Wednesday, December 30, 2009


NOTE: Even if you're not interested in the Posleen, or science fiction in general, this book is still worth picking up just for the afterword, which is about...let's call it "pragmatics of religion".

That teaser aside, the Tuloriad is the story of a Posleen god-king who, with the help of an Indowy, leads his people away from Earth to a safer place. Some of the story is about the history of the Posleen, which is interesting; some of it is setting up the Climactic Battle, which I thought was a bit contrived--where "a bit" means "roughly 99%". I suspect that there was a story conference along these lines:
Kratman: "Hey John, listen to what [historical figure's name would be a spoiler] did!"
Ringo: "Yeah, that's pretty hardcore."
Kratman: "It would be cool if we could work that into this."
Ringo: "Posleen wouldn't normally do that, but maybe if...but we'd have to have someone using pikes."
Kratman: "Don't the Swiss Guards still have halberds?"
Ringo: [locks himself in a freezer and cranks out 40,000 words in a day].
If you've read all the other Legacy of the Aldenata books, you will of course read this one too. If you haven't, this isn't the place to start. But do read the Afterword.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Active Volcano in the Philippines

Fifty thousand have been evacuated from the area of the volcano Mayon.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas in Virginia

We opened presents Christmas Eve, and then enjoyed a white Christmas by the expedient of driving to my sister's place near Charlottesville, where snow is still lingering from last week.

Josh and I both forgot about filling the stockings but we did well on the actual "presents" part. I got Diana a pair of webcams, so she can see and be seen by Josh while he's in Australia; Josh contributed theater tickets, for a play / show as yet to be determined.
Most interactive present was the pair of mini RC helicopters that my sister's kids got. Everyone took turns flying, crashing, or dodging them.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Big Spending, High Taxing, and Poor Service

This article compares California and Texas, their taxes and their service to their citizens


Josh applied for his student visa to Australia yesterday, and got notification this morning that his visa has been approved.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


We had the Christmas pageant this morning, and Randy's message was based on a couple of points I hadn't been aware of. The first thing is that, while we've all heard "there was no room for them in the inn", the word "inn" here doesn't mean "motel", it means "guest room." A peasant house typically had a guest room and a family room, and at the end of the family room there was a low wall separating an area for the animals. You'd keep the family cow and donkey inside at night, both for warmth and for protection from theft. Joe and Mary stayed with a peasant family who took in guests, but someone was already in the guest room so they had to sleep (well, go into labor, probably not much sleeping) next to the animal pen. The second thing is that shepherds weren't honored--nobody thought of David as "the shepherd king". In fact, the profession was listed by the rabbis as one of the unclean ones--you couldn't be a shepherd and keep kosher. And the third was that at the time of Jesus' birth, Augustus was propagating "There is no other name by which you must be saved but Augustus Caesar" and calling Julius a god, and therefore himself "the son of god." The difference is that Augustus was interested in power and prestige and if you didn't go along with him, you were likely to get crucified. When Jesus appeared, it wasn't in a palace, it was in a peasant's hut, and the ones he invited to come were the outcasts.

Josh's 21st Birthday, part 2

Since Josh's actual birthday was spent at college, packing his dorm room up and coming home, we had his birthday-party-at-home on Saturday. As it happens, it snowed on Friday--not much in Virginia Beach, just enough to turn the decks and cars white and make the stairs slick, but other parts of the state got 12-14 inches or more. Several people who'd been planning to come were stuck in Fairfax, so we had four guests actually arrive. In practice, this meant "plenty of food" and "hook up two X-boxes." The guys stayed up till 6am, we woke them at 2pm this afternoon, fed them breakfast, and they went back at it. And are still at it right now, so including the sleep break, this party has been going on 28 hours. But no drinking, other than lots of root beer.

Josh's 21st Birthday

Josh was still at university on his birthday, which was on December 16th (as usual), and this was his 21st, which makes it legal for him to drink alcohol. It's common for people to observe the day by getting drunk, and Josh decided to to that. However, not in common with a lot of people, he went about it with some thought--eating first, and staying at his place rather than going somewhere that required driving. "And I had water beforehand, and after each shot." "How many shots did you have?" "Er....lots?" Which I think translates to eight Jagermeisters. And once he observed "Okay, I'm really drunk", he switched to non-alcoholic drinks for the rest of the night. Which lasted till 5am. And then Diana arrived at 10am to bring him back from college. He was fairly subdued sounding when I called him then but he said he didn't have a hangover, just lack of sleep from exams plus more sleep deprivation from the party.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Candied pecans

  • 3 cups water
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 3 cups pecans
Bring water and sugar to a boil. Add pecans, lower heat and simmer for 8-9 minutes. Drain and let cool on parchment paper. Then deep fry pecans hot peanut oil for 30-60 seconds--do not overcook! Again, drain them and let cool for 45 minutes. Store at room temperature.

Shotgun and tree

I took the shotgun to the range yesterday, for the first time in a while. One key point that I hadn't quite recalled is that it takes longer than I had expected to get it out of the case, loaded, and ready. If someone burst through the door and came charging straight upstairs, I doubt I'd have enough time, even if I were awake to start with. The solutions are either to keep it loaded without a round chambered--which doesn't particularly appeal to me--or to use something else--which also doesn't much appeal to me. I wouldn't object to leaving a pistol in the bedside drawer with the clip left unseated, but I'm not yet enthused about spending $500+ for one. Until then, I have several sharp pointy objects; as The Zombie Survival Guide points out, blades don't have to be reloaded. Perhaps I can find a pop-down laser auto-turret?
The other thing I hadn't remembered is the kick. My shoulder's not really sore, but I can feel it. I see why they don't recommend a 12 gauge for ladies.

The other excitement for the weekend was getting Stage 1 of Christmas Decorating done, which involves clearing away some of the normal decor, and putting up the tree that Josh and Diana picked out over Thanksgiving. Diana does most of this; I mostly help by making dinner and doing dishes and laundry and generally staying out of the way. Dinner was sausage-stuffed chicken breast, which turned out pretty successfully.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Christmas in Montreal

Last week we went to Montreal to visit my mother-in-law and have an early Christmas. The flights north, on a Wednesday, were half empty and no delays; Montreal airport felt deserted, which made getting through customs quick. Thursday we had our Christmas lunch with Mum and her caregivers and Diana's sister, followed by exchanging presents. I got a camelback canteen, which is good because I'll need to do some serious hiking after all the shortbread and butter cookies and meringues and candied pecans and so forth.
Friday we drove west through a little snow to Kingston, with a stop for poutine before I arrived at Doug's place. Doug, Tom, Derek, James, Kevin, and (by Skype from Norway) Rob warmed up with Lost Cities, Carcassonne and Dominion, then had a roleplaying session for StarGate SG21. They'd made military unit patches for the SG21 team, and I picked one up (actually I got Doug's, as "mine" hadn't made it to Kingston) . The stereotypical gamer survives on pizza and Chinese food, but Doug can definitely cook. I'm learning his technique for poached eggs, although my results thus far don't measure up to his standards.
Saturday night I took a train back to Montreal; on Sunday the planes back to Norfolk were packed but on schedule. Diana stayed a few extra days and will be arriving tonight. Meanwhile My Wife's Dog has pulled down the curtains for the deck door, as a way of expressing her anxiety over Diana not being back.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Josh's weekend

Took Josh to buy a suit ("You work out, don't you?" asked the tailor. "I could tell. Your pecs are big enough to throw off the shape of the jacket.") and then across the street to Bob's gun shop, where Josh got his first session with a pistol. He took a Glock 9mm and did a commendable job of punching holes in paper. Today we went to a local art gallery; it came out in conversation that Josh is taking an Art degree, so we showed some photos of his work that he happened to have on his phone, and the gallery owner was quite complementary.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Josh came home from Tuesday night, so we had him and one of his friends (whereupon he and friend went to the friend's house for a second dinner), but no one else at the table this year. One brother is in Tennessee, one in Georgia, one sister with Mom and Dad in Africa, the other in North Carolina. Friends are a few miles away, or a couple of hours, or a thousand miles. It's less stressful not to have a herd of people here, but also less satisfying.
Turkey, heretical green bean casserole (made with cream of chicken rather than the orthodox cream of mushroom), scalloped potatoes, stuffing, cranberries, cider. Sherry cake and ice cream and candied pecans and a few more candied pecans and just hand me the bowl, please. Followed by plotting Josh's 21st birthday party and plans for the weekend.
The trees in the back have gone from green to yellow to mostly bare in the last two weeks.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Word count


Christmas presents

Someone asked me what I'd like for Christmas, and the answer is necessarily "I don't know." Why? Because if there was something that was reasonably priced that I particularly wanted, I'd have already gotten it myself. Therefore the choices are something I feel is too expensive, or something I don't want. Included in the "don't want" group is "things that I don't want only because I don't know about them"--but of course, I can't very well tell anyone what those things are!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Sudden Threat

I attempted to read Sudden Threat by A.J. Tata, but I can't recommend it. This is supposed to be a military / espionage thriller by quote the new Tom Clancy unquote. According to the author's bio, Tata is a brigadier general with experience in the 101st and the 82nd and combat experience from hither to yon. He's got the credentials and I have no doubt that he knows what he's talking about, when he's talking about what an Army officer does. The problem is that his main character is a strong jawed CIA agent who's determined to carry out his mission, and ... that's it. He doesn't initiate his own unauthorized plans; he doesn't go against his orders; he isn't caught in a dilemma between "I want to do this but I really ought to do that" or "My job is important but I really want to be home " or "My mission is important but I have absolutely got to score a fix and keep anyone from finding out." Since there's no internal conflict, he comes across as cardboard rather than someone we could care about. I got about 75 pages and called it a day.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Classical Values blog

Where were you when wood became a felony? It's amazing what our government does when no one's looking. I've said before: our elected officials are like three year olds. If you don't keep an eye on them every minute, they will get into trouble.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Writing challenge

Tom Barclay, Derek McQuay and I are doing our own version of National Novel Writing Month. Instead of cranking out 1700 words a day, to get a 50K word novel done in a month, we're aiming for 300 words a day over a couple of months.
No, I'm not posting the text here. I will, however, give a word count: 2869 today.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Andrew Napolitano

On the government's powers--what it's authorized to do vs what it actually does.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The poverty trap

Greg Mankiw, economics professor at Harvard, has a chart showing that earning more money doesn't mean that you actually have more money. The specifics depend on things like how many kids you have and whether Section 8 housing is interchangable with housing you'd choose otherwise and so forth, looks like making $19K per year plus benefits is better than earning $39k per year. Anything seem wrong with that?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Tropical Storm and Open Back Door

We're having a tropical storm, or a nor'easter, or something. Lots of wind and continuous rain. When last I heard, there's supposed to be 4 inches of rain this morning, water levels possibly 6-8 feet higher than normal, power outages, and so on. However, we won't be flooded unless the river gets at least six feet higher than it already is (rather than "six feet higher than normal"). I don't see the water getting that high--as it gets higher, it'll flood lower lying places first, which means it'll cover more area, which means it'll need a lot more volume of water to raise the level from 6ft to 6ft 1inch than it did to raise it from normal to normal-plus-one inch. That'll be rough on some of our neighbors--one of the houses on the other side of the river looked like it might flood if the level rises another foot--but we should still stay dry.

Except for the fact that my wife's dog (called "Zoe" or "Mutt!", depending) has recently learned to open the sliding glass door onto the back deck. We leave the deck door open fairly often so we weren't sure about that till now; but I latched the door this morning before I left for work, and when my wife got home an hour later, the door was open and the mutt was eagerly pacing on the deck in the rain and wind.

edit Friday morning: water was about a foot higher at this morning's high tide. Looks like the guy across the river has his foundation wet, and CNN has a posting from someone kayaking through the streets in Portsmouth, but we're fine.

Friday, November 6, 2009


I went to Brunswick Georgia this past weekend to visit my grandparents. They're moving a bit slowly, look a bit frail, and his short term memory isn't always up to par, but generally they're in good shape. They both beat me at cards about five games out of seven, and I wasn't worried about him driving us through Old Towne Brunswick on Sunday afternoon. Mostly we just talked.

The downtown / historical part of Brunswick has a bookstore called Hattie's Books, and it was inevitable that I visit. I got A Terrible Love of War, A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World, and Ecology of a Cracker Childhood. Haven't read any of them, though; I read most of Dudley Pope's Life in Nelson's Navy on the trip.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Van Gogh

What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?
--Vinnie "The Ear" Van Gogh

Sunday, November 1, 2009


A classic film, in the sense that it follows the classic story structure. We see the protagonist in his normal world; something happens which forces him to go adventuring; he meets a mentor who can help him on his journey; and so forth and so on. It was a bit strange, because while you're intended to identify with the cautious nerd Columbus, what really makes the movie is the gung ho zombie killer Tallahassee. (The same thing happened in Pirates of the Caribbean. Can you remember the protagonist's name without looking it up? Probably not, but you do remember Captain Jack Sparrow). Woody Harrelson was clearly having fun in his role, and I've heard he's looking forward to a chance to do a sequel.
Maybe the lesson for us is that we should be less cautious and more gung ho. Rule 17: Be a hero.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A typical day in Macha, Zambia

Letter from Mom:
I thought you might be interested to know what a "normal" day is like for us at Macha
Mission Hospital. James and I were here 18 years ago and things have really changed. Macha is much bigger and there are improvements. For example, when we were here before there was drought and famine. It was the worst of times for Macha. The people suffered and there was little food. The government would let the people do something for 4 hrs a day and give them a small amount of mealie meal (like corn meal) for cooking.
These people are still very poor by our standards but there was rain last year and the people have food. Also before we saw only a very few with shoes and those shoes were often made from discarded tires. However, now, not all, but most have shoes. A small percent are wearing stylish clothing and even wigs!!! The bright red wigs are my favorite!
Jobs are being created. Different crops are being planted and harvested. Buildings are being constructed. There is still a lot to be done but also a lot has been done.
The Zambians love cell phones and many have them. They do not have water or electricity in their village huts but they often will have a cell phone. I know that sounds a little strange but they walk everywhere they go and that cell phone is really a huge help.
James gets up early every morning and works in the garden. One of the good things is there is no frost here and we can grow something in the garden most of the year. The nearest supermarket is 40 miles away so the garden is a lifesaver. We are in summer now and the temperature has been 122 degrees F. in the full sun. The good part is there is no humidity and we simply do not do anything in the middle of the day from 1 to 3. We are getting use to it. What we cannot possibly understand is how some of the Zambians have a sweater on!!!
James goes to work every morning and does Out Patient Clinic, works with HIV patients - many which are children, TB patients. James also helps in the operating room and sets many bones and cares for those with burns and so forth. The patients with HIV has risen from 4000 to 5000 seen as outpatients. Sixty per cent of all the patients admitted to the hospital are HIV positive. To say that the work load is heavy is very much an understatement. Some patients are so sick that we simply cannot help them. However, there are also many that we can and do help. We have to focus on the ones we can help.
One prayer request is that a general surgeon would come and stay long term. We really need a general surgeon.
I am teaching Bible at the Christian school and tell Bible stories at the Hospital for the Children, Women and Men's wards. I am just throwing the seed of the gospel out there. The Lord promises it will not return void. Of course, I have to use an interpreter so the entire process is a bit of a challenge. The Bible lessons at the Christian school are done in English and that is an easy do and the children seem to love it. We have a fun time. The kids call it Fabulous Friday. It is hot as blue blazes and the kids are practicing for the Christmas play. At least they are not singing, "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas."
I am also tutoring those in English who need that (of course, they will all have a southern accent!). I also meet each grade class in the library and read to them. So, we are all busy enough. When guest come to Macha, I am one of those doing hospitality such as cooking meals for them. There is a work crew of 16 here now from the States.
Last Sunday there were about 1000 in the BIC church. It was SO crowded that if one person crossed his legs, everyone on that row was obliged to do likewise. Africans do not have the same sense of personal space that we do. And there is always room for one more. The church service is lively and the singing is beautiful. Many walk long distances in great heat to come. No one complains and no one is in a hurry to leave. There recently was a baptismal service and many were added to the church. There was great rejoicing.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Thanksgiving Early

Last week was heavy on the socializing, relative to what I'm used to. A couple of evenings don't merit recording, but on Wednesday we had Barbra over, and she brought her World's Best Pumpkin Pie; I don't like pumpkin pie but this, I like. On Saturday we had dinner with Tara, who offered rosemary chicken and sweet potatoes with a glaze sauce; I managed to resist taking a fourth helping, but it was a struggle.

Monday, October 19, 2009

My Son the Hydronaut, part 2

What happens when you carry out a research project? Well, usually you set up another research project and apply for more funding. Josh was therefore following the academic model when he took a dive class at university and asked for scuba gear. A buoyancy control vest, regulator, and dive computer.
I keep telling myself "It's cheaper than buying him a car" and trying to ignore myself's reply "Only if it's instead of a car rather than in addition to."

Sunday, October 18, 2009


We went to Stark & Legum in Norfolk today to look at some clothes, and it turns out that Bob's Gun Shop, right across the street, was offering a $19.99 deal for first timers who wanted to take a loaner pistol, 50 rounds of 9mm, and two targets. The safety briefing was a lot less comprehensive than at Virginia Beach's A&P Arms--essentially "Have you shot before? Yes? Okay, sign here"--so it was a good thing I already knew what to do. I've been wanting to try a SIG for a while, so I picked up a P226, ran the target out to 10 meters, and started putting holes in paper. It's a nice pistol, although a Glock 17 fits my hand better. Next time I go to A&P, I'll try the .40 version of the Glock.

After leaving the gun shop, we stopped for barbecue sandwiches at Doumar's, original home of the ice cream cone.

I checked out One Second After, by William Fortschen. He's a competent writer rather than a brilliant one, but the situation--an EMP bomb disables, well, pretty much the whole country--is compelling. The idea of suddenly dropping back to the technology of 100 years ago, is not terribly appealing.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Rules for Writing a Novel in 30 Days

Taken from Catherynne Valente's article:
  • Be a Genius. You do not have the luxury of not being a genius–not being a genius is laziness and sloth.
  • Make sure everyone knows what you're doing.
  • Be crazy. Let go of your internal editor.
  • Sacrifice your body. You weren't using it anyway.
  • Don't fail.


Colonel O'Neill: "Something wrong?"
Major Carter: "No. I've just never...blown up a star before."
O'Neill: "Well, they say the first one is always the hardest."
Stargate SG-1, Season 4, Episode 22

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Effort is only effort when it begins to hurt.
--Jose Ortega y Gasset


We've overhauled the garden boxes, harvesting the last of the chard, carrots (which were quite good but you only get a few of them), tomatoes, peppers, chives, onions, tomatoes, beans, and more tomatoes. The winter plan seems to include broccoli and pansies.
That's "winter" from a Virginia Beach point of view, of course. Probably no snow involved. We will bring the palm tree inside, though.

Music sample

Music from Mechwarrior 2, Cruxshadows, and uillean pipes.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


Diana and I went to Richmond today to meet my sister and pass on three suitcases of supplies for Zambia which Diana hadn't been able to take. After we handed over the drugs and gauze and clothes and such, we had lunch at Famous Dave's -- the Georgia chopped pork barbecue was okay, albeit a bit bland for my taste--and the Science Museum of Virginia. Come to think of it, the museum was also a little bland for my taste, because it's oriented for a grade school level of education. The most interesting part was the kugels--large granite spheres spinning on a film of water. The museum has two of them, representing the Earth and Moon at a scale of about 1 foot : 1000 miles (and the distance between them was to scale--they're in the parking lot). The Moon one weighs about half a ton, but you can easily set it spinning with one finger.
Other interesting exhibits were:
  • the optics and illusions section, bending light and playing with diffraction and mirrors.
  • a list of gene-based characteristics--e.g. "earlobe distinct/attached, ring finger longer/shorter than index, freckles/no freckles"--where you can select your choice for each option and see what percentage of people match your set of answers. Diana matched 36 of 100,000; I matched 12 in 100,000.
  • three ramps, down which you can simultaneously roll three identical balls. The ramps all have the same start height, and the same end height, but the paths are different. The first one is a straight line from start to finish; the second is a steep drop at first, with most of the path nearly level; and the third is a section of a circle ("cycloid") which dips below level of the end point before coming back up. Which path is the fastest to get to the end point? On which ramp does the ball have the most energy at the end point?

"What happened to Global Warming?"

Hopefully, sooner or later they'll figure out what's going on.
My favorite line: "those scientists who are equally passionate about [...] global warming argue that their science is solid."
As if we were really expecting them to say "We're passionately dedicated to this position, but the data is pretty ambiguous and the models are shaky at best."

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Dr Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

If you haven't seen this gem of a supervillain musical, you should read the Master Plan, then watch the show. If you have seen should probably watch it again.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Quiet weekend

"Nothing interesting this weekend." That means:

Buffet lunch Saturday at Nawab Restaurant, including naan bread and lentils, chicken tikka masala, tandoori chicken, tikka chhole, and vegetable pakora. There were a couple of Buddhist monks at the next table, and it was a bit unexpected to see one reach into his robe and pull out a cell phone.

Saturday night was a session of the Stargate role playing campaign run by Tom Barclay. In this session, a creature came back through the gate with a returning SGC team, and the creature's pheromones caused allergic reactions, paranoia, and irritability in most of the people in the base. Some of the people in the base were irritable to begin with, and most of the people were armed, so fighting broke out quickly. I was one of the few who wasn't incapacitated, although I did get to--er, "have to"--shoot a couple of my teammates who were affected. I and one of our scientists tracked down and trapped the creature. With that, my job was done, so while the scientist figured out the problem and the cure, I led a quick expedition to the Planet of Viking Babes. Tough duty, but someone had to do it.

Our pastor is also a lawyer, so we got an object lesson on "My yoke (teaching) is easy." Randy preached while wearing a backpack with law books with thousands of pages on judicial procedure, contracts, property, criminal code, and such. The human law is interpreted and added to and parsed and propagated to the point where no one can possibly obey it; the law that the Anointed One gave us was "Love the Lord; love your neighbor."

This afternoon was kayaking, poking around a cove and annoying the waterfowl. Mallards have quite a steep takeoff angle, which would be impressive except that while the duck is flapping madly, his feet dangle as if he's forgotten what to do with them.

This evening I signed up for NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. If all goes according to plan, I'll start November with a plot outline and some character sketches, and I'll end with 50,000 words of text. I'll also found one of the best pep talks on the subject that I've seen in quite a while.

And last but not least, I've started painting miniatures again, specifically 1:2400 scale ships from the 1780s. I've thought about also doing zombie ninja pirate sheep for next GZG ECC, but I am, thus far, resisting.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


Coworker, to me: You won't have a midlife crisis.
Me: Because...?
Coworker: You don't have a life.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Absurd beliefs

With a hat tip to Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution, what belief do you actually hold which intelligent people around you would consider absurd?

I believe that the spoken word can influence what events happen. For instance, I think it's more likely the die will turn up a 1 if, before rolling, I say "roll a one". I don't think it guarantees an outcome, just that it changes the probabilities. If I'm speaking of an undesired event, I don't say something like "in case I'm run over by a truck"; instead I say "in case I'm trampled by rabid wombats." The odds of a wombat stampede in Virginia Beach are low enough that I don't mind increasingly them slightly.
I have no suggestion on a means by which speaking of an event might make it more likely, and no proof that it does, but I still believe it.

Another example would be "the American Empire will begin to collapse by 2050."

What do you believe, that other people might think absurd?

(Feb 21, 2011 note: this is the most-viewed post on my blog, but only one comment...)


Called my mom's father this afternoon, to wish him a happy 94th birthday. Such a small thing, but he really appreciated it.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

How to become rich

You only have what you give. It’s by spending yourself that you become rich.

Gnomes of Zurich

According to an article on Inside Science, a study of the ownership of nearly 25,000 stocks in 48 countries reveals that the majority of a country's market capital is controlled by "surprisingly few" shareholders. The description isn't clear and there are no links to the methodology, so there's no way to judge whether the conclusion is valid or meaningful; the study may merely be saying "the companies with lots of money have lots of money". But it's interesting.
The title comes from one of the power groups in the game Illuminati.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Life in Zambia

From Mom:
Double and Divide are doing fine. They are going to the private Christian School and I think their English is improving maybe a little bit. The problem is that when they are not in school they speak Tonga. Of course, their mom speaks no English so they are not learning as quickly as I would like. They are two cute little kids. A few days ago, Double came to the door crying as his 38 yr old uncle died. I didn't ask, I just assumed it was HIV/AIDS. I went to his village to pay respects.
Double and Divide stay in a different hut from their mom. The roof has to be renewed each year as the straw is not thick enough to keep the rains out when the rainy season comes. The boys have a bed. I did not sit on it so I don't know what it feels like but it is a bit larger than a twin size. The only other thing in their room (it is only one room) is a hen's nest and it had one egg in it. The door is a piece of plastic that looks like a used feed sack.

I cannot imagine how it feels to be cool right now. We have a fan in the bed room and thankfully the electricity is on and I still woke up wet with sweat. It is 2 am so it cannot be that hot....My husband seems okay with the heat so far but it gets much hotter usually in October. It was around 100 in total shade yesterday. I try to do everything I can early in the morning and get out of the heat by about 9:30 am. It starts to get a tiny bit cooler by five or six. The winds blow but it is the dry season and the dust flies like crazy.

The water thing is such a problem. The river beds are dried up. This happens every year so they manage but I don't know how. I really don't. We use old dish water to water the flowers. Rule: waste no water.
This past week there was suppose to be a baptizing in the church. The baptistery was filled up on Friday for that, but on Sunday when it was to be used, the water was all gone. I guess someone needed it for other purposes. The candidates for baptism went to the dam and that was difficult but they managed.
Yesterday a couple I know came to my door and needed water. I had put some aside in a bucket (you need a reserve) and they had none, so I gave them mine. I wondered what in the world I was thinking when I gave it away but the Lord provided. After bible study last night the water was running and electricity also so I was able to refill my own supply. I thought how precious the Lord was to do that. Most of the time I try to hang on to what I have because you just never know when the water is coming or not. (I don't mean that to brag but I am just thankful HE resupplied me!!).
There is a restaurant that is completely good to start--it has been complete for two months--but there is no water to run it. They have a well but it is totally dry. Of course, the water supply should have been the first consideration but it was the last. So there is a wonderful restaurant and no water. You would think they would figure that one out having been here for years, but evidently not. The Christian school has been with no water for well over a month and all those kids every day. So, the school has to have water hauled in daily by the barrel fulls. There have even been years when the hospital had to have water brought in from the capitol. Now imagine that. The capitol is 5 hrs away. That was the hardest time in Zambia as they had years of drought. We were here in 1991 for that. What gardens there were, dried up. People were very hungry. Thankfully we are not in drought years now. Thankfully. It is dry season but not drought.
When the rainy season comes it is reverse, big time. More water than you possibly
know what to do with. The roads are impassible mud at times and the river beds over flow.
It is hard even to get the clothes dry. The rain comes in sheets and sheets of water. The rainy season will be here soon - either begins in November or December.

I have to learn patience. For example if you want to do laundry you may have water but no electricity. Then again you may have electricity but the water will be off. Eventually, you hit a day when you have both! It happens but you have to learn to wait. And everyone here is in the same boat - so get over it.

When I re-read this email it sounds like a LOT of whining - not meant to be, however. I am just letting you know reality here and please be thankful for what you have. As Americans we have a lot to be thankful for. A lot.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Heisenberg for Men

The Uncertainty Principle as applied to women: You can interact with them, or understand them. Not both.
--source unknown

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Best Dating Site Slogan

Tag line for a hypothetical dating site for Schlock Mercenary fans:
"Ladies: the odds are very good, but the goods are very odd."

Friday, September 25, 2009

Use it well

It is not enough to have a good mind; the main thing is to use it well.
--Rene Descartes

Weekend expeditions, African version

Diana writes:
The weekend was phenomenal, great safari like digs, expats running it and sending 13 orphan boys to school. I met Peter, Noli, and Nawa & learned much from them (all in grade 9).
The Falls are magnificent, three times as high as Niagara, and at the top before the edge, people were wading and playing, very uncommercial. Outside there were
tenacious vendors.
The other two families were really nice and great travelling companions, especially as one of them was raised in Livingston. He ran into a close old friend who runs the crocodile farm, so before leaving we had a cook's tour of it, including croc pie (delicious).
After the falls, Dad had arranged a sunset tour for the three of us , which was marvelous, except I kept turning to feel your arm and share the whole experience with you. We saw hippos, wildebeest, elephants, kudu, and multiple birds. Sunday we all set out for the border, crossed into Botswana and into our rented land rover with a guide. Several hours watching zebra, herds of buffalo, elephants, giraffes et al. Opportunity of a lifetime, truly thrilling
We took a boat trip next and drew right up to crocs--reach out and do not touch style--and also the chimpanzees, who can be very big and dangerous.
The roads to and fro are being constructed by the Chinese, so Zambian workers with Chinese equipment and overseers...interesting. The trip was six hours, and the condition of most of the roads was bad enough that I banged my head on the roof seven or eight times.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Weekend expeditions

Diana went to Victoria Falls and a Zimbabwean game park--report to follow. I was a little less adventurous. A friend of ours has an interest in a farm near South Boston and invited me to go out with her and the owner of the farm. The owner is putting the farm up for sale, and I think our friend wanted to show it off while she could. This place is 107 acres, hillier than Virginia Beach but less than the Blue Ridge farm where I grew up.
There are several fields, each surrounded by woods and brush. The house is a nice double wide trailer ("nice trailer" sounds a little odd but it's much better than a couple of houses I've lived in); there's a second house, about 1600 square feet, that's framed and roofed but not finished past that. We spent most of the time
taking the four-wheel ATV up and down and back and forth, seeing the
upper field and the lower fields, and the old slave house and tobacco drying shed and such.
There's a pond with bluegill and catfish, and we fed cheerios and puffed rice to the fish.
I hit a few targets with a .22 rifle; when it came to the shotgun, we very nearly hit several clay pigeons. In the evening we sat outside, watching the stars and occasionally putting another log on the campfire. It was a very pleasant, peaceful weekend.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Hiding the evidence

Taken from one of Wikipedia's articles on Health Care Reform:

The CBO said: [...] Although both theory and evidence suggest that workers ultimately finance their employment-based insurance through lower take-home pay, the cost is not evident to many workers...If transparency increases and workers see how much their income is being reduced for employers’ contributions and what those contributions are paying for, there might be a broader change in cost-consciousness that shifts demand.[...]

Peter Singer wrote in the New York Times that the current exclusion of insurance premiums from compensation [i.e. it's deducted before the worker gets his paycheck--Ed.] represents a $200 billion subsidy for the private insurance industry and that it would likely not exist without it.

Of course, our income taxes and Social Security are deducted too.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Halfway through Africa

Diana's trip to Africa will total almost exactly 500 hours, from the time we entered Dulles to the time her plane lands (assuming that's 1:55 pm on September 27, as scheduled). As of right now, we're halfway through.
(Diana travels a lot, and I always count the hours till she's home. I don't count minutes because the number is depressingly large, and I don't count days because that number doesn't change often enough).


I've just watched two superhero films: last night was Hancock, and Daredevil the night before. Both were okay but neither was worth watching again. Hancock's problem was that they didn't know what story they were trying to tell. In Daredevil's case, it may be because the storyline was taken from the 1980's comic books drawn by Frank Miller; there's probably no way to create a film with the clarity and power of Miller's artwork.
Next on the list is Cellular. I saw the trailer years ago--the film was released in 2004--and never forgot the situation: you get a call from a woman you don't know, and she's begging for help. What do you do?
After that is The Fifth Element, which is one of my favorite films of all time.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Diana from Africa

She wrote:
We are going to leave here Saturday morning and go to Victoria Falls, and then into Zimbabwe to a game park and river sunset cruise, returning Monday. It sounds wonderful. We are going with6 other people, Americans here at Macha.
I have sent off 25 postcards, and have labels for more as soon as I can purchase them.
I am living a dream here--I realised it this morning walking, near the Fires, that I have imagined this over and over for years.
You would love the fresh bread here, and the quiet and the vastness of the sky, and the simplicity of life.

Meanwhile, I'm walking the mutt, going to work, coming home, and walking the mutt again. There are roses and crepe myrtles by the pool, and they have the same color petals. The Canada geese are flying north (yes, north--presumably half of them can't read a map and the other half won't stop and ask for directions). Silence except for a clock ticking and a cricket chirping, but every now and again there's the whistle of sharp wings slicing through air, and the rumble of fighter jet engines, and you know our guys are prowling overhead.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

This weekend's adventures

My shoulder is much improved, so I got the kayak out for the first time since June. High tide was at 4:30pm so I didn't see much wildlife--you usually see more in the early morning--but it was nice to get out on the water for an hour. I did see, in the middle of the river, an inch-long crab swimming just under the surface; and on my way back there was about ten seconds of wild splashing over by the bank. Maybe something pulled a seagull under? But gulls don't usually get to close to the banks, I didn't see any ducks around, and if something is big enough to grab a heron, then I should be taking a harpoon next time.

Old Dominion University had IndiaFest this afternoon, so I made the trek to Norfolk to see it. Lots of clothing and jewelry for sale, a program that kept the stage occupied with dancing and yoga, plus a couple of tables set up for the Nawab Restaurant and Rajput Indian Cuisine. I had goat (and goat bone) biryani (saffron rice with onions, tomatoes, and raisins) and gulab jamun (spherical donuts with a sugar syrup) ; I also brought home allo tiki chat (potato patties topped with chickpeas, tomato, onion, and mint).

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Diana from Zambia

On to Macha....beautiful,dry and dusty, and heartwrenching at the Fires where the patients' families camp, and in the hospital Wards.
You can walk everywhere and see life unfolding, people are always in tandem or clusters, friends and families alike.There is movement all the time, carrying babies, bicycles, oxcarts, makeshift wheelchairs, cows wandering into the paths, schoolchildren walking miles to school to arrive by 7am. And always people are carrying things, food, firewood, bedding, lanterns, chickens, vegetables, you name it.
There is a garden out back with papaya, lemon, and banana trees, .I've been shelling peas, and we have tomatoes, broccoli, beans, all the majors . There is no lack of food for us, but hunger all around.
This morning mom and I went to the school, which is Kindergarten through Grade 3, American run, Zambian staffed. CBN has given funding to the school. The kids are far freer to run and play than at the Montessori school where I taught, and there is very little friction. There is a fair amount of rote learning, but more language and manners than dumbing down. After their singing and dancing welcome to me , I taught the assembly using flexible straws, a spritzer bottle , and the account of Jesus calming the storm. It seemed to go well. Then I read to each class a different book, 1/2 hr per class. They have the same books as in the US, and were very attentive.
Here we are, Dad just home for lunch & power nap, bringing a patient with him for medicine from his new stash! Bina is here cleaning, the gardener was here, the seamstress was by, and the next wave is sure to follow soon. Far more social than home.
Last eve, Lynette, a doctor from Honduras & US, disassembed her spare bed and we brought it next door here for me. She did this eagerly after her evening rounds with the HIV ward, where a 19 yr old girl was in danger of dying before morning, one among so many.
I have recovered my strength, but there is so much to process and learn that I am simply going with the flow, mom is fantastic with providing me all the info and benefit of her time and relationships, also tips on those who seek to take , and take , and take--same as at home.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


A film starring Milla Jovovich as a would-be mother and implausibly superhuman combat artist, set in a dystopian world with lots of neat gadgets. I particularly liked the printer for disposable phones, the gravity normalizer that lets you treat a vertical surface as if it were horizontal, and some of the instant dye jobs for hair and clothing. And of course if one likes a bare tummy, this film is for you--Milla has an attractive midriff and her costumes display all of it.
The less said about the plot, the better; one suspects the writer said "I need a fight scene and a plot twist about every eight minutes" and didn't worry too much about making sense.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Another first

I'm over forty-six years old and, for the first time, someone offered me a joint.

It's been raining off and on today, and it was becoming increasingly "on" as I was driving home from getting groceries. When I saw a couple trudging down the sidewalk, I turned around and offered them a lift. In token of their gratitude, the fellow invited me to come in for a beer; when I declined, he matter-of-factly said that they had some weed and he'd be happy to share that.

I laughed and said no, but it amazed me that he'd make the offer to someone on the basis of four minutes' acquaintance.

Royal Navy

Ryan Schultz and I had three rounds of Jack Greene's The Royal Navy today. First was Scenario 3, Scheer vs Glasgow off Madagascar in 1941. This is a night action at close range. I took the German ship in the first run through. At game start, I immediately launched torpedoes and then maneuvered to keep the range open. The British gunners were better than mine-my main guns never managed to find the target--but my torp scored a good hit which crippled Glasgow, enabling Scheer to limp off, barely afloat.
In the second round we switched sides and played the same scenario. I closed aggressively and ran into a hail of German shells which shattered my hull; however, I did have time to get off one shot in reply, and by great good luck my gunner managed to hit the enemy magazine. Scheer exploded at the same time Glasgow was going under; that counted as a British win.
For the third round, Ryan's Vichy French force of three fast destroyers and three cruisers tackled my HMS Renown and three light destroyers. I took my destroyers in close to the enemy while Renown maneuvered to avoid torpedoes. All three cans were sunk, but they took two Vichy with them; my heavy ship then doubled back, narrowly escaping another spread of torps, and closed to close range with the French. Renown took a pounding, even through her heavy armor; she crippled, but didn't sink, all the French cruisers, so that ended up as a draw.
The Royal Navy's combat system can be a bit fiddly. You get a base Die Roll Modifier from the range, but then you add or subtract modifiers for Under Fire and Acquired Target and Spotlights and Lost Fire Control Room; then you roll percentage dice to figure out how many hits you got, percents again to see what the damage was for each hit, and if you have an armored ship (like Renown) you have to check whether the shells penetrate the armor (which they mostly didn't). But all the chrome is in the combat system; the movement is about as simple as it can be. It wouldn't work for a large multi player game, because you'd have two people resolving combat and everyone else drumming their fingers; but for small, two player scenarios, it's a lot of fun.

Off to Africa

Diana's off to Africa. We drove up to Northern Virginia yesterday, took Josh out to lunch, and then went to Dulles. Then we stood around a while, waiting in front of the British Air counter to get checked in. Then we shoved the suitcases forward a few feet and stood some more. And then we stood around some--it took an hour and twenty minutes to get her checked in. This is without much of a line, mind you, as there were only about ten people in front of us when we got there; by the time we got done there was quite a line, and I wouldn't be all that surprised if some of those people are still there. Josh said that if he ends up going to Australia as planned, and if he has to go on British Airways, he'll be sure to arrive at the airport a day early and bring a sleeping bag.
Diana actually had a couple of sleeping bags, plus about 170 pounds of medicine, bandages, syringes, clothes and shoes for the locals, and food. She'll arrive at Lusaka around midnight Monday, US Eastern time, after about 26 hours of travel.
She'll be home in 490 hours, mainly because "20 days" doesn't go by fast enough and "29400 minutes" is just too depressing.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Oil and spice

Our deck garden is still producing tomatoes, chard, peppers, chives, rosemary, basil, and so on. We dried a handful of rosemary--it lasts longer in oil if it's dried rather than fresh--stuffed it in a small bottle and added olive oil. Next I'll do sesame oil and dried hot peppers; after that, I'll see whether I have thyme for more.

Reading list

On my bedside table right now:

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


It's pronounced "Recover" and it is, amazingly, a file recovery program. On my maimed hard drive, my Desktop and Documents folders said "empty" and refused to open. I installed Recuva and, after some fiddling, retrieved all my emails and desktop documents.
The instructions say you can type a path (e.g. C:/Vacations/Portugal) into the appropriate box, but what they mean is that you can open your favorite text editor, type it there, and then paste it into Recuva; otherwise for each character you type, it starts another search. And if you want to preserve the existing folder structure (you want Portugal within Vacations), you have to find the setting and specify it--that isn't the default.
But everything I'd lost, I got back. Happy, happy!

Monday, August 24, 2009

News Roundup

Better living through chemistry: Since the chiropractor's wasn't helping all that much, I got a prescription for a muscle relaxant and an anti-inflamatory. It's still not entirely healed but it is vastly better than it was for most of July.

College: Josh will be leaving Saturday on his way back to George Mason. I'd expected him to be living in a cardboard box on a sidewalk somewhere, but at the last minute, the Housing Office (despite their explicit policy of "We don't have room for all the freshmen, so try to get the seniors to leave the dorms") found a place for him. Josh's room is above my office--specifically, Josh's stereo is directly overhead from where I'm typing at this moment. The thumpa thumpa thumpa currently vibrating flakes of paint from the ceiling sounds like Bohemian Rhapsody, but I think what he's whistling is Boston's More Than A Feeling.

Zambia: Diana's leaving Labor Day weekend for Zambia, with several cases of supplies (ranging from shoes for the local kids, to spicy mustard for the Americans, to gauze and syringes for the hospital).

Yes, "college" plus "Zambia" means it will be me and the mutt here by ourselves for most of September.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Schlock Mercenary

I've started rereading Schlock Mercenary from the beginning.

Ch'vorthq: Captain, you realize that violence is the last resort of the stupid?
Tagon: Oh, absolutely. Mercenaries are bright enough to resort to violence long before last resorts are required.

Lunch at Bellemonte

Diana and I celebrated her birthday yesterday with lunch at Bellemonte. I had the walnut-crusted chicken on a bed of fettuccine with spinach Gorgonzola cream sauce. I very generously gave Diana a sample, whereupon she spent the rest of meal poaching from my plate.
She said her citrus salmon was also quite good.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

My son the hydronaut

Josh and his friend Tom Paul decided they wanted a little more underwater breathing ability than normal snorkels would provide. They got a garden hose, cut it into two lengths, and put both ends through the bottom of a cubical styrofoam container. They put some ballast into the foam box to make sure it would right itself, then put a Confederate flag on top and christened it the CSS Research Vessel Nathan Bedford Forrest. The experiment didn't quite work, because it was hard to get enough air through 25ft of tube once you were a few feet underwater, but research will continue.


A little over 20 years ago, a friend of mine bought a Seagate 20MB hard drive for $800. Today I bought an 8G flash drive for about $20. That's 400 times the space for 1/40 of the price--his cost in dollars per MB was 16,000 times what mine was, plus mine is portable, takes no power and fits on my keychain.

Of course, we kidded Shelby about "that's more memory than you'll use in your lifetime"; back then, we could fit every program and document we had on a few floppies. On the machine I'm using now, with a hard drive that's two weeks old, I've used about 30GB before loading any games or movies.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

How's that stimulus working?

According to CNN: "It is now a rare Friday night that the agency does not seize the assets of a newly failed bank. And the number of banks judged as troubled has soared to 305 as of March 31, up from only 90 a year earlier. Those 305 problem banks on the FDIC's confidential list have combined assets of $220 billion."

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

First Submission

Made my first submission to Baen Books. Granted, only five words--Baen was asking for titles for an anthology--but a submission, nonetheless. "A journey of a thousand miles begins with leaning slightly forward."

Battle of Ascalon

In 1099, the forces of the First Crusade--about 1200 knights and 9000 infantry under Godfrey of Bouillon--found a Fatimid Egyptian army of 30,000 to 50,000 outside the city of Ascalon in the Holy Land. The Fatimids knew the Crusaders were in Jerusalem, one day's march away, but were not prepared for combat. The Crusaders were outnumbered at least three to one, but attacked anyway and broke the Fatimid army, causing 10,000 casualties; they captured the enemy standard, the general's tent, and much loot. The surviving Fatimids withdrew to Egypt.

Godfrey and Raymond of Toulouse both claimed Ascalon; the Fatimid garrison learned of the dispute and decided not to surrender, and retained control of the city for another 50 years.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


That's the medical procedure I'm getting this afternoon. In layman's terms, it's "sticking a slim tube with light and camera down your throat so we can see why you're having trouble swallowing, and also so we can make our Mercedes payments."

China selling human parts

There's a Monty Python sketch which goes more or less like this:
Men in lab coats: Can we have your liver?
Homeowner: I'm not done using it!
MiLC (holding H.O. down and grabbing his wallet): What's this, then?
HO: An organ donor card, but--
MiLC: Need we say more?
HO: But that's in the event of death!
MiLC: No one that we've taken a liver from has ever survived, so that's all
right then.
The People's Republic of China has apparently taken this to heart--and kidney, and so on. If you're guilty of such heinous crimes as disagreeing with the government or practicing Falun Gong or even being someone the local Party chief doesn't like, you could find yourself strapped to a table, sliced open, and broken up for spare parts.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Touchable holograms

An article on holograms with tactile feedback

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Responsibility of a Patriot

It is the responsibility of the patriot to protect his country from its government.
--Thomas Paine

Zambian weddings

Mom sent:
Recently there have been two weddings here at Macha. Rogers and Petronella are a Zambian couple who now live directly across the street from us. Three weeks ago they had their wedding. The invitation we got said 10:00 am. However, I KNOW that Zambians are always late, so, smart me, I arrived at 10:30. There were 3 people at the church - one waxing the concrete floor and two ladies arranging plastic flowers. They informed me that the preacher was still the far side of Choma (about 2 hrs drive away). We heard that the wedding actually began about 1 pm. The ceremony and reception lasted until 7 pm. Hundred of people came and they feasted on an entire roasted cow.
Yesterday was the second wedding and it was for Justin. He is one of the truly nice people on the planet. Justin's wedding was also scheduled for 10 am , but I arrived at 11:15 am and it actually began at 12 noon. When the Zambians say the wedding starts at 10 am, what they mean is they start getting ready. So, at 12 noon the wedding director starts dancing down the aisle. She had a long dress on with a cloth tied on her head - all matching and looked nice. She really puts on a performance. Two little girls dressed in white satin each with baskets (no flower petals in them that I saw) also dance down the aisle, then two little boys come down, and 8 adult attendants. This is what they call the lineup. It is a really big deal to be in the line up and the hair style for the women is all-important. Everyone matches. (The material for all these costumes--6 males shirts, 2 little girl dresses and 4 gowns plus a change of clothes for ALL the adults at the reception--was given to the dress maker the WEEK OF the wedding!)
The sermon was done by Moses Musaka who is the Head Overseer of the Church and I will have to say it was one of the best I have ever attended. It lasted about 1 1/2 hours and was noteworthy. He left no stone unturned about how husband and wife were to treat each other and how the ultimate goal of their marriage was to glorify God.
The reception was held at the local school auditorium. Hundreds come to the reception--friends of the family and who also attended the wedding, and also village people who show up for the food. They are adults and children, poorly dressed and barefooted and dirty, but they know there will be a roasted cow, goat or pig to eat. No one says anything and everyone is accepted. There is never enough food. Only the bride and groom get a slice of cake, and the very top little layer is frozen until the birth of the first born. The custom then is to crush the rest of the cake; the cake crumbs are passed around on a tray and you take a crumb. Then all the people who can come forward and give an offering to the bride and groom. For example, the bride's mother brought up 10,000 kwacha (that is 2 dollars US money) and the crowd broke out in much applause. The groom's father gave 100,000 kwacha ($20) and the crowd stood up and cheered! After the offering and music, the bride and groom left to eat by themselves and the crowd ate the roasted whatever it was.
Here are a few other interesting details. The normal cost of a bride is 4 cows that the groom has to pay before the wedding. The bride price is called Lobola. Once the bride price is paid there is no backing out - and only the wedding ceremony has to take place.
Most of the people in the community chip in - some flour, sugar, balloons, ribbon, and so forth--so that the food and decorations are in place. They do well with what they have. The same plastic flowers were used for both of these weddings and no one seems to notice; much care is taken to arrange them each time, and they are done differently. The bride also carried the same 4 plastic flowers as the last bride.
Then there is the wedding shower - it is called a "kitchen shower." The bride comes into the room with her head covered with a cloth. She sits down and uncovers her head. The guests dance their way up to her and put their gift down and explain what it is and how you use it. She does not say a word and she does not look at the guest. She then re-covers her head and the groom comes in and looks around as if he is searching for his bride and finally he goes over to her and lifts up her veil and nods approvingly. He sits down and then the bride gets food and serves him on her knees. After she serves him food she lies down and rolls over on the floor as a sign of submission. Then, get this, she goes over to her in-laws and takes them food and again lies down on the floor and rolls over in submission to them.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Adventure plans

Things to do in the next few months:
  • Take Diana to Dulles Airport and put her on a plane bound for Zambia. She'll be gone from September 6 to 27.
  • Drive the Virginia section of the Blue Ridge Parkway
  • Make plans for a trip to Arizona, to see Canyon de Chelly and some other big canyon they have in their northwest corner
  • National Jousting championship will be held in Northern Virginia in October
  • Paint miniatures

B-17 Bomber Liberty Belle

The Liberty Belle, a restored B-17, was at Chesapeake Airport today, and Josh and I went to visit. One of the visitors had been a pilot for the 96th Bomb Group in WW2, and the plane crew was giving him celebrity treatment.
If we'd had a spare $430 each, we could have taken a 45 minute flight; as it was, we watched her land, and then got a chance to go through.
From the outside, the plane is a little smaller than I'd expected; from the inside, it's a lot more cramped than I expected. You pretty much have to get on hands and knees to crawl into the nose, where the chin turret and bombardier's stations are. We looked into the cockpit, then through the bomb bay to the after section. It looked like a tricky squirm to get back to the tail gun; and as for the ball turret, Josh said "that's why the military emphasizes duty so much--so someone will accept that kind of job when they get assigned to it." We got out, took some pictures of the outside--Josh took 150 pictures in total--and then went around to the front, climbed up the ladder and went through it again.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Electrons, Spinons and Honons

A.E.Brain: Electrons, Spinons and Honons

An electron is supposed to be an indivisible point-particle, but it doesn't seem to be behaving that way.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


My sister Tabitha, her husband Chris, and their kids are here from Charlottesville for a beach visit. Sand, blue crabs, seagulls, pelicans diving on fish, and a trio of dolphins swimming parallel to the beach. It's been a while since I've gone in and gotten knocked around by the waves, and the water was a little cooler than I care for, but it was fun.
I was attacked by a bear-shark who pounced on me from out of a wave and wrapped me in a 230lb bear hug. I'm not entirely certain that my back and shoulder will ever recover, but I survived. I was a bit shaken by the experience and didn't see it coming, but Josh--who'd been standing beside me just before the attack--helpfully identified the bear-shark for me.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

True Names

I recently lost a hard drive and therefore about five months of emails since my last backup. This and some prodding from TomB led me to consider GMail, but that meant I needed an account name. As I was mulling over what name to pick, I was reminded of a question I got from a friend I know through a role playing game, who asked me what name I wanted to be called by. My response was that it didn't matter--I'm comfortable with Laser or Laserlight, or Runehorn, Chainshot, Flurry, Moosashi, Alarishi, Hunter, and so forth in various contexts. What's odd, perhaps, is the answer I did not give; I didn't say "my real name is Chris", because I don't think of that as my real name. Among some cultures, I've heard, a child gets a true name which denotes who he really is; he also has a name which is safe to tell other people, because it's merely a public name rather than his real name, and therefore has no power over him.
In this case everything else I tried was already taken (except MenacingBaa, which would take too much explanation), so I finally settled on chrisdeboe (but since my employer blocks Gmail, keep using the verizon address you're used to).
Is there anyone else who feels their given name isn't their "real" one? If you were picking a name for yourself, what would you pick?

New World Carcassone

Just got New World, a Carcassonne game.

Wild at Heart

"[I]n the heart of every man is a desperate desire for for a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue."
John Eldredge, Wild at Heart

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Flying car

Derek McQuay sent along links to news about a car/aircraft intended for use in remote areas with unreliable roads. I wouldn't mind having one myself, every time the Hampton Roads Bridge/Tunnel is clogged.

Monday, July 27, 2009

You're probably a criminal

At the Volokh Conspiracy, a blog on legal issues, Ilya Somin points out that "The vast scope of federal criminal law is a very serious problem", because people who haven't caused any harm to life, health or property can be subject to criminal charges. Since so many people are potential criminals, prosecutors will have to use their discretion in deciding which cases to pursue--and generally it's going to end up being the politically weak who suffer from that.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


This quote takes some explanation.
I have a friend who, in his mid-forties, found himself going through various physical changes including losing weight, skin texture and thickness changing, and getting blood test results that had the doctor muttering "The lab ought to be embarrassed to send reports that are so obviously impossible." In short, he changed from male to female in the space of three months, apparently due to a combination of genetics (for the potential) and a change in cholesterol medication (for the trigger). She just found, some years later, that her condition has a name--protandrous pseudohermaphroditism--and she added:

"You know that your life is going to be interesting, complicated and not without difficulty when you hide amongst transsexual people so as not to appear to be too unusual."

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Fiction at Ficton

I'm still putting the occasional paragraph or two of fiction up on Ficton.

Wilderness Survival

This morning, False Cape State Park had a three hour "Wilderness Survival" program. Of course, in three hours you can't cover much, so the guide concentrated on water, food, and poisonous snakes.
Water was pretty straightforwAdd Imageard, since around here you can get it from rain, river, bay, or marsh, all you have to do is filter or distill it. You can also get it from eating plants; in addition, one trick I hadn't heard before is that you can put a plastic bag over the end of a leafy tree branch--maple is best--and the transpiration from the leaves will collect in the bag.
Food isn't always obvious, but it's there. Blackberries were easy enough to find, and we also had cattail roots (taste like cucumber), a bitter succulent herb near the cattails, hibiscus petals, and greenbriar. Additional food sources would include acorns, grapes, yaupon holly (for tea), wild pigs (we saw where they'd been rooting up cattails), deer, clams, frogs, turtles, and so forth.
And for snakes, there was a cottonmouth coiled up in the road we were driving on. He didn't deign to move aside, so we stopped, leaned out and got pictures. I'm told you can eat them too, but they taste fishy and that rattlesnakes taste better.

"I support the President, but..."

From American Digest (hat tip Instapundit), for people who get fed up with the "I support the troops, but..." type bumper stickers:
"I support the President, but I am against all his policies."

"Support Obama--send him home"

Thursday, July 23, 2009

All I need is a volcano

A consultant upgraded our phone systems at work a few weeks ago, without telling our IT manager until afterward; since then, several of us have been having problems with our phones. My phone was the guinea pig for the tech who was trying to fix the problem. He poked at it for a while, then said that there was a newer version of the software out, and he was going to uninstall and delete my current one, and then install the new one and hope that would fix it. I said, "So you're going to sacrifice a version?"

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Cost of victory

"Pain is temporary; quitting lasts forever."
--Lance Armstrong

Presentation II

Fancy Fast Food

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Identity and Essence

Randy Singer, our pastor, is also Randy Singer, the novelist. Last week he attended a Michael Hauge writing conference, and this morning he shared one concept from that seminar with us (which I'm paraphrasing heavily, so don't blame Michael or Randy for what follows): Identity versus Essence.
In the beginning of most successful films, you see the protagonist in his everyday Identity, just fitting in, going about their regular life. Wesley (the Man in Black) (Princess Bride) is a farm boy; Korben Dallas (Fifth Element) is a cab driver; Thomas (Neo) Anderson (Matrix) is a programmer; James (J) Edwards (Men in Black) is a cop. And then something happens--they meet someone, or learn something, which awakens a desire. At that point, the protagonist has to make a decision--is he going to hide in his Identity, or show his Essence? The Identity is safe, but unfulfilled; the Essence is unsafe, but fulfilled.
What would you do, down the Rabbit Hole? Who are you, really? If you didn't "have to" do what you're doing now, what would you be doing now?

Edit: every good story also has a villain--the one who, when given the opportunity, becomes a rapist or killer, a slanderer or adulterer, or just pointlessly self-destructive. But we're going to focus on the Good, so if you post an answer, let's assume you're going to be a hero.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


"If you expect the customer to pay seven dollars for a bowl of rice, you have to pay attention to the presentation."
--Jon DeBoe


A squirrel was scampering down the big pine off our back deck, when suddenly he froze. I looked around to locate what the squirrel had seen, and an osprey swept by overhead, carrying a fish as long as the bird was.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Vacation plans

Diana's going to the Gaspé to visit her mum till the end of July, then planning to go to Zambia to visit my mom and dad, probably starting in late August--we can take Josh to university and Diana to British Airways in one trip.
As for me, I have to use six vacation days before the end of the year, and I'm mulling over destinations. The Gaspé is too cold, and Zambia's too far for a six day trip. Right now I'm thinking Arizona, for Canyon de Chelly and the Grand Canyon. I'd be open to considering other destinations, though.
Oh, and Josh may be going to Griffith University in Brisbane for a semester.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


I've managed to do something which causes pain to radiate out from the spine between the shoulder blades, out through the right shoulder, down to the elbow. Left arm is just fine. I know "pain is weakness leaving the body" but after two weeks, this is getting tiring. Chiropractor visits have helped a bit, and a hot jacuzzi improves things while I'm in it, but aspirin and Aleve don't do much.
I've also got a GI appointment tomorrow morning and will be seeing a neurologist next month. Lots of fun.

Desert Called Peace and Carnifex

Just finished A Desert Called Peace and Carnifex, by Tom Kratman. I'm going to talk about them as one book, because I suspect Kratman wrote it that way and Baen Publishing decided that a 1300 page book was a bit too chunky for one cover.
It's the tale of a Patrick Hennessey, a military officer whose wife and kids are killed in a 9-11 style terrorist attack; he forms a mercenary legion and dedicates himself to attaining a full measure of revenge.
The story is primarily set on a terraformed planet, but the Terran nations which colonized the place did so by nationality. There are consequently analogs of France, Germany, Spain, China, Japan, and so forth; the protagonist hails from a nation which sounds quite a bit like the United States. and his wife is from Balboa, the local equivalent of Panama. As Kratman says, history doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme. In this case, it rhymes so closely that the reader might be forgiven for seeing it as a commentary on the current War on Terror. Kratman helpfully points out some other themes in his foreword (I mean that "helpfully"seriously. As an English major, I spent a lot of time wondering if authors really intended to say what my classmates claimed they meant).
The bad guys are bad, and some of the good guys aren't all that good. There's lots of violence and some sex, and a bit of each is gratuitous. Did I mention "Lots of violence"? This is definitely not for the squeamish. There are some actions the protagonist takes in his war on terror which may cause you to think "Yeah, we should do that"; and hopefully at times you'll also think "We should never do that."
If you like John Ringo's books, you'll like this. I hear Kratman has planned more books in the series; I'm looking forward to them.


Sometimes we're fortunate enough to see ideas go from science fiction to engineering:
Swiss Quantum, using quantum entanglement to communicate -- hat tip to Barbra
Internet protocol --hat tip to TomB

Monday, July 13, 2009

Ebson's Foot

From Mom in Zambia:

There have been a number of our friends that have asked what they could do for us on this missionary trip. We are self-supporting and really have not needed anything. However, we do now come to you with the following request.
About a week ago a little 8 yr old Zambian boy was run over by an ox cart and lost one foot. His name is Ebson Bwatu. We have an opportunity to help him get an artificial foot so that he will not have to spend the rest of his life on crutches. We are asking 100 of our family and friends to contribute ten dollars each so we can transport Ebson and a parent to the capitol, Lusaka, which is 6 hrs away. It
will take about 2 to 3 months for the foot to heal enough for an artificial foot. Then we will have to arrange an appointment to have the procedure of measuring and fitting and physical therapy. It is a long process. Travel is very expensive in Zambia. A vehicle will need to be rented and the fuel is about $4.10 per gallon. We hope one trip will do it.
If you want to take this opportunity to help here is specifically how to do it. But first let me say this. You will not be put on a mailing list. We will not know if you give or how much as this system will completely by-pass us. The only way we will know if you get this email and respond is if you email us back. That is entirely up to you. No response necessary. So, if you do choose to help Ebson, let me THANK YOU IN ADVANCE. Your help is very much appreciated and we thought that ten dollars would be doable for everyone and not a burden for anyone. So here is the information.
1. Please write a check made out to John Spurrier Discretionary Fund
2. Send it to: BICWM, P. O. Box 390, Grantham, Pennsylvania 17027-0390
3. Mark on the check "FOOT"
4. Email Dr. Spurrier spurrier(at)machamalaria(dot)org and let him know how much money you sent. Other money is in that fund for other purposes, so this step is ABSOLUTELY necessary for Dr. Spurrier to know how much money is in the fund specifically for Ebson. The check MUST be marked "FOOT" so your check can be kept separately for this fund. Please do not leave out any of these four steps.
Any contributions are tax deductible and you should request a receipt from the BICWM (Brethren in Christ World Mission) Office when you send your check if you want the tax deduction. Also, 5% of any money you send will be kept out by the BICWM for handling services. If we did this any other way, the charge for
handling was 10%. So, this is the best way.
THANK YOU! You will put a smile on this little boy's face when he can walk again.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Value of people

There was a discussion around the dinner table the other night about "How much is a person worth?"
The context for the discussion was trade: "Is it ethical for a company to move because the labor in another country is lower? Isn't that exploiting those low-pay workers offshore?" Well, if you can make the same quality product cheaper elsewhere but you don't move, your company will probably have to compete with someone who does move, and you will go out of business. As long as the workers have a choice, i.e. it's not a one-company town, then the workers get to decide whether the wages are high enough or not; if not, they go elsewhere.
From there, the question arose as to what a person's intrinsic value is. The Compassionate member of the family held that each person is priceless; the Economist insisted that a person is worth what someone else will pay for his knowledge or services.
They're both right, since, as BB pointed out in the comments to a previous post, it depends on who's doing the pricing. I may value a random person on another continent at zero--I wouldn't pay anything to support him. Some unknown furniture worker might be worth $200 per year to me, as shown by what I'm willing to pay for the furniture. I don't know him, so there's no value in the relationship. On the other hand, I have friends to whom I've given hundreds of dollars, when I didn't really have a hundred to spare. And there are some people--my wife, my son, a friend or two--for whom I can say that I've sat down and thought it through and decided that yes, I would be willing to die for them if the need arose, or to support them indefinitely (however, Josh, you still need to plan on getting a job--Ed.). The value is in the relationship. The corollary is that you--I--need not to be a hermit, but to go out and create relationships.