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31.Aug.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Over the Hill balloons, somewhat over the hill themselves Nothing says "happy 50th birthday" like a black balloon bouquet, and Jeanette arranged one for me to wake up to. The mostly deflated one was a nice touch.

Five suspected cases of CJD in south central Idaho is one hell of a statistical anomaly, if that's what it is. If "once it exceeds 1.5 or 2 per million, (is when) you start asking questions," the time has come to start asking; Idaho's total population is less than 1.5 million. (Thanks to Steve M. for the heads-up.)

"Metastable" is a useful concept in engineering. It's more than just something between "stable" and "unstable"; a system in a metastable state will stay there as long as it's not disturbed too much. What amounts to "too much" depends on the particulars, as do the consequences of a disturbance that pushes the system over the hump to unstable and then on to everyone's ultimate destination, stability.

Building your city (or country!) below sea level, surrounding it with dikes and using pumps to keep the water out is at best a metastable undertaking. It's all so obvious after the fact, but forgetting is built into human nature it seems. New Orleans is in the "second worst-case scenario": missed by the most brutal front of the hurricane but now brought to a new stable state by levee breaches, likely "uninhabitable for weeks to come."

The country is mobilized by the disaster and will pour (!) resources down to the Gulf Coast to try to make things right again. Stories of heroic rescues scroll by on the news, the need evoked in many cases by those who ignored evacuation orders. "They told us to evacuate for Ivan, and nothing happened..."

Postcript on that: I failed to take into account those who were unable to follow evacuation orders. No easy answer between the vagaries of weather prediction, the need to start days in advance, and the understandable reluctance of people to abandon all or nearly all they have. As we mine hindsight in the coming days, we'll find it all described for us, years in advance.

We all bought into the arrangement ahead of time: to the tune of a million and a half barrels of oil and 10 billion cubic feet of natural gas every day. 90% of all that is shut down for the moment.

The peak months for Atlantic hurricanes are August, September, October, and the forecast is for an "above average" season, with 5-7 storms becoming major hurricanes.

Three down, two to four left to go.

Part of the CD cover for 'Chant' Birthday present to share: a CD of Gregorian chant from the Santo Domingo de Silos Abbey Monks' Choir, which accompanies today's early blogging. Nice. The Amazon site linked above has lots of samples you can enjoy.

If a poll can settle things, we're done, and creationism will be taught alongside evolution in our schools. The rest of the world must look at us in wonder. More than 40% of respondents said they think "living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time," illustrating how our culture and educational system has already failed.

30.Aug.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Coast Guard photo of New Orleans after Katrina It could have been a lot worse, but it was plenty bad enough. Louisiana's governor: "At first light, the devastation is greater than our worst fears - it's just totally overwhelming," "This is our tsunami," the Mayor of Biloxi told The Biloxi Sun Herald.

Progress: In spite of a disaster of Biblical proportions (or one that must look that way in the neighborhood), no one's talking about the hurricane being a sign of God's wrath. Well, maybe they are talking, but no one gives them time on the news, at least. It's "just" a hurricane, something we can understand, measure, predict. And as the earth warms up some, there will be more and larger hurricanes to be observed.

Regress: looters. With so many people needing help and so much work to do, taking unprotected "free" stuff has to be one of the more despicable human impulses. Of course, it's also what drives politics and industry much of the time...

29.Aug.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Hurricane Katrina, making landfall on 29.Aug The Big could get off a bit Easy: Katy's lightened up (to "only" a category 4, with 145mph winds) and come up a bit to the east, moving the big wallop to the Mississippi (state) side. The water vapor satellite image is from 5:15am CDT. Still, they all gonna get pretty wet...

The National Hurricane Center's "news of the day" leads with this headline: "NOAA Raises the 2005 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook; Bulk of This Season's Storms Still to Come." The storm starting with "K" is #11 already... welcome to a warmer earth.

Turns out yesterday's complaint about our local ABC affiliate was misdirected: just got a call back from the fellow there who told me he was watching the game, too, when ABC yanked the feed, deciding that hurricane news was more important to the eastern TZ than the extra inning between Hawai'i and Curaçao. The local affiliate reverted to what they had scheduled, which just happened to be inappropriate for afternoon viewing.

28.Aug.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

In his essay, Show Me The Science, Daniel Dennett comes up with a new question about Intelligent Design: is it a hoax? (I would say, duh!, but that wouldn't make for as interesting an essay.)

"Nobody is immune to wishful thinking. It takes scientific discipline to protect ourselves from our own credulity, but we've also found ingenious ways to fool ourselves and others."

ID proponents skip over the observation that Dennett extracts as a quote from George Gilder, "a long-time affiliate of the Discovery Institute": "Intelligent design itself does not have any content." Perhaps Gilder would complain that he's being quoted out of context (and perhaps he would appreciate the rich irony in that), but offering some meaningful content would be a simple refutation.

"Since there is no content, there is no "controversy" to teach about in biology class. But here is a good topic for a high school course on current events and politics: Is intelligent design a hoax? And if so, how was it perpetrated?"

excerpt of NYT graphic showing low-lying Louisiana The Big Easy is in line for a world of hurt: hurricane Katrina has gone "Kat 5," winds up to 175 mph and predicted storm surge of 15-20 feet. Not what you want to hear when you live below sea level.

Local television station KIVI, aka "6 on Your Side", set a new low in "programing" by cutting away from the Little League World Series final after Hawai'i had come from a 6-3 deficit in the bottom of the last inning to tie Curaçao and send it to extra innings. What was so important they couldn't defer? A rerun of The Practice if you can believe that. I came back after a commercial break errand to find... a steamy sex-in-the-shower scene instead of the top of the 7th inning. Wasn't that special?

Ewa Beach won it with a lead-off homer in the bottom of the 7th, Michael Memea amended his 0-3 day on a 3-2 pitch to become the hero.

26.Aug.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

This just in, datelined Topeka: Evangelical Scientists Refute Gravity With New "Intelligent Falling" Theory.

"Gravity—which is taught to our children as a law—is founded on great gaps in understanding. The laws predict the mutual force between all bodies of mass, but they cannot explain that force. Isaac Newton himself said, 'I suspect that my theories may all depend upon a force for which philosophers have searched all of nature in vain.' Of course, he is alluding to a higher power."

The Evangelical Center For Faith-Based Reasoning is calling for public-school curriculums to give equal time to the Intelligent Falling theory. They insist they are not asking that the theory of gravity be banned from schools, but only that students be offered both sides of the issue "so they can make an informed decision."

News is still leaking out of the CIA, and they're still looking for a definitive person or persons to blame for their failings. George Tenet is high on the list, at risk of receiving... a letter of reprimand?! He'll keep the Medal of Honor, which I believe must be fashioned from irony.

The draft constitution for Iraq starts beautifully, even in translation (and even if it's not a sentence):

We the sons of Mesopotamia, land of the prophets, resting place of the holy imams, the leaders of civilization and the creators of the alphabet, the cradle of arithmetic: on our land, the first law put in place by mankind was written; in our nation, the most noble era of justice in the politics of nations was laid down; on our soil, the followers of the prophet and the saints prayed, the philosophers and the scientists theorized and the writers and poets created.

Well-placed toady of Dick Cheney, Paul Hoffman, floated this trial balloon from his post as deputy assistant secretary of Interior: let's open up the National Parks to the diverse and improved variety of motorized vehicles; let's eliminate evolution from all interpretive materials; let's not worry about clean air for the parks; let's not worry about degredation, as long as it's not "irreversible."

A group of senior NPS managers—subordinate to this political hack, mind you—canned the rules rewrite, God bless 'em.

Ten things Google has found to be true include "You can make money without doing evil."

25.Aug.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

I don't understand the hero worship thing, but it's a powerful phenomenon. People waited for hours to see Bush yesterday and they were glad to do it. "Boy it was an exciting event," one acquaintance who's a member of the VFW and who has a son in the Guard. "Every time there'd be a pause in his speech, everyone would stand up and cheer." Indeed, the White House transcript shows 61 ovations.

Bush at the Idaho Center in Nampa, Idaho They cheered for every local reference ("fill the potholes!"), they cheered for every mention of the National Guard, including being told that Idaho has a higher percentage of mobilization of its Guard members of any state. They cheered for every mention of patriotism, honor, service, God, local dignitaries and military officers. He ran down the list of our Congressional delegation (all of whom were there, of course), and by the applause-o-meter, Butch Otter is the man of the hour.

They stood and clapped and cheered for his bravado: "So long as I am president, we will stay, and we will fight, and we will win the war on terror," by which of course he means "so long as I am a president, YOU ALL will stay, and YOU ALL will fight..."

This from a man who's taking a vacation from his vacation. He did find almost 3 hours to meet with "68 members of 19 families of dead soliders," and our local KTVB found one of them to put on the 10:00 news speaking in warm tones about how he "really shared our pain."

One question: if we're after the terrorists "where they live," and we're "determined" and we're "relentless," what about Osama bin Laden?

One more question: in Bush's plans for Iraq, he keeps talking about what "Iraqis" want, as if they are one people, united. Does he really believe that, in the face of all the evidence to the contrary? Is this wishful thinking, or what? David Brooks says Peter W. Galbraith says it's spot-on. Wouldn't that be good news!

24.Aug.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Not only did they win the ("stock" class part of the) "rayce," they BEAT CAL in the process. Kudos to the Stanford Solar Car Project and their victory in the 2,500 mile contest.

23.Aug.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Succinctly put, by someone in the neighborhood: Iraq is not a state anymore. "Even since Iraq was cobbled together by British imperial dreamers in the 1920s from three very disparate provinces of the old Ottoman Empire the only way to hold it together was by brutal force....

"There is no way of putting Humpty-Dumpty together again. The Kurds and the Shi'ites will go their separate ways, and both entities have the paramilitary capability to do so. There is no Iraqi army capable of maintaining the unity of the country. And, just as in the former Yugoslavia, the separate countries—Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia—have a better chance of creating coherent and democratic systems than the old coercive Yugoslavia, the same may apply to Iraq."

I cut off communication (at least by email, but then since corporate work doesn't press us together, nothing else does, either) with the one person I know who professes to believe in "intelligent design." It was so utterly pointless for me to try to convince him of anything, and vice versa. Still, when I come across a particularly apt expression of the problem of having God intervene in our understanding, I want to push it at him. "Read this!" I want to shout. But he won't, and even if he did, he would find some reason to dismiss its truth.

So it is with Verlyn Klinkenborg's elegant Op-Ed piece in today's NY Times, inspired by our Commander in Chief's recent foray into recommendations for science education, a mission peculiarly unsuited to his talents.

"It's been approximately 3.5 billion years since primeval life first originated on this planet. That is not an unimaginable number in itself, if you're thinking of simple, discrete units like dollars or grains of sand. But 3.5 billion years of biological history is different. All those years have really passed, moment by moment, one by one. They encompass an actual, already lived reality, encompassing all the lives of all the organisms that have come and gone in that time. That expanse of time defines the realm of biological possibility in which life in its extraordinary diversity has evolved. It is time that has allowed the making of us...."

"Humans feel much more content imagining a world of more human proportions, with a shorter time scale and a simple narrative sense of cause and effect. But what we prefer to believe makes no difference. The fact that life on Earth has arrived at a point where it is possible for humans to have beliefs is due to the steady ticking away of eons and the trial and error of natural selection."

The Denver Public Library, exterior Looks like those folks chanting "four more years!" at last year's Republican convention are going to get what they asked for, starting right... now: Army Planning for Four More Years in Iraq.

The Iraq war "is providing an opportunity for extremists to kill U.S. troops while learning skills that may eventually be employed in Western lands."

Doug Bandow: "Whatever the Iraq conflict is accomplishing, it is not making us safer from terrorism. Either President Bush should stop claiming this or we should stop listening to him."

Juan Cole isn't sure whether we've had a coup in Baghdad, or what, and neither are the rest of us, but he does provide some helpful translation of what's in the draft Constitution so far. Not so helpful is that it's an unholy mess.

"No law may be legislated that contravenes the essential verities of Islamic law." And, "No law may be legislated that contravenes the principles of democracy." It guarantees the right of employment to all Iraqis, how pleasant that will be.

The local media were all a-twitter last night, every channel rolling footage of Air Force One landing at Gowen Field and the 5 Marine Helicopters boosting him up into our newest mountain resort. Some pudgy booster who wants to develop 5 dozen lots on Cascade Lake was grinning from ear to ear about how wonderful it is to have the President come to Idaho and put Donnelly on the map. (And one of the TV stations' online "polls" asked us: "Are you exicted the president is finally coming to Idaho today?" Totally freakin exicted, man.)

Oh, and there was our Republican Governor Dirk Kempthorne stepping out the hatch of AF1 right behind Bush. He flew down to Salt Lake City so he could ride back this-a-way?

How many million dollars does a few days "vacation" in Idaho cost the tax-payers, one wonders? This and so many other questions will not get asked of Fearless Leader during his stay here, with his one public appearance coming in Nampa, before the usual hand-picked claque. Most of the 7,000 tickets were carefully parceled out to military and their families, with a few hundreds being handled by our all-white and all-Republican Congressional delegation. Do they have a way of filtering out all the dead, wounded and malcontented? Otherwise one of those military family members could pop a surprise for us, you never know.

God spaketh to Pat Robertson, and Mr. Robertson—only 75, is he losing his grip on reality so soon?—spaketh that we should "take out" President Hugo Chavez of Venezuala (and he didn't mean "for lunch.") Sorry Pat, we're kinda busy at the moment, you know?

22.Aug.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Not a huge surprise that George Bush continues to deny any possibility of error in his Iraq policies. He tells us that "a policy of retreat and isolation will not bring us safety," no doubt confident that the rhetorical errors of black-and-white thinking and implying that the converse of a false statement must be true will not distract his listeners. I suppose there are still some people who give him the benefit of the doubt on speaking the truth, too.

"The only way to defend to our citizens where we live is to go after the terrorists where they live," Bush told the national convention of the VFW. How about unnecessary confrontation that amplifies the conditions that create and motivate terrorists?

Two observations from Patrick Cockburn's article in the London Review of Books: "The appeal of Iraqi nationalism is ebbing" and "as the war enters its third year, the extent of American failure in Iraq is becoming more and more difficult to conceal."

21.Aug.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The meager thrill of having a NYT story datelined here is mitigated by it being about the debtors' rush to declare bankruptcy before the new law kicks in. It's not just in Boise, of course, but "here in Idaho, the soundless wave of Americans going broke washes up at the clerk's office in bankruptcy court, with nearly 20 fresh declarations of desperation every working day."

We're told that Idaho "is among the per capita leaders in a category that no state will brag about. Filings were up 11 percent for July over the same period last year - on a record pace for the year." Do you suppose those folks will be turning out to visit the President's vacation to Tamarack Resort this week?

First (or maybe just "next"?) in a doubtlessly long series of articles you're going to read about Peak Oil, this quote jumped out and grabbed me:

"The condition of Saudi fields, and those of other OPEC nations, is a closely guarded secret. That's largely because OPEC quotas, which were first imposed in 1983 to limit the output of member countries, were based on overall reserves; the higher an OPEC member's reserves, the higher its quota. It is widely believed that most, if not all, OPEC members exaggerated the sizes of their reserves in order to have the largest possible quota -- and thus the largest possible revenue stream."

OPEC nations had an incentive to lie, so we're not going to know we've hit the wall until we go splat. Or is oil headed for $70 signal enough?

20.Aug.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Excerpt of figure 2 of USP #6,929,636 Perhaps the last patent to be filed with me as inventor for the benefit of Hewlett-Packard was issued this week. As you can see on USP #6,929,636, the assignee now goes by the name of Hewlett-Packard Development Company, L.P., in Houston, Texas, and I have no idea whatsoever if it will ever be worth anything to them, or come to fruition in any actual embodiment. It was the product of a small portion of an afternoon's brainstorming session on my part, and a lot more time than that from contract lawyers and Manuel Mendez and whomever might have helped him at the USPTO.

I do like the little drawing they came up with for the "Internal Drug Dispenser Capsule Medical Device," don't you?

Dr. Frist apparently watched a video of a science class, and made his diagnosis: it's time for parallel tracks! We can teach the established science orthodoxy on even days, and and odd days, some cocked-up baloney from a popular religion. He parted ways with Party Leader on the stem cell thing, but they're Tweedledee and Tweedledum on Intelligent Design. Isn't that special?

19.Aug.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Everybody loves magnets; just look at your refrigerator. Back in my disk drive days, we had plenty of powerful rare-earth magnets to play with. The state of the art in neodymium-iron-boron got to the point where individual magnets were a definite hazard for handling, and they were better off in their steel assemblies. Even then, there was often enough leakage flux to make them satisfyingly sticky, and you had to mind your fingers and such to avoid getting pinched.

Those little things are but Mighty Mouse to the Supermen magnets now living at your local hospital (or at a storefront clinic or mounted on a truck parked at the mall). Consider the illustration accompanying the NYT story, "M.R.I.'s Strong Magnets Cited in Accidents," with the caption "Hospital monitoring equipment sucked into an M.R.I. scanner." Just like your mom said, it's funny until someone gets hurt. Like the story about "the sprinkler repairman whose acetylene tank was yanked inside, breaking its valve and starting a fire that razed the building."

More about that and a larger collection of photographs of objects that have flown from Moriel NessAiver. Chairs and buffers are popular.

"Although there are ways to make scanning rooms safer—with architectural changes, new types of metal detectors, and precautions to ensure that patients and visitors are not wearing or carrying ferromagnetic metal—the measures are not required by law or the medical profession, and only some scanner operators use them."

Part of the problem is that technically the magnets don't hurt you: it's the stuff flying toward them that does. "Unexpected items, from foil-backed nicotine patches to tattoos with iron oxide ink, present risks." They left what happens with tatoos to our imagination.

NessAvier's site also has a technical introduction to MRI physics which is nonetheless reasonably accessible, and a nice use of Shockwave v10 animation (which I had to go fetch). Not quite 30 years ago, I used MRI (back before "Nuclear" was deemed too risible to have in the name, and it was Nuclear Magnetic Resonance; that was before the "Imaging" part, too) in an organic chemistry lab, to identify reaction products from various experiments. I knew much less than what's described by this introduction, but as much as I needed to: peaks (and patterns of peaks) on the chart I'd get back from the machine identified configurations of protons which hydrogen atoms in organic molecules, and we could (hopefully) infer what organic molecules were in the stew.

Book cover, 'Steal This Vote' Speaking of free and fair elections, that's not really our tradition. Paul Krugman gives a brief review of Andrew Gumbel's book, Steal This Vote: Dirty Elections and the Rotten History of Democracy in America on his way to observing that "The Republicans will be strongly tempted to make sure that they win those elections by any means necessary. And everything we've seen suggests that they will give in to that temptation." The motivation being keeping the lids on "all the simmering scandals, from the selling of the Iraq war to profiteering by politically connected companies." Sort of like the way GWB put a lid on GHWB's history.

17.Aug.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Idaho is what America was: still solidly supporting Bush's performance. Could be ignorance, self-delusion, patriotic fervor, righteousness, who knows?

When I started in the computer business, providing "lasting value" was one of the things the corporation I worked for strived to do. As product cycles and technology innovation het up, that slipped down the list and didn't get talked about so much, but it still matters to me. I expect great performance from my 25-year-old bicycle, for example, or the current version of the text editor I've been using for close to 20 years now. And I stubbornly insist in squeezing more work out of our 7+year-old machine and its 10+year-old O/S. But that's well out of the mainstream.

So, reading about mayhem in a queue for 4-year-old used iBooks being sold by a school stands out. Of course, the clearance price of $50 might have been a bit too low, eh?

"In the crush, people were trampled on, a chair was thrown, an elderly man was pushed to the ground, a baby's buggy was crushed and one desperate buyer tried to drive his car through the crowd. Eyewitnesses described the scene as 'terrifying' and 'total, total chaos'."

16.Aug.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Future generations will look back at the early 21st century with wonder. Here we were, fighting wars in the Middle East, supporting repressive regimes and terrorists by buying more and more oil, even as the oil began to run out.

What did we do about the fuel efficiency of our vehicles? Worse than nothing. We exempted the largest and most wasteful, we poured money into senescent industries and we provided special tax breaks for people buying supersized SUVs and trucks. CAFE standards were so 1980s, gone with the cardigans and malaise.

All things in moderation, and balance. George Bush's balanced and healthy life includes two-hour bike rides, naps, some fishing, Little League games, fund-raising events... but not meeting with people who disagree with him or thinking about mistakes he might have made. Life is too short!

If you missed Justice Sunday II, you can get it on DVD on August 29th, for a suggested donation of only $15. The home page even exclaims that there were bloggers at the event! Woo hoo! You can also read Chuck Donovan's answer to the critics who say his group his hypocritical: "I know you are, but what am I?" Repeat as necessary.

15.Aug.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

24 years ago (!) this morning, we had a bunch of our friends and relatives climb up (a little part of) Moscow Mountain to attend our wedding ceremony. And it's still ticking...

70 years ago yesterday, Social Security got its start, and as Paul Krugman notes, "to almost everyone's surprise, the nation's most successful government program is still intact." Inferences of the administrations goals, which Krugman says were "misrepresented," are perhaps still arguable, but it's a matter of fact that "Mr. Bush repeatedly lied about the current system."

"(T)he campaign for privatization provided an object lesson in how the administration sells its policies: by misrepresenting its goals, lying about the facts and abusing its control of government agencies. These were the same tactics used to sell both tax cuts and the Iraq war."

I don't use Microsoft Internet Explorer any more than I absolutely have to, for a variety of reasons. Until yesterday, one of the reasons was that it was not easy to change the displayed font size of pages I visit. Even in v6, some style sheets override your ability to change them with View/Text size unless you go through the more complicated menu path of Tools -> Internet Options -> General -> Accessibility, "Ignore font sizes specified on Web pages," Here's an expedient shortcut if you've got a wheel on your mouse: ctrl-wheel quickly sizes up and down through the "smallest, smaller, medium, larger, largest" choices IE gives you. (The same shortcut works w/Firefox, too; maybe easier than ctrl -/=.)

Thanks to an email list colleague commenting on Ted Pack's helpful page on font sizes for that!

The locals are all a-twitter about the President coming to the state, apparently as part of his Tending the Claque campaign. The Statesman invites us to let them channel our instruction to Bush "to do just one thing for Idaho."

I was thinking in terms of one question, since I'm sure our Republican governor and Congressional delegation are already looking after us pretty well, bringing new highways, new plutonium production and new off-road vehicle opportunities to us. "Why can't you tell us the truth, Mr. President?"

The middle of Boise's West Bench has a decidely suburban feel to it, although this is what we call "urban" in Idaho. We do by now have much newer exurban, suburban and bedroom communities sprouting like weeds. The NYT's account of exurbs in Florida and the corporations that build them does provide a clue as to how distant my psyche is from that existence:

"Safety always ranks second" in surveys of Tampa home buyers. "Asked what they wanted in a home, 88 percent said a home security system, 93 percent said they preferred neighborhoods with 'more streetlights' and 96 percent insisted on deadbolt locks or security doors."

Not only do I not want those things, I don't want to live among people who want—or need—them. I want fewer streetlights. I like it dark at night. And this:

"Almost all of the fastest-growing counties in the United States are in exurban areas. And these far-flung communities proved, in the last election, to be among the strongest supporters of President Bush. His top advisers credited the 2004 victory, in part, to a strategy that focused on what the campaign manager, Ken Mehlman, called a Republican 'fortress' beyond the cities."

13.Aug.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

If you're just skimming over the most recent posts and not scrolling south through the earlier part of the month, you might want to look again at the entries for the 1st, 3rd and 8th, with text and pix from our road trip to and from Denver.

What if... you didn't have to buy a Mac to run OS X? They say competition is a Good Thing, so your choice of operating systems for your computing hardware should be the cat's pyjamas.

New addition to the blogroll, thanks to a NYT pointer to their discussion of the Disney CEO trial and errors: Conglomerate. A joint effort of D. Gordon Smith, Christine Hurt and Vic Fleischer, chock-full of interesting and erudite discussion of "business, law, economics, and society." A sample (having to do with law schools, rather than Disney):

"Goods can be broken down into three categories: (1) search goods, where quality can be assessed easily before purchase, like clothing or furniture, (2) experience goods, where quality can be assessed easily after purchase, like a haircut or a lawnmover, and (3) credence goods, where quality is difficult to assess even after purchase, like financial advice, auto repair, or, I think, a law school education."

"...Branding is especially important for credence goods...."

A Little League umpire strikes a blow for the (current) native tongue: ¡Ningún español de discurso, muchachos!

12.Aug.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

My old philosophy prof, Nick Gier, has a Reader's Opinion piece in today's Idaho Statesman, bad news in the headline: Neo-Nazi Christians make presence felt again in Northern Idaho. The driving force behind the presence is one Doug Wilson, who seemed like a well-intentioned, if somewhat overly fundamentalist sort when I knew him in the 1970s. Come to think of it, I do believe that we met when we were both taking Nick Gier's Existentialism course.

Wilson's life has gone, how shall we say, in a slightly different direction than mine own: pastor of an 800-member congregation, leader of a school and an education franchise, founder of a small college, apologist for slavery, and believer in the cultural superiority of Christianity. (His flavor of Christianity, I'm sure.)

Nick speaks well enough for himself on his University of Idaho pages, with a personal history of his interactions with Wilson, among other interesting work.

11.Aug.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

I heard at some point that freshly laid asphalt was known in the world of roller skating as "black powder," analogous to the experience of skiing or riding in fresh snow. There's a lovely new parking lot in the neighborhood that was laid down yesterday, and I was wondering just how long one needs to wait for curing... Unfortunately, searching the web for that term gets fouled up in the world of shooting. Maybe tomorrow, I suppose.

The headline says it all: What is the White House Hiding? There has been a whole lot of "George junior protecting George senior," along with undisclosed locations and hunkering down at the ranch. All that in ironic juxtaposition to the quote from Elizabeth Cady Stanton that arrived in my "thought for the day" email today: "Truth is the only safe ground to stand upon."

That might help with the blowback problem too.

10.Aug.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Finally got around to unpacking the bits for Google Earth. Friends, this is the killer app of 2005. If your 'net connection is too slow to make your jaw hit the floor with one WOW after another, my condolences. Flying over and around the Boise-to-Denver and Denver-to-Boise routes we just drove is an absolute kick.

A $7 million settlement and certain other conditions are a good first step to punish spammer Scott Richter, but don't you think a week or two in the public stocks would be an appropriate punishment? Where's that rotten tomato... (Coincidentally, Richter's "of" Westminster, Colorado, where we stayed last week; it would've been very convenient for us if he'd served his time in his home district.)

Raffling off confiscated bling seems good, too. Consider Opt In Real Big's cost of doing business, though: at 38 million messages a year, the settlement is still way cheaper than the cost of direct mail.

Big Mo is back from vacation, turning her phrases with wicked vigor: "The White House used to be able to tamp down criticism by saying it hurt our troops, but more people are asking the White House to explain how it plans to stop our troops from getting hurt."

"It's amazing that the White House does not have the elementary shrewdness to have Mr. Bush simply walk down the driveway and hear the woman out, or invite her in for a cup of tea. But W., who has spent nearly 20 percent of his presidency at his ranch, is burrowed into his five-week vacation and two-hour daily workouts. He may be in great shape, but Iraq sure isn't."

"It's hard to think of another president who lived in such meta-insulation. His rigidly controlled environment allows no chance encounters with anyone who disagrees. He never has to defend himself to anyone, and that is cognitively injurious. He's a populist who never meets people - an ordinary guy who clears brush, and brush is the only thing he talks to...."

9.Aug.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

A lot of catching up to do... home from 4 days' driving and 6 days in Denver (for a total of 9 in road trip arithmetic, go figure). Since there are no rules (and/or since this is my blog), I'll put things in order as time permits. Stay tuned.

We're not doing the mobile communication thing very much, and even though I brought a laptop along, I ended up trying to use it only once, at the Four Queens Motel in Rangely, Colorado. Their readerboard and a sign on the front desk said "wireless DSL" but when I asked the gal at the front desk if I needed to know anything to make it go, she said "beats me, I don't know anything about it, and the guy who set it up hasn't been able to get it to work." Apparently it didn't occur to them to change the advertising, though.

I checked in a week ago Monday at the Denver Public Library, with an anonymous 20 minute session using a computer set up to have and do only MSIE. Let's just say that was a "limited window of opportunity," but no complaints from me. It's nice to unplug once in a while, get out and look around, talk to people (when they're not too busy talking on their phones), sing and dance.

Other than a couple of small-town local newspapers, our first re-connect was with some NPR during yesterday's afternoon drive from SLC to Boise. Discovery still up, debating where to come down. Then this morning, we see it landed at Edwards, in the night. We share the relief, the sense of accomplishment, but also the questions of purpose.

There needs to be something more to space travel than supplies delivery, garbage collecting and inspecting one's belly to make sure we can get home alright. Not that I wouldn't be happy to go up and float out on a tether! This shuttle program has been going on a remarkably long time now; consider this: "Only one flight, a 1982 mission by Columbia, landed at White Sands, NASA's last choice. High winds whipped up so much sand and dust that it took workers weeks to clean the craft of finely powdered gypsum." That was more than twenty years before Columbia broke up on re-entry in February, 2003. We've learned that we can get overconfident about our ability, we've learned that the public can get bored and lose interest (like a NASCAR event with no crashes, eh?), we've learned that can fix some of our mistakes and if we get lucky, come home alive.

But there does need to be more than that.

8.8.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Taking a slightly more scenic angle for the return trip, we hopped on I-70 westbound, roller-coastering up through the front range and its awesome punch under Loveland Pass, the Eisenhower tunnel. We gassed up better-late-than-never in Idaho Springs, and took less time than we should have to enjoy the museum in the Visitor's Information center, anxious about one or both of a two-day drive home and that lapse in concentration that drifted us over the center line and too close to getting T-boned on the way in.

Hawk, roosting in a cottonwood in Rangely's Elks Park We followed the River taking on its Colorado to Grand Junction, then north on the amazingly scenic state 139 over Douglas Pass, to Rangely. Once again, we stayed in the "wrong" town (Dinosaur being the right one, in retrospect), but enjoyed the off-track experience as best we could. Rangely is not much more than a waystation for motorcyclists going to Sturgis and the oil boomers. The sign said WIRELESS DSL, the gal at the desk and whoever was setting it up actually had no clue how to make it work, so it didn't. (The telco switch was in the lot next to the motel, so if they ever do, the service will be really, really good.) It didn't seem to occur to them to stop advertising what they weren't providing. We went for a walk around town, collected a few mosquito bites from their obsession with green lawns to stave off the desert, saw a couple of hawks roosting in the big cottonwoods in Elks Park, examined how folks live in their tidy houses and mobile homes as sunset eased toward twilight.

The grocery store next door gave us the last ingredients for dinner and the Kum and Go provided new microbrews: one choice, out of Boulder, but a good one, for a reasonable price. Their sign said "YOU MUST BE 21 TO PURCHASE BEER" and I told the woman at the register that I wasn't 21, but hoped I could still buy it. She smiled sweetly and said she just wouldn't ask me and maybe we'd get away with it, and didn't get the joke.

We slept in only a little with our first opportunity in a week, got to the Dinosaur National Monument visitor's center close to its 8am opening. Jeanette talked me into a stop at the Colorado Welcome Center at the crossroads in Dinosaur, against my drive-by mentality once I get on the road. "I'd like to focus our energy on the highlights," I said, peevishly. But the clerk at the well-stocked and attractive building was new to his job and very enthusiastic. We loaded up on literature and got a day-old local newspaper to boot, one of its stories about the potential for a new boom in oil-shale development, and the locals' suspicion that it could turn out to be a flash in the pan, like the one in the early 80s did.

View of the most easterly US40 roadcut in Utah We enjoyed the DNM's brief and well-produced video, a look through the bookstore and then headed back west on US 40. Just past Dinosaur, and just over the Utah border, the road is sliced through a long, hogback ridge south of the bigger scarp of Blue Mountain. Jeanette was itching for a rock stop and this cut's close to vertical bedding was a fine scratch: the earth is laid open in layers of white, buff and varnished sandstones, a coal seam with big chunks of mica floating in it.

The NPS building over the Douglass Quarry face Thence to the Douglass Quarry at the National Monument, and its awesome view into the earth's past. Definitely the highlight of the sightseeing on the 4-day drive. We enjoyed the presentation of the 4-billion year geologic timeline around the upper parking lot, caught the tail end of one of the rangers' periodic talks inside, chatted with the former kindergarten teacher who gave it afterwards, enjoyed the exhibits. They have a shuttle bus from the lower/outer parking to the quarry building during summer, which we'd rode up, but we enjoyed the walk down through the amazing landscape.

Fossils still embedded at the surface of the Douglass Quarry face West of Vernal, south around the Uintahs, there were thunderstorms piling up, big ZAPS! of lightning keeping the driver awake, the closest one with no appreciable delay to the SFX of a cannon, just over that hill to the left. It came down high-speed-wiper-and-slow-down strong in places, the tire grooves in the road serving as drainage and serious hydroplaning risk on the hilly grades. The temperature went from low 90s and A/C to 61F and defrost, then rolled back up as we rolled down, past Park City, the long grade "east" on I-80 to west on I-84 and back out to Ogden. On the west side of the front, those cool thundershowers were a distant memory and it was high 90s for the desert drive into the sunset, home (just a little) before dark. Thankfully, we had some clouds to block the worst of the drive from Twin Falls to Boise. At one point, the sun was behind a big cumulus bank, spreading rays in 5 directions above and below, virga from the cloud silhouetted, angling down above the irrigated desert. I longed for space on my camera's memory card, but will have to settle for personal memory.

3.Aug.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

A snippet of the DPL, its exhibit, Jeanette Tuesday was our day to sight-see Denver, and among the half-dozen or so excellent possibilities, we ended up devoting the day to the Public Library, and the Art Museum. In addition to its interesting architecture, the library has an outstanding exhibit of Southwest pottery and drawings by (Hollister? No presence on the DPL exhibits page, for some reason, but maybe this is it), and the ask-to-see-it historical table in the board room around which the G-8 leaders met during Clinton's term.

The Libeskind addition to the Denver Art Museum, under construction The DAM is having one of those additions which Frank Gehry so ably helped parody on a recent episode of The Simpsons; everyone's going to either love it, or hate it. But it's soft and chewy inside the existing building, with floor after floor of ably designed exhibits that capture and hold the imagination. We liked the comfortable seating, and the kid's corners with activities to intersperse with more passive viewing. There are also stations with selectable video tapes to delve into some topics. One very interesting one (no really) triggered my nap reflex and I continued our tour, refreshed.

After a full day of free time, we dove into our raison d'être in Denver: the annual conference of the UU Musicians Network, resurfacing 6 days later...

1.Aug.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

We took the freeway route from Boise to Denver through Wyoming, with one diversion, cutting the corner from Laramie to Ft. Collins on US 287. That was a lovely two-lane respite through the rolling foothills of the front range, with most of the truck traffic following the advice of and taking the extra miles to Cheyenne and south on I-25. Google had the time estimate for the shorter route the same as the longer, and we found that probably true on a clear summer day. The fuss through traffic in Ft. Collins is where you lose the minutes. (The other consideration I watch is gas mileage: rolling hills and downslope at 65ish is much better than the 75mph Interstate blast, and we finally edged up toward 50mpg. Across the Idaho/Utah desert with a headwind and up to the Great Divide Basin had us struggling to make 40mpg.)

Boise to Ogden is wide open spaces, and not a lot to see, really, other than distant mountain ranges. The freeway around the city was only a little congested, and then zip, you're going through the Wasatch front and on up through beautiful canyons. Lots of train traffic up and down the canyon, at the end of our stay at the rest stop, two came through simultaneously. Union Pacific, most were long loads of containers, some trains full of auto carriers.

The refurbished Evanston, Wyoming depot We stopped in Evanston, Wyoming for a look around, enjoyed their refurbished depot and depot square, a nicely arranged local museum there. We didn't ask for the tour of the Joss House or other building... I suppose the one gal on duty would've locked up the museum and taken us around? They have a crew dining car and a UP caboose in terrible shape (neither open) on a crummy (oops, no pun intended) piece of track; they're really out of place with how nice everything around them has been fixed and cleaned up. There's a roundhouse and turntable down the street and around the corner, but closed off by significant construction. They're going to turn the roundhouse into municipal offices, should be pretty cool when they get done. (Hey, lookit this, they're having the 8th Annual Roundhouse Festival in just two weeks?!)

We should've stayed in Green River, Wyo., where the Green River crosses I-80 at the top of Flaming Gorge. Instead, we pressed on to Rock Springs, and found it in the midst of a new oil and mining boom, Halliburton one of the main companies prospering. Crappy motels you shouldn't pay $30 to stay in are charging twice that and more, and the chains have rack rates in triple figures. After shopping around longer than was sensible (while driving around the curiously trifurcated town) but with a sense of adventure about it, we settled on Days Inn for 10% off of $70, thanks to the front desk clerk who gave us the senior/pity discount, in spite of our not belonging to AAA or AARP.

Sign on the old dining car in Evanston, Wyoming We had dinner and swims, looked up the one brew pub in town, found our way to it. Closed on Sundays. Alright, how about one of those liquor stores? "Joe's" was the first one we came upon, a little drive-up storefront in front of a rambling shack which was later revealed as Joe's bar, behind. We parked our Prius among the SUVs and pickup trucks, and walked up to the drive-up window, noted that the door was locked, the sign said to "ring bell or go into bar" under that circumstance.

Thinking of the scene, I'm reminded of the Wizard of Oz at the door to the Emerald City for some reason... it wasn't that nice. Through the glass and open window once the bell had been answered, I could see the mainstays of factory beer, asked "do you have any good beer?" The perplexed gal said "waddaya mean by that? We got Corona. Tecate." I thought about how to express my preference, but she came up with the microbrew concept on her own, told us we could try Gateway Liquors down the road, while the bar patron with a view of our proceedings gave us the good old Wyoming stink-eye. The large and well-lit Gateway Liquors (think of a Seven-Eleven with nothing but liquor, wine and beer) was staffed by a young woman who would need to show her ID to buy any of what she was selling, and they had a lovely, wide selection of local beers in that broad land between Pilsner and black. What's it like living in Rock Springs? "Ok, I guess. There's not much to do."

The one other remarkable part of the drive for me was going past Elk Mountain, which I was seeing in daylight for perhaps the first time, and the fateful stretch of road where my college buddy crashed his Toyota Land Cruiser at the end of huge expanse of black ice in the winter of '75/76, on our way from the midwest back to the U of I via Colorado skiing. As we drove over the shoulder of the huge, black mountain, between rank after rank of drift fences, and the yellow warning signs for gusty winds next 5 miles, I was watching the westbound side of the road to see if I could identify The Spot where it happened. I could, in fact, 29 years and 8 months afterwards.


Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

Friday, 02-Sep-2005 16:51:21 MDT