Thursday, April 30, 2009

Massive budget cuts

A video illustration of how $100M compares to $3.5T

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Off to Africa

Mom and Dad are leaving tomorrow to go to Macha Mission Hospital in the Choma district of Zambia. They've done this kind of thing before, but that was about eighteen years ago, when the kids were all old enough to be ornery (I'm never ornery, but I was living on my own by then)( "Never"?--Mrs. Editor). Now they're used to having a passel of grandkids around--a "passel" being slightly less than a herd. It'll be interesting to see how Mom copes with ten months of being on another continent from them. On the other hand, we have Skype now, and even in rural Zambia you can get an Internet connection.
I suspect that Zambia is about to get its own Mme Ramotswe.

Beyond Folk Activism

That's the title of a post by Patri Freidman at Cato Unbound. He starts of by saying, "My new perspective is that the advocacy approach which many libertarian individuals, groups, and think tanks follow (including me sometimes, sadly) is an utter waste of time.", explains why he thinks that and what he's doing instead. An interesting article, well worth reading. I particularly like:

Government is just another industry, where countries offer services to citizens, but it has some unfortunate features. It is a geographically segmented monopoly, and since all land is taken, the industry has an enormous barrier to entry. To start a new government you have to beat an old one, which means winning a war, an election, or a revolution. And it has very high customer lock-in: there are barriers to emigration and immigration, and switching countries involves both high financial and emotional costs. These characteristics result in a horribly uncompetitive industry, so it is no surprise that existing firms tend to exploit customers instead of innovating to attract them.

That pretty much coincides with my view.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Call of the Woof

Remember Call of the Wild from eleventh grade English? The dog Buck starts out civilized, gets taken to Alaska and eventually ends up as a legendary superwolf. Diana thinks the canine member of our household is headed in that direction.
Until recently, the mutt has been content to sleep through the early morning (she is also quite capable of sleeping during the mid morning, late morning, siesta, pre-dinner...but I digress). Lately, however, she's getting up at a time so early that no self-respecting clock would even show it, and she wants to go down to the main deck and...patrol, I guess. Pace around and warn off the wildlife. Given that we have had no sign whatsoever of marauding deer, moose, wolves, grizzlies, giant squid, or carnivorous sheep on our deck, I'd have to say she's been remarkably successful. Most dogs don't know how to deal with a giant squid, you know.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Zombie Apocalypse

"The hardest thing about the zombie apocalypse will be pretending I'm not excited."
--Josh DeBoe

(I'm not certain whether he means he'll feel vindicated about all the thought he's put into it, or--given that it's allergy season right now--if he means that once zombies are lurching around, he'll fit in better)

Saturday, April 25, 2009


This morning I took the first kayak excursion for this year. The wind was blowing to the north, so I headed south, on the theory that I'd rather be paddling into the wind when I'm fresh rather than having to fight it while I'm trying to get home. I got to Virginia Beach Boulevard next to Colony Pines Drive,

View Larger Map
but there's a low culvert rather than a bridge, so that was as far as I could get. Slim silver fish, four inches long, jumping six feet away. Half a dozen mallards standing on a boat dock. Two Canada geese at the water's edge, one eating grass, the other just watching me. Red-winged blackbird piping in a bush. A sound like a wind rustling through the leaves turned out to be made by hundreds of fiddler crabs retreating from the water's edge as I floated by.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Maintaining the Objective

"Maintenance of the Objective" is one of the principles of war; it means that you decide what you need to accomplish and then stick with it instead of getting sidetracked.
I was invited to take over a position in a naval game set in the Spanish Main, after the original player dropped out.  This game had eight players, each controlling a squadron of four ships. There were two players for each nationality, with English allied to Dutch, and French allied with Spanish. In this sort of game, the usual result is that the fleets go after each other and fight to the death. However, when I read the briefing material, I saw that the way the gamemaster would determine the winner was which faction had the most gold; and the way to accumulate gold was to transport goods from the Spanish Main to the island ports such as Port Royal. 
In the few turns after I took over, my Spanish squadron was to the west of the main action. I saw my allies were fully engaged with the scurvy Anglo-Dutch, and doing pretty well. 
My inclination was to swoop in and go for the kill--but that wasn't the objective. So....I disengaged and sailed west, potentially leaving my allies in the lurch. I captured one port, and thought about occupying another at the same time. In order to do that, I had to split my squadron, which meant that if an enemy had sailed over the horizon, I'd be in deep
 trouble--it would be his four ships facing only one or two of mine. On the other hand, I'd be making money twice as fast, and that was the point of the game. I decided to go for it. 
  My ship sailed in and took control of Cartagena...and the gamemaster announced, "The Spanish have taken control of the two most profitable ports on the map and have taken a commanding lead in revenue. The French are not allowed to dislodge their allies, and the Dutch and English squadrons are hors de combat. The Spanish win."
  And today the mail brought a prize, shown on the left in the photo: a 1/1200th scale ship of the line, painted and rigged. 

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Pork politics in a nutshell

From Day by Day Cartoon:
"Government's trying to bribe us with our money so it can grab even more power!"

Great Moments in Customer Service

I used to work in Norfolk selling plastics, and one of the products we carried was colored Lucite, used for signs.  Each color had several shades and came in transparent, translucent and opaque. Each color had a number, so when a sign shop buyer called in, she could specify something like "Two sheets of 205 red and one sheet of 211 red." However....
Caller: "This is ____ Sign Shop in Knoxville. I need some red Plexiglas."
Me: "Okay, what number?"
Caller: "Two sheets."
Me: "Okay, two sheets. What color?"
Caller: "Red."
Me: "Um, what shade of red?"
Caller: "This one."
Me: "What?"
Caller: "This one right here, in my hand."
Me: ........ "Sir, you're in Knoxville. I'm in Norfolk. Could you hold it a little closer to the phone?"


We started our weightlifting program about three months ago. I've only lost 8 pounds or so, but the remainder is better distributed--more chest, less waist. And this week I benched 200 pounds. I suspect that "200 pounds" on the Bowflex is a good deal easier than 200 pounds of iron would be, but nonetheless, I'm making progress.

 Of course, there's a certain amount of "continuous ache" connected with "progress". 

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tea Party Economics

From Forbes (emphasis added):
Some analysts have made the case that Americans are not overtaxed (at the federal level) and that therefore the protests were not justified. But this misses the point. Government spending is exploding, with the Congressional Budget Office projecting $9.3 trillion in deficits over the next 10 years. People know that this spending represents future taxes.
Well, some people know it. 

Monday, April 20, 2009


Last frost was Friday, so me and Maw done planted the west forty. Okay, technically it's 32 square feet instead of 40 acres, but it's planted. A couple of varieties of lettuce, a few tomatoes, peppers, beans, marigolds, peas, cucumber, onions, chives, basil, cilantro, parsley, nasturtiums.
The ferocious watch-mutt is in the southwest field, gazing at a young heron who was sitting on a branch of the tree just off the deck. I tried getting pictures of him, but the sky was cloudy and his grey plumage made him fade into the background. Other marsh visitors include a pair of Canadian geese who are wading out back right now, and possibly a bobcat a few days ago.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

That Share of Glory

"God is not willing to do everything, and thus take away our free will and that share of glory which belongs to us." 
--Niccolo Machiavelli

Another local blogger

The Virginian posts on politics, including several posts with photos from the Virginia Beach Tea Party.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


Ryan Schultz hosted an Ironclads game this morning for the Tidewater Area Naval Gamers. The scenario pitted two Confederate ironclads and a fast but fragile blockade runner against the Union's four strong wooden vessels, two weak ones, and misinformation (three dummy ships). The Rebs are coming downstream, avoiding the shoals in the center of the river; the Yanks have two ships patrolling up by the shoals and four ships farther back where the river is open. It's night, with very limited visibility--any engagements will be at point blank range.
The Confederates sent their ironclads down the east channel while the runner skulked safely upriver. The Union quickly located them and responded with all four heavies and one light ship, leaving the other small vessel and a dummy in the west channel. Union fire began chewing away at the Confederate hulls, but the return fire disabled the engines of two wooden vessels. One of them made quick repairs, but the other was a sitting duck which Ryan took advantage of. His ironclad slewed around at full speed and rammed, shattering the hapless Union ship into splinters; the ironclad didn't even slow down.
Dismayed and distracted by this, one of the Union vessels ran aground, taking herself out of the action for a few minutes. The second Rebel ironclad dueled two Union ships in the middle of the east channel and set them both afire, but she succumbed to a lucky boiler hit which left her drifting downstream, although still fighting. With one of the Union ships destroyed and two hors de combat, it was obvious that the Yanks would only be able to stop the blockade runner if they had a great deal of luck; we called it a Confederate win.
We followed with two games of the card game Nuclear War. Quick and fun, unless a scheming villain (like, say, me) manages, through Secrets and Propaganda, to get someone's (Bob's) entire country to defect before the first missile makes it to the launch pad!

Value of Newpapers

"Advertisements contain the only truths to be relied on in a newspaper."
--Thomas Jefferson

Portuguese tiles

Last year we visited Fabrica Sant'Anna in Lisbon, which makes azulejos--Portuguese tiles. We picked out 15 tiles, 19 border pieces and 4 corners, for about $350, and that was my carry-on luggage for the trip home. We took a class at the Tile Shop in Virginia Beach to find out how to cut the backer board, mix the mortar, cut the trim, lay the tile, caulk the edges, and apply the grout. Here's the result.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Anti-Tea Party Spam

Yesterday morning, a couple of hours before the Tea Party, I got the following spam on the email account associated with this blog (and not on any of our other email accounts on the same ISP). I'll put my fisking in brackets and italics.

Tea Party protests are expected in cities across the United States. WHERE WE STAND In railing against taxes and spending, what are protesters standing for? [Just as an off the cuff guess, I'd say lower taxes and lower spending.] HOW MUCH are you willing to pay to support a civil society? Given that today is April 15 — Tax Day — it’s not an idle question, even though most of us [aside from some politicians, of course] have actually been paying our dues with every paycheck over the past year. If the Americans deploying tea bags today are any indication, lots of people think they pay too much. Of course, the fact that most of those same protesters recently had their federal taxes cut under President Barack Obama blunts the point a bit ["Less tax than before" can still be "too much tax". In addition, those trillions of new deficit spending will have to be paid for somehow, even if it's not by direct taxes. If it's by corporate taxes, those will get passed on to us as higher prices; if it's by inflating the currency, that also acts as an indirect tax. And there's no promise it won't be by direct taxes in a couple of years, either. Several of the signs I saw yesterday were along the lines of "I'm eight years old and already $32,000 in debt"], as does the fact that these grassroots Tea Parties were partially fomented and sponsored by very big and well-financed conservative groups and media outlets ["Partially" is a slippery term--are we talking 80%, 50%, 10%, .0005%? Is there a ceiling of contribution below which the movement is "genuine" and above which it's "astroturf"? If conservative groups are funding the protests, does that somehow mean that the message of the protests isn't true? Does the writer think that, unlike conservatives, leftist protesters can remain pure while taking money from the likes of Soros, union bosses, etc?]. As today’s gatherings show, it is not difficult to inspire anger against taxes, against spending, against Washington, against Richmond, against City Hall, especially at a time when many Americans feel poorer and their government is struggling to cope with the worst economic downturn in at least a generation. What’s not immediately clear ["not immediately"? How many seconds did you stop to think?] is what the Tea Party protesters are willing to pay for functioning civil institutions, for the kind of society where children must be educated, roads must be built and people must be protected. [It's not the functioning civil institutions that bother me, it's things like GM getting a huge bailout a few months ago and still planning on going bankrupt two months from now.] It is completely undeniable that anger against taxation and spending has been building for years, resulting in truly organic anti-tax movements in communities across the nation. [Weren't you just saying the Tea Party movement is funded by Big Conservatives? Is it organic, or isn't it?] But the days leading to today’s protest seem a little different, at least to witness an e-mail from the anti-tax Americans for Prosperity: “In addition, we’ll be offering anybody attending a tea party the chance to win $1,000! AFP Foundation and Heritage Foundation have joined forces to launch the Stop Spending Our Future initiative, which offers four contests and $5,000 in total prizes. Our ‘Spread the Word’ contest will award $1,000 to the individual that collects the best video testimonial from an attendee at one of these tea parties.” [So? They're not paying for the protests, they're paying for the best reporting on the protests]. The Tea Party protests have been unusual from the start, mixed up — in many places — with anti-Obama fervor [God forbid we should hold the President responsible for what his administration does], anti-immigrant passion, and even opposition to the teaching of evolution and to civil rights for homosexuals [I didn't see anything at all along those lines, but let's say there were. Does that somehow render the "anti-tax" message invalid, or is it just an opportunity to be snide about social conservatives?]. But it’s an unusual protest, to say the least, that commands prize money for participants. [I'd say the last campaign season was a protest against the Big Government Conservative administration, and I hear some community organizer from Illinois got a pretty impressive prize out of it].

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tea Party

We went to the Virginia Beach Tea Party today, held in the plaza outside Senator Webb's office. Diana and some friends visited the Senator's office, but the staff didn't seem to know what to do--the only thing they could say was "please send a letter and the Senator will respond." One would have thought they'd pay a little more attention to what's going on, and been a little better prepared.

I estimate there were at least 800 people in the plaza at a time, probably more like 1000-1200, plus people coming or leaving. The only elected official that I saw was city councilman Bob Dyer, but I couldn't see the speaker's platform so there may have been others. I'm told the mayor was invited but didn't come--although I've also heard he had to be in front of a grand jury at the time, which would take precedence.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Radio without ads

I used to be a radio deejay, once upon a time, but I almost never listen to radio any more because it's three minutes of music and ten minutes of advertisements. Someone mentioned Pandora to me, and I'm listening to its Smooth Jazz channel right now.  It's not just ad-free music--you can put in a song (or two or more) and it will automatically select similar songs. I put in one Latin title and created a Gregorian Chant channel for myself.

In case you travel in time

You probably won't be carrying the 1911 Britannica, but hopefully you'll be wearing this shirt.

A Deepness in the Sky

I finished Vernor Vinge's A Deepness in the Sky. It's nominally set in the same Zones of Thought universe as A Fire Upon The Deep, but you wouldn't know it except for the name of one character. Deepness takes place at the first contact with a non-human race; Fire is set much later, when the galaxy--and that does mean "galaxy", not "a few hundred stars"--has been explored. In Deepness, two nations of non-humans face each other in a Cold War, while in orbit above them, two human factions engage in a more subtle and treacherous contest against each other. The non-humans were more sympathetic than the humans, which I suspect was intentional; however, given that a lot of the book was about the maneuvering between human factions, not having a really sympathetic hero made the book less enjoyable than Fire. Of course Fire won a Hugo, so that's a high standard to meet.
The two main ideas of the book that make it science fiction are the setting and one human ability. The story takes place in a solar system where the sun burns for a few years, then goes out; the planet is habitable for about 25 years, then cools to the point where the air freezes; the the sun reignites and things come out of hibernation. The human ability is an induced mental condition, sort of an obsessive autistic mindset which makes some people into geniuses, and leads to interesting ramifications.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


Given that quite a lot of the parking lot has turned pale yellow, I'd say Pollen Season has arrived.

Cell phone pictures

I complained earlier about Motorola charging $35 for Phone Tools. After poking around Teh Interwebs, I found which had software to let me transfer photos from phone to PC. Not the most user-friendly program I've ever run across, but quite workable; with just a smidgen of genius and patience, I transferred 60 photos from phone to computer. Happy happy.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Trip to the Family

My parents are leaving this month to go to Zambia (not Zimbabwe) as medical missionaries. They'll be gone most of a year, so my brothers and sisters (and their kids) are all visiting the old homestead this week. Diana and I, and the mutt, went up on Sunday, got back tonight.

Since I'm looking at guns, and I've already tried out a pistol and rifle, my brother James offered to bring a shotgun and let me try that. He's a good instructor, so the result was that several tin cans got thoroughly ventilated and we had a good time. One thing did occur to me: we fired about 20 rounds from the shotgun and 50 rounds from a 9mm pistol--some of it rapid fire, obviously not hunting--and no one called or came to investigate.

We also watched North Carolina trounce Michigan State, played a few board games, ate, navigated around the kids, and listened as Jon and James played guitar. Good times.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Child Management

From a comment on Sandra Tayler's blog, on calming kids down after they've seen a parent injured:

While working ambulance, I was surprised at how often "{parent} has a boo-boo" seemed to work on small children. Not always, and they're still scared or upset, but it often helped keep the panic at bay[....]
Then again, I just got back from dinner where I taught my almost-2-years-old 'niece' to answer "What does the Zombie say?" with "BRRRAAAIIINNNSS". So I'm not exactly any kind of authority on child management :)
Sounds like an authority to me.


Back in the early and mid 80s, I enjoyed a role playing game called Champions. The players were comic book superheroes, saving innocents, thwarting villains, and running around in colorful skintight costumes. Now they're working on making it an MMORPG. However, they have a serious error in the "What kind of hero are you?" quiz. My result should be "a Non Player Character", but the result I got was:

Defender! Noble and true, you are the hero other heroes aspire
to be. You are a natural leader, selfless and kind, who will put the lives of others above your own, and are steadfast in your pursuit of justice.
Take the quiz!

Emergency planning

A friend and I were talking about emergency plans, and she said, "I guess you can never really be sure of the future..."

On one hand, that's true, in that I don't know whether the next disaster will be a stock market collapse, tsumani, flu epidemic, the next 9/11, losing power for a few days, or a zombie uprising. But I'm confident that something is going to happen, sooner or later; and part of wisdom is using foresight and making preparations. We can't expect to be as omni-competent as a Heinlein hero, but there are a few things we can work on:

  • Money. I had a goal for a long time to build up enough money to cover six months of expenses. Not an easy one to achieve, but a lot less worry when you've done it.
  • Food and supplies. We have a couple of months of food in the pantry; other vital supplies might include first aid kit, weapon, tool kit (including tools that don't need electricity), flashlights and batteries, firewood.
  • Planning. If you needed to evacuate, does your family know where you'd go and what route you'd take? If cell service is overwhelmed, do you know who's in charge of picking up the kids? Are your valuable documents, wedding photos, etc, all in one place, or scattered around the house? Do you keep your car fully fueled, or usually hover on empty?
  • Knowledge. How do you keep your pipes from freezing (aside from living in a decent climate)? If you lose your utilities, do you know how to make sure you have enough water, or how to keep your frozen foods good as long as possible?
  • Skills. Can you use a chainsaw? Clear a jammed pistol? Give CPR?
  • Mindset. When you have a problem, do you work out what the solution must be, do you look for someone to tell you what to do, or do you panic and hope someone helps?

If you have suggestions, leave them in the comments. I might not have thought of "how to hotwire a car", for instance, but my son did.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Portugal 2008

About this time last year, for our 20th anniversary and Diana's 60th birthday, we took two weeks in Portugal. Flew from Norfolk to Newark to Lisbon to Madeira and spent a few days on the island; back to Lisbon, where we spent a couple of days seeing the city; then we rented a car and drove east, north, and south, spending a couple of nights in each area. I took 279 pictures, about 200mb if you want them all.
 Chronological order would be:
 Estremoz (with side trip to Arraiolas)
 Torres Vedras

I kept a journal, which I'll be posting in segments as I get to it.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Sheep and LEDs

The Baaa-studs put LED blankets on sheep, and maneuver the sheep to make...well, see for yourself.