Doc Rampage
Friday, April 29, 2005
  I'm moving
My company is moving to another building this weekend and I may be off-line for an indeterminate period. They say I'll be back by Monday morning but, well, I don't believe them.

See you when I see you.

UPDATE: Well, I'm back by late Monday night. Not as good as they promised but not as bad as I expected.

I managed to snag the cube with the best view. I'll be pointing that out to everyone in the office a couple of times.

Instead of keys, this new building uses dongles. Those are little electronic devices on a keychain that you rub across a lock interface by the door to open it. People go around saying things like "You just have to rub the interface with your dongle." and "My hands are full, can you rub your dongle for me?" I guess that if you have a dirty mind, I don't have to comment on how this sounds, and if you don't, you are probably better off if I just don't say anything.

I got most of the next chapter of Scale 7 Artifact done, but I forgot to bring it in to work. My home computer isn't on-line so I use a memory stick. My boss calls those memory stick thingies "dongles" too. This leads to usages such as "Is your dongle full?" and "Can I put something on your dongle?"

I'm just sayin'.

Well, I've got a lot of unpacking to do so I guess I'll do some web surfing.
 
  polls and Rorschach tests
Opinion polls are like a Rorschach test, you see in them what you want to see. Glenn Reynolds was upset about the Terri Schiavo case. He felt the Republicans were overreaching and he wanted them to be punished for it. Now, Bush's job approval rating is falling and Reynolds sees his wish come true.

I have my own biases, of course, but keep in mind that Bush's ratings are falling. That means that people who used to say he was doing a good job are now changing their minds. If you want to know who is changing their minds, why not ask who he has most disappointed lately? Surely this isn't the libertarians. The libertarians that voted for Bush knew he was devoutly religious and strongly pro-life. They shouldn't have been surprised at his defense of Terry Schiavo. If anything, they should be relieved that he did so little about the case. They should also be happy that he is taking on Social Security and continuing to be lax about the southern border.

The people who were disappointed in Bush, surely, were those who wanted, and reasonably expected, him to do more for Terry, not less. There are also the people who are disappointed in Bush for failing to control the southern border. This failure has been brought into stark relief lately by the Minuteman Project. There are also people who feel that he is not doing nearly as much he should to get strict constructionist judges appointed.

When a president's poll numbers fade, it is natural to assume that he is losing those who have the most sympathy for the opposing party. But in this case, George Bush has done so well at keeping to the center (the word "triangulate" is completely wrong to describe this, by the way) that he is also very weak among those who are considered his base. And George Bush's base is not at all happy with him.

Also, I think the Republican base is far more idealistic than the Democrat base. Bill Clinton was the very archetype of the sexist, sexually predatory boss that Democrats had been vilifying for decades. But when it came time to put their opinion polls where their ideology was, they supported the president. They understood that if his opinion polls fell, he might be removed from office, and that could hurt their party for a decade. After all, they had done it to Richard Nixon.

Many Republicans just don't care. Or more accurately, they have a theology that says it is their responsibility to be honest, and to leave the consequences up to God. A pollster asks one of these Republican how he thinks George Bush is doing and that Republican --who voted for Bush twice and always backs him up in arguments with Democrats-- thinks about Bush's weak handling of Terri Schiavo, his weak handling of the judicial appointments, his weak handling of the border, and he says, "I don't think he's doing such a good job."

UPDATE:
It looks like Reynolds has an answer for me. I don't have time to follow his links and comment on them --and won't for the next few days-- so I'll just rip the whole post:
MICHAEL SILENCE points to this Gallup poll on what Americans would ask President Bush if they had 15 minutes, and observes:
Scroll way down the page and you'll find moral issues just got a response of 6 percent, and just 1 percent mentioned the courts and judicial system.

The war in Iraq, the economy and Social Security topped the list.
I'm not surprised by that, but some people will be.
That last snotty comment sounds like he is answering me. :-)
 
Thursday, April 28, 2005
  funny blogging
The very first, primary, and a lot of other adjectives that can be stacked up to look sort of like the numeral 1 Carnival of Comedy has just opened its doors.

Don't read my entry unless you are into urological humor. I just coined that term to refer to humor that isn't scatological but is related in sort of all-in-the-humorous-biological-waste-products-family sort of way.
 
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
  Scale 7 Artifact, part 2
Here is my second try at part two of the story. Oddly enough, I thought my first try was really poor, but I got more positive comments on it than on any other stories I've written. Were people just trying to be nice or did they really like it? Anyway, I think this one is a lot better and I hope to get more comments to find out if my readers agree.
beginning
previous
next


Awakening

Twenty billion. That was the estimated population of the Solar System. Twenty billion souls, and all but a couple of million on the groaning planet Earth. Of the twenty billion human beings, perhaps half --ten billion people-- were in a position to volunteer for a voyage to the stars. The rest suffered under the rule of various tyrants who would deny the very existence of the project. How could a dictator maintain the fiction that he was a capable leader when his citizens couldn't afford family cars and other nations were sending out starships?

The mission was dangerous. It said so, right there on the call for volunteers: eight percent chance that at least one of the three starships would be lost. Three percent chance that they all would be. But even if they survived that: the chance that the starfarers would ever breath in the open air again: less than one hundredth of one percent. The chance of suffering physical damage from radiation: eighteen percent. The call listed all of the risks prominently --a form of pre-screening. Let the applicants screen themselves for basic courage. Of the ten billion who had an opportunity to volunteer, twenty million did so. And one of those twenty million was an elderly philosophy professor by the name of Daniel Greaves.

Daniel had volunteered on a lark. A sixty-four year old man that had hardly been outdoors in a generation was not top astronaut material. The volunteer form explained that the mission was for colonization. They would take equal numbers of men and women and there would be some slots available for older children (to accompany their parents) and for some elderly and handicapped people. The reasoning behind this decision was that over long periods, a society of nothing but highly talented young and middle-aged adults would forget how to deal with the less capable.

Still, the number of slots reserved for older people was very small; Daniel knew that they would be reserved for generals and scientists and former explorers --people who could contribute to the mission in spite of their age. A philosophy professor had virtually no chance to be accepted but Daniel had been fascinated by exploration since he was a young child constructing tents from blankets and kitchen chairs in the wilderness of the family room. So he sent in the form anyway; it was a tiny adventure just to volunteer.

Back in the present, Daniel was beginning to see organized visual objects. His vision was not yet clear, but it was no longer random. He tried again to move his hand. This time he was gratified to feel it twitch like he was waking from a dream. A moment later he saw a bright centered in his vision. It moved left, then right, then up, then down. Then it vanished.

Well. That was interesting. Someone was checking his eyes to see if they were tracking. He must have passed the test because the light had stayed in the middle of his field of view. On consideration, Daniel didn't care for the thought that there was a stranger lingering over his helpless corpse, studying each twitch and drool. He decided not to move again until he was whole.

The star-exploration volunteer form had enough information to screen out most of the first 20 million volunteers. Those who could not demonstrate a full understanding of the risks, a moderate proficiency in English, a reasonable level of intelligence, a history of useful work, and at least five people who got along with them, were quickly eliminated. That left only two million. Among the two million was a surprised philosophy professor named Daniel Greaves.

The acceptance letter came with an official application form. The new form required a medical and psychological exam and notarized proof of important parts of the applicant's background. A surprising fifty percent of the original two million applicants didn't even bother to return the second form. Of the million who did, two hundred thousand candidates were chosen to attend ground training, including one thrilled --and shocked-- sixty-four-year-old Daniel Greaves.

Back in the present, Daniel paused his memories again to focus on what he could see and hear. He was in a dimly-lit room. Dim, he knew, in order to protect the sensitive eyes of newly animated CISA patients. He could see what looked like some red instrument indicators casting an eerie glow. Nearby, someone was listening to a movie with the sound turned low. Daniel heard muted screaming and gun shots. Sounded like a fun move. Well, he though, let's see how recovered I am. He painfully sat up.

"Yipes!" there was a startled exclamation to his left. Daniel turned his head ponderously toward the young man that he had so alarmed. The man --a medical tech by his uniform-- was already up from his chair and coming forward. Daniel smiled.

"I'm sorry about that, Dr. Greaves," the medical tech said. "One minute you were lying there like a corpsicle, I mean, like a CISA patient, and the next moment you were sitting up. Usually there is a lot of mumbling and twitching for a few minutes before they try to sit up." Daniel must have looked puzzled because the tech added: " ... and, um, I was watching Dawn of the Dead on the monitor."

Daniel grinned at the man and looked over at the monitor. The tech had pushed it back and Daniel could see the scene where a man had died and his friend was sitting, waiting for him to come back. Scary scene. Daniel was not sure he could speak yet but he managed to whisper a reassurance, "It's our secret."

"Thanks, Dr. Greaves." the tech actually seemed relieved. "But don't try to talk. And lay back down before you collapse." The tech put his arm behind Daniel to support him and another in front to urge him to lay back.

Daniel was annoyed at the presumption and resisted the gentle push. If he could talk more easily he would tell the tech that he was sixty-nine, not ninety. And that he felt ... he felt ... like he really needed to lay back down. Daniel deflated like a punctured tire and the tech eased him back on the med couch.

"You're metabolism is still very slow," the tech told him as he positioned Daniel's head comfortably. "You aren't producing energy at sufficient levels for any physical activity. You need to rest for at least ten minutes before you try to move again."

Daniel grimaced in embarrassment. He should have remembered that from the lectures on CISA --Cold Induced Suspended Animation. OK. He closed his eyes and tried to be patient. Although he was practically exploding with questions.

Ground training had been interesting. A six-month regimen of training, and testing. Hard work, but Daniel had enjoyed every minute. Well, except the hazardous-gas exercises. The last two months of that time was spent cloistered in a spaceship-like environment. Many people couldn't handle the claustrophobic conditions but Daniel found it relaxing. Thousands more were disqualified because of hidden medical conditions, but all of Daniel's many medical conditions were right there in the application form. And many, many of the trainees just couldn't get along with others in the high-stress environment. Daniel won his group's Mr. Congeniality award. The award, a cute teddy bear, was granted at an impromptu and satirical ceremony, but with affection, nonetheless. And that was that, thought Daniel sadly as he made his way back to his chair with the teddy bear, pleasantly enduring all the hugs and back pats. The end of his late-life adventure. Well. It was interesting.

Less than a month later, he received his invitation to attend space training. An invitation to space for a man who medically, could barely qualify for lift-off. Daniel had never space traveled before. More, he had become hardened to the knowledge that he never would. It was a lingering disappointment, an unfulfilled dream, but there was simply no way for a man to get into space unless he worked for a company or government that sent him there. Or unless he were wealthy enough to take a space vacation, at a rate that would be several times what Daniel made in a year. Once, the philosophy professor had unsuccessfully tried to swing funding for a sabbatical on the moon.

Now, the boy who had stayed up late at night, hiding under the blankets with his computer to watch the Mars landings, would be going to space. All his life, Daniel had watched the great explorations enviously from the sidelines: Mars, Venus, Mercury, the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. He had often dreamed of being a planetary explorer, but those projects were for a tiny few, the elite; this project was for twenty thousand people. Still the elite, as it happened: from twenty billion people, that twenty thousand was only one in a million. And at the end, Daniel was among them. This was one great adventure that he wouldn't watch on a computer screen under the blanket, he would live it. How often did a man in his late sixties get a chance to do something that interesting?

"Dr. Greaves?" Daniel opened his eyes at the sound of the tech's voice. "How are you feeling now?"

Daniel thought about it for a moment. "Mabllldy feeees..." he started, then swallowed and began more carefully, "My body feels like every muscle has a charlie horse". At the tech's confused look he continued "Charlie horse:" speaking was hard, "a muscle ache caused by a sharp blow to the muscle. Usually by an older brother, and usually applied to the large muscles of the upper arm or the thigh."

The tech grinned, "Oh you mean a perdidle. I had three older brothers. That's a normal part of waking up from the freezer. Now what you've got to do is get up and walk around for a while, do some stretching exercises and generally make the charlie horses hurt really bad."

Daniel grimaced as he sat up again, this time with the tech's help. "I was afraid you were going to say that."

"One of the perks of my job," the tech replied, helping Daniel to his feet. "I never had a younger brother, and this is how I get even with the world. You want to get the circulation back as soon as possible to make sure all of your systems are awake and functioning. That speeds the recovery process a lot."

The tech helped him over to an exercise machine that looked vaguely like a sandwich-making robot while delivering an entertaining anecdote from his youth. Daniel reflected on how good the tech was at his job. Alert. Open and friendly. Helpful without mothering. Keeping up an entertaining chatter to distract the patient from his pain. But then this tech was one in a million too.

As he was helped into the straps of the machine, Daniel asked the question that had been burning at the front of his mind since his memory recovered. "Is there a planet that can be terraformed?" The tech didn't answer immediately, avoiding Daniel's eyes as he adjusted the straps.

Well. That was interesting. When you arrive at a new star system, what else would anyone be talking about? The tech finished with the straps and stepped over to program the exercise, "We aren't actually at our final destination." he said finally, still avoiding Daniel's eyes, "The astronomers found ... something." Now he met Daniel's eyes, "The details are classified, and I'm not sure what I can tell you. Why don't you wait for your briefing?"

Well. Daniel leaned back to begin the programmed exercise. That was interesting.
next
 
Tuesday, April 26, 2005
  taxing the rich
I'm curious. These people who are so hot to tax the rich, why don't they ever propose anything that would actually tax the rich? They want to make the income taxes on salaries "highly progress" in the words of millionaire Bill I-got-rich-in-the-Whitehouse Clinton, but what about taxing the incomes of rich people? Most genuinely rich people don't make their money from salaries; they make it from investments.

Various investments are taxed at lower rates than salary. Why isn't billionaire George I-want-to-pay-my-fair-share Soros out there demanding that all income be taxed uniformly? If you really want to tax the rich, why let rich people off with tax-free bonds and 15% capital gains tax?

Why isn't millionaire Jesse I-got-rich-defending-civil-rights Jackson upset about tax shelters that are only available to rich people because the overheads are too high to make them worthwhile for the for the poor and underprivileged that he defends so lucratively? If Democrats want the rich to pay their fair share, why aren't they demanding a drastic simplification to the rules so that everyone benefits equally from tax shelters?

Heck, let's go all the way and start taxing actual wealth. Let's require rich people to pay a percentage of their net worth. I propose 1% of all assets over 10 million, an additional 2% of all assets over 100 million, and an additional 3% of all assets over 1 billion. That would really sock it to the rich. That would really make them pay their fair share, right?

So why haven't I heard any proposals like this coming out of the Democratic party? Why didn't billionaire John sock-it-to-the-rich Kerry bring up something like that during his presidential campaign? Why do all their tax proposals seem to be aimed at me instead of at genuinely rich people? Why should I --with total assets well below a million dollars-- be taxed on my income at a higher rate than billionaires?

If they really want to tax the rich, why don't they propose something that really taxes the rich?
 
Monday, April 25, 2005
  sorry 'bout that
I just read over the story I posted late Saturday night (technically Sunday morning). Let this be a lesson to me: don't write, edit and post a short story all in one marathon session --especially when most of the action is in past perfect tense. It's hard enough to write good prose in past perfect without making a rush job of it.

Sheya was able to find something nice to say about the story in the comments [thanks, Sheya], but I think that's just because she's nice.

I feel like removing the post but I'm not going to. Hopefully the embarrassment will be enough to get me to quickly fix it. When I have the improved version ready, I'll just replace the one that's there.
 
  storyblogging
Don't miss the latest Storyblogging Carnival over at Back of the Envelope.
 
  how not to write a menu
Did you know that a mushroom is the flower of a fungus? The mushroom fungus grows underground until it is ready to reproduce, and then it shoots it's flower up above ground to reproduce. A flower is a plant sex organ.

You probably knew that cheese is made by letting milk go bad. It's essentially milk that is so rotten that the micro-organisms that made it rotten can't live in it any more.

And finally, have you ever thought about what makes a weed? In your flower garden, grass is a weed. In your grass lawn, it isn't. A flower that escaped from your garden to take root in your lawn would be a weed there. A weed is just any plant that is not wanted.

So to bring all this together, the main dish at lunch the other was a kind of pasta with mushrooms, sprinkled with parmesian cheese, with large sprigs of rosemary pilled on top. It's very good but the rosemary just gets in your way; you have to remove it in order to eat the pasta. The dish was very popular until someone referred to it as "those noodles with weeds, rotted milk, and fungal sex organs".

I think there is a lesson to be learned here about the importance of word choice.
 
Sunday, April 24, 2005
  Scale 7 Artifact
UPDATE: Don't read this. I've decided to leave it up, but I rewrote it. The better version is here.

This is a continuation of the novel begun here. Don't let the title change fool you; this Daniel Greaves is the same one that was the subject of such dark foreboding in the previous story...


Daniel Greaves was beginning to see organized motion. His vision was not yet clear, but it was no longer random. He tried again to move a hand. It twitched like he was waking from a dream. A moment later, a bright light appeared. It moved left, then right before snapping off.

Well. That was interesting. Someone was checking his eyes, seeing if they were tracking yet. He supposed the test had been positive because the light had stayed in the middle of his field of view. Daniel was moderately disturbed at having a stranger lingering over his helpless corpse, studying each twitch and drool for a clue to returning life. He determined not to move again until he was recovered. That was OK though, he was busy with his memories...

Twenty billion. That was the estimated population of the Solar System at the time of the call for volunteers. Twenty billion souls, and all but a couple of million on the groaning planet Earth. Of the twenty billion human beings, perhaps half --ten billion people-- were in a position to volunteer for a voyage to the stars. The rest suffered under the rule of various thugs who denied the very existence of the project. How could a tyrant maintain the fiction that he was a capable leader when his people couldn't afford family cars and other people were sending out starships?

The mission was dangerous. It said so, right there on the call for volunteers: eight percent chance that at least one of the three starships would be lost. Three percent chance that they all would be. But even if they survived that: the chance that the starfarers would ever breath in the open air again? Less than one hundredth of one percent. The call listed all the risks prominently, a form of pre-screening: let the applicants screen themselves first for basic courage. Of the ten billion who had an opportunity to volunteer, twenty million did so. And one of those twenty million was an elderly college professor by the name of Daniel Greaves. He hadn't thought he really had a chance to go, but the project sounded very interesting.

The volunteer form managed to screen out a large number of those first volunteers. Those who could not demonstrate a full understanding of the risks, a moderate proficiency in English, a reasonable level of intelligence, a history of useful work, and at least five people who got along with them, were quickly eliminated. That left only two million.

Daniel Greaves had never expected to make even the first cut --an out-of-shape man of sixty-four is hardly the archetypical star explorer-- so he was pleasantly surprised to receive the official application form. This form required a medical and psychological exam and notarized proof of important parts of the applicant's background. A surprising fifty percent of the original two million applicants didn't even bother to return the second form. Of the million who did, two hundred thousand candidates were chosen to attend ground training --including one shocked, sixty-four-year-old Daniel Greaves.

Daniel paused his memories to focus on what he could see and hear. He was in a dimly-lit room festooned with red instrument indicators. Nearby, someone shifted in a chair. Daniel wondered if the rest of his body was as fully recovered as his senses seemed to be. He slowly sat up.

"Yipes!" there was a startled exclamation to his left. Daniel turned his head ponderously toward the medical tech that he had alarmed. The man was already up from his chair and coming forward. Daniel smiled.

"I'm sorry about that, Dr. Greaves," the medical tech said. "One minute you were lying there like a corpsicle, I mean, like a hibernating patient, and the next moment you were sitting up. It was just a little startling." Daniel must have looked puzzled because the tech bashfully added: "... and, um, I was watching Dawn of the Dead on the monitor."

Daniel grinned at the man and looked over at the monitor. The tech had pushed it back and Daniel could see the scene where a man had died in bed and was about to come back. Scary scene. Daniel was not sure he could speak yet but he managed to whisper a reassurance, "It's our secret."

"Thanks, Dr. Greaves." the tech actually seemed relieved. "But don't try to talk. And lay back down before you collapse." The tech put his arm behind Daniel to support him and another in front to urge him to lay back.

Daniel was annoyed at the presumption. If he could talk he would tell the tech that he was sixty-nine, not ninety. And that he felt ... he felt ... like he really needed to lay back down. Daniel deflated like a punctured tire and the tech eased him back down.

"You're metabolism is still working at very low levels," the tech told him as he positioned Daniel's head comfortably. "You need to rest for at least ten minutes before you try to move again."

Daniel grimaced in embarrassment. He should have remembered that from the lectures on hibernation. OK. He closed his eyes and tried to be patient. He could ask all the questions later....

Ground training had been interesting. A six-month regimen of exercise, training, and testing. Hard work, but Daniel had enjoyed every minute. Well, except the hazardous-gas training. A two continuous months of that time was spent cloistered in a spaceship-like environment. Many people couldn't handle the claustrophobic conditions but Daniel found it relaxing. Thousands more were disqualified because of hidden medical conditions, but all of Daniel's many medical conditions were right there in the second application form. And many, many of the trainees just couldn't get along with others in the high-stress environment. Daniel won his group's Mr. Congeniality award. The award, a cute teddy bear, was granted at an impromptu and satirical ceremony, but with affection, nonetheless. And that, thought Daniel, was that. The end of his late-life adventure.

So he thought until he received his invitation to attend space training. An invitation to space for a man who medically, could barely qualify for lift-off. Daniel had never space traveled before. More, he had become hardened to the knowledge that he never would. It was an acute but endurable disappointment for a man who had always been in love with the idea of space travel. There was simply no way for a man to get into space unless he worked for a company or government that sent him there. Or unless he were wealthy enough to take a space vacation, at a rate that would be several times what Daniel made in a year. Once, he had nearly swung funding for a sabbatical on the moon, but it fell though.

Now, the boy who had stayed up late at night, hiding under the blankets with his computer to watch the Mars landings, would be going to space. And not just to visit, but to train and live in space for two years. Even if he didn't make the final cut, and he probably wouldn't, Daniel was content.

All his life, Daniel had enviously watched the great explorations from the sidelines: Mars, Venus, Mercury, the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. He had dreamed of being a planetary explorer, but those projects were for a tiny few the elite; this project was for twenty thousand people. Still the elite, as it happened: from twenty billion people, that twenty thousand was only one in a million. And at the end, Daniel was among them. This was one great adventure that he wouldn't watch on a computer screen under the blanket, he would live it. How often did a man in his late sixties get a chance to do something that interesting?

"Dr. Greaves?" Daniel opened his eyes at the sound of the tech's voice. "How are you feeling now?"

Daniel thought about it for a moment. "Mabllldy feeees..." he started, then swallowed and began more carefully, "My body feels like every muscle has a charlie horse". At the tech's confused look he continued "Charlie horse." speaking was hard, "It means a muscle ache caused by a sharp blow to the muscle. Usually by an older brother, and usually applied to the large muscles of the upper arm or the thigh."

The tech grinned, "Oh you mean a perdidle. I had three older brothers. That's a normal part of waking up from the freezer. Now what you've got to do is get up and walk around for a while, do some stretching exercises and generally make the charlie horses hurt really bad."

Daniel grimaced as he sat up again, this time with the tech's help. "I was afraid you were going to say that."

"One of the perks of my job," the tech replied, helping Daniel to his feet. "I never had a younger brother, and this is how I get even with the world. You want to get the circulation back as soon as possible to make sure all of your systems are awake and functioning. That speeds the recovery process a lot."

The tech helped him over to an exercise machine that looked vaguely like a sandwich-making robot, all the while delivering an entertaining anecdote from his youth. Daniel reflected on how good the tech was at his job. Alert. Open and friendly. Helpful without mothering. Keeping up an entertaining chatter to distract the patient from his pain. But then this tech was one in a million too.

As he was helped into the straps of the machine, Daniel asked the question that had been burning at the back of his mind since his memory recovered. "Is there a planet that can be terraformed?"

The tech didn't answer immediately, avoiding Daniel's eyes as he adjusted the straps. Well. That was interesting. When you arrive at a new star system, what else would anyone be talking about? The tech finished with the straps and stepped over to program the exercise, "We aren't actually at our final destination." he said finally, still avoiding Daniel's eyes, "We are in orbit around ... something." Now he met Daniel's eyes, "The details are classified, and I'm not sure what I can tell you. Why don't you wait for your briefing?"

Well. Daniel leaned back to begin the programmed exercise. That was interesting.
 
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