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Clarity, Brevity, Wit

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9th March 2009

10:36am: My kind of naval encounter
From NBC:

A senior defense official confirms that five Chinese ships "aggressively maneuvered" and shadowed a U.S. Navy surveillance ship yesterday.

The Chinese vessels moved into "dangerous proximity" to the USNS Impeccable, "in an apparent coordinated effort to harass the U.S. ocean surveillance ship," which was operating on a routine mission in international waters, the senior defense official says.

A written statement from the U.S. Defense Department says the Chinese vessels surrounded the USNS Impeccable, and that two of them closed in to within 50 feet and began waving Chinese flags and telling the U.S. ship to leave the area.

Unaware of the Chinese ships' intentions, the USNS Impeccable sprayed its fire hoses at one of the vessels to defend itself. Chinese crewmembers "disrobed" to their underwear, and continued to move closer, coming within 25 feet of the USNS Impeccable, officials said.


So am I reading this right? We had a water fight with China?

19th February 2009

10:23am: Larry Wilmore
I very much enjoyed this podcast - Wilmore is interesting, and has had quite a career.

A Conversation with Larry Wilmore
from KERA's Think
[2009-02-18 13:00:00] How does the Daily Show's "senior black correspondent" view the Obama election and other significant events of the New Year? We'll talk this hour with humorist Larry Wilmore whose new book is "I'd Rather We Got Casinos, and Other Black Thoughts" (Hyperion, 2009).

You can listen here:


(right-click/save as) to download.

1st January 2009

1:57pm: Calculus
Somewhere in the dusty catacombs of my college transcripts are two attempts at passing Calculus. Both attempts ended in W - withdrawal. In my bedroom at home I still have the textbook - saved as reminder of my failure to grasp the subject sufficiently well to pass the course.

This was not the first failure of my academic life, but it was the one that cut me to the quick. I believed I was on my way to becoming a math teacher - presumably a high school math teacher. I had always enjoyed (and excelled) in math and for those few of my friends who would occasionally struggle I was an effective tutor. As arrogant as it sounds, the first time I took Calculus I was incredulous that I didn't catch on. It took me until "the last day to drop" before I was willing to accept the fact and submit the paperwork to withdraw.

On my second try I was more determined to succeed. I don't recall how long it took me to realize that attempt number two was headed for the same conclusion, but I'm quite certain it was well before "the last day to drop". When the semester ended and I sold back the rest of my textbooks but I kept the Calculus text - along with a promise to myself that one day I would pass Calculus I. I've kept the book all these years and last month, when I received "Understanding the Universe" from The Teaching Company as a gift from my wife, I first began to entertain the notion of revisiting Calculus. Consulting www.teach12.com I found "Change and Motion: Calculus Made Clear".

The box arrived yesterday. The course is taught by Dr Michael Starbird of UT Austin. I've just finished watching lecture one and I am thrilled. Like most introductory lectures, this one has presented an overview of the subject and the course content. But I'm quite enthused to hear Dr Starbird say the following:

It took humanity a long time to understand calculus even after it was invented. In fact, nobody understands calculus the first time they take it. I didn't understand calculus the first time I took it and among my friends who teach mathematics, they didn't understand calculus the first time they took it.

I am encouraged. On to lecture two: "Stop Sign Crime - The First Idea of Calculus - The Derivative".

19th December 2008

8:58am: I'm glad I'm not him
I've posted so rarely that I'll bet no one is reading but I'll post one last "I'm glad I'm not him" (at least for 2008).

Think Progress
The poll also asked people to describe Bush in a word. The top word that came to mind for 56 percent of respondents was “incompetent"

I know the President and his circle take heart in the final years of Harry Truman's presidency and the rebound his reputation had in his post-presidential years, and I'm not ready to say that can't happen for him too, but when you take the broad spectrum of his record (no wmd, 'mission accomplished', katrina, wall street failures and bailouts, and today's american auto industry 'rescue')it's hard to imagine any sizeable portion of the population coming around. Although he will have his library at SMU to convince us.

29th October 2008

3:25pm: water drop
It's been several days since we had rain here - we've got one of those high pressure systems that give us clear skies - but I just happened to notice this water drop on the leaf of a weed in the gravel walk in the company parking lot.
click to download a 1280x1024

11th September 2008

7:56am: The right tool for the job - Leaves in the rain gutter

And that's why you don't use a lawn chair as a stepstool.

21st August 2008

11:24am: Rain? In August? In TEXAS?!?!?!

Toadstools at 303 Harwell

19th August 2008

9:01am: "Cone of Silence"-gate
I have to say I find this issue borderline silly. In no particular order, my points are:

1) If I had been McCain or Obama I would have suggested whoever wins the coin toss allow the other to watch from the front row if he wanted to. The idea of a cone of silence was great on Get Smart (where it never worked, by the way), but for politics it's silly.

2) I've read that Rick Warren has said that the McCain was with the Secret Service the whole time and that's evidence he didn't listen in. Imagine for a moment that McCain WAS watching/listening - can you imagine some secret service man saying "Bad candidate! No cookie!"?? I don't think so.

3) In an email about another subject, MECS said: "there is so much wrong with McCain that this is one of the more minor things if he lied about it." I agree, and I can't imagine even absolute proof of his "cheating the cone" changing any votes. What kind of a person would say "Well I like him on national security, but I'm mad at him about immigration and now this cheating at Saddleback is just the straw that broke the camel's back"? Please.

4) Warren On CNN's Larry King Live: "There was a rumor going around that he watched the program on a monitor in the Green Room that we had him in. Well, there's only one problem with it. My staff ... disconnected that thing two days before it happened. So if they had happened to turn it on, it would have been all just static". Yeah, and everybody knows that McCain wouldn't be capable of reattaching a cable. I'm pretty sure my 82 year old mother would have been able debug that, and she doesn't have a campaign staff to assist her.

To quote my 3rd favorite fictional President (Andrew Shepherd): "We've got serious problems, and we need serious people." Come on people, let's stay out of the weeds and on the trail.

What's next? (to quote my favorite fictional president :)

17th August 2008

8:00pm: Encores
"But it's like trying to tell a stranger 'bout rock and roll"

Those words (from "Do You Believe In Magic?" by the Lovin' Spoonful) came into my head yesterday and have been bouncing around ever since. Finally tonight they came in for a landing, right smack on a memory from my UT-Austin days. As y'all remember I was there during the magic years, when Darrell Royal was still on campus, Earl Campbell was running over grown men on his way to a Heisman Trophy and the Armadillo World Headquarters and Scholz's Beer Garden were in their prime. It was enough distraction to drive an otherwise gifted young man to a solid 2.8 GPA.

I lived in the cheapest dormitory on campus, which meant I was surrounded by people for whom a dollar bill really meant something. And one night the group decided to go to the Armadillo to see some guy named Bruce Springsteen. Now I had never heard of this guy (this was way before he was on the cover of both Time and Newsweek ) but if my dorm friends were willing to part with the cover charge (a dollar) to see him I figured it would be worth it. And it was. I don't remember all the details about that night (I'm a firm believer in the old phrase "If you can remember the seventies then you weren't doing them right") but I remember two things with crystal clarity: 1) he played for a LONG time; and 2) he did FOUR encores (the last one after the crowd continued yelling for 20 minutes after the house lights had been turned on and the road crew had already disassembled half the stuff on the stage). It was without a doubt the most phenomenal live event I ever attended - the energy that guy put out on stage and got out of that audience was unbelievable.

That was the night that I learned what rock and roll was all about.

6th August 2008

11:35am: Listen to this....
I recommend this podcast.

Do the United States' counter-terrorism efforts - both at home and abroad - actually pose a greater threat to our own country than to the terrorists at which they're aimed? Our guest this hour is New Yorker staff writer Jane Mayer. Her new book is "The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals" (Doubleday, 2008).
9:21am: August in Texas
You expatriated Texans have missed out on one heck of a heatwave, but it's broken in the last 12 hours. It's so pleasant this morning on the drive in I had to turn the A/C from MAXIMUM to NORMAL, and before I got to the office I had turned the fan all the way down to the lowest setting.

It's like OCTOBER!!!

1st August 2008

9:51am: Another example of why I stopped shopping at Wal-Mart
Wal-Mart Warns of Democratic Win
August 1, 2008; Page A1

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is mobilizing its store managers and department supervisors around the country to warn that if Democrats win power in November, they'll likely change federal law to make it easier for workers to unionize companies -- including Wal-Mart.

read more here.

But to be very clear....I don't have any problem with Wal-Mart being against the legislation. Telling workers that electing Democrats EQUALS passage of the legislation is another matter, imho.

31st July 2008

4:49pm: The Beatles and harmony
Listening to music using earbuds is interesting to me, because the separation between stereo channels is - shall I say extreme? Well defined, at least.

I was surprised this afternoon when the Beatles' "If I Fell" popped up on the playlist (I was in the computer room boxing up parts for return shipment). With the well-defined channel separation I noticed for the first time that, while John sings the lead on the first verse, when Paul and George join him for the second verse, Paul is singing the lead and John sings harmony. I'd never noticed that before.

I have listened to Jim Croce songs since he first hit it big while I was in college, but it wasn't until I was listening with earbuds recently that I appreciated the 'back and forth' of the two guitarists (I assume it was Croce and Maury Mulheisen, but I don't know that for sure). It surprises me when I notice something in a song I've heard hundreds (thousands?) of times.

30th July 2008

2:56pm: Video: Electing a US President...in Plain English
I'm a huge fan of the website common craft. I have no doubt that all the reader(s) of this blog understand how the presidential election works, but I think you'll still enjoy watching this video Electing a US President...in Plain English

28th July 2008

12:03pm: Play Nice
If you have a child (or if you have a parent) - you will enjoy this.

27th July 2008

3:11pm: Meet The Press after Tim Russert
I haven't been able to put my finger on it until today...but this show really misses Tim Russert, and here's how:

1) regardless of how tough the questioning Russert gave, there was an underlying respect that came through. I felt last week that Brokaw was borderline disrespectful of Al Gore, who, while still in the arena, isn't running for anything this year. Several times today as he quizzed Obama I saw that challenging, interrupting style as perfectly appropriate, and by comparison it made last week's grilling all the more out of place, at least to me.
2) Russert really enjoyed his job....and it appears to me that Brokaw is not enjoying it. Part of that may be that he's still feeling the loss of his friend. But I miss the joy I saw when Tim did the job.
3) Related to number 1 above, but different, I think, is how TR chose to end each segment. No matter how contentious or intense, when the interview came to a close Russert would bring in some personal matter or reference and allow the subject to go out with a smile on their face. And when he would say some variant of "Be safe on the campaign trail" or "Be safe in your travels to Iraq" or whatever, it had a sincerity to it that resonated.

I hope NBC can find another Russert to take over the show after the election. It's becoming more clear to me how tough a job that will be.

24th July 2008

4:11pm: Songs that make you sing along
I don't think much of my singing voice (my Dad had a great voice, I always thought) so I try hard to limit the chances people have to hear me sing out loud. Sometimes a song makes me sing along. If I'm mowing the grass and "New York State of Mind" comes up on the ipod, by the time the third verse repeats:

It was so easy living day by day
Out of touch with the rhythm and the blues,
But now I need a little give and take,
The new york times, the daily news...

I almost always sing aloud (CBF informed me the other day that she could hear me over the sound of the mower...from inside the house!).

I was sitting at my desk working on some project documentation and I was surprised when "Then Came Lo Mein" by Robert Earl Keen had the same effect on me. My cubicle neighbors were even more surprised!

So gentle readers, are there songs that make you sing along?

23rd July 2008

3:59pm: Blogging from the itouch
I am sitting at the library using an iPod touch and the library's wifi to post this.

I wouldn't want to write a novel this way, but it is not as bad as I thought it would be.

22nd July 2008

12:08pm: Morale
A quote from Pixar's Brad Bird:

"In my experience, the thing that has the most significant impact on a movie's budget -- but never shows up in a budget -- is morale. If you have low morale, for every $1 you spend, you get about 25 cents of value. If you have high morale, for every $1 you spend, you get about $3 of value. Companies should pay much more attention to morale."

I agree with this. And I think whoever wins the presidency this November will be better for our country's morale than the current occupant. (Oops, that's dangerously close to an "I'm glad I'm not him" post...sorry!)

20th July 2008

12:43pm: A Walk In The Woods
I had a thoroughly enjoyable time reading "A Walk In The Woods" by Bill Bryson. I started it earlier this month and it's due back at the Coppell Library later today. As I was finishing it a while ago I actually stopped when I knew I only had 10 pages left and distracted myself for a few minutes as I did not want it to end.

Once upon a time my son thanked me for introducing him to the work of Robert Heinlein. That favor is well and truly repaid as he introduced me to Bill Bryson.

19th July 2008

12:03pm: Podcasts of interest...
I've added a few podcasts to my itunes subscriptions lately that I'm ready to recommend:

1) Just The Facts - from the good people at http://www.factcheck.org/ this is a once a week video podcast that does a good job of showing the liberties that both campaigns take with the facts.

2) Future Tense - from American Public Media. The website is http://www.publicradio.org/columns/futuretense/ and I have to admit the only reason I know about this podcast is that APM messed up the feed for "The Writer's Almanac". After hearing a few episodes I subbed and it's been worthwhile.

3) I, Cringely - http://www.pbs.org/cringely/ - I hesitate to recommend anything with Robert X. Cringely, as he irritates me as often as he entertains me, but when I said that to someone in Cupertino this week they said they felt the same way about ME, so there you go.

4) You Look Nice Today - http://youlooknicetoday.com/ - hosted by (among others) Merlin Mann of 43 Folders. I thank Leo Laporte and TWIT for introducing me to Merlin and while YLNT isn't for everyone, I find it entertaining.

5) Buzz Out Loud - http://reviews.cnet.com/buzz-out-loud-podcast/ - This daily podcast covers tech news.

6) Moblogic - http://www.moblogic.tv/ - I came to this simply because it's Lindsay Campbell's project after she left Wallstrip. Here's what they say: MobLogic is a running conversation about the news that affects you and a reality check on mainstream media.

Now in the interest of "there are only so many hours in a day", here are some podcasts that I'm seriously considering un-subbing....

1) Security Now - http://www.grc.com/securitynow.htm - this podcast publishes a transcript of each episode and I find that a much better way to take in the information.

2) Macbreak Weekly ( http://twit.tv/mbw) / Windows Weekly (http://twit.tv/ww ) - I go back and forth on whether to continue to listen to both of these. During the iPhone 2.0 release they both covered a lot of the same ground. I'm going to listen to the first 10 minutes of both episodes for the next few weeks and then drop one or both.

3) The Apple Phone Show - http://www.applephoneshow.com/ - I put Andy Ihnatko in the same category as Cringely....but somehow I can handle a few minutes of Cringely once a week and I'm finding Andy harder to take.

4) This Week in Photography - http://twipphoto.com/ - I've been considering getting back into photography as hobby and this podcast was my way of sampling the hobby without spending any money. I may drop it because the last few episodes there's been too much giggling. I'm all for people having a good time (as the guys on "You Look Nice Today" do) but there's a limit and these guys have crossed it imho. Laporte on the TWIT network laughs a little too much for my tastes but how can you listen to tech podcasts and NOT hear Leo.

5) Tech 5 - http://tech5.mevio.com/ - Dvorak irritates me MORE than he entertains me, and when he happens to mention something I actually know about he's wrong more than he's right.

6) No Agenda - http://noagenda.mevio.com/ - Dvorak and Adam Curry talk with no agenda. I might keep this one once I've detoxed from Dvorak.

Now you'll notice that I included links for those I'm dropping as well as though I'm recommending. I do that as a sign of my own confidence and security :)

17th July 2008

4:34pm: Wouldn't you think this would be worth waking somebody up to see?
I'm listening to WNYC's Radio Lab the other night (great show as I've said before), and the opening section talks about fireflies. I'd heard before that there are parts of the world where the fireflies will blink in unison. So RadioLab tells the story of fire-flyologists John and Elizabeth Buck, who first saw this happen in 1965 and in telling the story they say "No Westerner had ever seen this before". Cool! The Bucks went to Thailand, capture bags full of fireflies, brought them back to their hotel room and turned off the lights. Elizabeth was tired so she went to sleep. Slowly groups of two or three fireflies start to synchronize their flashes. And before long, the whole room full of fireflies in blinking in unison. And in the report Elizabeth says "The next morning, John told me about it".

Can you believe that this guy sees something so miraculous - that no westerner had ever seen - and doesn't wake up his wife?

"Honey, more coffee?"
"Yes, please. By the way, I saw something miraculous last night after you fell asleep. Something no westerner had ever seen before. Is there any cream?"

16th July 2008

9:09am: Twenty-six
Today is our 26th anniversary. That's a long time to do anything, much less live with me.

"All that's left is loving you forever"

15th July 2008

11:41am: I'm glad I'm not him.
Yes, it's been two weeks since I blogged. I blame the summer doldrums, although I haven't had a formal diagnosis yet.

Anyhoo - "I'm glad I'm not him" always gets my juices going. Today the President had a press conference, which the wonkette liveblogged, including this observation:

This is a portrait of a man slowly losing what’s left of his mind after eight years of exhaustion and failure.

and this:

High gas prices and the mortgage meltdown are blamed on Democrats’ failure to act. Oh goodness. The older he gets, the more he looks like his mom: a tired, angry old scold, with a mean face.

But it's really not fair to NOT include an actual quote from 43...so here:

"I readily concede that (expanded offshore drilling) it's not going to produce a barrel of oil tomorrow, but it is going to change the psychology that, you know, demand will constantly outstrip supply,"

Now that's an energy policy!

I'm glad I'm not him.

30th June 2008

11:18pm: Has it really been 3 weeks?
Has it really been 3 weeks since I've blogged? I should have more to say that just this:

This podcast is really fascinating. A description:
from NPR: Fresh Air - After a Stroke, a Scientist Studies Herself

Neurological researcher Jill Bolte Taylor suffered a stroke 12 years ago. While the damage caused by a stroke is often devastating, Taylor was able to make a complete recovery after becoming her own experimental subject.
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