Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Fantastic Writing

At this moment my wife is sitting in the living room watching Lord of the Rings. I tried watching it when it first came out, but fell asleep, and have had no further interest in watching the others. I also fell asleep watching the first Harry Potter movie, and have not wanted to see the others.

Fantasy as a genre in literature and movies has never interested me much. It seems far too easy to just make up stuff that doesn't make sense, starting from almost any premise or situation, and just keep writing until you have enough to make a book or a movie. For instance:
The Gargon of Morillaland has absconded with the magic Feuerstalk and taken it across the river Fluss, leaving the little people of Imp Valley in mortal danger of attack by the fearsome Giganticus. According to the Scroll of Profesius, only the long-awaited Mesheah, a descendant of the legendary Gutmensch, has the power to overcome the Curse of Gewhilakers that prevents the Impantile Army from traversing the mighty Fluss to confront Gargon and recover their beloved icon, but to date there has been no sign of Mesheah making an appearance.
Lawdy! What's they gwine to do???

I could write another 3000 pages and make millions on the movie rights. Will I? Ummm. I don't think so.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

Here is some news from theSuperhuman Achievement department.

There's been an interesting development in connection with Across the Years, the race I love so much and help to present at the end of every year. We learned that we will be honored by the participation of Greek ultrarunner Yiannis Kouros (who now lives in Australia), inarguably the greatest ultrarunner who has ever lived, one of those miraculous people whose successes are so outstanding that they may never be matched.

It's difficult to explain to non-runners the magnitude of this man's running accomplishments. He owns every world record from 50K up to 1000 miles, some of them by margins so vast it seems doubtful that anyone will ever approach them. His web site says he presently holds 134 world records. He wins every race he enters, always by phenomenal amounts, and has done so since the first time he ever ran an ultra.

Whenever he enters a race, the other runners accept that Yiannis will be the winner, and feel honored just to be in the same race with the man.

At age 49 Kouros is still extremely active as a runner, although he also does other things. In late November he broke his own six-day record at a race in Australia, beating the runners who was in second place by 132 miles. Think about that one for a while!! Imagine being a world class competitor at superlong distances and running your heart out for six continuous days to keep ahead of the other world class competitors who are hot on your heels -- but being beaten by a margin of 132 miles. On a standard 400-meter track, where this race was held, that means the second guy was lapped 531 times by Kouros.

These days most of the records that Kouros sets out to conquer are his own, many set when he was much younger. Kouros wants to come to our race to round out his big most recent world record setting year by breaking the record for 300 miles (about 2.5 days), and then just cruise. Given that last year's winner John Geesler has set his own goal of 350 miles for the race, Yiannis will have someone to push him from behind for a change.

Yiannis is now married, has a couple of children, has a degree in history, has been an ardent poet since childhood, is a composer and singer with a couple of albums out (I believe Greek popular music), has written a couple of books, paints, travels, lectures on physical fitness, has made some movies, and rarely sleeps more than three hours a day.

To describe him as the Michael Jordan or the Babe Ruth of ultrarunning would be to greatly undervalue his accomplishments. He's way better than that. Meeting and running in the same race with him will be more like meeting a Beatle. There has never been a runner like him, and may never be again. And he's coming to run in our race.

We'll have a webcam going during the race. We've already tried and tested it. The race goes from 9:00am December 29, 2005 to 9:00am January 1, 2006. Come join us virtually!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Eye Sea Warts

... or maybe the title should be Icy Wards.

When I hear or speak words, I see them spelled out in my head. Similarly, when I read I tend to see the letters in individual words, so that when called upon to read out loud, I rarely mispronounce words, unless I am outright unfamiliar with them.

Until recently, I have always supposed everyone does likewise. Upon inquiring of some other literate people, I was surprised to find that no one else I asked sees words.

Yesterday I heard my favorite NPR commentator Daniel Schorr use a word I have seen written but have never used myself, nor ever heard pronounced: "colloquy", which is a conversation or a dialogue, particularly one that is formal or written down.

I was surprised to hear him say it with the first syllable accented, for until yesterday I had heard it in my head with the accent on the second syllable, as in the word "colloquialism." Nonetheless, I saw the spelled-out word flash up in my head as with a red flag, because I knew the word's meaning, but its pronunciation turned out to be different from what I expected. (Many listeners probably know neither.)

A quick check of an on-line dictionary verifies the venerable Mr. Schorr's pronunciation to be spot on.

At the same time I considered it to be a delightful coincidence that it was that particular word that would serve to demonstrate my apparently anomalous tendency, in that it gave me an opportunity to develop this blog entry on the topic, a blog itself being essentially a form of colloquy.

As I am writing this, I hear in my head Daniel Schorr's precise and fatherly voice reading it back to me. (Dream on!) Will my quirkiness never cease?

I'm glad we had this little colloquy.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Why Do I Write?

Recently I posted a comment to an excellent article written by a friend on Ergo Sum. What I wrote works well as a standalone thought, so I decided to post it here as well.

Why do I write? One reason is to teach myself.

Whenever I begin to write something — as I have just now done — I rarely know what it is that I want to say, only that I have something to say, and want to let it out. By the time I am finished, I do know what it was that I wanted to say. In the process I have learned something. Because I generally write alone, without the influence of others, except by means of research, it's not unfair to say that I have thereby taught myself something derived from my reasoning and meditation on the topic at hand.

There does not have to be an audience in order for me to write. I am my own primary audience. I will read what I have written and then I will reread it. If I read it again years later and have changed my mind about what I have written, or find that I could have said it better, I will change it, because I am pathologically incapable of reading a sentence under the control of an editor and not editing it. In fact, I'm engaged in that very activity right now!

Our need to teach ourselves reminds me of what the apostle Paul said at Romans 2:21: "Do you, however, the one teaching someone else, not teach yourself?" Most people desire at some level to be teachers when they speak or write, to be conveyors of information in some sense of that expression. In speech we have only the speed of thought's opportunity to edit what we say. Perhaps that is one reason some of the best thinkers also use word whiskers and regressions when they speak — they are searching for les bon mots, and are already revising in their heads their just-made expressions.

Another Bible-related thought that comes to mind is the obligation that Christians acknowledge to be teachers of others, an activity in which I myself happily engage. Many is the time I have experienced, when called on 'to make a defense before others who demand a reason for' the things I know and believe, that upon articulating some matter to another person, I have in turn clarified it in my own mind, strengthening my own understanding, and in turn my faith. (1 Peter 3:15) It is not unusual in such circumstances for me to think to myself afterward: "Zounds! I didn't know I knew that!"

Monday, November 14, 2005


  • I'm pathologically incapable of reading a sentence under the control of an editor and not editing it. In fact, I'm doing it right now!

  • I'm having one of those experiences where an action produces a repeatable but seemingly unrelated reaction, so remote as to seem impossible. It's like turning on the car radio and the muffler falls off. Try explaining that one to a mechanic. He'll say: "Hey, I'll bet you been to college, ain't you?"

  • Lynn's Law of Losing Stuff: The surest way to lose something is to buy two of them so that you'll have one in case you lose one.

  • Once my wife said she'd been to the doctor, where they gave her a shot in the butt that left a eucalyptus taste in her mouth. Hmmm. Gives a whole new meaning to the expression "tongue in cheek", doesn't it?"
    "Don't give me any of your tongue-in-cheek humor! I don't know where that tongue has been!"

  • When I say something and you say something else, but neither one of us gets mad and calls the other one an apostate or a heretic even though the other one is clearly wrong — that's called being balanced.

  • The other day I got an email message with this in the subject. Hmmm, I'm not sure, but does this look like a spam message to you?


  • It's not hard to tell where some people are coming from. They speak
    with a Windows accent.

    You have learned the sort of patient tolerance that only regular users of Microsoft operating systems and women with alcoholic husbands or sons on death row can ever truly understand. (I think that's a quote.)

  • So I told my friend: "The world is divided into two classes
    of people: Those who get it and those who don't."

    He asked: "What do you mean by that?"

    I said: "That's what I mean."

  • We just went on a long vacation. Those hula skirts on the Eskimo women were really cute. Or did I get on the wrong boat?

Why I Hate News Groups

In the early days of the Internet, I used to read Usenet news groups, now more commonly known simply as news groups. Today I will read some specific news group no more often on average than once in several months because I have come to detest them and the culture that comes with them. In addition to the endless spam, vulgarity, profanity, and flame wars, the on-topic content is often useless.

Therefore I have not read news groups for years, except to field responses to some specific question, usually technical in nature. When I do get an answer at all, generally the answers I get fall within a limited set of models:

  • My computer is better than yours.

  • See for some hot pictures.

  • The answer to your question is explained on page 972, paragraph 3 of my book "Arcane Science Artfully Obfuscated", pulished in 1951, which I take the liberty of recommending that you acquire as an addition to your reference library.

So I rarely bother.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Attending Live Professional Sports Events

I've attended one professional football game in my life, when I was nine years old. I went with my grandfather to a Chicago Bears game in December at Soldier Field in Chicago. We had cheap seats, I could barely see anything, and it was bitter cold. I did not enjoy the experience.

Today I often watch the Monday Night game, some of the playoffs, and usually the Superbowl, but little else. I never watch college football. I will never go to another professional football game. I despise the rough crowd, and I like the closeups and commentaries you get on TV.

I've attended one professional hockey game in my life, when I was eleven. Some visiting aunts and uncles and my mother took me on the evening of Thanksgiving Day, after stuffing myself all day. I sat in the middle back seat in the car on the way to the game. In those days all my relatives smoked. My parents gave that up cold turkey in 1960, but this was in the mid-fifties. I had asthma then. The combination of discomforts made me sick to my stomach. They had to make an emergency stop on the Chicago Lake Shore Drive and hustle me out of the car so I could throw up on the ground instead of on them. I didn't quite make it; I still barfed on myself but missed my relatives. Once I heaved, I felt much better for the rest of the night. My family were pretty good sports about it, but I didn't smell too good the rest of the evening. There weren't many people at the game, with few people around us, so my mother made me sit in the row behind them -- out of smelling range.

I didn't enjoy that experience or the game, which I found boring. I have no interest whatever in hockey, and have not watched a game even on TV in at least thirty years. I will never go to another professional hockey game.

I've attended one professional basketball game in my life, unless you add one enjoyable Harlem Globetrotters game in high school. It was just a few years ago, when the Suns made the NBA finals but were beat by Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. The seats were fairly good, and the Suns beat the Minnesota Timberwolves that game. I enjoyed that experience, but I rarely watch basketball games. I'll probably never go to another professional basketball game unless a rare opportunity to take someone's seats to a good game drops into my lap.

I have not attended many major league baseball games in my life. When I thought hard I was able to recall every single major league game I've ever been to -- a total of nine since 1954, four of them in the last two years. I have never not enjoyed being at a baseball game. I like the game and I like the experience of watching it at the ball park. As Woody Allen said: "It doesn't have to mean anything. It's just a beautiful thing to watch."

If I were to go regularly I'd get a small FM radio so I could hear commentary on radio. That will never happen, because (a) I have too many other things to do; (b) it costs too much; (c) when I think about it, I resent the direction the professional game has gone the last few years, with the money and the attitude of many players, not to mention all the between inning nonsense that goes on. Baseball in its classic form from when I was a kid is a thing of the past.

Mastering Baseball

My wife and I have been married 27 years. In that time I've watched more than a few baseball games. We have also been to a few major league games and also numerous minor league games. Suzy usually pays attention when she sits down to watch with me. In this much time you'd expect most people to pick up a few things that most baseball watchers take for granted — including some things I had down pat by the time I was eight years old. But the rules of baseball are not easy, so it's no surprise that someone who has been watching the game may occasionally ask questions such as these that were asked during the recent World Series.

"How many innings are in this baseball game?" This is actually another question in disguise: "When will this baseball game be over so you can turn off the TV and pay attention to me?"

"How many fouls make an out?" As anyone who knows the game is aware, this is something that is easier to understand than it is to explain.

In the seventh inning, when it was 0-0: "So will they just keep playing until someone gets a run, even if it takes all night long?" Ummmm — yes. (The night before was a 7-5 game that didn't end until the 14th inning.)

In the eighth inning, with men on base and the score 1-0: "So if they score a run, will it be over?" No. It will be tied. It's only the eighth inning. There are nine innings unless there is a tie after nine. " Oh that's right, this is the World Series." Ummm, there are nine innings in every baseball game. Unless it rains. (There's got to be an exception to confuse matters.) You knew that. "Oh yeah."

As Ebby Calvin LaLoosh said in the movie Bull Durham? "This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Sometimes it rains!" Think about that for a while.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Rant on Writing

This diatribe was originally foisted upon a class of unmotivated and nearly illiterate university students. It was my job to attempt to teach them something about Unix and Linux, while also demanding, as a matter of school policy, that they upgrade their largely nonexistent writing skills.

If you write well, you will be able to do many things in life. If you cannot, you will find yourself correspondingly limited.

Therefore, writing well matters a great deal to me from both ends of the communications spectrum. I make an effort to write my best even in rapid-fire email exchanges.

Language is the primary tool of human thought. It is invariably true that a person who cannot write or speak effectively also cannot think clearly. Excuses such as "I'm a numbers guy," or "I'm a programmer, not an English professor," merely manifest the speaker's desire to beg off the issue, and to mask fundamental intellectual shortcomings. In contrast, many of the most brilliant technical minds have been superlative writers. Donald Knuth, Douglas Hoffstadter, Richard M. Stallman, and Eric Raymond are just four that readily come to mind.

I refuse myself the luxury of such laziness, and wish that others who desire to communicate with me in writing would make the same effort to express themselves clearly in the full range of their writing, whatever form that might take.

Guidelines on Formatting in Plain Text

A great deal in the way of formatting can be
accomplished in plain text, even without markup. My
email messages always follow the principles I've
learned over the years.

joe> This is a quote of a message from Joe Blow,
joe> which is neatly indented with citation software.

sue> Persons who insist on using braindead tools will
sue> produce work that looks like it was written by
sue> braindead authors. Your work can be only as good
sue> as the tools you use will allow you to be.

Set a narrow margin width. My practice is to wrap
paragraphs at 55 characters in email, and 60, 65, or 70
characters for other things, depending on what it is.
Narrow columns of text are much easier to read than
wide ones, and easier to quote in email as well.

Here are some other tips:

o *Do* use line breaks. No one likes to read email or
anything else where the lines extend forever.

o Put blank lines between paragraphs.

o Bullet lists can be created to look like this one,
using an "o" character to represent the bullet.
Notice how second and following lines indent.

- Bullet lists can even be nested.

- You can choose another character such as a minus
sign for the bullet in sublists.

o Emphasis (normally indicated by *italics*), can be
emulated by putting text between *asterisks*.

o When sending email, always turn off HTML unless it is
needed for some special purpose. HTML email is
*evil.* It's usually ugly, it's hard to quote, and it
is loaded with security holes. Many recipients *hate*
HTML email (including me), and many mail lists ban

A Centered Main Title

Main titles can be centered and indicated as primary
points with an equal sign underline.

Subheadings Are Underlined

A subheading can look like the one that precedes this
paragraph. If you have something you would like to
quote, it can be indented.

Any Web developer who is unconcerned about browser
compatibility should be shot. -- Dwight Newton[1]

[1] My brother. Because there is no bottom of the page
in this type text, my custom is usually to put a
footnote immediately after the paragraph where
it appears.

Sometimes we have need for hanging paragraphs, as in a
glossary list:

SHELL The SHELL variable usually is set to the name of
your login shell.

TERM The TERM variable is set to the type of
terminal you are using. In a graphics environment
it is often set to xterm, but on real character
terminals is it often vt100.

HOME The HOME variable is set to your login
directory. Therefore, when you execute a command
such as:

ls -l $HOME

it shows the files in that directory regardless of
what your current directory is.

Finally, tables can generally be created without too
much trouble, and in most cases look just fine.[2]

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
YY YY NN YY [55.82]
NN YY YY YY YY YY NN [21.83]
YY YY YY YY YY NN YY [47.30] Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
YY 20 21 22 23 24 25 {35} 10 2w 5 10k 5 2 5
26 27 28 29 30 31 {52} R 40 2w 3 5 2 DA

nn:KK mm.dd h:mm:ss.dd mm:ss.dd mm.dd comments
----- ----- ---------- -------- ----- --------
01: 5.02 0:52:23.00 10:26.11 37.82 22
02:WQ 3.08 0:42:07.41 13:39.95 30.86 22; w48
04:Q 34.96 7:06:39.00 12:12.17 55.82 22
06:E 2.03 0:28:05.87 13:52.29 52.04 22; w15
07: 3.08 0:31:12.00 10:07.32 22; w20
08:W 4.05 0:54:10.89 13:22.46 47.20 22

[2] Of course, this is all much easier to do with an
editor like Emacs!

Friday, September 23, 2005

Chopin on the Banjo

You haven't lived until you've heard Bela Fleck playing a Chopin Etude on the banjo. If you were to listen to it while falling over a cliff while running from a bear in Alaska, your life would be complete (and possibly over). You would never need to drink another cup of coffee as long as you lived, much less any other sort of drug.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Terrorists Win

X-ray machines and metal detectors are used to...Image via WikipediaShortly after the horrible events of September 11, 2001, the president of the nation of which I am a lifetime citizen became accustomed to declaring that if people did not go along with his plans and proposals for coping with the aftermath, "then the terrorists win!" Thus was born what has come to be called officially the War on Terrorism.

Four years later about the only people left to whom it has not been revealed that any so-called war on terrorism is unwinnable are the politicians to whom it is an advantage to perpetuate the myth so they may use it as a tool by means of which to continue pursuing their plans.

Whatever heinous acts terrorists commit, the terrorists always win the minute their deeds are done. There is no justice, there is no recompense, and there is no retribution that can possibly be meted out that makes things all better again — especially when the perpetrators zealously sacrifice their own lives to carry out their warped notions.

Following an act of terrorism, what remains is entirely bad — dead and injured victims, ruined lives, social upheaval, psychological devastation, and destruction of property.

Worst of all, the damage done goes on increasing. Anyone who has had to travel on an airplane since September 11, 2001, knows that. Travel used to be fairly simple, but that's no longer the case.

Years ago when I would cross the border into Canada, a friendly security guy would ask two or three questions, wish me a nice day, and send me on my vacationing way. I never even had to show identification. Now I need a passport and immigration papers. I wonder what the people who go between countries on a regular basis have to do?

Last week I traveled from my home in Phoenix, Arizona, to Alaska. Part of the trip took me through Canada. At each airport security station I had to unhitch all the carrying devices I had strapped to myself, empty my pockets, take off my glasses, take off my belt and my shoes, and subject my body and carried belongings to a search, then spend ten minutes reassembling it all again on the other side of the gate, all while smiling, and thinking: "There's nothing wrong here!", making sure not to make security jokes in order to avoid being arrested, strip-searched, and investigated, while inwardly my anger and impatience mounted.

And why is all this necessary? Because I or the person before me or after me is a terrorist? Has all of this rigamarole resulted in snaring even one would-be terrorist? Of course not. This happens because someone else a long time ago was a terrorist, and we all still live with the legacy of his vile acts. In other words: terrorists win.
Ecclesiastes 7:29 See! This only I have found, that the true God made mankind upright, but they themselves have sought out many plans.
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Geezer's Great Alaskan Adventure

... wherein he plunges head first off a cliff while running from a bear

So there I was, last Thursday afternoon, trotting briskly down a steep section of the Dewey Lakes trails, east of Skagway, Alaska. The weather was a day to die for (and I almost did) — with temperature in the low sixties and mostly sunny skies.

The longest trail goes out about four miles in what appears to be a loop. The first part is steep, but the path around the lakes is mostly flat, and it's all heaven on earth for the legs and joints — all single track pine needles, leaves, loose and damp topsoil, but with many rocks and roots to look out for, in a constantly changing environment.

I'd left Suzy off in town to shop and told her I'd be back at the cruise ship (Holland America's ms Veendam) in an hour, or maybe two. I did much more hiking than running because that's what I was dressed for, being dressed in blue jeans and two sweatshirts, and carrying my digital camera. But I hustled most of the downhills.

Because the conditions were beautiful and I felt great, I went further than I expected, so decided to push it harder on the return trip, running more of the way. Part way back I heard, from no more than 200 feet away: "Oooouuuuurrrrll" I'm thinking: "Ack!! — a bear!" I'd been out over two hours and hadn't seen another human in an hour and a half, so I high-tailed it out of there to get out of the bear's sniffing range.

So the adrenaline had subsided somewhat and things were otherwise going great as I was having the time of my life, figuring I'd be out a total of about 2.5 hours, when I hit a steep and rocky downhill, one of those that a cautious person will walk because it was too steep and hazard-laden for running. In fact, that was my intent, but I approached it too hard. My forward momentum got ahead of me and I lost control — big time.

Suddenly I went headfirst over the right edge of a steep precipice. I tucked my camera in so it wouldn't break, but I broke instead. First I hit the right side of my head on something, tearing off my sunglasses, and tumbled eight feet down the hill until I came to a thudding stop when I hit a tree. If it hadn't been for the tree there was at least another forty feet on that hill before it re-connected to the trail it was curving around to meet via the switchback I was on.

By happy coincidence on this otherwise people-barren trail, a friendly and experienced young local-living good Samaritan named Mike (age about thirty) happened to be just twenty yards or so behind me and saw everything, whereupon he came running to my aid.

The impact stunned me and knocked the wind out of me, so at first I could indicate only with hand gestures how I was — not good. Finally I gasped that nothing fatal happened, as I began to take inventory.

The biggest problem, which Mike drew to my attention, was that my head was bleeding and the blood was running down the right side of my face rather vigorously. It was not the sort of blow that likely caused a concussion, although it was hard enough for my taste. It never swelled up. The blood was more caused by getting my head scraped against the rocks, which happened near the beginning of the fall. The second worst problem was that my lower left back got seriously discombobulated. I believe I tore a muscle, which is still healing today. I ran lightly Saturday and Sunday without too much difficulty, but bending and stretching, or doing anything at all after sitting for a while is still tough and I have to proceed cautiously.

Secondary problems were: my right wrist was twisted along the thumb line up through the forearm. Also, I lost patches of skin on my right arm, and on my back, and tore a hole in a sweatshirt. Everything else — feet, joints, toes, legs, etc., is all fine. Also, the camera was fine. The wrist no longer hurts today.

My Oakleys didn't fare as well. I have M frames with large blades, which I've used since 1996. The (expensive!) frames are fine, but the right ear of the detachable blades I was wearing broke, so that's history. They needed replacing anyhow, and I do have a spare set of lighter tints.

It took two minutes of fussing around leaning against the tree to figure out my next move. I knew that in a couple of minutes I'd be okay to walk down the rest of the trail, but where I stood I was on very loose dirt, as I strained and held onto the tree to keep from sliding further. I'd need a hand getting back to the trail surface. Mike anchored himself and reached, but I missed the grab, and the dirt I put my left foot on gave way, so down I went again another six feet or more, but this time it didn't cause any more damage. It just got me really dirty. I'm of the ignore-it-and-maybe-it-will-go-away school of thought about medical treatment. My plan was to get back to the ship (a ten-minute walk), clean up, and see how I felt, which turned out to be a reasonable decision.

I doubted that I needed anything more than a good shower and plenty of Kleenex, so when we came out of the woods Mike and I parted directions, but not before I'd made a new friend and discussed his upcoming plans to spend a year at a research station in Antarctica, which made the experience worth having.

As I walked across First Avenue in Skagway toward the dock, a lady ranger saw me, with all the blood still running down my face, and came running over to know if I needed help, offering to take me to the medic in town, or at least to help me find the public restroom just down the street. (I hadn't seen my face myself yet. It turned out to look worse than I realized, and I'm glad I didn't go shopping for an anniversary card for my wife looking like that, which was what I originally planned to do when I got back.) I was willing to keep on trekking back to the boat, but was using my conveniently bright red hooded sweatshirt to daub my head. As I got closer to the boat, I put it on and pulled the hood up so as not to shock any of the white-hairs on the boat. Of course I had to go through photo-check security, which gave the guard a moment to pause and consider, but by this time he recognized me. Suzy is used to me, so was not particularly shocked when I walked into our stateroom and presented myself. I managed to clean up adequately to enjoy dinner that night.

It's now Monday, and we got home less than four hours ago. I'm fine, except my back is still tender, so I have to take it easy for a few more days. Inconveniently, I've got the Javelina Jundred 100-mile trail race coming right up (in 26 days), so I hope it's okay by then.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

New Truths on Science and the Bible

A couple of years ago my wife and I heard a lecture on science and the Bible that revealed some new truths. Fortunately, I took notes. We learned:
  • The entire universe is made out of science.

  • Einstein invented dynamite. Einstein later helped to develop the atomic bomb, but when he realized what he'd done, he wished he'd been a shoe salesman instead.

  • Zoologists are working on developing anallergic cats , i.e., cats that people are not allergic to. Suzy wrote on my notepad: "These new allergy free cats have one negative side effect — they eat small children for lunch."

    The next morning I learned that this story was true. Score one for for the speaker.

  • Years ago it was unthinkable that men would ever be able to walk on the moon, but now lots of people have walked on the moon. It's practically an everyday occurrence. (The actual number of moonwalkers is twelve, in six different Apollo missions, the last of which was in 1972.)

  • First he said "astromy," then "astromony." In between he also said "astronomy," so I guess he gets credit for one out of three. With that average, if he was a major league hitter, he'd be a Hall of Famer.

  • It boggles the mind to try to explain creation. Based on the "science" we'd learned in this talk, this is certainly a true statement.

  • Archaeology is where you go dig in your back yard and say: "What's this? An arrowhead?" And then you find a whole bunch of them and discover a whole melding (!) pot of them, and figger out a whole tribe lived right under your back porch.

  • They've figgered out a galaxy is 100,000 light years.

  • Botany is the making of plants. Like, you take a tree trunk and you drill a hole and stick in some other kind of branch, and another kind in another hole, and so forth. Then you seal up the holes with tar, and you have a tree with one each of all differnt kinds of fruit on it. That's botany.

  • Anatomy is melting down the body to see what it's made of. Bromides and stuff like that. (Bromides!!!??? OMG!)

  • Archaeologists dig down about 40 feet — about the same as the height of the average lamp pole.
We left wondering how many people left having their faith in the Bible's truthful representation in matters of science strengthened. If nothing else, they were certainly entertained.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Doing Nothing As Training

Sometimes training is doing nothing. Most serious runners realize that deliberate rest and recovery is as much a part of training as is running itself.

Something that might not be quite as well understood is that the same applies to eating. Right now, three days before the Hotfoot Hamster 12-hour race, the very best training I can do is not to add miles and hills and speed, but simply to abstain from eating. So as I sit here at my desk at work, enduring not eating instead of heading for the break room and scooping up some pretzels or chips or going to the cafeteria to buy something, I am doing the best training I can do at this moment.

Thinking about it makes it harder, so I'd better get back to work.

Exercise As a Priority

Commendably, today (August 31, 2005), as the southern part of the Unites States is reeling from the devestation left by hurricane Katrina, the US President opted to cut short his vacation in order to tend to business. It's good to know that he views an emergency that has left hundreds of thousands of the people he serves homeless overnight of sufficient gravity to warrant leaving the ranch and get to work.

Not long ago, on a running list I subscribe to, someone pointed to a news article where the author was critical of the President for insisting on taking the time in his schedule to run and lift weights. The journalist expressed concern that as a head of government perhaps his priorities were misplaced. He asked hypothetically whether it would be appropriate for the President to be training for an Ironman?

In fact, the governor of New Mexico did that very thing while in office not too many years ago, and did well in it.

It seems many persons classify physical exercise with recreation, sports, and other leisure time activities, something that is fine if you have nothing but time to burn, but strictly optional for so-called busy people.

It is indeed a question of the value one attaches to the activities that get priority. The intrinsically lazy will use all manner of excuse to avoid physical exercise. Sometimes those excuses seem entirely reasonable. "The country is being invaded by Martians and it's MY PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY to do something about it." "My mother's funeral is today." "It's too hot out." "My dog is not feeling well." "There's a NASCAR race on TV." People draw the line at different levels, and they do what they have to do based on those rules, whether stated or implicit.

Tied in with the need to exercise are the need to sleep and eat properly. Sometimes it's necessary to lose sleep, or to eat less than ideally. In most cases we adjust over time, because we have a measure of built-in resiliency. It also must be admitted that resiliency is enhanced by a good state of baseline health and fitness. The ability of a few superathletes to run 300 miles in three days or across the country in 70 days bears testimony to that hypothesis.

But it's also true that a person who has gone for a long period without sleep or proper nutrition is not going to be in optimal condition to perform the task to which he or she assigns a higher priority. Would anyone want a political leader who has gone 48 hours without sleep to be the one to make a decision about whether to launch nuclear weapons while in that condition? (I've also heard recently that Mr. Bush insists on getting eight hours of sleep a night, but I don't know if it's true. If it is, I would not fault him for it.)

We are human beings with basic built-in needs. If we ignore them, eventually we suffer.

As for Mr. Bush, one message is clear: If a man that busy can make room for taking care of his physical health, then surely many people who do not do so while claiming that they're "too busy" should be able to do it.

Honest Mistakes

One day a few years ago, after finishing a twenty-mile run at the gym, I stepped into the shower to rinse off, and went out to the pool to do a few relaxing laps. There was no one out there except a young woman swimming in the closest lane, headed up the lane toward me.

I walked about twelve feet from the door to where there are some hooks on the wall to hang my towell, looked down and saw that I was holding my bathing suit in my hand.

It took about two frantic microseconds for me to charge back into the locker room. Fortunately, no one else was around, and I'm pretty sure even the lady swimming probably didn't notice, but I don't know that for a fact.

I could have put my suit on and gone back out, but I was too embarrassed, not only for myself, but for the possibility that if the girl had actually seen me, it might have paniced her into thinking some perverted nut case was on the loose, particularly with no one else in the pool area. So I just got dressed and left. I was otherwise done working out for the day.

Honest mistakes are sometimes very hard to explain. But how much attentiveness does it take to remember to put your pants on before stepping out in public?

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Micro-Thoughts Redux

  • Before my life changed I was a composer. People sometimes ask me: "What kind of music did you write?" I wrote UN-popular music. Some titles:
    • Unpopular Music
    • Neglected Concerto
    • Unknown Symphony
    • Songs Without Words or Music
  • People who never read are ignorant, and they show it. It's easy to tell who doesn't read — except by people who don't read.
  • My daughter is a registered nurse. She doesn't read literature or mysteries or any of the usual self-help books. Instead she buys and pores over weird books with titles like The Professional Nurse's Illustrated Guide to Festering Guts and Rotting Internal Organs.
  • If the Unix vi editor is a world class CAT scanner, then GNU Emacs is an emergency room, and XEmacs is a whole hospital.
    Oh yeah — NotePad? A dirty band-aid.
  • Some people have buns of steel. Some people have buns of angel food cake.
  • Yesterday I went to the doctor and got a clean bill of health. Things are definitely improving. I'm dying much more slowly than I once was.
  • Sometimes I'm overwhelmed by what I don't know.
    Sometimes I'm overwhelmed by what I do know.
  • Using email to send WAV audio files is like trying to send someone a giraffe using the US postal service.
  • My friend's kid is so dumb he punctured his eardrum trying to floss his brain.
  • There's a new study called protocology — the science of protocols.
    Go back and read that word again. It doesn't say what you thought it did.
  • Whoa, what the ...?!! What was that!!?? I think my paradigm just shifted!
  • Long ago there was a Chinese philosopher named Wu Wi. Scholars called him W. W. for short. Later the pundits made that Dubyah Dubyah.
  • Last weekend we went to a club where we heard a new band consisting of three guys who play the guitar slightly better than not very well, and sing not quite as well as they play.
  • Las Vegas — they should put up a sign up where you enter town that says "Money Taken Here!"
  • It's time to start separating the W&W's from the M&M's in your bag.
  • If it was up to my wife, the value of pi would be changed.

Where's the Beef?

Some time ago I learned that Billy Joel has been busy composing "classical music." What this term means to composers of popular music is generally something quite different from what it means to modern, mainstream, "serious" composers. To most pop composers it means putting on a suit and a tie, at least figuratively or mentally, and behaving like stuffed shirts.

In Billy's case it means writing imitation Chopin — competently and agreeably, to be sure, as what I've heard is unquestionably pleasant listening, but is by no means innovative or challenging in any artistic sense. It also means that the millions of listeners who enjoy his superior and original songwriting are being deprived of new output in the genre in which Billy — a.k.a. "William" on the title pages of his classical works — excels in most.

Few composers of pop songs or rock and roll who have ventured into the so-called classical world have created anything of substance. The only composer I can think of who has been successful to any meaningful degree was Frank Zappa. I tend to believe, too, that if the superlative songwriter and movie composer Randy Newman were to take up writing concert music for orchestra or chamber ensembles the results would be interesting at the least and probably charming.

In contrast, in addition to Billy Joel, there has been Paul McCartney, arguably the best songwriter of the twentieth century, whose excursions into orchestral music with his Liverpool Oratorio and Standing Stone are unadventurous extended rambles, which for the most part he was able to compose only with the help of assistants with greater technical skill.

That many existing fans of these composers enjoy such work is no surprise. As one reviewer of McCartney's work illustrated, quoting from columnist Dave Barry, there are plenty of people who are happy to exchange valid U.S. currency for bottled water.

One must not criticize any artist for attempting to reach out in a new direction, for that spark of desire is at the core of the creative process. It is only disappointing to see some who have been successful in their primary calling travel instead down old, safe, and oft-trodden paths.

Sunday, August 28, 2005


Often I procrastinate over starting big or tedious projects, though once I start, I tend to stay on them relentlessly. One reason for this is that an undwindling list of to-do items that can sometimes grow to over 100 entries, many of them important. If I can quickly knock off ten of them I can reduce that list. If I start a big project then I reduce it by only one, and not for a long time, while other things continue to be added to it.

Having said that, it's time for me to tear apart my home office to install the UPS, two new printers, a keyboard and mouse on my file server, connect my scanner that has lain idle for over two years, and also attach some new speakers to my main workstation, a stack of stuff that has been accumulating since mid-April.

Sick Software

Software seems to be organic. It seems as though if something works perfectly well for years and is never touched that it will continue to work, but one day you do something you've done every day forever and it doesn't work. It's like it's caught a cold or something, and you have to interrupt whatever you're doing to find out why and fix it.

On Friday, as we were approaching the deadline for testing the hugely important new release of our flagship product, I discovered a bug in an important feature. Upon presenting it to the design engineer I heard the famous last words every test engineer has heard a million times: "I don't understand? "I swear it worked when I tested it!"

Swear all you like, kiddo. It's busted.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Driver Attitude

Drivers in Arizona wear their attitudes on the outside. The ones to fear most are those who drive trucks. Several secondary factors act as additive attitudinal properties. Among them are:
  • A hat. If it's on backwards or a cowboy hat, score double.
  • A cigarette, which of course is a drug delivery system. The bearers with their arms dangling out an open window so they don't have to breathe their own filth, but who don't hesitate to flick their butts on the street are the worst, because they openly manifest an underlying contemptuous me-first, me-only demeanor.
  • A visible tatoo. All persons who get tatoos should be required by law to have their first one etched on their forehead, which should say: "TRASH ALERT!"
  • A beard — which is nothing in itself when worn by a college professor or a physician driving an old Volvo, but on the driver of a truck it serves as a warning sign.
  • A bumper sticker. Double points if its content is sexual, mean, or profane.
  • A sleeveless t-shirt, which says: "Hey folks, I see nothing wrong with appearing in public in my underwear!"
  • A sound system that can be heard three blocks away.
The mere fact that someone is driving a pick-'em-up truck sends the message in traffic: "I've got a truck, so I'll go first. Get out of my way!" To which someone one-ups: "No! I've got a truck and a hat, so I'll go first!" Followed by: "No! I've got a truck and a hat and a cigarette, so I'll go first!" And "No! I've got a truck and a hat and a cigarette and a beard so I'll go first!"

Excluded from this categorization are trucks with gun racks. Their drivers fall into an altogether different category. These monkeys are the type whose progeny are also their sisters and nephews and nieces. People like that you don't mess with. Just keep to the right and give them their way.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Truth About Guys

So tell me — what are those girls underpants parties all about? I never have understood that. Guys don't do those. Guys don't say things like, "Say, Bubba's getting married — let's buy him some new Fruit of the Looms and jock straps and sit around swilling a few brewskis and giggling while he opens the packages."

Women think that when men are apart from them they talk about sports and beer and make ugly noises out of bodily orifices. The truth is, we engage in heated debates about particle physics, flower arranging, the madrigals of Don Carlo Gesulado, and the poetry of Wallace Stevens, but don't want women to know it.

Sometimes we also tell cute kitten jokes.

That's it. Now the secret is out. It had to happen eventually.

Double Dutch

Have you ever watched young girls playing double dutch? It's become an art form.

The white girls are always so square. They make me think of Peter Rabbit jumping rope, going hippety-hop, hippety-hop, while they chant: "Di-DAH, di-DAH, di-DAH, di-DAH; di-DAH, di-DAH, di-DAH, di-DAH", until one of them inevitably trips on the rope.

Then the black troupe from downtown comes on, the spinners wielding two or three ropes that fly in different directions, with a team of jumpers in the middle going: "Do-bop a-did-n-did-n, did-dle-y-op-a dip-a-did-n, be-DOP DOP DOP a-did-n did-dle-op-a DEE-bop BOP", as they dance, tumble, backflip and split, landing and springing off all fours, bouncing and percolating like Rube Goldbergs. It's a thing of beauty.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Regarding Political Neutrality

Most people who know me are aware that I maintain a stance of political neutrality. After the US presidential election in 2004, a curious ultrarunning friend inquired: "Are you apolitical as in not interested in the just-finished election?" Most will remember that the election was a controversial and emotion charged event.

My response: No, not "not interested." Neutral. There is an important difference. Being neutral is not at all the same as being uninterested, apathetic, or uninformed.

I have been one of Jehovah's Witnesses, actively studying and teaching other people the Bible, for nearly 34 years. The position of neutrality that we practice is carefully cultivated, and bears a strong resemblance to the attitude of an ambassador from a foreign government who is much interested in the goings-on of the nation to which he is sent, but must necessarily maintain a hands-off attitude toward direct involvement in order to avoid conflict of interest. Ambassadors tend to become embroiled up to their necks in things that have to do with politics. It takes great discipline for them to maintain detachment.

That detachment gives one an elevated sense of objective clarity regarding some of the issues that are hotly debated in this world, an ability to see both sides of an argument clearly, and often to perceive that there are other answers to the problems that the majority are blinded to by their own partiality.

Monday, August 15, 2005

The Seven Twenty-First Century Dwarfs

If Disney were to remake Snow White, they would have to redo the dwarfs to make them more relevant to contemporary standards. Here's a suggested list.
  • Seedy
  • Sleazy
  • Greedy
  • Lazy
  • Grouchy
  • Raunchy
  • Disreputable
It's not much, but neither is much behavior considered normal and acceptable these days.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Pink Plastic Flamingos

HTML email is evil. It adds incredible amounts of bulk to mail and is potentially insecure. Some recipients resent it, and many email lists flat out forbid it, including one that I have helped to manage for over ten years.

An old friend, someone I've known for over forty years, is an AOL subscriber. No amount of searching has enabled him to send simple, straightforward, plain text mail, even after a couple of lengthy phone discussions with tech support. We've finally given up on it. One day I illustrated it for him.

To understand this, you must know that Tom has one of the most beautiful gardens you will ever see. I told him:

Say that you hired a company to come and help you regularly a couple of times a year with certain garden chores, such as the lawn work, or cutting back dead wood in the treed areas. Say that you were perfectly happy with the service, except for one thing, namely that the company insisted on leaving behind an array of pink plastic flamingos in various strategic and highly visible points your garden. No doubt you would tell them thank you very much for the thoughtful touch, but you really would prefer not to have the pink plastic flamingos. But then a customer service representative of your service said, "But everyone gets and likes the pink plastic flamingos. Why on earth would you not want the pink plastic flamingos? Sorry, that's not an option — we don't support service without pink plastic flamingos."

That would be an accurate description of AOL's garden service department, if they had a garden service department.

Life Is Dangerous

Life is getting to be too dangerous. My bathroom scale has a warning on it not to use if I've got a pacemaker. (I don't.) My toothbrush and razor came with instructions on how to avoid electrocution while using them. A person could die just getting up and ready for the day.

Was That a Zebra Or a Giraffe?

Speaking of basic education (was I doing that?) ...

Certain skills are fundamental to life. The obvious ones include ability to care for oneself and to perform basic chores, reading, writing, basic arithmetic, to which I would add secondary skills such as riding a bicycle, swimming, for most persons driving a car, reading a map, and skills such as that. For instance, even most persons who are not handymen know the difference between a hammer, a screwdriver, and a wrench, and how they are used. Almost everyone learns all of those things, but now and again we meet folks who drop through the cracks, persons who have missed one or more of the essentials. Last year I had an experience that demonstrated to me how much things have changed over the years in what so-called educated people know.

My wife and I went to a Phoenix Symphony Chamber Players concert at ASU. It was an invitational thing, i.e., certain alumni got free tickets and grub at a reception, and had only to listen to some blah-blah presented by the various deans of colleges beforehand. (Suzy got her bachelor's at ASU and and an MBA from ASU West.) At this reception was a woman I see daily at the gym, but had never known. Suzy knows her well, though, and introduced us. The lady is dean of the school of business at ASU West.

In my mind, someone who is the dean of a school within a respected university, is viewed as an academic who one would assume to be well-rounded in education, having breadth of scope, regardless of that that person's specialty — someone who probably knows art and history and music and science and is well-read, etc.

During the intermission I talked with her. Knowing of my background she had a musical question to ask: "What's the difference between a violin and a viola? And what are those bigger string instruments called?" I was happy to explain this to her in detail.

I'll admit that having been raised by a violist / violinist / conductor father and having been a musician myself, my own musical experience is enriched over most people's. However, I recall from when I grew up that being able to identify musical instruments was something that almost everyone learned to do where I came from, regardless of whether he or she played music. Certainly anyone regarded as well-educated could do so. Sure, maybe a few whose orientation was not toward music might have trouble identifying a bassoon or explaining the difference between an oboe and an english horn. But isn't knowing a violin from a viola like knowing the difference between a zebra and a giraffe? Or at least between a zebra and a horse?

English As a Second Language for Native Borns

There was a high school physics teacher who subscribed to a mail list I once belonged to. Everyone disliked him because he was an idiot and most of what he said was both ignorant and offensive.

He was nearly illiterate — a scary fact given that he was a teacher of our young people. When called to account for the poor quality of his posts he would excuse himself saying "I'm a physics major, not an English major." But how much do you have to know to be aware that you don't end a sentence with a space followed by a period followed by the first letter of the next sentence with no space before it? Or that sentences are begun with the first word capitalized, not the second? Has he never noticed that's how it's done in any book he's ever read?

Maybe I don't want to know the answer to that question. It's likely he's never read a book since the last one required of him in his school days, or much of anything else for that matter. I'm impelled to wonder how much he knows about physics.

As for not being an English major — English is his only language. I'm not a domestic chores major, but I do know how to bathe myself, brush my teeth, get dressed, and tie my shoes. There is a certain minimum standard that even most mentally challenged persons are expected to achieve. And for a high school teacher, regardless of his subject, I would expect and insist on a standard of communication skill well above the norm for untrained society.

Thursday, August 11, 2005


  • Some people have things to say and some people have to say things.

  • There are c. 6.5 billion people in the world. If the average person lives 76 years, 27740 days, It means that throughout the world an average of 236880 people, a nearly a quarter of a million, die every single day.

  • An argument that people commonly make when trying to justify bad conduct is to compare what they've done to something irrelevant but worse. "Yes, I may be a bank robber, but at least I don't rape, murder, butcher and eat little girls, like some people." As if that makes bank robbery okay in comparison. Wrong actions are wrong regardless of how much wronger the actions of someone else may be.

  • Why do I feel like a man who's just been told: "This thing is called a parachute. When I give you a shove, count to ten and pull on this thing!"?

  • People sometimes say: "I'm self-taught." But aren't we all? And did you learn anything?

  • On NPR a while back I heard a learned scientist say: "Most if not the majority of stars in the Milky Way have planets."

    "Most if not the majority??" Exactly how many make a majority in this scientist's universe? Does a majority not qualify as "most"?

  • To some people the primary objective of any software company is to try and cheat customers out of as much money as possible while providing as little as necessary in return. Most of those people are used to using Microsoft software, so there is a basis for their feeling that way. Therefore, the knee jerk reaction is to get new software and to start complaining about it. I wish I could introduce them to the world of open source software, where things just work right most of the time.

Tatoos As Art?

Last year I read an article that began:

The double Olympic champion didn't know whether to laugh or cry after spotting Emma Fitch's mis-spelt work of art [a tatoo] during a walkabout in Kent.

I've seen tatoos justified as "art" before. ART?? Puhleeeze!

Perhaps persons moved to become collectors of such AHHHRRRT ought to start by sampling paintings of Leonardo's "Last Supper" on black velvet — maybe one of those where Elvis is seen pouring the wine. Then at least when the collector comes to his senses he can just take it off the wall and throw it in the trash where it belongs rather than chop his arm off.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

P.S. For those who are unaware of it — Elvis was not one of the apostles.

Moon Travel As Recreation

Today's CNN Quick Vote survey question is
If you had $100 million, would you spend it on a trip to the moon?
  • Yes
  • No
  • Are you crazy?
So far, of the 143977 people who have answered, 12569 have said yes. That's 9%. Never mind that the vast majority voted otherwise. Seems to me that there's a vast marketplace to tap among hundredmillionaires. If nearly one in ten of them would be willing to cough up their dough for a joy ride, it would be worth it for some enterprising commercial space travel startup company to pursue that avenue of recreation. Heck, they might even get featured on "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous".

I can just see the travel brochures ...

No I can't.


As a long-time denizen of the Internet (for many years before I even knew it was called the Internet), this is nonetheless my first attempt to create a blog. We shall see how it goes. So far there is nothing done that cannot be undone.

Some fragmentary phrases I've been wanting to work into writing pieces:
  • My friend Richard's computer runs on fossil fuel.
  • I work in an office where the guys (no females here) sit around making witty remarks about preemption models and multi-threaded processes.
  • Somewhere there's a site devoted to something obscure like recipes for banana bread.
  • Somewhere else there's an engineer who likes banana bread who has made a link to the banana bread site, the place people go for new information about something arcanely technical, and the keeper of the banana bread site wonders why they get so many hits.
  • Somewhere there is a club for retired left-handed mail carriers who write haiku in Esperanto on Amigas. And they have a Web site and a newsletter, and probably international conferences as well.
  • His method of testing is like swatting a fly sitting on top of a wedding cake with a sledge hammer -- but missing the fly.
  • Read? Read?? She's so dumb she couldn't read a STOP sign.
Surely I can do better than that.