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.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

I've just finished Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, having read it in bits and pieces over the past few months. It's not so much a novel as a frame around a philosophical discussion; but it's nowhere near as dry as some of the philosophy books I've read--the author really cares about what he's saying, he's not just indulging in hair splitting.
Josh and I were watching Master and Commander, and in one scene, the ship has smoke billowing around it. All I saw was the ship, smoke and water; however, Josh, who has worked with art and illustration software, nudged me and said, "See that smoke? I know how to do that. In fact, look at the edges--I can do better than that." In Zen's terms, I was a Romantic: I didn't know how the smoke had come about, but I could enjoy the way it looked. In contrast, Josh's view was Classic: he could analyze the smoke image and knew the process by which it was made, but he didn't think it looked good. A Romantic will admire a motorcycle because it's sleek and fast, and all he wants to know is how to operate it--turn the key, accelerator, brake, away we go. The Classicist will want to break it down into assemblies and sub assemblies and components--the power system includes fuel, electrical and drive, and the fuel system includes the gas tank, line, pump and injector--but he's probably going to be thinking "There's something off in the timing, how should I adjust it" rather than "This is a fun ride."
The author's solution to combining those two is Quality. You can know the details of how something works, but if it's done with excellence--craftsmanship--you can still appreciate the beauty of it.
There's plenty more to be said about Zen; Amazon has over five hundred reviews, and there are guidebooks and studies. An adventuresome soul might even go so far as to read the book himself.
One side point particularly stuck with me which is that some people seem to be thorough Romantics. When something isn't working, they don't go through a reasoning process to try to figure out what's wrong with it; they just call for help. Sometimes it almost seems like panic--"I don't know what to do, so I'll stop doing anything." Sometimes the problem is with a balky sewing machine, or a car that's making strange noises, or a computer that just won't do what it should.
And sometimes that misbehaving machine is yourself.

GK Chesterton

"[H]e was perhaps the first to realize how often the boundary of fairyland runs through a crowded city."
GK Chesterton, The Napoleon of Notting Hill

More on slavery

Our pastor referred to A Crime So Monstrous in today's sermon, and the International Justice Mission.

Friday, July 3, 2009


From the comments at Freakonomics:
A wise professor of mine said, "There are only two types of people in the world who aren't concerned with other people's feelings: economists and sociopaths. You'd better know which one you are."

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Now Reading

Will Durant's book Heroes of History. The title is somewhat misleading, as each chapter is about one era, not one major figure from that era. In a chapter on Athenian Greece, for instance, he talks about a variety of artists, philosophers and politicians, rather than focussing on just Socrates, or just Pericles. However, if you're looking to get a quick introduction that mentions the major figures of a period, this will do nicely; Durant can sketch the character of a Medici or Sulla in a few paragraphs sufficiently to make you want to look up more on your own. It's a breezy overview of western history, written by a 90 year old scholar who obviously found his field delightful.