29 Jul 2005

What would Spock say?

I'm an avid reader of Eric Zorn's blog, and I just don't know what to make of a recent entry of his. In this post, he talks about how he subscribes to the "don't fly with your spouse" school of thought (I wonder if he's seen that Mad About You episode?), and he makes a certain distinction between irrational and illogical behaviour.

I have to say, I have no idea what he's talking about.

Try as I might, I can't come up with a pair of definitions for these two words that makes the distinction, and I'm having a hard time even verbalising the distinction. Does anyone else understand it? It has something to do with cost-benefit analysis and doing the cheaper/easier things first, I guess, but ultimately I'm not seeing how this ties in with some sort of distinction between "logic" and "reason".

"On the upside, sex toys are the kind of plastic that is more fun than the kind of plastic that you put old food in. Think about it: Tupperware's big selling point is that it "burps." The big selling point of sex toys is that they provide mind-blowing orgasms." --Leigh Anne Wilson

Posted by blahedo at 12:17am | Comments (4)

26 Jul 2005


My parents are such troopers. They came down to Galesburg for the whole week "to help with the house" (and check it out, of course), and most of what we're doing is cleaning. And a house that big requires a lot of cleaning.

"If Wal*Mart tried to sell high quality goods, their costs would go up and their whole cheap advantage would be lost. For example if they tried to sell a tube sock that can withstand the unusual rigors of, say, being washed in a washing machine, they'd have to use all kinds of expensive components, like, say, cotton, and the cost for every single sock would go up." --Joel Spolsky

Posted by blahedo at 10:56pm | Comments (5)

23 Jul 2005

Balance of power

A few days ago I finished the book Balance of power, by Richard North Patterson. Without giving away any more than the book jacket, I'll summarise the plot as follows: a liberal President with an anti-gun agenda is handed an incident that maximises the sympathy and outrage of the American public along every imaginable axis, and yet it is still far from trivial to actually implement even the most commonsensical of gun control laws, due to powerful politicians and lobbies. As you might imagine.

I enjoyed this book immensely. Much better than the last few audio books I've gotten; I don't think there was any point in this one where I felt I was forcing myself to slog through. Indeed, much as with actual book books, good ones, I found myself unable to "put down" the book, popping CD after CD to find out what happens next.

But I think I can review it very concisely. To the extent that the function of a review is to tell its readers whether they'll like the thing reviewed, here's all I need to say: you will like or dislike this book exactly to the extent that, and for the same reasons that, you liked or disliked the first four seasons of The West Wing. Other than that, I don't really need to say anything (except maybe that I really liked the big speech, a masterpiece of persuasive oratory).

"He's just not the sharpest knife in the drawer. But that's what we get when Democrats run awful campaigns. Really, Democratic candidates should be more mindful of their responsibility to protect this country from their opponents." --Michael Kimmitt

Posted by blahedo at 1:08am | Comments (0)

22 Jul 2005

To subjunct, or not to subjunct?

On a completely unrelated note. The airplane toilet note that's floating around (heh) really isn't as funny as a lot of people are making it out to be. However, it does have one rather interesting edit. On page six, airplane toilet guy originally wrote this:

Seat 29E could only be worse if it were inside the bathroom.

A perfectly good sentence, and a robust use of the English subjunctive. But he must have looked at that sentence and decided that the verb "to be" wasn't strong enough to convey the sense of place that he was going for; "locate", or rather "to be located", would do the trick. And so he scratched out "were", and edited the sentence to read:

Seat 29E could only be worse if it was located inside the bathroom.

This makes me really curious. If his subjunctive instinct is strong---as we might surmise from his original word choice---why would he back out of that and actually scratch it out? Had he written "was" to start with, this wouldn't merit a single raised eyebrow; legions of English speakers have abandoned the subjunctive "were" entirely, much though their junior high Language Arts teachers might protest. But he has a subjunctive "were", and yet elected after some consideration not to use it. Is it possible that he has two different lexical entries for "be", one for the existential form (which has a subjunctive "were") and one for the passive constructor (which has a subjunctive "was")? That'd be kind of cool.

"The Chinese government is repressive---sort of like US big-city police departments, but less oversight." --Michael Kimmitt

Posted by blahedo at 9:49pm | Comments (0)


Ooh, looking over the last post, I realised I forgot the best part of the day! When I arrived at the closing, early, I was directed into a conference room, and within a minute, most of the closing staff had converged on me---more than ten minutes before the appointment---and so we started. Early on, someone said, "you brought the check, right?"

"I brought my checkbook...." (and mere punctuation cannot convey the intonation here: assertion, about which I have no question, plus shades of "is that okay?" as well as "why do you ask?")

"Oh, that's not enough." Of course, this was me being an idiot; I knew from having heard enough other horror stories that one brings a cashier's or some other certified form of check to a closing. In my defence, nobody actually told me to do this here, but I suppose I should've known. I looked at my watch, still not even 2:30, so I offered to run across the street to my bank and cut the check. But no, they said, we could do that later.

So then, after signing approximately six thousand documents, the closing was pretty much done; my realtor commented that the disbursements from the title company probably wouldn't happen until I got my check, but the title company woman said, naw, that's alright, he can just bring it later. So she gave out the various checks to the realtors. She gave me my closing gift (one of those Off! mosquito candles) and a little sticky note with the amount the check needed to be for. And then I walked over to my bank, cut the check, and brought it back. Yay small town life!

Incidentally, clicking on the picture at the bottom of the last post, or here, takes you to a small gallery of house photos, in case you missed that before.

Anyway, today was Plumbing Day at casa blahedo; in addition to some assorted miscellaneous cleaning, I took apart my faucet---the leaky one---to figure out how it worked, and then went out and bought a new one. It's verra nice-ah. Brushed metal (nickel, I think), two handles, and this huge swooping faucet tap that will make washing pots and pans and such a breeze. I also bought a shower head, but that can't be installed until I get another piece to connect it; the pipe is much too narrow to fit the modern standard shower head. I also need to get a new, longer faucet for the downstairs bathroom that doesn't force you to jam your hands up against the porcelain to get them wet, but now that I'm an old hand at faucet installation, that shouldn't be any problem at all.

I certainly have nothing against paying someone to do work I can't do; and I don't particularly mind paying for someone to do work I can do, especially if it frees me up to do something else more interesting. But the big advantage of DIY work is that you get a really good understanding of how the various subsystems of your house work. Aside from the faucets, the other day I took apart my locks and brought in the cylinders to be re-keyed; I really grok my locks now.

Not sure what's next, though. Plaster, maybe.

"It's nice to see someone at least as concerned about people who have successfully escaped the uterus as they are about a group of cells who are simply laying around doing nothing at the Petri Dish Hilton." --Jim Leach

Posted by blahedo at 9:33pm | Comments (0)

18 Jul 2005

Joining the ranks of the landed gentry

The evening of Tuesday, 14 June, I made calls to three or so realtors who were listing houses that looked interesting. Wednesday morning (at SEVEN THIRTY), one called back; I went to look at the house he was listing, but then he smoothly took over as my buyer's agent and showed me three others. The next day I looked at one, and I liked it.

I thought about it. I decided I would put an offer in.

But first, since he had blocked out the time anyway, I looked at a few other houses Friday morning first. Two of them were real stinkers and one would have been decent but the foundation really needed structural fixing before I could think about it. And then, what the hell, I went to one that didn't look quite like I wanted in the picture, but had a nice location and some things I liked in the description.

I looked inside and thought I might buy it. After touring the whole place, I decided on the spot to make an offer. The realtor brought over the paperwork, and my offer was submitted that afternoon. Monday, I received a counteroffer, which I accepted the same day.

The inspection was Friday the 24th, and the guy was really thorough and pointed out lots of things that were of interest, and told me what to look for and how to maintain things, but aside from the roof and maybe the hot water heater, everything was in great condition. I thanked him and immediately departed for my conference in Ann Arbor!

As soon as I got back to Galesburg, my bank had a whole raft of paperwork for me to sign, and then I got to sit on pins trying not to jinx anything. And today the deal closed, and I own this house:

[My house]

This should occupy a bit of time. Off to go change the locks....

"My favorite letter on this point suggested that I'd like it better 'if they changed the name from Tour de France to Tour of Freedom.' A fine line, but I've got nothing against the French, honest. I love their fries, twists, postcards and kisses." --Eric Zorn

Posted by blahedo at 4:19pm | Comments (5)

12 Jul 2005

Here comes the rain again...

Thank goodness for this rain. I think it's a hurricane remnant, but whatever it is, it's most welcome. Amazing how fast the grass greens up. And this is exactly the best kind of rain for the local crops, too: drizzle ramping up to a medium-strength rain for about five to ten minutes, then trailing off and holding back for an hour or two. Long enough for the water to absorb into the soil, so that the next round of rain doesn't just run off (and erode all the topsoil in the bargain).

It's not even as gloomy as it might be; though completely overcast, it's actually pretty bright outside. This is scheduled to continue for three days or so, which might be long enough to actually let the plants come back to life and replenish their stock.

"Medical marijuana is a gateway drug, and many who use it go on to use even stronger stuff---even engaging in full-blown chemotherapy." --The Onion

Posted by blahedo at 2:59pm | Comments (1)

11 Jul 2005


I just broke my first knitting needle ever; and for all that people carp about how easy it is to break wooden 0s and 1s while knitting, this was not an active needle---I had just made the mistake of standing them up in the side of the basket, and then I didn't see it when I went to reach into the basket. :P

"In my experience, God's pretty two-faced when it comes to micromanagement. I mean, one minute God'll be all, "Jonathan, I'm making you team-leader on this one," but then whenever I try to accomplish anything God's all like, "I'm going to make a few revisions or this will never fly with Marketing," and next thing I know I'm playing minesweeper all day and God's smiting half my department." --Jonathan Prykop

Posted by blahedo at 10:13pm | Comments (2)

10 Jul 2005

Legacy of 9/11

Among the lasting effects of the attacks of 9/11---and perhaps the most personally relevant for me, unfortunately---is a certain desensitisation. Despite rationally understanding the tragedy of the recent bombings in London, there is this nagging, horrible part of my brain saying things like, "what's the big deal? Only a few dozen dead." As if that makes it any less tragic, or any less terror-inducing.

I think that it was in fact less terror-inducing than 9/11, but for quite a different reason: Londoners, and Britons as a whole, have had much longer to become psychologically prepared for bombing attacks. The IRA's activities of a decade or two ago were certainly a textbook example of terrorism, and those bombings make today's residents of the UK a considerable bit more able to deal with the London attack without a lot of knee-jerk fear and power play. Not to mention the fact that even now a significant number of older Brits can remember the Battle of Britain, and even in the younger generations, the bombings of London play a notable role in the national psyche. So London, I think, will pick itself and move on sensibly---maybe with heightened security, but it will be security that actually helps, rather than just irritating and invasive measures that serve only to make people feel better. The effectiveness of 9/11 had at least as much to do with its novelty as with its scale.

All the same, though, there's that nasty little corner of my brain that is playing the numbers game. Not exactly one of my prouder moments.

"well I use triple-rot13 ... nyah nyah nyah" --Skapare

Posted by blahedo at 3:08pm | Comments (0)

7 Jul 2005

Dancing with the Stars, pt 6

The finale.

John wants help learning lifts, and they bring in Patrick Swayze? Give me a break. Talk about playing to the audience. Anyway, seeing John and Charlotte's quickstep this time made me wonder: was it really not as good as before, or was I imagining it? I felt that they weren't as well synched, and although it wasn't bad or anything, they looked too much like they were trying too hard. Nice ending, though. The 27 they got was certainly too high, considering that it's the judges' way of saying "we thought it was damn near perfect".

Not to be outdone in the Dirty Dancing references department, Kelly practices her lifts in the pool. Sigh. Her samba, then, was maybe a bit worse than the last time (much as was John's quickstep). She's still clomping through her voltas, and her real issue is an inability to straighten her legs. The routine had a lot of spinning in it, and she frequently seemed like she wasn't totally in control of things; her arms appeared not to flourish but rather to flail. All the same, she does have some hip movement, and the actual footwork proper seemed to be relatively clean. I think I agree with the 25 inasmuch as I thought it was worth about two points less than John's quickstep, but I think they both should've been a little lower.

Freestyling around the floor, John managed to bring back the synchrony I liked so much. The choreography showed this off; it also let him throw in a lot of "formal" moves (which looked good) and a lot of showy, fun moves (which also looked pretty good), with a "character of the dance" well fitting the infectious enthusiasm of the song ("I'm so excited"). A pleasing performance with some easily overlooked inexactness of footwork. This one actually deserved the 27 it got, I think. See, this is the problem with grade inflation.

Kelly danced to "Let's get loud", which is really hard to beat for a compelling upbeat latin dance. Her routine was a really well-put-together open cha-cha (which, note, was not one of the seven dances she had already learned for the competition), which incorporated some recognisable bits and pieces of samba, hustle, and even a swivelly little salsa move, as well as the now-foreseen lifts (which were very well-executed). It was a nice way to play to her strong suit. Most of the worst clunkiness came at a transition between a lift-y move and regular dancing, which is understandable since they had less than a week to prep it. As usual, here legs never really straightened and she was a little clompy sometimes, but overall a great performance, one of the best in the series.

Unfortunately, the judges were clearly pressured into scoring her a certain way. I might have expected a 10 to come out on the very last dance, but the idea that all three judges, who had never awarded a 10 yet, would decide that this routine was so much better than every single other routine in the entire series, was simply too much of a stretch. I get the feeling that in the middle of the series they were allowed to judge according to their own criteria, but in the first and last two weeks they were under pressure from above to do certain things. Yuck. This routine was good, but certainly not worth the only 30 awarded ever.

We now turn to a medley of the other four couples. Trista's rumba was actually pretty good. Evander was just as bad as ever. Rachel's tango was, if not great, at least a lot of fun to watch. Joey's cha-cha was a significant and noticeable improvement over the one he did in week one; his feet were sharp, he stood up straight, his facial expression was good, and he had a passable latin motion.

Finally, the awards. Pretty much as soon as Kelly's 30 came up, it was easy to read the writing on the wall; she's always been very popular with the audience, and it seemed exceedingly unlikely that, having won the judging, she'd lose the audience. And as we might've predicted, she won.

All the same, I think that she might've had a shot even without the network's interference. She improved so much over the course of the series (much like Joey, for that matter) that it's hard to use anything earlier than a week or two ago to really form a good judgement; and even with tonight's dances only, her freestyle might have been enough better than John's to offset the amount her samba was worse than his quickstep. It's just that the judges had boxed themselves in with that first 27, so none of the rest of the scores could be reasonable either.

So, in the end, I'm not disappointed. I still think John could've been the winner, and he certainly was a consistently solid competitor. But by the end, Kelly was good enough to give him a run for his money, and took the prize. The series as a whole was definitely an unmitigated success. Here's hoping it's the start of an annual summer franchise!

"After all, deleting e-mail all day builds up an appetite. And what better way to fill that craving than with a protein-rich square of salty, pink pork." --Wired

Posted by blahedo at 1:23am | Comments (2)

6 Jul 2005

Science, Industry

You know, the Museum of Science and Industry isn't all it used to be. Today I joined Lee for a trip to MSI, and for the first few hours---when we were walking through the main museum---most of what was there was busted exhibits that don't work anymore. Really disappointing.

Body Worlds, on the other hand, was really cool. It's amazing what they can do with plastic these days. I appreciate the fact that a lot of the models were left with nothing but a Do Not Touch sign protecting them, so that I and other curious museumgoers were able to get up really close to look at the various flayed body parts. Strangely, it was not even as gross as I had expected it to be; by far the squickiest display was the sagittal cross-section slice of the woman with massive constipation. Heeeeuwww.

"My body hair provides me with a natural AC of 7." --Jonathan Prykop

Posted by blahedo at 11:53pm | Comments (0)

Dancing with the Stars, pt 5

Lots to talk about now. I just finished last week's DwtS episode, and the results were both expected and unexpected.

John and Charlotte are so smooth. Although the timing on his foxtrot wasn't the three-in-four timing characteristic of a truly advanced dancer, he still managed to delay the initial "slow" a little, and look really smooth on his rise and fall. And he was pulling out move after move after move that looked good and easy, and was in fact quite advanced. A shadow grapevine. A contra check. A bounce fallaway! How did he get all that in one week? He's really good at being good enough not to distract from showing off his partner, and that is why he will win. Charlotte is clearly the best teacher in the group, too, in addition to being an excellent dancer in her own right, and this helps too; this is fundamentally a pro-am championship, even though the network is focussing on the "am" part, and Charlotte will deservedly make a fortune after this. Their score of 27 was too low for this performance.

Kelly walked on with an odd costume for a smooth dance, but she put on a pretty great show, especially considering she'd learned foxtrot just three days before and was still actively working her General Hospital gig. She is a really good follower---probably a mix of innate talent and good instruction---and her pro is quite canny at selecting moves for which he can provide a strong lead. She has a bit of a pop up on her rise, but manages to be smooth nevertheless. As the routine ended, I guessed she'd get a 22, which was right on.

I loved Joey's costume (and his partner's even more), but he still seems constitutionally incapable of bringing his legs together. He was dancing right on the 1, 3, 4, which is of course what you teach beginners to do, but of course makes him look like a beginner. I do have to say, though, this was definitely his best performance so far; he has shown a lot of improvement since the start. Unfortunately, there was too much show and not enough dance. As a cabaret piece, it would have been great. This is pretty much exactly what the judges said, too, and then his whiny partner actually had the poor judgement to start arguing with the judges. Why did she think that would help? I thought the score of 20 was probably about right.

So now we move on to the Paso Doble. I was slightly dreading the prospect, because it's sort of a tricky dance; on the other hand, it would benefit my man John significantly, because the hip stuff he has such trouble with is not really there.

John led off with some syllabus paso and then mixed in some good open work as well. The routine was well-planned to show off his partner (who, btw, had an awesome costume (that skirt cape!), much better than the unflattering thing they stuck on him) in a dance that tends to highlight the guy a lot more. And she's really really good. It looked pretty awesome, and as usual he really nailed the character of the dance. It wasn't one of his smooth/standard masterpieces, but it was a fine, fine piece of work. The judges fell over themselves to give it another 27, which I thought was a smidge high but was pretty happy with.

Kelly took the floor, and this music started playing, and I said, and I quote, "what the hell kind of paso is this?" And it was even worse than that: not only was the music a samba, so was their routine. From start to finish, they danced a well-choreographed samba. WTF? Judged as a samba, it looked pretty good, actually, but it just wasn't a paso.

Not. A. Paso.

And yet somehow, the judges affected not to even notice. After all the crap they've given all sorts of competitors for not observing the character of the dance, making it too showy or not feeling it enough or whatever, the comments they gave were so deeply, utterly disconnected with reality that I can't help but assume that there was some network muckamuck sitting there telling them they had to give Kelly good marks so she'd get called back so the finals would be gender-balanced. There's just no other explanation. The judges awarded this routine, which failed on the most fundamental of criteria, a 25.

Still somewhat in shock from the bizarro-world the normally agreeable judges had fallen into, I steeled myself for Joey's performance. The music started, and it was---"Eye of the Tiger"? What a strange choice. And the moves they were doing were---


Son of a gun. If you blanked out the weird music and imagined the strains of "España Caní" piped out over the ballroom, Joey and his whiny little partner were actually dancing a picture-perfect paso doble! It was clean as a whistle, and it looked fantastic. There were some great open moves, and then there were perfectly recognisable bronze basic moves in there. It was, to be totally honest, the best paso of the three. But this unexpected result clearly didn't fit in with the judges' notions or the network's plans, and they only gave it a 25. Not only was it not rated better than John's, it was only tied with Kelly's.

So it was that Joey was eliminated. If you'd told me at any point before watching this episode that Joey wouldn't make it to the finals, I wouldn't have been a bit surprised. But tonight his performances really broke through to a new level, and I rather felt that he had gotten gypped. On the other hand, Kelly has been on a consistent upswing; though I was a bit negative about her at first, she has undeniably improved a whole lot, and I'm not unhappy to see her make it to the finals. My money's still on John and Charlotte for the win, though, unless something strange happens.

But did they have to make Joey do his farewell dance to ABBA's "The winner takes it all"? That's just snarky.

"There is nothing pleasurable about being a Cassandra." --Molly Ivins

Posted by blahedo at 3:38am | Comments (0)

Dancing with the stars, pt 4

Somewhat belatedly, I just watched the DwtS episode from two weeks ago. Four couples enter, only three come out. (Hmm, that's not as catchy as it was supposed to be.)

First, Joey's samba. His footwork has definitely improved over previous weeks, but I still get this bleh impression; that he's out there doing stuff but I just can't bring myself to be interested. Was that a volta? I think it was supposed to be, but I just don't care. (And that ass slap was totally gratuitous.) His partner is whiny, his routines don't have enough basic, and he's just very enh. I was pretty ok with the score of 20.

Rachel's samba had a slightly-too-long intro to it, but from there on out it was a fantastic routine. Her cruzado walks were great, her voltas were great, and her samba roll! Beautiful! I felt like the music was a smidge too bouncy (I think because it's really a bossa nova), but it did make for a nice Austin Powers-esque costume on the guy. I was well-pleased, though, with the 25 this got.

There will be a waltz! A V! Waltz! In a group!

John's samba was really disappointing. As my selected favourite couple, I hold John and Charlotte to a high standard that they just didn't meet here. Throughout the routine I could think of nothing so much as the Strictly Ballroom mockeries---not the real sambas therein, but stuff like Fife's Bogo Pogo move, and Scott's dad's fast-foot-shuffling in flashback scenes. Funny, but not very inspiring as a dance. He had no hip movement whatsoever. Nice shish-boom, but it couldn't rescue an otherwise bleh routine. I think it was still a bit better than Joey's, so I was ok with the score of 21, but I really felt like it deserved to be numerically lower.

Kelly started her routine out incredibly awkward. She did a stompy bent-knee volta that made me cringe, and she did an arm flourish at the totally wrong time. And then came the wardrobe malfunction: her halter strap came undone. No indecency yet, but it certainly met the standard of "suspensefulness" that I've held up as a model of what not to have in a ballroom costume. Not really her fault here, of course. And actually, it may have been her salvation, though not for the crass, obvious reason. For the rest of the routine she was a model of grace under pressure, dancing very well in spite of the problem. Indeed, concentrating on that problem may have let her just dance without thinking too much, which possibly helped. For sure, the awkwardness was gone, and her footwork was good, and she was moving her hips. I don't think her performance was quite as good as Rachel's, but I was overall pretty satisfied with the 26 she was awarded.

The linguist in me is also compelled to note that "wardrobe malfunction" is now clearly a full lexical item in the language; I had written it down in my notes immediately, long before the judge and commentator used it. It's just the obvious term to use for this sort of situation, now.

Finally, we get to see the four couples in a Viennese Waltz. Sort of uninspiring all around, actually. John made a nice contra check but an incredibly awkward lift; Rachel was carried in an excellent, elegant lift, but was otherwise awkward. Kelly was concentrating too hard, and although the lift itself looked nice, it spun too fast and her handler drifted as he spun (not her fault, of course). Joey was just off-the-scale weird, with bell kicks (?) and some bizarro under-arm turns and other moves. And despite being billed as our chance to see them all on the floor together, the camera never let us see any of the non-central couples; as a result, we saw none of the actual viennese waltzing. And then, it turns out this wasn't actually judged. Laaaaame.

Also lame was the choice of eliminee. Joey was clearly the consistent worst competitor (of those remaining), but apparently Rachel was really unpopular with the audience. Despite consistent decent-to-good performances, and here ranking 2nd of 4, the audience voting went sufficiently against her to boot her from the program. Quel injuste!

"For all the dozens of sermons and homilies I've heard denouncing abortion, I have never once, in almost a quarter-century of regular church-going, heard a sermon denouncing those who throw their pregnant daughters out of the house." --Chris Tessone

Posted by blahedo at 2:07am | Comments (0)