Monday, May 28, 2007

The 31st Annual RF Memorial Cook-Out

At the end of the Spring '77 semester, we were dropping like flies. Glenn gave up and retreated back home; I lacked enough credits to graduate on time; and Rod flamed out spectacularly, and was about to go home to Pittsburgh.

To cheer ourselves up, we were going to throw an end-of-semester cook-out for our entire circle, and stage it as a surprise going-away bash for Rod.

Well, surprise: Rod got an interview with Allegheny Steel and left.

We looked at each other, and at the pile of provisions, shrugged, and had the cook-out in his honor anyway, figuring, well, he didn't actually need to be there in any event. We remembered to call him up on the phone and tell him what a good time we were having.

Which began an annual tradition: an end-of-semester/Memorial Day Cook-Out.

This is number 31 in the series.

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

Forward, into the past

Here I am, surfing the internet, conducting conversations with people I've never met in real life...
...and over on the couch, the Lady Margaret is using her Stereopticon to view various Uplifting and Ennobling Views of the Great War.

(She was thinking about buying some more stereo views on eBay, and thought she should review the ones she owned.)

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OK, I guess... but it should require more deference to The Leader

If you founded a religion...
Created by EvilAuthor on

The Transformational Sisterhood of Brothers

Your followers are friendly and welcoming people,

who work for a living just like everybody else,

who are free and fun loving,

and who are encouraged to achieve
greater spiritual enlightenment by questioning their own beliefs.

Your followers wear whatever they want.

Your followers are

increasingly common (over 50,000),

and they don't interfere with the beliefs of outsiders.

Take this quiz now - it's easy!
Who would be able to join your religion?

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Saturday, May 26, 2007

I HATE that car

Maggie was loading crap into the hatch of the MPV when the left strut failed. The hatch is heavy.

The gas strut is bolted to the car, but has a ball-and-socket fitting bolting it to the hatch (to give it enough degrees-of-freedom); the ball sheered off from the strut.

I probably could have popped the ball out of the socket,but that still would have left the problem of reattaching the ball to the strut. (Time to learn welding?)

So: new strut $81.05, new socket bolt $8.50: total with tax, $96.71. A hundred bucks, simply so that we can continue to use the hatch conveniently. How stupid.

I guess this means my age is showing: a hundred bucks is a hundred bucks, but I guess it's trivial today: it's the price of two tanks of gas....

Mercifully, at least the dealer parts dept. was open on Saturday morning.

Update: BoingBoing reports Sony charges $82 for a single "special" screw:

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

That sounds about right, too

You scored as Scientific Atheist, These guys rule.

I'm not one of them myself, although I play one online.
They know the rules of debate, the Laws of Thermodynamics,
and can explain evolution in fifty words or less.

More concerned with how things ARE than how they should be,
these are the people who will bring us into the future.

Scientific Atheist


Apathetic Atheist




Militant Atheist


Spiritual Atheist


Angry Atheist




What kind of atheist are you?
created with

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That's pretty much it

If I had no duties, and no reference to futurity, I would spend my life in driving briskly in a post-chaise with a pretty woman.

- Samuel Johnson to James Boswell, September 19, 1777

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It was 40 years ago today

June 1st (UK) or 2nd (US), 1967

"The closest Western Civilization has come to unity since the Congress of Vienna in 1815 was the week the Sgt. Pepper album was released.. . . . At the time I happened to be driving across country on Interstate 80. In each city where I stopped for gas or food — Laramie, Ogallala, Moline, South Bend — the melodies wafted in from some far-off transistor radio or portable hi-fi. It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard. For a brief while the irreparable fragmented consciousness of the West was unified, at least in the minds of the young."

- Langdon Winner (a Political Scientist (Berkeley '66, '67, '73) who, coincidentally, is now at RPI's Department of Science and Technology Studies (where I picked up a minor))

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Keep the Aspidistra Flying

Last week on NPR's Morning Edition, Nancy Pearl (America's Librarian) recommended a fantasy called "Kings of Infinite Space" :
(Scroll down)

It's about a guy whose life is such a mess that he's forced to take a job as a tech writer for the state government - his circumstances are so dire that he's been reduced to driving a 14--year-old Dodge Colt.

Of course, I heard her review while driving to my tech writing job in state government, at the wheel of my 16-year-old Honda Civic.

Later that week, I ran across the book at the APL sale. So I bought it, and of course I'm reading it.

(Somewhat similarly, the American version of Hornby's "Fever Pitch" portrayed the protagonist as a loser who was deliberately avoiding a serious career that would render him worthy of the heroine: he was a lowly schoolteacher.)

So much for 'ordinary' careers as portrayed in the arts... this, in a country where only a quarter of adults have a college degree.

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Today's "Not Dead Yet!" Film Post

Perhaps for the first time this century, there's good news on the "Kodak Processing Mailer" front.

For several years now, Kodak has contracted out their mailer processing. (It seems to have finally come to rest at Dwayne's in Parsons, Kansas.) For a while, it was sent to an address in Maryland and then forwarded to Kansas, and then returned to the customer via some slow mail service. Last year, Kodachromes were taking two weeks or more for the round trip. For a couple of years there, each time you sent off a mailer, you would never know where it would come back from, or how long it would take - except you knew that it would several weeks.

This season, Dwayne's has resumed returning Kodachromes via first class mail.

With the return of spring, I'm shooting Kodachrome 64 again - and the last three batches I've sent to Kansas have come back to me in 6 days, 5 days (!) and 7 days, and have come via First Class Mail (just like the promise made on the mailer, the promise that had been ignored in recent years).

This is the first encouraging news about the survival of slide film that I've experienced lately.


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You might think that I would know better by now.....

I went out for lunch on Monday and, on a whim, got an oil change.

Aaron once used a mechanic - a Russian immigrant - whose reaction was "Jiffy Lu-be?!? Feh!!!" Now I remember why.

Ok, the '91 Civic has the oil filter on the back side of the block, pretty much inaccessible unless you get 'way under the car. I'm too big and too old to bother, so I've always paid to have somebody change the oil for me.

Similarly for the minivan - the filter is somewhat more accessible, but requires removing a shroud each time, AND crawling under the car.

The Miata, though, has the filter right on the side of the block, ready-to-hand from above.

So I need to get several oil changes per year, but I almost always do the Miata myself.

I was driving past JiffyLube on Monday, and they still had their "buy-one-get-another-free" deal.

Hmmm... my arithmetic brain immediately went to work on the problem.... let's see, Jiffy Lube is $35, NAPA is $25... doing it myself is about eight bucks, plus an hour of my time. Hmm, TWO oil changes for $35 is still a couple bucks high - and I really enjoy changing the oil on the Miata, as it's still about the most butch thing I do.

However, the Miata was Right Now, This Minute badly overdue for a change. I got it running a month ago, but it's rained so much that I hadn't yet gotten around to its vernal oil change.

While I could do it myself on Wednesday and save the out-of-pocket expense, is an hour of my time really worth the three bucks or so I would save?

I went to JiffyLube.

We did their little Kabuki ritual where they bow and show me the air filter, and I bow back and politely rebuff their advances; this time, they also tried to sell me on $15 of Special Old Car Oil, too. I made them give me the standard 10w-30.

And of course
a) they disturbed the wire from the Oil Pressure sender - which killed the OP meter reading;
b) they denied it was their fault. We played "Uh - it was like that when it came in." "No it wasn't" "Yes, it musta been. You can change out the sender pretty easily",(etc.) for a while, much like a Python routine; eventually,
c) they played with it for a minute, but had very little interest in getting it to work.

So after paying somebody to change my oil, there I was, under the hood anyway, tweaking the wire off the oil pressure sender.

Had I done it myself, I would have had the foresight to wear old clothes. As it was, there I was in a dress shirt and tie, up to the elbow in Miata. At least they let me wash up before I went back to work.

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And I was SO hoping for "godless nihilist"

What kind of extremist are you?
Your Result: Rational Person

You consider these questions obvious straw men, designed to distract people from a meaningful investigation of facts and a serious discussion of relevant political issues. How boring.

Left-Wing Extremist
Moderate Extremist
Right-Wing Extremist
What kind of extremist are you?
See All Our Quizzes

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Today's "Death of Film" News, #34

Postage went up today - up 5% for a First Class letter - and it actually went DOWN for additional ounces - but non-machine-readable items - lumpy stuff like, say, film mailers - got completely p4wn3d.

A mailer -by weight - would actually have gone down to 58 cents (from 63 cents) - but the new "shape" rates make it a "large envelope", and 97 cents: up 54%.

It still pays to send multiple rolls together, but: jeez!

Film mailers now become even less competitive.... (I have about 50-60 still on hand.)

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Ho, hum, more 'history in the making'

One of the many fringe benfits of being a minor civil servant is being in the middle of State government.

Today at noon, there was a campaign rally at the Capitol, as Gov. Spitzer endorsed Sen. Clinton for president. Our other Senator (Shumer) - and every other Dem who could elbow their way in front of the cameras - were there, too.

It was about worth walking over on my lunch hour. It was a beautiful spring day, so I actually brought an F3 loaded with K64 with me to work.

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Well, that went well.

I've been accumulating books since I was a teenager.
(The clerk at Lescron once asked me - " you read all these books you buy?")
Now that I'm finally getting my library accurately cataloged, now is a good time to unload some dupes.

M just put another first edition of Neuromancer up on eBay. I ran across this at Cranbury about 1989; I paid 60 cents for it.

Neuromancer, by William Gibson, first edition July 1984 Item number: 160114330525

Your item sold for US $163.10!

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Thought for the Day

Well, it's a trivial observation, but it's gratifying to see such substantive evidence for it:

'Science fiction' and 'religion' meet some of the same needs.

LibraryThing's unsuggester points this out: the "opposite" books for SF titles tend to be religious - and vice versa. That is, the people who read the one genre ignore the other. (This was brought home to me when I idly clicked on the "Unsuggester" for one of the John M. Ford books. People who own The Last Hot Time - the least likely book for them is The Five People You Meet In Heaven. Which seems about right, somehow.)

One could build on this and point out how 'SF fandom' is roughly analogous to 'being member of a congregation' in satisfying the need for membership in a community.

"We each worship in our own way."

Update: well, one might infer that there are two subspecies of human, the rational and the superstitious... but it's somewhat more parsimoneous to assume that the SF "sense of wonder" is a version of the more common "religious awe".


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

A Novel With One Foot in the Future

Vinge's Rainbows End.

"It's like Neuromancer - but with the internet...".

An entertaining story . . . clearly, Vinge is familiar with Nicholson Baker's Double-fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper and the argument against the rush to digitize library content (and discard the pesky originals) . . . but I liked this story better twenty years ago, when cyberspace was still new. Whatever wonders Vinge shows of the near future of UI, his future still isn't as mindblowing as the first days of the real-world internet.

And I would have liked it better if only Vinge had bothered to tell us something about the fate of, you know, the most interesting character in the book.


(I apparently now seem to require the SFnal equivalent of pure heroin.)


Well, I finally started over there, too.

Quote of the Day

(Somehow I seem to have spent the '90s uh, preoccupied, and so I seem to have pretty much missed out on the entire "Usenet" phenomenon.)

Until recently baby production was largely dependent on slave labour; as soon as women are allowed to answer the question "Would you like to squeeze as many objects the size of a watermelon out of your body as it takes to kill you?" they generally answer "No, thank you." This leads to falling birthrates everywhere women are not kept enslaved and ignorant of the alternatives.

- Someone named James Davis Nicoll ( (... who is famous enough to have a Wiki article; fame partially based upon his invention of the concept of the "Brain Eater" as cause of writer's decline...) in Usenet article ddnv2a$ss2$ (2005)

ADDENDUM: Now that I'm aware of him, I'm running into him all over the internets. Peter Watts also quotes Nicoll on his webpage: "Whenever I find my will to live becoming too strong, I read Peter Watts."

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Actually, I was still rooting for "Science Nerd"

What Be Your Nerd Type?
Your Result: Literature Nerd

Does sitting by a nice cozy fire, with a cup of hot tea or chocolate, and a book you can read for hours even when your eyes grow red and dry and you look sort of scary sitting there with your insomniac appearance? Then you fit this category perfectly! You love the power of the written word and its eloquence; and you may like to read or even write poetry or novels. You contribute to the smart people of today's society; however, you can be overly-critical of particular works.

It's okay. I understand.

Science/Math Nerd
Social Nerd
Drama Nerd
Gamer/Computer Nerd
Anime Nerd
Artistic Nerd
What Be Your Nerd Type?
Quizzes for MySpace

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

I was sort of hoping for Moloch.

'Jove' certainly has perks, though.

Which God or Goddess are you?
Your Result: Buddha

You are Buddha. You are a very peaceful person, you love all who love you. You are a cheerful personality, and you have a great sense of humor. Congratulations!! You are Buddha!!

The Christian God
Goddess Bast
Goddess Sekhemet
You are your own God or Goddess
God Zeus
Which God or Goddess are you like?
Make Your Own Quiz

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Sunday, May 06, 2007

No, it's NOT symmetric

On the LT talk pages, conservatives are claiming that liberals are mean, too.

It's also been pointed out that the conservative board is open to all comers - but the 'progressive and liberal' board requires "join this group to post." (Which they take to mean that Cs are more open to dialog - but it might just as easily mean that the P&L board attracts more abusive drive-bys.)

But it's not symmetric. Liberals don't call for the elimination of conservatives. And it's not the nasty mean liberals attacking, say, Brownback, who are forcing CBS to shut off comments on their news stories: Turns Off Comments on Obama Stories

Today informed its staff via email that they should no longer enable comments on stories about presidential candidate Barack Obama. The reason for the new policy, according to the email, is that stories about Obama have been attracting too many racist comments.

"It's very simple," Mike Sims, director of News and Operations for, told me. "We have our Rules of Engagement. They prohibit personal attacks, especially racist attacks. Stories about Obama have been problematic, and we won't tolerate it." does sometimes delete comments on an individual basis, but Sims said that was not sufficient in the case of Obama stories due to "the volume and the persistence" of the objectionable comments. There has been a fierce debate about how news outlets should handle reader comments....

"If you're an African American and you read about someone being called a porch monkey, that overrides any positive thing that you would read in the comments," he said. has no plans to disable comments on stories about the other presidential candidates, according to Sims. As for comments on Obama stories, he said the site is open to eventually bringing them back.

This came out at the same time as the announcement that Obama would now be getting Secret Service protection.

It's just not symmetric:
Conservatives get argued with. Maybe conservatives even get insulted.

But liberals get racism and death threats.


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Eschaton on Social Security

Long after the American public put a stake through the heart of Bush's shambling plan to destroy Social Security, Atrios explained to Brad deLong why "saving" Social Security was such a bad idea:

(Scroll down to 15:48, if needed)

Duncan Black on plans to save Social Security


Look, people who advocate adding "personal accounts" to Social Security are just stupid people. Really, just morons. There's no reason to do it. There's no reason to take any part of Social Security contributions and put them in a little fund account with my name on it. If you think some Social Security contributions should be invested in the stock market (I don't) to raise returns overall, then it can be stuck into an index fund or managed by a fund manager or whatever. I still think that's a bad idea, but there's a rationale for it. There's no rationale for dividing that up into millions of individual accounts. There's no rationale for letting individuals "control their own money" by letting them choose across some finite number of managed funds. Social Security is a lovely program which works just fine and really needs no changes other than extraordinarily nonurgent tweaks to the tax formula at some point. And, no, there's no need for modest benefit cuts. There's no need for means testing it. There's no need for any of these things The Serious People like Bob Kerrey want to do. There's no need to strike a "grand bargain" which combines some stupid things with some smart things because there's no need to do so. Leave it alone.

There is no problem with the Social Security system. People who continue to argue that there is - and that the problem can be "solved" with the magic private accounts fairy - either have broken brains or are attempting to push an agenda for ideological reasons or for personal enrichment for themselves and their kind.


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"That, I believe, is some sort of record"

I went to four library sales within 48 hours. ("I've had 18 straight whiskies; I think this is a record.")

Thursday noon: Albany Public Library's weekly sale.

Thursday evening: the "Friends of the Berkshire Atheneum"s preview sale.
(Pittsfield is about 34 miles from my office, but I think that there are fewer traffic lights between points A and B than I encounter on my normal commute home. And - on a glorious May afternooon - there are worse things to be doing than cruising over the Berkshires in the Miata. I came home with a boxful of books on the passenger seat.)

Friday noon: East Greenbush Public Library.
(My lovely wife even joined me there for this one.)

Saturday morning: my traditional volunteer gig, helping with set-up at the Schenectady County sale.

(For about twenty years, I've helped with set-up at the Schenectady sale. Fred Thompson has now drafted me to help him staff the 'Better Records' table, too. But - as a reward - he comp'd me the few items I had picked up off his table. )

I'd say that "I Have No Life", except that I did squeeze in some non-book-related activities during this burst: on Friday night, the whole family went to my daughter's 'Game Fest' night for her softball league (and saw the fireworks); AND I made it to her Saturday afternoon game, too.

The four sales must have cost me nearly 80 bucks out-of-pocket, including my 'Friends of the BA' membership. Even at 'library sale' prices, books add up. ($1 APL, $36.50 BA, $14 EGPL, ~$25 SCPL). But: see my LT list of recent acquisitions... that's a LOT of books.)

However, all of this silly running-about-advancing-behavior scarcely leaves any time for important stuff, like surfing the internet. (Or blogging.)


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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Fun With Numbers: Tonight's Episode - The Barometer

So... what IS the air pressure at altitude? Pilots have a rule of thumb that talks about 1" for every thousand feet.* (But who thinks in English units?)

A quick google turns up this as the top link:

The rule of thumb is (initially) 'down 10% for each km of altitude'...
...or (overall), 'down an additional 50% for each 5 km of altitude"

So we have:

at 1 km, 90% 3280' (~Mt.Greylock (3491'))
1.5 km 85% 4920' (~Mt. Marcy (5344'))
2 km 80% 6560' (~Mt. Washington (6288'))
3 km 70%
4 km 60%
5 km 50%

6 km 45%
7 km 40%
8 km 35%
9 km 30% (Everest)
10 km 25%

15 km 12%
20 km 6%
25 km 3%
30 km <1.5%

That's a pretty tenuous atmosphere, when you think about it.

*Bonus geekery: The OTHER rule of thumb is that you lose 3 degrees F of temperature for every 1,000 feet of altitude.

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