07 December 2006

The End of Summer

    The summer wind, came blowin in - from across the sea
    It lingered there, so warm and fair - to walk with me
      Summer Wind
      lyrics by Henry Mayer

You've probably read Sharon's post. Today we lost our greyhound, Summer. Earlier this week she began vomiting. What the vet initially thought was pancreatitis turned out to be acute renal failure. Her kidneys stopped working. We don't know why; they will do tests to see. The answer won't help much, but our neighbors have dogs and sometime maybe so will we. We need to them to be safe.

When it came time, the vet began to explain the procedure, and we kind of cut him off. We already knew, we told him. We had gone through this only six months ago with her "sister" Toasty. That one came quickly, too. At the time, I remember thinking it may not be too long for Summer. She'd lost a leg to cancer, and there was every chance it would show up in her lungs or elsewhere. When they X-rayed her, it turned out she was clear. We never got a chance to take joy in this news.

On the drive to the vet, my one hope was that Summer would perk up, just a little, when we arrived. I wanted her to have some last bit of joy or relief. Just before the vet administered the drugs, we got her collar down. This was Sharon's idea; Summer was always overjoyed when the opportunity for a hop came up. It was possibly her favorite part of the day. She did perk up a bit. Her eyes openned wider, and her ears went up. I couldn't see her tail under the blanket, but maybe it thumped a little. I hope so.

There will be other dogs, and I expect they will be as dear to us as Summer. But there will only be one Summer Storm, and like we always told her, she was a good girl doggie.

03 December 2006

Thirty-two days later

    I can have a complete conversation on my own, and you know to stay out of it. You're in your own anyway....

It has been a long conversation with myself. Here are a few of the things I would have blogged if I wasn't totally lame:

  • 7 November: C'mon baby! C'mon! Daddy needs a new goverment! C'mon!
  • 8 November: Woo-hoo!
  • 9 November: Now what?
  • Details of converting old Christmas tapes to digital format because the cars don't have tape players anymore.
  • A post about a new contractor hired for a project I'm leading at work, and the... um... spirited debates we've been having about how stuff should be built.
  • Several fun podcasts, including "How to Succedd in Evil."
  • A paragraph dancing around the ugly fact that our cats have destroyed the floor in our office. A paragraph describing the 2-3 day project of replacing floor boards and cleaning the carpet. A paragraph (or two) on how I had to replace the door, and the frame, and the sub-floor. A paragraph cursing my home's previous owner and the fact they didn't use caulk.
  • How I put the Pythagorean Theorem to practical use.

That's all I can come up with for a synopsis. I'm a little foggy right now from all the carpet cleaning chemicals. I will endeavor to post something more substantial soon, perhaps elaborating on the Pythagorean Theorem bit.

P.S. I'm listenning George Carlin's When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops? and I'm wondering if the funniest part is the title. I'm a little dissappointed there.

01 November 2006

Hubble Rescue Greenlighted

    Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.
      Winston Churchill

NASA gave the green light to a final Hubble servicing mission!

25 October 2006

"Big Fat Idiot" Ain't the Half of It!

    You absolute horror of a human being.
      Simon Bishop (Greg Kinnear)
      As Good as It Gets

Rush Limbaugh sought new depths to sink to yesterday when he accused Michael J. Fox of faking Parkinson's disease. The Washington Post story by reporter David Montgomery begins this way:

Possibly worse than making fun of someone's disability is saying that it's imaginary. That is not to mock someone's body, but to challenge a person's guts, integrity, sanity.

That showed some pretty impressive restraint. I guess, "Could Limbaugh be any more of an asshole?" wouldn't have made it past the editor.

Update: My hero Keith Olbermann voted Rush Monday's Worst Person in the World.

20 October 2006

Goin' Mobile

And we'll see how it feels
Goin' mobile
Keep me movin'
-Pete Townshend

Okay, I'm trying out blog posting from my PDA phone. Let's see how this works....

19 October 2006

Goodbye, Habeas Corpus

    A government more dangerous to our liberty, than is the enemy it claims to protect us from.
      Keith Olbermann

I have two things for your consideration now that the Military Commissions Act is law:

First, from WBEZ in Chicago, This American Life episode 310: Habeas Schmaebeas. It is a detailed account of how our government has denied Habeas at Guantanamo Bay and the gross injustice that has resulted. To listen, Click Here.

Next Keith Olbermann expresses the outrage we should all feel in this week's Special Comment:

Text Version

Return of The Hunter

    I'm on the hunt, I'm after you.
      Duran Duran

Every season has its familiar little joys we look forward to. Autumn, for me, has leaves, apples, and Halloween. It also marks the return of Orion, The Hunter, to the night sky. I never go out looking for Orion. Still, every year there comes a night when I glance up at the night sky, and there are the three bright stars, all in a row, that comprise his belt.

Like the Ursa Major, the "Big Dipper," Orion is a constellation that dominates the sky. You can't miss it - even in the light polluted skies of central NJ. And no wonder. Orion is home to six of the fifty brightest stars in the sky (our sun included). Two are in the top ten. Rigel is the blue-white star at his left knee. Betelgeuse is the reddish star at his right shoulder. I just read that Betelgeuse is one of the largest stars observed, with a radius roughly the same as that of Jupiter's orbit.

My favorite part of Orion, though, is the Orion Nebula. In clear dark skies, even the naked eye can see that there's something in Orion's sword that isn't a star. With a decent pair of binoculars you can clearly make out the nebula and maybe one or two of the young stars within. View it through a telescope and you're in for a treat. It quickly fills the eyepiece with purple clouds and tiny pinpoints of light from newborn stars. If I were Carl Sagan I'd have a more eloquent description, but for me it's just cool.

Tonight it's cloudy, so you can't see any stars. It's been a week since I spotted Orion. I meant to post this sooner, but I seem to have less blogging time, lately. But the idea stayed with me, so here it is.

12 October 2006

More lies: Bush and so-called Faith-Based Initiatives

    There are... there are... there are extreme elements that use religion to achieve objectives.
      President George W. Bush
    Baby, you ain't kidding.
      Bill (David Carradine) in Kill Bill: Volume 2

Keith Olbermann's open war on Bush is his report Tempting Faith, the new book from David Kuo, second-in-command of the Office of Faith-Based Intiatives. It is a detailed account of how the office is merely a tool to sucker evangelical Christians out of their votes.

I'm scooping Rob S. on this one. Here's the video:

Couldn't even hear the whistle blow

    Lord I'm one, Lord I'm two, Lord I'm three, Lord I'm four,
    Lord I'm 500 miles from my home.
      Hedy West

Sunday morning I began my day 1000 miles from home. It was the last day of our vacation in Florida. Sunday evening we boarded our 6:20 PM flight back to NJ. Sunday night found us safely home and in bed.

By 5 AM Monday morning, I was already up and back in Newark, boarding the 5:20 AM flight to Charlotte, NC. At 9 AM, I was in Greenville, SC. I was 700 miles from home. I made the return trip that same day, arriving home at 9 PM.

By 10 AM Tuesday I'd driven 75 miles to White Plains, NY. The traffic gods smiled on me that evening, and I was home by 7:30 PM.

In three days I travelled 2,550 miles through five different states (not counting the ones I flew over). I went through three international airports. I drove two rental cars, flew two different airlines, and rode on three different planes.

Some observations:

  • I would fly JetBlue over U.S. Air any day of the week and twice on Sunday.
  • The Chevy Cobalt was better than I thought, the PT Cruiser less than I hoped.
  • I should have asked for an economy car. They never have them, so I'd have been upgraded for free.
  • Orlando is a really nice airport. Charlotte is okay. Newark is getting better.

Yesterday, I went to work. It's 21 miles each way, and I don't have to leave the state.

23 September 2006

Back in beer

    Nearly two months of silence? You're like a Trappist monk!
      Rob S.

Okay, fair point. It has been a long silence. Call it a sabbatical. But a Trappist monk? I think there are some key distinguishing charateristics. I will, however, concede one similarity: beer. Monks make beer. I make beer. That I make beer with my wife, of course, is yet another case where the similarity ends.

Speaking of beer, what have we been brewing, you ask? Well, let me tell ya!

Seaside Park Summer Wheat
It was intended as a German style Hefe-weizen, but alas, the brew store had no German wheat. Instead, we used Belgian Wit yeast. What we ended up with was a light yet fruity beer that went down easy and, for me, embodied summer quite nicely. It was brewed special for our week-long vacation at the shore, and much was consumed there.

Two three letter acronyms mean one tasty beer. ESB is Extra Special Bitter and boy was it ever special. We enjoy all of our beers. We really like many of them. Then there is the select few that we savor, and when they're gone we remember fondly for years. This one falls into that last category. This was one great beer, and not that it's gone we miss it. (Maybe later I'll upload the label for this.)

Red Ale
Red Ales are, contrary of to the name, more dark than red. The red color can be perceived when you hold it up to the light. This one is more copper than red. Roasted barley is what produces the red hue, though what we ended up with was more copper than red. Maybe next time we'll try roasting ourselves. That doesn't mean it's not good beer. It less hops than some, with a nice dry malt finish.

This was actually started before the other beers on this list (in March), but true to style it was not ready until now. It's a classic Oktoberfest lager, fermented and aged at lower temperatures than ales. It's a smooth and malty like it should be. Of course, homebrewing has it's pitfalls. Our old nemesis, poor carbonation, has returned. We'll see if a little more time makes the difference. It has in the past.

So there you go. Finally a blog post, and it's about beer. Now let's see who still comes here....

12 July 2006

The Scotty approach to deficit reduction

    Kirk: Do you always multiply your repair estimates by a factor of four?
    Scotty: How else to maintain my reputation as a miracle worker?
      Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

Star Trek fans accross America had to be pleased yesterday with Bush's homage to Commander Montgomery Scott. The AP article does not quite capture the absurdity the way NPR's David Greene did in this Morning Edition segment.

11 July 2006

Eastern Organic update: time running out.

    Ooooh that smell
    The smell of death surrounds you
      Lynyrd Skynyrd

I missed this story when it came out in June.

The DEP if piling up the fines against Eastern Organic Resources because of run-off and the stench from their Woodhue Composting Center in Burlington County. The latest fines total $955K with another $81K penalty for generating income while breaking the law. I've been watching this one deteriorate (or perhaps decompose) for months.

Even in the latest article, the concept sounds like a great idea:

Eastern Organic Resources takes in tons of rotting fruits and vegetables, stale bread, grass, leaves and other perishable organic materials and mixes them with dirt to produce a nutrient-rich compost and topsoil. The company then sells the product to golf courses, garden centers, nurseries and builders.

Sometimes a great idea isn't enough. It would seem they just cannot make it work in a way that protects the water in local streams and the nostrils on local residents. It's a shame.

For their part, Eastern Organic Resources continues to assert that they could fix the problem by enclosing the composting center, but the state won't let them implement this solution. I have a feeling it's not that simple. At least I hope it's not.

Meanwhile, everyone is awaiting the outcome of formal proceedings to shut the operation down entirely. Things look pretty grim at this point.

You shone like the sun

    Nobody knows where you are, how near or how far.
    Shine on you crazy diamond.
    Pile on many more layers and I'll be joining you there.
    Shine on you crazy diamond.
      Pink Floyd
      "Shine on You Crazy Diamond"

Syd Barret died several days ago, quietly ending what had become the very quiet life Pink Floyd's founding guitarist. His death was reported today by the AP. There were few details, the announcement coming from a spokesperson for the band.

07 July 2006

I am Carl Spackler

    In this case my enemy is a varmint. And a varmint will never quit - ever. They're like the Viet Cong - Varmint Cong.
      Carl Spackler (Bill Murray)

Rodents beware! You will find no pity here! A pox on you all!

Let's just say that squirrels and mice are majorly on my shitlist.

06 July 2006

Vacation's over

    Vacation's over.
      President Bartlett

Yeah, still here. Been on vacation for a week - Lake Winnipesaukee in NH. It was a great week. I swam every day, canoed, kayacked, and hiked.

One hike was up 2033' Red Hill. The hike was 5 miles, round trip, with an approx. 1700' ascent. This describes the hike (though on our descent we followed the Teedie instead of Eagle Cliffs trail). The trail is impeccably maintained by the Squam Lakes Association. The other hike was up 1067' Mt Fayal. The trail is part of the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center, which also houses members of local species unable to return to the wild because of injury or overexposure to people.

We ate well, enjoying meals from:

  • The Woodshed in Moultonboro. If you eat beef, eat here. The lobster crepe was also delicious.
  • The Town Docks in Meredith. Great casual seafood fare. Lobster Rolls and Smutty Nose IPA on tap. Mmmmmm.
  • Canoe in Center Harbor. Get the lobster mac 'n' cheese, but split it with a friend. They do take out. (Safe those food containers!)
  • Walter's Basin in Holderness. Lakeview dining on "Golden Pond" (yes, the "Golden Pond"). Tukerman's Pale on tap.

And you have to be touristy now and then. We did our part by taking a cruise on the M/S Mount Washington. It was a beautiful day with great weather out on the lake. The kids had a blast. As a bonus, the bar had Harpoon IPA on tap.

So yeah, I guess you can tell we did our part to support the local breweries. Smuttynose and Tuckerman's topped my list of favorites, and both were available at most supermarkets and convenience stores.

So that covers my abscence last week. Before that, blame these guys. I'm all for providers and factories, but do you really think anyone's going to run this thing on Oracle? But I digress....

12 June 2006

That's MY Assemblymen!

    Not as much as no name politicians from New Jersey.
      Ann Coulter

His name is Michael Panter, Ann, and I voted for him. It is out of respect for him that I have not told you what you can do with your book or where you can go.

My assemblyman, Michael freakin' Panter, challenged Coulter on her home turf -the FOX "News" Hannity & Colmes show. My favorite line:

Your hyperbole is exciting, but no one wants to burn your book.

Yeah! Damn, I was proud of my district tonight!

01 June 2006

Flight or invisibility

    Invisible Boy: I'm invisible. Can you see me?
    Rest of Mystery Men: YES.
      Mystery Men

    Superman superman
    I want to fly like superman
    Superman superman
    Wish I could fly like superman
      The Kinks

Yesterday I was listenning again to a classic This American Life episode entitled Superpowers. Act One features John Hodgman asking a bunch of people which superpower they would like to have: flight or invisibility. He finds that this is one of those questions that offers insight into the kind of person you are. He also found it to be a great conversation item for parties.

He set ground rules for each ability, as follows:

  • Flight: At will you can fly within Earth's atmosphere with a maximum velocity of 1000MPH.
  • Invisibility: You and your clothes become invisible at will. Items you pick up stay visible.

I'm on the fence, leaning toward invisibility. Which would you choose, and why?

P.S. The episode also includes an interview with Jonathan Morris, editor of the website Gone & Forgotten, an archive of failed comic book characters with Morris' commentary. His articles are funny stuff.

25 May 2006


    Heavy decibels are playing on my guitar
    We got vibrations coming up from the floor
    We're just listening to the rock that's giving too much noise
    Are you deaf, you wanna hear some more

How can listen to AC/DC's Back in Black and not air guitar? I'm just sayin'....

"Forget about the check. We'll get hell to pay!" How can you beat lines like that?

23 May 2006

Banging my head

    Why do I keep banging my head against the wall?
    Because it feels so good when I stop.

Yesterday I spent the entire day trying to resolve a configuration issue on a new server. The site I've been working on runs beautifully in my office on the computer I develop on. When I tried to deploy to the production system, it would not work, not work.

Would... not... freakin'... work.

I hate problems like this. You know there is some little configuration change you need to make, you just don't know what it is. Some checkbox somewhere will magically resolve the problem turing a cryptic error into a happily running website. You just need to find the damn thing.

My day goes like this: I spend hours googling error codes and re-reading documentation (yes, I actually RTFM). In general, get nowhere. Every so often, I come across a potential solution. For a few minutes, I think I've got it, I feel like this is definitely it. I click refresh on my browser and mutter obscenities when the error fails to go away. I repeat this process. Over and over.

Of course, one of the potential solutions finally resolved the error. With no warning, clicking refresh suddenly yielded the desired (if not expected) result: a happily running web site. I took no joy in the success, though. I don't feel like I've solved a challenging problem or designed an elegant solution. I just feel like I've been banging my head against a wall.

And it didn't even feel that good when I stopped.

18 May 2006

So-called reality

    This isn't reality. This is hell!
    Bravo was consulted on some elimination decisions.
      Top Chef credits

Two weeks (or three blog posts) back, I confessed that I'd been sucked into Bravo's Top Chef, a reality show that can be summed up as "The Apprentice" with chefs. Last night was part one of the big finale. It began with the three finalists arriving in Las Vegas for the final showdown. At the end of the hour, only two remained.

The oft-discussed problem with reality shows is that they are not real. Although the contestents and even the judges are real people, it's still a TV show whose goal is to entertain. Even the decision of who get eliminated is as much a question of drama as of fairness. I should, therefore, not be surprised of the three finalists, the one we all despise did not get eliminated. A final battle between two friends has nowhere near the drama that a battle between two bitter foes, especially when one is the clearly established villian.

But I'm still pissed! That chef deserved to go down! None of their dishes were the favorite. The other chef was eliminated mainly because they made only two of the requisite three dishes in the final round. Even though both of those dishes were well liked, the penalty for one missing dish was worse than for several dishes no one liked. How lame is that? The worst thing a chef can do is serve bad food. To make matters worse, once the the chef was all smug, as if they didn't just get a total pass. Man, I want to be there next week to see that chef go down.

Which is, of course, exactly what Bravo wants.

17 May 2006

Why the Impossible Mission Force is bad for America

    Since Hollywood execs grew timid and began making movies out of TV shows, no movie has so screwed with its source material. The hero of the TV show had become the villain of the movie.
      Erik Lundegaard

I read this commentary on the M:I movies last week and never blogged it. When I saw M:I3 was the top grossing film for the second week in a row, I remembered the commentary. It's good stuff.

There be dragons here

    Caution: There be dragons here
      Programmers' caveat

It's been forever since I posted anything. I've mostly been at a loss of what to post, mainly because my job has gotten interesting again, and I've been somewhat engrossed by what I'm working on. It's a new web development project using ASP.NET 2.0, SQL Server 2005, and VS 2005 (those who care will know what that all means). Anyway, I figure if that's what's on my mind, that's what I should blog about. So, a few thoughts and observations on comments....

Comments are bits of text in a program that are ignored by the computer. They are there for the sole benefit of other developers who may need to look at your code (not to mention your own benefit, should you need to remember what the hell it was that you did five months ago). They're akin to footnotes in a book, explaining the stuff that may not be obvious to the reader. Good comments are a hallmark of good programming.

Notice I said "good" comments and not "abundant" or "copious" or "numerous" comments. That is because comments, like food, is best in moderation. Not enough, and your program becomes an incoherent shell. Too many, and it becomes a bloated mess. Good programmers try to write programs that other good programmers can follow. Yet sometimes it is necessary to provide a some additional clues as to why your, say, multiplying that number by 3600 (it's in seconds - you want hours). Okay, programmers our there are right now saying, "You don't need to comment that! Any fool could figure that out." You're right, bad example, but you get my point.

Most of the time, one line is all you need. "Make sure the number is not zero," for example. Every now and then, though, you need to do something in your code that's a lot more complex and potentially confusing. Maybe five lines are needed. Then, there's the odd occaison when even you are disconcerted by the confusing nature of what you have just written. Yet, you cannot find a simpler way of doing it. There are many reasons why this may be the case. Often the vendor tools you're using have boxed you into the corner, and this obtuse mess you've just created is the only way out.

When in such situations, you often find developers leaving the comment:

Warning: There be dragons here.

Sometimes, they'll go so far as to say, "serious dragons." Generally this is to be taken, "Read the following code very carefully, or you might screw things up royally." After this comes a detailed explanation if what's going on. Often, there is also some justification of why it had to be done this way. It's an admission that the code is aweful, as in, "I'm really sorry you have to deal with this crap. Truly I am. But if you were in my shoes, you'd have done the same thing and you know it."

I'm writing all this because I'm coming close to the "dragons here" threshold. I am expanding and enhancing an existing tool, so I can claim that, in large part, it's not my fault. I've also found myself cursing the tool's original authors who, IMHO, did not practice good commenting. Some of the code comes close to what I like to call, "Heart of Darkness" code. This is code that is so bad that, when you finally make you're way through it to the other side, you're left muttering, "the horror.... the horror."

It is not the worst code I've dealt with, though. The worst code was very early on in my carreer. I had to find a bug in an X-windows application call xterm. When I openned the first source file, I found this comment:

WARNING: This code particularly, the tty setup code) is a historical relic and should not be confused with a real toolkit application or a an example of how to do anything. It really needs a rewrite. Badly.

And let me tell you, the author wasn't kidding. But at least they had the honesty of saying so up front. I printed this comment out and hung it on my wall.

03 May 2006

A Guilty Pleasure

    Short is the joy that guilty pleasure brings.
    Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.
      John Lennon

I admit it. I have been sucked in by the reality show Top Chef on Bravo. For those unfamiliar with the show, it's the same formula as Apprentice, done with chefs instead. Each week there are challanges, each week some gets sent home. Instead of, "You're fired!" they say, "Pack your knives and leave."

I have, in general, shown disdain for reality TV. I never watched Survivor, The Apprentice, or any of the other lesser shows whose names of which I can't even think of. But now I'm hooked. I want to see what ridiculous challange they give them. I want to see who goes down in flames. There are the chefs I want to see succeed and the one I wanted so badly to see get booted (and it was oh so satifying when they finally did).

I suppose the subject matter (food) brought me in initially. I love Food TV shows like Iron Chef, after all, so why not? But Iron Chef this ain't. It's pure "reality" TV. There is the requisite footage of contestents sniping and trash-talking. There is the overdramatic judging segments where the contestents get beat up by their "mentors." There is the annoying comercial break right before the final decision (okay, Iron Chef has that, but it's not the same). In short, it's Apprentice with knives and Chef's Whites.

Still, I keep watching. Call it a guilty pleasure.

02 May 2006

Seven Wonders of My House

    Makin' people happy, that's my favorite game,
    Lucky Seven is my natural name.
    Slippin' and slidin' my whole life through
    Still I get everything done that I got to do.
    'Cause I was born 'neath a lucky star!
      Schoolhouse Rock

Rob thought this up. Then I read Jeri's. I figured this is one meme I actually have ideas for. So here goes:

  1. My Children: They are truly wonders. Each day the surprise us, challange us, frustrate us, and delight us, sometimes all at once.
  2. The Family Room Bookshelves: My brother-in-law built them for one of his company's customers, but the interior designer gave him the wrong stain color. The color was just fine for us, so now we have custom-built beautiful recessed bookshelves. He also made us furniture to match!
  3. The Solar Panels: Turning each day's sunlight into the electricity that powers our home. Last July we had a $30 electric bill! I never tire of going downstairs to see how many kilowatt hours of electricity we produced and how many kilograms of carbon dioxide we didn't.
  4. The Kitchen Cabinet Secret Compartment: The search for the missing teddy bear cake pan led to the discovery of this seeminly extra-dimensional space in our kitchen. A muffin pan and strainer were also recovered, as was a glass lid we had never seen before.
  5. Franken-deck: This deck should have been torn down years ago. Each year I pull boards off the privacy screen to replace broken decking. I crawl underneath to shore up the rotting joists. One year we'll give in and buy a new deck. But not this year. (Knock on wood.) (If you can find any on that deck.)
  6. The Shelf of no Return: If you can't figure out where to put something, that's where you should put it. If you can't find something, that's where you should look.
  7. Sharon: Is there nothing she cannot do? I doubt it. Tremble at her awesome power. (Did I mention she's cute?)

I didn't mention the pets, so let me give them honorable mention here. Also the dining room table, which can hold food for eight and support a six-year D&D campaign.

Thanks again to Rob for a great idea.

29 April 2006

Holy Wars

    Holy detonation, Batman!

In Chios, Greece, on Greek Orthodox Easter, this is how parishoners of two churches celebrate:

To mark the resurrection of Christ, the two congregations fire thousands of
handmade rockets at midnight across a valley at each other's churches.

Story and video here. Their goal is to hit the bell tower. No major injuries were reported this year. However, they are not uncommon (ya think?).

26 April 2006

More recycling challenges

    But, anyway, Signor Sollozzo, my no is final, and I wish to congratulate you on your new business, and I know you'll do very well; and good luck to you - as best as your interests don't conflict with my interests.
      The Godfather

A significant challenge of recycling waste seems to be finding someone's back yard to do it in. Awhile back I posted about a fight between Eastern Organic Resources, the DEP, and local governments. The last I heard about Eastern Organic was that the DEP revoked their license.

According to this Asbury Park Press article, a new controversy with a similar ring to it is brewing in Dover Township. Washington, D.C.-based Fuel Frontiers Inc. wants to build a new facility to manufacture ethanol from waste material. The ethanol would be blended with gasoline as a motor fuel.

Just like Eastern Organic, Fuel Frontiers idea sounds great on paper. Recycle waste and reduce oil dependency all at once. Unfortunately, local reaction is also similar. The article reports that:

Potential environmental problems are a concern in Dover Township, where the former Ciba-Geigy Corp. plant is now a Superfund site, and dumping of hazardous waste at the former Reich Farm led to contamination of wells in United Water Toms River's Parkway well field. Talk of any kind of fuel plant makes officials uneasy.

Well, who can blame them. Hopefully Fuel Frontiers can address Dover's concerns. The article reports that the two sides are talking:

"We recognize the issue here. We want the town to feel like they know what's going on," [Fuel Frontiers, Inc. President Jack] Young said. "We care about how we look, if we smell, and how we operate."

[Dover Councilman Michael J.] Fiure said he has been pleased that Fuel Frontiers has shown a willingness to work with the council. He said council members hope to schedule a public presentation of the company's plans at a future council meeting.

"I am very encouraged that they are going to meet with us and that we will be able to ask them questions," Fiure said.

In my Eastern Organic post, I said that this is technology we need. Let's hope things go better in this endeavor.

Thanks to Sharon for sending me the story.

More on Advair

    The doorstep to the temple of wisdom is a knowledge of our own ignorance.
      Benjamin Franklin

Of late this blog is a ghosttown, but apparently someone's reading. I got a great comment to my Advair post that actually explains some of the problems with Advair. Forbes would have done better to ask this person to write their article.

11 April 2006

Clearing in the east, finally

    The smell of hospitals in winter
    And the feeling that it's all a lot of oysters, but no pearls
      Counting Crows

Several people asked me about the "darker weather" comment in this post. Sorry I left that hanging. I figured I'd have more to say when things settled down a bit, but it's taken a lot longer for that to happen. I'll cut to the chase - everyone is fine. Here are the details:

The comment came from news that a "spot" showed up on my father's chest X-ray. Also, blood tests showed certain elevated levels that can indicate cancer. He would be having a CT scan the next day. It took four more days to get results. To everyone's relief, the scan showed no signs of cancer - the best possible outcome. They'll keep watching, but the news could have been much worse.

A day later, my mom called me. She was in the car, my dad was driving her to the ER with chest pains and elevated blood pressure. She made me promise I wouldn't drive too fast on the way to the hospital, and I didn't. We spent the next several hours there while they ran tests, monitored her vitals, and gave her medication to lower the blood pressure. She was admitted, and they kept her two days under observation in a telemetry unit where they constantly monitor her heart. They did an echocardiogram and a stress test. All came back fine.

She did have a sky-high fasting blood sugar, so she's on drugs for diabetes. It's looking like she doesn't need insulin, though, so some good news there. She's back home now. She was still in the car when she called, enjoying the fresh air. I'm sure she feels better just being out of the hospital. Just being there makes you feel sick, I think.

It's been one thing after another these last few weeks. I'm knocking on wood as I say that maybe things are finally settling down.

06 April 2006

Advair scare

    Get the widow on the set, we need dirty laundry.
      Don Henley

Thursday morning on the Today Show, Katie Couric spoke with Forbes managing editor Dennis Kneale (see the clip here). Kneale was discussing this article in Forbes magazine about the GlaxoSmithkline Asthma drug Advair, and concerns about its safety. The overall question is an important one, worth consideration: what do you do when a drug helps millions, yet can be harmful or fatal to a small percentage. I have a real problem with the way this article, and Kneale's comments on the Today Show, frame the issue.

When I first heard about possible dangers of Advair, I consulted with a friend who is both an MD and asthma sufferer. Advair actually contains two drugs. One is a steroid, the same steroid found in the GlaxoSmithkline's Flovent, which eases inflamation of the airways. The second, a bronchodilator that expands constricted airways, is the same drug found in the GlaxoSmithkline product Serevent. It belongs to a class of drug called beta agonists. All bronchodilators I know of are beta agonists, and some people have adverse reactions to them. The problem with Serevent is that it lasts longer (12 hours instead of 4-6), so an adverse reaction will go on longer before symptoms subside.

The article opens with two stories of people suffering reactions to Advair. One person said that, despite complaints of ill effects, his doctor said to keep taking it (sounds like the doctor's fault to me). The second was another story of someone suffering ill effects who continued to take the drug, an includes visual that is gratuitously repeated throughout the article: dying while still clutching the inhaler.

The the article highlights Advair's popularity, noting the advertising dollars spent. I can't argue with that; I am against prescription drug advertising. I didn't like the way the discussed Advair's "nifty delivery system," which they called a "purple plastic puck." Kneale also uses the purple puck term in the interview, telling Katie how "doctors love gadgets." His tone suggests that it's some kind of unecessay gimmick product, the asthma equivalent of the Swiffer.

In fact, the Advair Diskus (as it's called) is a vastly superior delivery method. Aerosol inhalers required the user to inhale at the moment as the push the cannister down. If you're off (as I was from time to time), you end up spraying most of the drug on the back of your throat instead of inhaling it. Further, unless you kept careful count of uses, you didn't know quite when the inhaler was empty. Finally, you needed between 2 and 4 inhalations, 60 second apart, each time you take it. Advair has a little number that decreases with each use. It turns red when you're under ten doses left. When you inhale, the force of your breath draws out the drug, so you always inhale it properly. Finally, you only need to inhale once each time. That's as much of a gimmick as anti-lock brakes.

Another issue they highlight is overprescribing. One of the people in the openning paragraph also had a persistent cough and wheeze, but was not diagnosed with asthma. Kneale talks about how his doctor prescribed it to him for a persistent cough from bronchitis. He doesn't say if it helped or not. The article also notes that Advair is being prescribed to more than just severe asthma sufferers. I thought that was unfair. My asthma was never severe or life threatenning, but it is still very important to my long term health that it be kept well controlled.

The article and Kneale play free an loose with the numbers. The first statistic the present is a single doctor's assertion that Advair and Serevent are killing 4000-5000 people a year. Only later do the note studies that showed numbers like 12 out of 17000, still taking time to suggest that this finding was inappropriately deemed statistically insignificant. When numbers minimize the risk, the article's tone is always questioning. They never cast doubt on the 4000 deaths/year estimate.

They also mix in statistics for other bronchodilators, like in this paragraph:

But Serevent had been under suspicion from the start, and earlier beta agonists had stirred doubts for decades. In 1948 one study of 2,200 asthma patients found a fivefold-higher death rate for patients who inhaled epinephrine, a beta drug, versus those who hadn't."

First off, I checked and found that almost all bronchodilators are beta-agonists. This article doesn't mention that. Non-beta bronchodilators are not inhaled - they're taking orally, so the side effects tend to be worst. Theophylline is non-beta example I've taken, and it sucked. As for epinephrine, the article is correct about its dangers. I've taken it - it's awful stuff. What the article failes to mention is that more modern beta drugs, Serevent included, are a vast improvement. To read the Forbes article, you'd think epinephrine and Serevent are like Motrin and Advil.

The article does everything it can to hype the danger aspect of Advair. They're searching for the next big drug company scandal.The article says as much when it conjures up the spectre of Merck's Vioxx and Wyeth's Redux. I'm all for keeping the drug companies honest, mind you, but Forbes this article is heavy drama and a light cogent fact. There is next to no mention of the drugs success in controlling asthma and similar respitory ailments. In my opinion, that success is the real reason for Advair's popularity.

There are also no anecdotal stories of people who's lives have improved thanks to Advair. So, here's one:

When doctors, insurance companies, etc. try to assess how well you are managing your asthma, they want to know how often you use your rescue inhaler. A rescue inhaler is a fast acting bronchodilater you use when you're having an attack. If you are using it often, you asthma is not well controlled, and you could be doing harm. Since I began taking Advair, I have all but stopped using my rescue inhaler. If I use it three times a month, it's a lot. I used to use it at least that many times a week. My respitory health has improved drastically thanks to this drug.

I'm one of the millions it's helped. I'd prefer a little less media hype about this one.

05 April 2006

Morning buzzkill

    The dream is always the same.
      Risky Business

I awoke on my own. I looked at the clock, and it was 10:05 AM. "We overslept!" I shouted, "It's already after 10!" My wife's groggy reply was unintelligible as rushed downstairs to grab my cell phone - I was supposed to be on a conference call for work. As I fumbled through my bag, I noticed that it was still dark out. I looked at one of the clocks downstairs. It was 3:47 AM! Relieved, I headed back to bed, reassuring my wife that we weren't late and the bedroom clock got changed somehow, maybe the cat. I pulled up the covers and settled into the pillow, looking forward to another two hours of sleep....

That was when the alarm went off, and I awoke for real.

03 April 2006

The story of John Cazale

    Every time I put my line in the water I said a Hail Mary, and every time I said a Hail Mary I caught a fish.
      Fredo Corleone
      The Godfather: Part II

Last night, we were watching the Godfather. It seems to be a fairly regular staple on cable channels like AMC and Bravo. Sharon observed that you never see the guy who played Fredo anymore. I always figured he drifted into obscurity after the Godfather movies. He didn't.

John Cazale, who played Fredo, had won numerous awards for his stage performances before his film debut in The American Way. In addition The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II, he appeared in The Conversation (also directed by Coppola) and Dog Day Afternoon (a performance that earned him a Golden Globe nomination). He was engaged to Meryl Streep, who was his co-star in The Deer Hunter.

That would be his final film, however. At the same time he was filming, he was dying of bone cancer. The studio, upon learning of his illness, wanted to remove him from the film. Streep fought to keep him, threatenning to quit. He completed the film, but died the same year.

Most of these details come from his IMDB biography.

Tough choices

    "It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."
      Albus Dumbledore
      Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
      by J. K. Rowling

It's been awhile since I posted. I preoccupied with a pair of decisions that needed to be made.

I had to choose which job I wanted. I had pretty much come to the conclusion that it was time to move on because there was not way to stay here and continue doing what I enjoy - software development. For about a year I've been hunting. There were a few offers, but nothing worth taking. In December I interviewed at a really good place, but no offer came. In February, a new project started up here. It was completely unexpected, and it was exactly the type of stuff I wanted to do (although it's VB.NET, not C#, but I digress). Plus, they need me to get my MS certification, and they'll fund it.

It was nice. I remember telling someone that I was actually enjoying my job again. Wouldn't you know this would be when the place from December called be up with an offer? I know, people should have such problems. I understand that in this economic climate plenty of people are unemployed or under-employed. I'm damn lucky. That said, it was still a touch choice with serious implications on my future. I was back an forth a dozen times, sweating every detail. Finally I decided to stay where I am. This is the last thing I would have expected three months ago, but there it is. What changed was this: I was not longer under pressure to get out of my current job. That raised the bar on any job offer that came. I think I made the right choice. Time will tell.

The other big decision was much easier to make, but much harder to act upon. Odds are good that you've seen seen Sharon's post on the subject. Our 12 year old greyhound Toasty was suffering liver failure, and we decided to end her life quickly. That decision was clear for me. That didn't make it any easier. In reply to our e-mail about this last trip to the vet, my brother replies simply, "Sorry to hear that. Not a fun trip." He'd taken it himself only a week or two earlier. No, it wasn't.

Having weathered those storms, I got to enjoy a weekend of warm sun and gentle breezes. Yet amid the peace of bike rides and campfires, a phone call brought news of darker weather on the horizon. It's Monday now, with overcast skies.

21 March 2006

Shoe's on the other foot....

    Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it

Here's a clear sign of success for Apple. The French lawmakers approved a bill that would force Apple to open their proprietary formats to competion. Read about it here. For years Apple has been everyone's favorite underdog in the fight with Microsoft. Meanwhile, governments all over were scrutinizing Microsoft's every move, the oft leveled criticism that they purposely designed Windows to lock out competitors.

I often had arguments with the Apple devoted about Microsoft. My supposition was that Apple was no better than Microsoft, jut not as successful. Apple consistently fought to keep out competition. Microsoft's success was, in part, due to the fact that they supported generic hardware. I was convinced that if Apple found a product as successful as Windows, they'd have the government breathing down their neck in no time.

Sure enough....

17 March 2006

Can't see the pumpkin pie through the sewer rat

    Hey, sewer rat may taste like pumpkin pie, but I'd never know 'cause I wouldn't eat the filthy motherfucker.
      Pulp Fiction

This is the latest MSNBC story about "Operation Swarmer," the new offensive in Iraq. The subtitle carries the denial that politics was a factor in the timing. That sure was the first thing that crossed my mind. I have to admit, there's a good chance it's not politically timed, but I could never believe that at this point.

It's gotten so bad that, when Alberto Gonzales announced a major child pornography bust, I was dubious. This was no doubt a group of scumbags that needed to be stopped, but I cannot see past this loathesome administration. That is how much they betrayed our trust. There's no getting that back.

It doesn't matter what they do any more. It might be pumpkin pie, but all I see is sewer rat.

15 March 2006

The opportunity is ours to squander

    Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
    Waiting for someone or something to show you the way
      Pink Floyd

Here it is. An NBC/WSJ poll shows a majority in favor a Democrat-controlled Congress. Now is the time. Now is the place. What are we going to do?

Early indicators suggest we're going to blow our best chance yet. Will we yet again be left pleading for leadership? Will the Democrats answer the call?

A majority favors a Democrat controlled Congress. We're running out of excuses here.

09 March 2006

Go to Cockeyed.com. Now!

    Throughout the ages, man has pondered the question, "How much is inside?"

If you never have, you need to visit Cockeyed.com. Just go there. If you need some extra incentive, check 0ut their "How Much Is Inside" section. It will answer the time honored questions like "How much gold is there in Goldschlager?" and "Are Planter's Mixed Nuts really less than 50% peanuts?" and much much more.

03 March 2006

Welcome VeeganMD

    Have I ever told you I'm a Vegan? I'm a regular soy boy.

He's an MD. He's a vegan. He might even be Swedish!

And now he has his own blog.

*Although attributed to VeeganMD, this quote may actually be the product of a fiendishly clever imitation

Eastern Organic Resources battle with DEP worsens

    Say you'll be all right come tomorrow
    But tomorrow might not be here for you
    Ooooh that smell
      Lynyrd Skynyrd

Last week I posted about the ups and downs of recycling and renewable energy playing out in a dispute between Eastern Organic Resource and the DEP. Yesterday, as reported by the Times of Trenton, the situation worsened. The DEP has begun taking steps to revoke the recycling company's operating permit and shut down the Burlington county facility. Eastern Organic is vowing a fight. We'll see how it goes, but it doesn't look like this can end well.

Cross-posted at Blue Jersey.

How about a little courtesy?

    Do to others as you would have them do to you.
      Luke 6:31 (New International Version)

This one has been bugging me for several days, but I'm only now getting off my virtual lazy butt and blogging it....

On Tuesday I was in New Brunswick for lunch at the Harvest Moon Brewery with some friends. The lunch didn't bug me - it was a good food and great beer. No, it was the person I encountered on the drive in. As I was pulling up to the parking deck entrance, a woman darted in front of me from between two street-parked cars. I had to stop short to avoid hitting her, and she gave me a nasty look as jaywalked into the parking deck. Fine. She had right of way, even if she chose to disregard pedestrian laws and common sense. I certainly can't claim to have never jaywalked.

We parked and started heading down the ram to the stairs. There was another person walking a few steps behind us who had also just parked. A car came up behind us all, creeping forward waiting for us to move. We did so quickly, as we were walking a little to far into the middle. Then person in the car gunned the engine and raced by us. Guess what? Yup, same woman flashing that same nasty look.

Here's the thing though, if someone rushed in front of her, like she did with me, she'd have run them over. If, as pedestrian she had encountered herself as a driver, she'd be dead. There would also be one hell of a paradox in the space-time continuum, but I digress.

Okay, I'm about to mention the men's room at my workplace. There will be only vague detail, but feel free to skip this paragraph. When I returned from lunch, I made a pit-stop, as it were. Someone had spit out their gum in the urinal. If you are unfamiliar with the flushing mechanics of the average urinal, let me just say that it is highly unlikely that gum was going anywhere. Anyone who uses a urinal would know this, including the guy who left it there. The person cleaning the urinal would have to remove this item, making an unpleasant job a little more unpleasant. This was not a unique occurrence. Often people throw paper towels in toilets, resulting in clogs that someone will have to deal with. All this with not one, but two trash cans nearby.

Everyone's probably heard the quote leading into this post. It's one of countless expressions of the ethic of reciprocity. Commonly known as the Golden Rule, this moral principle is found in virtually all cultures and religions. Its prevalence suggests the Rule may be related to innate aspects of human nature, according to the Wiki article I've linked to. You've got to wonder, though. It's hard to believe it's an innate behavior when people can't even be bothered to toss a piece of gum in the trash.

I claim no moral superiority on this, by the way. One reason I'm thinking about this now is that I am considering the ways I could have handled a workplace disagreement. I try to keep work out of my blog, so I won't elaborate, except to say this. I had the opportunity to consider the other person's situation and didn't, choosing focus on how I'm inconvenienced. A "conflict resolution" seminar at a recent company meeting was mostly about the golden rule, respecting the circumstances of the person you're in conflict with. It seems obvious when presented in that forum, but it's more difficult in the heat of the moment. Anyway, I could do a better job of dealing with these people, and I'm working on that presently.

To be fair, the lady from the parking garage doing the same thing, asking herself why she didn't just slow down. The guy with the gum might also be asking himself why he didn't just spit it in the trash.

One final thought.... Googling the Golden Rule yielded this essay, which contains the following paragraph:

The golden rule is best seen as a consistency principle. It doesn't replace regular moral norms. It isn't an infallible guide on which actions are right or wrong; it doesn't give all the answers. It only prescribes consistency - that we not have our actions (toward another) be out of harmony with our desires (toward a reversed situation action). It tests our moral coherence. If we violate the golden rule, then we're violating the spirit of fairness and concern that lie at the heart of morality.
I want to take this quote and use it as a context to discuss the policies and actions of our government under the Bush administration, but this post is already long. Besides, I think the conclusions are pretty clear.

25 February 2006

In case you had your doubts

    Revolutionaries need several ingredients to succeed: charisma, for one; organization, for another. But what they need most of all is an incompetent regime, one that makes their ideas look good by comparison.
      Michael Hirsh

Michael Hirch wrote a great commentarty on the incompetent leadership of George W. Bush. There are no new revelations in the story. We've heard about each failure before. Still, there is something about seeing them oulined one after another. The sheer weight of it all hammers home the fact that this is one of the worst presidents in history who has done great harm to this nation. In short, a miserable failure.

21 February 2006

Tough challenges when you renew and reuse

    Ooooh that smell
    Can't you smell that smell
      Lynyrd Skynyrd

"Organic recycler faces regulatory wrath" is the headline of this article in Monday'sTimes of Trenton, but you might wonder why after reading the opening paragraphs:

Eastern Organic Resources has big plans for the decomposing fruit, vegetables and grass clippings it collects at its composting plant in Springfield, Burlington County, hoping to enclose the pungent piles and generate enough methane gas to power a 5-megawatt cogeneration plant at neighboring McGuire Air Force Base.

If the company wins approval from regulators, it would be the first commercial food waste composter in the state to produce both soil and fuel, solid waste experts say.

Eastern Organic's plans sound like a win-win scenario. But read on and you'll
understand the problem in a story that highlights the pitfalls and promise of
recycling and renewable energy.

Over three years, the company increased production from 50 tons of material each day to 200 tons. In 2005, they sold about 200,000 cubic yards of compost produced from a combination of food waste, grass clippings, leaves, and shredded wooden pallets. They have also been assessed hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines by county health inspectors responding to local residents' complaints about the smell. Not the DEP may force them to stop operation.

Ironically, the complaints and possible DEP action threaten plans that could actually solve the odor problem. Eastern Organic is currently approval not only to generate methane in a "anaerobic digester" that would generate methane, but also to enclose the smelliest part of the operation, filtering out the stench. McGuire AFB, seeking to fulfill energy saving mandates, has already said they would buy the methane.

There is cause to question their ability to deliver. The DEP contends that Eastern Organic has failed to comply with environmental management issues like water storage and wetland protection, in addition to controlling the odor. The breakdown of a machine designed to turn the compost resulted in a more intense stench. Burlington County officials have complained about what they call the company's inaction.

There is a little bit of everything here. There is a company that is probably not doing all it can to minimize its environmental impact. There are regulations threatening to squash a valuable growth industry. And there are residents in favor of recycling but against having it in their back yard. These problems are incredibly universal, and solving them is undeniably crucial.

At the end of the article, local planning board member Lisa Specca sums it up this way:

"It's a great idea to take the waste from restaurants and supermarkets and turn it into soil -- the concept is absolutely sound," said Specca. "The problem is rotting garbage really stinks."

"We're all crossing our fingers and hoping," Specca added. "If they don't put in the digester, it will be shut, and that would be a loss for everyone."

It would indeed. We need companies like Eastern Organic to succeed. When they fail, we all lose. I hope we're up to the challenge.

Cross-posted at BlueJersey.

19 February 2006

There's a signpost up ahead

    Help, I'm stepping into the Twilight Zone
    The place is a mad-house
    Feels like being cloned
      Golden Earing

Carnival 40 is up at The Opinion Mill. Check it out!


17 February 2006

Senator Pat Roberts shows how good servants behave

    What is thy bidding, my master?
      Darth Vader

Senate Republicans have been getting a little unruly lately. I mean, folks like Arlen Specter were starting to act like they had a mind and will of their own. Well Senator Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, stepped up today to show Congressional Republicans how a good lap dog behaves.

Some may have questioned his devotion to Presidential servitude when he promised a committee vote on whether to investigate unwarranted domestic surveillence. But there were no doubters yesterday when he broke his word and cancelled the vote. That wasn't enough for Roberts, though. He went one step further in demostrating his absolute subserviance when he announced that he would be working with the White House to amend FISA to permit warrantless spying. He really did that! Faced with a President that openly and unapologetically breaks the law, he decides we need to change the law.

Congratulations Senator Pat Roberts! You win the distinction of being this week's biggest White House Stooge!

There are many news stories on this, but I think this NY Times editorial says it best.

16 February 2006

Rediscovered! REM - Dead Letter Office

    I suppose if we had any shame we would have never allowed this little gem to see the light of day.
      Peter Buck

Often lately I find myself at a loss for what to post. I've decided I need a few recurring themes I can fall back on when nothing else strikes me. To that end, here is the first in what I hope will be an ongoing series titled "Rediscovered!" Every so often, I dig a CD out of our collection and say, "I haven't listened to this in ages." Then I rip it, fire up the long neglected tracks, and remember why I liked them so much.

So, I figured I'd highlight some of this rediscovered music and talk about it a little. As the title says, today's rediscovered album is REM's Dead Letter Office. I dug this out after Jeri posted a Megashuffle that included "Ages of You," the second song on the second side (when there were such things as sides). The album is an apropos choice in that the album itself is a collection of dusted-off rarities and b-sides from their days at IRS records. Most bands put out one of these collections at some point. This came out as REM made the switch to the Warner label.

Not everyone likes rarity collections, and often you need to be a fan to appreciate this type of work. I think material Dead Letter Office is stronger than what you'll find on the average collection. There are several decent covers, including three of Velvet Underground songs ("There She Goes Again," "Pale Blue Eyes," and "Femme Fatale") and one of Aerosmith's "Toys in the Attic." Then there's the cover of Roger Miller's "King of the Road," the song REM guitarist Peter Buck is talking about in the quote above, taken from his liner notes.

While I'm on that subject, Peter Buck's liner notes are one of the particular treasures of this album. They're have a dry, often self-deprecating humor to them. Of "King of the Road," Buck goes on to say that, "If there was any justice in the world, Roger Miller should be able to sue for what we did to this song." They also provide insight into the band's musical influences, and they capture the pure fun they were having. (You can find the liner notes when you click on Dead Letter Office in the discography section of REM's web site.)

In addition to the covers, there are several straight-up songs reminiscent of REM's early years. "Ages of You," which I mentioned earlier, "Burning Down" and "Crazy" fit this build. Once track, "Burning Hell" is something of a window into the distorted guitars and growling vocals of REM's future work on albums like Monster. There are a couple catchy instrumentals, my favorite being the surf-rockin' "White Tornado." And of course, there's "Voice of Harold," where Michael Stipe sings the liner notes of a gospel album over the backing track of Reckoning's "Seven Chinese Brothers." That song is, a its "lyrics" proclaim, "A must!"

One last observation, then I'll call it quits and publish.... A nice thing about rediscovering an album is that you might find something you never noticed before. That happened with Dead Letter Office. Early on in "King of the Road" you can hear Mike Mills shouting in the background. I always though he was shouting along with the song, or saying "yeah!" or "yee-haw" of something. I'm not pretty sure what he is shouting out the chord changes, something I've seen bands do often when working out a new song.

14 February 2006

In good company

    Mangeons les French fries, mais surtout pratiquons avec fierté le French kiss!
    (Let's eat French fries, but above all let's French kiss with pride!)
      Anti-war protest organizer, Montreal (15 March 2003)

You probably remember how, on 11 March 2003, Representatives Robert W. Ney (R - Ohio) and Walter B. Jones, Jr. (R - North Carolina), under the authority of Congressman Ney's position as Chairman of the Committee on House Administration, ordered restaurants and snack bars run by the House of Representatives to replace all references to "French fries" and "French toast" with "freedom fries" and "freedom toast." The whole story is here.

Well, Ney and Jones aren't alone. Today Iran has declared that sweet, flaky pastries are now called "Roses of the Prophet Muhammad." Read all about it. The article, of course, notes the similarity to the "freedom" foods. There's an association we can be proud of. Thanks guys!

13 February 2006

This won't work with that

    Conceit is incompatible with understanding.
      Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy

And Apple's DRM is incompatible with Microsoft's DRM.

Digital Rights Management is how digital media vendors are attempting to protect copyrights. In the latest incarnation of VHS vs. Betamax, two competing DRM implementations have arisen. Microsoft is pushing their WMA format and every digital media vendor supports it. Everyone, that is, except Apple, who has their own AAC format that is only available on Apple's iTunes. This is, of course, no surprise, but it's what's got me peeved right now, because I'm getting burned by the incompatible formats.

Compatibility is what drove my purchase of the iPod in the first place. Apple and BMW joined forces to create an adapter that allows you to plug your iPod in to your car, but control it through the factory stereo. Since BMW owns MINI, this option would be available on my Cooper and I went for it. I was a little dubious on the iPod because of Apple's history of locking you into proprietary technology, but I went for it. (I did make sure to rip all my music as regular MP3, so I can play it anywhere.)

Well, now I'm getting burned by the format war. My public library signed on with a statewide service that allows cardholders to download audio books. You check them out, just like a library book, and you have a limited period in which to listen to them before you have to release them. This is accomplished by using a time-limited license on the audio files you download, or in other words, with DRM. Of course, they use Microsoft's DRM. So iPod users can't use their service.

I'm annoyed at everyone in this situation. I'm annoyed at Apple for the way they resist standard formats in favor of locking you into their hardware. I'm annoyed at Microsoft for their monolithic approach to DRM, strong arming the industry. I'm annoyed at the software company behind this audiobook service for shutting out the largest segment of digital music players.

Meanwhile, I'm stuck forking over another $15 to Audible for a service I should be getting for free. Oh, yeah, I'm annoyed at Audible because they don't have Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern books.

I'm just annoyed....

03 February 2006


    Without your space helmet, Dave, you're going to find that rather difficult.
      HAL 9000

As I type this, the ISS crew is about to push an old Russian space suit out the door. The worn-out Orlan spacesuit is outfitted with radio equipment, turning it into a makeshift satellite. SuitSat, as it's been dubbed, will broadcast a signal on FM frequency 145.990 MHz that HAM radios and police scanners can pick up on earth. You can read about it here and track its position here.

Here is one more story about the suit, and it notes that this dumping old suits is old hat for the Russians. Apparently MIR cosmonauts would entertain guest with a movie of one such suit which was posed with its arm waving as is floated away, just like countless sci-fi movies.

Do you sometimes get the feeling the Russians are having just a little more fun up there?

Update: It's away!

Middle East reaction to SOTU

    Example is leadership.
      Albert Schweitzer

Christopher Dickey wrote an article on the Middle East reaction to the SOTU. It's titled Battleground of Ideas. I read it yesterday, but it's stuck with me, so I figured I'd share it. Following are some exerpts that struck me, but you should read the whole thing.

So only a few people in the region listened to President George W. Bush deliver his State of the Union address last night. But they know the message, now, almost as well as they know the call of the muezzin; it has been repeated so often, so relentlessly, and so mechanically. The difference is that many believe the muezzin, and few believe Bush.

We shouldn't be surprised. The State of the Union, perhaps more than any other speech the president makes, defines the way the administration wants to see its world. But its narrative is so foreign to the thinking of most people in the Arab world that they've come to hear Bush's language as a kind of code: "liberation" means occupation, "freedom" means war, "victory" means victims, "reconstruction" means chaos, "democracy" means following directives from Washington. Bush, whatever his intentions—and I think he should be credited with some good ones—has come to be seen as a caricature, talking about strength and determination, projecting an image of stubbornness and confusion.

Those who are attacked or denigrated by the Bush administration, like the Baathist regime in Syria, find themselves lionized by the Arab public. Those applauded by Washington are dismissed as pawns. The result on the ground is often the opposite of the Bush administration's stated desires. "Democracy has a new enemy in the region, which is the support [for democracy] by the United States of America," says Safadi.

Ultimately, democracy is taught better by example than by declaration, and here, too, the Bush administration has failed in the eyes of many Arabs and Muslims. It's not that people in Iraq or Lebanon, Iran or Egypt do not want a voice in their governments, clearly they do. And they want change. They pray for it. But none of the changes they've been shown so far have been adequate to their hopes. Nor has their ever-growing contact with truth and justice the American way led them to see it as a shining example. The essence of democracy is public accountability.

There is so much more in the article. I found myself wanting to cut/paste damn near the whole thing. Check it out.

Cross-posted at BlueJersey.net.

30 January 2006

NJ Transit at a crossroads

    If God had intended us to fly, he would never have given us the railroads
      Michael Flanders

The business section of this Sunday's Times of Trenton had an article by Michael Lavitt about the NJ Transit's current crossroads. Unfortunately, it's not on NJ.com - don't know why.

It builds on some of the issues Lavitt raised in this article questioning whether Amtrak should remain in control of the Northeast Corrider, framing the debate with a story about a 60-year-old power line that shut down the Northeast Corridor, North Jersey Coast and Raritan Valley Lines and inconvenienced 10,000 morning commuters. He notes that:

The stretch of railroad between Washington and Boston is the only significant right-of-way that Amtrak owns and operates. And there are some who question whether the current Amtrak, headed by a board of Bush cronies who Congress refused to confirm, starved for capital funds and struggling with huge operating losses, should continue to own or control the busiest stretch of railroad in the country.

The aformentioned cronies got new recess appointments. You've got to wonder what's up when a Republican president is afraid to let his choices face Senate confirmation.

NJ Transit has funding concerns of its own. The state's Transportation Trust Fund, which pays capital expenses of mass transit and highways, needs a new source of revenue. If none is found, all money from the fund is obligated to pay for bond debt. An increase in the gas tax is shaping up to be that new source of funding. There seems to be growing support, especially with the recent decrease in gas prices. Personally, I think increasing the gas tax was a good idea even at the post-Katrina highs, but I digress.

I think the state needs to keep funding NJ Transit. Mass transit in NJ has seen vast improvements in New Jersey. Trains run more often, with more seats and more new cars. The Hamilton and Secaucus stations were both immediately successful, offering commuters more options for departures and connections. There is still debate about the River Line, but its ridership growth continues to be in line with projections.

There is more on the horizon. Lavitt's article points out some of the things we have to look forward to. There are the new multilevel cars, which he reported on last week. There is also the renovation of the Trenton station, scheduled to be complete in 2007. With proper funding, a direct connection could be added between the River Line and the Atlantic City line.

Even better, a by placing an electric locomotive at one end of a train and a diesel at the other, a train could run directly from New York's Penn Station to Atlantic City in 2 1/2 hours. This, in particular, seems like a no-brainer to me. What better way to lure New Yorkers to Atlantic City?

Here is my thinking on all of this: We need to keep expanding and improving our mass transit. The gas tax is the appropriate funding source, and there's room to increase it. We have too many cars on the road as it is. We need to make it easier for people to use alternatives. Continuing to improve the infrastructure and increase services will make mass transit more and more attractive. With each improvement, each new service, ridership will to increase. Like the movie said, "if you build it, they will come."

We've come a long way, we can't turn back. And with Bushies in charge of Amtrak, the stakes on one of the nation's busiest railroads just got higher.

Cross-posted at BlueJersey.net.

23 January 2006

Good fortune

    Every man is the architect of his own fortune.

You're no doubt aware of the simple game people often play with the fortunes received in fortune cookies. You append two words to find humor and innuendo.

Well, I had Chinese for lunch today, and this is what I got in the cookie:

I'm just saying....

22 January 2006

Carnival thirty-something-or-other!

    There's a party goin' on right here
    A celebration to last throughout the years
    So bring your good times, and your laughter too
    We gonna celebrate your party with you
      Kool and the Gang

The new Carnival is up. Check it out!


21 January 2006

That same old song

    We hum the same old lines to a different crowd
    And everybody wants to cheer it
    We run on endless time to reach a higher cloud
    But we never ever seem to get near it
    We sing the same old song
      The Who

Karl Rove has resurfaced to talk up the Republican strategy for the 2006 elections. I doubt that anyone on the face of this planet would be suprised by what he said. It goes something like this:

Blah blah blah... 9/11... Republicans will protect you... 9/11... Democrats
want to retreat and let terrorists win... 9/11... 9/11! NINE-ELEVEN!!!

Rove said that Democrats have a pre-9/11 view of the world while Republicans have a post-9/11 view. It's a nice line, and it gave him a chance to mention 9/11 a some more, but it's a load of crap. Republicans don't have a post-9/11 view - they just have a 9/11 view. They make decisions like 9/11 was yesterday. They want Americans to remain afraid and irrational.

Democrats have the post-9/11 view. They are actually using the four years since the attack to put them in context. That's why they're not so willing to abandon our personal liberties to the Patriot Act. That's why they're questioning a war in a country that had no involvement with the terrorists that attacked us.

The question is, can we make voters understand this? The Republicans will be chanting their 9/11 mantra anywhere and everywhere they can. It's the same song they've been singing. They'll change a note or two, maybe add a new lyric, but we've heard it before. The question is, have we heard enough?

Cross-posted at BlueJersey.net.

20 January 2006

Judge strikes down Maryland marraige ban

        Although tradition and societal values are important, they cannot be given so much weight that they alone will justify a discriminatory law.
          Judge M. Brooke Murdock
          in a ruling striking down Maryland's ban on same-sex marraige

      You can't put it much better than Judge Murdock in her ruling striking down the 33-year-old Maryland law against same-sex marriage. Of course, the state will appeal, so the battle isn't won yet, but what a great way to put it.

      Thanks Skippy!

        Say hello to my little friend!
          Tony Montanna

      It's not every day a two-bit low-life blog like mine shows up on bigtime blogs like skippy the bush kangaroo. I saw an uptick in my stats today and a quick look at me referrers told me why: Skippy gave me a "say hello" link today! Thanks!

      That being the case, I want to highlight a couple of good blogs and blog posts. I usually don't hightlight these blogs because they're where I get all my hits from.... Anyway, here they are:

      • On Blanton's and Ashton's you'll find this excellent post about the State of Union speech Bush gave and the one he's going to give.
      • This post on Laughing at the Pieces you just need to read. I won't try to describe it here, but you'll love it.
      • Podcast listenners might want to visit the Jersey Jam Cast for some podsafe local music.
      • Author Jeri Smith-Ready offers insight into both her craft and her life here.
      • And for general excellence, visit The Center of NJ Life, the blog that should have won the Screaming Carrot.

      Check them out.

      Bullet in a Bible

        I've got a bullet that's stuck in a Bible
          Curator at the Imperial War Museum in London

      I got Green Day's Bullet in a Bible for Christmas. It's a two-disc set. One disc is a two-hour concert film, the other is the concert CD. I've seen a few reviews of this, and they tend to fall into two categories.

      This review typifies the first category. The reviewer starts out by trashing American Idiot as "punk rock lip service" before going after Bullet in a Bible as proof of their sell-out status. It's the common complaint leveled at alternative artists when they find success or seek to expand the boundries of their musical style. Green Day did both and this reviewer could accept neither.

      At the other end of the spectrum is this review. Everything the previous review saw as signs of Green Day's artistic demise this review sees as a sign of their greatness. The reviewer loved American Idiot which they found intelligent and ambitious. It's no surprise, then, that they loved Bullet in a Bible, ate it up actually.

      I was not quite so ecstatic, myself. The performances on Bullet in a Bible are solid and will enjoy a steadily increasing play count on my iPod. The different segments between the performances on the DVD are standard concert-file fare. That's not a slam, mind you. There's a nice matter-of-fact honesty in their comments, particularly those of Billie Joe Armstrong and Mike Dirnt (Tre Cool is more comic relief). Some of the bits might be a bit over-dramatic, like their visit to the Imperial War Museum, but on balance it's good stuff. The only other nit I could pick is Billie Joe's constant shouts of "ENGLAND!" and "HEY-YO" to the crowd, but then, the crowd was into it and that's why they were there.

      In all, if you like Green Day and concert films, you'll like Bullet in a Bible. I like both, so I like this. Now if only someone would put out a DVD of their VH1 Storytellers appearance.

      Find good beer

        "He was a wise man who invented beer."

      All over the web people are using the Google Maps API to develop their own map-based guides and services. Many of these efforts are chronicled on the Google Maps Mania blog.

      For the beer drinkers among us, here are two great efforts:

      • The Crooked Beat Beer and Music Map maintained by The Crooked Beat, a site dedicated to local music in the NY/NJ area. The page allows you to limit your search based on live music and the number of good beers available.
      • The Beer Mapping Project does it on a national scale. It features maps for several metropolitan areas (including NY and Philly) as well as a nationwide map of breweries and brew pubs.

      Now you have no excuse for drinking lousy beer.

      A New Horizon

        It was so awe-inspiring to watch something like this. It’s something you can’t put into words. You just feel it.
          Annette Tombaugh-Sitze
          (her father, Clyde Tombaugh, discovered Pluto)

      The New Horizons spacecraft has begun 3-billion-mile trip to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. It was nine hours to the moon's orbit, it will be nine years to Pluto. Next year it gets a bit of a boost from Jupiter's gravity.

      I had the NASA TV feed on, so I was able to catch the whole launch. Once they lost sight of the rocket from the ground, they switched to a cool 3-D rendering that updated based on live telemetry data. After that, during the third stage burn, it was just a shot of a launch controller watching the telemetry data as it rolled of the printer. Kind of a low-tech finale, but it was neat to watch. Clyde Tombaugh's widow was there for the launch of the probe, which carried some his ashes onboard.

      This is the fastest spacecraft ever launched from Earth. Despite that fact, it will take at least nine years for it to reach Pluto, illustrating how incredibly far away Pluto is. I told one of my daughters that she'd be driving by the time the probe gets to Pluto. "Wow," she said. Wow indeed.

      17 January 2006

      Riding music

        They're my theme music. Every hero's got to have some.
          Jack Spade
          I'm Gonna Git You, Sucka

      One of the nice things about riding the stationary bike is my iPod. I don't use it when I'm out on my bicycle, as I like to hear the car before I can taste its hood ornament. Besides, there's stuff to look at and enjoy in an outdoor ride. The view in my basement is kind of limited.

      I've been trying out different albums and artists, looking for good exercise music. This is music that helps me keep pace and push harder. So, following is something not entirely unlike Jeri's Megashuffle, my commented exercise music album list.

      Soundtrack to The Matrix: This was a no-brainer, really. You've probably seen the film, so you know the music has plenty of energy to keep you going.

      "Sehnsucht" by Rammstein: Their self-described musical style is Tanz-Metall ("Dance Metal"). I bought this because I liked "Du Hast", and I wasn't disappointed. Also, its German lyrics mean I'm less likely to sing along, which can be difficult while exercising.

      "In Your Honor" (Disc 1) by Foo Fighters: This, their latest, is an excellent album. It's a double-disc album, with all the hard stuff on the first disc and the slow stuff on the second. The tempo of a few songs is a little slower than I'd like, but it makes up for it in power.

      "Guero" by Beck: I think this is Beck's best effort to date. This is one of those CDs I played to death when I got it. It works well for exercising, but I had to skip "Broken Drum" because it was just to plodding. I also didn't make it "Farewell Ride" before I stopped. It's title is vaguely apropos, but it's way to slow.

      "Party Mix!" by the B-52's: This was an EP with danced-up versions of material from their first two albums, songs like "52 Girls" and "Private Idaho." This is one of the best so far for pacing. It also turned out to be a really good match for one of the programs on the bike - when you hit the really hard part, "Lava" starts with a beat that is just a little slower.

      "Substance 1987" by New Order: More remixes, this time on the class New Order compilation. It's a long album, so it was a good choice when I decided to lengthen my ride to 45 minutes.

      "Music for the Masses" by Depeche Mode: Not a bad start on this one, but there were too many slow points. Slow plodding melodies from Depeche Mode? Who woulda thunk.

      "Comfort Eagle" by Cake: You might not think this works, but it does. It's all in the beat, I think. This was another one that meshed with the program I picked on the bike. "Comfort Eagle" came up right during the final push.

      "American Idiot" by Green Day: This is an example of pure power trumping any tempo issue. Plenty of fast beats there, to be sure, but even when there isn't, there is enough drive to keep you those pedals turning.

      "Dookie" by Green Day: I don't know why I didn't see this one sooner. Every now and then I forget how great this album is. It doesn't slow down until track eleven ("When I Come Around"), and then only barely.

      Other candidate albums mostly have the same issues as "Music for the Masses" - too many slow spots. It's probably time for some playlists. There are plenty of great songs for exercise, even if the whole album doesn't fit. "Immigrant's Song" and "Run Like Hell" work well, even if "Since I've Been Loving You" and "Waiting for the Worms" don't.

      Well, I don't know how relevent this analysis is to anyone, but there you go.

      15 January 2006

      We still have a dream

        Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.
          Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

      The litany in church today was a recitation of the "I Have a Dream" speech, in which we all affirmed that we have that dream. If you haven't read or listened to it lately, you should. Audio and text can be found here.

      Let us keep the dream alive.

      Happy landing

        It’s an absolutely fantastic end to the mission.
          Carlton Allen
          of NASA’s Johnson Space Center

      It sure is. The Stardust probe's sample return capsule landed safely in the Utah desert, completing its 2.9 billion mile round trip!

      08 January 2006

      A Song for Pat Robertson

        I do not sit with deceitful men,
        nor do I consort with hypocrites
          Psalm 26:4

      I always liked the musical Godspell, even with the decisions I've made concerning religion. It's a good telling of Matthew's gospel (if a little hippy-dippy). I recently read Rob's post about Pat Robertson's latest idiocy. Since then, every time I think of it, I think of a song from Godspell. It's pretty much Matthew 23:13-36:


      Alas, alas for you,
      Lawyers and pharisees
      Hypocrites that you be
      Searching for souls and fools to forsake them
      You travel the land you scour the sea
      After you've got your converts you make them
      Twice as fit for hell!
      As you are yourselves!

      Alas, alas, for you
      Lawyers and pharisees
      Hypocrites that you are
      Sure that the kingdom of Heaven awaits you
      You will not venture half so far
      Other men that might enter the gates you
      Keep from passing through!
      Drag them down with you!

      You snakes, you viper's brood
      You cannot escape being Devil's food!
      I send you prophets, and I send you preachers
      Sages in rages and ages of teachers
      Nothing can mar your mood

      Alas, alas for you
      Lawyers and pharisees
      Hypocrites to a man
      Sons of the dogs who murdered the prophets
      Finishing off what your fathers began
      You don't have time to scorn or to scoff
      It's getting very late!
      Vengeance doesn't wait!

      You snakes, you viper's brood
      You cannot escape being Devil's food!
      I send you prophets, and I send you preachers
      Sages in rages and ages of teachers
      Nothing can mar your mood

      Blind guides, blind fools
      The blood you've spilt
      On you will fall!
      This nation, this generation
      Shall bear the guilt of it all!

      Alas, alas alas for you!
      Blind fools!!

      You've got to wonder if Robertson even reads that Bible he waves around. How can he, or anyone in the RRR read the New Testement and not see that they are the lawyers and pharisees? Blind fools.

      05 January 2006

      Can't keep a good rover down!

        Wheels keep on spinning round spinning round spinning round
        Wheels keep on spinning round spinning round and round
          "Wheels" by Cake

      Yesterday marked the two-year anniversery of the rover Spirit's arrival on Mars. In two weeks, Opportunity will also pass the two year mark. Not too shabby for a pair of rovers meant to last three months!

      Read more here.

      04 January 2006

      Much ado about swearing

        You will swear by your true Kingship... to grant me what I wish, then you shall have it.

      In yesterday's Times had an article about Paula Sollami-Covello with an accompanying photo of John Corzine administering the oath. I thought this was a little odd, but figured that, as a U.S. Senator, he could do it. Turns out he can't, and didn't. It was just a photo op, with the real oath administered in private. In today's Times, Krystal Knapp reports the swearing-in was just for show.

      What's more, Sallami-Covello wasn't the only one sworn in like this. Edison mayor Jun Choi was also "sworn in" by Corzine, receiving the real oath later. To make matters worse, Choi's spokesperson David Donnelley didn't even know the Corzine-administered oath was unofficial.

      Why couldn't Corzine have just stood by them when they received the oath? Was it really necessary for him to administer the oath? Now we have a story making them look like ill-informed grandstanders.

      Cross-posted at BlueJersey.net.

      03 January 2006

      Takin' that ride

        We're on a road to nowhere
        Come on inside
        Takin' that ride to nowhere
        We'll take that ride
        Feelin' okay this mornin'
        And you know,
        We're on the road to paradise
        Here we go, here we go
          The Talking Heads
          "Road to Nowhere"

      For the openning quote, I almost chose the "Move It, Move It" song from Madagascar. It is one of those catchy tunes that implant themselves in you conciousness. It's also one that your kids will sing over and over and over no matter how much you beg them to stop. I almost picked it because of the part with King Julien chanting, "Physically fit, physically fit, physically, physically, physically fit!"

      The Today Show this morning noted that the New Year is a time when people resolve to get in shape. I want to point out that I did start a little earlier, last October (or there about). I began bike riding three times a week. A light start, yes, but you've got to start somewhere. Then it got cold and snowed a lot. So much for riding. For Christmas I asked for and got a stationary bike. It has a computer that varies the resistance according to a program and/or heart rate. So I'm back riding again, though I never leave my basement. One plus is that I can listen to my iPod without fear of getting run over because I didn't hear a car horn....

      I am taking a risk in announcing my new exercise initiative, because I could let it slide. But, then, I already got the bike and I don't want that to be a waste. Besides, I'm actually a kind of excited about the opportunity to be a little more physically, physically, physically fit.

      Sorry. See what I'm talking about?