven’t yet been jaded (or goaded via peer pressure) by the industry-encouraged race for better graphics (better is always easier than good; improvement easier than innovation). And retirees just don’t give a crap.

Posted by James at 4:31 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 30, 2007

Not Kneading Again

No Knead Bread

Rustic no-knead bread

Last year I tried that crazy No-Knead bread recipe that was sweeping the bakeosphere1. It came out OK, but not spectacular. It didn’t look very good, either. The crust was so-so, but the crumb was good. Since then, I’ve wanted to try it again.

So I did. This bread could be called “Busy Bread” because it’s easy to make when you’re busy. There’s a lot of waiting and not much actual work. Somebody even has pictures of her very young son doing the work. Perfect for baking this time of year, because I’ve been too busy to spend much time on it.

I tried again this weekend with great results.

I used more salt than last time, about 3/4 Tablespoon of kosher salt. And I still think it could take a little more salt. But I didn’t want to retard the rising. I baked it in my new Lodge 5-Quart. No danger of it cracking, as I worry a Le Creuset might. Plus, the Lodge is much cheaper.

No Knead BreadPrepared the dough yesterday in about 5 minutes, and let it sit for about 18 hours. Flattened it and folded it today, and plopped it in a bowl for proofing for 2 hours and then tossed it into my heated dutch oven, and back in the oven to bake. I left after it was time to take the cover off, and Maggie got it out of the oven when it was done. She says it made cracking noises as it cooled! That’s perfect!

It does have a crackly crust, and a great crumb. It’s got a moist, almost creamy texture inside. This is a very soft bread surrounded by a crisp crust.

I don’t know if I will make no-knead bread again, but I think I will definitely be using my case iron dutch oven as a baking vessel. It holds the heat and moisture in perfectly.

1 I just made “bakeosphere” up, but a Google search tells me I’m not the first to use it. Damn.

Posted by James at 4:44 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

December 29, 2007

Stolen Tickets, Hidden Talent

A mom from Texas reportedly fabricated a story for her daughter to submit to the Club Libby Lu “Hannah Montana Rock Your Holidays Essay Contest.” By weaving the lie that the girl’s father had been killed in Iraq, she won the contest, got the tickets and some sweet loot!

This woman crassly, but expertly, preyed on feelings of patriotism, and on the hopes and concerns of people in order that she and her family would profit.

The Republican National Committee issued a press release condemning this woman’s actions. They followed that with a separate communication recruiting her to work as a strategist on the campaign of whoever wins their nomination for president as a way to “make it up to her fellow Americans and work off any guilty feelings.”

When the child was asked about the essay that made her dream come true, her mother responded by saying: “We don’t really want to talk about that … OK?”

President Bush reportedly expressed disappointment, saying “That’s exactly what Turdblossom taught me to look for in a Press Secretary, and I was hoping to trade up! But the RNC got first dibs. Nobody returns my calls anymore. I guess this is the first time I thought we really could win in ‘08!”

Posted by James at 1:17 PM | Comments (7)

December 28, 2007

Material Decade

Here’s a little exercise.

Where you’re sitting, look around yourself, at your desk, around your chair, or whatever. Look at each item you lay your eyes on and imagine where those items will most likely be 5 years from now, and then, perhaps 10 years.

I’m getting “landfil” for quite a few of mine. Certainly, all these pens will be dried out and used up. I’ll still have that pencil case, I’m pretty sure. I bet those headphones will be broken in 10 years. I wonder if I will still own these DVDs?

Posted by James at 9:59 PM | Comments (5)

December 27, 2007

Sharing is Caring in Google Reader

A little while ago, Google added a neat feature to Google reader. It’s the ability to automatically see subscribed items that your friends are reading (and sharing) when they use Google Reader.

Basically, when they’re doing their blog reading, they click “share” and suddenly, all their Google Talk friends will see that blog post when they log in to Google Reader.

I used to display my Google Reader shared items on my blog’s front page, but I removed that widget because I was doubting that anyone ever checked it. But I will continue to share items in Google Reader on the off-chance that some of my Google Talk friends use Google Reader and might be interested what I’m reading.

If you want to share what you’re reading, and see stuff other people are sharing, here’s what you do:

  1. Use Google Reader to read your favorite blogs. (Why?)
  2. Use Google Talk to add your other little Google Talk friends to your buddy list. I just added the folks to my list of contacts in GMail, which does the same thing.
  3. Click the “share” button when you see a blog post you want to share.

The rest is done by the magic of Google. Right now I can see Mike’s and Julie’s shared items. It’s been useful; one of Mike’s shared items informed me that Google has added some new privacy features to the shared items functionality. Google scores!

Posted by James at 2:30 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Blog 356

So, I got the invitation email to join Blog 365. It’s like NaBloPoMo except it lasts all of 2008 instead of just for one month.

My first thought was “No thanks. I want my blog to be, you know, good.”

I felt that NaBloPoMo (two months in my version) was the opposite of helpful in improving the quality of my blog.

Not that I didn’t enjoy NaBloPoMo, but I was definitely relieved when it was over. Not because it was tough to post every day. I could easily post a journal-type entry every day, or a link to some news stories. But even when my blog entries aren’t the best written or best edited, I like to post based on inspiration rather than obligation. My blogging muse is very fickle; the hint of obligation frightens him away!

According to the archives I posted well over 500 times in 2006. In 2007, even with 2 months of NaBloPoMo, I am at 470 or so. Ironically, it’s quite possible I posted less frequently than I might have otherwise during NaBloPoMo. I definitely had a lot of half-written leftovers that I never posted. I kept them in reserve in fear of “dry days.” The unfortunate truth is that I tended to hold back more interesting posts because I wanted to spend more time on them. Clearly, a posting goal is not helpful to me.

The guidelines for Blog 356 are a bit more relaxed vs. NaBloPoMo. It’s OK to them if you don’t actually post every day — for instance, if you’re away from a computer or internet for more than a day and have to write offline. But they’re still hung up on the chronological thing, requesting that you backdate your posts to reflect the day you actually wrote them. Considering I have a healthy average per day post rate, I could easily backdate. But where’s the fun in that?

Some people can definitely benefit from these challenges. Absentee blog owners everywhere, I’m looking at you. Friends of mine are people I know have interesting stuff to say, and I often wish they would put their fingers to the keyboard and let their thoughts fly.

So I look forward to what you might do, should you decide to ramp up your blogging in 2008. I’ll be posting more often than once a day, but won’t sweat the date on the post. And maybe I’ll do NaBlo next year. But maybe not.

Posted by James at 11:51 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack


This list of holiday-season-themed competitive activities forms the basis of my proposed Xtolympics. X for Xmas. You know.

The Xtolympics will be held sometime during the holiday season, and it will be illegal for citizens of the United States of America to not watch. professional Xtolympians will compete on TV, at length, to fill as much as possible the space vacated by actually entertaining stories written by writers1.

Simultaneously, local and regional competitions will be held. Everyone can join in!

The events are as follows:

  • Tipsy Partygoer Bathroom Slalom
    • Imbibe the regulation number of toddies and try to make it to the bathroom through a sea of holiday party guests. Dodge left, then right, then left again for maximum style points as you attempt to remain upright and in control of your bladder.
  • Clamshell package shucking contest
    • Remove as many electronic items and toys from their clamshell blister packs as you can before the time runs out. Try not to sever an artery.
  • Gift-take Decathalon
    • You will receive ten gifts of dubious appropriateness from ten relatives who should know you better, or should just plain know better. Hide your natural reaction, which will range from puzzlement (Yanni concert T-shirt?) to outright disgust (second-hand edible thong?) and do a perfect, appreciative Gift-take complete with sunny expression.
  • Dodge-alum
    • Folks from your high school days are in town for the season! You’re all out shopping at the same local mall. Spot the folks based on your foggy memory of how they looked “back in the day” and avoid detection before they approach you and you are forced to reveal that you do not remember their names. Advanced Level: you must stand in line and pay for your items before you can exit the store.
  • Miniature Calorie Golf
    • Make the rounds for 9 homes of Mini-Calorie Golf. At each home you must minimize the calories you consume, but it’s not as simple as merely abstaining. You must eat creatively while you try to remain under par at each home, because offending the host or hostess is an automatic 3 dessert penalty.
  • Verbal Fencing
    • You are pitted against that relative or in-law who is always ready with the left-handed compliment, snide sotto voce insult, patronizing attitude or other underhanded social attack that is one-level removed from the open discussion. Parry and thrust, but your own wit must be quick enough to keep you alive without resorting to scorched-earth tactics. You get points for taking the high road, but you cannot ultimately prevail unless you score high enough to exit the room with a satisfied smile on your face and a bewildered opponent in your wake.

1 And completely inane stories you can’t believe writers were paid to write. But that’s for another day.

Posted by James at 3:01 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 26, 2007

Profiteering War On Nasal Drugs


“The good stuff”

I’ve posted about this before, but I saw a link go by the popular link blogs and had to mention it here in semi-solidarity, because this is a new angle I’ve never seen before.

Plus, my uncle had to leave my party the other day because he was feeling like crap with a horrible headache caused by sinus pressure. I know these headaches well; they go away when I take a pain reliever combined with pseudoephedrine. And they run in my family.

The problem is, my poor uncle had been taking the stuff you get off the pharmacy shelf and didn’t realize that they no longer actually sell pseudoephedrine off the shelf. You have to ask for it and they treat you like a terrorist. See my post “Meth Whine” from February.

He didn’t realize that the stuff he is now taking does, basically, nothing. Under almost the same name, drug makers now sell some worthless BS. You get to keep your sinus headache and wonder what’s wrong with you, unless you scrutinize the ingredients. I find that most people do not do this.

This fellow (“call me a crazed conspiracy theorist,” he says) believes that it’s not about meth, but about making money.

So let me go out on a limb here and say what any reasonable person would strongly suspect. The reason you can’t get Mucinex and Sudafed that work without jumping through hoops isn’t really about stopping basement meth users. It is really about the racket going on in Washington in which the law is used to benefit influential producers in cahoots with the political class at the expense of less influential producers and the American people, who should have the freedom to choose.

Read his post to see if you agree. He’s noticed that the largest maker of useless phenylephrine is a big Republican donor at the federal level. With an enormous surge around the time that the good stuff was pulled off the shelves. I say semi-solidarity because I don’t think there’s any hard evidence, just fishy circumstantial stuff.

I feel bad for my uncle, and people like him, who have wasted and are wasting their money on a drug that, in my experience, isn’t noticeably better than a damn sugar pill. These companies should pull those decoys off the shelves, or admit that they’re crap. Or both.

Posted by James at 10:16 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

In My Cups

Hot Cocoa Cups

Not disposable, but Earth-friendly

I’m busy in the office at work today. Only Derek is here, and we’re both quietly being productive. But before I get back to coding, I wanted to share these fun ceramic cups Maggie got for me from Crate and Barrel. (Wow - this is my most masculine post ever!)

They look like disposable hot chocolate hot-and-cold cups, like from a vending machine.

I’m going to make tea in the brown one and stare at some lines of Java. I hope you’re all enjoying whatever you’re doing, and I hope it’s not work!

Bonus Fact: “In his cups” is a euphemism for being drunk. Usage example: “He’d rather be in his cups than working on December 26th.”

Posted by James at 11:27 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

December 25, 2007

The World Needs This Magic

In ancient times, as today, the seasons changed. For part of the year, the nights grew longer and longer until they froze. And then, just near the darkest time of the longest nights, people celebrated the promise of the return of the light. They had different symbols for the coming of the light. Evergreen represented rebirth — the promise that warmth would always return. People gathered with their loved ones, flung their voices against the darkness and shared a marvelous feast. Some called this celebration “Yule.” And, slowly at first, the light has always returned.

Another very old story tells of an anointed one (the “Christ”) who represented a new beginning, a chance for redemption. Some people who believed the anointed one had already come combined their story with the traditions of Yule and called it “Christmas.” This became a time to celebrate the fulfillment of a promise, like the return of the light, but embodied in a specific human person.

Many people all over the world celebrate this time of year. In my country, the United States of America, we have made “Christmas” an official national holiday, though nobody is required to celebrate it. It is a very inclusive holiday if you are open to the idea, no matter what your religious beliefs are. Perhaps you believe, through some supernatural force, an anointed one has already come. Perhaps you believe he has yet to come. Perhaps you believe in no such supernatural force at all. Perhaps you choose to celebrate something in your heart, some idea. It’s up to you, as all your choices are up to you.

And what a very wonderful idea it is, that at the darkest time there is hope that the light will return. And what a very powerful idea that the light can be embodied in a human person.

When things seem at their darkest, I choose to believe that you are that person. It is an important idea that the return of the light is not outside of you, but is within your heart and mind. And if you believe it, too, then you will act on it. Through your actions, change will happen slowly at first, but the light will always return. This is the magic the world needs.

Christmas Card

Merry Christmas to you, and may your heart be filled with joy and bereft of despair. And may your friends, family and everyone you meet share that joy.

Posted by James at 12:43 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

December 23, 2007

Learning Robot


Roaming the countryside, a danger to the citizens.

Last week, Ryan came to me with an idea for a T-Shirt he wanted to give Derek. He got the idea from a paper circa 1948 by Alan Turing that Derek had shared with us. The paper is called “Intelligent Machinery — A Report by A.M. Turing.”

The paper covers the subject of machines that can learn — unorganized machines that are not designed with a specific purpose in mind, but instead would learn by interacting with the environment. There is a startling passage in the paper in which Turing describes the feasibility of creating a thinking machine that would be placed in a mechanical body, and why one would do this:

In order that the machine should have a chance of finding things out for itself it should be allowed to roam the countryside, and the danger to the ordinary citizen would be serious.

Ryan wanted a simple old-timey-looking robot drawing, so I banged out the image you see in the upper right hand corner of this post. Now that Derek knows about the gift, I am posting it here for your entertainment.

I used an online merchant called “Zazzle” to create the T-shirts. Ryan wanted them white-on-black, so I made the art transparent, to show the black fabric through.

You can see the white-on-black T-Shirt design here on its Zazzle page. Turing’s quotation is on the back.

Ryan has ordered some, and when they come in I’ll take pictures so that folks can see how they came out.

Posted by James at 12:57 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Non-Holiday Shotgun

Image Hosted by
By drmomentum at 2007-12-23

This is the sleigh I came up with in Pimp My Sleigh,

one of the games in the Jay Is Games Linkdump

This is not a holiday-themed shotgun post, but check out the first link if you're interested in reading a "Jay Is Games" linkdump devoted to holiday-themed flash games.

Also, that Science Sensei video is pretty cool, passed along my Leslie.

Happy Christmas Adam!

Posted by James at 11:50 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 21, 2007

Montana Invades Providence

Last night was the Hannah Montana concert in Providence, ad the Dunkin’ Donuts center. This was M’s big present, and Maggie had gotten the tickets online when they first went on sale. There is no way we’d have paid crazy auction prices for tickets, or reseller prices. I don’t know where people get off using a robot to buy huge blocks of tickets and then reselling them for ridiculous prices. It’s quite the scam.

Sensing we weren’t going to get tickets at all if we were picky, Maggie landed us with halfway decent tickets instead of the cheaper ones we wanted, and we counted ourselves s extremely lucky.

On my drive home, I heard on WSAR that Providence was already starting to see unusual traffic related to the perfect storm of rush hour, holiday shopping, slightly crappy weather and concert-goers who all wanted to use the same exit off I-95. So I called ahead to Maggie and told her that as soon as I pulled up, I was going to grab M and we were going to hit the road and hour and a quarter earlier than when I’d usually have left to get to Providence.

M was ready when we got home, and so off we went. By this time, tales of the traffic were all over the radio, and we came into contact with it about 20 minutes later. At that point on the road, we are usually 10 minutes away from the center of Providence. As it turned out, we were still over an hour away.

We listened to and sang Christmas songs while we sat it traffic. M was quiet; I didn’t whether she was worried we’d get there late. She didn’t seem nervous, but I reassured her anyhow that we’d get there before Ms. Cyrus hit the stage. I couldn’t be sure we’d get there in time to see the opening act, but M couldn’t have cared less about that.

The traffic eased up slightly on 195 as we neared the 95 split, thanks to some traffic going south. As we passed onto 95, we saw exit 21 completely backed up, and I headed for the Mall at exit 22. Traffic off that exit didn’t get bad until I got near the mall. I saw an enormous line of traffic leading towards the mall garage entrance and assumed I was seeing people trying to go holiday shopping and perhaps parking for the concert. I was shocked to find out that these people were actually trying to drive around the perimeter of the mall, not enter the parking garage. So they were happy to let me go by, get out of traffic and into the mall parking garage.

My guess is that they were just trying to avoid the traffic on exit 21, but wanted to park closer than the mall (or didn’t realize it was easy to get from the mall to the center). This was an odd stroke of luck.

We parked and walked into the mall. The flaw in my plan was that I had parked on the far side of the mall, but peroneal tendon aside, neither M nor I cared about a little mall-walking.

I wasn’t sure how, exactly, to get to the Dunkin’ Donuts Center from the mall, but I figured you just walk towards Trinity Brewpub and it’s somewhere on the way (been there, done that with Bull). But I had not accounted for the stream of squealing girls, like bread crumbs, leading from the mall to the Dunk.

We passed over the highway via the elevated bridge, and down through the Westin via an escalator which M described as the fanciest escalator she’d ever been on (thanks to the dramatic ceiling lighting).

It was a short outdoor walk to the entrance of what we used to call the Providence Civic Center, now branded as a giant doughnut. The folks running the place were waving people with tickets through very briskly. But the entrance was filled with many other folks who must not have had tickets. I have to guess that there were people there without tickets who were waiting for people to bring them tickets, but I’m not certain. Once inside we avoided the food concession stands and instead stood in a line that never moved, hoping to get a t-shirt. No dice.

I asked M if she’d rather stand in line, or take her seats, as the arena was screaming on and off at small glimpses of the Jonas Brothers. She couldn’t decide, but didn’t seem to be enjoying the line, so we gave up. As we approached our section, it turned out there was another big t-shirt counter with no line whatsoever. It really is true that people just stop at the first one they see. I walked up and spent about 10 seconds buying a t-shirt.

M thanked me for taking her to the concert in the voice which generally means she’s feeling guilty, or wondering if she deserves something. I gave her a hug, but I never know what to do when she’s feeling like that.

We entered the arena before the lights went down, but as we approached our seats, the music came up and the lights went away. We were more than halfway to the back of the arena, but the tickets were right near the floor, second row up. Not bad, really. People were friendly and allowed us to the middle of the row.

M was not interested in the Jonas Brothers. We listened to the music, and she asked to put on her t-shirt, but we sat there while everyone else in the place (well, kids) were jumping up and down. Sitting down, I couldn’t really see much of the stage and M couldn’t even see any of the giant TV screens. It wasn’t a problem, though, as she wasn’t even interested in standing at that point. She was there for a very specific reason.

I looked at the crowd instead. There were mostly young girls, of course. Basically, a homogeneous sea of little white girl faces. There were moms with their daughters. Also pairs of moms with larger numbers of girls. And there were also individual numbers of dads, many of which were consoling themselves with cups of beer, available at the concession stand. Some were doubling up on the beer, for the long haul.

Cell phones are the new lighters, or perhaps the lighters of the younger set. At multiple times, the crowd was exhorted to wave its glow-sticks and/or cell phone displays. M had neither, but didn’t seem interested in waving her arms, let alone some held object.

There was a 20 minute intermission after the Jonas Brothers, and the lights came up again. I suddenly remembered something I forgot to do when I stopped off at home, and was glad that I wasn’t drinking a beer.

The Dads in front o me were talking. I was surprised to hear a southern drawl. The discussion was mind-boggling, because one dad was talking about how the Jonas brothers hadn’t played a song he knew. Well, you know, if he was there partly for the music, I guess “good on ya.”

I could see M was getting more excited, but she’s like me; I didn’t like to show excitement when I was younger. I think I often think of K being more like Maggie and me, especially when it comes to certain awkward aspects of our personalities, and we see M as the child with a more normal personality. But when you see kids in groups, it’s a lot easier to see the traits that stand out. And I could see that M didn’t like to express herself in the same way that most of the people there expressed themselves. Even later, during the main concert, M was subdued.

Soon, the lights came down again, and the music got loud. I had already gotten used to blocking my ears at the audience screaming cues, s I planted my fingers once again as a bright pink light-up box lowered to the stage with a dancing silhouette on each face. Of course, Hannah Montana emerged from this box, to earsplitting screeches of appreciation.

I have to give her this, she’s full of energy. The show was flashy, energetic, bright, and the crowd ate it up.

Eventually, HM called the Jonas Boys back out to do a song with her, and then another song alone as she went backstage to transform back into Miley Cyrus. The dad in front of me was thrilled, because the Jonas brothers played “his song.” I’m really trying to be nice, here. I hope karma appreciates it.

Miley Cyrus came out, and she presents a more Joan Jett attitude, but only until the High School-themed song. Lots of quick costume changes, which amazed my daughter. They weren’t actually that quick, though. I explained that she has people dressing her, and that they distract you while she’s changing.

Big finale, everyone on stage, fireworks, streamers, confetti, screaming, and it’s over!

It was a good length. Some folks left before the end, but the crows was still going wild. I held my fingrs in my ears and waited out the screaming for the encore. M gave me some odd looks; I don’t think she could tell why I wasn’t getting up to leave. But she wouldn’t have heard me if I’d tried to tell her that the show wasn’t over.

Ms. Cyrus came back out with a guitar to play what she described as a more personal song. It was pleasant, and finally the lights came back up.

We filed out and my worries about getting out easily were unfounded. People poured out of the main exit, but the side exits were also used. We chose to cool off in the night air.

Another walk through the mall and I found my car. 3 hours had passed, but the mall only charged me a dollar to park. That’s probably because we actually did sit a while in traffic to get out of the lot. Getting out of Providence was traffic-free. We had survived, and M admitted to having enjoyed the show. That’s unusual, since I can rarely get an answer about anything she’s just seen. I had tried to get her earlier to say whether she enjoyed Mile or Hannah better, and she didn’t know. But eventually she loosened up and was willing to talk about the concert and the people.

All in all, it wasn’t nearly as taxing as I thought it was going to be. Not that I’m ready to go again.

Posted by James at 8:14 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Peroneal Tendonitis

This is probably some new age foot treatment.

Or a cyborg doctor?

I came down with an acute case of peroneal tendonitis this week. In plain-talkin’ terms, that’s a sudden pain on the outside of one of your feet just between the ankle and heel. Maggie, who has dealt on and off with this before from her running, says that the likely cause is extended sessions of mall-walking are to blame. Looking online, I see that I probably shouldn’t hang on to old and broken down sneakers for so long, because once the heel support goes, you’re opening the door to all sorts of problems. Considering that I run for exercise (in decent sneakers, usually) I should probably put more thought into my non-running shoes as well.

But this was funny. I found this page describing peroneal tendonitis and I had to laugh when I got to the bottom of the page. The image at the right was shown, apparently under “Related Links and Info.” Has that poor woman got tennis elbow and peroneal tendonitis? Sad.

Then I thought - wait! She’s some sort of cyborg doctor, come back from the future to heal your peroneal tendon for the sake of all mankind. “Come with me if you want to be able to walk all day in the mall without limping!”

Posted by James at 8:01 AM | Comments (3)

December 20, 2007

Thursday WTF

Romney Finds Time Magazine Choice of "Man of the Year" Disgusting

Don't we go through this every year, with someone having to explain how Time chooses the man of the year? And then, many years, Time seems to chicken out and choose George Bush, or You, or computers as the top newsmaker of the year.

Romney is reportedly disgusted that Russian President Putin was chosen as the man of the year. As soon as he heard about it he quickly kissed General Petraeus's bum. Then he cried.

Pets in the Alley

The lord said, you shall not profit from a stolen ferret. Apparently, a pet shop worker was stealing pets from the store and selling them in an alley at the mall.

He was arrested Friday night at the mall, allegedly with a ferret in his sweatshirt pocket and a bag full of related pet items, police say.

Is that a ferret under your sweatshirt, or are you under arrest?

As Snow Melts, Officials Look at What Went Wrong

Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who accused the state of being ill prepared for the storm, met with city department heads to talk about what went wrong.

What do you think went wrong when everyone panicked and hit the highway at the same time?

Mike Huckabee's Floating Cross

The guys who put together Mike Huckabee's Christmas ad threw in a weird Damien-the-Omen floating cross that was formed with creative lighting on a bookshelf.

And now Mike Huckabee expects us to believe that it was all just a happy accident, a coincidence, random.

I'm sorry, sir, but did you expect me to believe that something so obviously designed by a sentient being could possibly come about from random chance? Oh, no you didn't!

Posted by James at 8:53 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Giuliani, Ads, Parodies and News

If you think this post is to make fun of Rudy Giuliani, I am sorry to mislead you.

MSNBC: ‘Surreal’ Giuliani holiday ad has to be spoof

That’s a link to a video clip of folks on MSNBC making fun of the most recent Rudy Giuliani campaign ad. I can’t believe I’m going to defend Rudy Giuliani here, but I am, sort of. There is no way I want this guy anywhere near the presidency, but his ad is not a disaster. It’s goofy, it’s lame, it’s non-presidential, but WTF do I care? I wasn’t going to vote for him anyhow.

But what strikes me more about this video is how long it drags on with these… I don’t know what they are… not journalists… talking heads? These talking heads groaning over and over again is unbearable. The camera keeps floating around the studio. I suppose that’s to give you the feeling you’re actually seeing some action take place, when you’re really just watching three people bask in their delusions of cleverness while they pretend to shuffle important papers. It must not be a news show. I’m guessing “sitcom.”

Hint: A news broadcast should never include the rhetorical phrase “remember when we” — it’s a news broadcast, not a high school reunion. Memo to the cast of this sitcom: Saturday Night Live is on hold because of the writer’s strike. That probably escaped their notice because the writer’s strike was actually news.

I did not realize that it was OK to find any random group of well-dressed and made-up people and have them talk about the “news” in front of a camera. If so, then why am I getting paid to do actual work? This is what people do when they’re relaxing. But when you put it on TV on an ostensible news channel, it automatically becomes lame. Don’t have a discussion about Rudy’s views on torture. Talk some more about his sweater vest.

Speaking of the writer’s strike, I’ve got a great idea for a cheap new news show: three guys watching YouTube videos. YouTube videos are news in the same way a lame Rudolph Giuliani red sweater is news. I bet I could grab a couple of friends and we could groan and sigh and laugh and make fun of YouTube videos all day long. It could be its own cable channel!

Congrats, MSNBC. You’re almost as lame as that other morning sitcom “Fox and Friends.”

Posted by James at 8:23 AM | Comments (5)

December 18, 2007

You're A Mean One

Can someone explain to me why, exactly, it's a bad thing to have "garlic in your soul."

I mean, I get all the other stuff, but maybe the Grinch just had a flair for cooking garlicky dishes. That hardly seems on par with faults like having "termites in your smile," or having a heart that's a "dead tomato splot with moldy purple spots."

I think this is part of the War on Garlic.

Posted by James at 9:43 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Voting For Stupid Primates

Christopher Hitchens wants you to know that it is perfectly reasonable to reject a presidential candidate because of his religious views. Article VI of the constitution discusses that there should be no religious test for office, a reaction to European monarchies which required people to do kooky things like affirm religious belief.

However, what Article VI does not do, and was never intended to do, is deny me the right to say, as loudly as I may choose, that I will on no account vote for a smirking hick like Mike Huckabee, who is an unusually stupid primate but who does not have the elementary intelligence to recognize the fact that this is what he is. My right to say and believe that is already guaranteed to me by the First Amendment. And the right of Huckabee to win the election and fill the White House with morons like himself is unaffected by my expression of an opinion.

Hitchens has never been shy, so far as I know, and so I wouldn’t expect to hear he felt much pressure to curtail his expression of opinion. But his point is important, that there is a difference between voters expressing their opinion and the government requiring a certain faith be observed. You should not hear complaining from atheists that there is a defacto test for religiosity in this country, because it is based on voter preference, not any official policy1.

But, aside from what’s official, what can I say about voter preference?

There is an expression: “It’s nothing personal.” What that expression means is to reassure the listener that some decision was not made on an unreasonable personal bias, but rather on facts that are outside of the personal. If you don’t invite Vice President Cheney to go quail hunting with you, you might say “it’s nothing personal” if you relish spending some time with the arch-Neocon, but you fear for the lives of the other participants, based on his past performance. It’s nothing personal, but you don’t invite anyone on your little trips if that person has a separate section of notches on his belt that correspond to humans. It’s not a prejudice against his personality, it’s a practical matter of a fear for your life, and perhaps the fear that your health insurance carrier will get wind of it and raise your premiums.

Okay, that’s a bad example, considering that it’s difficult to imagine wanting to spend time with the VP. I leave it as an exercise to the reader.

What I mean to say is that you can have reasonable arguments why someone shouldn’t be president, and then you can have prejudices.

“I just won’t vote for any Christian” is a prejudice that I have never noticed. Nonbelievers are voting for Christians all the time. This is why it’s so easy to dismiss crackpots who worry about anti-Christian boogeymen. Atheists get freedom of religion. They get freedom. People whose beliefs are not in the majority are keenly aware how far that freedom goes and where it ends. Well, that and the fact that atheists are still outnumbered.

We’re used to voting for Christians. But many of us (I’ll just speak for myself here, but feel free to join in) don’t want to vote for crackpots.

If you have goofy2 beliefs, you have the choice and right to keep them to yourself. You have the right to practice those beliefs without interference, insofar as you don’t break any other laws. And, heck, we love freedom of religion so much here that it’s OK even if you do break some of our other laws. Some people balk at the idea of religion being a private thing. OK, so shout it from the rooftops (within noise pollution laws, and between appropriate hours). But if you’re up on a rooftop telling me about your supernatural beliefs, what part of that is supposed to convince me that you’re fit to be president?

And if you’re running for president, and you want me to think that religion is in any way relevant, then you’re tempting people to judge you on religion. You’re begging them, even. You think it will help more than hurt. I have a lot to say about why I don’t respect that, but that’s for another time. We were talking more about the voter’s decision rather than the candidate’s campaign. And I will avoid, for this essay, just judging a person based on his religion as a knee-jerk reaction.

But why isn’t it relevant to examine someone’s specific beliefs just because there is a context of religious belief around them? Does it matter whether a belief is a Christian belief, or a Muslim belief? In some legal contexts it does, but that’s a matter of trying to prevent the government from infringing on an essential freedom recognized by the constitution. But some beliefs impact directly on a voter. And it would be completely nuts for some voters to ignore those beliefs, no matter what the context.

Mike Huckabee is increasingly becoming a great example for blog posts, if only I had time to write them all. It’s nothing personal, Mike, but you’re in the news a lot. I’ll pick on Romney later.

But, Mike, I noticed that you wrote some crazy stuff in a book, less than a decade ago:

Men who have rejected God and do not walk in faith are more often than not immoral, impure, and improvident (Gal. 5:19-21). They are prone to extreme and destructive behavior, indulging in perverse vices and dissipating sensuality (1 Cor. 6:9-10). And they—along with their families and loved ones—are thus driven over the brink of destruction (Prov. 23:21).

Huckabee clearly hasn’t watched Deliver Us From Evil (warning - link has sound). And also, I suspect that he hasn’t done research to back up his assertion that atheists are more often than not (that’s over 50% for you math-inclined people) immoral3. I’m assuming that by “impure” he means that we don’t wash behind our ears.

I’ll vote for Christians all day long. But I won’t vote for a Huckabee. It’s nothing personal. And clearly, it’s nothing to do with his religion. It’s that he’s a nutfudge. And I frankly don’t care whether he’s a nutfudge who drinks his own Kool-Aid or somebody else’s. He’s a nutfudge either way.

1 You’ll get a number of people telling you that the country is a Christian Nation, and these same people will also, out of the other side of their mouths, tell you it’s a free country. Well, they’ve clearly got to be wrong on at least one of those assertions. Hm?

2 I don’t mean the word goofy to be offensive. I mean it to indicate supernatural beliefs. I don’t want to say “weird” beliefs, because then people will just assume I mean majority beliefs are OK and they’ll think I’m picking on Mormons or Scientologists or some other group. I’m not. If you believe God personally toasts your bagel every morning, why should I laugh about that any more than or less than a belief that dinosaurs hung out with folks in the Bible? Certain beliefs are unverifiable.

3 I don’t know which interpretation is worse: that over 50% of atheists are immoral and impure, or that all nonbelievers are immoral more than 50% of the time in their lives. Sometimes, the principle of charity is a coin toss.

Posted by James at 12:45 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Zero Knife Tolerance

A 10-year-old girl was arrested for using a steak knife to cut her lunch at a school in Florida.

Now the girl faces a 10-day suspension along with a felony weapons charge, and school officials say they have no regrets about the way teachers handled the situation.

For some reason, some people have questioned the school’s handling of the situation. The word “overreaction” is being bandied about.

Listen, folks. If you make any sort of exception for one student, you open the floodgates. She says she needs the knife to cut her food. What are you going to do to when a student shows up with a Swiss Army Knife, a Buck knife, a switchblade, a machete, a halberd, a Thompson submachine gun, or an Uzi? What do you say when 2nd grader is spraying his art classroom with an AK-47 assault rifle, and you complain, and he yells back at you “I need the gun to cut my steak!”

You see the problem?

Posted by James at 12:13 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

December 17, 2007

Metaphorically Snowed In

Snow Bunny

It’s a 6-foot 6-inch snow bunny

My blog is suffering a post NaBloPoMo whiplash, going from daily posting to not even posting a Shotgun Post last week. As the days have gotten shorter I’ve felt a little bit overwhelmed and not very talkative.

The snow that fell last week (twice) and blanketed everything with a heavy coating that slowed the world to a crawl is a good metaphor for how this time of year can feel. I don’t remember it seeming like this 20 years ago, but it is definitely the case today. The “to do” list grows faster than it can be cleared and the Sun just isn’t around enough to cheer you up.

But progress is going on. Lots of shoveling has been accomplished. I look out on the driveway and I see that the half that I cleared is bone dry. Beautiful — no ice or anything. The half we use for guests was covered with snow twice, rained on and is now frozen solid. I expect to see the blacktop again sometime in April. Clearing it was not an option; the snow there is just too heavy and too voluminous. And now, too frozen.

And raise your hand if you, too, enjoyed the pleasures of shovelling snow in the freezing rain this weekend. I learned something about myself out there.

I called my somewhat-cleared driveway “beautiful” but it’s not an accomplishment I can take much pride in. It was unpleasant work, but it’s not as though I had a choice, or as if much thought had gone into it.

It was some of the least pleasant shoveling I’ve ever done. Freezing rain pelting you and soaking you through is a real deterrent to being outside, never mind flinging snow. And it didn’t take too long before parts of me were quite numb, and my head was pounding. When I finished, I barely felt like I could lift the shovel as I tramped up the drive.

But, rather than go inside, I started to build a snowman. When the girls saw, they came outside to help, and to build their own little ones. So, we were all out in the rain, building snow sculptures. I wasn’t sure if they would even last the day, because the forecast was saying that the 33 degree rain would later hit 40 degrees (it didn’t). Building a snowman in the rain seems like an exercise in futility, but it seemed necessary, for sanity, to not go back inside the house until I had something to show for my work that was more than a clear driveway (a driveway which had been clear the night before).

I had to build a snow-ramp to get the heavy torso snowball up onto the base, and it took me a while to get underneath it. The next-door-neighbor’s snowman was challenging me. I admit to some competitive spirit rising within me. When I was a kid, I remember a snowstorm in which my uncles came over to help us dig out and they ended up sculpting a giant snow camel in response to a giant snow frog that the neighbors had constructed. My crazy rabbit was going to have to be big enough to devour my neighbor’s snowman, if it came down to that.

The snowman was completely frivolous. The kids weren’t even planning to come outside. My neighbor across the street was just coming out to clear his driveway as I was creating the torso, and I think he thought I’d lost my mind - soaking wet and wrestling with 70 pound chunks of snow. But I was already soaked and miserable from shoveling. I figured that unless the thing fell over and injured me, I couldn’t be any more miserable. So why not continue?

Of course a snowman is frivolous. But what I never realized before was how necessary it was. It’s clear to me now that if I don’t build snowmen once in a while, I’m going to go completely bonkers.

Posted by James at 8:39 AM | Comments (16)

December 13, 2007

Freakiest Looking Image Of The Day

I don’t want to know

I was scanning along in Google Image Search, looking at pix of Waterford tree toppers. I ran into the thing you see at right.

It was so ugly I had to share it with you all. You’re welcome.

Posted by James at 7:41 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack


So, this is the first real snowstorm of the season here. It’s snowed before, but it’s not the first real one until you see people freaking out, or failing to freak out when appropriate.

The university, flying spaghetti monster bless its soul, tends to e really conservative about calling a snow day. It had no problem back in 80-whatever when “Hurricane” Gloria was forecast and they shut the campus down because there might be wind. There was always wind on campus, and some of it was hot air, but I digress!

Today, the forecast was pretty clear when I woke up. One hundred percent chance of it snowing like a motortrucker. The public schools in my town are actually pretty sensible about snow, which I appreciate, since I am a parent. “Think of the children” and all. But they made a go of it, collecting the kids on busses and taking them to school even as they had already decided to bring them back around noon.

But the university has its own method for making decisions on snow cancellation. I am not privy to the inner workings, but I used to have a theory. It went something like this:

  1. Carefully watch the forecast.
  2. Calculate when the peak of the storm will be. Find maximum with function that describes fluctuations in campus population.
  3. Lure students to campus.
  4. Wait for it.
  5. Announce cancellation.
  6. Hilarity ensues.

But that model attributes malice to the university where there exists none. So, I was forced to rescind that theory.

My new theory is based on evidence of today’s snowstorm, and some emails that were sent to the campus community.

Here are excerpts from the two emails:

Date: Dec 13, 2007 11:16 AM
Subject: Don’t Panic. CAMPUS CLOSED AT 2 P.M.

Due to the forecast of a major snow storm, UMass Dartmouth will be closed at 2 p.m. Don’t panic.

I actually received that message about 20 minutes before the snow started falling here1.

About 20 minutes after the fall started falling (hard) I received this message:

Date: Dec 13, 2007 11:56 AM
Subject: Oh Snap! CAMPUS CLOSED AT 12:30 P.M.

OMFGSNOW!!!!111 Run for yer lives!

Game over, man, game over! What are we going to do now!!!!!!?? I don’t know if you’ve been keeping up with current events but it’s snowing like a motortrucker2!

Every man for himself! It’s a trap! Aiiii!3

My new theory is that they weren’t paying close attention to the forecast. Still waiting for Maggie to make it home.

1 Actually, I did get two emails from the university about the campus closing, but only the times I quoted are accurate. I have used poetic license in representing the content of the messages based on my impression of the rapid re-assessment of the storm’s severity.

2 Yes, I am trying to make the term “motortrucker” happen.

3 You thought you were going to get Rickrolled? I wouldn’t do that to you.

Posted by James at 12:53 PM | Comments (6)

What's in Your Colon?

When you read that post title, you have to read it like that “What’s in your wallet” commercial. So, do that for me, won’t you?

Did you know that your colon is slowly poisoning you to death?

If you do, then you’ve fallen for one of many stories about how your colon is slowly poisoning you. Maybe you’ve had someone blame it on red meat1. The presentation is usually something like, “if you’ve been eating meat all your life, your colon has all sorts of red meat packed into it, rotting away and poisoning your body.” Or, maybe someone was just trying to get you to use bowel cleansing products.

Years ago, I read with some astonishment that medical fads of years past included consuming products like paraffin wax that were thought to help you expel stuff from your colon. In other extreme cases of quackery, people would have large portions of their intestines removed simply on the principle that it was good for nothing but making them sick.

At the turn of the century, this theory of colon poisoning was called “autointoxication.” From an abstract of the paper Colonic Irrigation and the Theory of Autointoxication: A Triumph of Ignorance over Science:

Autointoxication is an ancient theory based on the belief that intestinal waste products can poison the body and are a major contributor to many, if not all, diseases. In the 19th century, it was the ruling doctrine of medicine and led “colonic quackery” in various guises. By the turn of the century, it had received some apparent backing from science. When it became clear that the scientific rationale was wrong and colonic irrigation was not merely useless but potentially dangerous, it was exposed as quackery and subsequently went into a decline. Today we are witnessing a resurgence of colonic irrigation based on little less than the old bogus claims and the impressive power of vested interests. Even today’s experts on colonic irrigation can only provide theories and anecdotes in its support. It seems, therefore, that ignorance is celebrating a triumph over science.

These colonic fixations survive today in the form of colon cleansing products and “irrigation” techniques.

Today, you may encounter people who tell you that you have a dangerous “mucoid plaque” that is clinging to the walls of your colon, but that they can sell you a product which will help you expel this plaque. It’s a convenient story, not backed by any science, and nobody who does not use one of these cleansing products ever sees a “mucoid plaque.”

If your gut is bothering you, see a doctor2. He will best be able to do the tests to find out if you have an actual problem. But if you don’t have a condition requiring medical or surgical intervention, he will likely tell you that even healthy bowel functioning has a range of variation. Including fruits, fiber-rich veggies and whole grains in your diet is the moderate and safe way to keep the average colon functioning. Stay away from that guy with the 30 inch hose and the 20 gallon tank of herb-infused water.

1 There are a lot of reasons to be careful about your red meat consumption. But the question here is what this has to do with your colon. I haven’t yet seen evidence that a diet with moderate amounts of red meat puts you in any danger. Of course, we all wonder about BSE…

2 I’m serious. I am not a doctor; see a physician for medical advice.

Posted by James at 10:37 AM | Comments (5)

December 11, 2007

Two Strikes Against PVD

These two completely (AFAIK) unrelated stories that put Providence on Santa’s naughty list.

Providence In Top Half of Dangerously Drunk Cities

The ProJo blog is reporting that Men’s Health Magazine has judged Providence to be the 39th drunkest city in the nation. One statistic that contributed to that calculation was Providence’s place as having the 4th lowest number of drunk driving arrests.

They’re not saying that Providence is a haven for drunk folks. But they do appear to be writing it.

Providence Place Mall Inconveniences Me

Some of you may know that Maggie and I make a yearly pilgrimage to Natick, the purpose of which is to buy chocolates for my officemates. I have to take the day off and it’s a pain in the bottom to drive out there. But it gives me a chance to spend some time with Maggie, even though that time is nearly all spent in the car.

Why Natick? Because the candies I want to give my co-workers can only be bought at the Natick Mall and only during November and December. They’re See’s Chocolates. And they blow fru-fru Godiva out of the freaking water. My humble opinion.

One year, we found out that we could get them at the Providence Place Mall. This was an extremely happy discovery, because it meant we could get the chocolates and then actually relax a bit before having to get the girls off the school bus. We could do some shopping, have a decent lunch, etc.

That only lasted a year. The folks who sell the chocolates decided not to sell out of a kiosk in Providence ever again. Yesterday we found out the reason.

A little bird told us that their candy kiosk was broken into three times in one season (2 months). What’s worse, they claim that one of those times the break in was perpetrated by mall security. Not much you can do at that point, is there? Now they’ll never come back to Providence, and I can’t blame them.

Good job, Providence Place Mall security. You get an official “Bah, Humbug Asshat of the Week” for not only not properly protecting a business in one of your kiosks, but for corruption that has permanently driven away some of the best chocolate in the country.

It really sucks.

Posted by James at 1:30 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

First Poinsettias, Now This

According to the New York Times, mistletoe isn’t deadly.

But you still don’t want to make a mistletoe and poinsettia salad.

Aren’t any of the poisonous holiday plants from my childhood still deadly? Damn scientists.

It’s a War on Christmas Decorative Plants Which Are Thought To Be Deadly!

I grew up thinking they were poisonous, kids nowadays ought to grow up thinking that, too. This is some secular conspiracy, I just know it.

Posted by James at 8:38 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Economist Debate 2: University Students and Nationality

Perhaps you remember a previous post here regarding the Economist online debate. The debate got my attention when my work was mentioned in the rebuttal.

The Economist Online is having it’s second debate, I’ve been told1. They’re considering another interesting question.

“This house proposes governments and universities everywhere should be competing to attract and educate all suitably-qualified students regardless of nationality and residence.”

Here’s the debate schedule as well:

  • Dec 11th – Opening statements
  • Dec 12th – Guest participant statement, Deborah L. Wince-Smith, president, U.S. Council on Competitiveness
  • Dec 14th – Rebuttals. Share comments on the issues so far, and vote
  • Dec 18th – Guest participant statement, Irene Mia, Associate Director and Senior Economist with the Global Competitiveness Network at the World Economic Forum
  • Dec 19th – Closing arguments by the Speakers. Post final comments and vote for your winner
  • Dec 21st –Debate winner announced

Opening statements are today. If you have any comments, feel free to post them here. I plan to follow the debate and have another post on the subject before the 21st, after reading the arguments.

The question interests me because the subject of shrinking numbers of technical advanced degrees in the US has come up recently in discussions about mathematics education. The responsibility of universities is also an interesting subject.

1 I was contacted by someone doing PR for the Economist. They notified me of the details for this second debate. More and more frequently I am contacted by PR and marketing for various events/products. Sometimes the information they pass along is of interest to me, and I think you might be interested. When that happens, I’ll post about it. But whenever I am posting after being contacted by PR, I want to disclose that to you. I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary; it’s not a paid post or anything like that. But it is something somewhat new and different, and I’ll let you be the judge about whether it makes a difference. I will say that most of the time I’ve been contacted it’s because of something I’ve already written. PR folks are using blogs to communicate to audiences/customers but the targeting is pretty good so far.

Posted by James at 12:27 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 9, 2007

What's It About? Don't BlogRush Me.

Just what is this blog1 about?

You may have noticed a new widget on my blog. It’s in the sidebar and especially prominent on the individual entry pages. It’s from a service called “BlogRush.” If you did notice it, you probably thought it was advertising. I guess it is a sort of advertising, but it’s more like link trading. I post the widget, which displays links to other blogs. In turn, they throw up links to my blog posts on other people’s widgets.

The idea is to try to reach a wider audience. In that way it is communal advertising. Link trading isn’t a new idea, and this widget makes it easy.

I was faced with a familiar question when I set up my account with BlogRush. I had to choose a category for my blog.

Categorize? Bleh.

I have this blog for fun, for venting, for expressing myself on various topics. There was no category for that. After poking around the different choices, I eventually went with “Personal.” The choice has some importance, because it determines what sort of blogs my posts will show up on. It also governs what types of posts show up in my widget.

I went with “Personal” because the one thing the blog posts really have in common here are that they’re written by one person: me. What I found was that most of the posts I saw on other people’s “personal” blogs were about things that I don’t imagine my blog readers would ever be interested in. It wasn’t stuff I was interested in. So I rethought this blog category thing.

I’ve always been told that if you want a successful blog you ought to pick one subject that you know well and post about that. Post often enough and you’ll catch more and more readers. Eventually, if you try hard enough, you’ll make the “B” list! Whee! your Google ads will start to rake in the dough as your reader base increases. This makes sense. Readers interested in your topic will bookmark you and return to learn more about the subject. Even better, people who find your blog through a search will be more likely to be interested in more than just the one post they find. Bang - that will get you repeat readers.

My blog gets search engine traffic. But is a reader who is interested in Crown Pilot crackers going to stick around to read jokes about about Mitt Romney?

What if I did choose one topic and go with that? I’d probably have to start another blog. The small group of friends and contacts who read this blog already know what to expect, even if there isn’t an easily-described category for it.

I could probably create a reasonably successful topical blog. But that just seems like work to me. And I already have a job, which I happen to like.

I came across this blog post which describes a phenomenon of prominent blogs degenerating from longer, substantive and informative posts into quick posts which are topical but covered only superficially. That makes perfect sense to me.

Let’s say a reasonably intelligent and knowledgeable person has about 10 really good essay ideas in his or her head on a subject of expertise. He may futz around for a while and pepper his blog with a few of those essays, written really well. One or two of those blog posts may get posted toReddit, Digg or another link blog. Suddenly, this blogger has a reputation. But slowly he’s going to run through that list of 10 essay ideas.

Sure, a creative person will have more ideas as time goes on. But many interesting people are very busy as well. An interesting person is, almost by definition, busy because in doing things with your brain you come into contact with more creative fodder. Stagnation is not interesting. Busy people have less time to post, so once they’re through with their most passionate writing ideas within one subject area, the best way to stay on-topic and still stay somewhat relevant is to do drive-by posts about whatever new thing is happening in your topic area.

That doesn’t interest me in the least. Not only is it work, but it eventually becomes crappy work.

I’ll stick to what I’ve been doing. Trying to be at least somewhat interesting to my readers while getting most of my motivation from my desire to express some (hopefully original and entertaining) ideas and (hopefully sincere) feelings and perceptions.

Back to BlogRush. I’m sticking with it for now. But in the interest of bringing us some l inks I think you or I might be interested in, I changed my category to “Atheist.” This is not an atheist blog, really. I don’t define myself by my atheism. But I noticed that the atheist blog posts were more interesting than the “Personal” ones were. This is atrade-off . It means my blog posts will appear on Atheist blog widgets. Yet I am not restricted to that topic. I’m hoping that it’s good enough that my point of view is often informed by my atheism, and my belief in a natural basis for our morals.

1 I use the word “blog” here in the sense of the entire weblog, the entire journal, not in the sense of one post or entry on a weblog.

Posted by James at 3:38 PM | Comments (1)

December 8, 2007

Google Book Search Embedding

I found a new (to me) feature of Google Book Search. If you find a book that allows full view (rather than limited preview) Google will allow you to take a snapshot of the book and embed it into your blog, or an online discussion forum.

Here’s an example. It’s a excerpt from some writings by Edmind Burke. I found this excerpt interesting because it has relevance to my thinking lately about tragedy rubber-necking in society.

Text not available
A Philosophical Enquiry Into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and … By Edmund Burke, Abraham Mills

Nice touch that they make it look like it was ripped out of a book.

You can also get the quotation as text.

I was hoping to get a Cthulhu quotation, but the Necronomicon is only offered in limited preview.

Posted by James at 4:12 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

You may or may not be familiar with It’s a database of people who went to various schools and colleges. The people who run the site try to create an online community of members. Hindering this effort is the fact that for any of the useful features you have to upgrade to a paid membership.

Many sites have adopted a model where you are given a useful service for free, but you have to pay for the service if your needs exceed the free offering. uses an enticement model. The free services are really not useful as far as I can tell. You can see some names of people from your school days, you can see who has signed on to But if you want to send them any sort of a message you’d need to pay for an upgrade.

If you give them your email address they will send you periodic updates in an effort to get you to drop money on them. They’ll tell you how many new people have signed up from your past school classes. They’ll tell you that x photographs have been posted by people in your network. They’ll tell you that a few people have actually even visited your profile.

If you want to know who those people are, you’re going to have to pay.

Just lately, they’re ratcheted up the hard sell.

I am told that in May of 2007, someone not only visited my profile but signed my guestbook!

If I pay, they’ll tell me who.

No thanks, Classmates.

I’m still in the same neighborhood (basically) where I grew up. I’ve run into people I knew from high school. It can be fun to say “hi.” But is it worth money? Not to me.

I admit, the mystery alone is cause for some curiosity. As mysteries go it’s pretty thin, but I can imagine that people who really have nostalgia for high school find it really compelling. I bet Classmates rakes in some dough in this trick.

Posted by James at 10:02 AM | Comments (7)

December 7, 2007

Innovative Shotgun

  • Password Safe (computers,free,tools,tips,security,software)
    • It's a (Windows) application for keeping your (wait for it...) passwords safe!
  • Ten Excellent Online Apps For the Innovative Teacher (education,free,online,tools)
    • Innovative should be in quotes. These are mostly apps that use computers as prosthetic devices, not to teach in new and innovative ways. I don't think people understand what an innovation is.
  • Online Games: Top 10 point and click Games (flash,game,fun)
    • These are games in which you simply click around the screen to accomplish a task -- often to escape a room.
  • Here Comes Another Bubble (video,music,humor,parody)
    • Song about the new tech bubble. With video.
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This stuff doesn't usually get to me, but this is an incredible story: Can World's Strongest Dad

Posted by James at 8:55 AM | Comments (1)

December 6, 2007

The Illegal Immigrant Solution

Romney, despite his supposed great stance on illegal immigration, was not above employing undocumented workers if it meant his lawn was kept attractive. The excuse that he just didn’t know is no longer valid; he’s been caught before and gave us his word that he was going to look into the matter. At the very least you have to conclude that he didn’t see it as much of a problem. At most, you might conclude that he saw it is a solution; the ends justifying the means.

The “tough on illegals” crowd is fond of the idea that we should simply send everyone back to their country of origin. The resources necessary for such an effort would be phenomenal. We just don’t have those resources.

And that’s when I solved the USA’s illegal immigrant problem. Thanks to Romney. Combine the idea of being tough on immigration, but also using illegal immigrants as a means to an end.

Hire illegal immigrants to round up the illegal immigrants!

It’ll cost less, and they’ll have inside information.

Romney, you’re a genius!

Posted by James at 1:10 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Hooray For The Top Half

It boggles my mind to read this:

“It shows we’re not doing as badly as some say,” Mr. Toch said. “We’re in the top half of the table, and a number of states are outperforming the majority of the nations in the study. But our performance in math and science lags behind that of the front-running Asian nations.”

An independent policy director on education is celebrating the fact that America is in the top half of the performance graph of the latest TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study)?

Yay - we’re not in the bottom half! Crack the champagne!

SH sent this cartoon along. We need to be worried about the future of this country.

It’s too bad we don’t see the islamofacistterrorists as technological competitors. Then there might be some chest-beating and investment in math and science. For pride reasons. As it is, we only have to worry about an ignorant population that won’t be able to compete against a growing world of technology-driven prosperity and we’ll only be able to blow them up until our expertise in the sciences is eclipsed.

It’s frustrating. Maybe the Math Wars are only the first battle to lose in a much larger war.

(If you’re looking for my suggestion regarding solutions to this problem, I want to tell you that you’re not going to find solutions in one blog post. I suggest funding research. I suggest that cutting funding for research for a decade and emphasis on testing students has no positive effect on the situation.)

Posted by James at 11:13 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

December 5, 2007

Phosphors of Moloch

Reacting to something pippa said on the subject of media frenzies following a violent tragedy. She’s connecting the media reaction to the people who commit these violent acts. It’s not a difficult connection to make anymore, is it, when these people make the connection themselves just before they flip out, declaring that they want to be famous.

When something like this happens, the world suddenly shrinks. Nothing else is going on, but this. At least, that’s the feeling I’ve gotten in the past watching cable news. National coverage becomes focused like a laser beam to start the ball rolling making the most recent screwed up gun-toting coward a household name. Am I wrong, or is it not unseemly to have wall-to-wall coverage peppered with Cialis, Head-On, Schwab, and the latest Dodge Ram truck? People want to sit in a big truck and worry about their financial future while they try to get rid of that throbbing headache — but at least they’ll be able to get it up. Brought to you by: some loser with a rifle.

We used to say we watched because we didn’t understand. We were just trying to make sense of it. But I just don’t think we have that excuse anymore. In the information age, the perpetrators are giving us exactly what we asked for. They’re explaining themselves. They’re telling us that they want to be famous. Look at the length some people will go to for some time on national TV.

Watch a American Idol auditions, or Jerry Springer, or any number of venues where people can sacrifice their dignity for some air time. Have you ever heard yourself, or the person next to you saying “why would he/she do such a thing?” It should be obvious what these people are after. The lengths to which some of them will go are shocking, and that’s even before anybody picks up a gun.

I think that we really should understand this by now, at least on a superficial level. And the deeper level of understanding just may not be there at all. We understand it as much as we’re going to understand it.

It’s easy to blame the media. Actually, it’s too easy. Local media have something of a responsibility to report what’s going on in their back yard. When you are down the street from an explosion, you’re in the explosion. National media don’t have the same excuse. There’s a lot going on in the world; there is a lot that’s important and worth knowing. This is certainly one of those stories. And it should be reported within reason.

How many people are dying in automobile accidents today? From infectious diseases? How many other events have a likelihood of eventually touching your life? Many. But I am told that violent acts (like terrorist attacks and such) have some special, magical importance. The first time I heard that, I wondered if it was right. By the 30th time, it was sounding like a junkie’s excuse.

Excessive coverage has become a prize for the unhinged gunman. It’s the rocket fuel that gives their fame escape velocity.

Excessive coverage is not part of some healing process. It bandages neither a psychic nor physical wound. The victims do not rise; they do not draw energy from you, like the perpetrator does. It’s not part of some modern or new age panacea for grief. It’s something much older and fundamental.

In ancient times people worshipped at the altars of gods they imagined to be violent and capricious. They worshipped out of fear; they believed that their lives were in danger from these strange, inexplicable forces. They paid tribute, sometimes, with sacrifices of their most valuable possessions.

Today our most valuable possession is our time, a commodity which not even money can purchase with any certainty. The violent gods have different names, but we worshipers have not changed much. Willing supplicants are still giving sacrifice before altars to assuage their fear. As with all superstitions, some have found a way to use it to achieve their ends.

Posted by James at 8:52 AM | Comments (4)

Google Pulls Me Back In To AIM

I spoke too soon in saying I wouldn’t be seen on AIM anymore.

Google has added support for AIM to their GMail chat feature.

Also, Google’s added the ability to do group chat.

Suddenly, I can’t think of a reason I would need to install a chat client.

Posted by James at 8:43 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

December 4, 2007

Wii Boxing: Chump to Champ

WooHoo! 3003 in Wii Boxing!

1337 Wii Boxing Skillz

Now that NaBloPoMo is over, I’ve turned my attention to continuing my other important lesiure time endeavors. Like Wii boxing.

When you reach 1000 you are labeled “Pro” and the opponents begin getting much harder. At around 2000 your rating has reached the top of the graph. A little bit before 3000 your rating is completely off the screen.

I’d heard that 3000 was the upper limit, but that is apparently not accurate. It’s not the whole story.

You opponents get more and more difficult to beat, until around 1500. None of the Wii opponents seem to be rated better than the 1500 area. So, to gain any ratings points by fighting them, you must defeat them utterly. If you beat your opponent in the third round, or after taking somewhat of a beating yourself, you can actually win the fight but lose points. It’s rather like the Patriots this season. If they win by a wide margin this season, everyone takes it in stride by now. If they just barely win a game it’s time to start predicting doom.

In the world of Wii Boxing this means that a clean win early on earns you 75 points. A loss can win you a couple of points if you put up a good fight. Or, maybe you lose 2-5 points.

Once you’re above 2500, if you beat your opponent in the first round without falling once yourself, you can earn a whopping 7 points! Above 2900 expect to win 5 points if you can put your opponent down quickly.

What happens if your opponent makes it late into the second round? You can lose between 20 and 30 points.

3000 is not so much a hard limit as it is a point at which you start to consider moving on to some other hobby. You’re working too hard for too few points. Four points here and two points there are not a big motivator.

How do you get to 3000?

  • Practice with an inexperienced Mii and learn the moves against an unskilled opponent. Just focus on what movements generate which punches.
  • Do the training, and again practice those different punches.
  • Once you’ve mastered dodging in the training mode, try some fights and see if you can dodge left, right, left and how your opponent reacts to your dodging. Try to move around enough to lure your opponent into throwing a “near miss” that triggers the slow-motion (Matrix-like bullet time mode, allowing you to land a good combination.
  • Learn the timing of a left-right (or right-left) combination. If you throw your second punch too early, it messes up both punches and leaves you wide open.
  • Once you get a two punch rhythm down, you can throw more punches in a row. Late in the game I was limited to 3-punch combinations at most, but early on you can really get a string of them going.
  • Dodge while looking for an opening, but be careful never to dodge into a punch.
  • When you see an opening, try to hit that opening with quick, straight punches.
  • Save most of the fancy hooks and other slower power punches for the slow-motion mode. Uppercuts are good here, too.
  • If your opponent doesn’t seem to leave much of an opening, practice throwing punches at a precise height, by lifting or lowering the remote. Sometimes, even if your opponent is protecting his face, you can throw punches over his gloves at the top of his big Mii head.
  • Get ready to dodge right after you punch.
  • For faster takedowns, try to match your opponent’s rhythm and anticipate when he is about to punch. If you dodge as he is punching, your opponent is now open and you can land a punch while he’s still recovering. Better still, if you can anticipate the slow-mo mode you can land a longer combination.
  • The key to points is a speedy takedown. If you wear a guy down over some time, he’ll probably get back up. But if you have a really well-coordinated series of punches over a short time, his first trip to the mat may be his only trip. And you’ll get more points.
  • Taking a few punches doesn’t seem to affect your score, unless you get knocked down.
  • Shaking the controllers doesn’t make you get up faster from a knockdown.
  • Don’t rely too much on the “slow mo” effect. Your Wii boxing cred won’t translate to human opponents if you do. Humans are less likely to throw those near miss punches.
Posted by James at 2:05 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 3, 2007

Sunday Annoyances (Warmed Over)

Stuff that was annoying me yesterday. Join me for a little whining, won't you?

Huckabee the Half-A-Bee

Mike Huckabee thinks the United States is responsible for a holocaust.He's referred to legal abortions by evoking the word "holocaust," the intended impact of which is obvious. Talking heads on TV this morning claimed that he was aiming for the image of "a compassionate conservative in the mold of George W. Bush." That made me laugh. The basis for this was his personable demeanor. Forget the oxymoron, this guy is the poster child for the compassion that is locked away in the hearts of conservatives? His first action as governor was block the state from paying $419 for a retarded 15-year-old girl's abortion, her pregnancy stemming from being raped by her stepfather on a camping trip.
If I thought he had a chance, I'd be upset. But that's not what's annoying me.

What's annoying me is that he was on TV (on "ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos") and he repeated that stupid myth about scientists supposedly proving that it was scientifically impossible for bees to fly.

Observation is a big part of science. Can you think of a scientific experiment to refute the claim that bees can't fly? I can. "Observe bees flying." End of experiment. This myth is often used to support silly mystical beliefs by trashing science. It's yet another example of how people would rather remain ignorant about science than understand even the most basic thing about it. In Huckabee's case, he was using it to criticize political analysts opinions of his chances. George replied that he'd never heard a candidate compare himself to a bee before. So folksy! But it really loses its punch when you're not slamming scientists with it. Electing this guy would surely do wonders for future scientific research.

The myth dates back to some aerodynamics expert who calculated that apian flight did not follow the principles of lift used to design man-made air vehicles. Some biologist jumped all over this. And it caught on. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that other principles must explain this phenomenon, but at the time those principles were not obvious, and were not the same ones in use for man-made flying machines.

Quoting this myth is a win-win for anyone trying to gain votes from ignorant, superstitious folks. It sounds wise, and the kind of people this appeals to are unlikely to look it up, and likely to believe things uncritically. Let's encourage more of that!

Don't Click That Link

This falls into the "I understand the motivation, but I'm still annoyed" bin. I was researching embroidered patches for my messenger bag last night. I was using Google to search for patches and was not really successful in seeing a lot of stock patches I liked. Instead lots of custom patch companies were coming up.

When you do a Google search you get search results and you get pay-per-click ads. I check out both. But since the pay-per-click ads get charged every time I click one, that costs the company money. I don't keep track of the links I click, so I ended up looking at one of the companies more than once.

The website threw a window up warning me that because I had clicked repeatedly, it was costing them money to look at their website. They recommended I bookmark the thing if I was planning on returning. And they added, ominously, "we have your IP address on file."

Er, what?

Is this how you encourage new customers, by telling them to change their surfing habits and creeping them out? I wouldn't have minded a note on the site asking me to bookmark it, but they went over the top with the Big Brother shtick. I'm sorry if their advertising is costing them money, but nothing tells me "I don't want you to shop here" faster than treating me like I'm committing click fraud when I'm just trying to find some cool patches. Bad internets!
Posted by James at 8:39 AM | Comments (8)

December 2, 2007

Keri is a Mom!

No details other than Mom and son are happy and healthy. Congrats to Keri and Ed!

Posted by James at 3:23 PM | Comments (1)