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30.Nov.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Thanks giving Permalink to this item

The feather I found on Paradise Ridge on Thanksgiving Day Here's a good reason to be grateful: it makes you healthier, and of course, happier. And you don't have to address your gratitude to anyone in particular, Pascal's wager and Fox "News" notwithstanding. Just write down 5 things you're grateful for, once a week, and rake in the optimism.

But maybe there's some bad news: you're not writing down the things that annoy, are you? Even dwelling on them might put a dent in your optimism, eh? Always keep on the bright side of life.

Then maybe when you're strolling from stubble fields to brush and Ponderosa pine on a place called Paradise Ridge, you'll come across a turkey feather... on Thanksgiving day, and give a moment's thought to deep gratitude, running wild and free and still alive.

27.Nov.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Losing touch with reality Permalink to this item

David Frum's wondering whether his party is going to come up with a less-crazy strategy than continuous slash and burn. The provocative title for his NY Mag piece (When did the GOP lose touch with reality?) is not the question he's looking to answer. His analysis is spot on, and the open question (Will the GOP come to its senses?) is an important one. Must-read.

There are enough good snippets to pull quote to get me in trouble with RightHaven including a pretty accurate description of the "alternative knowledge system, with its own facts, its own history, [and] its own laws of economics" the seems to drive the discourse on the right, but I'll leave it at this:

"The conservative shift to ever more extreme, ever more fantasy-based ideology has ominous real-world consequences for American society. The American system of government can't work if the two sides wage all-out war upon each other: House, Senate, president, each has the power to thwart the others. In prior generations, the system evolved norms and habits to prevent this kind of stonewalling. For example: Theoretically, the party that holds the Senate could refuse to confirm any Cabinet nominees of a president of the other party. Yet until recently, this just 'wasn't done.' In fact, quite a lot of things that theoretically could be done just 'weren't done.' Now old inhibitions have given way. Things that weren't done suddenly are done.

"We can debate when the slide began. But what seems beyond argument is that the U.S. political system becomes more polarized and more dysfunctional every cycle, at greater and greater human cost. ..."

23.Nov.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The mob scene Permalink to this item

Tuned in to a little bit of last night's GOP debate, number 11 now. If there were highlights equal to previous runs, I didn't get lucky, but only saw enough to gain a gestalt of sorts. One relative who paid attention even more briefly than me asked me "who's that?" when Huntsman had his moment. And, "I figure I'll just wait until they narrow it down to one and then decide. There's just too many."

The lowlights: I'm pretty sure the totality of Ron Paul's positions are anathema to me, although we agree on some things, and he does seem more sincerely principled than the rest of the bunch. There's just that crazy uncle down from the attic vibe that I can't get over. I think the sweet spot of his opportunity came and went a couple of cycles ago.

And Rick Perry's still here, wha? Maybe he's hoping for another turn like Gingrich is getting. The strutting about "worn the uniform" and "been Commander in Chief" (of his state's National Guard don't you know) is ever so slightly over-the-top, oh-so-Texan. Big hat, small herd under there.

Rick Santorum sounded rational and nigh-on statesman-like for the moment I saw, that was a surprise. Even Michele Bachmann made brief sense, and made me wonder if we'd ever have a president with a nasal, upper midwest twang like hers. Herman Cain spoke, but I can't remember anything about what he said. Later, it occurred to me that he embodies the Peter Principle. He has no idea what the discussion is about, really, but he knows what sort of thing somebody in charge would say when called upon. "If I were in charge, I'd do the things that somebody in charge does."

Yesterday's front runner had the extra-puffed-up sense of himself that he didn't really need and that creates an insufferable aura I can't get through. Gingrich is a man with a lot of ideas bubbling up, and not as much filter as he ought to have to keep the bad ones from coming out. The second-guessing and deprecation of everything Obama has and hasn't done seems like a pretty easy organ to pump, but the right-wing crowd can't get enough of that. If Newt were in charge, the Iran problem would be solved, lickety split. Complicated international security issues? Never you mind.

Poor anybody-but is starting to seem a little peevish, probably wondering if the parade of front-runner-of-the-week will ever stop. Romney can not be happy about the second coming of Gingrich. He's working the Obama-has-screwed-absolutely-everything-up trope for all it's worth and then some, but his fatigue at sharing the stage with the less worthy is starting to show.

And last but not least (except in the minds of everybody in the right wing), Jon Huntsman impressed me with the skill of his quick thinking, and ability to express complex and coherent thoughts without leaving any verbal pauses that would lead him to be cut off or interrupted. (Half of the group can't listen as fast as Hunstman talks, I'd guess.)

My good fortune included a chance to see Paul Wolfowitz out of the woodwork, and formulating a question about foreign aid to Africa that made Perry's simple-minded notion to just zero it all out seem, well, simple-minded, but then we didn't need a question to do that, really.

So, how many more of these to go before January? And will all 8 (did I get that right, and get them all?) stay standing through the Christmas season?

19.Nov.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The big business of education Permalink to this item

"[W]hatever they're doing in Pennsylvania is definitely not working and should not be replicated."
Devora Davis, CREDO research manager

An important (and long) piece by Lee Fang, in The Nation: How Online Learning Companies Bought America's Schools. The motivation is simple: "One study estimated that revenues from the K-12 online learning industry will grow by 43 percent between 2010 and 2015, with revenues reaching $24.4 billion." (Not to be confused with one of the large corporations working to facilitate, and cash in on the transformation, K12 Inc.) That kind of study gets a lot of attention. These kinds, not so much:

"A recent study of virtual schools in Pennsylvania conducted by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University revealed that students in online schools performed significantly worse than their traditional counterparts. Another study, from the University of Colorado in December 2010, found that only 30 percent of virtual schools run by for-profit organizations met the minimum progress standards outlined by No Child Left Behind, compared with 54.9 percent of brick-and-mortar schools. For White Hat Management, the politically connected Ohio for-profit operating both traditional and virtual charter schools, the success rate under NCLB was a mere 2 percent, while for schools run by K12 Inc., it was 25 percent. A major review by the Education Department found that policy reforms embracing online courses 'lack scientific evidence' of their effectiveness."

The outcomes can be debated ad nauseum, long after the checks are cashed and funds deposited. No doubt K12, News Corp., IQity and some of the other players can djinn up some counter-studies to put some fair and balanced confusion into the debate.

Also worth reading is Stephanie Mencimer's article in the Nov/Dec 2011 MotherJones, Jeb Bush's Cyber Attack on Public Schools. It's far too soon for the electorate to consider another Bush for President, but he's biding his time, drumming up business and working to undermine unions along the way, as "one of the nation's most prominent boosters of virtual schools."

The profits help fund political campaigns for candidates sympathetic to substituting technology for teachers, and the cycle feeds on itself.

Explaining the inexplicable Permalink to this item

Molly Ball takes a pretty good run at what GOP voters see in Newt Gingrich, something I'll admit is a deep and abiding mystery to me, even if it's only abided for a week or so. And with a flair:

"Gingrich, whose persona is multifarious, manages to embody the response to all the the flawed contenders who preceded him. He has the credentials Bachmann lacks. He's articulate, and then some, as Perry is not. Unlike Cain, he's already been vetted—his baggage, though ample, is already well known. As Garp says after watching a plane hit the house he wants to buy in the movie version of The World According to Garp: 'It's pre-disastered. We're safe here.'"

There are apparently some affable and charming elements to the man, which haven't protruded from the condescending exterior that always strikes me. And while rock star intellectual of the conservative base may be the very thing to rouse a Lincoln Day dinner in Podunk, I haven't seen a general (let alone Republican) clamoring for having more intellectual in our leaders. The last Republican winner made a pretty convincing study of anti-intellectual, in fact.

It seems unlikely to me that Newt can survive a couple weekly rounds of Whack-a-Mole in the GOP fray, especially given the bundle he made from Freddie Mac while the mortgage crisis exploded around him. Explaining that it didn't go to him, but rather, um, his (health care?!) consulting firm does not exactly reinforce that smartest guy in the room persona he imagines he has (before he shucks it off as self-deprecation).

OWS: API for anarchy Permalink to this item

That's my reading of Alexis Madrigal's deconstruction of Occupy Wall Street as an application programming interface (briefly explained, for the non-nerds in the audience). It reads as if he's got a breathless enthusiasm for the movement, which I have yet to obtain myself. But plenty of of food for thought in the components he describes. For example:

"GA/consensus-based decision-making: This form of group deliberation has been a key differentiating component of the occupation. Led by skilled facilitators, the entire group can engage in debate about what courses of action to take."

As noted, "consensus-based decision-making is not some newfangled idea, but has been developed for years." It can work really well in some situations, and be utterly ineffectual in others. Not the least of important factors is the skill of said facilitators, and the participants having (or finding) some shared purpose. A useful shared purpose matters, too. Plain old obstruction is so easy a Congressman (or woman) can do it, even in an old-fashioned leaderful context. Consensus-based, leaderless decision-making is a brilliant tool for obstruction if that's what you're after.

Heads they win, tails we lose Permalink to this item

Thomas Edsall, Capitalizing on the Collapse: "The key political factor is that the cuts go into effect after the 2012 election."

The Republicans are banking on the Intrade odds for their winning control of both the House and the Senate... after which, what, we get to try more cutting taxes (faster than) cutting government and partisan obstructionary combat?

A central Democratic player in the supercommittee negotiations noted that "there is a lot of fear" that the failure of the supercommittee "is intentional, that the Republicans are waiting until January, 2013, after an election has taken place. Who is in control will have enormous consequence."

Whereas the Democrats' upside for impasse is that it may lead to the Bush era tax cuts expiring (as they were originally legislated to do, and then re-legislated to do a bit later than the original schedule).

Crazy world. And hats off to the founding duplicity in those "temporary" tax cuts, so instrumental to the exploding deficits their authors profess to hate so deeply!

My sense of history is that the Republicans will do better at beating obstruction than the Democrats have done, because they're more ruthless and have simpler and more selfish goals. Never, ever raise taxes is such a simple and compelling ideology that it matters not that three quarters of the populace accepts that a deficit reduction plan should include tax increases. In the battle between cortex and lizard brain, lizard wins.

17.Nov.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Happy birthday, Gorge! Permalink to this item

Mind the barge The Columbia River Gorge has been under construction for 12 or 14 million years, but things really got going when the Missoula Floods hit, a mere 14,000 years ago, give or take. Still wet behind the ears, the Gorge's National Scenic Act turns 25 today, the only standalone environmental law signed by President Ronald Reagan. In commemoration, OPB's Oregon Field Guide will feature The Fight for Paradise, "a look back at [the Act's] dual mandate of protection and economic development." Check your local listings. (Mine show Idaho behind the times, what else is new? They're showing OFG #2306 a month from tomorrow, maybe this episode #2307 will arrive on Christmas.)

If you're in Portland or Hood River, you can join a Birthday Bash. Otherwise, enjoy OPB's CRG slideshow or the links to the half-dozen photogs' websites they provide. I've got a few pictures of my own, but they're more about the river traffic than the non-stop, 4-season scenic beauty. I started sailing on the Columbia just before the Act was passed. Whether you're sailing or sightseeing, it's an amazing place to visit.

Update: OPB now has the video online.

14.Nov.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Something stinks at dinner Permalink to this item

James Oliphant's report for the L.A. Times of a gobsmacking breach of ethics on the part of 22% of the Supreme Court justices appears to have a significant typo. Surely the correct word in the first paragraph should be fetid rather than feted. Allow me:

"The day the Supreme Court gathered behind closed doors to consider the politically divisive question of whether it would hear a challenge to President Obama’s healthcare law, two of its justices, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, were [fetid] at a dinner sponsored by the law firm that will argue the case before the high court."

Incredibly, the Code of Conduct that applies to "lower" federal judges does not apply to the Supreme Court's justices. How did that ever make sense to anyone? And more importantly, when does the impeachment get under way?

"This stunning breach of ethics and indifference to the code belies claims by several justices that the court abides by the same rules that apply to all other federal judges," said Bob Edgar, the president of Common Cause. "The justices were wining and dining at a black-tie fundraiser with attorneys who have pending cases before the court. Their appearance and assistance in fundraising for this event undercuts any claims of impartiality, and is unacceptable."

Speaking of unwise uses of Facebook Permalink to this item

Conspiring to commit a class I felony and risking up to a $10,000 fine and three-and-a-half years in jail seems like a stupid thing to document in your social media account. But then hatching a plot to subvert the democratic process to spite people whose politics you disagree with is not that bright an idea to begin with.

I got all this stuff twirlin' 'roun' in my head too, Herman Permalink to this item

How do these things happen? How does someone as demonstrably, and utterly incapable of managing an interview let alone a subcommittee get to be the front-runner for Republican nominee for the President of the United States? Does the party really have such deep contempt for the political process? People have donated millions of dollars to this man's campaign. What in the hell are they thinking?

Mr. Luna goes to Washington (again) Permalink to this item

During his recent self-promotion tour in D.C., Tom Luna found sympathetic staffer Rob Bluey at the Heritage Foundation to give him another 5 minutes and 36 seconds of fame, to celebrate Idaho's sweeping education reform.

What a shame his many opponents didn't produce the "fanfare" that people in Wisconsin and Ohio did, attempting instead to participate in the democratic process. (Only to be utterly ignored at pretty much every step of the way. The Idaho Legislature's motto: "we don't have to listen, actually.")

The interviewlet starts with a recitation of all the woe that's come Luna's way for what he's trying to do: "your truck vandalized, your tires slashed" (one incident with no suspects ever identified, but it sounds worse in two phrases, doesn't it?) "you even had an opponent show up at your mother's house. What prompted all this outrage?"

Kind of exciting to imagine for a moment with the pause button on, how would Mr. Luna answer this question? Is he capable of looking at things from others' point of view, and imagining what it's like to be lied to, to have a politician win re-election and then do a surprise U-turn and introduce sweeping legislation that threatens the livelihoods of thousands and the work of their lives? Of course, he thinks he's doing the right thing, and everyone opposed...

"Well, we're talking about the most comprehensive education reform that has happened in Idaho, and across the nation in decades. That drives a lot of passion..."

What reforms has he [sic] put in place? [sic]

"We've completely reformed the way we manage our labor force in our schools at the local level ... we've implemented a statewide pay for performance plan ..."

This comes as news back home in Podunk, where the legislated pay for performance has passed, yes, but is actually yet to be funded. So "implemented" in a manner of speaking. A misleading manner, to be as charitable as possible. Rob Bluey was eagerly lapping it up.

"And then a heavy dose of technology. ... A focus on bringing more on-line learning..."

If you can call a requirement for two, count 'em, two online courses for high school graduation a "focus." (And innovation? We're all over innovation! Students can keep taking the same course, play 'till you win and the state keeps putting quarters in the machine for you.)

But two online courses is still two more than the vast majority of concerned citizens who commented on the plan thought should be required. Listening to public opinion is not Tom Luna's strong suit, however. After Bluey dismissively encapsulates the entire outpouring of unprecendented public opposition in Wisconsin and Ohio as nothing more than a "media circus," he wants to know how Idaho's brilliant leader avoided even that distraction?

Luna did note that "thousands of people [did] march on the Capitol, and we had student walkouts and we had vandalism, and things like that."

Like that? What like that? There was that one incident with your car, which you were very eager to promote as union thuggery in spite of there being not one shred of evidence to support the slander. Luna's answer is that we "flew under the radar" (or "slid under," maybe).

Finally, Bluey gets to Luna's "experience" in education, highlighting what precious little there is to tell:

"Now you've served on a school board, you've also spent time here in Washington at the U.S. Department of Education..."

The question is not, "how could such limited experience in the actual field of education qualify you to be the Superintendent of Public Instruction for the whole state?!" but rather this juicy softball:

"What did those experiences teach you about education in America?"

He imagines himself in the vanguard (just as the Heritage Foundation imagines itself), leading a "very comprehensive" charge that will magically make our education system more flexible and able to do more with less. God love 'em, it's a beautiful dream. Not tethered to reality in any way, but don't be such a downer, would you?

13.Nov.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Here's looking at you, kid Permalink to this item

Technology racing into sci-fi territory with face recognition ability. How about... a billboard that looks at you to determine which designer drug to try to sell you?

Or 50 bars in Chicago participating in a system that identifies and reports "the average age of a crowd and the ratio of men to women," without ahem identifying specific patrons? In what they post. So far.

Calling the spread of this technology "the democratization of surveillance" is an interesting choice of words, given that undemocratic surveillance has always (and presumably will always) eagerly adopt the most powerful possible means. But a more relevant question might be whether Facebook's photo tagging hasn't already launched an invasion force, "millions of people are using it to add hundreds of millions of tags."

Except since Facebook has hundreds of millions of users, we must be talking about billions of tags already.

12.Nov.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Arizona recalls president of its Senate Permalink to this item

Big news from down south, "the first sitting Senate president in the nation and the first Arizona legislator ever to lose a recall election," set to be out of his job on Nov. 21.

The central issue of the recall was "a more humane and moderate approach to the immigration issue," and gave Russell Pearce, one of the prime movers of the state's divisive anti-immigration law his walking papers.

The winner, Jerry Lewis, ran a "high road" campaign, eschewed gifts and favors, and... didn't try to get a Mexican immigrant 3rd candidate on the ballot to improve his changes, the way Pearce's supporters did.

Read any good articles lately? Permalink to this item

If you're wired into the WaPo Social Reader, and we're friends on Facebook, I wouldn't have to ask. Not sure how they convinced you that would be a cool thing, but

"Once you're using the app, the stories you read will be instantly shared with your friends, and your friends' reads will be shared with you, creating a socially powered newswire of intriguing articles."

And not-so-intriguing articles. And OMG, you read that article?!

The only sort of Facebook app that's not inherently evil is one that makes it exactly clear what you're sharing, to whom, and does nothing unless you explicitly opt-in, each time. For my money. Social Reader fails, hugely. The best-case scenario for automatically posting everything you read to your profile is that it's only annoying.

Comedy gold (just a shame the joke's on us Permalink to this item

Not sure who those colored icons were, but they and/or their editor put together a very entertaining sidebar to the Michigan debate that is what a Twitter stream only wishes it could be. (No 140 character limit. No hash and @ tags. Complete, well-written sentences.)

W.W.: Let's right-size everything. Some things are too small. Other things are too big. But everything should be just right!

J.F.: It's the Three Bears Plan!

W.W.: Exactly.

It was a target-rich environment, of course, and not just for the now-famous lacuna in Rick Perry's brain. Some items from the highlight reel:

R.A.: Should a candidate with serious issues with sexual harassment really call the highest ranked elected woman in America's history, "Princess Nancy"?

W.W.: Newt basically keeps saying that there's no point in his appearing in these debates because he is unable to say anything worthwhile in the allotted time. The moderators ought to take the hint and stop asking him anything.

J.F. : Newt's undisciplined hostility is one of the true pleasures of these debates. It's like someone poured vinegar and baking soda into his brain and stuff just bubbles up furiously.

Big h/t to Sharon Fisher's G+ stream for the link.

2011.11.11 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The final frontier Permalink to this item

Looking into the night sky, our eyes are inadequate instruments. As curiosity has driven us, and science enabled us, we've seen more, and more, and still more, from looking into the "void." The finest instrument we've made to date is the Hubble Space Telescope, and the second most audacious 10 days of its observing time were spent in 1996, pointed at "a part of the sky that seemed utterly empty, a patch devoid of any planets, stars and galaxies." That was the Deep Field experiment, which found the 13 billion year-old photons from three thousand galaxies, hundreds of trillions of stars.

Still from the video, illustration of the Hubble Space telescope in orbit In 2004, the most audacious, "the farthest we've ever seen into the universe." Get yourself a good connection to the intertubes, a big screen and good speakers, sit back and spend 4 minutes and 17 seconds to have a look at the Hubble Ultra Deep Field 3D. (Either wait for it to buffer fully, or take their offer and download the 200MB (!) .mov to optimize the experience; make your first viewing the best one. Trust me.)

It's a beautiful piece of science, art, and interpretation. I love what the choice of music adds to it, given that experiencing the underlying meaning goes far beyond what words can contain. But since words are part of our experience now, let me rewrite the penultimate paragraph (and quote the last one) with slightly less distracting hamminess:

There are over 100 billion galaxies in the universe. Simply saying that number doesn't connect us to the ultimate reality because a number—an incomprehensibly large number—does not give us any way to actually experience the context it represents. This image however, and the understanding of how it was constructed, can bring us face to face with an astounding realization about the universe we inhabit.

We pointed the most powerful telescope ever built by human beings at absolutely nothing, for no other reason than because we were curious, and discovered that we occupy a very tiny place in the heavens.

A huge hat tip goes out to Tony Darnell for his Deep Astronomy blog.

2011.11.10 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Let's debate again in 1, 2, ... Permalink to this item

Nothing spells "teh crazy" like another all-hands on deck Republican presidential debate, and no one matches Gail Collins in deconstructive panache. You remember that famous software product with the numbers in boxes and the formulas, don't you? Lotus 1, 2, .... um, what comes next?

"If only he'd written them on his wrist."

ENERGY! Because gosh, Texas has a lot of oil and Rick Perry's tank is always full, even if his escalator doesn't go very far past menswear.

"Pity the Republican voters. They aren't asking for much. They just want a candidate who's really conservative but not totally crazy. Who has verbs in his sentences. Who didn't drive to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the car."

Hard to believe whack-o-ness has really run its course, but the off-year election results did make it look like it's at least running out of steam.

9.Nov.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Recycling pays off Permalink to this item

I don't know if it's really "state of the art," but the current City of Boise trash collection and recycling is convenient and cheap enough. We rent two, 65 gallon wheelie bins, one for a list of recyclable materials and one for our flat-out refuse. That gives us the lowest possible $12.80/mo. rate.

The "standard" size bins are almost 50% bigger, 95 gal., and you only have to pay $1 more per month for that much more collection. The basic infrastructure and collection process (including one-man trucks with bin-handling mechanics) is the expensive part; maybe the incremental cost multiplier is only 1/6. (For non-mechanical handling, limited to 32 gal. cans, and bundles of branches, you get 5 "free" overflow stickers per year... and can buy more for $1 each. So $12 for 1,560 gal. more garbage/yr in the big bin... or more than $40 if you have to pay for that much overflow. The leaves are free if your trees now to let them go in the month of November, which our oak and sycamore resolutely do not.)

The recycling is dead simple on our end (that, and the almost 30% discount in the monthly rate accounts for a high participation rate): dump all the paper, cardboard, cans, qualifying plastic into one big bin. Not sure how its economical to sort all that stuff out into separate streams, but apparently economical enough for a surprise holiday bonus in the Nov/Dec bill: a one-time $3 "Recycling Award" kickback from Republic Services (fka Allied Waste Services).

Not sure why they get to keep the other 3/4ths of the money they're making on recycling, but I suppose it's in the contract somewhere. Anyway, it's a coffee and donut from the recycling man. w00t.

8.Nov.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Election Day (Fourfer) Permalink to this item

We didn't go vote first thing this morning, because we voted last week. Because the county early voting place was right next door to the county driver's license renewing place, and somebody looking at Jeanette's D.L. had said "hey, this is expired," and I thought I should check mine and "hey, this is expired" too. Just about exactly eight years since I renewed, a couple months late in 2003.

Then a few days later, the Boise Public Library! sent me an email, telling me my library card is due for its "annual address verification." Not that big a deal to "please be prepared to show proof of your current residence to a staff member during your next visit to the Library," even though we've lived here 27 years, thanks, pay our utility bills monthly, property taxes annually, and Jeanette volunteers at the library weekly, like clockwork. And besides, when we're there, they can go ahead and ask, we don't really need advance notice.

But for your driver's license, it would be nice get a heads-up once every 4 or 8 years, yeah. Just an idea.

Twitter verse Permalink to this item

didn't see the birds
after seeds
in November's garden, shattering.
just the black cat on point
tensed tail, straight
she looked like a comma

I'm still looking for a reason to pay much attention to the so-called twitterverse. I've collected 6 followers who didn't know any better than to suppose I'd have something to tweet once in a while, but I don't seem to. Those things are so short. And ephemeral. Why bother? They're like facebook, only less interesting. I guess you need one of them phone thingies.

The ones that are interesting seem mostly to be leads; canonicaly cryptic, but OK, there's an art to getting it done in 140 characters (minus a few for @s and #tags). Seems like a game of "Made you look"; vaguely annoying. I've spent more than a decade blogging with the self-imposed goal to either (a) write something worthwhile on its own merits, or (b) link to useful (or at funny, or something) content, and add my own two cents to make it moreso. Yeah I miss a few (zillion) things because that bar's too high, but oh well.

When I went to get coffee just now, I saw this scene in our frosty, dying, but still lively garden, paused for the tense moments while it played out, and then thought, here's something charming for Twitter! Having typed it in, revised, revised, revised (noting that it was counting linefeeds, but letting me put them in) and [Tweet], I was disappointed to see that it mangled my lines.

So forget poetry there.

Well, it was worth some more editing anyway, and I've got it all wrong, I know. It's about that question: What's happening? Always, ever, right now, what's happening? Could be phatic, or you could have a meaningful answer once in a while. As phatic, my default answer is "everything."

Otherwise, well, we'll see if it turns out to be worth saying more about.

Update: two new followers this morning! Both Spamtweeters, how nice (NOT) that every medium has its vermin.

4.Nov.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The incredible shrinking Herman Cain Permalink to this item

John Harris of Politco, on tonight's Washington Week, summing up Herman "Koch bruthas' brutha from anotha mutha" Cain's and his campaign's reaction to the story of the week:

"There's no reason to mince words: what we saw in the response... is incompetence."

Politico gave Cain a heads-up 10 days before breaking the story. So never mind how he's going to respond to the 3am phone call: how's he going to respond to the week and a half advance notice?

I saw Cain talking to Judy Woodruff on the Newshour Monday night, with the cock-and-bull story about how maybe it was that time he said the gal was the same height as his wife and she might've misunderstood... but no. The full-on details are still tucked in the confidential settlements, but one lawyer's got enough to seal the deal:

...a "series of inappropriate behaviors and unwanted advances" toward his client over two months in the 1990s ... the accusations did not center on a single exchange that could be easily misinterpreted[; he] said there were multiple episodes that led his client to file a formal, "written complaint in 1999 against him specifically and it had very specific instances in it, and if he chooses not to remember or to acknowledge those, that's his issue."

1.11.11 Permanent URL to this day's entry

2 minutes and 1 second of must-see TV Permalink to this item

Dam! And then NOT-dam! Fabulous editing of the visual record of the removal of the Condit dam from the White Salmon River. Andy Maser of Maser Films has more coming, documenting the new life of an old river. Unlike the Elwha Dam on the Olympic Peninsula, this is not a slow and careful deconstruction:

"PacifiCorp, the utility that owns the site, had estimated the lake would drain in about six hours, but Maser tells us that it actually emptied in less than two."

Will you pay $249 to fall in love with a thermostat? Permalink to this item

Sorry to spoil the punchline for Steven Levy's gushing puff piece about Tony Fadell's must-have accessory for the home nest (or Nest Home, as the case may be), but "how much will it cost?" is kind of an important question for most people who didn't leave their last job as VP to take a year off with the family in Paris.

The Nest Learning Thermostat, in heating mode Not that an iconic household appliance looking disturbingly like the ubiquitous red eye of HAL in Stanley Kubrik's sci-fi nightmare couldn't be a "must have" accessory for digerati brought up on whizzy gadgets, but two-and-a-half hundred for a thermostat? (Even if it can do other colors.)

No, that isn't five times what you'd pay for the mid-20th century Honeywell "Round" from the legendary Henry Dreyfus, it's ten times as much. (If Dreyfus has persuaded you that thermostats are supposed to be round, you can however spend 1/5th the price of a Nest Learning Thermostat for an Easy-To-See version of the Round.)

After making do with a bimetalic strip and vial of mercury in a "rectangular" for 25 years (on top of the 20 it had served before we bought the place), we spent all of $30 on a programmable thermostat 3 years ago, and while its user interface leaves plenty to be desired, it gets the job done nicely, and when we want more of what it offers, we just press its little button and more comes out.

I love the idea of attention to detail, and a beautiful user interface, something that learns what you like and anticipates what you need (even as I reserve some skepticism about their ability to actually make that work in a household with more than one person in it), and I have a mechanical engineer's affection for HVAC, just as I don't mind the idea of "checking out some dirty spot in the basement to fix something." (She said that like it was a bad thing! "Crawl space" is a bad thing, basements are fine.)

But our home energy bill runs about a third of the government's estimate of the average home ($2,200 according to Levy's report), and half of what we do spend is not "under the control of the thermostat" in the sense that if only our thermostat were smarter, we could reduce our energy use by 25%. (Especially not after we already did reduce our energy use by about that much by replacing our 1960s-vintage natural gas thermostat with a high-efficiency condensing furnace 2 years ago.)

I wish Tony and his sexy thermostat all the best, and I hope his ideas catch on. There are a lot of savings to be had in home energy use, even if making it happen doesn't turn out to be "as much fun as shuffling an iTunes playlist." There's only so much fun you can have with a thermostat, after all. (Now if it did actually shuffle your iTunes playlist, that might be something.)

Thanks to whomever you are Permalink to this item

Speaking of time passing, the webhost just notified me that I've been billed for another 12 months, which will make an even dozen years that I've (somewhat inexplicably) owned this here On the invoice, I see someone signed up at WestHost and gave me a referral credit, $25 off. That's nice.

I'm certainly not in the business of making referrals, but I will say that if you're looking for a webhost, I'm happy to recommend the one I use (whether or not you "mention my name" at whatever moment in the process that has to happen) as being reasonably priced, reasonably responsive, and most of all, not having done anything to drive me away. For 11 years now. Good on 'em.

I haven't made any attempt to keep my webhost shopping comparison chart updated, but it might be an interesting historical document some day, from back when an account was parceled out a measly 25MB and one had to give a thought to how many images to put up. (The hosting plans start at 50GB now, 2,000X the space. Somehow I'm grandfathered in at a lower quota, "only" 25.7GB. Since I'm only using 2% of that, I'm not complaining.)

New day, old year Permalink to this item

A haunted house We were up early on Sunday, a literal dark-thirty. When I went out to get the paper, the sky to the west gave no hint of morning. Orion sparkled high in the southwest, Jupiter was setting, bright in opposition. Off early to a choir rehearsal, followed by two performances for Sunday church and a(n early) celebration of Día de los Muertos.

At the first service, my chair just happened to be in the sun coming through the transom window above one of the east doors, and blinds that are usually drawn had been left open. It was dazzling, but there was nothing I needed to look at while sitting there, so I just closed my eyes and enjoyed the sensation, even moreso when listening to Amado Nervo's poem, En Paz (At Peace), and its satisfied ending:

Amé, fui amado, el sol acarició mi faz.
¡Vida, nada me debes! ¡Vida, estamos en paz!

It's a poem about evening rather than morning, but we straddle all our days, sometimes feeling eternal May even in late October.

I loved, I was loved, the sun caressed my face
Life, you owe me nothing! Life, we are at peace!


Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

ISSN 1534-0007

Saturday, 03-Dec-2011 10:01:13 MST