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June 30, 2008: A Fine Wander

I generally don't go a whole week without posting here, but Carol and I began our summer trek out to Chicago this past Friday, and like a loon I left my Web presence thumb drive in my keyboard groove in Colorado. I have my backups with me, but they do not include the longish entry I prepared on the 26th, which you now won't see until I get back home.

Anyway. We're here again, in the land of Green River soda and two-section concrete basement washtubs. White Hen Pantry has been engulfed and devoured by Southland's 7-Eleven, but miraculously, the legendary White Hen coffee bar is still there in the converted stores and still good. The weather was fantastic on our leisurely three-days-and-two-nights journey; in fact, we did not encounter any rain until we were through Marengo, Illinois and only twenty minutes from Crystal Lake.

We drove from Colorado Springs to Kearney, Nebraska our first day out, and took a couple of hours to sneak up to Lake McConaughy and see how it's faring. The lake has been greatly diminished by a near seven-year drought, but this spring the rains started returning to western Nebraska, and the lake now has six feet of depth it didn't have last year. The water was still coldish: 69° on the white-sand north shore, and 74° on the brown-sand south shore (above), where northerly winds have apparently been blowing the warmer surface layer for some weeks. It was still as clear and clean as we remember, and we're planning on stopping for the night in Ogalallah on the way back for a little quality beach time. QBit and Aero both wanted to jump in, but since we still had 150 miles to go on Friday and didn't want to spend all of it in a car full of wet-dog smell, Carol kept them on a short leash and dried their feet before we loaded up and went on.

We spent our second night in Newton, Iowa, best known for being the home of the Maytag Corporation and its bored repairmen, at least until Whirlpool acquired them and shut the company down last year. Newton is one of those "pretty-how" towns that e.e. cummings used to write about, with a real Midwestern town square surrounding the 1911 stone courthouse and Jasper County offices. With dirt-cheap housing, near-zero crime, and lots of office and manufacturing space opening up, you'd think some forward-looking high-tech entrepreneur would begin building routers or laptops or something in the old Maytag space. I can't figure it—oh wait, forgot, there's no Thai restaurants there. Damn. (But there are 100 women for every 87 men. C'mon, guys. You can always truck in the khao pad.)

Sunday was my 56th birthday, and we took a little time out to visit the Amana Colonies, and had lunch at Henry's Village Market in Homestead. Andrew, the owner, made us up some ham sandwiches on bread baked right there, and partway through had to run out to the garden to pick some more lettuce. We watched for flood damage in eastern Iowa, but apart from a submerged park along the Cedar River near Iowa City, we saw nothing we could unambiguously ascribe to the recent torrential rains.

So we're here, and will visit with friends and family and see our new niece Juliana Roper baptized. I hope to get some writing done here at the condo, and will try to keep up with Contra as time allows.

June 23, 2008: Productivity Theater

Slashdot recently aggregated an article from The New Atlantis suggesting that multitasking makes us stupid. This is old news to a lot of people, myself included, but it's interesting how today's pervasive multitasking culture is finally engendering a healthy dose of backlash. Last November, there was an even blunter piece in The Atlantic Monthly that I had hoped to comment on here, but...I was interrupted. Turn your cellphone off and read both.

In human cognition as in computer systems, context changes are costly. Rational thought (as opposed to pure subconscious ideamaking) is strictly linear, and depends utterly on bringing a network of pertinent facts and relationships among facts to the forefront of the mind for easy reference. Lose that network and you will lose your train of thought; in fact, that's what "losing your train of thought" actually is. Some people may be better than others at picking up the train and slapping it down on another section of track without spilling the coal cars, but nobody delivers the load faster than the one who just brings it to the destination in uninterrupted linear fashion. Anyone who thinks otherwise is fooling himself.

That's the gist of both articles. The deeper question is this: Why do we believe that multitaking is better than focus? In part I think it's because our culture demands productivity, and multitasking is a sort of productivity theater: It makes our managers think we're productive because it gives the impression of furious constant activity. Alas, it makes us think we're productive as well, when in fact most of that furious constant activity is just us dodging what we really ought to be doing.

I've seen this effect in myself: When I'm working on something and hit a difficult spot, the less disciplined parts of me start looking for a context change. Hey, I haven't read email for awhile...hey, wasn't I supposed to call Keith? Hey, there's that corner of the basement that I keep meaning to tidy up...and so I drop my current task precisely when it would benefit the most from renewed and intensified focus.

This is hardly a modern phenomenon; what's different is that in the past it was considered a temptation to scatterbrained-ness and a failing inherent in weak minds. Today it's considered the hallmark of a truly modern intellect. Modern, sure, but hardly efficient: Allowing yourself this sort of unwarranted context change trains the mind to bounce from the easiest parts of one project to the easiest parts of another, making little genuine progress and getting very little to the finish line.

Much of the blame falls to a modern educational system that doesn't reward focus, followed by overworked managers who lack the time, the tools, and the gut instincts to understand "how things are going" in their organizations. HR doesn't help; people who insist on the time and the solitude to focus are often disparaged as "not team players" even when the work in question is not essentially collaborative. In my experience, most real productivity is achieved during "heads down" time, and most "teamwork" cooks down to kibitzing. In fact, the most productive meetings I recall were the ones where that obnoxious guy kept yelling "focus!" (Most of the time, that obnoxious guy was me.)

Flow follows focus. Systematically breaking focus leads to a state of mind that, irrespective of what it happens to be doing, is constantly wondering whether it should be doing something else. This way lies madness; nay; this is already madness. Resist it with everything you can muster.

June 20, 2008: Easy Duplicate Finder

I've used a number of utilities to search for duplicate files under Windows in the past few years, but in doing research for Degunking Essentials I've run across the king of the category: Easy Duplicate Finder. I like it for these reasons:

  • It's a "portable" or "no-install" app, meaning a single .exe file that can run from anywhere. It does not shotgun itself into fifteen different places on your hard drive, including the Windows Registry. You "uninstall" it by...deleting the file. Damn, what a brilliant notion! Why haven't more programmers thought of that?
  • In a sense, the UI contains its own documentation. You proceed through the single screen from top to bottom, filling things out in an order that makes sense. It actually says "Step 1:", "Step 2:", and "Step 3:"
  • It is astonishingly fast, at least in the mode that checks for duplicates using file size and a CRC32 checksum. When I captured the screenshot above (full size image here) it had just scanned 6,300 files seconds. (I suspect that the alternate algorithm, which performs a byte-by-byte test, would take a little longer.)
  • It's free. Really and truly free, without ads or spyware or any other gotchas of any species.

In the two hours of testing I put it through, I managed to find two old copies of my mailbase that I had forgotten I had, plus almost two hundred duplicate digital photos. I realized that I had an extra copy of the Hardy Heron .iso (700+ MB right there) a dozen or so duplicate MP3s, plus a substantial number of other things scattered allthehell over the place, which taken together lightened my hard drive by a little over two GB.

It reminded me of lesson I learned a couple years ago, too: Empty your digital camera when you move pictures over to your PC. Most of the duplicate photos happened this way: I moved photos from the camera to my folder hierarchy without deleting them from the camera, then gave the numeric filenames more descriptive replacements. Alas, the next time I synced the camera, the same files came over again in their original numeric filenames, leaving me with identical file pairs with names like 100_0519.JPG and QbitChewsTennisBall1.jpg.

After the utility locates the dupes, you can select specific files for deletion, renaming, or moving to a catchall folder. You can limit the search to particular file types and file sizes, and define masks for ambiguous filespecs, like QBit*.jpg. Overall, a spectacularly useful utility that has no defects that I can see.

Highly recommended.

June 19, 2008: Mi Paste

I've been busy for the past few days, and not at my best. I had a "crown lengthening" two weeks ago, which basically means lengthening the amount of tooth above the gum line by cutting away gum tissue and (in my case, at least) shaving away some bone. The surgical site was protected for two weeks by dental packing material (a goopy plastic that hardens into a sort of armor around the affected gum tissue) and the packing material was removed on Monday. What I soon found is that without the packing in place, the exposed sides of the tooth were extremely sensitive to temperatures even a few degrees from 98.6. One slug of Diet Mountain Dew for lunch on Monday and I damned near went through the roof.

Hot coffee twinged me a little bit as well, though the temperature delta was nowhere near as great. But this put me in a bad mood, and I returned the next day to pick up a tube of something called Mi Paste. I freely confess I don't understand the biology here, but after applying it to the exposed tooth for two days, I can now slug ice-cold sodas and barely feel it at all.

The product was created to counteract the sort of mild tooth sensitivity that often apears after teeth are whitened. I didn't think it would have much effect on a case as severe as mine, but shazam! It worked. The stuff isn't cheap ($18 for a smallish tube) but it didn't take a lot to do the job, and it's available without prescription online. It's based on casein, so if you have milk allergies it may be problematic. Otherwise, damn. Like magic. Highly recommended.

June 15, 2008: Father's Day

To the eternal memory of Frank W. Duntemann (1922-1978), engineer, who said, "When you build 'em right, they fly."

You did. And I do.

June 15, 2008: Odd Lots

  • After posting my June 13, 2008 entry, I did locate an unofficial list of apps to be included in the Ubuntu Netbook Remix distro: Firefox, Thunderbird, Pidgin, Rhythmbox, FBReader (for ebooks), Liferea (RSS feed reader), F-Spot (photo viewer) and OpenOffice. No serious surprises here, though I wonder how well a mobile CPU like Atom will run OpenOffice. I guess we'll find out later this year.
  • Ken Taaffe spotted my lament that my rotatable parts tower was no longer available, and pointed out that it can be had from a different vendor. It's more expensive than it was in 1990 (though what isn't?) but it looks like precisely the same item. $439. I paid about $350 for it in 1990. See a photo in my shop tips article.
  • Years ago, I half-seriously suggested that somebody should create a Bottom 60 radio format, and only play songs that charted but never made it into the Top 40. Well, Shawn Nagy's SuperOldies is pretty much the item, though it uses the Cash Box charts rather than Billboard. It's Internet Radio and you can listen with Winamp and other Internet Radio players. I've had it on for most of an hour and have yet to hear a song that I recognize. Is that good? Well, how bored with Clear Channel are you?
  • I'm intrigued by a recent run of articles about tweaking certain simple algae and bacteria to produce Diesel fuel as a metabolic waste product. Here's one. And another, both from the London Times. Assuming that this works reliably and doesn't have a downside, we may all eventually have a refrigerator-sized thingie in the basement or garage into which we dump trash, lawn clippings, or other organic waste and from which we extract vehicle fuel, drip by drip. It doesn't matter if it only produces a gallon a day; for a smallish car with a good Diesel engine, that's plenty. The other (and in my view, far greater) advantage is that it's completely decentralized: If our vehicle fuel comes from a hundred million little boxes (rather than five or six monster refineries) terrorists and hurricanes will have a bitch of a time messing up the transportation industry.
  • Aki Peltonen sent me a link to a large forum post by Java expert and author Bruce Eckel, about why he can't abide Vista and won't use it. Read the comments, too. Lots of interesting ideas and suggestions here.
  • Michael Covington posted a note abut the Ebox 2300, a very small, fanless $200 PC-compatible computer suitable for dedicated/embedded applications running Linux or Windows CE. One little but brilliant touch is making the machine's mounting holes the same as a VESA-compatible monitor stand, meaning that you can mount the computer on the back of the monitor using the same holes. I envision a desktop weather station or something like that. Oh, for time to tinker...
  • Pete Albrecht sent me a pointer to Virtual Moon Atlas, an extremely rich resource for Lunar geography that belongs in every SF writer's toolkit. 422 MB download, but hey, dare ya to find all this stuff on one Web site, or anywhere else.
  • Finally, here's the reason that "woe is me" is actually correct English, and always has been, right back to the days of Chaucer or even Beowulf. I had heard that, but never had the presence of mind to chase down the grammar. It's about the dative case, and all these years we thought we were just repeating an old error. Woe is we.

June 13, 2008: Ubuntu and the Application 20/80 Rule

As time has allowed, I've been downstairs getting a sense for the new Ubuntu 8.04 release (Hardy Heron) in both its Ubuntu and Kubuntu (KDE 4 UI) distributions. My experience with Kubuntu was cut short when the new and rather bleeding-edge KDE 4 system malfunctioned in a weird way just a few days after I installed it. I will reinstall it when they get a bug-fix release of KDE 4 out there; in the meantime, it's been worthwhile playing with Gnome-based Ubuntu.

As I said in my May 28 entry, desktop Linux has arrived. People still quibble about whether or not Grandma can install Linux, but think for a second: Does Grandma have to install Windows? Hardly. If we can persuade hardware vendors to offer Linux preinstalls, Grandma will have no more trouble with Linux than she would with Windows, especially if this is Grandma's first PC and she isn't constrained by old Windows habits.

I've been testing four free software packages in some depth: Abiword, OpenOffice, Gnumeric, and Kompozer. I tested Abiword and OpenOffice some years back and again last year when I installed Ubuntu Gutsy Gibbon. Both worked fine. OpenOffice seemed slow to me last year, but then it was running on a 2002-era 1.7 GHz machine, not the loaded P4 3.2 GHz box I'm using downstairs these days. OpenOffice now seems more than responsive enough. Abiword, by contrast, has always seemed pretty brisk, and it has evolved to the point where it can do just about anything I need a word processor to do. It loads and saves Word 2000 files—with a couple of minor gotchas—and had no trouble with the documents I edited. The Gnumeric spreadsheet works extremely well for me and handled every Excel 2000 spreadsheet I threw it at, keeping in mind that I'm not much of a spreadsheet guy and none of my spreadsheets ever gave Excel stretchmarks to begin with.

Kompozer was a bit of a surprise: It's a fork of Linspire's now-abandoned NVu WYSIWYG Web editor, and as close to Dreamweaver 3 as anything I've tried. It's available for Windows, and if it doesn't fail me in any significant way, I'm moving all my HTML development over to it, because it outputs cleaner HTML than the 1999-era Dreamweaver 3.

I've done less testing of OpenOffice, but will continue testing and report more here. If I have to move to a non-Microsoft office suite in the future, this will probably be it, and what testing I've done so far tells me that file compatibility is probably the only serious problem I'll have.

What my recent testing of Ubuntu and these several apps suggests to me is that only a lack of big box store preinstalls keeps desktop Ubuntu from becoming a very big hit—and the biggest challenge to Microsoft since OS X. What has always been true but rarely mentioned in the computer press is that 20% of app features satisfy the needs of 80% of app users. That 20/80 rule goes further: Email, Web, word processing, and spreadsheets together represent probably 80% or more of what home users do with computers. (I suspect that the rest is a combination of media players, IM, photo managers, and games.) And within those apps, 20% of the features do 80%—or more—of the work. I know a lot of people who still use Office 97 every day, and have no intention of upgrading. It works like lightning on modern PCs—and it's paid for, heh. It's harder for me to tell with Gnumeric, but I'm quite sure at this point that Abiword is on par with Word 97 and very close to par with Word 2000, certainly close enough to satisfy the 80% rule.

The recent (and completely unexpected) explosion of interest in cheap "netbook" subnotebook PCs comes into play here. The Atom-based netbooks I've researched will not run Vista and probably never will. Caught again with its pants around its ankles, MS is trying to popularize a streamlined version of XP for netbooks, but Linux was there first and seems to be making headway. A netbook does not have to be a completely general-purpose PC. If it can execute that 20% of app features supporting 80% of user work, it will sell—especially at the $500 price point. A distro that preinstalls Firefox, Thunderbird/Lightning, Abiword, and Gnumeric would be one hell of a road warrior machine, especially if the hardware has a fast SSD and comes in under two pounds. Canonical is working on what sure looks like such a distro, its recently announced Ubuntu Netbook Remix. Ars has a nice preview. No crisp word yet on what apps it preinstalls, but we'll find out before OEMs begin preinstalling Ubuntu Remix on their hardware later this year. In the meantime, I'm very encouraged on all fronts. Finally, there is a non-Microsoft, command-line free path to 80% of what PCs do. As far as I'm concerned, that's plenty.

June 12, 2008: Odd Lots

  • Aero won his first "major" (a win against at least three other males of his breed) at the Colorado Springs Kennel Club dog show this past weekend. That gives him a total of five points toward the fifteen he needs (and the first of two majors) to win his championship.
  • Shopping a little harder for gas these days? This site may help, keeping in mind that driving miles to save pennies isn't always a win—and the price could change before you get there. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the pointer.)
  • Neal Rest sent me a pointer to "Ten Things I Hate About Commandments," which is a parody trailer made as a remix of scenes from a very famous movie that you may recognize. It's less a parody of the film than of film trailers in general, and very funny.
  • From Roy Harvey comes a link to a paper containing a great deal of data on historical climate change. I don't agree with all the points made by the author, but the paper is so thick with graphs that I'm not sure his conclusions are the real value-add here. Do take a look.
  • One of the scariest videos I've seen in a while shows a good-sized house literally sliding into the rampaging Wisconsin River and floating away downstream. Lake Delton, near Wisconsin Dells and home of the (in)famous Tommy Bartlett Water Ski and Jumping Boat Thrill Show, basically created a new channel for itself and drained completely into the Wisconsin River, driven by massive rains. The Dells themselves weren't directly affected, but a great deal of aquatic activity on Lake Delton (duck boats, jet skis, and poor Tommy) are now gone for the rest of the 2008 season. (And we're going to the Dells this July!)
  • Missed including this one a couple of months ago, but it's worth some consideration: Blogging has become the new work-at-home piecework, with "professional" (read here: sometimes paid) bloggers working themselves literally to death for as little as $10 per post. Damn, I wish my blog earned me that little! (Here's a counterpoint that misses the point a little, but worth reading for balance.)
  • Finally, I stumbled on Curious Expeditions while trying to find aerial photos of the Roman Catholic church I grew up in on the Web. No dice on the church (it's so ugly the parish Web site contains no photos of it!) but if you want to see a picture of a petrified bat, Galileo's mummified middle finger (now, who did he give it to?) or hundreds of other peculiar things, this is the place. It's not all creepshow stuff, either: The entry on New York City's pneumatic message system (similar to the legendary pneu of France) is the best treatment I've seen on the American side of the subject.

June 6, 2008: Fire Drill!

Damn. Like, inc(damn). There is a wildfire a little less than a mile south and east of us, on the lower slopes of Cheyenne Mountain. The cops have sealed off all the roads into our neighborhood and won't let Carol get back home here. I'm gathering papers and stuff, and will be tossing whole computers in the back of the Voyager in case I have to run.

They're working on it, and if it weren't for the strong wind I'd say it wouldn't be too much of a challenge. But either way, it's a fire drill. With real fire.

Update (4PM local): Carol and Aero went back to Jimi Henton's house (she's the local bichon groomer/breeder) and I have this huge pile of stuff by the garage door. However, I just learned that the police reopened Farthing, which is one of the two paths into this area from outside. Broadmoor Bluffs is still closed. I'm not seeing helicopters circling anymore (I can't see the fire site from here) and I'm guessing that they're getting a handle on it. Remarkably, TV news has been almost no help. Nobody wants to interrupt the damfool soap operas. I can be out the door with QBit and the big pile in the back of the 4Runner in less than ten minutes. In the meantime, I'm sitting in the livingroom with the TV on, reading Mark Kurlansky's Salt. I'll post an all-clear here when it's all clear.

Update (7:15PM local): The fire has been controlled, and is mostly out. Carol is home. Tomorrow, alas, is going to be very hot here, and very windy, which is always bad news on the fire front. The fire department is soaking down whatever hot spots they can find at the fire site, to keep them from rekindling tomorrow if the winds get bad.

The fire was not large (5-6 acres) but it was in a small pocket of undeveloped land surrounded on three sides by subdivisions and on the fourth by NORAD and the NORAD access road. It was right across Highway 115 from Fort Carson, so both the Army and the Air Force had an interest and contributed resources.

I'm still taking some Tylenol for the sake of my stitches, else I would be pouring myself a drink about now. Nothing like a fire down the hill to mess over what would otherwise have been a very productive day.

June 5, 2008: Contra Is Ten Years Old

I know I'm older than dirt. What still boggles me a little to think on is that I'm older than...blogging. Yes, indeedy: Ten years ago today, I wrote the first entry for something I called VDM Diary. (VDM, of course, being Visual Developer Magazine, which I owned and edited until we shut it down in early 2000.) I had no idea what I was doing, and certainly had no idea that what I was doing would soon become a global phenomenon that would put whole newspapers in their graves and change the shape of information dissemination.

It's amusing to go scanning around the Web to read the heated arguments about who invented blogging. I'll pull an Al Gore here and say that I did. So did a number of other people. It's not like it's rocket science to take a literary form that goes back to at least 1660 and put it...on a Web server. Oh, the genius!

Actually, I'm even more like Al Gore in that I didn't invent blogging—I just like to say that I did. In truth, Lisa Marie Hafeli did, and she simply pestered me into implementing it. Lisa was my ad sales rep at VDM, and she wanted me to figure out how to get more product mentions associated with the magazine, so that she could get a little more credit with developer tools companies. We only had so many pages for reviews and news releases, about talking about products online? How about just writing a little something every day or two about a product?

I remember her bringing up the idea at the beginning of 1998, and I thought about it for months before giving it a try. I had never kept a paper diary, though I wrote a lot of email and posted on forums, so I was used to writing in short pithy snippets. I was leery of pandering to advertisers, so I tried hard to avoid the appearance of just doing VDM Diary to work in product mentions. It was by intention that I sprinkled in little weirdnesses like the FBI's database of UFO sightings (June 17, 1998) and odd observations from my own work in technology, like how Word 97 irritatingly autoconverted the sequence ":)" to a smiley icon. I did the product mentions, but they didn't seem to make much difference in our ad sales efforts. So I branched out, adding personal observations on my own life, and by the middle of 1999 I was thoroughly hooked. Alas, that was about the time that VDM began imploding, and I was depressed for a solid year after Coriolis shuttered the magazine. (Coriolis itself didn't last much longer.) But even though I no longer had a magazine, by the middle of 2000 I re-established a Web diary on my own domain ( and have been doing it ever since.

ContraPositive is not the oldest blog still posting regularly. I think Lileks' Daily Bleat (which goes back to early 1997) has that honor, though if you know of any older ones still posting, please send a pointer. Bob Thompson's Daynotes Journal started up less than two weeks after Contra did, and is still going strong. Jerry Pournelle has been doing something with regular postings on his Web site for a very long time, but it's not organized like a diary, and very hard to figure out where everything is and how long it's been there. (This doesn't mean it's not worth reading.)

Interestingly, I've been told by a couple of people that what I do is not really a blog, and is actually more like a daily newspaper column. There's something to that. When I was a kid, I used to admire writers like Jack Mabley and Bert Bacharach (not his composer/musician son Burt) who wrote daily columns in the local newspapers. (Jack Mabley wrote a blog for a time when he was 90, until he passed away in 2006.) The energy that sustains Contra comes from a conviction learned from far better writers than I (like Gene Wolfe) that no matter what else they might do, writers should write something coherent every day. I usually manage that, though understand that I write on a lot of different projects, of which Contra is only one. Doing it daily isn't difficult. Being coherent, now, well...

In the last year or so, I've been doing fewer Contra posts and longer ones, and gathering shorter items (usually focusing on links) up into regular Odd Lots posts. I'm trying not to split my concentration too many ways on any given day (context changes are costly!) and if I'm working intensely on something like Degunking Essentials or Old Catholics, I tend not to work on Contra that same day. I have bookmark and email folders for items to address later on, and periodically go through it, deleting or archiving items once I've covered them here. The system works, and I'll use it until I think of something better.

As I've said here in a number of contexts, writing benefits the writer as well as the reader. It's good practice, it's discipline, it dissipates tension, and it's one way to stay current in the world. Having something coherent to say requires that you live an attentive life and remain curious about many different things, and the best way to learn something yourself is to explain it to someone else. Contra works for me. I hope it works for you. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned.

June 4, 2008: Fantasy? Or Science Fiction?

"Hilary? Hey, John McCain here. How's it going? Yes. Understood. I read the news. Look, I'll get to the point: Do you still want to be President? I think I can help get you there. It's unorthodox, but hear me out.

"Your party is in trouble. Once the media decided to anoint Obama as our next President, they turned on you, and split the Democrats wide-open. My numbers people tell me that about a quarter of your supporters would rather vote Republican than vote for Obama. They may not actually do that; they may just stay home. But if Barack thinks he's just going to walk off with the election, he's greener than he looks.

"My party, on the other hand, is just about dead. The corpse is still twitching, but the neocons killed it a long time ago. The Democrats are split two ways. The Republicans are split ten ways. Ok, I won't lay it all out; I respect your research staff. This is not new news. Over here we're all having a bitch of a time trying to decide what the party stands for, and the party leaders don't even like me. They're keeping their mouths shut; they don't want to do what your party's doing to itself. They wanted Rudy Giuliani, and they expected me to lose gracefully and go away. I lose gracefully—when I lose. But they're gritting their teeth when they say they support me. Behind the scenes they've said a lot of the same things about me that your party bosses are saying about you. I'll admit to you privately that I'm pretty angry about that.

"But set that side for now. We both have this other problem: There are a lot of people who are disgusted with the whole business. It's not fair to say that they're in the middle, between you and me, between Republicans and Democrats. They're outside the graph. They're tired of the posturing and the tribalism and the personality cults. They know the country's in trouble, and they want it fixed. They're tired of the War, they're afraid for their jobs, they're afraid of getting cancer and losing everything they own before dying in agony. Global warming isn't on their radar. Neither is gay marriage. Those are fringe issues. It's about the economy. It's always about the economy. Bill had that dead right.

"There's a window here: Remake the Republican Party out of the rubble, put some solutions on the table, and try to find a way out of the mess we've gotten ourselves into. That's what I'm going to try to do. I'm going to piss a lot of my party people off, but I'm going to tell them to hit the road. I'm going to turn the whole thing inside out. I'm going to let the tax cuts expire. I'm going to propose another approach to universal health care. It may take a couple of years, but I intend to end the War.

"No, I don't blame you. I don't expect anybody to believe me, which is why I'm not telling anybody. But that's what I'm going to do. Look: I'm 71. I'm in decent health but I get tired sometimes. I have this one last chance to do something completely audacious, which is to break the gridlock and get this country back on track. Otherwise, I keep the status quo and go quietly into that good night, probably before the end of my second term. I do not intend to be another William Henry Harrison.

"I admire your guts and your persistence. I respect your positions, even the ones I don't hold. I think I can win this November. But with you as my VP, I don't think we can lose.

"Hilary? Hilary? You there? Yes, I'm serious. And I'll make you this promise: Run with me in 2008, and I will choose not to run in 2012. We don't have to say anything now. I'll be 75, and that's too old to do it again. The public will accept that.

"Hold on. You do not have to actually be a Republican. You simply have to pretend to be one for a year or two, until we completely re-create the Republican party somewhere in the center. My research indicates that many more Americans want consensus than ideological polarization. We may have to upset a few noisy people at the extremes who like to think that they're more important than they are. I'll cover the right if you'll cover the left. But I promise you, when we're through with it, it will be an utterly different party.

"Barack's young, and his people worship him. He'll try again in 2012. Still, I don't think there's a slate in the universe that could win against Clinton/Rice.

"Are you in? You don't have to tell me right this...

"Wow. Good. So let's do it. You've waited long enough. I've waited too long. It's time. It's just damned time."

June 2, 2008: Odd Lots

  • Carol and I were at the Longmont Dog Show over the weekend, and Aero got another two blue ribbons, though that was in the Open Dog category and didn't yield him any points. I actually "handled" (took around the show ring) another dog owned by Aero's breeder Jimi Henton. Showing Jackie (Jimi's Hit the Jackpot) was fun, especially since Jackie is the biggest, heaviest, strongest bichon any of us has ever seen (23 pounds, all of it muscle!) and there's nothing the least bit fussy about him.
  • The Make blog aggregated an item on making your own railcarts and railbkes. I've often thought that this might be fun (it's certainly nothing new) but the snag is that when railroads abandon a run of track, they typically tear up the rails for scrap almost immediately. The mere presence of iron suggests that trains come through, if only occasionally, and that would make me nervous. I have been looking for but have not yet found an index of track sections where trains are known not to run.
  • In the certifiable Brain Sludge category of Web content falls Topher's Breakfast Cereal Character Guide, which lists (and in most cases shows images of) all the characters hawking cereal on boxes and commercials that you've ever heard of, and I suspect more than a few that you haven't. The list also includes purely fictional cereals like Calvin's Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs, and Admiral Crunch and Archduke Chocula from Futureama. Early versions of the Rice Crispies Elves are interesting—and I never knew that Tony the Tiger had a spouse. All here.
  • Speaking of cereal, this article confirms my grocery-store math: House brands cost as much as 40% less than largely indistinguishable name brands. If you're spending more for gas, at least spend less on Rice Chex. The only type of cereal where house brands taste distinctly different to me are oat toruses, or whateverthehell you call them in the generic—Cheerios clones. The house brands are not necessary bad (in fact, the Trader Joe's house brand oat toruses are distinctly better) but it's odd that all the chex and the flakes can't be told apart but Cheerios brooks no imitation. By the way, most house brand cereals are made by Ralston Foods. Here's their list. Of interest to geometers are Crispy Hexagons. What, no Crispy Dodecahedrons?
  • And to round out the discussion of nostaligic carbs, I regret to inform all who may care that Dressel's Cakes are really and truly gone forever. Their distinctive frozen whipped-cream chocolate cake was a Chicago standard for 75 years, coming from their plant at 66th and Ashland Avenues, but the firm was bought by a French company a few years ago and dismantled for reasons unclear. (I'm glad I can still get Green River!)
  • Mike Reith sent a pointer to goosh, a purely textual interface to Google that works a lot like the Unix shell. Could this be useful to the vision-impaired?
  • There are no visible sunspots right now, and according to several items I've read, there have been none for some weeks, and very few for months, all the way back into the middle of last year. Ham radio guys (like me) track sunspot activity closely because it affects shortwave radio propagation. Here's a sample. It's probably too early to worry, but long-term sunspot minima have been very bad juju in the past.