February 2003 Archives

I’ll say up front that I don’t have great sourcing or attribution for this item; in fact, it’s little more than a personal ancedote. Moreover, I’m not going to take the time to go dig up a linkable source, because, well, I’ve got more important things to do, like work, and pack, and play with the child process. That said, if anybody finds supporting info, please drop a link in the comments.

Anyway, here’s the story: On the way home from some after-dinner chow, I was listening to a local area news station (WTOP, for the DCers). They do a CBS News report periodically, and I happened to catch it. One of the main stories was about the lowering of the threat warning back to the ‘yellow’ level. This is a big deal for me; getting to work the past couple weeks has been a nightmare, because of the crazy security stuff they do when we’re at level ‘orange’, so I actually started to pay careful attention to the story. Earlier, I had seen online (somewhere or another) that the reason it was being lowered was because the Hajj was coming to an end, but what I heard in this news story — and what pissed me off — was an un-named “administration official” being quoted as saying that the reason the level was being lowered was so that it could be raised back to ‘orange’ when we invade Iraq in a few weeks, and that leaving the level elevated for too long “encouraged public complacency”.

Grrr. Grrrr.

Ethel the Blog returned from the dead recently, and I’m happy to say that Mr Baum is back in full fettle, kicking ass, taking names, and all that jazz.

New Scientist reports that health care workers are too busy preparing for a smallpox attack to be able to tell whether we’re experiencing a smallpox attack. Interesting bit in the article is the extremely low number of health care workers that are getting the smallpox vaccination — I expected it to somewhat less than 100%, but not as low as it apparently is.

A while back, I was bitching about Dvorak support in the Mac OS X X11 beta Apple put out. I ended up corresponding with a reader (hey, Wheat) about the problem, talking about fixing things the traditional “xmodmap and spit” way. But then Apple went and released a second beta and X11 respects the Keyboard setting now.

Just in case you were wondering.

Something other than the Forthcoming War of Iraqi Liberation and/or American Imperialist Aggression, that is.

This site would have you believe that the recent “hoard food and have emergency contact plans” announcements from the FedGov have less to do with terrorism, and more to do with a hail of cometary debris coming down to smash our asses. Basically, the idea as that during the recent solar flyby of comet NEAR, a solar flare hit the comet, breaking it into piceces, some of which are going to hit the earth. Featuring lots of slightly frantic writing and various graphics that look sort of like bad modern art. (They’re actually pictures from the SOHO satelite, I think.)

Anyway, if you mailbomb your office mates with this, there’s a good chance you can stop all work this morning.

Lots and lots of naked people for peace. (A few clothed ones, too.)

Link via Flutterby

Some Rose pictures, in response to the overwhelming demands of her public…

buckwheat tributeray charles tributedon't ask about the paper towels...man, painting is hard work!hey dad, i pulled that cat5 -- what should i do next?

The long-promised pictures of the interior of the new house. With extra bonus painting action pictures! w00t.

looking from entryway into front living roombreakfast nook off kitchen (note cameo appearance by rose...)looking up the stairs from the entrywaywhirlpool tub in master bathGradualSchoolBuddyDave painting in the back living roomclose-up of the detail work on the fireplace (needs some touch-up!)my new office (with bonus camera lens smounge!)

Extremely belated pictures from our recent snowfall:

view from the kitchen in the new house on to the deck2 men, 2 hours, one single carwidth path down our new drivewayit took about an hour to shovel from the street to the front door

From the Interesting People mailing list, John Perry Barlow on Dick Cheney, brinkmanship in Iraq, and the coming Pax Americana. It’s sad that the scenerio Barlow outlines is one of the least depressing ones I’ve seen.

David Dill is trying to “organize opposition to unauditable electronic voting machines by technologists, especially computer science researchers”. Hopefully they can make enough noise that people will listen.

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems pretty f’ed up that Germany has managed to catch, try, and convict an accessory of the September 11th attackers, but all the mightiest military power in the world has managed to do is lock up an unknown number of people, for unknown offenses, which may or may not have anything to do with September 11th.

I also seem to remember that one of the reasons we went in to Afghanistan was to stop the “mastermind” behind the attacks, but the last I heard, he’s still out and about, somewhere.

However, I spied some good news falling out of Rebecca’s Pocket; she quotes “a .mil reader” as saying (emphasis mine):

Starting with Federal employees, I’ll say that those that I know of and work with in the base operations and training communities view Iraq as an enormous waste of time, money and resources. We’re all praying that it gets put off past the summer, so that the funds for our projects aren’t sucked back into the black hole that is Desert Storm II or whatever they’re calling it. The political leadership is not held in esteem. No one is planning on them being around past 20 January 2005.

The green suiters I work with are ambivalent about Iraq. They recognize it as an inordinate allocation of resources and effort that is distracting from actual threats, such as the continued fighting in Afghanistan and the real threat from North Korea. The higher you go in the military hierarchy, the more pronounced this perception is, or, at least, the more loudly it is vocalized. (At least up to the level I work with, which is the 0-6 and 0-7 level.) On the other hand, we have brothers who are going to be put in harm’s way — like many DA civilians, I’m ex-military — and there is absolutely nothing that can detract from supporting and protecting them. And, in the end, green suiters are paid to execute orders, not analyze them, and they take great pride in their ability to do so.

Yee haw.

first post!

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First post from the new house, anyway.

So, what’s the proper neighbor etiquette when you move into a new place and discover that not only does somebody have a wireless access point set up to be used by world+dog, they’ve also still got the default user/password combo set on the admin interface? Not that I would have logged into it, or anything, of course, because that would be Wrong. And probably illegal. Just, you know, hypothetically. Do you go door-to-door, or something?

I’m just trying to fit in, don’t’cha know.

(Pictures later.)

Like Lyn mentioned in a recent update, I think I’ve entered some sort of incredulism overload mode. I keep having to remind myself that I’m not asleep, in the middle of a very extended, elaborate fever dream sequence based on equal parts Catch-22, the “Nightwatch” story arc of Babylon 5, and 1984. It’s draining. (Unlike Lyn, I’ve managed to stay healthy this winter, so I’ve at least got that going for me.)

On a totally different note, later today we take possession of the house we bought a month ago. It’s exciting, and it’ll be fun to finally be able to show people pictures of the interior, but it’s also scary (I’ve already got too much stuff to do, and I know I’m going to want to be more house-focused for a while, and I’m not sure where the time is going to come from), and sort of exhausting in advance (see above).

Anyway, pictures later, and maybe additional stuff.

I’m linking this story primarily for TheWife, since she’s big into the La Leche scene right now, and her knowing about this might save some kid’s brain: Vegan Diet for Breastfeeding Mom Leads to Brain Defect for Child. Got that, vegan moms? If you’re going to breastfeed, talk to your doctor(s) about making sure your kid is getting adequate nutrition.

I’m really sort of suprised that the Chuck Hagel voting machine story hasn’t been getting more play. This is something that is fairly obvious and easy to understand: if there’s no paper trail from the ballot machine, you don’t know who you actually voted for. If there’s no exit polling, there’s no independent check on who people think they voted for.

I was saying things like this, half in jest, after the recent elecetions, when Maryland used touch-screen machines for the first time. I’m still not sure who I voted for; I only know who I intended to vote for.

I am sure that I don’t like the touch screens. I am sure that the situation sucks.

I’m not sure about how to go about starting to change it.

The other day, over at WOIFM, Mike went off on one of those charming “the media are a bunch of lying liberal sacks” tirades that we all never get tired of hearing from our more conservative friends. The trigger, this time, was the Reutgers budget deficit graph that’s been making the blog rounds. To paraphrase, Mike’s opinion was that expressing the Y axis of the graph in inflation-uncorrected dollars, instead of GDP, was economically unsound, and probably an attempt to distort the truth.

It appears that Mike was right. (Heh. Weren’t expecting that, were you?)

He was right about the units of the Y axis, that is — at least, based on the fact that that’s the way The Economist drew the graph. I posted the following as a comment over at Mike’s site, but I figured that, since Mike’s objection is a valid one, I’d give the topic a bit more play here. (Plus it’s a big chunk of writing and I’m lazy.)

FWIW, in the issue of The Economist datelined 8 Feb 2003, on page 27, in the lower-right hand corner, there’s a version of that graph with the Y axis expressed as “percent of GDP (FY ending 30 Sept)”. The cited source is “Office of Management and Budget”. I’m too lazy to dig up a link, so you’ll have to either schlep to a newsstand, or look at the Reuters version and visualize along with my description.

The shape of the line during the critical period is largely unchanged. From ‘81 (when the graph begins) until ‘92, there was between ~2.5% and 6% of GDP worth of budget shortage. (There’s no real prevalent trend to the line movement.) Starting in ‘92 (at a deficit of ~4.5% of the GDP) , the line begins an upward climb with a relatively very constant slope, peaking in 2000 with a budgetary surplus of just over 2% of the GDP. Since 2000, there has been a sharp downward trend in the line (aprox. 2 to 3 times more “steep” than the ‘92-2000 increase), with the last hard figures (the ones outside the “estimate” part of the graph) placing us at just shy of 3% of GDP worth of deficit.

So, the facts are these: during the years of the Reagan and Bush I administrations, we had relatively large but relatively stable budget deficits (measured as a percentage of GDP). During the Clinton administration, a relatively large budgetary surplus accumulated (again, as a percentage of GDP), at a very steady rate.During the Bush II administration, that budgetary surplus vanished, at a rate faster than it accumulated, and we are now sitting at a deficit equal to about 2% of GDP — i.e., about the best it ever got during the Reagan and Bush I years.

I am _not_ going to get into a discussion of which administration’s policies are responsible for which changes; I’ve got more important things to do, like, well, pretty much anything. I just wanted to point out that there is a version of the graph available that’s calibrated in the scale Mike was looking for, and it doesn’t appear to make the current administration look much better than the Reuters version.

As for digging up a link, I burned some of this crazy Monday morning energy and found out that (apparently) the Economist web content is a week behind the dead tree version — so it’ll be later this week or early next before the graphic might be on the web. It’s an exceedingly nice graphic, by the way — somebody at the Economist has some serious Tufte-fu going on.

More “Get Your War On”. BEEP BEEP.

Yes, indeed, a multinational corporation setting on millions (or is it billions?) of dollars of cash reserves is on the run from a rag-tag fleet collection of individuals organized over the ‘net, and mostly working for free:

Microsoft Corp. may in the future be forced to lower its software prices as a result of the growth of open source, the company cautioned in its latest filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Wah! Mommy! Save us from the nasty competitors! They won’t play fair and let us buy them out, like we have everybody else!

More seriously, this appears to be a tactical strike at government efforts to mandate open-source solutions. Personally, I’m fine with the open-source solutions not being mandated — as long as open formats are mandated, and as long as open-source gets to play on the same terms (i.e., no fair buying the person with purchasing authority a free vacation, or even lunch).

I suppose it had to happen eventually: Bioinformatics for Dummies. I should buy a copy of this for work; we can pass it around to whoever made the last bone-headed mistake.

It’s undated, but from the context it appears to have been written not terribly long after the Challenger incident: Richard Feyrman’s Personal Observations On The Reliability Of The Space Shuttle. Worth a read, given this weekend.

Also worth repeating, as seen in a Washington Post story, is Gus Grissom’s opinion: “The conquest of space is worth the risk of life.” (Grissom was one of the three astronauts that died in the Apollo I pad fire.)

oh, lovely

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NIH Braces for Slower Funding Growth

Hrm. Perhaps that means we’ll stop buying new swervers for a bit. Should give us time to get the ones we have really whipped into shape…

Something for everybody to agrre with in Ten Things I Hate About the Internet

6. Web Boards

You may not have heard, but there’s this thing called “Usenet”. It is, essentially, a massive, distributed bulletin board system, organised into groups by topic. If you think you have something to say, you post an article to one of these groups, and it gets disseminated around the world, so that anyone reading that group can read it — or not, if they think you’re a wanker. It’s an elegant way for people around the world to discuss shared interests, and may be (at least potentially) the best thing to happen to the net.

Then we have web boards. A web board is, essentially, a single Usenet newsgroup, with a clunky and horrifically insecure authentication system and a balky and counterintuitive HTML-based interface, running on a single site, connected to a bloated, disk-sucking relational database, and taking up far more bandwidth.


The DC blog scene seems to be getting a bit out of control.

<old fogey>
Why, I remember back in 1998, before Blogger ruined everything…
</old fogey>

I start my semi-annual teaching gig tomorrow, so I’ve been reviewing and updating my talk slides tonight. It’s sort of fitting that I come across The Gettysburg Powerpoint Presentation at this point in time, given how very, very much I loathe the program.

Those of you who are design geeks may enjoy seeing Edward Tufte lay into PowerPoint in more serious fashion.

Not sure what happened there; I seem to have lost my update-fu. Actually, I think my update-fu might have been stolen by Steve, who had a hella mad two weeks worth of daily updating going. But he fell off the horse yesterday, and I seem to have my update-fu back, baby — so let’s get to it.