Wednesday, April 30, 2008

"Nothing Accomplished" Day

Are you ready for it?

Five years ago tomorrow, one of the most ridiculous and erroneous publicity stunts in presidential history was perpetrated on the world.

Any bets on how much coverage this will get in the mainstream media?

After another nearly 4000 US deaths, tens of thousands of US injuries and uncounted and largely ignored numbers of Iraqi casualties (innocent and other), the mess is deeper and wider than it was when The Decider pranced around on the deck of the USS Lincoln. Oh, yeah, and the "US" figures are (to the best of my knowledge) only the DOD numbers. Who knows how many civilian contractors are not counted in those totals?

And I don't mean to de-emphasize the numbers of the Iraqi casualties... there's simply no way to know how many civilians have died as a direct or indirect result of "coalition" policies and actions in that country. It's just a guess on my part, but I would not be at all surprised to learn that more Iraqi non-combatants have died in the last five years than did in any five-year span during Saddam Hussein's reign. He was definitely a bad man, but has our meddling really done that country any good?

Five years ago, victory was proclaimed. It was a farce then and it's even more of one now. The "stay 'til we win" philosophy espoused by the right is nothing more than a guarantee of death and destruction without end.

You cannot win when there are no achievable conditions for victory. That's not the fault of the troops on the ground. There has never been a defined mission for them to accomplish. There was never a strategy for anything after the toppling of the regime, and without that, the forces on the ground are left with nothing but day-to-day tactics to keep themselves alive.

This war cannot be won. It can't really even be ended. It will go on after all Western forces are out of the area.

An American-style democracy cannot be forced on a culture that isn't ready to support it. A civil war can't be avoided when two factions have irrational and irreconcilable differences. Prolonged unrest is simply inevitable. As long as there are Shia and Sunni leaders seeking power and status, there will be bloodshed. American and British troops won't be able to stop it.

Prior to the invasion, a few critics mumbled references to Vietnam and were shouted down loudly. True, it's not exactly the same. Fewer troops are dying, and combat medicine is far more effective. Fortunately, the troops aren't being vilified as they return home, and their mistreatment at the hands of the Department of Defense has been received with appropriate outrage. And, of course, there aren't any jungles in Iraq.

And, again, of course... there's a LOT of oil under Iraq. But this wasn't about oil, was it?

Monday, April 21, 2008

New Lead Photo

Shot Sunday evening, April 20. Our last glimpse of the sun for a while. It was snowing hard the next morning.

Shot at 140mm (210 effective), handheld at 1/160 second, f/8.0, ISO 200. Yes, there's a little camera shake in there, but at this magnification you have to look for it. I just loved the sun streaks turning the fog gold.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A Break From the Gray

Where else can you walk to the edge of your Safeway parking lot and see this?
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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Steve Jobs, save me from your followers...

Honestly, I don't hate Macs.

I don't hate Linux boxes.

I don't hate XP machines.

Yeah, I pretty much hate Vista in any of its incarnations, but that's another story altogether. Ick.

And, honestly, I'm not a flag-waving fan of Bill and/or Melinda Gates because of what their collective empire has wrought on the computing world, but, you know what? I haven't seen a lot of activity from the Steve Jobs Foundation funding educational or research institutions or other such endeavors directed toward the common good. But then, maybe I'm not listening in the right places.

Preamble complete.

So, while I was at a workshop recently, a bunch of the participants sat down to lunch together. A fellow with trendy glasses, a tie-dye t-shirt, and a ponytail scrounged together out of sparse, salt-and-pepper hair started turning any aspect of the conversation into yet another opportunity to sing the praises of the Mac OS.

I swear, I could have mentioned something about the crispiness of the French fries and he would have found a way to claim that the Mac would have done it better.

I have little patience for evangelists of any denomination... they all act as though they're superior without the facts to back up the claim. You're supposed to take it on faith.

Macists are different from Dunkers (or the rest) in one way, though... they think they've got the statistics to "prove" their point.

But they miss the point, or at least I think this one did. Spewing statistics, he was certain that he could convince us all that Macs are impenetrable and he honestly seemed to think that they'd stay that way.

Macs aren't invulnerable to attacks because they're Macs... they don't get infected because malware writers don't care about them. They don't have enough market share to make the effort of screwing with them worthwhile.

If you turned the equation over, and made Windows the underdog, X users would be the ones visited by legions of frogs and plagues of locusts.

Sure, the Win bunch would still be dealing with BSODs and hung starts, but they'd also be laughing up their sleeves at the gnashing of teeth caused by the equivalent of McAfee and Norton "protection" suites.

Apple-eaters should rejoice in their relative anonymity while they still have it. They'll know they've reached market relevance when their equivalent of Chernobyl is visited upon them.

In the meantime, the business world still runs on Windows. I'm not exactly cheering that fact, but it IS a fact for the moment.

Be careful what you wish for.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Gadgets from Google

Browsing through the "Gadgets" available for iGoogle, I found a whole lot of solutions in search of problems, but one in particular stuck out:
Just exactly what I need: "Ronald Reagan Quote of the Day". The tagline to convince you that your life isn't complete without it? "Great Tips. Great Advise."

So glad to see the fruits of the Gipper's educational labors ripening out there.

Maybe "ripening" wasn't the word I was looking for. At least not in its normal sense.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


Ed Pavelka at RoadBikeRider suggested that I post the following to the reader feedback forum for that newsletter. Unfortunately, it didn't fit. Rather than try to figure out just what to cut to get it down to 520 characters (or whatever else the limit was), I'll put it up here.

Eugene A. Sloane died on March 29, 2008

On Christmas day, 1971, I got my first 10-speed at the ripe old age of 10. A little later in the day, I was sitting at the kitchen table when my father plunked down a brand-new copy of The Complete Book Of Bicycling and told me that after I'd read the first half of the book (the nuts and bolts, chains and gears, bearings and "spanners" part), I could ride on my own. Until then, my riding on the new bike would be accompanied by him.

I read it and loved it. It wasn't an imposition. I kept reading and was introduced to the Tour de France, cyclocross, Louison Bobet, Eddy Merckx and cycling history in general.

I referred back to that same (but increasingly tattered) copy of that book for years, and it still sits, slipcover mostly intact (though heavily yellowed) on a shelf in my parents' house. When I helped them move a few years back, I couldn't resist the temptation to sit and flip through the pages all over again.

At 69, Dad doesn't ride as much anymore, but he still has a Bike-E that he can take places where most people wouldn't dare. I started riding seriously again over 20 years ago.

I have often wondered how many people got their start in cycling under the remote tutelage of Mr. Sloane. I never knew him, never corresponded with him, but I have often recounted the way in which he (with a firm nudge from Dad) altered the course of my life for the better.

Tailwinds for him, always.

Sonic Transportation / Reduce, Re-Use, Recycle

About a week ago, I dragged out REM's Automatic For The People and popped it in the player at home. It had been a very long time since I'd listened to it.

It's got a lot of songs on it that just resonate within me, even if I (still) don't understand all of the lyrics. A prime example: "Try Not To Breathe" From the first time I heard it, the music has been separate from the lyrics. I like the lyrics, but the arrangement is what vibrates inside me, transports me to another place in time, and I'm certain that the gentlemen from Athens never had that particular destination in mind.

From the opening notes, I'm standing on the slowly-pitching deck of an aircraft carrier, watching a fast frigate pull alongside a few yards away for underway replenishment. We steam rapidly southward on the Indian Ocean. The sun is low on the horizon, sitting just above the foredeck of the frigate as it pitches through the waves. The tempo of the cycle mimics the rhythm of the song, the sharply-angled bow alternately clearing the wavetops, showing several feet of keel backlit by the sun, then plunging deep into the face of the next swell. Flying fish dart forward of the bow wave, glistening silver and purple.

None of this has anything to do with the song, but even after 24 years, I still go back there.

I don't have the new REM CD yet, but I heard "Houston" today, along with Stipe, Buck and Mills' comments on writing it. It's a song about Katrina and its aftermath, and while the guys speak of it as though it's all new to them, the music is recycled almost completely from "Try Not To Breathe". The instrumentation and signal-processing are different, but I was still standing there, rocking away on the flight deck.

I'm not complaining, just observing. I obviously have an affinity for the rhythm and never seem to mind hearing it again. In fact, as the band members state, the music fits the lyrics extremely well in this case. Still, I wasn't aware that melodies were in such short supply that they needed to be recycled by the same band.

Hindsight: I listened to "Houston" again. It's not a complete recycle, but it sure has a lot of similarities.

The interview and other links can be found here:

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

In Praise of a Song

"City of New Orleans" just finished playing on the radio.

How long have I been hearing that song? Decades, for sure. Lately, just a time or two a year at random intervals... somehow just the right intervals, too.

I love a song or story that can transport you instantly, can bring you right into the scene. Arlo Guthrie's perfectly imperfect voice invites you aboard, Steve Goodman's lyrics set the scene, and the arrangement gently rocks you down the rails.

I've given up on attempting to name a "Greatest Song" list of my own. What's greatest in one situation is often just good in another. But "City" always seems to make me stop what I'm doing and listen.

On Making the Switch

I had a MySpace account for a while. It's a longish, silly story as to why, but I did. I knew when I went into it that MySpace was owned by NewsCorp, home of Fox(Not)News and lair of Rupert Murdoch. So, I didn't spend a lot of time there.

Aside from its corporate parentage, I really couldn't stand MySpace because it just looked so BAD! You could take steps to clean things up, but its maximum potential seemed to be limited to "not hideous".

Also, I'm not into collecting "friends". I don't know if a person is a friend unless I've known the person for a while. Clicking a button doesn't make friendship a fact. Dane Cook's "Two Million" video was hysterical for several reasons, not the least of which is the way that it digs at the whole concept of "friends" in the MySpace context.

I'm not totally clueless where technology is concerned, but I had somehow missed the basic point of MySpace... as a social networking venue. Any long-term interest in a network for me has a lot more to do with writing and reading original posts than swimming through gigabytes worth of forwarded stuff and canned "greetings".

So, I'm trying this out. Taste is entirely personal, but I like the looks of this tool better. So far I'm not ready to give an unconditional thumbs-up about the full array of functions, but it's working reasonably well for what I've tried.

The best solution would be for me to create my own site (again), and I know I can, but really, that's a lot like having to build your own house so you can have a place to sleep. There are much more expedient solutions available.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Lead Photo

I'll probably change this soon, as it's out of proportion to the task.

It goes a long way toward illustrating just why I love this little patch that I live on, though. The shot was taken a 20-second walk from my front door.

It's just about impossible to fathom getting tired or bored of the view from my bedroom window or front porch. The light, sky and water change so rapidly and constantly that it's usually like watching a movie.

Caspian terns, like the one that posed so willingly for me in this shot, are only here for a few months of each year. They're beautiful to watch, not so much to hear. It's a love-hate relationship, as their voices are nasty, raspy, even rude, and they pass through by the thousands.

Crows and gulls are ever-present. Great Blue Herons live nearby and stalk the mudflats regularly. Bald Eagles frequent the area, and in late spring the juveniles converge in motley numbers in and around the lagoon.

And then there are the geese. There are two or three domestics that paddle about the east end of the lagoon, honking and screaming at anything that moves, day or night, and the regular cadre of migrating Canada geese, sometimes in twos and threes, sometimes in huge squadrons. When those Canucks start partying at two in the morning, you start to think that a frat house for a neighbor might not be so bad.

I do love it here. Never in my life did I ever think that I'd be able to raise my head in the morning and look out at a sunrise over six miles of open water, dotted on various days by ducks, geese, Panamax freighters, tug and barge combos, fog, whitecaps or a glassy, polished surface. I never get tired of it.
(I replaced the image 4/21. The first of the Caspian terns showed up right around 4/15 this year.)

Photo Trial

I'm just checking out the Picasa/Blogger interface.

I was sorting through a bunch of recent photos this morning when I happened back across this one. It served as a pretty stark reminder of some of the main reasons that I've never regretted my switch from film to digital, and print film to digital in particular.

In recent weeks I've sorted through several hundred prints that were shot as my son was growing up and was just stunned by the lack of color depth and dynamic range. The latter was never that big of a surprise to me, as the translation from a film negative to a paper positive is always a bit of a compromise, and when left to a machine, it's never a particularly good compromise.

Going digital has given me a way to take back my images, to show them the way that I saw them, not the way some automated eyeball guessed at them.
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Starting out

Flexing my fingers, trying to flex my brain.

When I'm trying to go to sleep (or when I'm delaying getting up in the morning) my brain sometimes just won't shut off. Most of those thoughts are random and don't bear repeating, but now and again, I wish I could just type it out.

Nathalie Goldberg and lots of others would say that I should always keep a notebook by my bed. I do. But I've gotten so far out of the habit of the physical act of writing that my hand can't keep up with my brain when there's a pen or pencil involved. I've been relying on keyboards for getting words on paper for more than 20 years and, well, writing sticks just don't do it for me anymore.

Besides, I'd end up having to type anything I actually liked all over again.

So, here this sits, a receptacle for whatever the keyboard catches as it falls out of my head.

A couple of "rules of engagement" here:

If you've stumbled over this and at some point you wish to comment on the contents, you're free to do so, but I won't tolerate uncivil posts. I think strong opinions and the freedom to express them are two crucial ingredients in a truly free society, but for me, the line is drawn at abusive commentary. If I find it, it's gone... terminated with prejudice and without apology.

I'm also really partial to the English language. Call me old-fashioned, unhip, whatever you want, but I've seen enough response posts to MySpace accounts and the like that use "texting" shorthand to know that I just can't stand that stuff. If it's worth expressing, it's worth using real, honest-to-gosh words. I can't provide and consequently don't expect perfection, but for everyones' sake, make the effort to use actual English.

(Don't misconstrue the above as some sort of Lou Dobbs-esque anti-foreigner bent. That couldn't be further from the truth. If English isn't your first language and you're trying to make a point here, well then you have made the effort. Those who only speak English but don't take the time to write it intelligibly won't get any slack, though.)

Oh, yeah... it's just a matter of taste, but it's MY taste: Don't post glitter stuff here. I don't even know for sure that you can, but I don't want to take any chances. I saw Orkut in the Google list of applications and services and a shiver went up my spine. Save your bandwidth for somebody who might like it.