Thursday, December 20, 2007

Irony Meter Alert

"My hope, of course, is that Russia is a country which understands there needs to be checks and balances, and free and fair elections, and a vibrant press," Bush said.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Xmas Party

Today was our Most Fabulous Company Christmas Party -- the format of which has not really changed in the ten years I've been with the company, on threat of mass mutiny by the employees.

Dinner, gambling, bidding. It's a great party: first we have a great dinner (catered this year with much success), then we have a gambling company set up blackjack tables, poker tables, and a craps table -- and we gamble with "fake" money handed out by the boss, and finally there is an auction to buy all the neat techie gifts that the boss buys for us. We spend the time catching up with everyone that we don't see except once or twice a year, and it's really a blast.

This year, we were supposed to bring slippers (new floors at the bosses house!) and I got a big laugh out of my Vorpal Bunny Slippers. Of course, I could only wear them for about four minutes, since my feet got so hot and sweaty.

Seriously. The best christmas party -- it's perfect for hypercompetitive over-achievers, I always say.

We didn't do so well gambling this year. I really need to learn how to play poker, that table was winning like crazy. Still, not too bad: The Adorable Husband got a new backup drive for his computer, and I got one of those digital frames. We all ate too many cookies, too.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Danger! Avoid Death!

The Wacky Warning Label contest every year is always good for a few chuckles, and this year is no exception.

I laughed out loud at the graphics on this sign from a tractor -- "Avoid Death!". That poor little stick figure is in for a bad day, I think.

Other winners

  • an iron-on T-shirt transfer that warns: "Do not iron while wearing shirt."
  • a label on a baby-stroller featuring a small storage pouch that warns, "Do not put child in bag."
  • a letter opener that says: "Caution: Safety goggles recommended."
I can only imagine what sort of incident prompted the creation of those labels....Ha!

Democracy, anyone?

BBC: "The US House of Representatives has approved a bill that would ban the CIA from using harsh interrogation techniques such as simulated drowning.

The measure would require intelligence agencies to follow the rules adopted by the US Army, which forbid such methods, and to abide by the Geneva Conventions.

President George Bush has threatened to veto the bill if the Senate passes it."

Translation: Bush will veto a bill that requires him to obey the law.

How's that War on Christmas going?

A couple of thugs, one tattooed with pictures of Jesus, beat up a guy on a subway train in New York because he wished them a Happy Hanukkah when they offered a greeting of Merry Christmas.

It all began when Adler, his girlfriend, Maria Parsheva, and two other pals boarded the subway at Canal Street bound for Brooklyn and someone in another group wished them "Merry Christmas."

Adler and his pal Angelica Krischanovich responded: "Happy Hanukkah."

One of the group immediately hiked up his sleeve to reveal a tattoo of Christ.

"He said, 'Happy Hanukkah, that's when the Jews killed Jesus,' " said Adler.

The group says that Adler and his group were drunk and taunting them first, of course. No one else has corroborated that part of the story, especially when the primary suspect in the assault already has a hate crime on his record. Sounds like a bunch of thugs just being thugs -- but does anyone else feel a bit nervous that this is the sort of response that knuckle-dragging mouth-breathers are going to think is a good thing?

Celebrate the holidays however you want -- Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, Winter Solstice, whatever. Nearly every religious and quasi-religious group has a winter holiday, and the early history of Christianity coopted the Roman winter festival, just like the romans coopted earlier holy days.

No one, ever, has suggested that Christians can't celebrate Christmas with all the religious fervor they can muster. What they don't understand, apparently, is that they can't force everyone else to celebrate in a way that they define.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Sure! Bring a Towel

Talk about a bad analogy -- or a complete and utter disregard for humanity. I imagine he kicked himself as soon as it came out of his mouth:
on PBS's Newshour, host Gwen Ifill asked Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) whether waterboarding constitutes torture. Bond replied that the technique is actually more like " swimming ":

GWEN IFILL: Do you think that waterboarding, as I described it, constitutes torture?

SEN. KIT BOND: There are different ways of doing it. It's like swimming, freestyle, backstroke. The waterboarding could be used almost to define some of the techniques that our trainees are put through, but that's beside the point.
It's like swimming? It's something that we do all the time? Woah. And let's not forget: Bond is the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee. This is the sort of expertise and advice we can expect?

The rhetoric surrounding 'waterboarding' and all the wiffling and waffling about whether it's torture by the GOP candidates and congressmen is almost surreal. At one point, they admitted that yes, it was torture but it was necessary, then it's not torture; we do it, we don't; hell, the currrent AG seems to have a hard time even understanding what it is and can't define it during his hearings. What is wrong with these people?

I'm going to suggest that the next congressperson who tries to sidestep the question by "not understanding what it is" should be used in a live demo on the floor of the Senate. Strap 'em down, tie a cloth over their face, and pour water into their mouths until they choke. Yup. Then let's see what they think of it.

And let's start calling this what it really is, shall we? "Waterboarding" is a cutesy term that implies that this is akin to some vacation activity. It's called drowning, people. Not even simulated drowning, just drowning.

And people are defending this?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Code Monkey

Friday, December 07, 2007

More Evidence

You may recall that after the Wine Festival that I posted about how we were converts to the Riedel Glasses.

We've done the testing twice now, with four different people and the results have be been the same: California Chardonnay in the Riedel glasses is not the same wine as it is in the "regular" glasses. We've been stunned by how much the wine changes in the "right glass".

So, for the Adorable Husband's birthday, I got him a set of four Riedel Single Malt Scotch glasses. He likes a wee dram now and then, and has a nice selection of very good single malts, so I thought it would be a nice addition. We tasted a very nice 18 -year-old Macallans last night...and the difference between the glasses is pretty startling.

In a standard lowball glass, the nose is harsh and more like alcohol and peat, and (at least to me) the whiskey tastes more like peat and tobacco. In the Riedel glass? Smells like malt and caramel with a hint of smoke, and tastes sweeter and more complex --less overbearing peat and more like a peat smoke.

Now we have to clear out a cabinet in the kitchen for all these glasses. Oy!

There shall be no test...

The news has been abuzz with discussions of Mitt Romney's speech this week. Given that Mitt is Mormon, and therefore suspect to a large portion of American Evangelicals, he attempted to make his religious beliefs more palatable to the foundation voting block of the GOP. He wants the nomination. Since many evangelical christians do not consider Mormons christian (in fact, many consider them a bona-fide cult), even if he is a fabulous candidate, he has a lot of ground to cover to 'win them over'.

It's not "courageous" to discuss his religion -- it would be courageous not to. Standing up and bluntly stating that your religious beliefs are personal and wholly irrelevant to your ability to do the job, that would be something newsworthy. In this campaign season, every single candidate, right or left, is trying desperately to cloak themselves in the Holy Aura of Religiosity in an attempt to garner votes. It's quite sickening, to be honest, and I would hope insulting to those people who really do believe, to have someone mouth platitudes about how they are so righteous and so an attempt to win votes.

I'm fairly horrified by this, actually. While I do understand that people want to elect a president who shares their ideas and is "like" them, this test for religious belief is certainly anathema to the founding father's ideas. We are not a theocracy. The religious beliefs of our leaders -- as long as they perform their duties well -- is irrelevant.

Well, perhaps that's not true if you believe as many evangelicals do, that morality can only come from god. And not just any god, mind you -- their specific idea of god. If you believe in a different one, or have a different collection of religious dogma and ritual, well, then you can't possibly be a good person. I really don't understand that particular piece of logic; especially since I am a staunch atheist and consider myself to be a moral and ethical person. Not sure how that fits into the idea that only religion can imbue people with morals....but I digress.

The fact that the media and the watching public seem to believe that questions such as "do you believe in The Book? Do you believe in the literal truth of the bible" and "how does your faith instruct your decisions" are valid questions in the political arena is boggling to me. I try to base my voting on whether the person in question has the same views on issues as I do, whetherthey have voted the way I want them to, and whether they have a track history of following the same issues as I do. To think that you can determine all of that just by whether someone says that they are religious, to think that you can "know everything you need ot know" based on their answer of whether they accept Jesus...well, that bespeaks a non-critical, non-thinking, non-rational mode of decision-making that I can't get my head around.

I know people who proclaim themselves to be christian who are good, honest, moral, and caring people. I also know people who proclaim themselves to be christian who are among the worst, most venal, least ethical people I know. Both would give the same answers to those questions. They'd say the same thing. If that's my only standard of measurement, then those two people would be equally acceptable candidates if I didn't look any further. And a lot of people don't seem to want to look any further than that.

Now, I would hope that most people are not using that as a single yardstick. I'm sure most people are not. I truly hope most people are not. But to make anyone's religion an issue in a political election flies in the face of our very constitution, and smacks rational, reasonable discourse about political issues a good one right on the nose. No one religious group has dibs on "the truth", no matter what they claim. I find this phony "I'm more religious-er than you!" mudslinging in each debate to be distasteful. I'm sure a lot of people do.

For once, the NYT seems to have gotten it right:
Still, there was no escaping the reality of the moment. Mr. Romney was not there to defend freedom of religion, or to champion the indisputable notion that belief in God and religious observance are longstanding parts of American life. He was trying to persuade Christian fundamentalists in the Republican Party, who do want to impose their faith on the Oval Office, that he is sufficiently Christian for them to support his bid for the Republican nomination. No matter how dignified he looked, and how many times he quoted the founding fathers, he could not disguise that sad fact.
He even trotted out that old chestnut that the founding fathers really did! Really! design us a "christian nation" and really did promote the primacy of the protestant version of christianity as the basis for our country, and god (remember, the protestant christian god, not necessarily the Roman Catholic one) had a hand in shaping America through the revolution and establishment of our government. Mitt has spent a lot of time denying that he really does believe in the basis of his own faith -- Mormonism -- because so much of it is considered so "weird" by mainstream Christians. How can that be seen as honest?

When an obviously intelligent and qualified presidential candidate has to abase himself to win the support of religious fanatics in order to be considered for nomination, we've got trouble with a capital-T, if you ask me.

It might seem that I'm picking on Mitt Romney, it's not personal (although I'm not going to vote for him, I already know that) -- but his proclamations and statements about faith have been in the forefront lately. When candidates annouce that they will let God guide their decisions, that doesn't make me feel comforted. That makes me feel very, very nervous. It should make everyone feel nervous -- it's false, it's pandering, and it's politics as usual.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


I'm having issues finding a TV-tuner card that will work in my new computer (which isn't here yet, but this is a serious issue!

I can find tons that mimic DVR (recording)and all sorts of bells and whistles, but I don't want any of that. I just want a simple, "watch tv on screen" card. My current one (which is TEN years old) uses an AGP connector, which is old technology and isn't even on the new computer motherboards.

Oh, woe is me!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

King (and Queen) of Instant Gratification

If I ever doubted that the Gaming computer users were driving the industry technically, I have only to listen to the plaintive comments of the Adorable Husband, whose existing computer "can't play the new game I just bought" (Call of Duty 4).

I can't pick on him too much. I've done the same thing. "What do you mean that my video card won't play my new spiffy game at high resolution? I must immediately sally forth to buy a new video card and more memory!"

Well, the Adorable Husband's problems cannot be solved with a new video card. His motherboard does not support PCI-Express, which is the current interface for video cards. Oh, there are a few older ones still around, that he could buy for his AGB-based system, but that would be like putting a tiny bandaid on a gunshot wound. Might patch things up for a few months, but even that would be an unsatisfactory experience.

And did I ask why he doesn't just play the games on the XBox downstairs on the enormous screen? Of course. But sometimes that's too much of a hassle, he says. Sigh.

Having clearly identified this as a want new computer situation vs a need new computer situation, we promptly went to Alienware to spec out new machines. What, us? Instant Gratification? Mine is getting up there in age, too, and while I'm not an avid gamer, there are a few new games that I like that don't run on my system, and -- as usual -- I can always use more space, so I'm looking for a machine, too. Besides, they offer a trade-in program for older machines, with a bonus for old Alienware machines. What more incentive do we need, we of the Propeller Beanie Geek Club? Besides, I was feeling a little left out -- he just got a new car (before me) and now is getting a new computer, too!

So, for the tech weenies among you -- both machines are Intel Core 2 2.4 Ghz Q6600 Quad Cores w/1066 FSB, 2Gig memory, 512mg geForce 8800 GT video cards (2 for him, 1 for me), 1000w power supplies and liquid cooling, and his machine has 500Gig RAID0 SATA drives, while mine has 1T of space in RAID0.

They may even arrive for Christmas.

Bush Disagrees

I'm seeing headlines all over the place that "Bush Disagrees with NIE assessment" -- the assessment that notes Iraq has no nuclear weapons program and has not actively worked on one since 2005.

Well, of course he disagrees. Every statement he's made (including some pretty ominous ones about WWIII) has targeted Iran as a serious nuclear threat. Now, I don't dispute that Iran is a dangerous country, but it appears, once again, that Bush simply ignored the real intelligence data and continued on his stated path.
THE PRESIDENT: David, I don't want to contradict an august reporter such as yourself, but I was made aware of the NIE last week. In August, I think it was Mike McConnell came in and said, we have some new information. He didn't tell me what the information was; he did tell me it was going to take a while to analyze. [...] And it wasn't until last week that I was briefed on the NIE that is now public.
I guess hearing that there was "new information" in August and not even asking a few simple questions about it -- in fact, apparently not giving it a second thought for five months -- is acceptable to someone. I guess since it's the Shrub we just shrug and say, well, he's not very inquisitive. I'm sorry, this is considered the proper way to handle things for a US President?
Now, I can appreciate the fact that the president has developed a reputation for lacking intellectual curiosity, but I’m trying to imagine how a scenario like this played out. There was an NIE, it was circulated for months, and Bush was escalating his rhetoric about Iran’s non-existent nuclear program. In August, the Director of National Intelligence told the president, “We have some new information.” At that time, according to NSA Stephen Hadley, the president was told specifically to “stand down.”

In response, Bush not only didn’t ask what this “new information” was, he explicitly ignored the “stand down” recommendation and started talking about “World War III.”
This is becoming almost surreal. And the contradictions of whether Bush received the 'stand down' order and ignored it, or didn't receive it at all (both stories came out of the WH in the last day)...I don't know about you, but I'm just feeling more confident in this administration, aren't you? Dates are flying back and forth furiously, the latest of which entirely contradict Bush's statement (and security advisor Stephen Hadley's assurances) that Bush was briefed on November 28th, even though he had two meetings with Ehud Olmert and discussed the contents of the NIE several days before.

It's not the mismatch of dates and frantic who-knew-what-when that bothers me -- although that is what is going to dominate the story, I'm sure -- it's that it's clear that the President ignored valid intelligence analysis because it disagreed with his stated plan and he would have had to actually adjust his decisions. Nope, can't do that. Must stay the course and sling whatever loaded words and actions are necessary to look like he was right.

So now, the papers are saying that Bush disputes the findings of the intelligence community (which he has carefully and repeatedly "explained" to us required time to correctly analyze the data, and did so between August and December), and he continues to warn that despite all actual evidence to the contrary, we still need to worry about nuclear weapons in Iran. In fact, the rhetoric seems to have gone up a notch.

Of course, this is being presented as a failure of US intelligence, with Bush bravely standing up and talking the big talk, but now being sadly undercut by failures of his own people to give him good information. Sorry, I'm not buying that particular steaming pile again. It's all sounding a little bit too much like the information bandied around before the invasion of Iraq.

There was no failure of US intelligence. The NIE conclusion, that Iran is not actively pursuing nuclear weapons, is entirely correct and intelligent. The failure of intelligence is entirely in the White House.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Swedish Baking

Lots of people complain about their MILs...and I can gloat that my MIL comes to my house and bakes !

We managed to avert a minor disaster, though. I was having visions of having to go retrieve them from Homeland Security possession for bringing "unidentified powder" in an airplane. We didn't think that the TSA would approve of bringing baking ingredients in ziplock baggies on the plane!

Luckily, it was easy enough to find the ingredients she needed here -- Demerera sugar and Muscovado sugar, both forms of raw cane sugar, are called for in the recipe. I have a feeling that we're going to be spending a lot of time lounging about the kitchen eating Cinnamon Buns!

Saturday, December 01, 2007


Remember that scene in Jurassic Park when we first get an inkling that the creature in the cage is not your average run-of-the-mill lion or tiger? That first introduction to the velociraptors?

We've decided that we need to start referring to the puppies as Velociraptors instead of Crazed Weasels.

Why? The new Game.

All I hear is high-pitched whistles and yelps and then the bushes in the back yard start shaking wildly. More yipping and shrieking and then the puppies careen out from behind the shrubbery, race like mad creatures around the yard and repeat the process every four seconds for an hour and a half.

Veloci-puppies? Puppiraptors? Whaddya think?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Today's Delicate Little Flowers

That venerable workhorse of kid's television, Sesame Street, has been released on DVD. For all of us who spent hours watching endless reruns of Bert and Ernie, Snuffalupagus, Big Bird, and the rest in the pre-Elmo age of Sesame Street, this is a fun trip down memory lane.

But the DVDs come with a stern warning that they are for adults wanting to relive their childhood joy, not for children -- the original show is now considered 'inappropriate for current preschoolers'. Huh? "For Grown-ups only".

Apparently, Oscar is too depressed and grouchy to expose delicate little children to, and Cookie Monster promotes obesity and dangerous eating habits (sometimes he ate the plate!) and Big Bird was delusional -- he was the only one to see Snuffleupagus for years. Adults befriended children (stranger danger!) and that odd relationship between Bert and Ernie is too difficult to explain to young ones nowadays. Those early episodes could damage the tender little flowers that are modern preschoolers, according to the uber-protective bunch responsible for Sesame Street today.

How many people here -- from 1969 on -- who watched this every single day ever actually emulated Cookie Monster? How many of us tried to eat the furniture? How many of us were plunged into depression because Oscar was crabby? Go ahead, raise your hands. I'm sure as many as tried to strap ourselves to rockets and cross the grand canyon or dropped anvils on our sister's heads like Wiley Coyote. It seems a few parents out there aren't too clear on the concept of television fantasy vs real-world behavior. I don't remember any kids having those problems (well, I supposed a few thought a kitchen-towel cap could let them fly like Superman)

The Guardian in the UK has expressed this very well -- with a sort of bemused horror that Sesame Street is now a dangerous influence.
It's not the psychedelic nature of the programme in its 70s incarnation that worries, but the behaviour it might encourage. Children dancing in the street! Grown men reading storybooks to kids - for no apparent reason!
Does anyone else think that this is utterly ridiculous? I never realized that children today need to be so carefuly swaddled. When, exactly, will they be exposed to anything that is not Perfect and Sanitized? Are parents no longer capable of talking with their kids about things that are different?

I'm really boggled by the desire (which seems to be peculiarly rooted here in the US) to keep children from learning about or integrating into the normal, ordinary world -- where there are conflicts, difficult situations, chores, consequences, and, well, a ton of people who don't have sunshine streaming out their...well, you know. It's as if everyone believes that a child exposed to a negative "model" will instantly and completely absorb that message to the exclusion of any other. That certainly explains the wrap-em-in-cotton-wool mentality that makes the current producer of Sesame Street say that they probably couldn't even have a character like Oscar the Grouch anymore. That just might be the most depressing thing I've heard in a long time.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I'm back!

Ok, I've been missing for almost three weeks. Sorry about that. Family crisis, holidays, you know the drill.

But this came through in the TT forum today and I just had to post. A quote from Mitt Romney, Republican candidate for president:
"Based on the numbers of American Muslims [as a percentage] in our population, I cannot see that a cabinet position would be justified. But of course, I would imagine that Muslims could serve at lower levels of my administration," - Mitt Romney
Well, by that logic, Mitt: based on the percentage of Mormons in the US, it then seems obvious that one should not be president.

What an ass.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

More Tingo!

Remember The Meaning of Tingo -- that wonderful book that introduced the word uittwaian into the lingo of Chez Phouka? The author has come out with a second volumne -- Tojours Tingo. It's not available here the US yet, as far as I can see. But it's on the list!

You can take a quick quiz at the Guardian site to see how well you can figure out some of the new words.

Monday, November 05, 2007

National Cinnamon Bun Day

I just learned from my mother-in-law that Sweden celebrated National Cinnamon Bun Day on October 4. "This new tradition is just eight years old, and has become a major celebration in the country". No wonder, according to Wikipedia, Cinnamon Rolls were invented in Sweden. I married into the right family, I tell you!

I found a lovely (and possibly authentic) cinnamon bun recipe here. And This Day in History blog claims that riots broke out in 1999 when cinnamon prices rose. Not sure if I believe that one.

You'll be pleased to know that Clemson University includes it on their calendar (although I wasn't able to find the University of MN calendar, so I don't know if that bastion of Scandinavian-ness includes it!). We do have an American National Cinnamon Raisin Bread Day (9/16), but we haven't adopted this fabulous holiday (which is celebrated in Finland and Switzerland, too.

Bursting into Song

From a poster on one of the lists I frequent, comes a lovely song about the will-there-or-won't-there-be-layoffs in her office:

To the tune of My Favorite Things

Rumors run rampant and paranoid feelings
Financial cut backs and underhand dealings.
Then go the bennies and overtime pay
I don’t think that I’ll still be here come May.

Dumb stupid books about cheese that is moving
Phoney emails that say things are improving.
“Trust us” they say, “We won’t lead you astray.”
Think I’ll look later for my resume.

Managers drinking and admins are grieving.
IT got word and by droves they are leaving.
Hoping we’ll last past the next holiday.
Somehow I think it won’t happen that way

Gotta show them
In my own way
I am not their clown.
I’ll grab my Swingline and on that last day
I’ll come and I’ll burn it down!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

It's too early to be discouraged, but I really don' t like my Nano novel right now. It's just not going anywhere.

I'm reminded of a quote by Flannery O'Connor:
"I am often asked if I think the university discourages writers; I think it doesn't discourage nearly enough of them."

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Counting Down...

I missed NaNoWriMo last year -- the timing was terrible. But I'm definitely trying this year. 50,000 words, here I come!

I have no plot, no setting, no plan....yeeha! This should be fun!

Irony Impaired

I'm a huge fan of the Colbert Report, and when he announced he was running in the presidential primary in South Carolina (and tried to figure out how to get Doritos to fund his campaign), I was tickled pink.

But it seems that people are taking this seriously, as far as it goes.
Although he's only planning to run in the primaries in his native state of South Carolina, a new Rasmussen poll finds that Stephen Colbert might have some pull as a third-party candidate.

In a three-way race with Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani, Hillary has 45%, Rudy 35% — and Colbert breaks double digits to get 13%. With Fred Thompson as the Republican nominee, it's Clinton 46%, Thompson 34%, and Colbert 12%.

Colbert seems to draw most of his support from the GOP column, indicating a real unhappiness among Republican voters — either that, or conservatives who have watched his show really don't get the joke
Don't get the joke, indeed. I have -- once -- personally met someone who didn't quite get that Colbert's show is a satiric sendup of a conservative talk show. It was boggling.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Embarassing Dog Costumes

I have successfully resisted the urge to dress up the dogs in costumes at any holiday.

Some people are not so successful.

Although I did find the Headless Horseman photo awfully inspired.

I Feel Safer, too

I've long felt that putting airport security in the hands of the TSA/federal government has meant we have a huge presence of security personnel, but very little actual security. Nowadays, even though the security screening process is about the same as it ever was (well, taking off our shoes is a new and unwelcome addition, I guess), there are a bazillion times more personnel wandering around with TSA patches on their uniforms. But even though they are visible, they don't provide much in the way of actual security.

Recent tests revealed that 3/4 of fake "test bombs" made it through security in Los Angeles, 60% in Chicago. TSA personnel were the testers, attempting to bring in bomb parts and paraphernalia in their carry-ons to test the search procedures at these airports.
Screeners at Los Angeles International Airport missed about 75% of simulated explosives and bomb parts that Transportation Security Administration testers hid under their clothes or in carry-on bags at checkpoints, the TSA report shows.
But look at the performance (with the same tests) at an airport that doesn't have TSA involved in security:
San Francisco International Airport screeners, who work for a private company instead of the TSA, missed about 20% of the bombs, the report shows.
But even better? San Francisco managed to keep that percentage despite being tested twice as often. The TSA ran about 70 tests at Los Angeles, 75 at Chicago and 145 at San Francisco

The TSA claims that the private company in San Francisco is just responding to the fact they are facing more covert tests, so they are ready for them. Uh-huh. No real comment on the fact that the TSA (except for a short period directly after 9/11) has always had poorer results than private companies both before and after TSA was installed as primary airport security. Their failure rate has been climbing steadily. Admittedly, the tests are harder now, but that really doesn't make me feel any better about a 20% success rate.

Tests earlier in 2002 showed screeners missing 60% of fake bombs. In the late 1990s, tests showed that screeners missed about 40% of fake bombs, according to a separate report by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress.

Comments on the USA Today story tended to the "way to go! Tell the terrorists what our weaknesses are!" and castigating the newspaper for printing the story because it was a security risk. I really don't understand that response-- do they think that actual terrorists are stupid? That they aren't already aware of chinks in our "homeland security"? It's bad to report that TSA is getting an F in actual security, but not bad that they are failing? That does seem to be a hall mark of this administration, I guess -- it's the leak that's the problem, not the activity that prompted it. I supposed it makes good Talk Radio fodder, but as for me, I'm just boggled by that attitude.

Yes, I do worry that someone could bring materials on board, but it's honestly pretty low on my list of things I'm worried about. Never mind that they don't actually scan all the cargo on the planes, that only 1% of incoming cargo is checked at rail lines or harbors...there are things I am far more worried about than revealing the major faults of our security plan.

At least TSA never misses those contraband water bottles. Yay!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Downloadable Attitude

It's been, what? Five days since the Adorable Husband started car shopping? We spent our Saturday test driving cars again and he is home with a Really Really Spiffy Acura TL-S. It has bells and whistles and voice control and real-time traffic analysis GPS. And heated seats. Did I mention is has voice control?

It's hard to find cars for him, of course -- being tall, he doesn't fit in much. We had a three minute trip to the Saab dealer (does he fit? nope? Thanks!). When a repeat test drive of the new Passat was less than fabulous, back we went to the Acura dealer. Our neighbors have two Acuras, and my good friend has a coupe -- bad influences, the lot of them!

I actually like dickering for cars, now that I can have all the information printed out from the web (and Consumer Reports) . Dealers must hate that, but we got a great deal on the car! Just repeating "Yes, I understand what it means and no, I'm not paying that." over and over seems to work!

Did I mention is has voice control? (Can you tell I think it's SO cool'?). "Set passenger temperature 68". "play cd 5 track 2". The Adorable Husband got up early to program the car to use his phone hands-free, open the garage doors without a little clicker box, set our home address. It looks up real-time traffic information and has turn-by-turn directions in a lovely woman's voice (the male voice sounds a wee bit smarmy).

Friday, October 26, 2007

Heckuva Job!

On Tuesday, FEMA held a "press briefing" to cover their response to the fires in California. Answered questions, made statements, that sort of thing. Just what we'd expect with a response to an emergency situation.

Except, it wasn't.

The "reporters" were actually FEMA staffers. Yup, fake reporters, and this distinction was not made clear at all. To all the video feeds, it was assumed that the questions really were from news organizations who had some responsbility to actually report, you know, the news.

FEMA had called the briefing with about 15 minutes notice as federal officials headed for Southern California to oversee firefighting and rescue efforts. Reporters were also given a phone number to listen in but could not ask questions.

But with no reporters attending and a FEMA video feed being carried live by some television networks, FEMA press employees posed questions for Johnson that included: "Are you happy with FEMA's response so far?"

In an administration that has already been under fire for manipulating the news media, PR masquerading as news, screening audiences, and requiring "free speech zones", even this was over the top.

Matter of Scale

I tend to have the television on during the day while I work -- usually just parked on the History Channel or HGTV. Lately, I've been half-listening to decorating shows and something caught my attention this morning.

The family wanted a new family room, and one of the things that they kept stressing was "we have a lot of books, we'll need space for them", "a LOT of books, make sure you have cabinets", etc. Over and over again.

Well, it's patently obvious that my definition of "LOT OF BOOKS" is very, very far from other people's definition.

The remodel was lovely, with a big wall of built-in bookshelves....containing maybe 50 books. Fifty.

I have fifty books in the bookcase behind the desk. The smallest bookcase in my office. I've got 20-some on the almost-an-afterthought bookshelf upstairs next to the chair. I have several hundred books in the stairwell. As far as I'm concerned, you don't have "lots" of book unless you have over a thousand. ALthough, considering that most people have a handful of books scattered in the house, I suppose having fifty books in one room is quite a collection.

"Lots of books". Ha!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

I am SUCH a geek

i am a major geek I am a Major Geek, according to Innergeek. I was checking a startling number of those little checkboxes.

Take the test! Join the ranks of the majorly geeky. I'm pretty sure that if I'd gone to band camp, I'd be a SUPER geek!

Is This Good or Bad?

From today's news,
The Pew Research Center has released a new poll showing that 41% of Americans responding are unable to come up with the names of any Republican presidential candidates without prompting. In contrast, only 19% are unable to name even one Democratic candidate.

I really can't decide if this is a good thing or a bad thing. Almost 80% of people could mention Hillary Clinton as a democratic candidate. Again, I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing at this point. Only 57% Republicans could come up with Rudy Guiliani -- the front-runner for their own party.

It is kind of amusing, though. Keep in mind that this is not terribly different than in previous years.

This level of awareness of Democratic candidates is far beyond what it was at the equivalent point in the 2004 campaign, while the awareness of Republican candidates is generally similar to that in past elections, resulting in what Pew describes as "a sizable partisan gap in campaign interest."

I don't know that it's because Democrats are so much more interested, but I think that people in general are sick and tired of the same message being repeated by the candidates. Republicans that I know are really disillusioned about government right now. (Hell, most people are disillusioned about government right now, I shouldn't single out Republicans). The instant name-recognition for Hillary Clinton might be the sole reason for the huge increase in the ability to recognize Democratic candidates -- whether you like her or not, you probably know she's running.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Fires from Space

Wow. I've been reading that they evacuated a quarter of a million people, but it's hard to imagine the scope of things. Here's a satellite pic.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Dalek Pumpkins

This person has far too much time on their hands. Don't get me wrong, I really appreciate it. And of course, make sure to view the video, too!

Atomic Energy from French Underwear

Back in the seventies, an absolutely fabulous television serious from the BBC , Connections, by James Burke was aired. I remember seeing the show in it's original airing on PBS and in reruns for several years afterwards. I always loved the show -- it is an "Alternate History of Change", that is, why the social fad of wearing underwear led to the computer, or how the focus on the purity of gold by traders in Turkey resulted in the Atomic Bomb.

Weird, perhaps, but absolutely fascinating.

Well, the DVDs of the three original series have been released (and thankfully offered by Netflix!) and the Adorable Husband and I are enjoying every moment of them. A bit cheesy, with the 70s outfits and Star-Trek inspired music, but the shows are an eye-opening look at how history can be interpreted in new and interesting ways -- how sometimes the smallest, oddest discovery can open whole new worlds of possibilities.

I can only imagine the depth of understanding James Burke has for history to be able to link the gold purity example to the Bomb. Strange connection? Well, it's something like 1) early turkish traders figured out how to determine the purity of gold, so 2) metals could be used for money so 3) trade increased dramatically in scope, which led to the discovery of the 4) lateen sail, which allowed tacking into the wind, and needed 5) larger ships that lead to the development of the rudder. Eventually, these large ships moved across the ocean using the 6) compass, but sailors realized that there was a difference between magentic north and true north, so they began to investigate and began to see the 7) gravitational pull in the earth. The scientist figuring this out was interested in meteorology, and began to test gravity in spheres, and discovered that 8) a ball of sulphur would crackle and spark if you rubbed it, and his book on magnets inspired Benjamin Franklin and the discovery of 9) electricity in lightining. From there, interest in weather led to 9) investigation into cloud formations and pressure changes at altitude (with the French spending a lot of time in balloons. One of the first weather stations, at Ben Nevis in Scotland revealed the formation of 10) glories -- haloes around objects in the clouds, which prompted a scientist to build 11) a "cloud machine" which he eventually ran x-rays through to see if they would illuminate the cloud formations. One of the early atomic scientists recognized the photos of the x-rayed cloud formation as being 12) evidence of atomic fission and voila! the bomb was born. With a small side-trip from 10 to the creation of radar which allowed the planes to actually fly to Hiroshima.

Ok, maybe I misssed a small step or two, but it makes for a compelling and interesting series.

If you haven't ever seen the show (or read the book), it's well worth a few evenings.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Avoid the Bumps

The Adorable Husband's car has suddenly cropped up with a 'check engine' light -- which, while it was nothing, did highlight the need for some major maintenance on his car in the next few months. The light was for a teensy leak in the evaporative system, whatever that means, and could be as simple as a faulty gas cap. But looking at hte car did reveal that he had some problems with CV joints (also something I know nothing about, but are apparently quite important for the front wheels to work properly!) and a rather stern warning from our mechanic that we need to thinka bout replacing the timing belt before the 100K replacement period. The repair is 5-600, but if it actually fails, it completely boofs up the engine, to the tune of a 5K engine replacement. It's supposed to last to 100K miles, but he's been seeing failures as early as 70K. And it needs new tires. Soon.

The car has 78K on it now. Hm.

We normally replace cars at about 95K miles -- just about the time they start to become Maintenance Hogs and you get nickled and dimed to death with repairs.

I didn't quite understand why the Adorable Husband would consider dropping 1/5 to 1/4 the value of the current car on repairs when he was going to drive it for less than a year. Ah, he nodded sagely....and went out looking at new cars!

He doesn't fit into many cars, being 6'4", and I categorically refuse to ride in an SUV, so his choices are a bit limited -- VWs, some Hondas/Acuras, the Toyota Avalon. We went out and test drove the VW Passat, and were disappointed to realize that the V6, which he currently has, is no longer available in a stick. We also drove one of the sporty little Acura TL S-series, which was FUN! although a bit pricey. THere are some 2007's still available, so we are mulling over whether he need a car now or can wait a bit.

I hate buying cars -- I think everyone hates buying cars. But it hsa become so much easier now, since information about invoice price and rebates is available online to car buyers. I can walk in with documentation from multiple places that the invoice price the dealer paid is X dollars and add the acceptable average profit to get to a reasonable offer It must make the car dealerships nuts.

The last time we bought a car, the sales person actually argued with us that the invoice price wasn't accurate and that the web was a poor place to get car buying information. This, of course, was the same person who tried to explain away 'Market Adjustment' (which is really just how much they think they can charge because we're in Boulder) and insisted that the buyer always pays the Dealer Holdback. Yeah, right. I've walked out of more car dealerships than I can count. It's kind of fun.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Ongoing Couch Search

You'd think that it would be easy to find furniture, right? Well, I bet that the Adorable Husband is wishing right about now that he'd jumped on the bandwagon at Sofa Mart to buy the original sofa that I liked.

Hah! He didn't like that one (well, I have to admit that the ingrained tendency he has to look for quality merchandise, learned from his parents, is almost always a Good Thing). Now, it does have a good warranty, and while it's not hand-tied 8-way springs and down cushions, it does have a lifetime warranty on the springs and cushions, but it's definitely on the low end of "decent quality furniture". I would have been perfectly happy with it. And, as many people pointed out, if I spent only 2K on a couch and loveseat, I wouldn't feel so bad about replacing it in five or seven years.

So we went to Kacey Fine Furniture this week and talked to one of their designers. They have some very nice furniture, and the very nice designer we talked to reaffirmed my possible furniture layout. While he was a bit dismissive of the fact that I picked the color of the walls before the furniture, he had a few options that definitely fell in our price range.

The other option was a local design center that apparently caters to the McMansion set -- the designer was quite skeptical that we could get what we wanted for less than 5K or so. She seemed a bit put out that we didn't budget ten grand for living room furniture. Um, no. Probably not. If it's perfect, maybe -- but six thousand for a couch is probably out of our price range right now.

Although, considering that we are already budgeting for new carpeting --which we'll put in next spring when we are absolutely sure that the puppies are reliably housetrained-- skimping on a sofa doesn't make a lot of sense. We visited La-z-boy, which has a sofa style that I really like and we can customize the fabrics to come awfully close to what I want. We'll be back there this week to get a good quote and see what's what.

To be honest, I'm not in a hurry. There isn't anything WRONG with the current furniture (well, the recliner is pretty much toast, but it's structurally fine) and I just want a change, but it's not like I"m going to go bonkers without it.

It's almost impossible to shop for furniture, though. I mean -- where did the local furniture shop go? WE used to have a dozen or more furniture showrooms around, I remember my parents going from one to the other looking for everything from sofas to kitchen tables. Nowadays, you have the choice of American Furniture Warehouse -- the mecca of low-end to medium-quality furniture, and Ethan Allen (which carries my grandmother's furniture and avant garde minimalist furniture and nothing in between, and that's about it. We have online, of course, but I think most people don't want to buy furniture they can't sit on, you know? It's really frustrating. It's especially frustrating if you don't like the current trend in furniture and want something a little different. We definitely don't want leather, which limits us to about a quarter of the available furniture styles. Hmph.

There is a distinct possibility that I can ask a good friend who is working in Salt Lake City to visit the one showroom that apparently has my favorite couch, so hopefully he will have time to go and sit in it and see if it's is comfortable. I trust his opinion entirely, and if he says it's ok, I may order it long distance and have it shipped here. Here's hoping!

I have to commend the Adorable Husband on his patience, of course. He is even managing to express an opinion or two about decorating He was having a conversation with a coworker about how we deal with conflict in our marriage and the only thing he could think of that we really argue about is decorating. Heh.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Better than a Dalmation

A Newfoundland dog on Long Island survived a house fire by jumping into the bathtub, pulling the curtain closed around the tub, and breathing air from the drain pipe.

When firefighters found him after an hour in the flaming house, he was in the tub, breathing air from the tub drain, which is something "old school" that a firefighter might do in an emergency.

Firefighters were astounded to see that the dog somehow figured out that the drain would allow him to breathe.

"He's a big dog, about a 150-pound Newfoundland, and how he got in there and pulled the curtain closed -- it's the smartest thing. I don't know what kind of training he had," joked firefighter Jerry Curtin.

Whatever it was, Jackson's training was textbook -- right out of the firefighter's manual. A common mantra says to duck below the smoke if you run out of oxygen and find fresh air wherever you can. Jackson was literally inside the bathtub, sucking the air out of the drainpipe, an "old school thing" that a firefighter would do.

What a CLEVER dog!

Dark Ages Policies

Oh, look. The appointee to the Health and Human Services post that oversees the programs responsible for reproductive heath, and the Office of Population Affairs, which funds birth control, pregnancy testing, counseling, and std screenings, wants us all to go back to the Dark Ages, where sex is for procreation only, pregnancy is punishment for unmarried women, and contraception is unavailable, if not illegal.


Just what we need. Her primary qualifications for the position are...well, she's a Bush supporter. And she's staunchly, blindly, anti-contraception and "pro-life". Orr served as senior director for marriage and family care at the conservative Family Research Council and was an adjunct professor at Pat Robertson’s Regent University. Her qualifications, such as they are, seem to be only that she shares the same religious view as the president does, and doesn't understand that her religious views are not, and should not be, policy.

Stating that "we're quite pleased, because fertility is not a disease", Orr supported a Bush proposal to eliminate coverage for birth control in insurance plans for federal employees.

Using that logic, pregnancy is apparently classified as a disease, since it's covered under the plans. Who knew? What about broken legs and lasik surgery?

Orr supports the Mexico City Policy, which cuts off funds to NGOs who provide information about or perform abortions in other nations. She gives it a nod because it proves that Bush is pro-life "in his heart".

She believes that the use of contraceptives is abortion, apparently. She has strongly criticized requirements that health plans cover contraception, because "it's about making everyone collaborators with the culture of death."

Really? Using a condom is "collaborating with the culture of death"? Huh.

Do we really need a religious extremist dealing with the very real, and very realistic problem of pregnancy and contraception and abortion in this country? Abstinence education enacted by the Bush Adminsitration has been a failure in nearly every sense, yet she strongly supports it as the only option. No abortions, no contraception...apparently her perfect world doesn't actually have people who a) every have sex without trying to get pregnant, b) don't want to be pregnant or c)have unintended pregnancies. Ever. Or, if they did, they are nasty people who deserve whatever happens to them. That idea - that women need to be punished for sex -- seems to be an undercurrent in a lot of the "pro-life"/anti-abortion rhetoric. What a twisted way to look at things.

It's not that I dont' support abstinence as an option. I do. But it's just ONE of the options out there. Abstinence is the best option to avoid pregnancy. Abstinence until you are in a committed relationship is something I wish more people would practice. But, we live inthe real world, where these rose-colored ideas just don't cut it. Abstinence-only education does not prevent kids from having sex. It just means that they are woefully uneducated about the risks out there. And what about adults who don't want to have children (either right now, or ever?) Orr's worldview doesn't account for those people, does it? I should note of course, that she isn't pushing to eliminate contraception, at least not explicitly. She just doesn't want to insurance to cover it or the HHS departments to encourage people to use it. Although that 'culture of death' comment is pretty damn telling, if you ask me.

Can anyone actually argue that the advent of effective birth control and family planning are bad things? I mean, seriously? Orr apparently would rather spout religious dogma and keep her head in the sand, avoiding all facts. Yeah, that's going to help.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Couch Option

I'm really liking this couch. It doesn't come as a loveseat, nor are there matching chairs, but I love the couch!
[photo from]

Strange and Funny

I have along history of absolutely loving strange television shows each season, which disappear after three or four episodes and I've been laughing hysterically through four episodes of The Big Bang Theory....I realize that only about 2% of the population will find it even remotely amusing. The rest will think it's squirmingly awkward and embarrassing, or just plain stupid, I'm sure.

I, however, find it so funny as to make it impossible for me to talk . The Adorable Husband just sort of chuckles while I sink into the couch cushions wheezing inarticulately. Take four uber-smart physicists affected with various forms of social awkwardness and tics, add a pretty waitress living across the hall and...well, I must know too many people just like this, so I find the whole thing too funny.

Which means it will survive for another episode or two and then be cancelled in favor of some bizarre reality show involving people living with orangutans or something.

However, if you deal with engineers, mathematicians, or scientists of any might find Sheldon and Leonard as funny as I do. You can watch all the episodes online at for free. Just click on videos and choose full episodes.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Visions of Sweeney Todd

Since Uulaq is getting used to the weasels, we've been letting them spend more and more time outside together. For awhile, we were worried that she'd try to eat them -- she seemed to do fine for a while, then she'd just snap and really go after them. It's perfectly fine for her to discipline them, even a bit harshly, but we draw the line at actually biting them until they shriek. But, now that they are big enough that they aren't such fast-moving targets, Uulaq seems to be happier and much more tolerant of their unceasing rudeness.

Also, I was reading over the weekend that about 99% of all "serious" fights occur when the humans are present -- which makes sense. Why fight to rise up a notch in the pack when you aren't impressing anyone with it? The chances that they'll squabble while we're home is still pretty small.

So, I let them all outside to run around and open one of the windows to listen for any snarking. The normal growls and barking -- and only a few serious snarks by Uulaq. I checked on them a few times, and they were all fine. More snarking, and I finally call them all inside.

The weasels have blood all over! I had a brief (breathlessly panicky) moment that Uulaq had actually caught one of them....then I realized that they're teething, and all the bloodspots were from the two of them playing in the backyard. One or the other lost a tooth and got a little too rambumction...hence the spots all over them.

Yikes. When I mentioned it to the Doggie Camp people, it was as if a lightbulb went off --"Yeah, we saw that on Thursday, we checked all the dogs, everyone was ok, we couldn't figure out what happened....". Apparently, a few of the other dogs turned up with blood spots from Rowan or Berit noshing on them.

At least Berit's fang finally fell out. It was hanging there, wiggling, making my knees go all woobly, for three days.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Redesign and Scandinavian Guilt

When we moved into this house four years ago, I immediately painted the living room and dining room a sort of plum color. I've always like the color, the den in the old house was almost the same color, and it complemented our enormous floral couch and other furniture very well.

The enormous floral couch that we've had for fifteen years. A fact that suddenly is making just a bit crazy and wanting to redo the living room. Now.

The color is just not making me happy. It did for many years, but I'm ready for a change. So, I dragged the Adorable Husband on a furniture hunting expedition (oh, how he loves to do that. Not!) to see if there was anything out there that appealed to me. I'm imagining darker walls (maybe bronze or tobacco coloered) and darker, less floral furniture. Black end-tables. Something completely different.

I actually found two couches that I really like, in a sort of bronzy-greenish and red paisley. Strangely enough, I found the same fabric on two different couches (one at AFW and one at Sofa Mart) and like both of them.

And now I'm having serious guilt about getting rid of our existing couch and chair.

Seriously. They're fifteen years old, but they are very nice furniture pieces. We paid a fortune for them, and there is nothing wrong with them that reupolstering wouldn't fix. We could recover the sofa and chair, do a bit of reorganization, and voila! new room. Except not. I called on the sofa and the rought over-the-phone estimate to recover it is about 2500, about a thousand for the chair (assuming I don't do what I always do, which is pick out the most expensive fabric in the place). The Husband just can't quite reconcile the idea of replacing a very nice, very expensive piece of furniture (albeit an old one) with a medium quality (or low, depending on your scale) set of furniture. I guess on one hand I agree with him, but I waaaaant new stuff.

It's good old Midwestern "it's perfectly good! there's nothing wrong with it!" guilt. If we had another use for the couch (a family room, or downstairs or something) then it would be ok to get a new one, but having to sell or otherwise dispose of the couch....that's just wrong. The Adorable Husband made some offhanded comment that I only wanted to redo the room because it was fun to get new stuff -- when I pointed out quite huffily that it had been fifteen years since we bought anything resembling living room furniture, he backed down pretty fast. He just hates the whole "picking furniture" process and only goes along with me under duress. He doesn't have any problem with the living room just as it is.

Except, of course, that we don't really have enough seating (or a proper arrangement) to actually have conversations in the living room with guests. Couch and chair along one wall, tv on the other wall. The Adorable Husband just wants to get two chairs to set across from them -- an arrangement I am definitely opposed to. So I want to get a couch, loveseat, chair, and ottoman in the room.

The only way that really works, of course, put the couch up against the wall with the big windows. This seems vaguly wrong to me, but I've been reassured that it's perfectly fine. We'd be able to have six people actually sit down and have a place to set a glass.

I have a friend (from Colorfaux Creations) coming to give me an estimate for Venetian Plaster on the walls of the dining room and possibly the living room (she likes the idea of bronze) and she'll offer some help with furniture arrangement.

So -- laugh along with me: wanting a different paint color may result in a new sofa/chair/loveseat, new end tables, new drapes, and much angst. Mock us.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Misfire Across the Bow

The American Family Association has fired the first salvo in the imaginary "War on Christmas".

From the latest AFA e-mail
Mrs. Fields has become the first company to ban Christmas from their products and promotion for this year.

When Diane H. of Michigan called Mrs. Fields and asked to speak with a supervisor in customer service about why they banned Christmas, the supervisor told Diane that they do not offer anything with Merry Christmas because they don't want to offend anyone.
The only problem is, they made the whole crisis up.

Mrs. Fields has never "banned" Christmas. They are not banning christmas this year. Their site has always shown christmas cookies (in the appropriate season) as it does now.

A whole lot of hoopla about "oooh! they put it back on their website because we made it public! " and how they "scrambled" in response to this expose! Lots of blog sites urging 'good christians' to boycott Mrs. Fields. Lots of smoke, but the fire isn't there, people. The corporation of Mrs. Fields did not even consider banning all things christmas.

If the AFA is so concerned that Christmas is being marginlized, maybe they should spend some time worrying about the bizarre and rather frightening commercialization of Christmas instead. I know very few people who celebrate the religious meaning of Christmas, instead it's an excuse to decorate, bake cookies, put up a tree, give presents, and otherwise celebrate (all traditions from other religions, btw). For many people, Christmas is a very important religious holiday, and they are free to celebrate it in any way the want to. But they're pretty thin-skinned if the fact that not everyone in the US is required to wish them Merry Christmas sends them into a tizzy.

Me? I'm not ready to start the whole holiday things yet. I find the insistent, pushy, and commercial forces of the holidays to be pretty wearing, myself. Walmart already has Christmas stuff out -- and on sale -- and vows to keep lowering prices until Christmas actually arrives. Our local Lowe's had trees and lights up in September. I'm already seeing pre-christmas sale ads. Well, if Christmas is simply a commercial holiday for consumer excess, I suppose that's fine. But to argue that a company who offers Happy Holidays is somehow "oppressing" Christians really is a specious argument -- and drives my tolerance for that sort of crap down pretty low.

But, it does rev up "the base" and get them all riled up about how the "others" are not respecting their beliefs and continues to feed into the idea that somehow, christianity is "threatened", so their crusade to gain more political and social power is successful.. I'm not seeing it. I don't want to live in the theocracy that the AFA apparently wants, and I have seen zero evidence that christians are being prevented from practicing their religion. They just can't make the rest of us practice it. How hard is that to understand?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


When I wrote last week that the puppies decided last week at class that they didn't know their own names, my MIL responded with a question about Berit's hearing.

I just wanted to assure everyone that her hearing is fine. She can hear the faintest crinkle of cellophane opening in the kitchen from 100 yards, she can hear footsteps across the culdesac, she can hear every teensy squeak and hum of the many natural gas wells nearby, even those a mile off. All of these things set her off barking like an idiot, too.

So no worries that she's got hearing problems, but now we have a barking problem. Rowan rarely barks, and only when he can actually see the other dog on the other side of the fence, for example. Berit, though, starts off with these little woofs when anything catches her attention, then escalates to full scale bark-like-the-sky-is-falling.

She's definitely the territorial one (Rowan apparently is confident enough in his domain over the yard that he doesn't see the need to run to the fence to defend it), but the barking is really going to be an issue. Our neighbors have a very noisy golden, too, and they just egg each other on.

We're considering one of those citrus-spray collars (although at midnight last night when she launched into a loud volley I was thinking one of those shock collars might be a good idea! Or at least make ME feel better) so we'll see. Even getting up next to her and touching her to distract her, telling her 'quiet', all just seem to give her a momentary pause, but then she forgets. Ah, well, she's still a puppy.

Any suggestions?

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Who Rides the Short Bus?

We have totally changed our estimation of which puppy rides the short bus. Rowan is so laid back that we were sure he was a little...slow, you know? He just seems a little dopey all the time, and Berit is so much more active and alert and inquisitive.

Ok, yeah, active and alert and inquisitive, but apparently pretty dang stupid. We attended our first real obedience class (for puppies, still, but doing all the normal dog training stuff -- sit, stay, come, etc). Rowan did pretty well, but Berit revealed that she doesn't really even know her own name. Or, if she does, she is not deigning to respond to it at all. Stares off into space, wanders off, completely uninterested in doing anything remotely resembling paying attention.

Maybe she's ADD puppy. TOo much going on and she can't manage to focus on anything and forgets who she is. Hold a cheesy treat and she can sit like a champ, but doesn't seem to attach the word "SIT" to the action at all. Sigh. The Adorable Husband has a hard time, too, because his voice is so much lower than mine and we have a very different way of saying her name -- she sometimes responded to me when I said he rname, but seemed far more interested in the treats that the other people in class had. We have a LOT of work to do!

Friday, October 05, 2007

Real Estate Ad

This is ostensibly a real ad in a real paper for a real estate in (I think) Dubai. I want to believe it's a joke, but the scan looks legit.

Bad, Bad Buffalo

Interesting factoid:

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo is a perfectly formed grammatical sentence.

Really. Once you know how it goes together, it actually makes sense. Buffalo is used as a noun (the animal), a verb (meaning to bully), and an adjective (Buffalo, a city in NY).

Can't quite figure it out? Check out the Wiki page explaining how this sentence is actually quite grammatically elegant. It took me quite a while to figure it out and I'm sure the Adorable Husband wanted to know why I was sitting at my desk saying the word "buffalo" over and over in different tones of voice.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Poor Tuckered-out Puppies

Once again, the magic of Camp Bow Wow has worked itself on the weasels and they are absolutely limp and snoring blissfully. I managed to get them into the car and they fell asleep immediately, and have only woken up enough to stagger outside once since we got home.

We're working on getting them to jump in and out of the car by themselves. They're plenty big enough, but the jump down is a bit daunting, I guess. Rowan stood in the back seat and cried and whined when we tried to get him to jump down. He'd put a paw on the sill, then retreat and whine, then bark when we didn't actually scoop him out of the back seat. It took about fifteen minutes before he worked up enough nerve to leap that whole 16" out of the car.

At Camp Bow Wow this morning? I'm glad that I had a leash on the wee beasties, since both of them launched themselves out of the car without a thought and ran to stand in front of the glass door, wagging madly. Camp is Fun!

Someone was thinking ahead...

Try to explain this away as a coincidence.
MINNEAPOLIS, MN (NBC) -- When they came home from Iraq, 2,600 members of the Minnesota National Guard had been deployed longer than any other ground combat unit. The tour lasted 22 months and had been extended as part of President Bush's surge.

1st Lt. Jon Anderson said he never expected to come home to this: A government refusing to pay education benefits he says he should have earned under the GI bill.

"It's pretty much a slap in the face," Anderson said. "I think it was a scheme to save money, personally. I think it was a leadership failure by the senior Washington leadership... once again failing the soldiers."

Anderson's orders, and the orders of 1,161 other Minnesota guard members, were written for 729 days.

Had they been written for 730 days, just one day more, the soldiers would receive those benefits to pay for school. ...
Yup. 729 vs 730 days. Is that the normal way of handling a two-year deployment? Or did someone, somehwere figure out that they could massage the rules regarding deployment of National Guard troops overseas?

Either way, the "senior Washington leadership" should be ashamed.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Mr. Sickie

Well, our grand plan to spread the horrible Fall Plague Flu to everyone has succeeded. The Adorable Husband has fallen ill and taken to his bed with lots of Kleenex and vitamin C. I think he may avoid the worst of it -- the barking seal cough that I still have after three weeks -- but he's staying home tomorrow to try to sleep it off.

This fall has been horrid for allergies and various "colds". Everyone has been sick, mostly with these hacking coughs. Makes me glad that I'm not working in an office, where we'd get to share these things all the time.

Monday, October 01, 2007


Each quarter, TUSC takes us out for some sort of "team-building" event, and this quarter found us in the Orchestra seating of Spamalot! -- the Monty Python silliness based on the cult-movie Holy Grail. It's a hoot, and we all enjoyed it -- being programmers, anything Pythonesque is part of our collective experience.

It was funny to see all the people who had never had any exposure to Python, or more specifically the movie. The rest of the audience would start chuckling when the scene was being set up and these poor people would be staring around, knowing they were missing something but not getting the in-jokes. The rest of us were laughing hysterically when the Killer Rabbit was being set up, or when the Black Knight showed up.

The whole show is a huge sendup of the whole "Broadway Show" genre, with some rather sly nods at Andrew Lloyd Weber's over-blown shows and the "showgirl" vibe throughout most of the show is pretty funny. THere is no way you could take the show seriously, and we all had a fabulous time.
But the best part? I got Killer Vorpal Bunny slippers! The ultimate bunny slipper, with big sharp fangy teeth. I can't wear them around the house if the weasels are around....they have taken it as their mission to KILL the fangy bunny slippers -- which snap alarmingly when I walk and send the weasels right around the bend!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Seafood in Denver

When I think "good seafood", rarely does Denver pop up on that list. We're a thousand miles from any great body of water that might include, you know, fish. Oh, there are a few puddles around here that people drag their enormous boats to and apparently float around next to all the other enormous boats. I don't get it.

At any rate, we had a fabulous dinner with our neighbors (to celebrate his "re-retirement" from CU) at a new Denver restaurant called the Oceanaire. It's apparently a high-end chain with restaurants along the west coast, white-linen tablecloths and all.

Usually ordering fish in a land-locked state is a crap shoot. Never order fish on a Tuesday -- it's the last day before the weekly delivery in most cases, and you get whatever is left from the weekend. Not always a good choice!

But the Oceanaire ships in fish every single day, including up to 10 kinds of fresh oysters every day. There were fish listed on the menu that I had never heard of! And the best crabcakes that I have ever had.

Add the three-pound brownie for dessert, and we may have to add this place to our list of "nice places to celebrate". Good food, good company -- what else can we ask for?

Daycare Followup

We are going to take the weasels to daycare often!

I picked them up at 5pm and Berit collapsed in a heap in the back seat and slept the whole way home. I don't think she was awake for more than 15 minutes from the time we got home to the next morning. They were too tired to eat, much less run around or even walk around. It was a trial to get them outside to pee before we went to bed, since they schlumped outside and immediately collapsed on the porch to snooze.

The most energy we got from either of them was Rowan popping his head up on the couch so that I'd boost him into my lap -- where he slept like a snuggly, limp puppy blob for three hours while I watched TV and read a book. They're never that snuggly. That's worth the price of admission to daycare right there!

Daycare is good!

Thursday, September 27, 2007


I dropped the weasels off at Camp Bow Wow in Boulder this morning, for a day of Doggy Day Care.

Yes, you may mock me.

Mostly it's just to get them more time with other dogs, and hopefully work off some of the amazing energy that they generate during the day. Socialization is so important, and with both of us working, it's hard to get them out enough to meet other dogs and learn the "rules".

So we had an "interview" today, and were okayed to spend the day with the dogs in Play Yard 2. I can watch them on the Camp Bow Wow Camper Cam (select the camera for inside and outside views). They seem to be having a BLAST! (The snapshot feature of the camera is not quite quick enough to catch running!)

Better than the other dog day care place here in Erie -- when I called and asked about day care, they refused to take the puppies because "we don't take Akitas". Huh? THey didnt' even want to do an assessment. Just "No!" I was really upset by that. The puppies are very sweet, love everyone, and we're very careful to make sure they aren't dog or peopel aggressive. They passed with flying colors at Camp Bow Wow, and seem to be interacting with about 20 or so dogs of various sizes and ages really well.

It's hard, I think, because they are just 4 1/2 months old, but already about 50 pounds. People have a hard time treating them as puppies, since they are the size of a full-grown medium sized dog. The other dogs know, though -- "puppy" has it's own unique behavior, so they are doing just fine!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Candidate Picker 2008

Which candidates (currently) espoused views most closely match your own? Answer a few questions and see how the major presidential candidates (Dem and Repub) match up.

It was really interesting to see who matches and on what issues.

Must. Have. Now!

Call me strange, call me insane, but I really, really want to live in this place:

Well, I'd like to live in it once it's actually converted into a really fabulous house with a library and working water wheel.
The Mill dates back to 1832 and forms part of Locherlour Steadings, which were built by William Stirling of Dunblane for W K Murray of Ochtertyre. Locherlour is an interesting example of Georgian architecture with great symmetry, dressed stone and slated roofs. William Stirling is famous for many churches, mansions, grand steadings and neo classical remodelling of castles in the Perthshire area and beyond. The Mill has a wealth of features including stone steps, a doo’cot, date stone, slated roof and the original water wheel
It's part of a four-house "steading", I guess, but...wouldn't it be cool to live in a converted Mill? Take a look at the approved floor plan for the conversion!

Well, maybe only to me.

Or, if I can't have the ready-to-be-converted Mill....maybe this place?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Blue or Gray?

Tabletalk is a trove of strange and bizarre links sometimes.

Everyone is familiar with the pop-soda-coke differences between the North and the South (ever been asked if you want a 'pepsi coke'? Do you sit on a couch? A sofa? A settee? Is it youse, you all, y'all, you guys?

Well, here's a quick online quiz to determine if you're a Yankee or a Dixie,

Actually, it's more fun to click each answer and see the little notes. I was only 40% Yankee. Huh?

Captain Short Bus

I missed the picture, which I will rue for a long time....I really need to keep the camera handy, with the weasels around.

So, there is a commotion in the living room. This does not usually bode well, so I get up to see what they are up to, and spy Rowan, our not-too-bright puppy (Berit is nowhere to be seen. Hm.)

He had pulled a towel down off the top of his crate, had the edge clamped in his teeth, and the rest of the towel flung over his head like a badly adjusted cape. All you could see was his chin.

With his eyes covered, he careened into the living room, crashed into the couch, crashed into the wall under the windows, finally shook the towel off and stood there, insanely proud of himself.

Our own slightly-dim superhero: Captain Short Bus.




Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Xbox is Good for You

It's always been an accepted "fact" that men are better at spacial tasks than women are. Jokes about women being unable to read maps, or the superiority of men in throwing and catching balls have been trotted out as evidence that men and woman have some sort of difference in ability.

Usually, this difference is attributed to culture -- women don't participate in sports or other tasks that require spatial reasoning very often, so they aren't as good at it. Recently, biology has been touted as the reason that women and men differ. Much research has gone into finding out just how men and women are different biologically. And yet, a recent study in Toronto has shown rather vividly that this sort of skill can be influenced by behavior.

How did they do this? Video games. First, they tested volunteers on a visual identification game. Volunteers were tested on identifying the "odd" object in a display (kind of like the 'one of these things just doesn't belong here' game from Sesame street). Women were right 55% of the time, men 68%. Then, they had some of their volunteers play Medal of Honor (a first-person shooter war game) and others play a non-action game called Balance.

Both sets were then asked to do the odd-man-out test again.
Among the Ballancers, there was no change in the ability to pick out the unusual. Among those who had played “Medal of Honour”, both sexes improved their performances.

That is not surprising, given the different natures of the games. However, the improvement in the women was greater than the improvement in the men—so much so that there was no longer a significant difference between the two. Moreover, that absence of difference was long-lived. When the volunteers were tested again after five months, both the improvement and the lack of difference between the sexes remained. Though it is too early to be sure, it looks likely that the change in spatial acuity—and the abolition of any sex difference in that acuity—induced by playing “Medal of Honour” is permanent.
Video games really DO have a positive effect and don't actually rot the brain. Who'd a thunk it?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Stemware Revelation

One of the seminars that we attended at the WineFest was a wine tasting held by Riedel Glassworks (it's pronounced REE-d'l, by the way) who have dominated the market for specialty glassware for wine tasting. They contend that the shape and size of the glass is absolutely critical to enjoying wine, and that each varietal or style of wine has a specific glass shape and style that will enhance the wine. Drinking even a great wine from the wrong glass will render it a poor shadow of itself.

To be honest, I have always been skeptical of any claims that the "right glass" will make or break a wine. I figured it was all a ploy to sell wine glasses for a hundred bucks a stem. If each type of wine needs its "own" glass, you'd have a shelf-ful of different shapes and sizes, all worth a mint!

Well, I'm a convert.

I never would have believed it without actually tasting it myself. We did side-by-side comparisons of an American style Chardonnay, a new-world Sauvignon Blanc, a local Pinot Noir, and a Cabernet Sauvignon, all in the glasses that Riedel had specified for them. Then we tasted the same wine (literally poured it from the "right" glass into the default wineglass provided by the festival) to see what happened. And then we tasted the same wines again, in the "wrong" Riedel glass. It was really eye-opening.

Neither the Adorable Husband or I usually like American-style Chardonnay; it's usually one-dimensional, too highly oaked or too oily. We avoid them if at all possible. In the specific glass from Riedel (an odd shape for a white-wine glass -- it's more like the traditional balloon glass for red wine) it was a multi-layered, complex white. We could taste the vanilla from the oak, but weren't overwhelmed by it. Pour the same wine into the "joker glass", as they called it, and it really was the one-dimensional, overly harsh wine that I love ot hate. Even with the added benefit of aeration as we poured to the bad glass, it was still harsh. Back into the Riedel glass and the harshness dissappeared.

The Sauvignon Blanc was the biggest change -- and probably cemented the realization that the glass really did have an impact. In the "right" glass (a tall, tulip-shaped glass) for Sauv Blanc, and it was a bright wine with hints of melon and pear, lightly acidic, bright and lively. In the bad glass, it was acidic, the nose was harsh, and all we could taste was the bitterness of citrus. Poured into the balloon glass we tried the Chardonnay in, it had the same flavors, if a bit acidic, but the nose was entirely gone. Repeat the same experiment with two red wines.

The shape of the bowl, where the rim is on the curve, the height of the bowl, all these things make a huge difference in how the wine tastes. Cheap wineglasses (the Target and Crate and Barrell variety, of which we have many) usually have a rolled edge, not a flat, cut edge, which really kills the wine. I may have to become a wine-glass snob. The rep running the tasting said that he knows many people who bring their own glasses to restaurants, because most restaurants have mass-produced, standard wine glasses, despite the fact that they might have bottles worth hundreds of dollars on the wine list. Of course, at the standard markup on wine at most restaurants, they could replace the stemware for each bottle sold.

I'm not going to be shelling out big bucks for the Sommelier line of glasses, which can run to that hundred bucks a stem that I mentioned, but we are definitely going to pick up glasses in their Vinum range, especially for the varieties of wines that we really enjoy. Both are 24% leaded crystal, and other than the fact that the Sommelier glasses are handmade and the Vinum glasses are machine made, there really isn't any difference in the way they work. At least, that's what the sales guy was telling us. He never even flogged the higher-priced glasses, which was a pleasant surprise, from a sales rep.

Target is selling a line of glasses from Riedel that are aimed at the consumer market. They use the same engineering, but are not leaded glass and are a bit more generic than the type/variety specific glasses in the other lines. But well-worth buying as 'everyday' wine glasses, as opposed to the standard rolled-rim glasses.

Gluttony and Sloth

You know it's a perfect vacation when all you do is sleep and eat and sample wine. Well, we had a perfect vacation!

We had dinner at The Chateau at Two Rivers winery on Saturday after spending the day at the WineFest -- eight hours of tasting wine, eating fabulous food, and listening to jazz. Just to give you an idea of the dinner:
cream of wild mushroom soup (paired with an unoaked chardonnay)
pear and gorgonzola salad with candied walnuts and citrus vinaigrette (with a semillion/viogner)
wild chokecherry sorbet
pine-nut encrusted rainbow trout with wild rice (with a riesling from Two Rivers)
proscuitto-wrapped loin of rabbit (syrah)
roasted buffalo medallions (with a lovely cab)
and finally, poached peaches and creme fraiche with a Vin de Glace from Garfield Estates.

By the end, we could barely move. We didn't get up until eleven on Sunday and drove home, where we promptly napped. We are a lazy bunch here at the Phouka household. But it was a much-needed slow weekend.

The staff at the Chateau let it be known that they were taking reservations for next years starting this morning at 8am. They have 10 rooms. They were entirely booked for the wine festival nextyear by 8:30 AM. I did get reservations for the dinner next year, though. We're not going to miss that!