So many words, so little time....

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The Xbox360 causes cancer! Or, uh, wait, uhhh.....

I've heard a whole lotta stoo-pid lately about game hardware. There have been some problems with the 360, but most of them are PEBKAC or Snopes-grade internet vapor.


-- It can scratch disks. IF you move it or knock it over while a disk is spinning. Just like just about every other disk-media device out there. The PS2 did this, too. Any CD player will do it. Try knocking your PC tower over on it's side while you're playing a CD and see what you get. Solution: Don't move the system while you're playing it. And keep the thing horizontal unless you've got a place that's really safe from it being knocked down.

-- It does blow out a heck of a lot of heat. Those clearances for placement are not just a suggestion. Solution: We had the best performance by putting it on top of a shelf with clear air top and all sides. And NEVER EVER EVER put the thing down on carpet. This also holds true for your PS2, especially the thin ones.


-- It doesn't cause brownouts or any other sort of power outages due to the amount of power it sucks down. Nor will it black out in the middle of a game due to not having power. It uses standard PC power suppy hardware, and uses an equivalent amount of energy. It won't do any more to your power bill than buying a new computer would. Solution: Stop huffing and actually read the hardware specs that have been so helpfully splattered all over Heck and gone on the internet. The symptom being described here would be better attributed to a heat problem, anyways. Check the ventilation around your unit and make sure it's got lots of flow.

-- All the harddrives are crashing. No, but this is more a problem of frequency. There are some that did have problems due to shipment, just like any other electrical appliance. From what I hear it's mostly motherboard connection problems and it tends to manifest itself with the external hard drive connection on the 360 version of the system. If you have this problem, it will barf right after starting up. Solution: This is why God created warrantees. Or if you're that afraid of this, then don't buy it for about six months and they have been through a few production runs.

If you want to make sure you don't have any of these problems when you get yours home, it's really simple. First: Set the thing up horizontal. Second: Set it up someplace in the wide open like the top of a coffee table. Third: Power it up. Fourth: Put in a disk you don't care about like a burned CD of Aqua or Azurik: Rise of Perathia or something. It should run you through the inital setup screens and then start playing really bad European techno or tell you that you can't play that game on this hardware. Breathe a happy sigh of relief that the Flaming Q-tip is finally gone from your life. If it does anything else, call Microsoft or the store you got it from if you bought any sort of maintenance agreement.

This is not a brick. It's electronic equipment. Expensive electronic equipment. And if you don't take care of it, it's not going to perform as it should. DUHHH. The problem is not M$ or your local gamestore. It's right there between the controller and the couch.

* PEBKAC = Problem Exists Between Keyboard and Chair
A customer service acronym for an issue that is caused by the user, not the equipment. See I-D-ten-T and RTFM

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

I Could Describe the Scale On Which This Sucks....

.... but it would require charts and an easel.

I still don't have my Xbox 360. I know I'm in the next shipment, but we had some snow down here and it delayed the delivery. I know they can't help it, but it's really annoying. I let my neighbor who got his lame-oh Core system play my copy of Perfect Dark Zero since it was just sitting around useless. Current estimate is Thursday.

My daughters got their hands on a set of fansubs for the entire Full Metal Alchemist series. Guess what's been on continuous play at my house? I don't want to spoil, but to quote one of their brother's friends, "Da-uhm did that get whack towards the end." Not as bad as Evangelion, but wow.

And in other semi-anime news, my daughter's choir teacher has made another grave error. He did an in-class assignment a month or so ago where he told them they had to learn a song in a foriegn language. He was expecting a bunch of church latin. What he got was 22 little girls shrilling songs from various anime. My daughter sang Yubiwa from Escaflowne. I had to teach her how to do the phrasing, but she did a pretty good job. This was cool for me, too, because I've wanted to learn that one for a long time myself.

Well, his new assignment was for them to learn a "popular song" over Christmas Break. So guess what he's getting? 21 versions of that Lindsay Lohan song that's infesting the charts right now and "1,000 Words" from FFX-2. The test for "popular" was whether or not more than five of her classmates had heard of it. Her sister's going to come with her and do the duet part with her at the end. That means more Japanese phrasing lessons, but now we're in stereo. It's going to be cool, I think. I told him next time, he should add the stipulation that their parents have to have heard of it. It won't help him with Danica, but it should help winnow out the most egregious teenie-bopper crap. Or he could just require that the song be older than they are.

Oh, has anyone here ever heard of a group called "Ellegarden"? I ran into it online, and it's interesting in a very pop sort of way but I can only find one of their songs. Is "Monster" the only good one?

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A Vermiscious Post...

I was out taking a break with our other coder this morning and some ladies from another office in this building were going on and on about this crow who was working on something out in the parking lot. Their complaints were loud and long about how they were just "flying rats". They had just got into seagulls and pigeons and real rats when it was time to put out their butts and trail off into the rest of their day.

It set me to thinking.

Domestic predators we seem to be able to deal with as long as they're not weird or actually trying to eat us. No one wants a lion in their living room, but as long as the spider doesn't come along and sit down beside you on your tuffet there's a case to be made for letting them be. They are efficiently designed predators in their own little realm and I understand they have a place in the world. Sometimes it's hard to remember that when I open up the shower curtain and find Shelob sitting next to the drain, but we do try.

When it comes to scavengers, it's a whole different story. They have an unsavory reputation. Most people think it's okay to revile them. I think it's ill-founded. They are creatures who live off of the leavings of others. But just as we deal with the spider by remembering all those pests they eat, you need to think about what the scavenger's job is.

All animals make waste. Human kind is particularly good at it. All over our urban areas there is food and other garbage rotting in gutters and drains. And by design or fate our world has a collection of animals who find that eating it or the animals that eat it the easiest way to get their needs met. And all those tons of unmanaged organic litter is fair game.

Much is made of the animals themselves carrying disease. Where do you think they get it? The moon? The pests, parasites, bacteria and viruses that cause those diseases breed in that garbage. Yes, the animals may bring disease organisms from one area to another, but they don't make them. We do. And by their consumption of it, the can drastically reduce the amount of germ-riddled filth.

It's not a perfectly closed system. The animals also make their own waste. And since they live in close proximity with humans, we are confronted with it on our car windshields and even occaisionally on our heads. I'm not saying that I enjoy that. But every white splotch on my car is a mostly sterile and unscented left-over from about a quarter pound of carelessly discarded fast-food and other junk that people leave behind them all over town. And if I had to compare that splotch to that, I'll take the whitewash any day.

Even in the natural world, there are animals whose sole purpose is to clean up after it. It is a process necessary to life on this planet. Earthworms, molds, lichen, and hundreds of kinds of small mammals, beetles and birds do their little bit every day. Their urban counterparts are just as natural. If you look at it, the miracle isn't that they do all this clean up in our cities. It's what they would be doing in undeveloped areas. The amazing thing is they adapt so well to living with us.

The world is a messy place in general. I, for one, am glad to see those feathered rats and all their furred and chitinous friends. They bring life into places that have little otherwise. They help minimize what would be a horrible problem. I feel they provide a necessary function in our increasingly urban and disposable society. Don't look down on scavengers. Just escort them out the door when necessary and otherwise let them do their work.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Jingle Bells! Batman Smells! Robin....

My shopping is partially done, partially wrapped, and I'm not exactly certain if the union of those two sets is zero. The girls were helping me and I think some things got wrapped that shouldn't have been. I have to do some judicious Sherlock Holmes work later this evening.

And what those @)&)q_* elves in the shed did to my Christmas lights over the summer should be forbidden by the Geneva Conventions! There is no way they got this tangled by themselves..........

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A Proper Pumpkin Pie...

This recipe is not just a list of ingredients. The making of a proper pumpkin pie must follow the proper steps and take the proper time in order for it to be savored.

First, timing is everything. Pumpkin pie must be made at oh-dark-hundred the night before the meal it accompanies. You do not do this at a time when normal humans (or the children) walk the earth. If werewolves aren't howling at the moon, give it another hour. This is for three reasons.
  1. If you make it, they will eat it. Now! Not after the dinner when you want it. The only way to foil them is to bake late and store securely. A decommissioned missile silo works well if available. I get by with a bank vault and a pirate's lair with lots of traps.

  2. You will never have time to do it earlier that same day due to the aforementioned children and all the other dreck you have to get together.

  3. Tomorrow you are going to have a velociraptor taking up the oven for nine hours, remember? I assure you, the only other thing that's going to fit is just enough of your hand to burn the heck out of it while basting.

Second, you must have your kitchen ready. This activity cannot occur in a clean kitchen with counter space. I don't know why. It's a mystery. I just know that I've never had a bake turn out properly if I started out with a spotless kitchen. Besides, with the kids doing the dishes this is a mythological event.

Now you must assemble all your ingredients. This recipe makes four desert pies, and three breakfast tarts. Put the things you assemble into three stacks.

Stack 1
- four cups of sugar, plus an indeterminate scoop because that doesn't look like enough
- 10 grinds on the nutmeg grinder
- a palm of salt
- a palm of ginger
- a palm of allspice
- half a palm-full of cloves
- four palms of cinnamon
- several random shakes and grinds from the spice jars listed above because it doesn't look right
- eight eggs

Stack 2
- 2 large cans pumpkin (not that mix stuff)
- four 12 oz. cans evaporated milk

Stack 3
- four regular pie pans dressed with crust (Pillsbury only if minions have been particularly evil or kitchen in particularly advanced state of higgeldy-piggeldy)
- three of the holes in the mini-loaf pan dressed with crust
- 75 foot roll of Reynolds, of which you only need about a foot right now
- Three beers; two root and one stout
- half recipe worth of banana bread batter

Now it's time to start putting it all together. After you've washed the large mixing bowl from making the pie crust, open a rootbeer and put Stack 1 ingredients into the bowl, dry stuff first, then eggs. Beat sensless with rubber spatula. Add Stack 2. Beat senseless again with rubber spatula. Pour brown mess still left in bowl (not the part that's spattered all over heck-and-gone) into the pie pans and the crusted mini-loaf pans. Cover edges of crust with strips of tinfoil, struggling manfully to not poke it into the mousse-part so it bakes in there like that. Fill un-clad mini-loaf pans with banana bread batter.

Remember you forgot to turn on oven, so read pumpkin can to see temp. Giggle at their dumb theatrics about preheating and that whole one-temp-for-15-minutes-and-then-turn-down gig. Set oven to happy medium and then remember it's witch-tit cold outside tonight so turn it up another five degrees. Put first two pies in immediately on the center rack with a baking sheet on the lower rack to diffuse heat and to make sure any spills are deflected directly onto the heating element while still baking into an evil black metallic object on the sheet. Consume rootbeer, read book, and shoo house-apes back into bed at random intervals for 55 minutes. Spend five minutes trying to find a safe spot to lay down book and figure out what kids did with hot-pads. Remove first two pies carefully from oven and place on cooling rack.

Put second two pies in their place in the oven. Open second rootbeer. Repeat last baking experience, only watch for smoke coming out of oven from baking sheet getting too hot to deal with the spills. Move cooled pies on rack to bank vault. Remove pies and baking sheet from oven. Pies go on rack, baking sheet goes across burners of stovetop where it can properly singe your eyebrows for next step.

Place mini-loaf pan in oven with the banana bread towards the front where the oven is cooler. Open stout. Continue to bake at exactly the same temp irregardless of the directions for half an hour. While this is baking, do dishes and clean up counters and do any other prepwork possible for tomorrow and consume the beer.

Remove cooled pies from rack and place them in pirate's cave (diversification is good in baking, too). Open oven and once you are done wincing away from the steam-burns on your corneas, poke banana bread with toothpick. If done, remove and shut off oven. Place rack across top of loaf-pan, and using a towel to hold it all together, turn as one unit and leave until the tarts fall out. You will be able to see this clearly because the pan is stilted up on the banana bread's tops.

By this time, beer will be done and so will you. Cover three loaves of banana bread and the three tarts with a kitchen towel to decoy the kids in the morning and hit the sack. Set alarm clock for six for humor's sake. Remember, tomorrow's the big day! ;)

Friday, November 18, 2005

Exceeded the US RDA of Emo Angst.... a signifigant margin at my house last evening.

My younger son is apparently in some sort of romantic spot again. I can tell because he's started writing poetry instead of drawing Square-meets-Gary Gygax weapons in his journal. I don't mind that so much, because he at least writes it out longhand and isn't sharing it out somewhere on the Internet for the whole world to see. What I mind is the music.

When he's happy about the whole thing it's not so bad. The usual Angry Young Man Mix comes creeping out into the house from under his bedroom door like a damp, thumping fog. The glass in the pictures in the hallway vibrates along like T-rex is coming up the sidewalk. Typical stuff, really.

When it's not going well things get really drippy. Like bad Good Charlotte balad drippy, and it's played loud enough to melt the walls. And it's the same @)^%#$&' song over and over. And he sings along. Badly. After a while, the mood infects the whole rest of the house. Everyone starts to bark, and before I know it my living room looks like one of those old Tasmanian Devil cartoons - just a cloud of dust with various limbs sticking out of it and comic book cussing floating in the air above.

I don't mind that music so much under normal conditions. In the right state of mind I actually enjoy that stuff. But not when it starts coming in on everything that isn't plastic and I'm dealing with Surly, Jerk-boy, Sybll and Eve.

I made them all watch "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" before bed. Lightened things up considerably.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Never assume malice...

... when stupidity can explain events. Stupidity and arrogance together are an even more deadly combination.

Star Wars: Episode III, aka "Thank a Gifting God THAT's Over" came out on DVD. We've had a bit of distance to help deal with the emotion and we have the rest of the series there for context. It's a complete work now, and for me it all boiled down pretty simply. To me, it was better than we had any reason to hope from past experience, but that didn't make it good.

The weather was heinous this weekend and the kids decided to watch all six Star Wars movies back-to-back. We own the Episodes 1 thru 3 on DVD, my VHS of Star Wars had eaten it's shorts so we had to rent one of the newest versions, and then my aging VHS versions of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi were duly found and played.

Taken together, the thing is a mess. The problem is Lucas is a heinous pixel-freak and he always has been. Someone gave him a magic brush, and by God he's got to use it on something. Plus, he's also heard too much of his own press. Star Wars wasn't a success because of his directorial and technical prowess, but because it was a space opera that didn't take itself too seriously combined with a good cast that could actually use his 3rd-grade level dialog writing skills to build effective characters.

If he'd stuck to his guns and his strengths and realized what was important, he would have been all right. There is a pool of good writers currently approved to write books in the Star Wars universe and any one of them would have kicked his ass writing these scripts. He did get several actors that can do this sort of material well this time around too but it was just too badly written. I mean, who would ever believe Darth Tyranus's Double-bubble dialog if Christopher Lee's dark rumble wasn't in his voice? In the hands of a lesser craftsman he would have been laughable instead of merely forgettable.

The story was mis-weighted. Most of the really big events were given short shrift, or were handled so badly they had no impact. The massacre of the Jedi order was accomplished mostly by giant bugs completely in the background in Episode II while Padme was running around getting her shirt ripped off by that kitty-thingy. To finish the job, we're honestly supposed to believe that Samuel L. Jackson was killed by that little punk and a 60+ year old Scotsman in a dress? Can you imagine that anyone would have given Jar Jar Binks enough of the time of day to vote with him in the Senate on that crucial topic that launched the Empire? And that stupid boy was able to walk through the Jedi Temple and they all just went up to him one by one and let him kill them? These guys are generals and trained soldiers and they coordinate together. You cannot tell me that four or five of those guys wouldn't have gotten together and put those kids behind some cover and had them shoot him enough to keep him occupied deflecting blaster bolts while they came up behind him together and julienned him? I don't care how bad a case of the Force Flu Skywalker had, it just don't fly. Oh, and don't even get me started on the frickin' midichlorians....

The worst sin isn't digital, but in the casting. The lynchpin was muffed, badly. For every cat there must be a fine rat, and Darth Vader just flat doesn't work. With that stupid story and hideously bad script in the hands of that vapid unwashed man-cub that we were supposed to believe was going to grow up to be the biggest baddest evil guy the world had ever seen there was just no hope at all.

The basic upshot from the kids was that we'll stick with Episodes IV, V, and VI and we want the original ones. They'd rather have Han be the space pirate he was supposed to be and shoot first. The puppet Yoda has a presence in his death scene that the digital one just doesn't have. Jabba, the Rancor, and Mortimer Snerd and the rest of the rogue's gallery at Jabba's palace (and Jabba himself) are much better latex than pixellated. They much prefer the original Mighty Sarlak (that's the hole in the sand that ate Bobba Fett). The original explosion of the second Death Star felt more real, and the real ghost of Annakin should appear at the end. So we'll stick with my ancient VHS even though the last film is infested with armed teddy-bears that are harder to get past in that format.

Don't get me started on Ewoks in general. They're like the unholy offspring of a mating between a Wookie and a Jawa. I've been playing a Star Wars game called Battlefront II, and I can tell you the very best level takes you to Endor with a blaster rifle and a seemingly inexhaustable supply of the little buggers to use for target practice. That's worth the price of the game right there.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Nation's Murder Rate hits 40 year low...

Here's the FBI Report that they're using to base a lot of their info on (it's a PDF):

I don't think we have enough info to make any sort of cause-and-effect judgements, but for all those people who are going on about how awful and violent teens are and acting all scared of them, the numbers just don't show it. People are running scared from kids, and it's not because of anything the kids are doing.

There are people in this world (Jack Thompson, NIMF, and countless others) who base their livelihood on convincing us to be frightened of our children. It's how they get money, get air time, and get votes from people who refuse to look around them and will just take information from anyone talking from a box.

They not only do collateral damage to their intended target, they damage our relationships between our kids and us. It is illegal in several states now to write or watch or read any media that depicts violence at a school function, anyone damaging a school or a school official. I guess you can't watch "Ferris Buhler's Day Off" or "Back to the Future" there anymore. A kid in Kentucky went to jail because he wrote a story about zombies taking over a school (see Not his particular school; a fictional school. And it was for an English class. His grandparents read his journal and turned him in to the cops. "Anytime you make any threat or possess matter involving a school or function it's a felony in the state of Kentucky," said Winchester Police detective Steven Caudill. Even if you're the most straight-arrow kid in the world, how would you feel if you knew that doing your English homework could send you to jail?

Does this mean whe're going to see a second-grader in chains for singing old playground classics such as "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the burning of the school" and "Mary Had a Steamboat"? Why aren't we out peeling every copy of Stephen King's "Carrie" out of the school libraries? My son's lit class read "The Outcasts" out loud in class and acted parts of it out - that's gang violence in a school. Owning "Back to the Future" would qualify - I mean, people are getting beat up at a school dance in there. He's even conspiring with a grown-up to do it! I can think of a lot of things off the top of my head in my home and on the shelves in my kid's school library that would get them and me arrested.

Yes, there are times when kids need to be monitored, and things need to be addressed. I'd also like to see some confirmation from the teacher who assigned the paper. Some specific things about this case don't sound right to me. Like why the heck were his grandparents snooping around in an 18-year-old's journal in the first place.

But there is a larger thought here about the way we are dealing with our kids. What are we doing to our children that people are so afraid of them that they turn the simplest things they do into crimes? None of this is enforceable in a practical sense. There's no real evidence it's necessary or does anything to help. But that's not stopping certain people. And now they are targeting video games.

"Carding laws" of the sort they want to put in place to prevent kids under 17 from purchasing M-rated video games are already in effect for cigarettes and alcahol. They don't do as much as you would hope to prevent teenage smoking and drinking. About 20% of youth smoke, even with all the rules in place against it, and a hefty fine. Good news is that's down from a high of 36% in 1997. See here for the stats. That stat means that one in five teens ADMIT to smoking to a government survey. Teenage drinking is even more prevelent. Depending on age, it ranges from 25% of 8th graders to 53% of 12th graders who admit when surveyed to having drunk in the last month. See here for some good stats.

Think about those stats in the last paragraph. Over half of our high school seniors are drinking and one fifth of them are smoking. Smoking and drinking have medically proven deleterious mental and physical effects, have huge anti-use marketing campaigns and classes taught in school about their dangers. They have huge consequences to kids if they're caught. It still doesn't stop it all. With games, there is none of that. So what if the kid has to bribe his older brother to go buy the game or get Mom and Dad go in and show ID to bring home Super Blood-Soaked Smashum. That's barely a speed-bump. And once they're out the door with the reciept the carding law does absolutely nothing.

If it makes everyone feel better, sure. Make the ESRB ratings legally enforcable. While you're at it, make the MPAA ones enforcable, too. And the ratings on the broadcast and cable TV programs. I'd love to see that. I do it at my house and hopefully just that little wakeup call at the cash register will help make more parents take a look at what they're letting into their house. Just realize that the whole thing has about as much stopping power as hanging gauze across the road in front of a semi when it comes to actually keeping the violent content out of the child's hands. Realize that it will do ABSOLUTELY nothing to affect crime rates or anything else. And realize that this sort of law has been passed in two states already, and struck down as unconstitutional in federal court. So you may get it passed for a while, but it probably won't last past the slow but sure grinding of the justice system.

I don't know exactly why this is happening, but we are raising children that are much less violent that we were. Stop freaking out over a problem that isn't there. We need to find the real root cause of the problems that still exist, and we need to do something about them instead of randomly throwing laws around and treating every child as if they were some sort of psychopath waiting to happen, rather than looking for the actual psychopaths. Stop wasting time on slick snake-oil salesmen who spew nonsense to further their own aims. Take a long hard look at those people and the axe they're grinding and stop it from hitting your kids.

Here's another great article you should read.

The Truth About Violent Youth and Violent Videogames

This is from a gamer's perspective, but it's got some great links in it to the offical government stats and corelates it with the release of videogame home consoles. The very first chart is mapping the FBI's violent crime statistics with the release of the major game systems and the game Grand Theft Auto (the one that everyone had a cow about). The graph that he uses in his update at the bottom of the page is on page 11 of the FBI Report pdf linked to above.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Blogging Ettiquette....

I'm on a major roll here today. I got a piece of email that lists out a whole bunch of stuff I'm doing wrong if I want to be hip. So, in case anyone gives a rat's bikini, here's what they suggest I talk about.....

1) Currently listening to: I assume they mean literally. "Ask DNA" from the Cowboy Bebop movie soundtrack and an argument about whether or not someone scorched someone else's ear with the hair straightener. (Oh, wait. Track changed to "Tank!". This is good because it's harder to hear aforementioned argument.)

2) Mood: quixotic, bordering on piquant (Why yes, I have been eating pickled dictionaries today.)

3) Favorite color: navy blue (I could have been a real smartalec and said something like "fiber optic".)

4) Favorite food: anything that I don't have to do the dishes after cooking (Not fond of licorice at any time, especially not that stuff a friend of mine introduced me to in an Oriental grocery in Richmond. Staying away from chicken feet on general principle as well.)

5) Sign: uhhh.... No Vacancy?

If I've missed anything or whatever, please feel free to let me know. ;)

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Letting Go....

I've been thinking a lot about letting go lately. It's been a hard couple weeks.

We've had a death at school, and it's cast a pall on the girl's whole school. I don't have any details - the girls weren't particularly close to her. Shared some classes and a couple birthday parties. Not best friends, but neighbors. I haven't even seen her since school got out last year, but I'm pretty upset. It's hard to field their questions and be there for them when I don't know what is going on but I understand why they don't tell people. They say it's "natural causes", but I fail to see how anything natural can take a seemingly healthy 14-year-old girl as she's getting ready for school one morning. The girls keep trying to think of things, and I can't give them any answers. This is hard on the "Mom knows everything" rep, and you feel like such a dope. I feel so awful for her parents.

My eldest is turning 18 in two months. I'm not ready. I won't say inane stuff about "where did the time go" because I know bloody well where it went. I was here for it all, I assure you. But even with 18 years of warning I'm still not ready. It's amazing how proud of them you can be and how terrified for them you can be at the same time. I AM proud of him. He's really stepped up to the plate here these last six months, and while it doesn't allay any of those worries that forment in my head if I let myself think too hard I'm fairly confident he'll at least go out and make his own mistakes instead of some festive variations on mine and his father's.

My mom had surgery. They removed a tumor, and they've been testing it to find out if it's cancerous or not. We've been through a two month roller-coaster-ride to get to that point, and waiting for the verdict this last week has been really hard. We've both been really scared. We spend most of our efforts trying to pretend we aren't to each other, though. I'm really far away so all I can do is call her incessantly and drive her crazy. She's got her sister there to do that in person much better than I'll ever manage it, though. I try to let the local talent handle it as much as I can and keep it to myself but it's hard. I just got off the phone with her and they say now for sure it's not cancer, but they think she needs a hysterectomy anyways. We can handle that. After all the rest of it that seems like a blessing, rather than a problem. Thanks be to a gifting God.

I've had this song running through my head for the last two days. Not the fruity Tammy-Faye Baker style version by Andrea Bocelli and Celine Dion, but the one in the movie "Quest for Camelot". She's sitting in a window watching her child go off to Lord knows what and there's nothing she can do but pray.

The Prayer

I pray you'll be my eyes
And watch them where they go
And help them to be wise
Help me to let go.

Every mother's prayer
Every child knows
Lead them to a place
Guide them with your grace
To a place where they'll be safe

I pray they find your light
And hold it in their hearts
As darkness falls each night
Remind them where you are

Every mother's prayer
Every child knows
Need to find a place
Guide them to a place
Give them faith so they'll be safe

Lead them to a place
Guide them with your grace
To a place where they'll be safe

C. Bayer Sager, D. Foster

Sunday, September 04, 2005

I was talking to a friend on Gamerdad's message board and my recent forays out into some of the more mainstream message boards came up. He joked that general gaming boards are like Ravenholme (a certain level in the game Half-Life2). He was basically likening them to the Hell level in Doom. I totally agree with him. Holy Cow!

But Gordon Freeman has to go in even when things look dicey, and I'm thinking I need to as well. I realized this after going to PAX. I'd been really pretty isolated from the rest of the community. It's safe on Gamerdad. Everyone supports each other. We're pretty reasonable with each other. That's not the way the rest of the world works. And if we're ever going to figure out how to talk to them, we're going to have to do it out there in the real world.

I've been in a sort of mailstorm with a real-world friend of mine about it, too. She's on a bunch of panels and organizations about women in the gaming industry and what have you, but she never actually deigns to consort with actual gamers. They sit around in these conferences and come up with all this stuff but they never talk to anyone who doesn't agree with them and then they're shocked as all getout when they finally do emerge and try to put the stuff they came up with in play and it has no effect. I'm supposed to go to one of these next week, and I honestly don't know how I'm going to deal with it.

As far as the message boards go, I'm going to try to keep it up. At least one post a day per board. It's good for me to keep a hand in what's going on in the shallow and frothing end of the gaming pool. The currents there can be nasty as all get-out. I managed to get a lock-down on the first thread I started myself on Penny Arcade due to a couple smacktards just thrashing their way in. This is not exactly an auspicious beginning, but since then it's gone okay. Red vs Blue has gone better. If nothing else, I'll be able to practice my witty insults. ;)

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

A butterfly strapped to a bullet....

Whew! They did it! They're home now, and we can all breathe a little easier. I know I had a rather tense hour or so there while we were waiting to see if they were going to make it home safely in spite of everything. A lot of people have been getting up on their high-horse about the Space Shuttle and the program in general. They're old birds and they've been through a lot, there's no question. But they sure don't deserve the bum rapping they're getting from some pundits.

The orbiter itself didn't cause either accident. In both cases, it was an external component (the SRB O-ring and the insulation on the external tank) that caused the damage. The external tank and SRB's are not the best way to do this job. NASA knew that when they were designed. However, they were the way that the government was willing to pay for it. The alternatives were considerably more expensive. The initial designs for the Shuttle were actually supposed to work like SpaceShip One, where a specially modified 747 would carry the orbiter up to where the air was thin and it would then launch from there. With that configuration, there would be no need for the SRB's or the External tank. All the fuel needed to get into orbit and come home could be carried on the Orbiter, and the weight limitations that necessitated the decision to go with those fragile tiles would be lessened.

They didn't go with it - at the time rocket technologies were not at the place they are now and it was considered safer and better go with what they had more experience with from the Apollo program which were external boosters and big steaming tanks of LOX. Astronaut story Musgrave once refered to it as a "butterfly strapped to a bullet". The original design and testing weren't totally wasted - the planes modified to move the orbiter from the various landing fields back to Florida is the one that was originally modified for the launches and used to launch the test-frame Enterprise to prove the thing could glide.

Columbia was almost 28 years old. It was the first shuttle to launch. A little history lesson: They began construction on Columbia's fuselage on March 27, 1975, and launched for the first time on April 12, 1981. It flew 28 flights, spent 300.74-days in space, completed 4,808 orbits, and flew 125,204,911 miles in total, including its final mission.

Those numbers are nice, but these are the heads of the brass tacks. The Space Shuttle Program has launched 113 times. There have been a total of 696 astronauts. It's had two failures that killed 14 of them. Foam has hit the various orbiters over 15,000 times during launches since the inception of the program. It's done enough damage to harm the orbiter seriously once.

How many NASCAR races do they go without an accident? How about a serious injury or fatality? Now, before you start going on about the fact that NASCAR and NASA aren't the same you might want to look at it again. The orbiter and a stock car are both machines clocked out to the edge of design tolerances and flying along at the creased edge of the envelope. There are design decisions made because of external forces rather than engineering reasons all through them (restrictor plates, for example). There are forces both economic and political that keep men risking their lives to do this every single week, and people die doing it on a fairly regular basis. And with our President's blessings, I might add. There have been 32 deaths in offically sponsored NASCAR events, and I can't get a decent answer about how many injuries or even death information out of anyone else. The tolerance band is a little tighter on NASA, though. Some very small errors that would result in injury or a crash you can walk away from on the ground or in atmosphere are irrecoverable in the case of spaceflight. Even so, it's a testament of the care that is taken by those men and women that those numbers aren't higher in the case of both systems.

The ISS has a few issues of it's own to face. Outside of the technical strain of not being properly supported for over a year and several delays in the deployment of more pieces of it, there's some political BS on the way. After April 2006 American astronauts are not going to be allowed to set foot on the Space Station thanks to the Iran-Iraq Arms Non-Proliferation Act of 1992 thanks to some short-sighted lawmaking during some political stumping by President Clinton that didn't take into account the the space program's newly international connections. Russian companies that have built several integral components of the ISS don't qualify with their reporting requirements and therefore American citizens cannot have any contact with the hardware in question. It'll be interesting to see how they handle this in the Senate - they're the ones who would have to amend the rule and give NASA a waiver here. The Russians have begun balking on their commitments due to budget pressures of their own. It'll be interesting to see how this all pans out.

Despite blithe assertions from many proponents, launching from boosters on the ground isn't exactly the most risk-free business, and the costs are not trivial. The recent failures of two booster launches using Russian hardware that resulted in the loss of the payload should highlight for you the dangers and costs that approach entails. I'd be curious to find a hard number on the amount of money lost due to destroyed payloads and cost-overruns on booster-launched projects since 1981. Contrasting it with the costs of running the Shuttle program would be interesting. And as far as robotic missions, let's talk about those three missions to Mars they lost through braindead errors. They weren't exactly a small dent in the pocketbook either. Yes, there's no bodies involved, but many of these pundits get very shrill and loud about the expense of manned spaceflight and if it's money that's your problem boosters are still a very risky proposition.

Space Shuttle Discovery launched with one of the most experienced commanders the space program currently has. They're doing what they can to make sure it's safe. And even with all the testing and re-checking I'm sure they're all a little tight-jawed. Just like Wally Schirra and his gang who had to step into Apollo 7 after that pad fire I'm sure they went with a lot of prayers and with one hand on the abort handle. But they did it. They had confidence in their co-workers and in that hardware. I have confidence in them and in the people who have spent the last years trying to find safer ways to do this. And all our confidence was born out when they rolled to a stop despite that scare. And I have confidence they'll be back in the game will be once they do something for good and all about that bloody tank insulation.

According to Mr. Bush's Vision for Space Exploration, the Shuttle's remaining missions will be concentrated on completing the ISS and then it will be retired in favor of the Crew Exploration Vehicle in 2010. When all is said and sifted and the dust settles in 2010, I think we'll find our butterfly gave good service.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Sorry about the outage, and the oddness....

I made the mistake of posting a rant about people using other people's wireless networks without permission, and things kind of hit the fan. I'm on the case - for some reason the menu refuses to live on the right side anymore. If you really are jonesing for the links, they're below the posts. I'm working on it.

If you want something to take your mind off things, I'd recommend a trip to the CD store for a CD by Yoko Kanno and the Seatbelts called Cowboy Bebop Box. It's the soundtrack to an anime TV show done by the John Williams of Japan - Yoko Kanno, and some of the best studio musicians I've ever heard. They've got a sax player on a song called "Goodnight Julia" that makes me cry, and "Tank" has a clarinet that will tear the finish right off the piano bar and drop chills down your spine. It's a mix of 40's experimental club jazz, funky blues, a little rock, a little thrash, a little bit of everything done in the best possible style.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

I'm NOT trapped under that really big rock...

It's just summer vacation. This is always a complete nightmare. Any minute now I expect to wake up with no pants in Mr. Ohstrander's class back in high school.

Okay, so it isn't worse than those teenage dreams you have about being called in front of the class and you forgot to wear pants. It's got it's own special torments.

I think I'm going to write a script for a horror film - "It Came In Late June". Dum dum duuuummmmmmmm...... It'd probably get an AO rating, though.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Kanji Tattoos....

There is this gal I used to work with. She is a receptionist at a certain VERY large company that shall remain nameless. She's really good at her job. We've been good friends for almost six years, but I'm not certain we're the same species.

A couple years ago she decided that she was going to go whole hog into several of the more interesting philosophies that are floating around out there. Went Ayurvedic, got into Reiki and about three other sorts of energy work, started Feng Shui, and I have no idea what else. Those are just the ones I recognized. We both give each other crap about what she calls our "life approaches". She calls me a "bun-wearing Bible-thumper", and I'll reply with "Confuscious" or "California" unless more specific inspiration strikes. It may strike the reader as mean, but we both respect the other's beliefs and this is just teasing.

She's decided now that she needs to get a tatoo. She's looked around for various things. I told her about Dragontat2's ohm on her ankle, and she likes that idea a lot, but she wants something bigger. She was going to get the seven chakras tatooed in their appropriate places, but that turned out to prohibitively expensive (and she wasn't sure how she was going to manage the top one). I told her that reminded me of those kids who write the answers to tests on their arms under their shirt-sleeves. Plus I can't even imagine how getting a tatoo on your forehead would hurt.

She was looking in one of her Feng Shui books for some stuff, and thinks she might get her cardinal virtues in Chinese kanji tatooed across her lower back. Again with the ouch. She couldn't pick which ones, and brought the book to a coffee date we made and was rattling on about it. After several fairly expressive eyerolls, she asked me what I thought. I told her she should just get a guy we know from Tiawan to tell her the characters for New-Age-Fungus-Muncher. It would probably look really cool and would cover all her various disciplines in one stroke.

She spit green tea over half the table laughing, so it was a good joke. I just can't tell which one of us it was on. She's actually looking into it. Hopefully she tries it out in henna before going whole-hog with it.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Feeling and Action...

I ran into a gal I know at the coffee shop this afternoon. She was going on and on about something a kid did at the private school she teaches at. Apparently, a kid was talking about a certain scene in the latest Harry Potter film and pointed out that she'd like to see a certain teacher "blown up". She meant it as in inflated until she floated up and blew away, but the teacher heard that as a bomb threat and acted accordingly.

She stood there in the middle of that shop and went on and on about how awful that little girl was for this and how she needed to be locked up for everyone's protection and etc, while her two kids were terrorizing the entire rest of the shop in loud Fisher-Price-Airplane-waving circles and running in and out of the front door so they could slam it when the closer let go.

Her only move was to occaisionally say in a sing-song voice, "Dear, you shouldn't do that. How do you think other people feel about that?" and add a chimed out "Thank you" for some improvement only she could see. Needless to say, Dear and Co. really didn't seem to give a rat's bikini. She finally got her coffee and took the kids off on their appointed rounds, to the immense relief of the other patrons and staff.

I had a minor epiphany. This, combined with a bunch of other run-ins with stuff like this lately came together into something with a near-audible snap. You see, I've never understood people like that. I mean, anyone who can see lightning and hear thunder should be able to tell that these kids were absolutely out of control. And here she is completely oblivious to their dangerous actions like running outside a store unsupervised and going on about how this other little girl should be locked up for just saying something.

The problem is they have hooked their feelings into every action. They cannot concieve of taking an action without the spur of emotion, and they cannot take action without the emotion they associate with it. There no separation between feeling and function. No concept of control. Think = be. And then they project that on the other person. Since they can't think of doing it without that emotion, they assign that emotion to anyone who takes that action.

For all outward appearances, they are an adult, but inside they are still the same two-year-old who never was taught the concept that when you do something wrong, wrong things happen to you. They can't see real consequences so they can't put anything into scale. The world is one big drama, and they've cast everyone around them as the players.

This is why they can't figure out the concept of cause and effect. Why they're so scared of everything, and why they react with such vehemence. To them, if you say something or feel something, that means you have or will do it and there is no limit to how far down the rabbit hole they'll go to connect stuff. This is how you go from a fifth-grade kid talking about a teacher blowing up a la Aunt Marge to that kid being locked up for a psychiatric evaluation because the teacher thought she was going to explode a bomb. How you can actually make the logical leap from a kid writing a story about zombies attacking their school to a kid planning something awful. Or from blowing up monsters on the screen to a kid blowing people away.

I don't do stuff because I feel it, I do it because I've considered the options and believe it's the right thing to do. My feelings have as little as possible to do with what my actual actions are. I can tell the difference between juvenile fiction and terrorism. I can play a game and really enjoy it and feel perfectly safe that I'll have no need to go out and do it in real life. I can get in a disagreement with someone and not escalate it to verbal abuse or worse. But they can't.

I used to pity them, but now I realize that this is a far more serious problem. These people are making decisions based on their little blinkered worldview that have dramatic effects on their children's lives, and other people's lives. It scares me and I don't know quite what to do. I don't have an answer for how to teach an adult something they were supposed to have wired into them by about age four.

Anyone got any good ideas?

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Sic Temper Draconis...

"Have at thee!" he roars. It's so loud the window shivers in it's frame.

The upstairs neighbors stomp back and forth across the living room ceiling yet again. They're starting to get annoyed.

"WTHeck!? Look dude, last I checked that was my line. You're supposed to roar inarticulately and send a column of flame perilously close to my shield but actually hitting the fireplace screen." Fumbling through the script with my gauntletted hands, I show him the page. "Can't you remember last time?"

"But you always get to say that. It's not fair." He stomps back over by the fireplace muttering some sort of imprecation in draconic hisses and clicks. Two turns to wrap his tail around his feet and then he hunkers down, nursing his sharply rapped muzzle. He snarfs a big breath through his nose with a gargly sound, but the exhalation just sends a few sparks out past his nostrils. They drift onto the hearth and peter out.

"I didn't write this thing - go complain to the lawyers if you think it would do any good. Oh, and I heard that, smartalec. These pauldrons do NOT make me look fat." They do dig into my shoulder something fierce from where he dented them, though. I dig at the neck and try to adjust it so it isn't cutting off the circulation to my left arm. Doesn't do much good. Using my toe I nudge a couple of the books and DVD's on the floor into the corner. They must have fallen off the shelf when he rammed me into it during the last pass. I creak a couple times as I straighten my back and pick my lance out from between the couch cushions.

We've done this way too many times, I fear. He's getting bored and God help me he's starting to improvise. I'm getting so tired.

Maybe sweet reason will help. I take a deep breath and say, "Look, you're the one who got the really cool ability upgrades last time, not me, you selfish jerk. Those hydra heads must have cost them a fortune." Ouch. Probably could have phrased that better.

I get a dirty look and a snooty toss of his purpling and swelling nose. "Yeah! Well, look how much good it did me. That torch-thingy HURT!"

A grimace is my first answer - I still flinch a bit at that one. I feel bad about it. Not only did it stink to high Heaven, but even the memory of the sizzling makes me queasy. "Do you want some ice for that eye? You're not going to be able to see out of it here pretty quick."

He's not done grumbling, though. "You figured it out too fast. Next time I'm going to get all those books so you won't be able to read up."

Don't threaten the books, man. Bad idea. "Fat chance, Sparky," I snap. "I had that one memorized."

He sits bolt upright, splaying his wings and turning his good eye towards me slowly. "Sparky? Did you just call me SPARKY!?" He steps over the spikes at the end of his tail, raises a forefoot's worth of sharp talons and spits, "Have at thee!" through his fangs.

"Oh for crying out loud," I think. I shake my head and couch my lance. Who am I kidding? They'll always find something to go on, and then here we go again.

I've been asked to explain this one. It's an allegorical discussion
of some of the things we've been going through around here. The dragon
doesn't stand for any one of my kids, or lawyers specifically. It's the
whole mess, given a voice and flammable halitosis.

Don't worry. We've been at this a while now, and I don't imagine it'll
end any time soon. I have taken a ball-peen hammer to the pauldrons,
and they fit much better. ;)


Sunday, April 17, 2005

Human Feature Request...

Comprehension Error-Trapping

I'm sick and tired of finding out five minutes into a conversation that I lost the other party four minutes ago and they have not a clue what I'm talking about. I'd like to add an error to the ADO command set to trap this.

If a protocol failure occurs to prevent a full idea-handshake, the following error message should appear in front of the user:
ADO Error: Data Transfer Protocol Negotiation Failure
The packet stream you are emitting cannot be parsed by the recieving party in it's current format.

Click "OK" to review the stack trace and attempt to recover the process. Click "Cancel" to make an inane comment about mint-flavored sneakers and attempt to resume the process from here without the lost data.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Costello Calls To Buy A Computer From Abbott...

I've loved Abbott and Costello since I was a little kid, and the "Who's On First" routine is a pure classic. I ran in to this over on the Fray, and I snarfed tea all over my keyboard yet again. The last line is a killer.

Please make sure your mouth isn't full of your beverage of choice, and I present "Costello Calls to Buy a Computer from Abbott".

ABBOTT: Super Duper computer store. Can I help you?

COSTELLO: Thanks. I'm setting up an office in my den and I'm thinking about buying a computer.


COSTELLO: No, the name's Lou.

ABBOTT: Your computer?

COSTELLO: I don't own a computer. I want to buy one.


COSTELLO: I told you, my name's Lou.

ABBOTT: What about Windows?

COSTELLO: Why? Will it get stuffy in here?

ABBOTT: Do you want a computer with Windows?

COSTELLO: I don't know. What will I see when I look at the windows?

ABBOTT: Wallpaper.

COSTELLO: Never mind the windows. I need a computer and software.

ABBOTT: Software for Windows?

COSTELLO: No. On the computer! I need something I can use to write proposals, track expenses and run my business. What do you have?

ABBOTT: Office.

COSTELLO: Yeah, for my office. Can you recommend anything?

ABBOTT: I just did.

COSTELLO: You just did what?

ABBOTT: Recommend something.

COSTELLO: You recommended something?


COSTELLO: For my office?


COSTELLO: OK, what did you recommend for my office?

ABBOTT: Office.

COSTELLO: Yes, for my office!

ABBOTT: I recommend Office with Windows.

COSTELLO: I already have an office with windows! OK, let's just say I'm sitting at my computer and I want to type a proposal. What do I need?


COSTELLO: What word?

ABBOTT: Word in Office.

COSTELLO: The only word in office is office.

ABBOTT: The Word in Office for Windows.

COSTELLO: Which word in office for windows?

ABBOTT: The Word you get when you click the blue "W".

COSTELLO: I'm going to click your blue "w" if you don't start with some straight answers. OK, forget that. Can I watch movies on the Internet?

ABBOTT: Yes, you want Real One.

COSTELLO: Maybe a real one, maybe a cartoon. What I watch is none of your business. Just tell me what I need!

ABBOTT: Real One.

COSTELLO: If it's a long movie, I also want to watch reels 2, 3 and 4. Can I watch them?

ABBOTT: Of course.

COSTELLO: Great! With what?

ABBOTT: Real One.

COSTELLO: OK, I'm at my computer and I want to watch a movie. What do I do?

ABBOTT: You click the blue "1".

COSTELLO: I click the blue one what?

ABBOTT: The blue "1".

COSTELLO: Is that different from the blue w?

ABBOTT: The blue "1" is Real One and the blue "W" is Word.

COSTELLO: What word?

ABBOTT: The Word in Office for Windows.

COSTELLO: But there are three words in "office for windows"!

ABBOTT: No, just one. But it's the most popular Word in the world.


ABBOTT: Yes, but to be fair, there aren't many other Words left. It pretty much wiped out all the other Words out there.

COSTELLO: And that word is real one?

ABBOTT: Real One has nothing to do with Word. Real One isn't even part of Office.

COSTELLO: STOP! Don't start that again. What about financial bookkeeping? You have anything I can track my money with?

ABBOTT: Money.

COSTELLO: That's right. What do you have?

ABBOTT: Money.

COSTELLO: I need money to track my money?

ABBOTT: It comes bundled with your computer.

COSTELLO: What's bundled with my computer?

ABBOTT: Money.

COSTELLO: Money comes with my computer?

ABBOTT: Yes. No extra charge.

COSTELLO: I get a bundle of money with my computer? How much?

ABBOTT: One copy.

COSTELLO: Isn't it illegal to copy money?

ABBOTT: Microsoft gave us a license to copy Money.

COSTELLO: They can give you a license to copy money?


(A few days later)

ABBOTT: Super Duper computer store. Can I help you?

COSTELLO: How do I turn my computer off?

ABBOTT: Click on "START".......

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Never drink the tap water at Jerry Garcia's....

There are many truisms in this world. You know, those little pieces of general advice that just seem to come true far more often than random chance would account for. "Never get involved in a land-war in Asia. "Don't spit into the wind". I may have found a new one. "Never give a server a Japanese name."

Sounds odd, I know. But I know of several different people who are having hardcore server trouble of various sorts, and the only thing all these machines have in common is that they have Japanese names. Makoto-rin over at Megatokyo had a major snit recently, Ukyo and PAL over at Real Life are on like Round 8 of a 10-roud matchup, and my box Diakon is being a brat, too. There's no other common point. Different technologies, different hardware, different everything. I know it's just a coincidence, but the superstitous side of me just keeps suggesting that the solution to my problem is just to rename the box.

That little bit of anachronism is always there, even for the most analytical of us. We turn our hat backward, wear lucky socks, give stubborn hardware a "technical tap". The fact that it seems to work sometimes just makes it even more pervasive.

At any rate, I've got to get back into the middle of this stupid thing. And I might just rename the box, too. Not because I really think the source of the problem is some sort of curse on servers with certain names, but because causing it to create a new record in the DNS table might get us away from the problem in the current one.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Fried Chicken...

The kids are finally in bed, and I've got the kitchen pretty much squared away. I made fried chicken for dinner.

I have to make a lot. They don't eat - they raven. With the boys I count myself lucky if they spit the plate and all the utensils out after they've engulfed it with their pseudopods and begun assembling vacuoles for digestion. They suck it down so quickly I have to watch out for Hawking radiation and make sure there's nothing sharp within a Scwarzschild radius of the table. The girls, who have recently decided they won't touch anything that's not dietetic in some way, will drop their dignity and dig right in to this.

It's a huge pain in the you-guessed-it for all concerned. It makes rather a mess, and it takes forever. I didn't get home from work until after seven, and it took until almost 8:30. My recipe doesn't use as much grease as some, but I have no illusions it's good for you or anything.

It feels good to do it, though. One of those things that seems to quiet the litany of "should" things that sort of plays under each day. The house is a wreck, I've got to get back to work, but I made dinner. All food groups involved, and they liked it. Check one off.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Welcome new readers!

I got quoted in a sermon this week. It wasn't a suprise - they asked first - but it was still kind of embarassing. I'm not used to having people notice this, and I am going to have to figure out how to deal with this. Several people asked me for the URL to this site, and to that entry.

It's buried farther down the page here, but I went ahead and put it someplace a little easier to find. The entry she took that quote from is entitled "The Ministry of the Mini-van" and you can see it by clicking here, or click on the "Concrete" link up in the upper right-hand corner of this page.

Monday, March 07, 2005

New kid over in the Links Bank....

Looks like the guy over on dubious quality got taken to a Cirque de Soleil show. I am still randomly giggling about his description. And he likes one of my colleagues over on Gamerdad. I'm all OVER that.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

When the Wires in Your Life Cross...

Two things in my life that have a lot of my strength and time flowing through them have come close to each other. The insulation is peeled back, and I just don't know what's going to happen. I think it will be a good thing once I get it all settled out.

I'm used to writing in secret. I've held to Robert Heinlein's tenant that writing is fine as long as you do it in private and wash your hands well afterward. I haven't been paranoid about it, but it's not something that just comes up in conversation. Most of the people who know that I do this were online, so we were both anonymous to each other except under very special circumstances where we both made enough of a connection to trust and we revealed ourselves to each other. I've never really kept my faith a secret but I do much better sharing it directly, face-to-face than I do shouting into the tempest like this.

I recently outed this blog and some of my other writings to some people who know me in real life. It's the pastor at my church and a bunch of his staff. I figured it couldn't be too bad; my Mom has already found this stuff. She read through it and snail-mailed me a marked up printed copy (she's death on typos). My kids read it, and my blathering over on Slate and Gamerdad, too. I can't have anything up there that's too embarassing. Right?

I did it myself - they didn't discover it. I had asked the youth pastor his advice on a particular piece, and he asked me if he could show it around and it sort of snowballed from there. So far the sentiments have been very positive. Overwhelmingly so. To the point that I'm not quite sure how to handle it. This isn't something I've been doing for notice or fame or because I have some sort of message to impart to the world. I do it because I'm helpless to stop. It really is analogous to an addiction. I estimate that I write at least a 1,000 words a day outside of both my jobs and email. It just happens.

It feels really strange to have people who are able to associate it with the person stumbling through the life depicted. For one thing, I don't think most of them knew just how geeky I really am. Outside of that thread drawn between the pulpit and the pews most of them didn't really know me very well. It was mutual, too. I have learned so much about these people as we've talked about this.

It's been a real inspiration, or maybe it's that same instinct that makes some people clean the house before the maid comes over. ;) Who knows? But I have thought about things I ordinarily don't take the time for. It's really making me think about the contents of the pages I've put up there and my other writings. And it's caused me to take some action. In addition to my other blogs, I'll be adding one for some more spiritual musings. Look for it in the links up on the top right if you're interested in that sort of thing.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Stepping up onto the Parenting Soapbox again...

One of my neighbors got a report home from school about her nine-year-old son. He wasn't reading enough. She didn't know what to do and since she knew all my kids read she asked me how to make him read. I kind of cringed at her phrasing. I asked her what she meant, and she showed me that he was some stupid number of books behind on this class contest-thingy. Don't get me started about that. But I do have some advice that seems to have done the trick at my house.

Don't wait. Get right at this as soon as possible. In know we all are supposed to read to our kids every night and a lot of us do, but many people aren't as religious about it as they can be. They don't really notice the issue until the child is in school. If you wait that long to start following the rest of this advice, you're going to have a whole lot harder time.

Read to them. Can't say it enough. Until they can do it for themselves you are the only connection they have with the worlds stacked on their bookshelves. And you don't have to stop, either. My kids still like to have me read stories to them and they have driver's licenses. No, not every night, but it still happens.

Biggest thing is to DO IT YOURSELF. Right in front of them. See the last paragraph about reading to them, but also make certain that they see you reading to yourself as well. Read what kind of book you like. It doesn't matter; you probably won't affect their preferences at all. My mom read a steady diet of Harlequins, and I assure you that I wouldn't touch one of those things without a hot-suit and a Geiger counter. What matters is you modeling the behavior for them.

Next step - make sure they have books around they like. Once they get the ability to read for themselves, make sure it's there for them to read. I'm not just talking about the classics, either. I'm deliberately leaving out Harry Potter. It's an anamoly, and given the steadily more adult tone of the series you're going to have to make that call for your kids yourself. There's a whole lot more out there. Here are some ideas.

I probably shouldn't have made that crack about the classics. There are some great stories there. For the horse-lover, try Walter Farley's "The Black Stallion" series, "Black Beauty", and "King of the Wind". If your kids have finished Lemony Snicket and are looking around for something else, Roald Dahl and his ilk have wonderful stories for kids who have grown past Dr. Seuss, but aren't ready for Tom Clancy. The real "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" is wonderful and strange, and my kids really loved "Witches" (and there's a great film starring Angelica Houston to go with). The REAL "Peter Pan", the original Winnie the Pooh books, and Grimm's fairytales all got good time at my house, too. As they get older, Treasure Island, Swiss Family Robinson, The Three Musketeers, The Count of Monte Cristo, and a whole lot of other good swashing and buckling is out there.

Rocketships and moonlandings are still the stuff of dreams. The sci-fi fan is well supplied. Robert Heinlein surprisingly wrote some great sci-fi that's perfect for the tweener/early teen set (just make sure you read through it first if you worry about these things. "Rocketship Galileo", "Citizen of the Galaxy", "Farmer in the Sky", and "Star Beast" are good stories with teen protagonists. When they hit the middle teens, trot out "Starship Troopers" (which isn't at all what you think it is if you're going off the movie), and "Space Cadet". Orson Scott Card's "Ender's Game" series is excellent but it's even better the second time through with "Ender's Shadow", "Shadow of the Hegemon", and whatever the next one is called. For older teens and grownups, I recommend "Songmaster" and "Treason".

For the fantasy buff, try David Edding's "Belgariad" and "Mallorean" series (the Belgariad is the first five books, and then the Mallorean" is the second). The Xanth Series by Piers Anthony still enchants, as does Robert Aspirin's "Mything Persons" series. I read my kids "just the good parts" of the novel "The Princess Bride" and they loved it. The "Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy" and it's whole series also plays well (and now they get half my jokes). Once they're older, the whole realm of pulp is available. Conan the Barbarian, Tarzan, Alan Quartermain, John Carter are all ready to take them off to a world of not necessarily politically correct adventures.

For young boys, nothing beats military fiction to catch their attention. I know, I know. You don't have to like everything they read, though, and as long as it is written for their audience you might be surprised. Ender's Game is the hand's down champion in our neighborhood for the tweener set. The videogame Halo has three novels out based on it's story that are excellent for the early teen boy (I wouldn't give them to anyone younger than 10). "The Regiment" series by John Dalmas can go pretty young, and he has a couple good books for grownups, too (try The General's President).

I don't know how much of this is going to work. We did get him started on one of the Encyclopedia Brown books, because he likes detective stories. We'll see.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Death of a Grammarian...

Miss Gould is an institution at the New Yorker. Her ability to wrestle the raw prose of even the thinnest hack into clear shape was fundamental to the look and feel of The New Yorker for over fifty years. She died this last weekend, and you can read her obit here. (no registration)

It's obvious from the writing that the staff there truly loved her and understood the place she had in making them better. Godspeed, Miss Gould, and I hope the Lord has a good stock of fine red pencils.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

The Ministry of the Mini-Van....

I came in and carefully slumped down in my usual pew where the youth group circles the wagons every week. I was exhausted and sick and really not with it. The text of the day was on Jesus' exhortation to bring the children to him, and I enjoyed the adventures of the Pastor trying to deliver a sermon with all the kids on the stage around him. One little boy had brought a toy with him that kept joining in, but it turned out well. Mr. Lizard is quite the theologian. And it turned again to how we're all supposed to go out and give the message to everyone around us.

Squirm-time again. It gets me. I'm far from the best Christian. Doubting Thomas and I could hang out, and I have far more in common with Jonah (pre-whale) than Peter or Paul. I have many more questions than answers; once you get past John 3:16 my authority starts to run pretty thin. My own adventures in proselytizing have so far turned into me running for help when I step off into the deep end about three questions in. I have talked to people. I have brought friends. When he's up there reminding us it just doesn't seem like enough, though.

After the closing prayer it's off to the Fellowship Hall to track down my Pagan Horde and chivvy the gang off to their various activities. I end up with a couple extra kids who need a ride home. They're all jazzed about getting ready for the next youth activity and reminiscing about previous years. We pile into the car. I get them to their places and do the rest of my appointed rounds, but at the bottom of it I keep thinking about the message and their fond discussion of old snowball fights and who snores the loudest. I thought about the kids who sit in that group, and the others who show up on Wednesday nights. Counting back, quite a few kids who have come and gone through that place have come in the back of my car.

I had never counted them in those little defensive lists I make to myself when that whole spread-the-word topic comes up. I'm not doing this because of some attempt to reach out. The whole neighborhood just seems to congregate at my house all the time. This is just the offshoot of having four kids and managing our life. By the time you include a shifting group of various neighbor kids and whoever is so-and-so's best friend this week you've got a car-full and then off you go.

I mean, it's not like we talk about Jesus all the time. I certainly haven't shared any particular wisdom with them. I drive them places and they hang out with my gang. I listen to the teenage drama and answer homework questions and a lot of "Why does...." and "How do you get past X in that game?" When they have THOSE questions I've helped them get some sort of answers. We sing silly songs and might share a round of mints. But that's not missionary work. Is it?

When Jesus told the Apostles to stop keeping the kids away from him, he was talking to our time as well as his. They face so many challenges today in growing up, and it seems so many people think that once a kid can dress and feed himself their job is done. They don't talk to them, or do more than the minimum. In a sad number of cases the people in their life that should be bringing them to Jesus for his blessing aren't. It's not necessarily those people's fault - they have their own burdens and chains. The stories are heart breaking; over the course of the years I've been doing this I've learned so many things that I wish I didn't know. I've tried, but I can't fix them. But with the utmost respect and love for them and their children, I can help them with this.

I think this might qualify as a mission. I'm not chasing lost sheep in far off lands under threats and fire; seems more like shooting fish in a barrel. But these fish are just as precious as those others being fished for in distant oceans. I'll call it the Ministry of the Mini-Van. It meets several times every day at various locations and for various times. Today's text was "Does Jared Count as a discount-friend For Snow Camp?", "Castle In the Sky - Japanese or English Soundtrack?", and "Weird Melon-thingy We Found in the Produce Section That One Time". The music was the Smothers Brother's version of "The Streets of Laredo" and a recap of the second verse of that one song during worship that they thought sounded weird.

There are far better hands than I for the task of teaching them the specifics. I can listen to their questions, though, and help them talk to the right people for their answers. I can make getting there and being a part of it possible. There are good people around us who know how to show them the word. I will leave the complexities of faith and all that to them until I learn and grow more myself. For now, I'll have to stick with bringing the children.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Adolescent Noir...

The glass door shuts with a dull clunk from the bell on a rope hanging from the closer. The floorboards creak as I step onto the sopping doormat. The boys drop their bags by my feet and head over to talk to an older guy leaning against the far wall with two kids doing pushups on the floor in front of him.

They're joining a gym. I'm not talking about a nancy little yuppie-magnet with a steam room and a juice-bar. I'm talking an old-fashioned boxing gym. I'm not sure this is the best idea, but if it gets us some control on the wrestling around (or at least gets it out of the house!) then I'll go along with it. I'd met this guy, and I know his wife pretty well. He understands about my younger son because one of his sons is in the same class at school. All the stuff I need to know has been dealt with, but just walking in the door is hard. I just stand there and try to look around as pleasantly as I can with ghosts wrapping themselves around my head.

It smells the same. The underlying vinyl competes with that crinkle in your nose from sand being beaten through seamed leather. Someone is wrapping up over in the corner and the adhesive bites right into the back of your tongue as it rolls up onto their knuckles. The ghosts of old sweat overcome the disinfectant tang when the handles of the equipment warm in your hand. The only bright lights in the place are aimed at the ring, and they are angled so they don't flash on the mirrors at all the other stations around the edge so the brown tint in the high windows seeps into all the corners. Jumpropes hang limp over their hooks on a slightly unsteady coat stand, and the lumps of heavy bags and speedbags complicate the edges of the shadows. The thin thump of the rope hitting the floor is punctuated by the flat slap of bootsoles.

Their father was a boxer in his day. Golden Gloves. He loved it. I can't even begin to count how many hours I spent down at the cluttered little basement rooms under the VFW where his coach held sway. Coach was a a crabbed little man, but he never reminded you of Rocky's Mickey. He did look sort of like a leprechaun, but from Kansas. He had harsh tall-corn accent and he rolled his own cigarettes and he sounded like Baby Herman would have if "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" didn't have to keep it's PG rating. I have no idea how old he was but he had stories from three wars to tell and after watching him throw two fractious heavy-weights to the mats by their ear you started to believe them.

He and I got along. He didn't hold any truck with girls in the ring, but he knew that I wasn't exactly a delicate flower. The Saturday before we were properly introduced I had already proved I knew how to punch with my thumb on the outside of my fingers during a bench-clearing "discussion" at a hockey game that had shed gloves from one blue line to the other. As far as he was concerned that was all I needed to know. He let me use the equipment they weren't using and listen to the stories while he ran everyone else ragged. It was a refuge for me in a lot of ways, and I got a lot of good advice just by a strange sort of osmosis. We graduated and went off to college and last I heard he'd retired but one of the guys that used to hang out there when we did is running it now.

Back to dripping on today's doormat. He must have agreed to just start right in because both boys have joined the line of kids doing pushups. We nod at each other, and then I go back out to the car. I've got an hour to kill and too much to do to spend it woolgathering by the door.

Monday, January 31, 2005

I suddenly feel much more balanced in my world-view...

I just spent some time in the care of our local hospital, which is always an experience. I was quite distressed to discover that you can't use a laptop when you're hooked to a ventilator because it might interfere with the machine. WTHeck!?

If this thing is that badly shielded, then I don't want to be hooked up to it! I didn't even need that part, anyways! This must be a huge problem for the hospital with all the geeks around here trying to get something done instead of staring at the ceiling like God and the charge nurse intended. At any rate, that is done, the kids are very very relieved. I sort of found a few spots of floor in my house and I'm back at work.

I just got sent a link to a webpage where someone is trying to derive the stats for the Tachikoma tanks from Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex for GURPS so they can include them in their game.

To misquote Qui-gon Jin, "There's always a bigger geek." ;)

Monday, January 17, 2005

They Need to Rename "Battlestar Galactica"....

Most of the geekier forums are wibbling about this series premier. Even the normally staid Slate forums have mentioned it a time or two. You'd think I'd be right there, but like many of the original series' frothing fan-freaks I'm staying aloof. They have totally changed the origins and original thrust of the story.

The changes to the character's names is the first thing that busted my chops. I'm sorry, but it isn't the same when Apollo's not his name but his call sign. I know it was totally cheesy, but it worked. In it's own bad Sci-fi way it enhanced the fact that these people were not born in Trenton, New Jersey. They're descended from us, so they did bring all of that mythological stuff along, but they didn't just step off the bus to deliver their lines. And let's all be consistent here - if you're using their old series name as their callsign, then Adama needs to have a different last name and so does Apollo. "Adama" would be his callsign from back when he was a young Viper-jockey. Col. Tigh has the same problem. And if you say, "That's because that would be a stupid callsign!", well, you obviously don't know a lot of real fighter jocks or pilots. Think of the locker-room nicknames from your jr. high, and you'd be pretty close to the usual range.

My youthful jones for Dirk Benedict may be long gone, but it's ghost is slouched against a wall smoking a stogie in the back of that conference room and shaking it's head, with Lorne Greene's is standing right next to it. I could write several thousand words, but those two really encapsulate the two problems I have with the new characterizations. I love Edward James Olmos as an actor and he does good work here. I think he could have done well to anchor a truer version of the story, but with all the other "hip" changes he comes off as too out of touch and tacked on. They may as well have cast Michael Ironside. While there may be someone named "Starbuck", there's no Dirk. That girl is pretty and all and she does allright with a cigar but with so many other re-imaginings they picked out the wrong trademarks that sold the character. It wasn't his cigar and his other contretemps, but his ability to do these things but still feel on a level with the rest of the characters. I mean, they were a bunch of Harry Hairshirts, and here's this kid who never followed a rule in his life that he could break. Somehow you have to believe they would put up with all of this BEFORE the Fall of the Colonies, otherwise Dirk would have been a ground-pounder or in jail. It's very intrinsic to his performance. She says the same things and mauls the same lines, but it doesn't come off as breezily piratical, she comes off way too hardnosed and dark.

The changes to the Cylons from "alien menace" to "disgruntled former slave race" are a major issue. Cylons were not created by humanity, and they are not robots but an alien race whose soldiers were heavily cyborged (hence the "chrome toasters" line). They start off as little alien guys, and as they gain ranks they gain more and more enhancements and modifications, including additional brains. Their rank system is defined by how many brains you have. The Imperious leader has five, and the rest range down from there. The second book "The Cylon Death Machine (Battlestar Galactica, Book 2)" goes into much better detail because parts of it are from the perspective of the commander of a remote outpost. Oh, and before some member of the "Please Please Please Get A Life Club" tries to hit me on this, these books are considered cannon for the original series, as they were written by Glenn A. Larsen himself (he adapted them from the scripts, which he also wrote). And don't #(@*#&$& EVEN get me started about Number 6.

The whole damned thing feels dark. It wasn't supposed to be a dark and grim tale of revenge. It was supposed to be about forces that can't be fought, but you had to fight on anyways and the honor that can be found in that. The Colonists were supposed to be more like the population of London during The Blitz rather than imperialists getting their comeuppance. The point was to highlight an innate goodness in humanity, not to make them semi-innocent pawns to their ancestor's mistakes. That was something we needed to hear back in the depths of the Cold War, and I'm naive enough to think we need to hear it again, too.

I'll have to watch it at some point. I know that. My irritation with it will at some point be superseded by the forces of that geeky need to re-visit and re-invent the things they love. I know this, because it's that very same force that got me through the Richard Hatch books that have come out in recent years. Maybe when it hits DVD I'll get a bottle of wine and watch the series. That way, if I throw stuff at the TV I'll probably miss. ;)

Thursday, January 06, 2005

BBSpot's Top 11 Ways Geeks Can Hide Their Geekiness...

11. Shelving the Star Wars and Star Trek videos in the back behind the Steven Seagal films.
10. Calculating their blood alcohol level at the bar while alone in the bathroom.
9. Pouring caffeinated water into Evian bottle before taking it to work.
8. Keeping the AOL icon on desktop.
7. Pretending to use pencil and paper to calculate the tip after a meal instead of just doing it in your head.
6. Putting on Star Fleet uniform at convention hall, not on the bus on the way to the hall.
5. Keeping the programming books under the mattress, next to Playboy and Penthouse.
4. Pretending Liv Tyler poster is for her performance in the video for Crazy, not for her role as Arwen in The Lord of the Rings.
3. Rearranging CD collection so it's not in alphabetical order before friends come over.
2. Cleaning the office.
1. Only answering the phone with "Engineering this is LaForge" after checking caller id to make sure it's one of your friends from the Linux Users Group.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

A new addition to the Links Bank...

Going crazy, but wanted to point out a new addition to our links bank. Dandy and Company caught me with their Christmas crossover with PVP, and it looks like we've all got some reading to do. Enjoy!