Monday, January 29, 2007

I keep coming back to my friends

I tried to pay attention in church on Sunday, but this was all I had.

Having a Terminal Child

I woke up again today
But as for why, I couldn't say
And when they ask me how I feel
I just have to lie

None of this is real to me
It never was, I'll never see
And when they ask me why it's so
I just say "because"

Yes, my child, you go to die
So I must fear each lullaby
As if each word might be the last
I sing in your ear

Still I sing, the past is long
There is still time for one more song
And if you lack for anything
I will stroke your hair

I will kiss your cheek
I will hold you close
I will keep you warm
I will breathe you in

I will give you strength
I will hear your sigh
I will love your life
I will close your eyes

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Never heard this before tonight


I don't know what to say to my friends. They heard from the doctor. The word unfixable was used.

This song is about a woman who lost a daughter. I guess sometimes emotions just need to be felt and said and not explained or answered away.

I continue to pray for my friends and I hope you would too.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Pray for my friends

Although I don't have many readers, I hope they can take this in the spirit in which I intend it.

Two of my friends, Aaron and Tori Swank, had a baby girl recently, Olivia. They have three young children already. Olivia was born with health problems and is back in the hospital for heart failure. At this point the grapevine has not passed along whether it is operable or not.

This is about as bad as nightmares get. Please pray for Olivia and my friends, if you swing that way. Pray that she will be healthy, pray that they will be brave and loving toward one another and their children.

Does prayer "work"? According to my religion, yes and no. Yes, in that prayer is participation in the life of God (it always works on the pray-er). No, in that prayers do not necessarily give us magical control over the course of events. All things are in the hands of God, even us. But you can fight the crush of history, and you can even talk back to God; you just have to be prepared when God and history answer you in their native language.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

For aspiring authors

If you want to learn how to write the beginning of a novel, do yourself a favor and read the first two chapters of The Shining by Stephen King. They're done from the Jack Nicholson character's (the psycho, we all know that from the trailers) point of view and his wife's point of view.

In two short chapters, we learn that Jack is going to be managing a hotel for the winter, that it is often snowed in for weeks at a time, that the last guy who did the job got stir crazy and blew away his whole family, then killed himself, Jack has an anger problem but conceals it beneath a glad-handing exterior, he hurt a student, abused his 3-year old son (now 5), is a dry drunk, his wife almost left him, his wife is afraid of going to the hotel with him, and their son is curiously insightful.

At the beginning of Chapter 3, we learn that there is a boiler in the basement that must be monitored constantly to prevent a massive explosion.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

And yet another

So, I just had a very busy week trying to get a conference paper ready for ICIP (IEEE's image processing conference). We submitted on time, but I still have to go back and check my program for errors due to our weird data.

Even so, I still managed to squeeze in another Miles Vorkosigan book: Memory. So if you didn't hear me the first time or the second time, hear me now. Make haste to read this series. Haste!

Start with Cordelia's Honor, which is two novels (Shards of Honor and Barrayar) about his mom and dad, and then The Warrior's Apprentice (or the omnibus edition which contains it and the next in the series, Young Miles).


Monday, January 15, 2007

Job search creaks to life; villagers dismayed

I never thought I would get it right, but I now have a resume, an easily modifiable cover letter, and a reasonably small, organized web site highlighting a few of my projects. And I've started sending it out.

I don't know exactly how to do this. I've got an MS in CS so close I can taste it, but every time I look at a great company's job descriptions, I gulp and go, "I know nothing." And do I stick to the great companies only, or go to work for some e-business consulting firm? And how would I find them if I did? Would I even want to?

Anyhow, I've sent resumes and electronically applied so far to Google, Amazon, and Adobe. I figure if I start at the top and work my way down, everyone will be happier. That, and I'm trying to pick places with a vision for research, for the future of computing, and for the Internet, with interesting problems to work on, and with appropriate compensation for a father and husband.

I have been thinking about Microsoft, which is kind of a special case. Yes, they do some amazing stuff. On the other hand, laugh at Google's "Don't be evil" if you want, but I am attracted to a company that has tried to stay true to a positive moral vision. MS's business practices, on the other hand, have been positively criminal. Embrace, extend, extinguish is holding back the whole computing world. After reading the anonymous, insider Mini-Microsoft blog, I feel better-informed about MS, but also concerned about MS's Machiavellian bureaucracy. I don't know if I want to swim in those waters with the sharks, or worse, become a shark, or worse, be a goldfish, drink the Kool-aid, and get eaten by the shark.

Anyway, I'm throwing this whole thing open for suggestions. If anyone has a good lead or company for me to try, some good advice, or anything you can think of, please let me know.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Mirror Dance

The other day, I finished the next Miles Vorkosigan novel after Brothers in Arms. It's called Mirror Dance. It's a 500+ page paperback. I ripped through the last 300+ in a day. It was riveting, even as a reread. Like I said earlier, read these books by Lois McMaster Bujold early and often.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Just wars

In response to this question on the Washington Post site:

President Bush is preparing this week to send more troops to Baghdad. Do you believe there is such a thing as a "just war"? Is the Iraq war "just"?

Just wars are possible. As a Christian, I believe that war is about defending the poor and defenseless rather than "the national interest", which is the root of all kinds of evil. At times, our national interest has intersected the moral mission. That's about as good as any war is ever going to get, from my point of view. Just war theory was created to address what kinds of moral missions can justify wars, and thus to focus on the means and intentions of wars as opposed to the consequences, and especially as opposed to the potential realpolitik gains of a war.

If you only see war as a means to preserve the national interest rather than a moral question, there are no just or unjust wars. There are only wars that work and wars that don't work. That's why we hear so much about incompetence when pundits discuss the failed Iraq war. I feel the need to get a bit deeper than this.

I don't believe war is a righteous tool for the apocalyptic defeat of "evil". It's too easy to throw around the label for political purposes, and it's too easy to demonize rather than empathize. In other words, I don't think that the titanic struggle against world terrorism can justify the war in Iraq at all, even in the alternate universe where al Qaeda was in cahoots with Saddam (the same universe where Dick Cheney has taken up residence).

The invasion and occupation of Iraq is not a just war. We bombed Saddam heavily before the war declaration. Blair and Bush discussed ways to goad Saddam into taking the first shot, provoking the invasion. There were no WMDs, but Bush and his advisors were willing to lie about that to the American people. We fixed the intelligence to fit the predetermined policy. We even invaded without a compelling national interest, for the amoral policy wonks out there, much less a compelling moral interest. In short, the casus belli was either a lie, or as nonexistent as the weapons.

All the other post-facto rationalizations for the war pale in comparison. All the post-facto "oops, did I just disband the army" "mistakes were made" talk is a red herring; how we went to war does not change the overwhelming failure to explain why we went to war.

We had an unjust, immoral war. Besides that, now we have consequences: genocide, mutilated bodies in the streets of Baghdad, morgues full to overflowing, religious strife, death, shattered lives. Wars always have these things, which is why we try to avoid them: in an immoral war, there is no upside justification for them. Now we have a failed state on our hands, one that is splintering along religious lines. The failure of Iraq has consequences for regional stability as well.

Leaving troops in Iraq is doing nothing but providing Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias alike thousands of targets. We are occupying their country. We are infidels. We can do better than leave our soldiers holding the bag on our leader's profound failure. We don't just have an unjust war. Now we have an unjust occupation, one that has cost more American soldiers their lives than American civilians in 9/11. It's time to say enough to the war and enough to the occupation.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007


I finished a couple of great sf books recently.

One was Ursula K. Le Guin's first Hugo/Nebula sweep, The Left Hand of Darkness, a tale of a diplomat's visit to a planet where sexual differentiation does not exist; everyone is the same gender and has a monthly "in heat" cycle; childbearing is possible but the childbearing partner is randomly selected. Man, was it good. I can see it now as the forebear of American Gods, where the main story is interspersed with mythmaking and short stories, and also Foreigner, where the main theme, besides exploration of an alien culture, is communication and mutual understanding.

The story is very carefully crafted. Every point-of-view is individuated and solid. The plot is narrowly focused on the actions of just a few characters, but it's epic, grand, uplifting reading. The world-building is complex and its implications are thought out well. I didn't feel like it was anachronistic, even though it was written in the late 60s. At times, though, you could almost hear Le Guin banging the podium; I recall the time a character talks about how gender difference (and consequent sexism) causes war. Don't let that scare you away, though. Overall, it's fantastic, mind-bending reading.

I also finished Brothers in Arms, which is one of the many award-winning Miles Vorkosigan adventures by Lois McMaster Bujold. I love everything about these books, and this latest reread was no exception. They have it all. She's the author tied with Robert Heinlein for most Hugo-winning novels. Start with Cordelia's Honor (which is equal to Shards of Honor plus Barrayar), then The Warrior's Apprentice. See also her fantasy series starting with The Curse of Chalion for sublime takes on religion with all the rest of the killer Bujold stuff. I know I haven't said why all these books are so great. Just trust me, ok? And thank me later.

I saw Pirates of the Caribbean 2. I didn't hate it, but I thought it was pretty long. Hopefully, the next one will be the knockout that justifies the boring parts of this one. And here was something very Empire-Strikes-Back-esque about all the selling-out and dark sides in this number 2 movie. You can almost hear Yoda hobbling onto the Black Pearl with his cane and saying, "The Flying Dutchman!" [cough cough] "Remember your failure at the Flying Dutchman! Arrrr!"

I don't remember if I brought it up, but I also saw Talladega Nights, Will Ferrell's send-up of NASCAR. He really nailed it. I laughed a lot. Also, for adults only.

I finally saw Dark City. Everything it did well, The Matrix came along and did a lot better just a year later. The movies have pretty similar plots on the surface, but Dark City has a deranged Kiefer Sutherland where The Matrix has an awesome Laurence Fishburne. If you carry that analogy to the rest of the movie, that pretty much says it all.

The main character in Dark City plays a real jerk in The Holiday, a romantic comedy Sarah and I got to see for our 4th anniversary. It is about half bad and half good. They really wasted Jude Law, Jack Black, Cameron Diaz, and Kate Winslet with this script. I admire all of them as actors and was really looking forward to this.

Instead, the movie opened with an interminable exposition that does nothing except get the characters to the holiday (the women switch houses for two weeks, that is the story). This was pointless, unfunny blather. It wouldn't even have been confusing if the editor had whoops, just cut twenty minutes out of the movie, straight to Kate and Cameron at their computers, sobbing over their breakups and doing something impulsive, which the audience doesn't quite understand. (Audience of better movie says: I don't understand things that haven't been explained! Waah! Director of better movie says: Shut up whiners and eat your popcorn. Don't make me come over there.)

The other thing that riled me was all the meta-fictional stuff. Three of the characters are in the movie industry. Cameron Diaz makes film trailers. Jack Black writes scores. Kate Winslet's new best friend is a famous screenwriter. At every turn, the filmmakers remind you that you are watching a movie, from Cameron imagining her life as a trailer, to nice music setting a scene with Jack and Kate (you know the kind), which is all well and good until you see that Jack's character is playing the score you are hearing, to Kate acting like a strong woman based on advice from the screenwriter who gets her to watch movies with strong women in them, to Cameron quoting Sleepless in Seattle verbatim, to Jack writing theme music for Kate and her friend! And the worst part is, none of it works, at least not for me. The best thing in that list was Cameron's personal trailers, which were at least funny and in character, but it all pulled me out of the vivid continuous dream and set my teeth on edge.

In conclusion, the movie had some funny moments, but this is one for the Redbox ($1 rentals, mostly new releases; between this and NetFlix, Sarah and I have stopped going to the video store).

We watched Little Miss Sunshine on DVD. This is a funny, funny movie. Not for kids; it's easily rated R for "adult themes" and swearing. It's unpredictable and it made me howl with laughter. I was literally on the floor gasping at the end.

And last, for Christmas we went to see Night at the Museum. Run, don't walk, for this one. Kudos to this film's directors: it's very light as far as objectional content. There's a few jokes that will just fly over the heads of kids, but other than that, nothing gory or edgy. Just a museum that comes to life at night, with hilarious consequences. It's certainly worth a matinee, and in these troubled economic times, when is it ever worth full price to see a movie? If I'd had my choice of movies at the place we went in my wife's family's town, I probably would've gone to the new James Bond, but in hindsight, I don't regret the museum at all. Fun for the whole family.

It's a great vehicle for Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, and the merry band of jokers. I don't know about you, but I loved Zoolander and I consider it very rewatchable. I was thinking about Zoolander as we left the theater and I wondered if this museum movie would hold up as well over repeat viewings as Zoolander does for me. In the end, I think it probably will. It's not a deep movie, but it's great fun. Plus, Dick van Dyke steals every scene he's in (and wait for the credits).