Thursday, September 29, 2005

And the worst part is

I don't even have time to read. Yes, readers, you know your life is dangling around by your ankles and dragging you into a jagged chasm of despair when you don't have time to read.

I mentioned this to Sarah the other night and she commented to the effect that going days without playing with your son and seeing your wife might also give you a clue about the state of your life.

But it's not exactly true; I have been able to see Sarah and Alex on the weekends at least, and some lazy Thursdays. And it's not exactly true that I can't read. I have several textbooks to read and things to learn. In fact, I am basically drowning in things I need to get up to speed on.

But I am starved for stories, for fiction, for a little escape from the grind. I don't read when I walk around campus, on the bus, on my breaks. So my emotions are getting duller too, I think. And I bring a less lively mind to my problems. I am not being surprised and joyful at the new things I'm learning, even though they're incredibly cool. And I have this permanent headache now, throbbing while I listen to music.

Music is great, but it is a poor substitute for a glimpse of real life beyond this incredibly hard semester. Music just makes me feel asleep these days instead of awake. I am not bringing my humanity to it, I am not singing along.

And I worry that my life may turn into this permanently, a furious struggle to get out of debt and make someone else's dreams come to life, then die.

God, let it not be so; show me something to read.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Long week

I think I've mentioned that I have 12 semester credits of computer science this semester. 6 of them are graduate credits. I am also working about 20 hours per week.

So last week all my juggling crashed. I had a presentation to do (will actually do tomorrow), an assignment I can only accomplish on campus, that used proprietary software that I can't afford, and an assignment that I didn't have the proper tools to do. On my half day, Friday, when I usually have nothing to do after 1:30, I was at school until 8 PM.

We spent the weekend unwinding. I saw a truly excellent football game on Saturday morning (Purdue and Minnesota, with 2 or 3 overtimes and superb rushing on both sides), and Sarah and I got out a little bit together and just relaxed. We watched Prince Caspian and Voyage of The Dawn Treader that evening. It was the first time we could sit and watch TV quietly together in recent memory. Usually I am parenting before 8:00 and working on computers after 8:00.

So I owe people emails and such. I was especially glad to hear from my brother, and I'll be writing to him soon.

This week I am looking forward to an orderly school experience, which will eliminate the need for a violent bloodbath.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Free GMail invites

I just read a Wall Street Journal article that said that Google's GMail internet mail service is not easy to obtain. Here:

I thought everyone had an account who wanted one, but in case you don't, I have 99 free invitations to anyone who wants to get their GMail account now. Why 99 invitations? Because I just sent one to to the author of the article.

I have enjoyed GMail; the time it takes to set up a label (= folder) is trivial. Email filtering into the folders can be automatic if you set it up; I'm sure it's no easier in any other mail service. I have 21 labels at the moment, and almost as many or more email filters. I have enjoyed a spam-lite or -free mailbox every day since I signed up for this thing. All my email gets forwarded to me there now.

So email me for your brand new GMail address today. They're not going anywhere fast.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Fedora Core 4

Oh yeah, after a bit of tugging with SUSE 9.1, I decided to bite the bullet and install Fedora Core 4 (which is Red Hat Linux with a different name). To do this, I needed to download 4 CDs worth of installation material.

Joshua, the guy I was sitting next to in AI class while I downloaded this stuff in the lab, said that was awesome. Or cool. You breathe a sigh of relief when you're the companion of friends like these.

Anyway, it took me a while, and I found out a few interesting details about Firefox on the way (Google "why is firefox so slow" to find out how to make it faster), but basically everything about my Linux setup works now. I like working over there much better than in Windows, but I need to know a few more details to use it effectively. Fortunately, Linux is like Windows without the chastity belt, and I can explore to my heart's content. So the answers will come, I'm sure.

Defining moments in marriage

[Sarah starts to hum "In the Hall of the Mountain King" from Grieg's Peer Gynt]

Dan: What are you humming?

[Sarah hums louder]

[Dan joins in, then starts humming too loud and tapping his foot]

Sarah: Dan, stop it.

Dan: Sorry, this song really moves me. [pause] It's about dwarves.

Monday, September 19, 2005


I just ran across this crappy sentence in a reading and writing textbook at work:

An article by Penny Oldfather of the University of Georgia explains how a positive classroom culture and teachers who try to attain an empathetic understanding of their unmotivated students’ perceptions can help them accept and become engaged with literacy learning.

Hold, American Cicero! Why art thou wasted on pedagogy? Get thee hence to the public square, that the unwashed rabble mayst marvel all at the depth of thy masterful oratory. Pretend no false humility!

Kids read better when their teachers understand them inside out and teach toward their problems.


Sunday, September 18, 2005

Puzzle Pirates

So there's this online game called Puzzle Pirates. Basically, you do puzzles, and you're a pirate. You're in a big world full of other pirates (people from around the world) doing piratey things. I suggest you download it and start with a doubloon ocean (these basically require cash to get items, but are free to play indefinitely).

This devilishly clever game makes activities like bilging a pirate ship and firing its cannons into games of Dr. Mario and Bejeweled. The better you play, the better the ship performs. As time goes on, you can captain your own ship, join the commodities market, or become president of an island, all involving mastery of puzzles. Beyond that, you can blockade another group, start wars against the other players, play politics. On your break, you can get into fights and drinking games at the inn.

The interesting thing is that every ship is a set of interdependent systems: get hit by a cannon, then the bilge comes faster into the ship, and you can't sail as fast; fix the hole with carpentry and the bilge problem goes away; sail faster and you can navigate better in battle. It's possible to have computer pirates take over some of these systems, but the best ships have real people working in concert. And of course, the higher-level battles and blockades require intense coordination.

It's fascinating that a bunch of people can conjure this kind of game, but really this kind of community, out of thin air. It's also fascinating that the people who excel at this game can do puzzles really well; it's a pre-built social structure for the chronically shy.

Check it out.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

That sick feeling

I had a dream last night about that sick feeling. It was kind of post-apocalyptic, kind of spy thriller. I remember talking to some really strange people in very burned-out hovels, that kind of thing.

Anyway, we were stealing this very important purple flower, important like athelas, say, from my parent's house in Seattle, where someone evil had set up a headquarters. By this time I was in control of the dream for some reason, but instead of getting myself out of the house to safety after picking up the flower, I found myself thinking, ok, what's the worst thing that could possibly happen. The kind of thing that gives you that sick feeling when you're watching a movie, and they think they're safe, but slowly, out of the shadows comes the evil killer.

So I controlled the dream so I got captured by this evil person, and I got that sick feeling, no way out and then the dream wouldn't end. I don't remember exactly what happened next, but I know it kept going.

I think there is a lesson in there about storytelling. The last time I remember a book really doing this to me was Misery. Read it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

50th birthday post

Okay, okay, so I'm not actually 50. But this is my birthday, and my 50th post to this get-rich-quick journal. I can't wait for my 51st to roll around.

I've been inundated with cards, gifts, and frosted confectionery all weekend, so thank you all; you know who you are. The rest of you are inching into belated territory, so pony up. This week-long celebration of me can't just go on forever.

Or can it?

I will be waiting for one great birthday gift for a few months: on December 2, Nickel Creek will play in Park City and I will be there. On December 4, they'll be at the Paramount in Seattle. Coming soon to a town near you!

I am still looking forward to Sarah's gift, which is a complete secret to me and I don't even know what it could be.

I got Linux installed and dual-booting on our home computer with no apparent damage to our hard drive. Next: getting on the internet! I will send you a CD that will let you try out Linux without changing your system at all, if you ask me.

Tonight Sarah and I will start a class together about sound money management. It is from a Biblical perspective, which in my experience means that a lot of things that would make sense to anybody are couched in Christian terms, and ultimately justified by Christian values. Jesus talked a lot about money, so I don't have much problem with this. The last time I did something like this, I ended up going back to school for a Master's in a new major. So I am expecting big things!

To all my friends that I owe email to, I am getting to it. I have been busy with school the last few times I started writing to you, but I think calmer water is coming soon.

This is a puppy-loving politics-free zone for today. Don't worry, the partisan blame game is coming back soon.

Kiss someone you love.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Read the timeline, get the facts on Katrina

I found a revealing timeline of the Katrina disaster.

I think before we all start "playing politics" or "the blame game", we should read this timeline together, which is compiled from public news sources and official organs of government (I saw one that I am sure is an editorial, but almost all of them are just news stories). Every item is linked to the source, so read them yourself if some of them are too unbelievable.

Here's the day the hurricane hit and the day after, just the headlines:

Monday, August 29
  • 7am – Katrina makes landfall as a Category 4 hurricane

  • 8am – Mayor Nagin reports that water is flowing over levee

  • Morning — Bush calls Secretary Chertoff to discuss immigration

  • Morning – Bush shares birthday cake photo-op with Sen. John McCain

  • 11am — Bush visits Arizona resort to promote Medicare drug benefit

  • Late morning – Levee breached

  • 11:30am — Michael Brown finally requests that DHS dispatch 1,000 employees to region, gives them two days to arrive

  • 2pm — Bush travels to California senior center to discuss Medicare drug benefit

  • 9pm — Rumsfeld attends San Diego Padres baseball game

Tuesday, August 30
  • 9am – Bush speaks on Iraq at Naval Base Coronado

  • Midday – Chertoff finally becomes aware that levee has failed

  • Pentagon claims there are enough national guard troops in region

  • Mass looting reported, security shortage cited

  • U.S.S. Bataan sits off shore, virtually unused

  • 3pm – President Bush plays guitar with country singer Mark Willis

  • Bush returns to Crawford for final night of vacation

It's not like it gets any better after that.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Angry at someone

The last few days, I have been very angry at a certain commander in chief. If you need to ask why, find out here. (It's from September 3rd, but still relevant today.)

We need answers. While New Orleans choked on a rising tide of chaos, disease, and death, the Bush Administration took a collective vacation. Don't forget: people died because they didn't have it together.

I've been trying for several days to finish this post by meditating on the Christian view of anger (short version, anger is dangerous), but here's where I am: I don't think I should feel conflicted about gross negligence and stupidity, or about criminal indifference (the real kind that kills people, not the kind from the last episode of Seinfeld). I don't think I should listen to the angels of my better nature and refuse to play politics or the blame game at this trying time.

The Christ I confess actually cares about the poor lying facedown in the water, and dying of thirst in a government-recommended evacuation point. The Christ I confess cares that 700 wealthy tourists from the Hyatt made a whole bunch of black people at the Superdome go to the back of the bus. The Christ I confess would be wading in the muck right now, saving people from cholera and dysentery and diseases we don't even have a name for: New Orleans Syndrome.

In fact, I strongly suspect that Jesus would have thrown bricks through a window and looted a 7-11 for bottled water. The text is Luke 6.1-5:

[1] One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and his disciples began to pick some heads of grain, rub them in their hands and eat the kernels. [2] Some of the Pharisees asked, "Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?"

[3] Jesus answered them, "Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? [4] He entered the house of God, and taking the consecrated bread, he ate what is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions." [5] Then Jesus said to them, "The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath."

The incident Jesus refers to is when David was running for his life from King Saul, who was threatening to murder him. On the way, he stopped at the tabernacle (there was only one), and asked for some food, but all they had was holy bread that had been sitting in the presence of God for a week, so holy it had to be eaten by a priest. The priest gave him some of the bread anyway. More on this issue here.

It is a crazy situation when a Grab Bag of Doritos looted from a 24-hour convenience store might save someone's life. And it's crazy to say that the incarnation of the living God would join in the looting at a disaster area. But when the powerful won't do their job, what is right and wrong? What is really ethical?

It wouldn't be the first time the carpenter took matters into his own hands.

Jesus, cutting his hands on the jagged edges of a plate glass window, rummaging through flooded-out shelves for Pringles with unbroken safety seals, running out of time to get meager supplies back to dying people; would he have raised his head to look at the helicopters milling around on those first several days, or kept working without respite or hope of relief? Would he have taken a moment to swear under his breath as a bus was diverted from evacuation, or just continued his endless slog through the streets? Would he have gone away to pray and rest, or died in the alley, taken by the sludge or exhaustion or thirst or disease?

Friday, September 02, 2005

Cross-posted at Eschaton

Ridiculous White House sourcing of the day at the New York Times:

"Seventy-two hours into this, to be openly posturing about this, to be attacking the president, is not only despicable and wrong, it's not politically smart," said one White House official who asked not to be named because he did not want to be seen as talking about the crisis in political terms. "Normal people at home understand that it's not the president who's responsible for this, it's the hurricane. This will get better, hour by hour and day by day."

New rule for anonymous sourcing: if you don't want to be seen as partisan, but want to say something partisan, you don't have to give your name. If you want to politicize an event (by deflecting criticism of Bush's Iraq war underfunding the levees, say) but you don't want to be seen as politicizing the event, you also get a free pass.

Time for a blogger ethics conference, because heaven knows they don't have the same standards as the mainstream media.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The Link

In my policy debate days, a lot of issues rested on the Link. Let me explain how policy debate works for a second: the affirmative side of the debate proposes a new policy falling within the bounds of a topic for the year (a topic such as: the United States should change its foreign policy toward China), while the negative side attempts to show that this policy change will bring about the End of Western Civilization. How you get from banning municipal curfews to the End of Western Civilization is the Link.

The Link does not often exist in the wild, because in actual fact if Bill Clinton's approval rating had lost a percentage point, we would not actually have derailed NASA and failed to get off the planet into space colonies before an enormous asteroid careened into Earth, causing the extinction of the human race. That is, this kind of policy storytelling, which, come to think of it, is an awful lot like other kinds of storytelling, is fun and interesting and may even highlight important issues in the world. But historiography, the science of stories, tells us that there is usually more than one explanation, more than one cause; we can play our debate game, but real life is too complex to nail down in 8 speeches, 4 cross-examinations, and 90 minutes or so.

While you're paying attention to the coverage of Hurricane Katrina and the horror stories that are only now emerging from a city hip deep in water and bodies, and going mad ("The Coast Guard also said it is avoiding areas where there are reports of gunfire."), remember this, the honest-to-God Link:

New Orleans had long known it was highly vulnerable to flooding and a direct hit from a hurricane. In fact, the federal government has been working with state and local officials in the region since the late 1960s on major hurricane and flood relief efforts. When flooding from a massive rainstorm in May 1995 killed six people, Congress authorized the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, or SELA.


Yet after 2003, the flow of federal dollars toward SELA dropped to a trickle. The [Army Corps of Engineers] never tried to hide the fact that the spending pressures of the war in Iraq, as well as homeland security -- coming at the same time as federal tax cuts -- was the reason for the strain. At least nine articles in the Times-Picayune from 2004 and 2005 specifically cite the cost of Iraq as a reason for the lack of hurricane- and flood-control dollars.


In early 2004, as the cost of the conflict in Iraq soared, President Bush proposed spending less than 20 percent of what the Corps said was needed for Lake Pontchartrain, according to a Feb. 16, 2004, article, in New Orleans CityBusiness.

On June 8, 2004, Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana; told the Times-Picayune: "It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can't be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us."

Read the whole article. Then think about what happened because we spent our money on a grand diversion in Iraq, the last ride of the Lone Ranger.

The Link: Because we spent our money in Iraq, we didn't have enough money for New Orleans.

Here's why I want you to remember: "The 2000 census put New Orleans's population at 484,674 and the population of Greater New Orleans at 1,337,726." You now have hundreds of thousands of reasons to remember the consequences of our misguided, deceptive, irrational march to war, one for every American refugee.

Would we be here today if we hadn't gone to war in Iraq? Maybe we still wouldn't have been ready, although the evidence screams that local officials were desperate for the money and would have used it for flood control. But in the reality that we all inhabit now, the war in Iraq squeezed our spending on America so much that it made the failure of the levees inevitable.

We didn't go to Iraq to bring about an Islamic state, liberate God-alone-knows tons of explosives for use by insurgents, terrorists, and militias, increase sectarian religious violence, find no WMDs, kill Iraqi civilians and American soldiers. We didn't go to drown one of our major cities. But what are we supposed to say? Oops? Sorry? No one saw it coming? But we did, we did.

One last thing, and then I'll go. There are 6000 members of the National Guard from Louisiana and Mississippi who are in Iraq today:
Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita said the Gulf states have adequate National Guard units to handle the hurricane needs, with at least 60 percent of the Guard available in each state.

In Louisiana, which took the brunt of Katrina, some 3,000 members of the 256th Combat Brigade are in Iraq, while 3,500 members of the Guard were deployed to help hurricane victims and another 3,000 were on standby.

In neighboring Mississippi, the Guard had 853 troops on hurricane duty — a small slice of the more than 7,000 Guard troops in the state's ground and air components. Some 3,000 National Guard troops from Mississippi are in Iraq, another 300 in Afghanistan.

Do you believe Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita?