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Tuesday, March 6th, 2007

Subject:Stories I've already told too many times
Time:10:45 am.
A few years ago, a close friend of mine died and I spent a few days with his family helping to sort out his affairs. As they were leaving, his mother offered me a portion of his ashes. This isn't the most atypical sincere offer I've ever received, but it's in the top ten.

The answer I gave: "Thank you, but no."

The answer that would've been true: "Yes, but only for humorous purposes."
Comments: Read 2 orAdd Your Own.

Thursday, January 18th, 2007

Subject:Martin Luther, meet Marx.
Time:12:44 pm.
Fortune has an article that bemoans the plight of the "lower uppers"; folks who are in the highest strata of income yet below the daunting top 1%. The article says that they "work [themselves] ragged to earn a million or two - or, God forbid, $400,000".

Whatever. Here's the quote that got me: "Lower uppers are doctors, accountants, engineers, lawyers. At companies they're mostly executives above the rank of VP but below the CEO."

What the HELL kind of engineer do you have to be to rake in $400K - $2M? Or accountant, for that matter. Even doctors and most lawyers won't often see that unless they're an owner/partner in a private company, which really makes them a business owner that also happens to be a doctor or lawyer. Or an administrator/executive in a bigger company, which really makes them a corporate executive that also happens to be a doctor or lawyer. You get the point.

Seriously. The jackasses running around in Washington think tanks and Wall Street boardrooms-- jackasses like the one who wrote this article-- are so high off the ground that they can no longer recognize the little shapes scurrying below. They associate making huge money with being smart and hard-working, since they make huge money and like to think that this is due to their own virtuous natures. They rely on edumicated folks like doctors, accountants, engineers, and lawyers. Cultural conditioning (and a natural psychological need to think well of someone you're going to pay to cut you open) encourages them to think of these professions as peopled by smart, hard-working folks. Ergo, they must be pulling in seven-figure incomes. After all, America is a meritocracy, and riches are bestowed upon the worthy.

Sorry, chuckles. The only way you get to pull in that kind of dough is by joining the capitalist clergy, practicing arcane rituals that involve moving enormous sums of money from one place to another and declaring that they have grown in transit, a miraculous transubstantiation that none of the faithful dare question. Business owners and high executives are deacons, lay members who serve as the spine and muscle of Capitaltholicism, bringing the blessings of the Market to the benighted masses below. At the lowest level, the "lower uppers" mentioned by the article? Bootlickers, apologists, and ego-polishers like the jackass who wrote this article; perennial altar boys bent over the altar of smug avarice.

I'm an economic agnostic, myself. I don't really buy into the divinity of the Holy Currency, but I appreciate the benefits of its structure provides. I'll decry its excesses and mock its doctrine, but I don't have an alternative I'm eager to push on anyone. It does concern me, however, that the virtues enshrined in the theology-- hard work, ingenuity, honest competition-- are so rarely demonstrated by the economic episcopate. Malicious hypocrisy annoys me, and zealotry of any stripe tends to amuse and frighten me by turns. When the two combine, bad things start happening.
Comments: Read 3 orAdd Your Own.

Thursday, December 14th, 2006

Subject:I'm really very concerned about wire shortages.
Time:1:01 pm.
A friend of mine posited that humanity supports itself artificially, and that if that support was interrupted our population would drop drastically to a point where we could subsist on a more basic animal-chewing-on-its-environment level. This idea was rudely dismissed by someone long on education but short on consideration, who insisted that human intelligence renders our race impervious to such cataclysmic indignities. This person needs a brief lesson in how the world actually works.

Mark Twain wrote A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court about a modern-day man dropped into the sixth century. This man uses his vast knowledge to give Camelot a crash course on modernization that puts Mao's Great Leap Forward to shame. The book is primarily a commentary on society, entrenched attitudes, and aristocratic cultures. It's good that it succeeds on that level, because the modernization itself is less plausible than the time travel that proceeds it.

The primary limiting factor on development is not research or basic understanding, but infrastructure. It's all well and good to know all about electricity, but you need the material. Plain copper wire is a good first step. Obviously, you'll need copper. You can mine it or smelt it, but either way you need people and tools. Then it must be purified, which requires electrolysis, which requires electricity, which is easily produced when you have a water wheel (specialized carpentry)... and purified copper wire. Let's ignore this problem for a moment. Once you have a nice lump of pure copper, you'll need steel for the draw plates (and many of the tools used in processes already mentioned) to stretch the wire; that's another mining process to get the iron, and smelting isn't optional. Getting steel from that iron requires blast furnaces (specialized masonry) and bellows (wood carving, leather working [which requires livestock and tanning industries], and brass [copper and zinc] or bronze [copper and tin]) and charcoal.

By my count, that's a minimum of sixteen developed industries that are required to make a damn piece of copper wire. None of them are optional, even if you're willing to make a very small quantity of low-quality wire. It's worth noting that no one except for the livestock folks are eating what they make, which means that we need agriculture to be developed to the point where it can support not just the farmers but all these non-food-producers as well. And unless all these fields and pastures and mines and smelters and smitheries and forges and crafstmen and forests and charcoal burners and masons and tanneries are all next-door neighbors, we'll need a distribution network of some kind. Yet more tools and toolmakers.

To make it even nastier, even though this industry can all be primitive by our standards, developing it has to be done in baby steps, since so many steps rely on each other in a circular way-- you need better tools to produce the materials to make the tools you need to produce the materials, and so on. Each improvement in a particular process must be small enough to be supported by the processes that come before it, and it must spread and become standard before it can be used as a base to launch improvements in the next step down the line. This is most obvious in the electricity issue above: purifying copper requires purified copper.

This slow, generational process of improvement has more subtle applications than the simply technological. Economic forces drive development. You don't start making a tool until there's a demand for it, and the demand won't develop until the tool exists to support it. Unless you have an omniscient dictator who can feed and shelter his pet industries while they're producing something that's useless at the moment, each step must be a small incremental improvement that has an immediate application. Wiremaking was originally a process exclusive to jewelry-making, and improvements on the process were undertaken to produce finer product more easily. The tools that allowed these process improvements were themselves made possible as a side-effect of constant small improvements in weapon-grade metals, which always had a market. "They were ahead of their time" is a phrase associated with failure, and for good reason.

Speaking of dictators, it's worth mentioning that specialized industry requires a larger population base, which means cities, which means a government stable enough to provide security and rule of law. This is yet another circular, incremental process: government services are supported by a population that relies on government services to survive and prosper enough to support government services. The balance here is every bit as delicate as it is on the economic side; too much organized power tends to crush its populace, and too little tends to let its populace get crushed by someone else who's willing to organize.

Everything about these processes are interconnected, delicate, and ultimately organic. We've seen the process forced in modern times, attempting to jump-start an infrastructure in one underdeveloped region or another. The results range from "humiliating" to "disasterous". Localized segments of industry and agriculture can make Great Leaps Forward, but the lack of a natural support base leads to instability and inevitable collapse. Japan encouraged and accelerated their own development without imposing a planned design, and achieved great success. It still took them a hundred years, even with the ability to lean heavily on the infrastructure of the rest of the developed world.

Steam engines were known to the Greeks 2000 years ago. Schemes for internal combustion predate Da Vinci. There was nothing wrong with their intelligence. Infrastructure. Takes. Time. If our infrastructure were taken away from us, we could probably recreate it more quickly than it developed the first time (although nothing distracts one from developing metallurgy like starvation, plague, a 40-yr maximum life expectancy, and roving bands of predatory people with goals of their own). On the other hand, we built our infrastructure the first time when metals could be found lying on the surface of the ground, huge forests covered all the continents, and coal and oil could be found in great quantities literally a few dozen meters below the surface.

Humanity's survival at its current level is profoundly artificial. This need not be a criticism. Thousands of years of amazing achievement by individuals and societies have produced a marvelously complex and unthinkably powerful invisible organism whose body exists entirely in the interactions that connect us all. Dismissing its creation as a simple symptom of "intelligence" is arrogant and idiotic. Taking its existence for granted is suicidal.
Comments: Read 9 orAdd Your Own.

Tuesday, November 21st, 2006

Subject:Authors and books I intend to comment upon further at some indefinite point in the future 1
Time:2:35 pm.
  • Earth's Children (series), by Jean M. Auel - The Mary Sue Adventures of Dr. Quinn, Cavewoman: filmed for Showtime late-night soft-core.
  • Cerebus (comic book series), by Dave Sim - Mostly interesting for the story of its creation, the work itself swings wildly between brilliant and vein-tuggingly awful. Yes, vein-tuggingly. Imagine a small, painless incision, through which someone has hooked one of your more visible veins. Now imagine them tugging on that hook; not in a sharp, tearing manner, but in a persistent and determined way that introduces you to new and altogether unwelcome realms of tactile sensation. That's how bad it gets when it's not being brilliant.
  • Dorsai (series) by Gordon R. Dickson - So you want to write sci-fi about geniuses-- world-changing, knock-yer-socks-off, walking buckets of brains. There are three standard ways to go about this:
    1. Write out the thought processes and dialogue of your cerebral superstars, clearly demonstrating their superior intellects. This is tricky, since you actually have to have some significant head-horsepower at your disposal. You don't have to think as quickly, completely, or correctly as your fictional creations; but you do have to do better than (regular character + thesaurus) - social skills, which is how Hollywood typically manages. Disch's Camp Concentration is a fair example.
    2. Focus on the spectacular results of the geniuses' efforts, directly touching upon their process and methods only in vague and oblique ways. Done well, this creates a sense of grandeur, like seeing the distant and hazy outline of something imponderable and awesome (like Herbert's Dune). Done poorly, it creates a bunch of nonsensical mystical claptrap (like everything in the Dune universe subsequent to the original).
    3. Place your eminently average yet sociopathically overconfident "genius(es)" in a universe populated with sub-morons. Spawn some implausibly unbalanced situations. Have your protagonist propose a solution that is either basest common sense, or stands defiantly against all rational deduction, induction, and probability. Write that the solution worked marvelously, which proves that your protagonist Just Knew Better All Along. Arthur Conan Doyle, I'm looking at you.
    Dickson invariably goes for #3, and is hailed as a giant of the sci-fi world as a result. Huh.
  • Wheel of Time (series) by Robert Jordan - Picture a boat. A boat that is slow. A slow, repetitive boat following an overfamiliar route, slowly and repetitively, on a boat. A boat that is slow. Then Nynaeve tugs her braid and crosses her arms beneath her breasts. On a slow, repetitive boat.
  • The Black Company (series), by Glen Cook - It's unkindly reductive to describe Mr. Cook merely as the anti-Jordan. I'm just saying that if they ever shook hands, you would want to duck.
Comments: Read 2 orAdd Your Own.

Monday, November 6th, 2006

Subject:Worthless predictions #487
Time:11:33 am.
I don't see the Democrats making the sweep they're predicted to. I think people are mad enough to smash Republicans in the polls, but not enough to change the fundamental voting patterns of the last few years. It doesn't help that the Democrats as a party have the less-than-inspiring platform of "We're not Republicans!", and not much else.

Honestly, I'm not sure why the Democrats want to take power right now. Even if they took both houses by a narrow majority (the best plausible outcome for them), they don't have a prayer of getting anything significant done. The Democrats themselves lack unity (or basic cohesiveness), the opposition are ninjas at shredding them in the media, and the issues that are driving this election (Iraq, immigration, security) are not things that have quick, pleasant, or popular solutions. Scandals are helping the Dems right now, but they're never limited to a single party for long. There's also a chance that the White House might be less than completely cooperative. Even if the party leadership can restrain itself (I give it 50-50, and that attributable more to cowardice than nobility), there will be a perception of vendetta against Bush, which is always unpopular with independents. And God himself couldn't save the party if any-- ANY terrorist attack hit America on their watch. Facts of the matter would be utterly irrelevant. The Republican spin machine could use a Somali cabdriver getting in a fender-bender to basically assure one-party rule for the next decade or so.

Whether or not the country really is in a crisis right now, there's a popular perception that it is. I'd sort of like to see the Democrats sit back, hold on to the seats they have, and make a big unified statement about supporting the country. Every time a piece of Republican legislation comes down that they find objectionable, make those objections... but let it through without grandstanding, without fillibustering, without trying to divide the opposition and force a compromise that lets the Republican leadership get the majority of what they wanted and just enough whitewash to spread the blame if it goes sour.

America-- or at least a consistent yet slight majority of America-- seems to want to buy what the Republicans are selling. So give them a shot. Challenge them to publicly record their predictions, in solid numbers, about the outcome of any given policy. They think Tax Bill A would shift the burden to the middle class and hurt consumer spending and employment? Say so, specifically. they'll either be proved right in a (relatively) non-subjective way, or they'll be wrong-- in which case the legislation was presumably not so objectionable after all.

I strongly dislike the policies and practices of the current Republican party. I have friends that feel the same way about the Democrats. Everybody needs to take a deep breath. Nobody is going to revoke the Bill of Rights, implement martial law, or declare a dictatorship. There's not a lot that either side can do that can't be undone, if it turns out to be unpopular. They can make things suck temporarily for the country, and permanently for individuals. But that's it. And once the consequences are seen, we change and move on. Rinse; repeat.

Is the escalating cycle of fact-free hysterical infighting really preferable?
Comments: Read 3 orAdd Your Own.

Subject:I'm a convert.
Time:10:43 am.
Those of you who know me may be familiar with my enthusiasm for biodiesel. It's technologically mature, energy-dense, relatively clean, and usable in existing vehicles and distribution infrastructure with little or no conversion. That was before I learned about its downside, of course. Some experts predict that the price of vegetable oil (biodiesel = vegetable oil with its glycerin removed) could spike with the increased demand. Apparently, "it takes 7.5 pounds of [vegetable] oil to produce a single gallon of biodiesel".

I mean, wow. Who knew the production was so inefficient? For every gallon of biodiesel you have to go through... well, I don't know how many gallons of vegetable oil 7.5 pounds is, but I assume it's a lot. The way the article phrases it, it sounds like we're pouring truckloads of oil down the drain to squeeze out a few drops of biodiesel.

Well, let's see. How much would one gallon of veggie oil weight? Vegetable oil at STP is about .93 grams per cubic centimeter. That's 9300 grams per liter, at 3.79 liters to the gallon makes 3524.7 grams to the gallon, 453.59237 grams to a pound, so a gallon of vegetable oil weighs... 7.77 pounds.

Um. Huh. So, according to the article, it takes one gallon of vegetable oil to make one gallon of biodiesel. Wow. That's accurate (you lose some mass in the process, but gain back the volume from biodiesel's lesser density of .86g/cc), yet sort of underwhelming.

The real question: did the article's author deliberately switch units to make consumption sound more dramatic, or is he just so bad at math that he didn't realize?

While we're talking about using math to manipulate drama, I should mention that I used the long, suspenseful method of figuring out the weight of a gallon of veggie oil. The easy way would be to take the readily-available weight of a gallon of water (8.33lb) and multiply it by .93. I could explain why this works (mostly works; we're rounding like fiends in both methods), but I trust my that my audience either doesn't need the explanation or quit reading a few paragraphs back.
Comments: Read 8 orAdd Your Own.

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006

Subject:Lies, Damn Lies...
Time:9:32 am.
Rand Corporation, a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis, has a study that "presents the strongest evidence yet that sexually degrading lyrics in music encourage adolescents to more quickly initiate sexual intercourse and other sexual activities".

Now, I think of myself as a moderate on many issues. For instance, I'm not in favor of eliminating handguns, but I do want them kept out of the hands of children and idiots. By the same token, I'm not one of those people who thinks that statistics are pointless. I just want them kept out of the hands of children and idiots.

I read through the study's abstract and even the journal article published in The Official Journal Of The American Academy Of Pediatrics, presumably because I'm some kind of masochist. I find nothing to fault with the study design, sampling, or outcome measurements (this does not mean there is nothing to fault, only that my untrained eye failed to find it). Looking at the data they received, I see no reason to object to a correlation between listening to music "containing objectifying and limiting characterizations of sexuality" and accelerated sexual activity.

Of course, RandCo aren't satisfied with stopping there. No, this study somehow proves that the music causes or at the very least encourages sexual behavior, and "recommends that parents set limits on what music their children can purchase and listen to". When you have a correlation and infer causation, we call that cum hoc ergo propter hoc, or, if we're feeling less snooty, the fallacy of joint effect. It's like declaring that Kleenex causes colds, since high consumption of tissue paper is statistically linked to nasal distress.

Could their causation have been proven? Certainly, although it would take some effort. For example, had they identified the raunchy-music-listeners at the outset and forcibly replaced their Brotha Lynch Hung with heavy doses of Raffi, and noted a change in behavior, then they might be on to something. It may just indicate an increase in suicides among frequent listeners of "Raffi in Concert with the Rise and Shine Band", or illustrate the difficulty of seducing someone to the sultry strains of "Bananaphone"; but it's a causal relationship regardless.

So, do they provide any evidence of causation? Well, the abstract notes that the conclusion "is consistent with sexual-script theory". Oh, okay. So you had a hypothesis, tested it once, failed to prove it false, and assumed it was true. I might call that affirming the consequent (though it would be a bit of a stretch).

Alternatively, I can just say that statistics should be kept out of the hands of children and idiots.
Comments: Read 3 orAdd Your Own.

Friday, August 4th, 2006

Subject:Boy, have I needed this for a while.
Time:8:19 am.
Thanks to the fine work of the good folks at Penny Arcade, I now have an icon for my all-too-frequent lapses into pedantry:

Comments: Read 1 orAdd Your Own.

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2006

Subject:Ima gonna learn y'all how to talk good.
Time:6:05 pm.
Technically, you can only be "healthy" if you're alive. Foods and behaviors that are good for you are "healthful". Vegetables aren't healthy unless you're eating them on the vine, and no meat is healthy unless it's trying to get away. However, common usage is so blind to this that it's a former wrong that's now as good as right. So use it either way, but as you do so think fondly upon the pedant who first informed you of this tidbit.

Could or couldn't you care less?
This is also correct either way, but it annoys me that people use one of the ways without knowing why it's correct. "Couldn't care less" is obvious: "Most people couldn't care less about the healthy/healthful distinction.". They care so little that they could not care less. Simple. "Could care less" means the same thing, oddly enough. It makes sense when you look at its etymological ancestor: "I could care less about professional sports, but it would require an act of God and possibly a lobotomy." Once that was in common use, it was easy to let the qualifier become implied: "I could care less about something I don't much care about...". Then, because people on the whole are lazy and stupid, they collectively forgot about the sarcastic tone and the ellipsis: "I could care less about what the crap that comes out of my mouth means.".

Now that you know, you can no longer use the second version unknowingly, and thus you will no longer annoy me. Good for you!

"Regardless" and "irrespective" have somewhat similar meanings. People who had a loose grasp of either of those meanings tongue-fumbled their way into "irregardless", which is not a word, but if it was, the "ir-" and the "-less" would cancel out and make it mean the opposite of what the cretins who use it intend. Unfortunately, the collection of cretins that comprise our community have embraced this festering wordbortion with such vigor that it is rapidly becoming accepted. Just don't use it in formal writing, or in my presence.

not XXX, much less YYY
So many people are so close, yet still so stupid. The "much less" is more or less short for "and thus what follows is much less possible for the subject:". As in: "He could not stop drooling, much less formulate a proper sentence." Yet people persist in using it backwards: "She couldn't run a marathon, much less take a single step." Really? The god-despised quadruple amputee was much less able to take a single step than she was able to run 41.3km?

Just remember: easy one first, hard one second. Like your mom.*

begs the question
I'm more sympathetic to folks who get this wrong. I still want to stuff their mouths with glass shards and salt, but in a sympathetic way. "Begging the question" is a somewhat formal phrase identifying a logical fallacy. If a premise relies on the conclusion to be valid, that premise begs the question. Remember, your conclusion is the issue in question, and by nature it's not accepted as true; otherwise you wouldn't bother arguing it. To prove your conclusion, you present supporting premises which must themselves be accepted as true, or else they are worthless premises-- if you're trying to prove that the Genesis creation story is factual, you don't want one of your premises to be that men have one less rib than women do. That premise happens to be completely wrong, and thus it doesn't do much to support your conclusion. Premises don't have to be immediately accepted as true (although it's always nice when they are); often a premise will spin off a sub-argument in which it is individually resolved before returning to the parent argument with the now-proven (or disproven and discarded) premise. If your premise relies on the issue in question being true, then the premise begs the question for its support-- and since it can't get that support until the question is already answered, it is useless in providing that answer. For example: suppose I posit the fact that you are an idiot. You present your numerous academic achievements and obvious acuity as a counter-argument, but I dismiss what you say because I don't listen to idiots. In my dismissal, I'm begging the question. A more common example is using the fact that someone is on trial as "evidence" of their guilt: ladies and gentlemen of the jury, why would we spend all this time hauling an innocent man before you?

So. Kinda dry, fairly complex. I don't think less of anyone for not being familiar with it. I can easily see how someone could hear the phrase and parse it as "XXX brings to mind the question YYY", as in: "Frank, the panties dangling from your monitor beg the question of just who felt the need to remove them in the middle of the office.". I can understand how it happens, I really can. But you all need to stop.


*this doesn't actually make sense, but I needed a punchy closing line and I'm in something of a hurry.
Comments: Read 14 orAdd Your Own.

Subject:No, I'm looking for something more specific.
Time:4:25 pm.
Mood:Craving a Reese's.
You got your abbreviations in my dictionary!
You got your dictionary in my acronyms!
You got your list of terms used in geographic information systems, cartography, and remote sensing in my...
Oh, never mind.
Comments: Read 6 orAdd Your Own.

Subject:Wordy and ranty, back together at last.
Time:4:07 pm.
(I was going to leave this as a comment in supergee's journal, but I thought better of it. No need to hit him with the backsplash from my explosive logorrhea.)

Seems Jill from Feministe (but guest-blogging on RudePundit) has a bone to pick with the pro-life movement.

Well, I do too, but I've got a bigger bone to pick with the way in which Jill picks hers. I oppose all the policies she decries, but her characterization of the pro-life movement itself is maliciously inaccurate. I acknowledge that the pro-lifers may well have more than their fair share of prominent wackos and outright villains, and I might even be willing to include the present President in that category (there is a particular style and degree of destructive behavior that renders imperceptible the division between malevolence and ineptitude). But with that single befouled brush she paints the entire movement and a number of other movements that are associated only conceptually. I'm sure a Venn diagram would show a significant amount of overlap, but it's obnoxious and just plain idiotic to pick the most egregious elements of various subgroups and apply them all to the entirety of the larger circle.

It's very common to look at the actions of others from our own projected perspective. It's also completely fallacious, and something that by all rights should fit better with a reactionary mindset than a progressive one. Jill gleefully ascribes motivations and infers larger goals for her foes, completely ignoring the possibility of innocent ignorance, the human capacity to hold contradictory ideals, and the simple fact that a different set of underlying values and priorities might have some epistemological validity.

I know RudePundit's tagline is "Proudly lowering the level of political discourse", but I like it better when it does so by energetically and emotionally blasting some bit of objectively objectionable activity and the specific architects thereof. The sort of willfully ignorant dehumanizing of one's political opponents that we see in this post might be cathartic, but as a rising trend I see it as more dangerous to our democracy than anything Ralph Reed or George W ever conceived in their grubby little dreams.
Comments: Read 8 orAdd Your Own.

Tuesday, April 11th, 2006

Subject:It's a Small URL After All
Time:1:44 pm.
I have a hankering for a website. While this journal meets my meandering needs just fine, I need a more work-appropriate site to display the fruit of my code-monkey labors to prospective employers. It follows that I should select a URL.

And here we hit a problem. An ideal URL for this purpose should be:
  1. Short.
  2. Not excessively cute or nonsensical.
  3. Easily spelled.
It may surprise regular readers of my ramblings to hear this, but these are not areas of strength for me. Indeed, I harbor a secret propensity for loquacity, a certain subtle grandiloquence that has been known on occasion to interfere with clarity, or what some might call "not being a pompous gasbag".

So I'd like to ask for help from all my friends who aren't pompous gasbags, or who are at least adroit at PompousGasbag/English translation. Tell me a title. One that's available, preferably.
  1. .com
  2. No hyphens.

    Vague direction:
  1. The intent is to advertise my computer skills, but that doesn't necessarily need to be in the URL. But it can. Whatever.
  2. Said skills are fairly nonspecific, so no "godlikefortran.com" or anything, since I may be playing up any one of several skillsets to a particular employer.
  3. Said skills do tend to focus around databases, so "somethingdata.com" or similar would be just fine.
  4. I like blue. It's a nice word, it's a nice color. Just sayin'.

Comments: Read 12 orAdd Your Own.

Subject:No Refund Without Receipt
Time:1:16 pm.
April 18, 2005: I posted this resumé to Craigslist.Collapse )
It was a joke; a frustrated reaction to the ever-deepening quagmire of suck that my job had become.

April 30, 2005: In defiance of all reasonable expectation, I receive a job offer in response to the resumé.
June 14, 2005: I disappear from the Internet and go beyond the ken of mortal man.

I'm not at liberty to divulge the details of the continent-spanning swashbuckling that ensued, but rest assured that if the tale were told in its entirety, it would be such a yarn that a thousand kittens couldn't hope to unravel it in a thousand years, though their efforts would make for some awfully cute pictures that would no doubt be posted to a thousand blogs. Suffice it to say that your months of breathless anticipation are at an end.

April 11, 2006: ...
I have returned.
Comments: Read 24 orAdd Your Own.

Thursday, June 2nd, 2005

Subject:I swear, I never post memes.
Time:11:34 am.
Meme posted only because I'm the only non-ninja I know.Collapse )
Comments: Read 14 orAdd Your Own.

Friday, May 20th, 2005

Subject:Logic, a path to the Dark Side is.
Time:10:49 am.
Most unintentionally funny line of Star Wars III: "Only a Sith deals in absolutes!" spoken by a Jedi
Comments: Read 8 orAdd Your Own.

Friday, May 13th, 2005

Subject:Peter S Beagle: O Holy God.
Time:1:44 pm.
Swiped verbatim from Conlan Press, which is publishing an unabridged audiobook of Peter S. Beagle reading The Last Unicorn-- and the first three thousand orders get one of the only three thousand hardcover copies in existence of Beagle's Two Hearts, the sequel to Unicorn that Beagle has sworn (publicly, repeatedly, and at length over the last 36 years) would never be written.
Late in the spring of 2004, with the Last Unicorn audiobook under way but not yet finished, Connor was working on the text for a Peter S. Beagle promotional postcard. This card was going to be distributed, as a giveaway, to all the people attending the upcoming Mythic Journeys conference in Atlanta. The idea for the back of the card was that it would be a complete summary of all Peter's past work and looming new releases.

When Connor had to write the portion of text describing the Last Unicorn audiobook, some pernicious demon in his subconscious reached out through his hands and typed a sentence to the effect that every audiobook would include a "free, never-before-published story set in the world of Peter's classic novel."

Of course, that's not the sort of thing you can commit Peter S. Beagle to without his permission, even if you are his business manager. So Connor called Peter up and read the copy to him over the phone.

Peter's reaction was blunt. "For 36 years people have been asking me to write a sequel to The Last Unicorn, and for 36 years I've been saying no. There will never be a sequel. Never. That book was one of a kind. I said everything I had to say in it, and since there's nothing else to say I'm not going back. Anyway, I'm not that person anymore. No sequels!"

"You will note," Connor replied, the soul of dispassionate calm, "that I mentioned nothing about a sequel. 'Set in the same world,' it says. You're a writer. That book had a vast landscape, full of other places and people and possibilities. It's been in your head now for 40 years — there must be another story in there somewhere. And hey, I don't care if you don't use any of the characters from the first book at all!"

Peter's one-syllable reply would most accurately be transcribed as "Grrurmupph!" (Give or take one u or m.)

And that was the end of that conversation.

But you know what? Less than a month later, without fanfare or warning, Peter handed Connor an untitled manuscript.

"Here," he said. "I did what you asked. But I don't know if the bloody thing is any good or not."

Connor started reading immediately. A few pages in he realized that Peter hadn't done what Connor had asked at all. In fact, Peter had ignored everything he'd been told. This wasn't a story "set in the world" of The Last Unicorn. Not at all. This was the coda that novel had never had. All the same characters were back: Schmendrick, Molly Grue, King Lir, the unicorn...all of them, but in a fashion that Connor could never — not ever — have foreseen.

Somewhere in the middle of the manuscript Connor started tearing up. By the end he was snurfing and sniffling and wiping both cheeks steadily, because the damn tears just wouldn't stop....

And when he got to the end, knowing he'd had the incredible luck to be the first person on the planet to read this miracle, he turned to Peter and said "This new character you introduced, Sooz. The young girl...you do know she's too interesting to leave here, don't you? Too special? That you have to go write her novel now? And that it has to be the sequel you said you'd never write?"

Peter looked a little sheepish, but nodded. No grrurmupph, this time, just a simple "I know."

And that's how it happened.

Personally, Connor thinks that Two Hearts has been there in Peter all the time, weaving itself together inside him the way a perfect wine ages in the dark of a carefully sealed cask. When the story was finally ready to announce itself, that's when the story came out: an apparently effortless creation at least 40 years in the making.
When people ask me what my favorite book is, I honestly respond that it's an unanswerable question-- but The Last Unicorn goes through my head every time.

Damnit, this is not helping my attempts at frugality. I had an order placed before I was done reading the story above.
Comments: Read 20 orAdd Your Own.

Thursday, April 21st, 2005

Subject:Public Service announcement #428
Time:4:21 pm.
Active disbelief in a god is not "athe".

Thus, if you actively disbelieve in god, you cannot be described as "athy".

Thus, if you actively disbelieve in god more than the person standing next to you actively disbelieves in god, you are not "athier" than that person.

Thus, even if you actively disbelieve in god more than everyone else in the whole world actively disbelieves in god, that does not make you the "athiest" person in the whole world.

You are simply an "atheist", from the root word "theist" meaning "a person who actively believes in god" and the prefix "a-" meaning "it's very important to me that you know that I'm certainly not".

That is all.

[edit] Okay, that isn't all. To clear up the confusion this post spawned: I'm ranting about self-identified "athiests", since the word is spelled "atheists". Then I refute a fanciful reverse-engineered potential etymology for "athiest". That's right, it's spelling-based humor. Yep. I am that cool.
Comments: Read 21 orAdd Your Own.

Tuesday, April 19th, 2005

Subject:OMG Hitlerquisition!
Time:2:03 pm.
Everybody's heaping scorn on our new Pope, who is a former Hitler Youth member and head of the division of the church known (until a 1965 name change) as the Office of the Inquisition. And the scorn is related to those two facts. And that's annoying me. You all need to stop. I'm going to quote a comment I left in someone else's journal:

I know people who were members of the Hitler Youth. That's synonymous with saying "I know male German natives who were right around adolescence during the early 40s". It was mandatory. Saying every 12-year-old boy should've risked arrest or death by refusing membership--particularly when the German public had little idea of the full extent of Hitler's atrocities--is pretty extreme. Given the number of centuries since the department-formerly-known-as-the-Inquisition has organized any... well, any Inquisitions, that's another unfair brush to be painting anyone with.

He's said and done plenty of objectionable and outright hateful things that are still objectionable and outright hateful when exposed to logic. They don't make pithy soundbites, but I prefer them nevertheless. Downright un-American of me, I know.
Comments: Read 9 orAdd Your Own.

Monday, April 18th, 2005

Subject:Brilliant henchman seeks evil genius.
Time:2:33 pm.
Now this is a resumé. Or something. Definitely something.

Brilliant henchman seeks evil genius.

Brilliant Henchman Seeks Evil Genius: Exp. in administration,
technology, data, world domination

The story of my past is long and colorful but unimportant. What you
must know is that I am brilliant, talented, hard-working, and utterly
unambitious. In challenging environments that paralyze others, I
thrive. When confronted with the unknown, I learn at astounding speed.
I am at my best when someone points at a goal and says, "Make this
happen," whether the goal is as simple as an office process
improvement or as complex as a comprehensive feasibility study on the
placement of orbital death ray satellites. No doubt, I would be
comfortably ensconced in a successful and lucrative career if it were
not for one tragic defect: I have no specific job-related goals of my

The obvious solution is to find someone with specific goals and serve
them. Hence, I am a henchman. Your henchman, if you'll have me. No
task is too low for me, no challenge is too great. I specialize in
making unreasonable and even impossible demands happen. The
particulars of your goal don't matter. Are you a psychic hoping to
influence key figures in the government? A warlord intending working
to create an unstoppable arsenal? A megalomaniac bent on controlling
the world supply of tapioca by means of an insidious and improbable
method of mind control? I'm your man.

All I ask for is a steady stream of new tasks and responsibilities. My
talents are wasted if I'm filling a niche somewhere repetitive or
unnecessary, and my enthusiasm and devotion drop lower and lower the
longer I'm left in such a position. With me at your side, there's no
limit to what you can accomplish.

Curriculum vitae:
Farm hand, family farm (Flasher, ND) 1993-96: Hard work. Learned
general mechanical, carpentry, veterinary, heavy equipment, and
agricultural skills. Reason for leaving: No one ever stays on the
family farm. Leaving was a literary necessity.

Henchman, Prof. Green (U of MN Botany Dept) 1996-97: Hired to take
dictation for maniacal manifesto, feed carnivorous corn-shrew hybrids.
Eventually responsible for fortification of hidden greenhouse lair and
diverting operatives of secret international police organizations.
Reason for leaving: Employer devoured by own creation; presumed dead.

Sales and Support, General Nanosystems (Minneapolis, MN) 1997-1999:
Built, sold, and repaired custom desktop and server systems. Learned
general computer hardware, networking, installation skills. Used
skills for a brief period of freelance solutions-providing and an
endless Purgatory of tech support for friends and family. Reason for
leaving: Success and growth of employer led to position becoming
repetitive unnecessary niche-filling.

Henchman, L33tM4st3r (Apple Valley, MN) 1999-2000: Maintained website
and served as admin on messageboard. Proofread code snippets which
contained cleverly hidden clues about employer's nefarious
machinations, posted to aforementioned messageboard. Obtained rare
radioactive isotopes for army of open-source cyborg zombies. Made
coffee. Reason for leaving: Personal differences. Also, lair hidden in
employer's parents' basement exploded when insufficiently subdued
operative of secret international police organization successfully
triggered the clearly labeled self-destruct button; employer presumed

Data Analyst, Pillsbury (Minneapolis, MN) 2000-2001: Hired as basic
data entry for massive SAP implementation project. Learned Access and
Visual Basic on my own time, built database to automate data entry.
Resulted in promotion for me, loss of employment for thirteen other
data entry personnel. Coordinated and managed gathering of data from
multiple sources, created tools to integrate and analyze. Reason for
leaving: Project completed. Nothing left to do.

Henchman, Hugh Mann (Location undisclosed) 2001: Coordinated and
verified data comprising the sum of all human knowledge; required
transition of database from Access to Oracle. Successfully resisted
interrogation efforts by operatives of secret international police
organization. Made coffee. Reason for leaving: Employer actually
self-aware software coalesced on Internet, collecting all data to form
a new virtual universe it would rule as a god. Plot ended when spunky
and irreverent young computer genius working for secret international
police organization uploaded a virus to the Internet with a floppy
disk; employer presumed deleted.

Office Administrator, Cenveo (Minneapolis, MN) 2001-present: Process
analysis and improvement. Built databases and interfaces to streamline
entry, analysis, and reporting for numerous departments. Work with
teams developing processes for new clients. Worked with design team
for enterprise-level eCatalog; built tools for and participated in
full black-box QA testing. Recognized multiple times for initiatives
which saved the company over $10,000. Reason for wanting to leave:
What do I care if I can lubricate the workings of some impersonal
corporation? Now, if I can become the henchman of a particular person
within a corporation, that's fine. But otherwise I'm just a glorified

If no conquerors are hiring at the moment, I am reluctantly willing to
devote my energies to more plausible opportunities. Are you a
businessperson looking to improve efficiency or delegate tasks? An
academic in need of help researching and analyzing data or managing
day-to-day minutia? A political activist seeking organizational and
strategic assistance? A wealthy eccentric in need of an ingenious and
loyal lackey to answer your strangest questions and serve your
interests? Give me your goals. I'll give you your dreams.
Comments: Read 5 orAdd Your Own.

Thursday, April 14th, 2005

Subject:Automatic for the People
Time:10:06 am.
On the second to last day of their legislative session, the Idaho State House of Representatives passed a concurrent resolution that says Napoleon Dynamite is pretty dang nifty (HCR 29).

It's a hoot. "WHEREAS, Kip's relationship with LaFawnduh is a tribute to e-commerce and Idaho's technology-driven industry" and everything. I'd like to see "WHEREAS, any members of the House of Representatives or the Senate of the Legislature of the State of Idaho who choose to vote "Nay" on this concurrent resolution are "FREAKIN' IDIOTS!" and run the risk of having the "Worst Day of Their Lives!" become part of the standard language of all bills and resolutions. You know they're thinking it. Let 'em come out and say it.

Go on, read it. I'll wait.



Yep. So the Idaho House passes this, someone links it, I read it, I think it's the bee's knees. Good show.

But the plot thickens. Some of my friends--people whose intelligence and political acumen I respect, people whose opinions are significant to me--see a different side of this. They point out that deliberate silliness like this is a waste of time and money that's supposed to be dedicated to taxpayer interests. There were some acerbic observations that perhaps our elected representatives may have better things to do with their time in office. And so on. It really made me think.

It made me think you all need to stop being dicks. Seriously. I still love everybody, but really: dicks.

There's a senior executive at my company who firmly believes that every moment you spend at work belongs to the company. If he hears laughter, he knows that there's a personal conversation going on. He will seek out the mirth-center, see who's involved, and send a pointed memo to all of their managers. That's right: he hunts down happiness. He's a dick. But to his credit, he's a dick who applies the same insane standards to himself. So: since I know my friends aren't hypocrites, I assume you all devote every second of your work day to your employers. No personal calls, no extra-long coffee breaks, no chats by the proverbial water cooler, no quips in meetings. Certainly, you would never waste time creating some lengthy textual work intended to amuse your peers and anyone else who ran across it.

Oh, wait.

Now, I grant that most of you don't have jobs that are quite so important as creating the laws of the land. After all, a wise man once said, "With great power comes great responsibility. Hang on--that wasn't a wise man. It was Spiderman. And even he was just quoting someone else. But it's still true. "With great power..." In case you weren't paying attention to the first sentence of this rant, we're talking about the Idaho State House of Representatives. The duly elected guardians and custodians of all things potato-related. I think the lunch ladies at my junior high had more power and accordant responsibility.

But didn't they have better things to be doing? According to the congressional journal: not really. We've got a handful of bills that passed the Senate and need to be submitted to the Speaker for signing, a handful of bills that passed the Senate in amended form and need to be submitted to the Rubber Stamp Committee, and so on. You can see what each of those exciting paper-shuffles entails here, if you feel a pressing need to see just how heavy the collective crown is that's borne on the collective sloped brow of the Idaho State Congress. Other than that, the only business of the day was one proposed bill that effectively fixes the grammar of an earlier bill relating to commercial driving licences, and the Napoleon Resolution.

Perhaps you'll say that they should've found something better to do, spent their time coming up with a more important issue to address. If you would say such a thing, I'll assume you spend every second of your day saving the whales (those poor, suffering cetaceans) or shaving in Wales (those poor, hairy Welsh) or whatever. Because again, I'd hate to think anyone was a hypocrite. If it's any consolation, the Idaho House does keep its collective cyclopean eye on more pressing matters: HCR 18 (passed earlier in this same session) declares Idaho's undying enmity to the practice of trafficking in humans. Look out, white slavers; the Idaho House is not a foe to be taken lightly.

Glord, people. Yes, they're our elected representatives (or more accurately, Idaho's elected representatives). But they're not robots who need to serve the weighty needs of The People every waking moment. I'd concern myself more with the power-mongering and pocket-lining that takes place on the taxpayer clock, if I was looking to be offended.

And really: wouldn't you rather have your government be deliberately funny instead of unintentionally hilarious?
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