Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Joy of DSL

Well, since I got DSL several weeks ago, I find myself able to do all sorts of high-speed things on the Internet which would've been impossible or at least interminably protracted over a dialup connection.

Following are just a few of the things I've been messing around with lately...

The Csangos of Eastern Europe

In the current issue of National Geographic there's a fascinating article on the Csángó people, who live in two regions in Romania and a portion of Moldova. Their mother tongue is an archaic dialect of Hungarian, and in other ways too the Csángós are the people that time forgot. Many aspects of their culture derive less from Europe than from Central Asia.

National Geographic also has on its website some interesting multimedia material about the Csángós, including an audiovisual piece to go along with the magazine article; and several Csángó folk songs, some of them sounding very much like something from out there on the windswept Asian steppes.

Free and Legal MP3 Downloads!

I stumbled across this site, Epitonic.com, which offers a wide variety of MP3s for free download. I don't even want to think how many hundreds of megabytes I downloaded from this site yesterday.

Somehow I got into downloading trance music. Not that I pretend to know anything about trance music! Downloaded only a fraction of what they had available. What I found myself drawn to was stuff that sounded like a hard-driving, percussive, almost tribal version of the Beatles' Revolution 9. Now all I've got to do is resist the temptation to order every CD offered for sale by Ceiba Records...

Also found tons of free MP3 downloads on Download.com, but only a few of them were keepers. Whereas the stuff on Epitonic.com was almost uniformly of high caliber.


Man Summons UFO

Okay, can somebody please tell me what's happening in this videoclip from a local TV news program out in Las Vegas?

I've seen this story reported on several sites out there, none of them any too reputable.

Seems this dude out in Vegas, who calls himself Prophet Yahweh, claims that years of studying the Hebrew of the Old Testament have taught him how to summon UFOs at will. So this Las Vegas TV station sent out a reporter and cameraman to interview Prophet Yahweh, at a date, time, and place of the TV station's own choosing. They were hoping, I suspect, for a comedy-relief chuckle on the local evening news.

What happened instead was quite different, and quite uncanny. The man summoned a UFO, and the UFO came. On camera. The flustered reaction of the local "happy talk" news crew is priceless. View the videoclip for yourself. I almost expected it to segue into the opening credits of The X-Files.

Now can somebody please tell me what really happened here? Was this a cleverly engineered hoax, or what? Or should we be phoning Agents Mulder and Scully? ;-)

Update: My brother informs me overnight by e-mail that Prophet Yahweh was a guest last night on Coast to Coast AM with George Noory. Figures...

Monday, May 30, 2005

Memorial Day

As we observe Memorial Day 2005, here's an excerpt from the Memorial Day address which I delivered at the community observance in New Albin, Iowa, three years ago on Memorial Day 2002:

Memorial Day eventually became a day to remember solders who had died in all of America's wars, from the American Revolution onward. Our ancestors came to this land in search of liberty— the liberty to worship God according to the leadings of their conscience, the liberty to live as free citizens. But as President Thomas Jefferson once put it, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."

"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants." I wonder whether, in the closing years of the twentieth century, many of us perhaps came to take that liberty for granted. God has smiled on our land. We live in liberty. We live in plenty. And in the closing years of the twentieth century, it seemed that our lives would go along like that forever.

True, on Memorial Day we remembered those who had fallen in World War II, fighting to preserve civilization and freedom against Hitler and Hirohito. But the Axis was smashed, and Nazism was relegated to the history books.

And on Memorial Day we commemorated those who had fallen in Korea and Vietnam, fighting to hold the line against Communism. The Marxist vision of the future was a vision of a world without God, a world without individual freedom, a world where everything is subordinated to the dictatorship of the proletariat... But then, in a turn of events we had not foreseen, Communism collapsed under its own dead weight, the Berlin Wall came down, the Soviet Union went out of business. Marxism ended up in the dustbin of history.

And so, in those closing years of the twentieth century, perhaps we came to take our liberty for granted, forgetting that "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."

Then came the events of September 11. I'm sure each of us will never forget where we were, when we heard the terrible news on September 11, 2001. Just as those of us who are older will never forget where we were when we heard the news on November 22, 1963, or on December 7, 1941.

We heard the terrible news of passenger jets hijacked by terrorists. Two jets, smashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York. A jet, smashed right into the Pentagon. Another jet, crashed in a field in Pennsylvania— as we later learned, its own passengers heroically sacrificed themselves so that the jet would not strike its intended target in Washington.

We thought, it can't happen here. But it did. For the first time in living memory— for the first time since the Civil War— acts of war directed against these United States, taking place right here on the American mainland. Thousands of innocent Americans, murdered in cold blood on American soil, by Muslim terrorists whose avowed goal is to destroy our country and our way of life.

Whoever would have imagined, on Memorial Day only one year ago, that within the year we would find ourselves living once again in a world where America is at war to defend that "tree of liberty [which] must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants"?

"With the blood of patriots"— that means our military, in Afghanistan and other far flung corners of the earth. "With the blood of patriots"— that means New York City police and firemen. "With the blood of patriots"— that means ordinary Americans like Todd Beamer who said, "Are you guys ready? Let's roll!", before he and other passengers went forward to take on the terrorists on United Airlines Flight 93 which went down in Pennsylvania.

"With the blood of patriots!"

In 1865, with the end of the Civil War in sight, Abraham Lincoln delivered his Second Inaugural Address in Washington. His words seem strangely to bear on the world in which we find ourselves living, post-September 11:
The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself; and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.
Lincoln went on to speak of how, four years earlier, at the time of his first inaugural address, insurgent agents were in the city of Washington, "seeking to destroy it without war— seeking to dissolve the Union." One nation, divided into two factions: "one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came."

That is the world in which we find ourselves living today. "They would make war rather than let this nation survive; and we would accept war rather than let it perish." And on September 11, the war came.

But you may also remember how Lincoln's Second Inaugural closes. You've heard these words, even if maybe you didn't know where they came from, and they too bear on our situation today:
With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and for his orphan— to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Summer Book Reading

The other day Grand Moff Trojan was asking me if I had any suggestions for summer books. Because the summer season is upon us— according to my calendration, summer starts either June 1 or Memorial Day weekend. And some of us work a schedule that keeps us too busy to read much during "the year"— for me, that means roughly from Labor Day till some time into May.

I happen to live in a big old house on a gravel road way out into the countryside, and my books fill two entire rooms in my house, plus the upstairs hallway, plus several other bookcases scattered about. Here, off my bookshelves, are just some of the books that I have read and enjoyed, or would like to read again, or may actually (re)read this summer, or think you might enjoy:

Books to expand your mind:
Jacques Barzun, The House of Intellect
Daniel Boorstin, The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America
Eric Hoffer, The True Believer
John Carroll, Humanism: The Wreck of Western Culture

Books to expand your consciousness:
Gregory Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind
Richard Brautigan, In Watermelon Sugar
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Theory of Colours

Linus Torvalds, as told to David Diamond: Just for Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary
George Santayana, Persons and Places; The Middle Span; My Host the World

Science fiction:
Robert Heinlein, Citizen of the Galaxy
James Blish, Jack of Eagles (an earlier, shorter version was entitled Let the Finder Beware ;-)
Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle
John Brunner, Stand on Zanzibar

Lumber rooms of the mind:
Dylan Thomas, The Poems of Dylan Thomas
Jack Kerouac, Book of Dreams


Thursday, May 26, 2005

Caltechgirl, Ph.D.

Woohoo! Caltechgirl has done it! Congratulations!!!

The OTHER New Star Wars Movie

Well, within this past week I got to see TWO new Star Wars movies.

First of all, last Thursday, I went to the theater and got to see Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Enjoyed it immensely, almost more than I can put into words.

I mean, look, I can still remember going to the theater and watching the very first Star Wars movie back in the 1970s. And I've seen every one of them since, and enjoyed all six of them. (Well, except for Jar Jar: even I have my limits.) I'd never make a movie critic: there are simply too many things in this world that I honestly like and enjoy.

Anyhow, this past week when it comes to Star Wars I've been feeling elated, but at the same time a bit like a smoker fresh out of cigarettes. You know, last movie, no more to come, get twitchy, start digging through the pockets of old mothballed overcoats in search of my next cig?

So imagine my joy when I ran across... yet ANOTHER new Star Wars movie I've never seen before! That makes TWO new Star Wars movies for me in the past week!

You know, the OTHER new Star Wars movie that's come out just recently? No, seriously, I'm not making this up.

I'm talking about Star Wars: Revelations, which I discovered online Tuesday night. And downloaded. (Thank God for DSL, it's around a quarter of a gigabyte.) And have been watching, again and again and again.

Yes, Revelations is the OTHER new Star Wars movie that's come out recently. It's a 40-minute movie produced by Star Wars fans, with the blessing of George Lucas. And here's what blew me away: it damn well looks like a professional production. It cost only $20,000 to make, and it damn well looks like you're watching the seventh Star Wars movie.

The Republic is no more. The Empire is tightening its grip on the galaxy. And fugitive Jedi Taryn Anwar finds herself drawn into the intrigue surrounding an ancient artifact, which holds within it the key to the destiny, or doom, of the remaining Jedi.

If you'd asked me, I might've been marginally aware that there are Star Wars "fan movies" out there. What I didn't expect was how damn professional Revelations is. I guess nowadays you can do almost anything, special-effects-wise, on a computer. Plus they recruited a small army of geeks and Star Wars fans to volunteer and pitch in.

And the download is free. Mirror sites all over, though a lot of them are getting hammered. Movie is available in both Windows Media Player (.WMV) and QuickTime (.MOV) format. Go for the "large" version, it's only another 30 megs. And go for the Windows Media format, if you can find a mirror carrying it that's still up: I downloaded both formats, and I can testify that the sound and picture are significantly better in the Windows Media version (the "large" .WMV even looks good in fullscreen).

Talk about bolt-out-of-the-blue serendipity! I got to see not just one but TWO new Star Wars movies this past week...

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Badger Badger Badger Badger Badger

This is no doubt the greatest flash video about badgers, mushrooms, and snakes that I've ever seen.


Tomorrow It Is

Tomorrow morning Caltechgirl will be defending her thesis.

Having been through this procedure myself some years back, up the road from Chapel Hill at Duke, I can definitely say it's an unforgettable experience. I can still remember how the philosophy professor on my committee asked me under what conditions the philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce might have considered an idea to be ultimately mistaken. ("Ultimate" here meaning "in an infinite long run of interpretation.") Follow-up question: Under a Peircean approach, would interpretations of ideas in aesthetics or ethics necessarily converge over the long run?

Ah yes, defending your thesis, it's quite the experience. Best wishes, blogmom! I'll be thinking of you! :-)

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Harry Potter, Eat Your Heart Out!

magic wand
Some of the young folks around here are very much into Harry Potter. A bunch of us went over to Prairie du Chien to see the new Harry Potter movie last summer, and then one of the kids lent me videotapes of the first two films. This led to me reading— well, okay, extensively browsing through— the first Harry Potter book. Which, actually my brother has given me all the series in print so far for Christmas these past two years. I'm getting to 'em, in my own way and at my own pace: with a schedule like mine, if I find time to read anything cover to cover, it's usually during the summer months, which are now coming up toward us.

Anyhow. One of the kids around here had a catalog with all sorts of Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter merchandise in it. I rather shuddered at the thought of buying a genuine 18K gold replica of the One Ring. But they did have a very nice reproduction of Harry Potter's magic wand for sale. There was a website associated with the catalog; I went to it and looked around, then started Googling for magic wands.

I ended up ordering the magic wand up above, from an outfit known as Whirlwood Magical Wands. Somebody out there is making a very nice living, cashing in on the current Potter craze and selling magic wands which come in dozens of different styles, choose the wand that best fits your temperament. My wand isn't like Harry's, but in fact I like it even better. It's called the Poetrell: hand-turned, made of maplewood, with a black walnut finish. Site says it's 16½" long, mine actually measures 17½". This wand positively exudes the aura of fine antique furniture from 18th century Europe: somehow, I can just imagine Mozart wielding it in a magical duel with Salieri. ;-)

At $62, the Poetrell ain't cheap; but to my mind, it's worth it. That's Whirlwood Magical Wands. Another nice magic wand site, even more overtly Potteresque, is Alivan's. (Gee, is that anything like "Ollivander's"?!)

Next item of business: where can I find myself a nice Jedi light saber? :-)


Saturday, May 21, 2005

Betterer or Worser? Mark II

My friend Dean Esmay has posted a follow-up piece on the question, "Is life getting better than it used to be? Or is life getting worse than it used to be?" He's restricting comments to those in their 70s and on up— presumably, those who'd be old enough to have some useful historical parallax on the matter. I see so far the young'uns aren't respecting Dean's age limit, but let it never be said that I am one to thoughtlessly break rules!

(When I break a rule, I almost always break it thoughtfully and quite deliberately.)

My personal reaction to Dean's thesis as initially stated was that it is so broad as to be almost meaningless: I mean, is life getting better or worse?— how do you answer such a question meaningfully, without writing a book?

Now his follow-up post provides a list of test questions, and immediately a light bulb goes on over my head: I'm not on the upward side of 70, but I am within hailing distance of 50. Which puts me only 10 years older than Mr. Esmay, but nonetheless on the far side from him of that great cultural revolution known as the late 1960s. Now I see where he's coming from, and given the cultural gap between us, it's simply not where I'd ever be coming from.

First, specific replies to some of Dean's questions. Then, some more general thoughts.

1) When you were young, did you ever know of kids who dropped out of school at age 12 or 13 to get jobs?

In my generation, it was kids at age 16, and not so very many of those: about 90% of my high school class graduated. Nonetheless, today's common notion of a high school or college diploma as a talismanic prerequisite for an entry-level job simply was not in the air back in those days. Yes, by dropping out of high school you were probably limiting your career choices somewhat. Probably. Somewhat. But in those days practical experience and hard work were still regarded in many jobs as a more than adequate substitute for a diploma.

2) To the best of your memory, how common was it for infants to die back when you were a kid?

It happened; uncommonly, but it was hardly unheard of. Nonetheless, there was not in those days the sense there is today that we are somehow entitled to be insulated from the rigors of life and death.

3) Health insurance: did you have that growing up?

Yes. Though health care was much, much more affordable in those days, so that health insurance was not at all the overshadowing factor that it is today. At age 7 I underwent surgery and spent five days in the hospital: total hospital bill, less than $500— that is, less than my dad's monthly paycheck. This was the kind of eventuality for which a prudent family could budget, insurance or no.

4) When you were young, did you know anyone who didn't have indoor plumbing?

Not right then, in the small town in southern Wisconsin where I grew up. But I knew it had been not uncommon in the recent past. My dad grew up in the city: the Burgesses had been city dwellers since about 1880. But my mom grew up on a farm, and her family had had neither indoor plumbing nor electricity nor running water up through the earlier part of her childhood. Hearing stories of her childhood, I grew up not taking these blessings for granted, or as an entitlement, as is so often the case today.

7) Do you remember a time when shoes were something of a luxury for kids?

No, we always had new store-boughten shoes; but these were among the few clothing items I had growing up, which were not home-made or hand-me-downs. Our clothes were serviceable, but by today's media-hyped designer standards utterly unfashionable: we never knew the difference, and we took patched knees and elbows on our everyday clothing for granted.

8) When you were young, did you ever know an adult who could not read a newspaper?

Not first hand, but second hand. The few people in those days who couldn't read were often stone-cold illiterate. Functional illiteracy, as is widespread today, existed back then, but it was relatively uncommon. Some adults could read better than others, but most adults back then could read at a level that would put many younger adults today to shame. And newspapers and magazines back then were written for a much higher grade level, as could easily be measured by the "Fog Index."

12) You didn't hear much swearing on radio or movies when you were young—but despite that, when you were young did you know many people who swore a lot?

I heard people swearing. But it was not done openly in respectable society. Period. Not that I today would lose any sleep over it.

13) Did you ever see legal segregation firsthand? Can you tell me about it?

Growing up in Wisconsin, I of course saw no de jure segregation. There was a certain amount of racial prejudice about, though less than you might guess; nonetheless, what prejudice there was, was often expressed quite openly and quite shamelessly.

14) I recently had a young man tell me that back in the 1950s, a plumber could easily afford to buy a new home and, with his wife a full-time housewife, put all his kids through college. Does that match your recollection of what life was like 50 years ago?

Not as many people went to college, because as I already remarked, a college degree back then was not regarded as a talismanic prerequisite. Both my parents were college graduates, but in those days that was certainly not the norm.

Thus the plumber's 3 or 4 or 5 kids would probably not (except perhaps for the brightest one or two of them) have gone on to college. Apart from that, the picture of the plumber and his family rings true. A house was a major purchase, and it was beyond some families; but for most of my neighbors growing up, housing was far less expensive than it is today. A house was a major purchase, no doubt, but it was not at all the crippling double-income sentence of indenturement which it has become today.

My mother was a full-time housewife. The mothers of two out of my three closest friends in school worked outside the home: this was hardly as unheard-of in those days as some since have tried to portray it. But many if not most of the families I knew were single-income, and most or all of them enjoyed a solid middle-class existence on one income.

14) I recently had a young person tell me that in the great World War II, and the Korean War, young people were much braver and more patriotic than they are today. Do you think that's a fair assessment of what life was like 55 years ago?

I know plenty of young people today who are both patriotic and brave. But certainly the level of patriotism when I was young was at least as high, and probably higher. And it was far easier back then: there was a higher level of social support for it. At least until the late 60s, one could be openly patriotic almost anywhere without fear of mockery or contempt.


Dean's questions are incisive, but they are definitely the questions of one who is not quite old enough to remember first-hand what the culture of the antediluvium was like. We live today in something of a "Nerf-ball world," insulated and cosseted from hard realities which until recent generations were taken for granted, and which were endured stoically, because for most or all of us there was no alternative.

(Of course when I say "we," I'm talking about the small-town middle-class Midwestern United States, which is where I've spent most of my life. YMMV)

We also live today in a world which is materially richer, and in which people tend to have far more "things" than their counterparts had 40 or 50 years ago. And Dean's questions reflect that shift. In 1965 we did not take videocams, and iPods, and VCRs, and microwaves, and home computers, and satellite TV, and two-car garages, and designer clothing for 8-year-olds, and eating out three times a week, for granted. Dean's questions seem tacitly to assume that all this is not only the norm, but unquestionably a change for the better. Having reached my early adolescence by the time the Deluge hit, I don't find this tacit assumption at all obvious, and I can't really go along with it unquestioningly.

I mean, look, I love a nifty high-tech gadget as much as the next person. I'm thankful for contemporary advances in medical care. And I too have acquired my share of "things" (though less than ten years ago my "nonjettisonable" material possessions, above and beyond my books, could still have been fit within the space underneath a kitchen table). But is every further Mammonward step really an automatic escalator step forward and upward? Are materialism, and the tide of ever-rising expectations, really beyond question? And does man truly live by bread alone?

I say no.

I say no— not merely because Dean is being a dewy-eyed liberal, and I'm being a hard-nosed conservative. Not merely because Dean is an atheist and I'm one of them pesky Christians. And not merely because Dean is a self-avowed "materialistic rationalist"; whereas I maintain, along with the broader spectrum of 2500 years of Western culture, that even on a purely this-worldly level, rationalism systemically blinds us to much of what is real in the world around us. No, I think the real gap on this issue between my friend Dean and myself... is simply that I'm old enough to remember back beyond one more massive shift in our culture than he is.

Is life today getting better than it used to be? Or is it getting worse?

I dunno, in part I think if that question's going to be meaningful, it has to be disaggregated and broken down into smaller, more concrete questions. As Dean has done. Only, child of the mid-century that I am, and having been born on the far side of a cultural divide as I was, I wouldn't even ask the same set of questions that Dean has asked.

Chalk it up to ten years' difference in historical parallax.


What a Body Isn't Obliged to Do

I think it was Mark Twain who said that work is what a body is obliged to do, and play is what a body is not obliged to do. By that yardstick, I definitely have not been working this past week while I've been on vacation.

Out to the restaurant with family. Puttering around. Just plain laying around. (In my dialect of Midwestern American English, if you please, that's "laying around" and not "lying around.") Today I'm not really planning to do much of anything. Just vegetate. Likewise tomorrow morning. Tomorrow afternoon I'll be heading home: one of our high school seniors at St. John's has a graduation party Sunday evening, and I want to be there.

Then Monday is my day off, so I can ease gradually back into the pace of everyday life. Tuesday I get back to what I'm obliged to do.

But for the time being, I'm just floating and drifting. And not obliged to do a thing.

Betterer or Worser?

I see over on Dean's World there's been a debate over the question, "Is life getting better than it used to be? Or is life getting worse than it used to be?"

My answer: Yes. ;-)

Thursday, May 19, 2005


Well, today I went to the dentist for the first time in going on 20 years. First time since December 1986, to be precise.

Good news is, my teeth and gums are in unusually good shape for someone who hasn't had his teeth so much as cleaned since the middle of Ronald Reagan's second term in the White House. I'll need to have a few fillings replaced, but what the hey.

Bad news is, those teeth in back on the lower left are not so good. (Well, this I've known for years.) It looks like I'll need two crowns back there; and extract the remaining root tips from a third tooth which more or less spontaneously came out in two large chunks about two and a half years ago, with the promise of bridgework to come.

(Oh, do I remember when that tooth came out, two years ago last winter! Truly a season of counting the hours until I could take more aspirin...)

Irrelevant free-association detail: did you know I still have every tooth I ever lost as a kid? Along with every single silver dime the tooth fairy ever left me?

Must be something about me and teeth.

Three-Word Spoiler-Free Movie Review

And after the dentist, I went out and saw the new Star Wars movie. Here's my review, in exactly three words:

Go see it!
(Update: In comment #3, I realize I've posted a semi-quasi-spoiler. You'd have to scroll down to see it, but anyhow: semi-quasi-spoiler warning!)

Another Useless Geek Achievement

And of course I had to bring my IBM Think Pad along with me on vacation. Been tinkering with geek stuff. And last night I finally managed to get a Shogi program for Linux to compile successfully.

Okay, Shogi: that's Japanese chess, not to be confused with the not-quite-as-obscure-in-the-West game of Go. Here's a Go board:

Go board
And here's a Shogi board:

Shogi board
I've been into the game of Shogi, more or less, for thirty-odd years now. Long story— some other time.

Anyhow, I found a tarball which contained the source code for both gnushogi (the game-playing engine) and xshogi (the graphical front end). Downloaded it, and then the damn source code wouldn't compile. Searching through the error messages, however, I managed to dope out the problem. Went in and edited one line in one file. And abracadabra (Linux translate: "./configure, make, make install"), I have a working Shogi program for Linux.

What, you may ask, am I going to do with a Shogi program? Well, I'm the dude who once spent hundreds of hours writing up a program to play Jetan, alias Barsoomian Chess, from Edgar Rice Burroughs' novel, The Chessmen of Mars. (Available here, source code included.) You begin to get the picture. ;-)

Labels: ,

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Nine Questions

Some people hear music in their head. Well, I do too, but sometimes I hear odd forms of words instead.

I often find these tuneless snatches burbling up out of the depths of my mind, like late-night voices swelling up out of the static between stations on the radio dial. Or like The Beatles' Revolution 9. Usually they slip back into the submnemonic depths from whence they came, forgotten almost as soon as they are formed. But once in a while, when my mind is still, I manage to snag a few and hang onto them.

I'm on vacation this week. My mind is still. And what (if anything) any of this mental flotsam and jetsam may mean, I leave to you:

1. Q. How can it be that "is" is?
    A. "'Is' Is" Is.

2. Q. Is "is" is, or is "is" isn't?
    A. Definitely is.

3. Q. Do I have the whole pie?
    A. No, you haven't, but others may have: begrudge them that not.

4. Q. Can it all be said?
    A. Whereof one cannot blent, thereof one must be stegnant.

5. Q. Why is blue blue?
    A. Blue always comes fifth; better start with red, black, white, green.

6. Q. May I?
    A. If you need to ask, you dasn't.

7. Q. But what if I really, really want to?
    A. Already you're pretending that you're not angling for excuses.

8. Q. Why me?
    A. From half past ten till half past midnight, FIRE...

9. Q. Any question with no answer?
      Nine, nein, NINE.

Bonus geek points to the first person who can identify who my roving subconscious borrowed the answers to 4 and 8 from: no fair googling!


Sunday, May 15, 2005

On Holiday

Mr. Burgess will be on vacation this week (or as the British like to say, "on holiday"), so blogging will be light. Possibility of occasional pieces throughout the week.

Five Day Forecast:
  • Monday: Conked out and sleeping.

  • Tuesday: Visiting family.

  • Wednesday: 40% possibility of light blogging.

  • Thursday: Dentist, first visit since December 1986.

  • Friday: 30% chance of blogging in the morning, with decreasing chance of blogging throughout the afternoon.

There is also a 90% likelihood of seeing the new Star Wars movie some time in the latter part of the week.

Friday, May 13, 2005

My "One-Halfth" Blogiversary

Today it's six months— half a year— since I started blogging: since I quite accidentally acquired a blog, whilst registering to post a comment on Caltechgirl's blog.

So I'm posting something old and something new. "Something old" is my favorite piece from the early days of my blog, A Paranoid Apocalyptic Short Story. "Something new" is a piece on slide rules. Enjoy, and thanks to all of you who've been here, and all of you who've come on board, these past six months!

Slide Rules

Obi-Wan Kenobi somewhere refers to the light saber as "an elegant weapon from a more civilized time." Yeah, that's sort of how I feel about slide rules...

K&E 4081-3 front (detail)
   (Click on this and all pictures for a complete full-size view of the slide rule)

Understand, I was originally going to be a mathematician. In fact I spent three years as a teaching assistant in the math department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In those days I had a string of calculators, which were then a fairly new item. True, in high school we'd learned to use slide rules. But calculators had rendered slide rules obsolete... hadn't they?

It was only many years later that I began running across old slide rules at garage sales, at St. Vincent's, in antique malls. I still had an old circular Pickett from my high school days. I've accumulated a small but nice collection of about two dozen different slide rules.

My favorite is the Keuffel & Esser Log Log Duplex Decitrig, model 4081-3, from back around 1940. The 20 scales are machine ruled on celluloid, over a core of mahogany. The front of the 4081-3 is pictured above, and here's the back:

K&E 4081-3 back (detail)
I have this very slide rule sitting in its leather case on my desk, and I often use it in preference to a calculator. Hey, you can figure things on it just as fast as on a scientific calculator, and it doesn't need batteries.

It provides answers to only three significant figures, but in the real world, that's all the precision you need anyhow. Multiplication, division, reciprocals, square roots, cube roots, logarithms, sines, tangents, any powers or roots you want... a "slipstick" like my K&E Log Log Duplex Decitrig can work problems involving all these and more.

In fact, I must confess I'm something of a Selective Luddite™, and of that my slide rules are one sign. I know in the blogosphere it's fashionable to say, "I'm no Luddite!", as if to reassure everyone, with a slightly strained air: "Me okay! Me okay!"

Well, I don't particularly care whether I'm "okay" or not. Often "okay" simply means you've learned "good citizensheep." As for science and technology, I love them— only I aim, insofar as I can, to control their role in my life. Not to let them control me. And in particular not to let our cultural interpretations of science and technology control me.

I repeat, I love technology. But only if, in my judgment, that technology enriches my life. Only if, in my judgment, that technology adds to my convenience, or to my being in greater control of my life.

Technology which impoverishes my life— which makes my life more of a hassle— which ends up controlling me instead of me controlling it— technology like that, I'll do without, if I can at all get away with it.

And that's why I've got on my desk both a computer and a slide rule. And why I've so far avoided getting a cell phone; in fact, I only just barely tolerate telephones at all. (Idea for a science fiction story: somebody travels back in time, and strangles Alexander Graham Bell in his cradle.)

K&E 4081-3 front
But a slide rule is both physically and conceptually a thing of beauty. Physically, that solid mahogany, those finely machined scales... my slide rule, like I say, dates back to about 1940, and I suspect that to someone of that era, the stainless steel endpieces would stand out, too. I mean, that whole beautiful slide rule of mine is just so New York World's Fair...

Physically. And conceptually... conceptually you find yourself in close quarters with numbers and with mathematical functions when you're using a slide rule. You can do math by punching buttons on a calculator, without really understanding what you're doing. But to do math with a slide rule is to gain a deep acquaintance with math and with numbers.

A deep acquaintance with math and with numbers; and, if you will, with depths deeper than mere mathesis.

Observe, for instance, how numbers seem to us to be important, significant, "thick," with a weighting roughly proportional to their distribution on the LL3 scale of a slide rule. Each of the lower integers has its own very distinct "personality"— note how 2 appears lower down, on a scale of its own, and how 1 does not appear on any log-log scale at all, no matter how low you run— then the distinctiveness of the integers gradually shades off as you go higher, and gives way to the distinctiveness of decads and hektads and chiliads and myriads, each order of magnitude now of roughly the same weight as the entire order of magnitude preceding it. And, somewhere up around five, ten, twenty thousand, the numbers shade off into a vague multitude "as vast as the stars in the sky, as numerous as the sands of the seashore."

If numbers have weight, feel, the sort of heft which a good tool has when held in the hand— then this is roughly the distribution of their weighting. It looks very much like a logarithmic distribution, very much like the LL3 scale on a slide rule.

This is an insight which surely the ancient Pythagoreans would have appreciated. And, philosophical realist that I am, I cannot but feel that here is symbolized some deep objective truth about the numbers themselves— about Reality with a capital "R". But among moderns, as the poet and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge noted in his Biographia Literaria, there seems to be an unspoken agreement never to say anything this "deep" about the way things are.

K&E 4081-3 back
Still, you don't have to settle for "good citizensheep" and being "okay." Nor for Luddism plain and simple. No, you can stand on your own two feet, and be a Selective Luddite™. Don't let technology, or worse yet our facile cultural interpretations of science and technology, deaden your soul. Use and enjoy the fruits of science and technology, rejoice in them; only you use them, don't let them use you. Let them enhance and deepen your soul, not deaden it.

</hippie-dippie quasi-sixties rant> :-)

Someone has observed that one of the cool things about the slide rule is that the ancient Romans could have had slide rules, if only they'd had the concept of logarithms. This is true, though with Roman numerals a slide rule would still have been a difficult thing to conceptualize.

Easier to imagine is the idea of the ancient Mayans having had slide rules, with their positional number notation in base twenty, and the notion of zero. If only the Mayans had had logarithms... I can just imagine a Mayan slide rule, inlaid with jade, vigesimal, incised with curious Mayan hieroglyphics...

Labels: , ,

Paranoid Apocalyptic Short Story

He was sitting in the mountain hut he called his home, his mind focused to boil water for tea, when he heard the echoes of distant battle. When he diverted his attention from the water, it ceased boiling. Up here in the Cascade Mountains, southern Washington, 60 miles upriver from Portland, such sounds of battle could mean only one thing. Only one thing, and it was not good.

Now the man opened the door of his hut a crack. He glanced out over the Columbia River. Combat, all right. He counted at least eight flying pancakes weaving in the air above the river. Homeland Security, no doubt. They were firing down into the Gorge, firing on a position just downriver from Home Valley, not as far downriver as Carson and Stevenson. A surface-to-air missile lifted out of the Gorge toward one of the pancakes, went wide of its mark, spun off harmlessly toward the Oregon side.

The man stepped outside, walked shod in deerskin amidst the pines. Down a hundred yards toward the brink of the bluff. He felt outward gently with his mind, testing. Gently: a tripwire was unlikely, but not beyond the realm of possibility.

Up in the air, eight flying pancakes. Down there on Highway 14, along the Washington side of the River, a band of local boys. They had armored vehicles, they had ordnance, salted away no doubt back in the waning years of the last century. But they were outmanned and outgunned.

The man paused and pondered. He had once, several years ago, taken considerable pains to go in quietly and erase every last trace of his identity— birth records, Social Security, IRS, national identity card— erase every trace of evidence that he had ever even existed. Not only did he not want the feds to know any longer that he existed, he didn't want the feds to know that a man like him existed. That was back in the days when Homeland Security was trying to close every last loophole. Had he been an ordinary human being, he could not have squeezed through a loophole and vanished off the charts as he did.

Since then, he had lived up in the mountains, only rarely daring to venture in to civilization. Hood River, over on the Oregon side, when he must. Once to Portland. He wanted to stay very thoroughly hidden.

But now those boys down below were taking a beating from the flying pancakes overhead. Those boys down below... they no doubt belonged, like him, to the dwindling minority of Americans who refused to take an RFID chip in their hand or forehead.

The man looked up in the blue, at the flying pancakes. He furrowed his brow. One of the pancakes shuddered and bloomed into white fire.

Now he raised two fingers of his right hand, as if in a gesture of blessing. One, two, three, four, five of the pancakes crumpled like tinfoil, and dropped like burning raisins toward the dammed waters of the Columbia below. The man remembered a time, years ago, when he discovered what horrific vengeance he could wreak on a late-night mugger. The man remembered a time, shortly before he dropped out, when he was learning how he could lay his hands in healing on those who were sick. But in these quiet years alone up in the mountains, he had grown and matured. He had become a quiet pool of glacial water.

The river rose here and there, slow and majestic and white, where the downed craft struck. One of the two remaining flying pancakes turned and fled downriver. It was now beyond the range of physical sight, but it was no problem for the man to ignite its fuel tanks and bring it down.

Now the last of the pancakes turned toward the bluff... Could it have sighted him? Impossible! But... The man raised both hands and tore the craft apart, but not before it got a smart missile off in his direction.

He let the missile strike him full on, the explosion washing over him like colored tissue paper and lukewarm water, as his mind abstracted from the phenomenal world to a level where the flow of information manifested as visible wavefronts. More important than stopping the missile was tracking down and expunging every last trace of data it might be transmitting. There... and there... and there! Five hard drives from Seattle to San Mateo were instantaneously slagged, reduced to white-hot molten metal. Quick and dirty, no way to do it without leaving a trace. They would know that something out there was afoot, but they would have no way of knowing who or what. And by the time they began to figure out where, he would be long gone.

He looked back up the slope at the hut which had been his home. He felt a pang of regret: suddenly the hut was out at sea, five hundred miles off the Pacific coast, sinking, sinking. The man turned and started walking up Dog Leg Mountain, toward the old Pacific Crest trail. He walked several feet off the ground, so as to leave neither scent nor footprint. He would have to find another retreat, much deeper within the mountains.

The lava beds, perhaps, up toward Indian Heaven? Acre after acre of boxcar-sized chunks of lava. Ideal hiding place... but no, there was a colony of Paranthropus up there, he didn't dare endanger them.

For a moment, the man almost regretted having intervened. From now on he would have to live with the fear of the hunt, the fear that some night while he slept they would come and shoot a tranquilizer dart into him and take him away, take him away to be probed and tested and analyzed and ultimately used. Or if they tried to take him by day, he would see how many battalions he could take on at once, singlehanded.

He almost regretted having intervened. But there comes a day when a man's got to do what a man's got to do. He'd known that, ever since the decree of a state of national emergency came down. Ever since the Director came on TV to announce that Congress was dissolved and the President was in custody with a sudden case of "high blood pressure."

Ever since he covered his tracks and fled, rather than submit.

The man now walked on the air atop the mountain crest, under cover of the trees. Sunlight glinted and flickered through the branches. For the time being, he remained a free man.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Secret Moon Base

Once several years ago I had this dream, as is recorded in my Book of Dreams:

A very weird day. Strange dream last night, on a Durham TV station, CBS Special Report, President Bush coming on to reveal a secret space project which had been undertaken over the past few years, secret military space shuttle flights taking up supplies to construct a moon shuttle in earth orbit, which over the past year had been transporting tools, supplies, astronauts, and scientists to the moon for the construction of an "emergency permanent lunar base" which had just been completed.

The President telling about how some scientists and astronauts have been "living on the moon continuously for over a year now, laboring under difficult conditions while wearing space suits, doing construction work on the surface of the moon, and two of them have given their lives in this endeavor."

Astronauts now transporting materials to the far side of the moon to construct a second lunar base there, near a "formation" which had been "built thousands of years ago by a race of alien beings from beyond our solar system." Film footage of astronauts in space suits on moon, gathered around a strange layout like an art-deco version of a Japanese Zen rock garden. The "formation" was also maintaining water in liquid form at the temperature of the lunar surface, in an open vacuum...


Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The Great 1968 Computer Demo

Yes, 1968.

1968 computer demo
I've been reading John Markoff's new book, What the Dormouse Said: How the 60s Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry. He describes how Doug Engelbart, at a computer conference in 1968, gave the first public demonstration of the mouse. Interactive text editing. Copy-and-paste. Hyperlinks. Graphical hyperlinks. Multiple windows. E-mail. Video conferencing. And many other features of personal computing which we today take for granted.

But features, all of them, which must have struck his audience in 1968 as if a UFO had just come down and landed right in front of them.

1968 computer demo
I mean, those were the days of freakin' punch cards and key punch machines— which I damn well remember still using when I first entered the world of computers in 1979!

Anyhow. I looked around, and found that Engelbart's 1968 "mother of all demos" is available online. It's in streaming Real video, divided up into 35 chunks. (Boy, am I glad I recently got DSL!) And it's utterly fascinating.

You can watch the pieces that interest you. Or this link will enable your Real Player automatically to load the pieces in sequence, one after another. The demo has something of the atmosphere of an old science-fiction movie. (Dean Esmay, whose interest I've piqued, compares it to a "Kubrick film.") Only it ain't science fiction. It actually happened, back in December 1968.

Labels: ,

Six-Month Blogiversary Coming Up Friday

I see that this Friday it will be six months since I started blogging. I'm planning to celebrate by posting something old and something new...

Monday, May 09, 2005

Overheard at Tony Frank's

We travel back to March 1997, when I was living in Madison, Wisconsin:

And payday today, and that's money in the bank. And so I decided to go out, flush with my money, and hit dinner (for the first time since last July) at Tony Frank's.

The burger and the fries and the Michelob were, as always, excellent. Last time, I forgot to leave the waitress a tip, and have been embarrassed to return since. But by now I have faded into the elastic plastic surface of the La Brea tar pits of memory, like many another sabre tooth tiger of times past.

But my chief find of the evening— say!— was a couple sitting two booths behind me, and their talk was such as to carry over all the way, loud and clear, even to a bohemian of forty who is starting to go just slightly hard of hearing. And clear, in meaning, even to one who demurs from the canons of pop psychology.

And the woman was clearly very much the embodied keynote of the duo. And the man, whom I heard call himself Thirty, was more or less a bearded case of Go Along to Get Along.

And many the tape clip of their express, while in memory yet green, I confide (via Kerouac verbal sketching technique) to this electronic medium.

She: "Well, that's one of the things I like about you, is how you are free to express your feelings explicitly."

She: "And then you know I was seven or ten before my father told me, he said well I'm not really your father, and you can't imagine, I think he said that just to hurt me, because I could look and see that I was a blend, in some ways I looked like my mom and in some ways I resembled him, and with my sister there was no question, but you know, with being stationed all around and, and, there were so many times, times he would tell me, and it becomes a form of conditioning, and it was with me and times I would suddenly find myself remembering more, and thinking, whoa, can all this be me? And it was still with me, I mean, I remember back when she was first born I was still thinking to myself, like, well maybe I should just get down on my knees and dye my hair another color, maybe that will help, there were times I had been told that and it was hard even to remember, but you know he would say well, but now, you know, I've worked all that out, but it took years to sort through my feelings."

She: "Now, when you reacted to me that way as when we left the house this morning, I myself sometimes get the anger so built up inside of me that it's like, but let's just say let that go, how you reacted, that's really not typical of you at all, if I really believed you to be abusive, it would be the end of our relationship, that's all— just kidding." (No she's not. Or rather, here's a message in a bottle, which should be extracted and decoded before discarding, bêche de mer.)

She: "Yeah, your father, I see how he reacts to your mother, and it makes me so angry, I mean like, she will talk, she will say something to him, and he will be like, he doesn't even acknowledge her presence, and now he's leaving her, I mean like, he chose her as his lifemate, so unless she has been severely abusive to him, then he has an obligation not to leave before he's tried to work it out."

She: "Oh, yeah, Annie, she was brought up to call herself a girl, well, so even though she's an adult, you have to call her a girl. No, I understand that, that's okay. Only even so, you don't."

She: "Yeah, it was like this dentist over in Iowa, he said, like 'You're nineteen, and you don't have a cavity in your mouth, but the inside of your mouth is only about half the size it's supposed to be,' that's why they had to pull my molars, but you know, I'm from Alaska, and I've been there and I've lived there and..."

She: "It's like, your father, we were over at your sister's for Christmas, and I was so angry, I didn't want to go over. And you could see, your sister, even trying to get him jealous and he just wouldn't react, and it's like, she's trying so hard for attention, she's even willing to get him jealous, and he just ignores her. And your mother, you remember that one time we were talking about intuition, and she was almost telling me I'm, and I wanted to say to her, but I just let it slide, but I just figure, you know, she's so much older than me, so I appreciate hearing that and I respect that accumulated wisdom of experience from an older person, but even so, she's wrong."

She: "And you know, the thing that really makes me furious about your father is, like when we're talking, and he's nodding his head at me and going, 'Uh huh, yes, sure, yes dear, you're right, you're right,' only there's this look in his eyes like a priest, like he's thinking to himself, 'Uh huh, well, you can talk that way, but of course I'm right and you're wrong,' and you know, it just infuriates me!"

She: "Well you know, and she's so worried that she's not really a sensitive person, and I told her, well those are your feelings, but you don't have to beat yourself with that, you're not an insensitive person just because you're harsh. That's acceptable."

She: "It's like, you know, Alvedo, functionally illiterate as he is, he's got a job working for Tommy Thompson, and I'm like, I really like to talk with truck drivers, you know, because when you deal with them you really get down to this level, I mean, when they discover how sincere I am with them they just open up to me and tell me the story of their life, even if, well you know, they spend all those hours and days on the road, they travel sometimes in pairs, but even so..."

She: "And this one truck driver, in the bar, he came up and was talking with me, and we were talking, and he was like, he told me that he'd been stationed in Guam, and all the women over there are so small, and here I was the largest woman in the place, and he appreciated that, I mean it's openness like that, and he wasn't coming up to the other women, well you could see, I mean they were charging the bar price for drinks with them..." (Huh? Was this a quadruple entendre with embedded fishhooks, or what?!)

She (to He, sharply, with no warning): "It really bothers me when you take a drink, and you're still chewing your sandwich, you know, there's no need for you to do that, you can chew it and swallow it down before you take a drink, those are my feelings."

She: "And then I knew her, you know, she had that lab job at the UW"— He: "On Science Drive..."— "Uh huh, and part of it was she had to kill those rats in that experiment, where they'd put them in that liquid..."

He: "It's like, Nutrasweet, that's pretty close to an antibiotic, that's aspartame, but you know people freak out if they call it aspartame, they think of rats dying of cancer, when in reality it has no relation, rats will always die of cancer if they live long enough, so it's all just nonsense..."

She: "Uh huh, and that's why she had to quit, it got to her, they would put the rats in the liquid to swim, and then of course they couldn't swim, and after a while she would have to kill them, that was her job, and they blamed it on what was in the liquid, when it was obvious, and I just thought well, that is wrong, I mean they can do this experiment with living human tissue from the labs..."

She: "And you know, after all that moving around all my life, here I am in Madison three months, you know, and I meet you at work, and I want to stay and work this out, and of course Madison is the kind of place but, this is the first time in my life where the place has said to me, where I feel that I'm in the right place and I'm..."

And as the conversation went on, it became apparent, after a long while, that there was a third party, Young Girl, who however was not permitted to speak at meals, because she has developed this trick of taking two hours to eat each meal (She: "Forty-five minutes is long enough to eat a sandwich"; He: "That's six hours a day, when you could be out riding a bike or doing something you like"), and so they forbid her to speak while she is dawdling over her food— Gee, I wonder where this strange igneous volcanic bollix of the id comes from, thrice daily hunger strike and all, Young Girl is after all not being asked to grow up in the midst of an emotional pressure cooker or weird pop psychology environment or anything now, is she?— and then when at long last done with her meal, Young Girl is permitted to speak...

Young Girl: "I got a question for you, and it's the most specialest question there is. You see, there was this Boy, there was this Boy, and he came rushing into my room, and he jumped on me, and he was actually a Man, and this Boy-Man, he came rushing in, he was abusive, he jumped on me, and he was a Cat, you see..."

She: "Well, Silly, I don't hear any question in that at all..."

And then Young Girl went on to speak, as permitted, only soon She was shushing Young Girl, and then He: "You see, Friday, you're speaking so loudly that everybody in the place can hear you, even way over to the door. And that's not acceptable."

Oh. So Young Girl was speaking so that everybody in the place could hear her? But the same could be said, several times over and beyond, about She and her dramatic soap-impactic pop psychology spiel, which came through loud and fifty-kilowatt clear channel clear even to Yours Truly, listening over in the corner booth...

...Ah, well, the Romans had a saying, Res ipsa loquitur: "The thing speaks for itself."


Sunday, May 08, 2005

Awwrrr! Rrrawtionalism, It's Awnnger!

Just a question: anyone ever notice how highly rationalistic people are also often extremely rigid and angry people?

Not just rational, but rationalistic? And not just angry, but rigidly angry? I mean, what is it about rationalism and anger?

Why is it that rationalism and an extreme uptight anger are so often joined at the hip?

Thursday, May 05, 2005


coffee can
Anyone else ever notice how Hills Brothers coffee cans no longer have a picture of Osama bin Laden on them, like they always used to years back?


Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Vander Plaats for Governor

I had lunch today down in Waukon (our county seat), and got to meet Bob Vander Plaats, who's running for the Republican nomination for the 2006 Governor's race here in Iowa. A group of us Republican types, sitting and eating and talking in the back room at Wild Willey's.

I liked Vander Plaats, and I liked what he was saying. He was talking about public education and how it's caught in a bureaucratic and union stranglehold— as well he should know, having served as a school principal. He was talking about returning more decision-making authority to the county and local level, so they can try various things out and find what works in their corner of Iowa, instead of one-size-fits-all solutions handed down from the federal or state level. He was talking about encouraging small businesses. He was talking about shrinking state government, not just slowing its rate of growth.

He also had some sardonic words about Republicans who get into power and then try to govern like a watered-down version of the Democrats.

And hey, I got a free lunch out of it, too. Excellent pizza!

I usually limit my political involvement to following the news (more or less), and voting come Election Day. Over the next year and a half, I'm going to be keeping a close eye on the Vander Plaats campaign. Like I say, I liked what I heard this noon down in Waukon.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

It's Another Meme!

Well, Caltechgirl tells me I'm it in the latest meme. So here goes:

If I could be a scientist... I'd probably be an astronomer, searching for extrasolar planets.

If I could be a farmer... I'd be on my tractor out in the fields right about now.

If I could be a musician... I'd still be doing 60s rock music.

If I could be a doctor... I'd still be making housecalls.

If I could be a painter... I'd do big public murals, like something out of the public works projects of the 1930s.

If I could be a gardener... I'd see if this time I could grow carrots larger than my thumb.

If I could be a missionary... come to think of it, I am a missionary, more or less. Here in this corner of northeasternmost Iowa and southeasternmost Minnesota.

If I could be a chef... I'd finally learn to cook.

If I could be an architect... I'd design buildings built for the human spirit, with finials and cornices and columns and ogees and domes and oculi and grandeur and majesty. In an attempt to fight back against those who would dispirit and demoralize us with the ugly concrete slabs of soulless modernity.

If I could be a linguist... I would study the phenomenon of conlangs or constructed languages.

If I could be a psychologist... I'd study the psychology of double binds, and of how we try to deceive others in order to gain allies in the attempt to deceive ourselves.

If I could be a librarian... I'd stock the shelves with old books, fun books, technical books, banned books, classic books, funky books, picture books, grand books, books of the moment, books for the ages, profound books, obscure books, and just in general plenty of books.

If I could be an athlete... LOL! Sad to say, I absolutely cannot picture this one...

If I could be a lawyer... I'd launch a massive class action lawsuit against the legal profession, for intolerably gumming up the works of law, politics, government, culture, and everyday life. I would do this in an attempt to bankrupt, disbar, and put out of business every lawyer in the United States, so that the law-abiding 98% of us could get back to living our lives with a working balance of decency and common sense.

If I could be an innkeeper... I'd run a lodge way up in the mountains, somewhere out West. Preferably in the Cascade Mountains of Washington or Oregon.

If I could be a professor... I'd teach a course on the semiotic of the late 19th and early 20th century American logician and philosopher of science, Charles Sanders Peirce.

If I could be a writer... I'd write a big, overstuffed, rambling book, that ambled round and about and never quite got there. The sort of book you could dive into at any point, and just lose yourself in it. Y'know, sort of like the Essays of Montaigne, or something.

If I could be a llama-rider... I'd listen to Winamp. ;-)

Monday, May 02, 2005

The Internet, Like Greased Lightning!

Well, after all these years of suffering with a dial-up connection, I just got DSL this morning. And suddenly my Internet connection is fast fast FAST!!!

Out here far into the Iowa countryside, DSL became available a few months ago. For some reason I dawdled around, though, until a week ago Sunday I was visiting some friends around here who've got DSL now. I tested it out. I brought along my IBM ThinkPad, hooked it up to their connection, and it just worked. It worked beautifully! That was when I knew I had to get DSL for myself. I phoned our friendly neighborhood Internet Service Provider on Wednesday to sign up. We set up an appointment. And this morning Mister Service Man appeared at my door, and he quickly got everything hooked up.

Now websites that used to take forever to load, come up in a second or two. Websites that used to come up in a reasonable length of time, come up instantly. I can listen to audio over the Internet while websurfing— under dial-up, it was always either one or the other, but not both at once. Everything is fast. Everything is faster. It's like the Internet on rollerblades!!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to spend the rest of the day playing around on my computer, like a kid with a new toy...

Snow in May

I just got up this morning, and it snowed overnight.

On the grass it looks like just a very slight dusting, but you can see it all white in the furrows out in the fields, and looking out my upstairs windows onto the roof of my garage or porch, it's thick enough that the roof is completely coated in white.

In May, yet! This is insane.