Thursday, November 27, 2008


For those of us in the US, today is Thanksgiving. Mostly this involves cooking the feast, setting and decorating the table, cleaning the house, having guests over, cleaning up afterwards, watching the football game and planning the next day's shopping for Christmas presents; but sometimes we might take a moment to think about what we're thankful for.
"Family" is usually the first, reflexive answer. But I know people who would say "I don't have family, I have relatives; and what I'm thankful for is that they're on the other side of the country and don't have my address or phone number." I don't see my brothers and sisters as often as I would like, but it's comforting to know that they're there.
"Health" is another one, although I'd be even more thankful if my joints, back, digestion, waistline, etc, were in the shape they were in when I was 20 years old rather than what I've got a quarter century later. But I don't have arthritis or dementia or lupus or diabetes; I can see, hear and talk; I can pick up the groceries and walk the dog without being in pain with every step.
"Friends" has always been what I'm most thankful for. I am blessed to have friends who are intelligent, decent, compassionate, thoughtful, clever, honest folks--people like Tom Barclay, Barbra Barbour, Adrian Johnson, Zoe Brain, Allan Goodall, Tara Perrone, Mark Greco, Sean Murphy, Mike Kowalski. Friends who are cheerful and courageous despite some tough situations. Friends who are, unfortunately, scattered across three continents, who I don't see often enough. Friends for whom I am, always, thankful.

Great moments in Customer Service

The company I work for sells prefab steel building kits, which come in a variety of sizes ranging from 10ft to 100ft wide, 10ft to 25ft tall, and as long as you care to make them. One customer from New England had ordered a 20ft wide, 12ft high building and called me to find out about delivery. I explained that we'd ship when we were ready, and talked about adding some accessories. In the course of this discussion, I asked him what he was planning to use the building for.
"A place to work on my cars," he replied.
"Auto shop, okay," I said, and a thought struck me. "Are you going to put a vehicle lift in there?"
"Oh yes."
"Can I ask you, how tall is that lift?"
He said, "Fourteen feet."

Go back and look at what he ordered.

I have access to my phone records, including how long each call is. So I can tell you that it took me 59 minutes and 58 seconds to get the idea across to him that you cannot put a 14 foot high lift into a 12 foot high building.

Monday, November 24, 2008


I'd originally thought about getting a Glock 19, so I went to A&P Arms on Lynnhaven to try one. I studied the range safety sheet and got my card for passing it, then looked around a bit. They have quite a few implements for making holes in things--including a Barrett 50 cal rifle available for a mere $8500, just the thing if you expect to hunt irritable posleen, lightly armored vehicles, or rabid elephants.
The 19 turns out to be a little small for my hand, but a 17 fits about right. So, for $36, I rented one, bought a box of ammo and a target, and went to Bay 2 Lane 8. The first thing you notice is the pistol isn't all that heavy--only two pounds unloaded. The second thing you notice, immediately after opening the door to the range, is that they're loud, even with ear protection on. The third thing is that they take a little figuring out, but only a little. The button to drop the clip is just above your thumb. The clip only goes in one way, and a few seconds of looking at it is enough to figure out how to put cartridges in--although that takes a bit of effort, especially with cold fingers, and the last few rounds take a fair amount of pushing. In future, with a fifteen-capacity clip, I'll probably stop at ten rounds. Another button brings the slide forward and chambers a round. After that it's just point, pull, BANG, and wonder where the bullet hit.
I missed the target low on the first couple of rounds, but once I figured out how much to compensate, I got the rest in the black. The slide locks back when you're empty, so no need to wonder "Was that fourteen rounds, or fifteen?", just drop the magazine, reload, and do it again. When you're done, reel the target in, pick up the brass, and turn the weapon in.
I had a good time. I don't know that I'd want to make it a once-a-week event, particularly with the obligatory weapon cleaning afterward, but as a--pardon me--one shot event, I enjoyed it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Now listening to...

...the gentle sound of rain.
Falling from the kitchen ceiling light.

Seems the overflow pipe on the new bathtub upstairs wasn't sealed properly. Fortunately it's an easy problem to avoid--just don't over fill the tub. Plumber will be here Saturday.

Man's Best Friend

We have a Labrador/chow named Zoe, a very pretty dog with a good disposition. She is My Wife's Dog. I came home Friday night while Diana was out, and I heard Zoe moving around upstairs, but she didn't come down to say hello. I fixed dinner...still no dog. I worked on the computer a dog. I walked to the foot of the staircase and she came to the top of the stairs, looked at me, and still didn't deign to come downstairs; she just went went back to the bed. Finally, after midnight, I said "that mutt has got to be needing a walk", so I called her and she ambled down the stairs.
By contrast, when Diana gets home, Zoe does cartwheels and backflips.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Lots of wind and rain. I've been hanging my kayak on a hook mounted to the exterior wall; last night the wind pulled the hook out. It also stripped half the leaves from the trees behind our places, and dropped them on our deck. And we got a visitor.

House Tour

Looking across the living room, with your back to the ladder bookcase.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Gustav Adolf the Great

With God and Victorious Arms, volume IV of GMT Games' Musket and Pike series. Twenty six pages of rules, with about half of that covering the activation sequence--units with "Charge" orders always go first, for instance, except that an enemy unit can try to interrupt and get its own move in first, and a unit with a good commander may be able to move two or even three times in a turn. The scenario book uses 40 pages to cover five battles and historical notes, with another few pages of tactics and bibliograhy.
Judging by the contents of the local game shops, Thirty Years War is not an overwhelmingly popular era around here, so it's a good thing this series rates high for solitaire play. I'll endeavor to set up the Dirschau 1627 scenario this weekend.

House tour

I'll be posting photos of the new house, for the benefit of those of you who cannot bestir yourselves to make it to Virginia Beach. The sitting room is part of the master bedroom, and that corner looks distant because it is--the room is about thirty feet across. Downstairs, we have the living room, with ladder bookcase, fireplace, and the deck beyond.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veteran's Day

From TomB: Lest We Forget

Super microscope

Barbra sent a link to the BBC News article on the Isis neutron scatter imager, and said "at least it helps to satisfy some of the curiosity until CERN is up and running again."

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Dark Flow

National Geographic article on "Unknown Structure Tugging at the Universe"

Choosing gifts

A friend or relative is going to give you a gift. Would you prefer:
  • you pick something, the friend buys that specific item
  • you make a wish list, the friend picks something from that list
  • you have no input, the friend buys whatever (s)he thinks you'd like
And looking at it from the other side--if you're the one doing the buying, which would you prefer?

Saturday, November 8, 2008


Diana in the kayak, as seen from our back deck, Nov 2nd.

Rant: US AIR (Update: and their reponse)

We took a trip to Portugal on TAP airline, a partner of USAir; USAir promises to give mileage credit for partner flights. However, when you actually try to get credit, it has to be done by snail mail, and what you get back is:
we require both the original boarding passes and a copy of your partner ticket
receipt. Travel agent itineraries andcredit card statements are not
acceptable. The receipt must contain thepassenger name, flight numbers,
city pairs, dates, class of service and ticket number. Since we are unable
to research yourtravel on partner flights through our system, no further action
can be taken

My reply:

You are being fundamentally dishonest by offering mile credit and then
failing to make good on your offer. I provided a boarding pass stub and the
itinerary which included the ticket number and flights. I do not have a receipt
directly from TAP, because I purchased the tickets through a travel agent. If
you are unable to verify with TAP that the tickets were paid for, then you
should fire whoever is responsible for airline partnerships since they have
clearly not provided for the most basic and obvious required amount of

EDIT: And their reponse, about 1hr 45m later:

We have received your correspondence requesting mileage credit for one of our airline partners. Your request has been submitted to the airline for verification. Airlines usually respond in 7-10 days. Once a response has been received from the partner airline, you will be able toview it online in your account. If the activity is eligible, the applicable miles for the activity will be posted. If for some reason, the airline does not permit credit for specific flight(s), the reason will be documented in your account. We did this as a one time courtesy, we need original boarding passes when traveling on Star Alliance Partners, we have no other way of verifying flights on other airline carriers. For future reference please keep all boarding passes and receipts when traveling on our partners. Thank you.

EDIT: I did get the mileage credit.

I'm annoyed that I had to write a nastygram to get them to take care of it, but at least they are (or say they are) taking care of it, and they responded quickly. When I had an issue with Continental last year, it took Continental six weeks to say (paraphrased) "We won't do anything about the problem. We look forward to your flying with us again!"

Rant: Motorola

Why does Motorola charge $35 for their Phone Tools software? Well, yes, because they want to scrape every dollar out of you that they can; but what I mean is, if you buy an electronic device, wouldn't you expect the software to be included?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


I've been tagged by Zoe Brain.

Four jobs I've had
  1. Radio disk jockey
  2. Bookkeeper, which the company owner apparently felt I was qualified for because I had a BA English from a good university.
  3. Sales rep: industrial plastics
  4. Sales rep: translation and localization

Four films I can watch over and over

  1. Princess Bride
  2. Monty Python & The Holy Grail
  3. Fifth Element
  4. The Gods Must Be Crazy

Four places I've lived

  1. Brunswick Georgia
  2. Carroll County Virginia
  3. Charlottesville Virginia
  4. Virginia Beach Virginia

Four TV shows I love. None. I don't watch TV and there's never been anything I couldn't bear to miss. Some of the shows I used to enjoy:

  1. Firefly (which I've seen on DVD, not broadcast)
  2. Stingray
  3. Simon & Simon
  4. Wild Wild West
  • Honorable mention to MacGyver, which I would probably have been fond of if I’d ever seen it.

Four places I've been on holiday

  1. Portugal
  2. Bermuda
  3. Lancaster PA, for the annual Ground Zero Games conventions
  4. Metis sur Mer on the St Lawrence River, Quebec, although that presumes "visiting in-laws" qualifies as "on holiday"

Four of my favourite meals. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, midnight snack. But I think the intent was "what are your favorite foods", so:

  1. Roast beef and mashed potatoes
  2. Thanksgiving turkey
  3. General Tso chicken
  4. Chicken cordon bleu

Four websites I visit daily

  1. Instapundit
  2. AE Brain
  3. Day by Day

Four places I'd like to be right now

  1. Bridge of a starship
  2. Pink Beach, Bermuda
  3. Castle Eilean Donan, Scotland
  4. Hagia Sofia, Istanbul

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Books just in

A Theory of Justice by John Rawls and Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely.

Armchair Economist mentioned Rawls in an essay concerned with how to decide what is fair for a group of people who may not agree. Simple democratic majority rule is not a sufficient system, because it's entirely possible for the majority to decide to plunder, kill or enslave a minority. For instance, in 406BC the Athenians won a naval battle but were not able to retrieve the bodies of their casualties; the city voted to execute the victorious admirals. Rawls' book is described as providing an alternative system of justice in the social contract tradition.

The Ariely book was on the same library shelf. One of the assumptions of economics is that people rationally pursue their best interest; this book promises to examine where we tend to be irrational, and how we can use that knowledge to make better decisions.


Several people recommended Fireproof to us, and Diana wanted to go, so we went. I enjoyed it more than I expected to; I didn't expect to enjoy it at all, though. Kirk Cameron did a good job playing the main character. The "saving the marriage" plot was handled fairly well; it was refreshing that neither husband nor wife decided to sleep with other people before deciding they really wanted to stay married. The "becoming a Christian" subplot felt forced, in that the character didn't have sufficient motivation to make that change; however, I've seen ideology hammered just as hard, and less justifiably, in secular shows (I'm thinking of a Star Trek episode in which they stood around for an hour, not taking the simple and obvious solution, so they could have some angst and then conclude "War is Bad" or something equally profound). The main thing that bothered me, actually, is that husband's parents never thought of talking to the wife.
Overall, a 4 out of 10. If the preaching had been less in-your-face, it could have been a 7.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Who would you pick?

If you could have a conversation with one person, living or dead, who would you pick?

Sunday, November 2, 2008


I've been mulling over getting a firearm or two to supplement my collection of sharp pointy objects, since it might be a bit more difficult to purchase a gun after the election. And one of our friends is considering moving to a remote area where it would be a good idea for her to keep a shotgun handy. We have a neighbors who's a Blackhawk instructor, so I asked some advice. The recommendations I got were Glock 19 pistol, Remington 870 (20 gauge, #4 buckshot) shotgun, or Armalite 15 if I wanted a rifle.

Now Reading

Just finished The Peshawar Lancers. What would have happened if a comet had hit the Northern Hemisphere in the 1870s? Stirling tells the story of a cavalry officer in the British Raj who gets entangled in a Political Service affair against a Czarist agent, against the backdrop of the Northwest Frontier, the King-Emperor's court in Delhi, airships and a multi-acre Babbage Engine. The writing is good--not great, but good--but what really makes this book notable is the flavor of India and Victorian science fiction. Don't expect soul-searching character development, but if you'd like Kipling's Kim plus an action adventure, this is the book for you.

Today's sermon

Our teaching pastor is also a lawyer so "Thou shalt not bear false witness" was interesting. Apparently in the judicial system of the time, if you accused someone and couldn't prove it to the satisfaction of the judges, they let him go and applied the punishment for his crime to you.

Taking the general principle of "don't lie", he cited a study done at University of Virginia in which people reported their conversations. If I recall the numbers correctly, the study found that people on average tell a significant lie in 30% of all one-on-one interactions, and 50% of conversations which last 10 minutes or longer. Men tend to lie to make themselves look better; women lie to make other people feel better; but they both prevaricate at about the same rate. The type of conversation which had the highest rate? College students talking to their mothers.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Recessional, by Kipling

Here in the last throes of the Presidential campaign, this seems appropriate:
The tumult and the shouting dies;
The captains and the kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget - lest we forget!

Now reading

The Armchair Economist: Economics & Everyday Life
Not so much a book as a series of essays, with insight to how an economist (at least one economist) approaches things. The arguments he uses are not always convincing but he's not pretending to answer everything, and it's easy to grasp--the sort of thing that you can read late at night, or get a page while you're waiting for a green light.

The Shack
The main character is flat, the writing is weak, you could cut the first couple of chapters without losing anything interesting...I put the book down several times, and kept picking up later whenever I got too curious about why is this on the best sellers list? It's because of the way the writer sees God, and God is not what you expected.

"There is a ninja in this picture"

At least three raccoons live in the tree behind our house. I've seen them wandering across the marsh, walking on our deck, hiding under my car--and now, in their home tree, watching...

First post

First we got a digital camera, then a cell phone, now a blog...My wife is even talking about getting a functional TV sometime soon, although I'm hoping to put that off for a few more years.

A good day for kayaking. Clear sky, still water, herons, gulls and ducks.