Thursday, March 31, 2005

Life and How To Live It

I promised myself i wouldn't blog anything about Terri Schiavo, but now that she's died i think i can avoid ranting. To be sure, I was strongly in the right-to-die camp, and i'm relieved that she was finally allowed to pass on. Frankly, I've been horrified by her parents' struggle to keep her heart beating at all costs. I understand the parental will to protect one's children, but their behavior had long since passed irrational and become, imo, cruel. But i also think that the one thing my opinion shares with that of important people like George Bush, Bill Frist, or Tom Delay is that it is not, as my grandpa used to say, worth a tinker's damn.

The reason i want to say something about Mrs. Schiavo is that she and i are the same age. In fact, she was born almost exactly two week before me. The heart failure that lead to her brain damage happened in 1990-- 15 years ago. The difference between 26 and 41 is monumental. For me that time period contains about 90% of everything interesting that's ever happened to me. It constitutes most of my professional career (and by the look of things, probably the best part). It covers all but 3 years of my marriage. It encompasses the lives of both of my sons. Most of the international travel that i've done happened during that period, and i'd estimate i've read about 700 books, listened to thousands of hours of music, seen hundreds of movies, run 3 marathons, and i've gone backpacking in Hawaii, Arizona, Utah, and the mountains of California. In short, despite a fairly conventional and unremarkable life, i've done a fair amount of stuff in 15 years.

It's reasonable to expect that Terri Schiavo would have done at least that much as well. Who knows, she might even have done things far more noteworthy. So in my opinion the tragedy of Mrs. Schiavo is not, depending on your viewpoint, either that she was artificially sustained long after her quality of life had been reduced to nil, or that she was starved to death against her will. To me the tragedy is simply that she missed her life. Even the most medically unlikely rehabilitation or miraculous restoration would not have changed that.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Resurrection Weekend

Drove to Phoenix and back this Easter weekend with the family, dog included. The trip hasn't become any less tedious over the years, but the scenery was nicer than usual this time because of all the rain. The desert along Highway 8 and between Gila Bend and the I-10 is the most verdant i've ever seen it. It looks like the prairies in some places because of all the grass. I've heard this is what it was like back in the early 19th century before the influx of cattle. We picked up some alt rock station on our way into Phoenix on the 10 that was having a "resurrection weekend", where they play hits from the 80s or whatever. We're not sure if they understood the humor in this or not.

Dang, there were a bunch of people on the road and in the fast-food joints and the rest stops. Lots of them were spring breakers, or various other yay-hoos heading to/from Glamis or the dunes near Yuma. Just the sort of thing to trigger my misanthropic tendencies. Jesus, people are stupid. For example, you can legally drive 75 mph on the highway in Arizona and you'll still see some a%#hole riding another guy's bumper like he's got somewhere important to be. The high point is always Gila Bend for me. I just dig that place. Oddly, the more run-down the town becomes the nicer the Space Age Lodge becomes. Hard to believe i used to go there for lunch 35 years ago.

Phoenix was nice, isn't too hot yet. I got in a 10-mile run out through North Mountain park, and it was beautiful. Emily and i finally went to see Million Dollar Baby at the Esplanade. I enjoyed it although the boxing scenes weren't that good. Hillary Swank was good though, both as an actress and as a convincing boxer. I really like Ms. Swank. She's attractive in an interesting way, and i think she did an amazing job in a role that would've been easy to get wrong. A little too much attitude, a little too much twang and it would've been easy to create a complete caricature (unfortunately, most of the actors playing her family did just that).

Finished reading James Hynes' Kings of Infinite Space during the trip. It's a fun read, especially if you're in the right frame of mind. It's been described as a cross between Office Space and The Island of Dr. Moreau, but that doesn't really do it justice.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Family Values

One of the blogs that i've been following recently is Julie Leung's Seedlings & Sprouts blog. She recently posted a link to this article about the over-structured lives of American families. I've been trying to determine how much my own family is reflected in this. On one hand, my kids do have more scheduled activities than i ever had at their age: various sports, piano and cello lessons, martial arts classes. Also because Emily and i alternate nights working out, we often don't spend full evenings all together. On the positive side, neither Emily nor i work ridiculous hours and our house is arranged to minimize the roaming around that is described in the article (the computer is in the same room as the TV, the kitchen, dining area, and family room are basically the same space). I'm also an advocate of just being around as much as possible when we are in the house together, as opposed to the egregious concept of "quality time".

I'm curious to know the why of how families have evolved in this way. It's clear that somewhere along the line parents became collectively insane, convinced beyond reason that their children must have every opportunity to become Ivy League attending musical prodigies and/or sports stars, or else they will inevitably end up living in a cardboard box under a freeway overpass. It's like some parents started messing up the curve, and so all of the other parents freaked.

But other than a few well-documented cases of mass hysteria, society tends to do what it's persuaded to do. So who exactly is selling us the idea that this is the way to live?

Monday, March 21, 2005

Accidental Vegetarian

Since my wife and kids are practicing Catholics, i try to be supportive by joining them in giving up something for Lent each year (i was going to entitle this entry Lental Soup, but i was afraid i'd be struck by lightning). This year i decided to give up meat. This wasn't a huge sacrifice for me since as a family we already eat relatively little meat, especially of the ungulate mammal sort (my kids, oddly, don't like hamburgers so we never have them at home; though Emily and i enjoy a good filet mignon every couple of months). The biggest hardship for me personally has been the near elimination of one my staple food items: the burrito. There are only so many times you can eat bean and/or veggie burritos. I also miss fish tacos, panang curry with duck, and kabab kubideh.

Along with many meatless dishes i regularly eat (pasta, hummus and falafel, salads, various TVP things from Morningstar Farms), i discovered a few new things that have made going meatless fairly easy. First, i have to acknowledge Sipz, a vegan restaurant not far from where i live that is absolutely fabulous. They specialize in spicy Asian fare with tofu replacing the meat. Amazing. Next, the vegetarian version of the Big Wave hamburger at the Islands chain is pretty good (i think it's Garden Burger). The Tasty Bites line of microwaveable Indian food is very good if you can get past the slight repulsion of its astronaut-food packaging. I never did find a meatless burrito that i really liked, although my best friend (who's also a vegetarian) recommends the veggie burrito at La Salsa.

I'd like to say that skipping meat for a month-and-a-half has cleared my head and transformed my health, but to be honest i expect that on Thursday evening (when Lent officially ends for Roman Catholics), i'll probably celebrate with a chicken burrito from Chipotles. Although over the years i've become more and more disgusted with factory farms and the meat processing industry, i think that being a farm kid from Indiana makes it difficult for me to oppose meat-eating on ethical grounds, and the taste of a good steak with a nice Cabernet makes it hard for me to oppose meat eating for health reasons.

On the other hand, this giant chicken vacuum that they posted on BoingBoing a couple of weeks ago almost convinced me to give up chicken for good. My grandfather was a chicken farmer, and i won't kid you and tell you that his approach to chicken farming was especially humane-- the chickens still ended up dead. But the chicken vacuum is even more nightmarish than the chicken pie machine from Chicken Run, not merely because they suck the chickens up a chute but also because they end up packed into stacked pens. It's really quite awful, and that's coming from somebody who's witnessed the slaughter of hundreds of chickens.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Why Blog?

I read a news story this morning that contained the line "...critics continue to dismiss blogs as mostly prosaic rambling...", which prompted me to think "what's wrong with prosaic rambling?". My blog is a combination of half-baked, unresearched essays and what one of my favorite bloggers refers to as "what i had for breakfast"-type of entries. I think prosaic rambling is an apt description.

Of course, the story was referring to the minute percentage of blogs that have large readerships and which influence thought. I was reading an article recently about the number of blogs and the growth in blogs in recent months, and while i forget the exact numbers i seem to recall that there are around 47 trillion blogs now and 100 million new blogs created every second. That works out to roughly one-hell-of-a-shitload of blogs for every living creature in the universe. Out of those, on any given day maybe 3 or 4 will have an impact on the meme-o-sphere. That means that the chance of a blog to influence people's thinking is slightly lower than the chance of winning the Powerball lottery and then being struck by lightning during a solar eclipse.

In fact, while blogs are completely public they are for the vast majority effectively private journals. You could, as some have, seed your blog with popular keywords so that it shows up with a high rank on search engines. If your goal is to generate income via blogads, that's fine. But for most of us the justification for spending time on a blog has to overcome the presumption that nobody ever reads the damn thing. My personal rationalization goes something like this: 1) i get to practice writing without any of the bothersome paperwork, 2) i like writing because it's somehow cathartic, 3) i can look back on this in a year, 5 years, 10 years and get a reminder of what i was thinking and doing, 4) blogging is an interesting cultural/sociological phenomenon and/or fad so that by participating i am part of the experiment.

I mentioned in an e-mail to somebody that, for me at least, blogging is also a way to define and explore those aspects of my life that distinguish me from my demographic. Based on my income, job, neighborhood, marital status, number of children, and age marketers would most likely target me as a customer for mutual funds, mid-level luxury automobiles, golf clubs and what they call "house porn" (those magazines that insist you just can't go on living without travertine countertops and crown molding). It's not really important to me that other people find my weird hobbies interesting or that anybody share my taste in music; but it is important to me to think that i'm making my own choices about these things rather than being unduly influenced by what advertisers and social norms dictate. Blogging forces me to think about how i really feel about these things, both in terms of what i'm willing to say and what i'm not.

Monday, March 14, 2005


Today we inherited our next-door neighbors' dog Zane. His previous family reached a point where they didn't have enough time to give him attention, and my boys are just the right age. Since we've known him for a few years now, it seemed like a good fit. Zane is not any identifiable breed. His coloration is similar to a yellow lab, but he's smaller and and has longer pointy ears. Here he is with my boys looking slightly demonic (which is entirely due to my incompetence with a camera)

Friday, March 11, 2005

The Contender Sucks

I know that many people deplore boxing in general, and so boxing mixed with reality television would have to rate somewhere between Michael Jackson and root canal on the horribleness scale. But i enjoy organized fighting, as a participant and as a spectator. So i was looking forward to The Contender and it started off promisingly. They managed to find some fairly credible middleweights, Stallone wasn't too obnoxious, and ya gotta love Ray Leonard.

The format is predictable-- participants divided into teams, contrived competitions to determine which team gets to pick the fighters, lots of faux drama and manufactured rivalries-- but that is reality TV. And then something good happened on the first episode. One of the members of the West team (Alfonso Gomez) decided to call out the fighter on the East team who looked like the strongest guy in the competition (Peter Manfredo). Didn't see that coming.

So then there's a long boring part where we see both fighters interacting with their families so we can see what good guys they are and how much they've got at stake. More reality TV formula. And then, and then, the actual fight, which they completely, utterly screwed up beyond belief. They edited the fight. They reduced the rounds to highlights of the punches that landed, though they sew them together so it seems to flow.

Not showing the whole fight is unforgiveable. Was it a good fight? Who knows? Gomez upset Manfredo, but were these really decent fighters? Maybe, maybe not. Apparently NBC decided that nobody is really interested in the boxing, just the idiotic ersatz drama. Insane. I watched the second episode last night to see if the first was an aberration. Nope. Same crap. Another fight where an apparent underdog beat an ostensibly better, more seasoned opponent. But as far as we know this was just more BS, since we didn't see enough of the fight to know if either guy can really box. The only assumption i can make at this point is that all of these guys are bums and the producers are afraid to show a full fight and reveal this fatal flaw.

Oddly enough, there's a show on Spike called Ultimate Fighter, which is the exact same format except it's UFC fighting and they show all of the weekly fight. They have a slight advantage in that these fights are two 5-minute rounds as opposed to five 3-minute rounds. The show is much more watchable, even with the bogus conflict and stupid competitions, because the real drama is in the fight. They also made a good move by having each team be led by a real UFC fighter (Chuck Liddel and Randy Couture, who incidentally are fighting each other in April).

So if you're a fight fan, The Contender is a bust. Stick to Friday Night Fights on ESPN if you want to watch boxing.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Bachelor Dad

Emily is in Wales this week doing a QA audit at a drug manufacturing plant, so i get to be single parent for a week. Now that the boys are older it's not too hard and i think it's probably good for them to know that even though they outnumber me our household is still not going to become the island in Lord of the Flies. It's good for me too if for no other reason than i realize how much work it is to raise kids without the two-parent division of labor. I suppose many women would say they've been doing it that way since the beginning of time.

Haven't accomplished anything this week, but i've been listening to a lot of music. I spent part of a day listening to late 70s music and i've come to the conclusion that i owe my parents a big apology. I know that one's taste and judgement change with age, but is it possible that Foreigner, Styx, Journey, etc. were really this bad when i first heard them? I'd completely forgotten the totally annoying and superfluous synthesizer elements in this music. Shudder. About the only stuff i can still listen to from that time now is Cheap Trick and The Clash.

The new Kings of Leon record Aha Shake Heartbreak is listenable. Nothing as good as Molly's Chambers but i think that song was an aberration. I've listened to a bit of Graham Parsons and Widespread Panic, both of which i can take or leave; and i've been working my way through Steve Earle. I've also been working on a list of my favorite pop songs that i'll probably blog at some point.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Ways To Organize Information

Thinking out load again. What are the ways to organize information?
  • The "Desktop" Model: This is the method i most frequently use. Put everything out where you can see it, or at least where you can see something on top of it. I guess the layout of windows within an app could count here as well. This works well but doesn't scale.
  • List/Table: Either static or sortable, as with Excel. It's surprising how hard this can be to find on the internet now. Most UIs provide searchable content, so they dispense with browsable lists. Think stock prices.
  • Hierarchy: File systems, any of the folder-in-folder paradigms. Bookmarks.
  • Address: I'm not quite sure about this, but i'm adding it because i can't think of a better way to describe the structure of the web. I suppose you could think of this as a specialized index, or a hierarchy (TLD->site->page->anchor).
  • Category: Associating with keywords or multi-word categories. Different than hierarchy because there's no parent-child relationship. Categories are nice because they're fundamentally many-many. This is the model of
  • Index: I'm thinking of the automated process of associating elements of content with a larger document. The information retrieval index. Google.
  • Alphabetical: I suppose this is really just a qualifier of other organization types (list, table, hierarchy,index).
  • Temporally?: Like a history list. I'm not sure if this is unique or just a variety of hierarchy. This might also include Gantt charts or simple time-lines.
  • Stored Query: By this i mean storing the query that's used to retrieve certain types of info so that you can re-run the query and get an updated set of info. I'm not sure if there's a non-computer analog to this.
  • Cluster: Grouping of items by algorithmically inferred similarities. Probably just a special case of category or hierarchy.
  • Mixture: I think all of these modes can be combined.
I'm sure somebody has produced a scholarly work with a complete taxonomy.

Friday, March 04, 2005


Last night i passed the test for the next level at my martial arts school-- my purple sash. I tested with two other students. We are the first three adults to reach this level at our branch of our school, which is only a few years old. Except for a fairly nasty bruise on the knuckles of my left hand from a recalcitrant board, i didn't hurt myself too much. The test lasted for about one-and-a-half hours and included short techniques, hand and weapon forms, board breaking, and sparring. On one hand, i'm happy that i have only two more tests to reach my black sash; on the other hand i suspect that it'll take me as long or longer as it's taken to get to this point. Ah well, it's a lifetime commitment anyway.