Sunday, January 31, 2010

I'm a boomerang

While I feel better that I'm not the only one with this problem, it is quite obvious that I cannot walk in a straight line. I list to the left, and if I don't pay attention, I'm sure I'd walk in an enormous circle and end up back where I started (a risk if you're walking in the desert, for example).

How do I know this? Walking on the treadmill is way harder than it looks! You're not supposed to hang on, and I find myself edging towards the left side of the belt if I'm not very careful.

I can see a rather spectacular crash in my future -- I'll be like those funny commercials of people shooting off the back end of the treadmill into the wall, I just know it.

Friday, January 29, 2010


I am very glad that I have not only a handy husband, but a brawny one!

With the Christmas money from my Dad this year, we (well, really, I) decided to get a treadmill. I need to get off my butt and move, and walking has always worked for me -- but getting outside and walking around here can be dependent on the weather and I don't need any possible reasons to avoid walking, which I will glom into at the slightest provocation (yea, I know, rain, snow, cold are pretty normal around here and I'm not a delicate little wilting flower, but as an excuse, "It's freakin' cold out there' certainly works for me!). So - indoor treadmill. I know people who have them and they like them.

I found a really nice treadmill, which the Adorable Husband picked up from the store today. And then he man-handled the 300lb, 7' tall box down the stairs into the basement to be put together.

And now he's heading off to the chiropractor to fix his back. Sigh.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Ensuring Stupidity

Another knee-jerk idiotic response to a "concerned parent" -- read: moronic idiot -- from a school district. This time, removing dictionaries from the schools because they (gasp!) define terms of a sexual nature.
Perhaps it's not that surprising that a mother in Menifee, California, asked the Menifee Union School District to ban all copies of the 10th edition of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary after her child stumbled across the term "oral sex." What is surprising, indeed horrifying, is that district officials immediately complied with her request, and pulled all dictionaries off classroom shelves throughout the Southern California school district, which serves 9,000 kids, kindergarten through eighth grade.
They removed a dictionary.

Read that again: a DICTIONARY because a single parent had her delicate widdle sensibilities ruffled and demanded that everyone bow down to her carefully sterilized little world view. What a complete fucking mess.

Oh! The horror! That a school child might read a factual definition of a term in a dictionary. 'Cause we all know how damaging that could be. Might expose them to ideas . This goes beyond prudish or sensitive to ridiculous and awe-inspiringly stupid. That the school board actually responded to this twit of a woman by removing the dictionary and seriously considering a school-district-wide ban is absolutely mind-boggling to me.

I suppose it's a way to ensure that the next generation is even more stupid, closed-minded, and rigid than the current one.

Wait until she realizes that there's a whole, real, physical world out there that might possibly expose her and her child to...words! And actions! that she might not "approve" of! What then? Demand that the rest of the world be sanitized and bowdlerized? What about other words -- like breast and fornicate and homosexual and concupiscense and bondage and ..well, you get the idea. Let's eliminate all the words in the dictionary that might offend someone! I'm sure there are LOTS of words in that dictionary that this woman finds offensive and disagrees with. Oh, what her child might learn from reading the textbook definition of polygamy or gay or any of the millions of other words in our language for ideas and concepts she doesn't like. I'm sure there are thousands of ideas out there someone disagree with, not even just the sex ones! The possibilities are endless! We could have a dictionary with just a few pages of "approved" words!

Wait! What about enclopedias! They have articles about things she disapproves of! Better ban all those National Geographics before Jr gets a good look at a pair of naked breasts. Better ban the Bible, too, it's got some pretty racy passages. Oh, my god! The internet! They might have access to such things online! Ban it! Shut it down! The list is never-ending! (please imagine the previous few sentences read with breathless, wide-eyed fanaticism and enough sarcasm to drown a fish, ok?)

How pathetic that she can't even face answering a question from her child about what oral sex is, if the kid comes across it in the dictionary. How frightening that she truly thinks that it might be titillating or prurient. What is she going to do? Never let her kids leave the house or participate in life? I wouldn't want my hypothetical kids to be reading The Kinsey Report or Joy of Sex, but that's far different than not wanting them to read a dictionary that contained words related to human sexuality. That' takes prudishness to a whole new level I hadn't even imagined before.

A single person simply does not have the right to enforce censorship --and no waffling here, this is censorship of the highest order --of books. Exempt your own child from their education by refusing to allow them to read things you don't like, that cover subjects you are not comfortable with or disagree with, but that's where your control ends. I'll still mock you, of course, but that's your choice for your own kid. Learning about, reading about, thinking about subjects that are outside your comfort zone are important. Difficult, perhaps, but important to developing a critical, thinking, capable mind. Hiding from these topics and themes doesn't make them go away, despite people's best efforts.

But did you notice that this story (which is only the latest in a long line) only really worries about some knowledge? They're trying to carefully filter knowledge through their own lens. How telling is it that you never hear of anyone protesting a book or demanding censorship of a dictionary because they contained entries like genocide, torture, rape, famine, war, or hatred?

So her kid read the definition of oral sex (which, btw, is "oral stimulation of the genitals") and she just didn't want to have to address it with her kid like a responsible adult and explain it terms a kid would understand. No, she'd rather hamstring the education of an entire district's worth of school children because she could complain and the school-board pandered to her ridiculous demand. I think she's an idiot, but I blame the school district for actually responding to this with anything but derisive laughter and downright rejection. They're actually whining about having to 'read the dictionary' to discover if there are any other words that might be questionable. Common sense is apparently not in supply. 'What about the chiiiillll-ddrrruuun' here has run to ridiculous lengths.

Shame on the Menifee Schoool District! Knowledge and reason are the root of ethical society, not censorship.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Solution to a non-problem

I just saw a commercial for a Lysol hands-free liquid soap dispenser with the tagline, "never touch a germy soap pump again".

Talk about solving a non-existent, even if the soap pump does harbor germs (and I'm sure it does, you're touching it with your pre-washed hands)'re going to wash your hands after touching it. Anyone who is "concerned" about germs on their soap dispenser is spending way too much time fostering paranoid and ridiculous phobias.
Hands may come into contact with millions of germs every day. Hand washing is one of the most important steps to help stay healthy. But have you ever thought about those germs ending up on your soap pump?

Fact: Your soap pump can harbor a lot of bacteria.

Introducing the LYSOL® No-Touch Hand Soap System, it automatically senses your hands and dispenses just the right amount of soap that kills 99.9% of bacteria.

For use in the kitchen or bathroom, the antibacterial hand soap is enriched with moisturizing ingredients and comes in three great scents!

Never touch a germy soap pump again.
I don't like the explosion of anti-bacterial soaps and surfaces and wipes and sprays. They are unnecessary, and resistant bacteria are a real problem. Sure, wipe down your kitchen with it after cutting up raw chicken, but otherwise? Seriously - plain soap and water does the job just fine. This near-phobic approach to germs is ridiculous and dangerous. If you believe the advertising, you need to spray everything with bleach, shouldn't touch any surface, and need to disinfect every single object in your whole life, all the time.

But this product seems designed specifically to enable the believers in the idea that their houses and lives and bodies must be sterile. I can even see a non-touch soap dispenser; they get all goopy and gross after awhile, so just waving your hand under the sensor eliminates the mess, but do to it to avoid germs? Really? That's like suggesting you wipe down the handles to the faucet before washing your hands with a Chlorox wipe or something. Why?

And of course, minutes after washing your hands, they are once again covered in germs. Or the towel you wipe your hands on has billions of them. Even a paper towel. It's a bizarre illusion of 'clean', if you ask me.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Leaping Gazelles

The time for the fastest man (a 26yo) in this year's "Skyrise Chicago" stair-climb at the Willis Tower was thirteen minutes and nine seconds to get to the top of a 110-story building. (see the rest of the results here). That's 2, 109 steps.

The fastest woman (age 40, who has claimed the title for the past eight years) clocked in at 15:08, and the fastest kids (both age 10) were at 22:26 and 22:51, respectively. Last year, a firefighter did it in full gear.

They must have been taking the stairs two or three at a time and leaping, gazelle-like, from landing to landing, is all I can figure.

Just to put it in perspective, this is from a poster on one of the forums I frequent:
"To give you a point of comparison, the first time my firm did a post-9/11 fire drill, where folks wanted to actually go all the way to ground level to prove to themselves they could, even the people who bolted way ahead of everybody else took twenty minutes to go only sixty floors, and they were going DOWN!"

World Statistics

An absolutely fascinating look at world population statistics--life expectancy, income, family size, population, the works, by Hans Rossling. I bet you haven't seen things displayed like this before!

Best Stats You've Ever Seen

Spiritually transformed guns of Jesus

Despite specific rules banning proselytizing in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, a manufacturer of gun sights for the military inscribes the sights with references to bible verses. Really. Bible verses, etched into the rifle sights. Promising that god is with them. On guns. I boggle.

That's just...well, it seems so ridiculously inappropriate that it's almost funny. Inscribing verses of the bible -- ostensibly to support and bolster the soldier and let them know that Jesus supports them -- on a weapon used to kill people is just wrong. Talk about reinforcing the idea of a god-driven crusade, eh?
Coded references to New Testament Bible passages about Jesus Christ are inscribed on high-powered rifle sights provided to the United States military by a Michigan company, an ABC News investigation has found.

The sights are used by U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the training of Iraqi and Afghan soldiers. The maker of the sights, Trijicon, has a $660 million multi-year contract to provide up to 800,000 sights to the Marine Corps, and additional contracts to provide sights to the U.S. Army.

One of the citations on the gun sights, 2COR4:6, is an apparent reference to Second Corinthians 4:6 of the New Testament, which reads: "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." [...]

Trijicon confirmed to that it adds the biblical codes to the sights sold to the U.S. military.
Wow. The company -- which is very upfront about their Christian beliefs, has crossed a line, in my opinion. I'm not against this because of the idea that it could inflame religious animosity in a muslim country, I'm against this because it is a serious violation of church and state, with the military tacitly expressing a preference and strong support of a specific religious belief system. In an era when evangelical Christians have inappropriately used positions of power in the military to proselytize and actively attack non-christians, this is just another transgression, I guess. But it is a serious one.

I'm against this because it is a gross application of a religious idea used to support war. It implies that god supports and encourages "our side" of the war, by "blessing" the weapons. That's just..distasteful. It is pushing christianity and their particular version of god, quite literally at the point of a gun.

Would I be so upset if they were inscribing bible verses on body armor or helmets? Not really, I guess. It'd still find it inappropriate, but it wouldn't be actively offensive. It's the idea that anyone would invoke their god as a blessing on a weapon that is pretty weird to me. We should be long past the age of religious crusades -- but I forget, for many people, the war against terrorists is a religious crusade. They have used it to demonize muslims and "others" and are arrogantly and smugly sure that their god is on their side. That's a frightening thought, if you ask me.
Weinstein, an attorney and former Air Force officer, said many members of his group who currently serve in the military have complained about the markings on the sights. He also claims they've told him that commanders have referred to weapons with the sights as "spiritually transformed firearm[s] of Jesus Christ."
I sincerely hope that they lose their very, very lucrative military contract.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

English Mangled

I've been working on a new client, building an application in Oracle's Application Express -- a web-based toolset. The details don't matter really, but I had to register a minor boggle at some of the verbiage used in the app. Mangled language is everywhere!

The application has a default 'you can't log in now' sort of message that appears if you try to log in and the system in unavailable. The default is
"This applications is currently unavailable at this time."
Huh? The message was obviously designed by the Department for Redundancy Department.

C'mon people, either "This application is currently unavailable" or "This application is unavailable at this time" -- using both is a bit awkward.

And this is a worldwide, major corporate release. Where have all the editors gone? Did this actually sound right to someone?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Why not actually DO something?

Christian congregations all over the world will be praying to cure Trig Palin of Down's Syndrome on April 18, 2010. When he is healed of this incurable genetic disease, people all over the world will have to acknowledge the Majesty of God.
Science has no way to undo this condition, which is the result of an extra chromosome; but God can. When Trig Palin is found to be miraculously healed, everyone but the most hardened atheist will have to acknowledge God’s Majesty!
Oooo-kay. What a monumental waste of time -- but, okay, let's look at this. If the combined power of the faithful can actually "heal" him, can you imagine what good that these people could do? Pray for a cure for cancer. Pray for the healing of the sick in the world. Pray for world peace. All those things that they apparently haven't been able to manage before. But this, this effort is worthwhile? I wish them well. That would be a boon to mankind, it really would.

But I do have to ask -- if it works, and we must all then acknowledge that their god is great and merciful....if it DOESN'T work, will they finally admit that it's a worthless enterprise and that their god simply doesn't have the juice to do anything at all (if he even exists)?

I doubt it. They'll just have some "reason" why it didn't work. Negative vibes from the non-believers, or sunspots, or the intervention of the devil or something. People didn't really have true faith. They always have an excuse.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Nerdy Rant

Can I just register my absolute and utter hatred of CaSE sENsitiVe computer coding languages?

Hate hate hate them.

Wasted two hours trying to debug a problem that ended up being related to a difference in case in a single variable. Retval vs revtal. TWO HOURS.

Gah. Not only do I feel like an idiot, am I quite sure that anyone who designed such a language requirement is evil.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Dated Language

Question 9 on the census, which asks for a person's race, lists as one of the options: "Black, African Am., or Negro." [from csbnews]
This has raised a few hackles, and I have to admit that I am also a bit surprised at the use of such an archaic and thoroughly fraught term as "negro" as an option on the census in 2010. I don't think that's been in current use since when, the 70s? It's not a word that I would use, nor have I heard it except in movies about the Civil Rights movement -- how could it possibly be considered a common-enough descriptor now?

I don't think it's patently offensive, I guess, not like some of the other terms that have been used to describe someone who isn't pasty-white-northern-european, but it smacks of a patronizing, denigrating "you, boy" sort of label. The word has been rejected, I believe, and no one seems to be wanting to resurrect it as a sort of "self-owned" reference to one's own group, like the n-word has been adopted by some groups, or faggot has been reclaimed as a label of pride by some gays.

Since I don't belong to either of those groups, the words are not acceptable.

The Census Bureau has defended the choice of words (Black, African Am., Negro appear as the label for a single checkbox) by saying that "some older people" might still identify with the term". Really? I'd like to meet them. Do they still accept the label "colored"? I doubt it. The Census Bureau added it back in this year, after it was a write-in option from some people during the last census. While I believe that to be entirely true, I have to wonder at the motive for doing so. Do people not like the other terms? Do they imply some other affiliation that some people don't like?

But then again, I have a hard time getting behind the xxx-American terminology. African-American, Asian-American, or any of the combinations, which seem to be a rather thinly veiled attempt to put a politically correct, socially acceptable label on something that is really a color-based or phyiscal-attribute-based determiner. You aren't calling someone African-American because the emigrated from Africa, you are using the term to describe someone by skin color. It is just 'black' with a polite, social dress on. You don't hear Polish-American as a descriptor for North St. Paul white people, because no one feels the need to differentiate by actual ethnicity, and the Polish people and Scandinavians and such in the city are all white. xxx-American isn't a way to describe where you're from, it's a side-step to actually describing your skin color or physical features without actually doing so.

People should be called by whatever label they want--if there really is a subset of people who prefer the terminology Negro, then so be it. People want to be called Caucasian instead of White, or Hispanic or Latino instead of Mexican. So what? It's a ridiculous attempt at labeling anyway. The bizarre thing is that the 'race' being asked for is an mix of terms that use both skin color and ethnic origin to define it - things that are fundamentally unrelated. Describing someone's skin color doesn't say a thing about their actual origin, it just lets bureaucrats lump us into different buckets rather arbitrarily.

I'm mostly Polish, and a little bit English and a teensy bit German, I think. I'm sure there's another 57 Varieties muddled in there somewhere. On a census form, I'm White. It's just one way of grouping people. Perhaps I should be labelled 'northern european', to distinguish from the Scandinavians or ethnic Caucasians from Russia, or paler-skinned peoples of the Mediterranean It's a fruitless effort, especially now, as we are becoming more and more homogenized. I'm not white, anyway, I'm sort of pale-bluish.

But, the inclusion of the term Negro on the census strikes me as odd. Language changes, and we discard or re-define words that have taken on meanings that are unsubtle and unacceptable, just like we add descriptors that people adopt. The issue is that words that are common and acceptable to one set of people (even within a group) may be offensive or rejected by others.

Shelly Lowe, a U.S. Census Bureau spokesperson, agrees that the use of "Negro" is antiquated, and says that the bureau was surprised to learn there still are people who prefer to be called by the term.

Lowe also noted that all of the census questions are "tested ad nauseam," enough so that using the "Negro" term "outweighed the potential negatives."
Was it a huge error to include the term? I think it's rather insensitive, and seems terribly out of touch with the modern world, but I also am willing to take at face value that some people do prefer the term and that its inclusion was not meant to imply anything other than an alternate label. Everything is going to offend someone. I'll be curious if it remains on the census again in 10 years.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Facebook Fail

We all should know that you don't post anything on Facebook that is going to rise up to haunt you later when you are looking for a job (no nude pictures, no drug use, that sort of thing).

But how many people just don't quite get that they shouldn't post about their job? Well, other than glowing paens to how much you love working for Company X.

This is, as far as I can tell, real. Definitely not the smartest tool in the shed, eh?

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Snow snow snow

Bah. Yes, it's beautiful;but the Adorable Husband had to snowblow again and we hadn't even gotten rid of the last snowstorm. Weird - we've had snow on the ground for weeks at a time this year.

It started coming down in lovely, fluffy flakes this afternoon, but it's cold out there right now, and supposed to be colder. I was looking forward to some warmer days, to be honest. I can only hope that it clears up enough that the drive up to Keystone isn't a seven hour trek.

Yes, skiing again! We just got back from a week skiing in Copper Mountain with the Christmas Horde (which was a lot of fun!) and this weekend is my work ski trip. I'm not sure that the Husband is going to try snowboarding again, for a bit (his chiropractor suggested that he had a bit of whiplash from his earlier efforts) and he's still walking a bit stiffly. Me? I'm intended to hit the spa and laze about. Lovely!

I really don't get the whole 'skiing' thing. I try - I mean, I live in Colorado, I should be embracing the outdoorsy-ness of the place, and reveling in the fact that outdoor pursuits are everwhere. Hiking I can understand, but skiing? I've taken lessons, I am just not Sporty, I guess. There are moment when I like the quiet gliding through the new powder...but then there's the falling and the screaming and the crashing and it's not so fun anymore. The mountains are beautiful, I'll just enjoy them from the veranda with a nice hot beverage, thank you very much!

Monday, January 04, 2010

In a Tizzy

My youngest sister is getting married! Whoopee! Her fiance proposed on Christmas Eve, and she has been dazzled by the sparkly ring every since.

And, of course, working herself into a tizzy to plan a wedding for late this summer. So many things to do, so many decisions...and she's a bit single-minded about things once she starts. Tenacious, might be the better word.

They've set a date, found a reception spot, and she's already looking for a dress. In a week. I told you she was single-minded. I didn't realize that some of the lead times were as large as they were -- I always was under the impression that you could do everything in six months or so. Nope. Well, not int he current bridal industry, it seems. Most venues are booked a year in advance, and dresses take up to 6 months to deliver and alter. Wow. I must have blocked all that out from my own wedding planning, oh-so-many-years ago.

She has, quite reasonably, decided that she will not buy a dress that costs more than a month of her salary. Of course, she loves the dress. Her fiance apparently made the off-hand comment that, "you know, we could be a little less formal and you could wear something else....oh, wait, no. Forget I said that.". Smart Man.

I'm so excited for her! He's a great guy and she's deliriously happy. I've heard her laugh more in the months she's been with him than in the previous few years, to be honest. Yeah!

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Circle of Death

Sometime while we were gone, the Adorable Husband's xBox gave up the ghost. They are apparently susceptible to overheating (the cause of most of the failures that were reported in the last few years, and the primary cause of the Red Circle of Death displaying on the front of the thing.)

Hmph. Our poor housesitter thought they'd done something to kill it, but it was just a coincidence of timing.

So I googled for help to fix it. Microsoft is no help ("send it in! We'll fix it! You'll get it back in four weeks and oh, by the way that'll be $$$"), and there are some pretty iffy sorts of suggestions on the web -- including wrapping it in a towel to induce overheating to re-flux the solder on the board.

It's apparently a design flaw. The clips holding the motherboard in place slightly flex the board, causing all sorts of problems, including cracking the connections and not having a clean seat on the heatsink. It's possible ot take the whole thing apart and reseat the heatsink, which usually works, but I was told today that doing so might actually make the xBox Online thingy think that you've hacked your machine and it will suspend your membership. Wha?

So we're stuck between trying to fix it, somehow (since it's waaay out of warranty) and just surrendering and buying a new one. Nice racket, eh?

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Crowning Music of Awesome

I spent a bunch of time while everyone else was skiing, lounging about in my jammies surfng the web and reading books. One of the websites I happened upon was one of the biggest time-sucks I've found in a while: -- an examination of the common motifs and cliches in the media -- which eventually pointed me to the common TV trope of "Crowning Music of Awesome", that moment, in the movie score, where the music is so fabulous, so perfect, that it actually makes the scene. Music that is epic, hair-raising, and just...perfect.

Which sent me on another search for the actual music listed -- where I discovered Two Steps from Hell, a duo that composes music specifically for movie trailers. Yeah, kind of a strange specialization, I suppose, but half the time the trailer music (which usually has nothing to do with the actual movie score) is absolutely fantastic.

I think I've listened to 'Protectors of the Earth' about a dozen times. It is, according to the site:
quite possibly the most unspeakably epic piece of music ever created.
I agree. Unfortunately, you cannot buy any of their current albums; they sell only to movie studios, so you can find some on YouTube, etc. They are planning on a public release of two new albums in 2010, though. I'm waiting!

Friday, January 01, 2010

Back in 2010

You may have noticed that I disappeared for the entire month of December -- lots of stuff going on: new client, family coming for the holidays, all that sort of stuff.

But, we're all fine here at Chez Phouka -- ten days with the Adorable Husbands family (ALL of them!) at the house and up skiing were a blast, and we're back to enjoying the usual quiet of our house. Mostly we're napping. The prep and setup and execution of the Christmas Horde Invasion took up most of our time. Bit higher stress level than normal, but it was a lovely visit.

So! Back from the break! I have plenty of opinions to share! I promise!