Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving, Georgia Style

One of the things I always get a kick out of when I come down to Georgia is that there is always a "plan". There are certain activities planned for each day, sprinkled in with periods of downtime where we're on our own.

These activities aren't what you think; we're not talking family pictures and dinner at a particular restaurant. Here's what I mean:

This time around we are preparing a ham radio antenna for installation. This includes preparing an 80-foot telescoping tower to receive a twenty-foot-long antenna array made up of sections that look like a TIE fighter in profile. Apparently I did this very thing when I was a child. Either the memory has faded in the intervening years or I have blocked it out somehow. If it's the latter, I wonder how many people we lost that day.

My father also wants me to write a custom computer application to control this antenna from his PC. Yep, that's why I take a week's vacation from my job writing computer code. Just kidding, Dad.

We do have some traditions, though. The Thanksgiving meal, for example. The Krystal run. The poker game. Those are the things that make it feel like coming home.

Especially when I take everyone's money.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Temperature Is Just A Number

The video of Al Gore claiming that the temperature of the core of the earth is millions of degrees reminds of just why I believe the call to fight global warming climate change is really rooted in the desire to win plaudits and make money.

If you don't know enough about the planet you're supposedly trying to save to understand things like "how hot does it get in the middle" and you're not interested enough to find out, it doesn't do much to inspire confidence. To get on television and basically talk out of your ass is funny, but not particularly inspiring.

Of course, it also makes me remember the Futurama episode where Lrrr (leader of Omicron Persei 8!) threatens to destroy the earth if an ancient television show is not rebroadcast:

Wait, I know her.

You do not, you big fat liar. You don't
know anyone. All you do is watch TV.

That's where I know her from. She's
Jenny McNeal. She was a character on
a TV show back in the 20th century,
Single Female Lawyer.

Well if they're hoping to see a TV show
that hasn't existed for a thousand years,
pfft, they are royally boned.

We will raise your planet's temperature
by one million degrees a day, for five
, unless we see McNeal at 9pm tomorrow
-- 8 central!

Al, you and Lrrr have much to discuss.

Update: The text above incorrectly identifies Lrrr as the "leader of Omicron Persei 8". His preferred title is "ruler of Omicron Persei 8". Pocket Jacks regrets the error.

Law & Order: Special Terrorist Unit

Update: More evidence that the primary purpose of this trial isn't to get a conviction?


A smoky battlefield. Gunfire can be heard in the distance. Small fires burn in piles of debris. Two U.S. Army Rangers enter a small, ruined building and find a man hiding behind the door.

1st Ranger: "We've got one. Male, unarmed. Doesn't appear injured. He's --"

2nd Ranger: "What?"

1st Ranger: "Oh my God! It's him! bin Laden!"

2nd Ranger: "Jesus, you're right! We've got to get him back to HQ! The captain will want to talk to him!"

Two men in cheap suits and trenchcoats suddenly enter the building.

Benny Liscoe: "Hold it right there, soldier. We'll take it from here."

1st Ranger: "Who are you?"

Benny Liscoe: "The name's Liscoe. NYPD."

2nd Ranger: "What? We need to interrogate this man! He could have vital information --."

Cay Rurtis: "Interrogation? Are you kidding? Have you even read this man his rights?"

2nd Ranger: "His... rights?"

Cay Rurtis: "Jesus Christ."

Benny Liscoe: "His rights! You know, Miranda? Did you at least ask him if he wanted to talk to his lawyer?? Any of this ringin' a bell G.I. Joe?"

1st Ranger: "This is a battlefield! We're fighting a war here!"

Benny Liscoe: "You want war? Try getting your palimony reduced when you gotta deal with my second ex-wife."

Cay Rurtis: (in the background) "You have the right to remain silent..."

END SCENE (cue bum-BUM sound effect)

This scene came to me after seeing this demolition of Attorney General Eric Holder by Senator Lindsey Graham over treating battlefield captures as criminal defendants. You'd think America's top lawyer would have been better prepared for some of these questions considering he was being called before Congress to talk about the criminalization policy of terrorists captured on the battlefield.

This was a big issue during the Clinton administration: the treating of the so-called War on Terror as a criminal matter, sending investigators, making arrests through foreign agencies, extradition, etc. Of course, it wasn't called the War on Terror while Clinton was in office.

It seems as though the Obama administration is trying to move back to the Clinton doctrine and away from the policies of the Bush administration. I don't see this as necessarily bad in itself, but it does raise the question of how the military of the United States is being utilized.

If we want to treat terrorists as criminals rather than enemy soldiers, why aren't we pulling out of Afghanistan? Despite the president's lack of a clear plan (add more troops? Reduce the deployment?) it doesn't sound like full withdrawal is being considered. I'm guessing this is because the president believes there's more at stake there than catching criminals. I think this because it's what he said during the campaign.

But that seems incompatible with treating people on the battlefield as if they had snatched a purse or sold a dime bag (or even murdered someone). I'm also going to guess that that isn't really the plan: enemies captured on the ground really won't be rounded up and extradited to the U.S. to stand trial.

But this means that the planned trial for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed represents a double standard on the part of the administration. Never mind that the president seems determined to poison the well in advance of the trial. Nothing screams "mistrial" louder than the president of the United States mentioning the outcome of the trial before it even starts.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Scenes From A Developer's Conference (a.k.a. Russell Brand Hates My Work)

Last week Microsoft Fargo hosted a developer's conference for our partners and other 3rd party outfits that develop products for use with Microsoft Dynamics GP, which is what I work on. It's a chance for these developers to pick the brains of Microsoft's R&D team, find out about what to expect from new releases, and lodge complaints.

It was generally a good experience. My involvement was to be available at a round table for a couple of the projects I work(ed) on and answer questions. I only got one I couldn't answer, and that involved pricing structures. I don't pretend to know how our prices are derived. All I know is that every time someone clicks the OK button on certain windows, I get .00008 cents. I plan to retire in the year 2851.

One visitor got my attention though. He introduced himself by saying, "the migration tool sucks!" Guess who worked on that[*]. Oh yeah.

This person lived in New Jersey by way of England. He looked exactly like Russell Brand, if Russell Brand was a hilarious software engineer instead of an unfunny stand-up comic. He apparently came to the New World due to the lax gun laws of New Jersey (hey, compared to the U.K., everybody's gun laws are lax). I know this because he digressed into stories of how many guns he owned, which types of guns he owned, and how he used those guns to greet people at his front door. He was great.

Anyway, the explanation for his exclamation (the one about my product sucking) was a known issue for us. Basically, some customers like to customize products with pieces they build themselves, and there is simply no way for our little utility to be able to parse the code in these things and make them work in a new platform. Russell Brand's customer had done this sort of thing extensively and the only help he got from us was of the 'too bad, so sad' variety.

Perfectly understandable anger on their part. Luckily for me though, the TSA finds time to forbid guns on planes in between searching old ladies for bottles of water and tubes of Gold Bond larger than three ounces.

[*]Long story short, I (with another developer) built a utility that would upgrade our customers to a later version of our software even though said software had changed platforms. Not too shabby, if I do say so myself.

Trouble With Collectors

I got a call from my bank today that's put me on edge. It appears I am behind on a loan I took out from said bank about eight months ago. I talked to a kind man who was interested in listening to my excuses for not paying. Here is a partial transcript of out conversation:

Me: I intend to pay you back. I just can't right now.

Him: When do you think you'll be able to make a payment?

Me: How do I know? Who am I? Nostodamus?

Him: Of course. Can you tell me what the money was used for?

Me: Certainly. I used it for several projects. Spread it around if you will.

Him: I see. Can you give me some examples?

Me: Well, I spent some of it to build a park in Stonerville.

Him: There's no such town as Stonerville in North Dakota.

Me: I also spent a lot of money planting trees in Haiku City.

Him: Again, there's no such place.

Me: Oh, and thanks to me there's now a fountain in the town square in Chuff's Bluff.


As you can probably tell, the bank wasn't too impressed with my explanation of where the money went. This, even though I presented them with a website on which I detailed every penny. For some reason, I am not allowed to just make up numbers and present them as fact. The bank has begun the collections process on the loan and I may be going to prison.

You may not feel sympathy for me. After all, who takes someone's money, spends it like a Bahrainian teenager (look it up) and can't account for it? In fact, who does that and then makes up bullshit numbers to explain how it was used?

You know who does that.

Three questions:

Why is this okay?

If this is how the government handles accounting, why would you trust it with any more money than absolutely necessary?

Can you float me a loan for bail? I promise to pay you back after I finish paying for that statue of Ayn Rand in Boobsen Butte.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Hard Advice (11/13/2009)

How do I find out whether I am attractive? [My friends] tell me that I am attractive, but they are either lying or trying to make me feel better. How do I find out? And does it matter whether I am objectively attractive?

Look in a mirror. Ask a stranger. Yes.

My husband and I have always attended Thanksgiving at his sister's house since we married seven years ago. We eat at 2 p.m. sharp, and my sister-in-law is right behind the last one in line, packing up stuff and putting it away. She won't accept any help, and when I bring food, it gets handed back to me when I leave. My family is now scattered all over the globe, but my husband and I have friends we'd love to see on Thanksgiving, and I want to have an open house myself. Should I just plan our own gathering and deal with his family's wrath? Or is what I want to do just not that important?

Invite all your family and friends to your sister-in-law's house. When you go through the food line make sure to heap food on your plate till it touches the ceiling. Don't bring any food of your own. Make sure you constantly and loudly remark about how long it's taking to clean up the buffet table. Don't offer to help. As soon as you finish eating, take your friends and family and leave without saying goodbye. Go enjoy a bottle of wine somewhere. Next year you'll get to host Thanksgiving at your place.

My husband and I recently attended a funeral. The service was so intense that someone actually fainted. I'm a nurse, so I dashed over to the man's side. On the way home, my husband asked me about the fellow who fainted. I shared the experience of helping a stranger and talked about the funeral and the eulogy. I was pouring my heart out, but when I took a breath, he broke in and said, "I see Pedro's in the game." How can I let him know that it means a lot to be able to share my feelings and experiences with him?

I understand your frustration. Bringing in Pedro in that situation was the wrong call. A left-hander was the right move. It's called playing the percentages and it's what smart managers do.

As always, compare my advice to someone getting paid and see how I did.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Who's The Enemy Here?

Here are some examples of the level of respect for the military in some quarters:

Marine Recruiting Office Protest and Counter Protest

Berkley Marine Protest

San Francisco Anti-War Rally

Now, here's the reaction from your common every day mugger.

Say what you want about Code Pink, socialist hippies and cowards conscientious objectors. At least you know they aren't muggers.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Norse Art

Macy is participating in a program called Discovery at her school. The subject of the three-month-long course is Norse mythology. One of the things Macy has been working on is creating a puzzle where each piece represents on the of the Norse gods.

(click to enlarge)

It's Hard Being Right All The Time

After the Fort Hood shooting, I wrote the following:

The other thing I'd mention is this: I am expecting to see stories in the next few days painting this incident as a case for gun control. After all, the expected narrative goes, if a base full of gun-toting professional soldiers can't stop a gunman, why should we expect a bunch of armed civilians to do so?

And verily, it did come to pass:

From the Brady Campaign:

“America has seen an epidemic of horrific gun violence at churches and synagogues, workplaces, health clubs, high schools, universities, police stations and now Army bases. This latest tragedy, at a heavily fortified army base, ought to convince more Americans to reject the argument that the solution to gun violence is to arm more people with more guns in more places. Enough is enough.”

Chicago mayor Richard Daley:

“Unfortunately, America loves Guns. We love guns to a point where that uh we see devastation on a daily basis. You don’t blame a group.”

There are others, but the gist is the same: we need more gun control. No, we don't.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Spot The Missing Sentence

Here are some recent news articles. Each one has a sentence missing. See if you can figure out what they are (answers at the end):

  1. Prof Busted In Columbia Gal 'Punch'
  2. St. Louis Protects SEIU
  3. 'Pro-Gun' States Lead The Nation In Per Captia Firearm Death Rates
  4. After The Wall Tumbled
  5. Obama Pays Tribute To Fall Of Berlin Wall


  1. "This is being prosecuted as a hate crime."
  2. "Charges against the attackers are pending."
  3. "States with more guns have more incidents related to guns -- who woulda thunk it?"
  4. "Most of those predicting dire futures for central Europe weren't happy when communism failed."
  5. "The U.S. President wasn't present at the ceremonies as he was engaged in visiting Ft. Hood working on the N1H1 vaccine shortage winning governorships in New Jersey something else.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Shooting At Fort Hood

By now you've heard about the shooting that took place at Fort Hood. An army major, apparently distraught about being shipped to Iraq, opened fire on the base, killing thirteen people and wounding thirty more.

I'm not going to comment on the alleged motives of the gunman or his religion; not enough is known at this point (and may never be; the suspect was shot four times and is on a ventilator). I will however, comment on a couple of things.

First, I watched an interview on Good Morning America this morning with the suspect's brother. This man described the suspect as the target of racial slurs and negative comments about Islam. I'm not saying the charges aren't true (I have no idea). I will say though, that as a major in the U.S. military, if anyone did make comments to him of that nature as anything other than good natured joking, the offender would be disciplined before the ink dried on the complaint. As someone who served in the United States Air Force, I can tell you there is little tolerance for that sort of thing. A complaint is enough to launch an investigation, and no soldier, airman, sailor or marine wants to be on the receiving end of that. I knew people who got into trouble at Grand Forks A.F.B. They didn't enjoy themselves.

To be fair, the offenses I observed ranged from drugs to improper relationships. I never saw any race baiting or religious bigotry. And yes, there were muslims in my squadron. That is not to say it never happened, but I certainly never saw it. The consequences were certainly something to be feared.

The suspect's brother went on to say that in the face of this alleged harrassment, the suspect did everything he could to smooth things over and make peace. I'm sorry, but peaceful men don't go on shooting sprees.

The other thing I'd mention is this: I am expecting to see stories in the next few days painting this incident as a case for gun control. After all, the expected narrative goes, if a base full of gun-toting professional soldiers can't stop a gunman, why should we expect a bunch of armed civilians to do so?

The problem with this argument is that military bases are some of the strictest gun control zones in the world. Soliders don't, as part of their uniform, march around with weapons. Access to weapons is strictly controlled. Even parades normally consist of marching rows of soldiers carrying unloaded weapons.

Private ownership of weapons is also controlled. In my Air Force service, airmen were not allowed to keep weapons in the dorms. Even base housing had restrictions. Generally, personal weapons were to be stored at the base armory and could be checked out for use (target shooting, hunting, etc.). Guns were not to be kept for personal protection in homes on base. Note that my service ended over twelve years ago, so things may be different in Texas in 2009, but I don't believe so.

The only exception to this generally is military police officers. Those are the soldiers who responded and took down the suspect. If you start reading articles trying to tie this incident with gun control, please keep in mind that most reporters know next to nothing about how military bases are run and less about guns.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Trying My Hand At The Advice Game

Emily Yoffe has a weekly advice column at Slate in which she dispenses grammatically correct advice to the sort of people who can't talk to their spouse/friends/family about their problems but have no problem asking a complete stranger writing under a pseudonym. I wondered if that's maybe a game I could get into. Below are some abridged versions of questions with my answer. Compare them to the original and see how I did:

London, U.K.: A very dear friend of mine...has dabbled in cross-dressing, sexual relationships with other men, and has even experimented a bit with female hormones. Should I tell the fiancé?


The Bedroom, USA: I am in a loving relationship with a woman and we're going on two years. My only issue is that our libidos don't match. She is fine having sex once a week while my ideal would be everyday, once, twice and maybe three times. What can I do to help us figure this out?

You didn't say anything about losing your hands in a farm accident, so it seems to me you should get used to shaking hands with yourself once or twice a day. You think it's going to get better once you're married? Once a week? Good luck with that.

Mobile, Ala.: Recently my children (ages 4 and 2) have been invited to birthday parties for their friends. The Birthday child never opens their gifts at the party anymore. Has this become a common occurrence among parents to not let their kid open the presents at their birthday parties?

This happened about the same time that parents thought it was mandatory to throw Felliniesque extravaganzas at places like Chuck-E-Cheese everytime their toddler makes it through another year without choking on a Lego. The next time the gifts remain unopened just yell, "hope you enjoy the dick-in-a-box!" as you walk out the door. You'll never have to worry about being offended again.

Lillington, N.C.: My husband's mother has recently moved to the same town as us. Last weekend, she requested my children to come to her house and visit for a few hours. The next morning, I was getting my 6-year-old ready for church and talking about her visit yesterday. She said she didn't like being spanked by everybody there.

I told [the grandmother] I am not comfortable with her disciplining my kids and had not given her permission. She then told me I was out of line and that she was the grandmother. I am unsure how to deal with this situation and starting to worry about the family I've married into.

Your husband's mother comes from a different time, one in which the elder matriarch wielded much power in the familial unit. Calmly explain to her that since the advent of electricity, old people should be seen and not heard, lest their social security payments be reduced. If this doesn't convince her, punch her in the tit.

Columbus, Ohio: [M]y sister's husband just published a book and immediately gave me a copy to read. As I read the book, I realized that it's one of the worst books I've ever read! It's a book where the author is trying to use every word known to man to sound more credible, but instead comes off sounding like a buffoon!

My problem is this: my sister and her husband now want me to write some reviews! What's the best way to approach this?

Simple. Right a review from the point of view of the author. I'll get you started:

"As a digester of literature, it is rare that I get the chance to masticate words as eloquently cromulent as contained in this cornucopia of smartness. Truly the masterwork of a braniac of another world, this tome stands as a monument to percipacity of idiom and awesomacity pores from every pour."

Monday, November 2, 2009

California Announces New Reverse Loan Program

Cash-strapped California has announced a new program by which citizens get the privilege of making an interest-free loan to the state equivalent to 10% of their current tax withholding. Gosh I wish I lived in a state that unilaterally gave itself the power to use your paycheck as a personal savings and loan.

As for the idea that citizens will be "repaid any extra withholding in April", I wouldn't hold my breath; this is the state that was issuing IOU's for tax return overages last April.

Happy, Happy Halloween

The weather didn't cooperate on Friday so we skipped the Haunted Farm this year. It rained in the morning, snowed in the afternoon and turned cold and windy at night. Oh well. Instead, Donna and I got dressed up and headed to a local watering hole to have a drink and dinner with friends. We got several compliments on our get-up, which can be summed up shortly as "zombie parents" and can be described more thoroughly with this (click to enlarge):

We met up with friends Kelly and Debbie, who proved to be more in tune with current macabre celebrity news than Donna and myself:

After a couple of beers and a couple hundred compliments on our hilarous takes on both dead celebrities and the zombie mythos, we headed out to a halloween party in Moorhead that involved this:

I stupidly left my camera in the truck when we first went in, so there is no video record of Debbie doing "Thriller", but perhaps that is for the best. No mere .avi file could possibly capture the magic.