When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

30 September 2006

Confirming the obvious

I am nerdier than 82% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

Hat tip: Fiona.

Language hacking

After a "meh" experience with a set of Berlitz CDs and workbooks, I'm embarking on a new language-learning adventure.

Did an extended online demo of the Rosetta Stone language software last week, and was very impressed with it; have just popped for a couple of Latin American Spanish teaching modules, which will, if nothing else, enable me to converse with a wider variety of neighbors in NYC.

Rosetta Stone appears to me to be everything that language instruction should be: fully immersive, self-paced, and designed to "trick" you into learning the patterns and flow of the language before getting into the grammatical rules (which will be much easier to understand once the patterns have encoded themselves in your noggin.)

I think Carrie wants to buy the Rosetta Stone Italian set.

Hint: Amazon knocks at least 10% off the list price; you're better off buying there than at the corporate Rosetta Stone site.

Moving on up

...to the new beta of Blogger. Expect weirdness for a little while in the formatting realm, especially if you view this site on Safari (the standard Mac browser).

Mozilla Firefox (on Windows, Mac or Linux) or Camino (on the Mac) still work best with enrevanche and are our Approved Browsers.

Update: Specifically, we've lost Haloscan comments for the moment. Tinkering will commence over the weekend.

Update II: Haloscan comments are back, thanks to the Logical Philosopher.

29 September 2006

Best official denial ever

The Israeli prime minister remained evasive about reports that he had met secretly with a senior member of the Saudi ruling family - something Riyadh has strenuously denied.

"We have decided that on this subject, I am going to deliver a denial, but you don't have to believe it," Mr Olmert said.

"On other matters, believe all my denials," he added.

Middle East summit 'within days' (BBC News)

Genius. Sheer genius.

It is not recorded whether Mr. Olmert was actually winking as he spoke.

Dropping the blogball

Blogging has been light and intermittent and will be for a few more days. Lots of business travel and meetings.

Mister Gato sends his love.

gato keyboard side view scaled
I love you, keyboard.

Be sure to check out The Modulator's Friday Ark to see pictures of bloggers' pets from around the world, and don't miss the Carnival of the Cats this Sunday, hosted by Curiouser and Curiouser.

27 September 2006

National Intelligence Estimate, partly declassified

Three years ago, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld wrote a memo to his colleagues in the Pentagon posing a critical question in the “long war’’ against terrorism: Is Washington’s strategy successfully killing or capturing terrorists faster than new enemies are being created?

Until Tuesday, the government had not publicly issued an authoritative answer. But the newly declassified National Intelligence Estimate on terrorism does exactly that, and it concludes that the administration has failed the Rumsfeld test.
Waging the War on Terror: Report Belies Optimistic View - New York Times (September 27, 2006)

So, we must ask the crucial question: "Is our leaders learning?"


26 September 2006

Why I never stay logged in to eBay when Mister Gato's around

Jack Neal briefly became the proud owner of a pink convertible car after he managed to buy it for 9,000 pounds ($17,000) on the Internet despite being only three years old.

Jack's mother told the BBC she had left her password for the eBay auction site in her computer and her son used the 'buy it now' option to complete the purchase.
Three-year-old buys pink convertible on Internet - Yahoo! News

I'm always very careful to log out when Gato's near the computer, and this is why. The Chows are totally safe in that they wouldn't even attempt to figure out how to bid, but I don't want a metric ton of smoked salmon showing up at my apartment building.

US loses top competitiveness spot

The US has lost its status as the world's most competitive economy, according to the World Economic Forum.

The US now ranks only sixth in the body's league table of global competitiveness, behind Switzerland, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Singapore.
BBC NEWS | Business | US loses top competitiveness spot

So the obvious question is, why?

According to the WEF, the "fragile state" of public finances in the US... in other words, our out-of-control budget and trade deficits.

The myth of overscheduled children

John deVille, who really does need to start blogging again one day, contributes a terrific guest-post to enrevanche today:
I guess most journalists are just retarded. We've been swamped with articles about overscheduled kids and now a study comes out which says that's a myth and the journalists who have as much capacity for nuance and abstract thought as a two-year-old just don't get it.

It's pretty simple. Most kids are not overscheduled. They do indeed watch too much TV, spend too much time playing video games and texting, and not enough time reading and engaging in physical activity and creative play. AND there is a significant, substantial cadre, a minority of about 15%, who are indeed coming close to being overscheduled. They go from high-powered class to high-powered class to volunteer hours to gymnastics to church youth group to soccer to hours of homework. A few juggle it admirably well, mind-blowingly well. And a few more appear to be overwhelmed at keeping up appearances.

To recap: 70% of kids are slugs, 15% are extraordinarily high achievers with some of that 15% being stressed out while some are eating it up (the future Sumner Redstones, Ted Turners, Steve Jobs, etc). And then there are about 15% who engage in a couple of structured activities while still finding time to watch football and play Madden 2007 -- future middle-management or equivalent. Our kids are a mirror of the rest of society.
The Benefits of Busy (Newsweek Online)

War On Moisture eases slightly

Air travelers will be allowed to carry drinks bought at the airport onto planes and to have small amounts of liquids and gels in their carry-on bags, the Department of Homeland Security said today.

The new rules, which will go into effect Tuesday, allow travelers to carry liquids, gels or aerosols in containers of 3 ounces or less, as long as they all fit into a clear 1-quart plastic bag that can be screened at the security checkpoint. Drinks and other items purchased in the secure part of the airport, beyond the checkpoint, will also be allowed onto planes.
Hallelujah. I'm headed for Houston in three hours, and I'll be taking a 1-liter bottle of H2O and a venti latte, purchased in the "secure part of the airport," onboard with me.

Never thought I'd see the day when I'd be pathetically grateful for the chance to pay airport shop prices for beverages. Are we *sure* the terrorists aren't winning?

U.S. Relaxes Air Travel Restrictions - New York Times

25 September 2006

Tinkerty Tonk: Raging RINO sightings

Tinkerty Tonk: Raging RINOs: We don't have an official t-shirt

Toyota to Detroit: We will bury you

Toyota Motor Corp. has a message for its struggling rivals in Detroit: We will bury you.

Of course, Toyota's leaders are far too diplomatic and cautious to say something as outrageous as that out loud.

Instead, Toyota delivers its message in more subtle ways. Such as bringing the new Lexus LS 460 to a hotel within sight of Ford Motor Co.'s Dearborn, Mich., headquarters and innocently demonstrating the fact that the new top-of-the-line Lexus has a feature that allows the car to park itself, with the driver playing a minor supporting role.

This is one of those see-it-to-believe-it features. But the LS 460 can use an array of sonar distance-finding devices linked to the navigation system that can slide the car into a parallel-parking slot without the driver touching the steering wheel.


The Lexus LS 460 represents, in one elegant package, most of the reasons why Toyota is widely expected to become the world's No. 1 auto maker sometime within the next two years. It is a technological tour de force by a company that, relative to its strapped U.S. competition, has bottomless resources. Tricks like automatic parking technology are a lot easier to do if your company is making billions, and has a top-shelf credit rating. For GM and Ford, Detroit's junk-rated giants, everything comes harder.
Wall Street Journal, September 25, 2006 - Eyes on the Road: Toyota Sends Quiet Message (subscription required)

23 September 2006

Spy Agencies: Iraq War Worsens Terror Threat

A stark assessment of terrorism trends by American intelligence agencies has found that the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks.

The classified National Intelligence Estimate attributes a more direct role to the Iraq war in fueling radicalism than that presented either in recent White House documents or in a report released Wednesday by the House Intelligence Committee, according to several officials in Washington involved in preparing the assessment or who have read the final document.

The intelligence estimate, completed in April, is the first formal appraisal of global terrorism by United States intelligence agencies since the Iraq war began, and represents a consensus view of the 16 disparate spy services inside government. Titled “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States,’’ it asserts that Islamic radicalism, rather than being in retreat, has metastasized and spread across the globe.
Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Worsens Terror Threat - New York Times

22 September 2006

NYC-area libertarians: Put October 4 on your calendar!


On Wednesday, October 4, 2006 from 8pm-10pm, IHS alums, New York-area libertarians, media folk, and debate fans are encouraged to come to a two-tiered event at Manhattan’s Lolita Bar (northeast corner of Broome St. and Allen St. on the Lower East Side, one block south and three west of the Delancey St. subway stop).

We’ll use the main floor of the bar for a libertarian gathering organized by the Republican Liberty Caucus to discuss issues of pragmatism and principle one month before the mid-term elections, while the downstairs space sees a debate on the question “Do Celebrities Have a Right to Privacy?” — timed to coincide with the New York Film Festival — pitting Jill Friedman (an actress and blogger with terrible secrets, such as being in the Society for Creative Anachronism) against Jen Dziura (a comedienne with nothing to hide), hosted by IHS alum Todd Seavey and moderated by Michel Evanchik.

The debate is one in the monthly series Seavey hosts for the non-partisan Jinx Magazine — and this month’s two-level intellectual adventure, including $500 worth of drink tickets for those participants over 21, is kindly sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies. Please join us, especially if you’re an IHS alum, and bring every libertarian movie star friend you have.


Hat tip: New York State Republican Liberty Caucus

21 September 2006

To see oursels as others see us...

Carrie (my long-suffering wife) and I were talking about blogs tonight, and how some blogging concepts can be summed up easily in a single sentence, while other blogs eluded easy description (such as, for better or worse, enrevanche.)

I asked her to try, and this is what she came up with. Be careful what you ask for.

The intersection of the following sets: geek/Southerner/pedant/sentimentalist/libertarian, with maybe a few more ovals in the Venn diagram as well.

Um. Quite. Note the new subtitle for the blog, above.
"Ah, wad some power the giftie gie us/To see oursels as others see us!"

- Robert Burns

"Bring Them Freedom, Or They Destroy Us"

What is the possibility of freedom in the Islamic world, in the Western sense of the word? If you look at the current literature, you will find two views common in the United States and Europe. One of them holds that Islamic peoples are incapable of decent, civilized government. Whatever the West does, Muslims will be ruled by corrupt tyrants. Therefore the aim of our foreign policy should be to insure that they are our tyrants rather than someone else's--friendly rather than hostile tyrants. This point of view is very much favored in departments of state and foreign offices and is generally known, rather surprisingly, as the 'pro-Arab' view. It is, of course, in no sense pro-Arab. It shows ignorance of the Arab past, contempt for the Arab present, and unconcern for the Arab future. The second common view is that Arab ways are different from our ways. They must be allowed to develop in accordance with their cultural principles, but it is possible for them--as for anyone else, anywhere in the world, with discreet help from outside and most specifically from the United States--to develop democratic institutions of a kind. This view is known as the 'imperialist' view and has been vigorously denounced and condemned as such.

In thinking about these two views, it is helpful to step back and consider what Arab and Islamic society was like once and how it has been transformed in the modern age. The idea that how that society is now is how it has always been is totally false...
Bring Them Freedom, Or They Destroy Us (Bernard Lewis)

Hat tip: Chap.

Today's wakeup playlist

Bought myself a new toy the other day - one of the new 8GB iPod Nanos (in stylish matte black.)

This is only the third portable MP3 player I've ever owned. A pathological early adopter, as I've written about before, I bought a 64MB (!) Creative player back in the day when they were about the size of a pack of cigarettes. It has long since gone on the ash-heap.

For the last few years, I've used a 1GB flash-memory-based iRiver model that could also record in stereo; I'm hanging on to it, as it's ideal for doing discreet field recordings for podcasts (and I do intend to get back to those one day.)

Even though my wife is an enthusiastic iPod user, I resisted the siren song as long as I could... but the new crop of Nanos pushed me over the edge.

This morning's wakeup playlist:
(I Love It When You) Call Me Names -- Joan Armatrading
(You Caught Me) Smilin' -- Sly & the Family Stone
99 Problems -- Jay-Z + DJ Danger Mouse
Better Git It in Your Soul -- Charles Mingus
Bitch -- The Rolling Stones
D.M.S.R. -- Prince
Fight the Power -- Public Enemy
Move -- Miles Davis
New Sensations -- Lou Reed
Sledgehammer -- Peter Gabriel
What's on your iPod this morning? (Or MP3 player of choice, if you haven't drunk the Apple-flavored Kool-Aid.)

19 September 2006

Martin Amis: The age of horrorism

Let us make the position clear. We can begin by saying, not only that we respect Muhammad, but that no serious person could fail to respect Muhammad - a unique and luminous historical being. Judged by the continuities he was able to set in motion, he remains a titanic figure, and, for Muslims, all-answering: a revolutionary, a warrior, and a sovereign, a Christ and a Caesar, 'with a Koran in one hand', as Bagehot imagined him, 'and a sword in the other'. Muhammad has strong claims to being the most extraordinary man who ever lived. And always a man, as he always maintained, and not a god. Naturally we respect Muhammad. But we do not respect Muhammad Atta.

Until recently it was being said that what we are confronted with, here, is 'a civil war' within Islam. That's what all this was supposed to be: not a clash of civilisations or anything like that, but a civil war within Islam. Well, the civil war appears to be over. And Islamism won it. The loser, moderate Islam, is always deceptively well-represented on the level of the op-ed page and the public debate; elsewhere, it is supine and inaudible. We are not hearing from moderate Islam. Whereas Islamism, as a mover and shaper of world events, is pretty well all there is.
Martin Amis: The Age of Horrorism (The Observer, September 10)

Astroturf, not grassroots

As suspected, it was followers of exiled cleric Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed who organized a rally yesterday outside of London's Westminster Cathederal calling for the death penalty for the Pope's blasphemy.

Here is the call for the protest on a password protected internet forum run by Omar Bakri Mohammed from exile in Lebanon where he directs his followers in Britain. Click the image for a larger view.

The Jawa Report: Exiled Muslim Cleric Behind London Protest Calling for Pope's Death

Hat tip: Chapomatic.

Where all the money goes

Death and Taxes: A Visual Guide to Where Your Federal Tax Dollars Go.

The worst things you can do as a manager

Lately, I have been thinking about a couple of management practices that seem (based on my experience of more than 18 years in government) to occur more frequently in government settings and to have significant detrimental effects on employees and the organization. The first one is keeping underperforming employees around when they should be let go, and the second one is promoting a good employee into management just because they 'deserve' it, whether or not they actually have adequate management skills.
TechRepublic Blog: The worst things you can do as a manager

18 September 2006

Head-in-the-Sand Liberals

Two years ago, I published a book highly critical of religion, 'The End of Faith.' In it, I argued that the world's major religions are genuinely incompatible, inevitably cause conflict and now prevent the emergence of a viable, global civilization. In response, I have received many thousands of letters and e-mails from priests, journalists, scientists, politicians, soldiers, rabbis, actors, aid workers, students — from people young and old who occupy every point on the spectrum of belief and nonbelief.

This has offered me a special opportunity to see how people of all creeds and political persuasions react when religion is criticized. I am here to report that liberals and conservatives respond very differently to the notion that religion can be a direct cause of human conflict.

This difference does not bode well for the future of liberalism...

...[M]y correspondence with liberals has convinced me that liberalism has grown dangerously out of touch with the realities of our world — specifically with what devout Muslims actually believe about the West, about paradise and about the ultimate ascendance of their faith.

On questions of national security, I am now as wary of my fellow liberals as I am of the religious demagogues on the Christian right.

This may seem like frank acquiescence to the charge that "liberals are soft on terrorism." It is, and they are.
Head-in-the-Sand Liberals - Sam Harris, Los Angeles Times (September 18, 2006)

Related: SamHarris.org

The Blogger SAT Challenge

The New York Times recently published sample top-scoring essays from the new written component of the SAT test in order to show the type of work that was likely to score highly. Several bloggers, as well as the Times itself, have noted that the writing isn't exactly compelling.

In fact, I've been carrying on a bit of a debate with Chad Orzel, of ScienceBlogs' Uncertain Principles on this very subject. Chad argues that it's unfair to put a microscope to the the highschoolers' prose, written in just 25 minutes based on a prompt they had never encountered before.

In the comments, I expressed surprise:

I'm sorry, that was just painful to read. These are really the best? I do understand that these writers got only 25 minutes, on a topic they hadn't prepared for, but still, the best?

Then Chad laid down the gantlet threw down the gauntlet:

Somebody ought to get a bunch of bloggers together, and give them the writing SAT under timed conditions, and see what they come up with.

I think you can figure out where this is headed. Chad and I have set up a test for you to use to find out if you can do any better than a bunch of highschoolers.

You know what to do, y'all.

Cognitive Daily: The Blogger SAT Challenge!

Hat tip: deVille.

What's Really Propping Up The Economy

If you really want to understand what makes the U.S. economy tick these days, don't go to Silicon Valley, Wall Street, or Washington. Just take a short trip to your local hospital. Park where you don't block the ambulances, and watch the unending flow of doctors, nurses, technicians, and support personnel. You'll have a front-row seat at the health-care economy.

For years, everyone from politicians on both sides of the aisle to corporate execs to your Aunt Tilly have justifiably bemoaned American health care -- the out-of-control costs, the vast inefficiencies, the lack of access, and the often inexplicable blunders.

But the very real problems with the health-care system mask a simple fact: Without it the nation's labor market would be in a deep coma. Since 2001, 1.7 million new jobs have been added in the health-care sector, which includes related industries such as pharmaceuticals and health insurance. Meanwhile, the number of private-sector jobs outside of health care is no higher than it was five years ago.
Just in case that last sentence of the excerpt didn't sink in, here it is, slightly paraphrased: all of the job growth in the private sector since 2001 has been in health care and the entire rest of the private-sector economy has had no net gain in new jobs.

Here's the real eye-opener:
Despite the splashy success of companies such as Google and Yahoo!, businesses at the core of the information economy -- software, semiconductors, telecom, and the whole gamut of Web companies -- have lost more than 1.1 million jobs in the past five years. Those businesses employ fewer Americans today than they did in 1998, when the Internet frenzy kicked into high gear.
What's Really Propping Up The Economy (BusinessWeek)

16 September 2006

Three-step verbal escalation: A primer

Believe It or Not, It's in the Manual

Conductor: Watch the closing doors... Please stand clear of the doors... Hey! Asshole! Move!

--9 train, Midtown

Overheard by: Jennifer

via Overheard in New York, Sep 15, 2006

Thoughts on Pope Benedict's apology to the entire Muslim world

The word of the day is complaisant.
complaisant \kuhm-PLAY-suhnt; -zuhnt\, adjective:
Exhibiting a desire to please; obliging; compliant.
Clarifying question: What is the difference between "complacent" and "complaisant?"
Complaisant means 'eager to please' and 'showing a cheerful willingness to fulfill others' wishes'. Complacent is quite the opposite, 'being pleased with oneself; contented to a fault'. However, they share one meaning, which may cause them to be confused - each also carries the sense of 'obliging, agreeable'. One could differentiate the two words by saying that complaisant is the active adverb and complacent denotes a more passive feeling. Complaisant was first recorded in 1647, deriving from Latin complacere. Complacent comes from the same Latin word, but is not found in writing until 1660.
Related: Pope 'sorry' for offence to Islam (BBC)

Literature McNuggets


15 September 2006

Fear of flying

The flight attendants are now pointing out the emergency exits. This is the part of the announcement that you might want to pay attention to. So stop your sudoku for a minute and listen: knowing in advance where the exits are makes a dramatic difference to your chances of survival if we have to evacuate the aircraft. Also, please keep your seat belt fastened when seated, even if the seat-belt light is not illuminated. This is to protect you from the risk of clear-air turbulence, a rare but extremely nasty form of disturbance that can cause severe injury. Imagine the heavy food trolleys jumping into the air and bashing into the overhead lockers, and you will have some idea of how nasty it can be. We don't want to scare you. Still, keep that seat belt fastened all the same.

Your life-jacket can be found under your seat, but please do not remove it now. In fact, do not bother to look for it at all. In the event of a landing on water, an unprecedented miracle will have occurred, because in the history of aviation the number of wide-bodied aircraft that have made successful landings on water is zero. This aircraft is equipped with inflatable slides that detach to form life rafts, not that it makes any difference. Please remove high-heeled shoes before using the slides. We might as well add that space helmets and anti-gravity belts should also be removed, since even to mention the use of the slides as rafts is to enter the realm of science fiction...

Fear of flying | Welcome aboard | The Economist

Much too tired to catblog.

Sorry, we're too tired to catblog today. Just in from a few days on the road and have to get a long report out by close of business.

box and blanket
Originally uploaded by enrevanche.

Here, Mister Gato does some extended meditation atop a box of business papers, which he has customized to suit his needs.

Ah, cats and cardboard.

Be sure to check out The Modulator's Friday Ark to see pictures of bloggers' pets from around the world, and don't miss the Carnival of the Cats this Sunday, hosted by Justin's Random Thoughts.

14 September 2006

Shocked. Shocked, I tell you.

You Are a "Don't Tread On Me" Libertarian

You distrust the government, are fiercely independent, and don't belong in either party.
Religion and politics should never mix, in your opinion... and you feel opressed [sic] by both.
You don't want the government to cramp your self made style. Or anyone else's for that matter.
You're proud to say that you're pro-choice on absolutely everything!

HBO Renews The Wire

Balancing small audiences again critical acclaim, HBO has picked up a fifth season of drama The Wire. The network will commission an additional 13 episodes of the amazingly gritty 'police versus drug dealers' drama, but the expected air date could not be learned.
HBO Renews The Wire - 9/12/2006 - Broadcasting & Cable

13 September 2006

Nothing to add to this, really...

Originally uploaded by cky3.

Except click on the graphic to get a better look.

This is Microsoft Windows, attempting to protect one of its hapless users from...


12 September 2006

Wired News: One Million Ways to Die

On the day after 9/11, some food for thought from the number-crunchers at Wired News.
[H]ere's a handy ranking of the various dangers confronting America, based on the number of mortalities in each category throughout the 11-year period spanning 1995 through 2005 (extrapolated from best available data).

Driving off the road: 254,419
Falling: 146,542
Accidental poisoning: 140,327
Dying from work: 59,730
Walking down the street: 52,000.
Accidentally drowning: 38,302
Killed by the flu: 19,415
Dying from a hernia: 16,742
Accidental firing of a gun: 8,536
Electrocution: 5,171
Being shot by law enforcement: 3,949
Terrorism: 3147
Carbon monoxide in products: 1,554

Wired News: One Million Ways to Die

11 September 2006

Five years on

...and I still can't write about it.

I've tried.

Instead, go read Scott Smith's post today... and then follow the link at the bottom for last year's, which will kick your collective asses even more thoroughly.

10 September 2006

Carnival of the Cats is up...

The Carnival of the Cats is up at Begin Each Day As If It Were on Purpose.

They must be very proud

Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft endured a wave of public disapproval earlier this year over their compliance with Chinese censorship of their Web sites. But another striking form of tech commerce with China is taking place below the radar of the U.S. public: Major American manufacturers are rushing to supply China's police with the latest information technology.

Oracle Corp. has sold software to the Chinese Ministry of Public Security, which oversees both criminal and ideological investigations. The ministry uses the software to manage digital identity cards that are replacing the paper ID that Chinese citizens must carry. Meanwhile, regional Chinese police departments are modernizing their computer networks with routers and switches purchased from Cisco Systems Inc. And Motorola Inc. has sold the Chinese authorities handheld devices that will allow street cops to tap into the sorts of sophisticated data repositories that EMC Corp. markets to the Ministry of Public Security.
Helping Big Brother Go High Tech: BusinessWeek

Well, these fine American companies are just continuing a proud tradition of large IT businesses being "apolitical."

After all, IBM did business with Nazi Germany (see also here) and the apartheid regimes of South Africa.

Like Sonny Corleone observed in The Godfather - "It's nothing personal, it's just business."

In Memoriam: Michael Robert Horrocks

As part of The 2,996 Project, bloggers around the world are marking the five-year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks by writing memorials for the victims of the attacks. Bloggers sign up for the project and are assigned, at random, a person to profile.

Today at enrevanche, we remember Michael Robert Horrocks.

michael robert horrocks family
Michael Robert Horrocks with family:
wife Miriam, children Michael and Christa

Michael Horrocks was born in 1963 in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania. He attended Hershey High School and West Chester University (where he was quarterback of the college football team), then served as an officer (a pilot, and, later, a flight instructor) in the United States Marine Corps, where he was known by the congenial nickname, "Rocks."

On retiring from the Marine Corps, Michael was hired by United Airlines.

On September 11, 2001, Michael Horrocks was the First Officer (co-pilot) of United Airlines Flight 175, a regularly scheduled flight from Boston's Logan Airport to Los Angeles.
According to news reports confirmed by a family member, Horrocks called his wife before the plane took off and joked that the pilot--Victor Saracini--was "some guy with a funny Italian name."
Source: United Airlines Flight Attendants Association 9/11 Memorial

While we will never know exactly how or when Michael Robert Horrocks died, it is an absolute certainty that he was not at the controls when his plane struck Tower 2 of the World Trade Center at 9:03 AM on September 11, 2001. United Airlines Flight 175 was carrying 56 passengers (including the five hijackers) and nine crew members, making a total of 60 actual human beings; all died.

Michael Robert Horrocks is survived by his wife Miriam, and his children Michael (Mick) and Christa, as well as an extended family and a network of professional friends and colleagues around the world from his time in the military and in the airline industry.

At Michael's funeral, he was remembered as an avid outdoorsman, a proud family man, a quiet but intense Marine and professional pilot, and a man who could always be trusted to do the right thing.

His brother Bill remarked,
[Michael's] word was as good as gold. If he said he was going to do something you could be 100% certain he was going to do it. He never took himself too seriously, always allowing his friends and family to poke fun at him or make him the butt of the joke. He had a quiet confidence, a coolness that everyone admired and gravitated towards. He always handled pressure with ease and was ready to step up to any challenge, but rarely issued one.
And here, from the family web site, is a poem that Christa Horrocks wrote for her father.
About Daddy
by Christa

Daddy was a great man.
He was such fun to play with and be with.
I know he’s watching over us in heaven and he’ll be there until we join him one day.
I’m glad Daddy taught me all those nature things. Because Daddy’s everywhere.
He’s in the trees, the ground, the sky, the leaves, the ocean and the air.
I can breathe Daddy in with a big deep breath.
Daddy made me feel happy and playful.
He would want all of you to be happy and playful too.
When Daddy was away, he would send us big hugs through the phone.
Now we want to send Daddy big hugs ! HUGGGGGG!
And we love you up to the moon and back!
A trust fund has been established for his children:

Christa and Michael Horrocks Trust
c/o Commerce Bank
3609 Winding Way
Newtown Square, PA 19073


Strange bedfellows

How worried is the GOP about losing control of the U.S. Senate in the 2006 elections?

Witness the spectacle of the conservative-dominated National Republican Senatorial Committee marshaling their forces in support of the biggest RINO of them all, Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, in the Republican primaries.

Convinced that a "conservative" wouldn't survive a general election in Rhode Island, the Republicans are putting all their chips on the table for Chafee.
In an extraordinary pre-emptive announcement, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has said it will concede Rhode Island to the Democrats should Stephen Laffey, the mayor of Cranston, defeat Mr. Chafee in the primary. Citing poll data, Republican leaders said they saw no way someone as conservative as Mr. Laffey could win in a state as Democratic as this; as it is, they are increasingly worried about Mr. Chafee’s hopes in a general election.

The result has been the striking sight of the national Republican Party, dominated by conservatives, using resources to save the seat of a Republican who said he voted against Mr. Bush in 2004. He chose instead to write in the name of the first President Bush.

Mr. Chafee has opposed many centerpiece Republican policies, from the war in Iraq to tax cuts to most restrictions on abortion. This week, he helped force a delay on the confirmation of John R. Bolton as the United States ambassador to the United Nations.

For all that, Republicans said they expected to spend more than $1.2 million on advertisements attacking Mr. Laffey, saturating the television stations of this state, the nation’s smallest. One advertisement lifts a line Republicans have used in countless attacks against Democrats, mocking the mayor as “tax-and-spend Steve Laffey.”
To Hold Senate, G.O.P. Bolsters Its Most Liberal - New York Times

09 September 2006

Review in brief: Proposal Guide for Business and Technical Professionals

If you respond to RFPs or have any part in the proposal writing process, the Shipley Associates Proposal Guide for Business and Technical Professionals will be worth every penny of the $60 you pay for it (Amazon price as of September 2006.)

It is not a tutorial or a "how to" guide; rather, it's a reference book that contains articles (like encyclopedia entries) on topics of interest to proposal writers, and also captures industry-consensus best practices for proposal preparation.

The certification exams for the Association of Proposal Management Professionals use this book as one of the basic texts, and there's a good reason for that. Shipley Associates, the consulting firm, has taught organizations all over the world how to win business by writing better proposals and RFP responses, and a lot of their knowledge and experience is condensed and present in these pages.

I've been writing proposals for years now, and while I don't agree with every single statement in this book, I also have to admit that, with all of my experience, I picked up some good pointers and am rethinking my approach in certain areas.

The approach is geared towards the production of large, multimillion-dollar proposals, but even if you're not writing proposals of that complexity, you'll still get a lot out of it.

Highly recommended.

Also posted at Knowledge Work.

08 September 2006

Hello, Good Buys: Four Sites That Offer Fare Help

Move over Travelocity, Expedia and Orbitz. A new generation of travel Web sites is emerging, and they're looking to revolutionize the online purchase of airfares. The brainchildren of PhD-in-mathematics types, the sites use what is called predictive technology.' No crystal balls are involved: The sites mine and analyze historical airfare prices so consumers will know better when to push the button and buy.
Hello, Good Buys: Four Sites That Offer Fare Help (Washington Post Sunday Travel)

The four sites?

The Best Show on TV

The Wire, perhaps the only police drama that truly deserves to be called “gritty,” begins its fourth season on HBO next Sunday. Let me be the first to begin the campaign for a fifth. A nuanced portrait of urban Baltimore, with its internecine battles among cops, politicos and drug dealers, The Wire demands a far greater level of commitment and attention from its audience than your standard escapist police procedural.

After screening all 13 episodes of the coming season, I'm left with the kind of melancholy that sets in when you finish a great novel. This is muckraking TV, in so many ways more powerful than anything a network news division can produce.
The Best Show on TV - 9/4/2006 - Broadcasting & Cable

We'll be watching. Oh man, will we ever. Even with competition from the likes of Deadwood and The Sopranos, The Wire is the best original series that has ever appeared on HBO, and right now I can't think of anything better that I've ever seen on television, period.

07 September 2006

Heard of a box that's loaded with tabbies, packed up and ready to go

Mister Gato sacks out in a recently opened box from Amazon.com, who make weekly (at least) deliveries to our house:

boxed up and ready to go scaled
Sized to fit.

Be sure to check out The Modulator's Friday Ark to see pictures of bloggers' pets from around the world, and don't miss the Carnival of the Cats this Sunday, hosted by Begin Each Day.

"We tortured an insane man"

Harsh interrogation works -- that's the argument President Bush made on Wednesday even as he announced that al-Qaida operative Abu Zubaydah and 13 other alleged al-Qaida operatives will be transferred to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to face trial. Acknowledging for the first time the existence of secret CIA prisons where the 14 men had been held, Bush claimed that the extreme interrogation techniques used on Zubaydah, whom he called 'a senior terrorist leader,' and others in the 'war on terror,' were justified. Bush said that Zubaydah, under the pressure of what Bush referred to as the CIA's 'alternative set of procedures,' had given up information that proved vital to the United States.

But Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Suskind paints a more complicated picture of Zubaydah. In one of the most hotly discussed sections of his book 'The One-Percent Doctrine,' Suskind reveals that at least one top FBI analyst considered Zubaydah an 'insane, certifiable, split personality' and that he was mainly responsible only for logistics like travel arrangements. According to Suskind's reporting, the interrogation methods used on Zubaydah -- waterboarding and sleep deprivation, among others -- only yielded information about plots that did not exist.
"We tortured an insane man" | Salon News


Basketball star Stephon Marbury, who grew up in the Coney Island projects, doesn't want to see kids paying $200 for a pair of celebrity-endorsed sneakers. (That's a family's grocery bill for a week or more, after all.)

He's lent his name and star power to a line of simple, well-designed sneakers and clothes that are being sold exclusively by the Steve and Barry's (no relation) chain.

The flagship sneaker, the Starbury One, costs about $15 a pair. And he's planning to wear them on the basketball court next season.

Slate has full coverage. Excerpt:
The Starbury line is available only at the up-and-coming cheapo apparel retailer Steve & Barry's. Steve & Barry's started with a single store at the University of Pennsylvania in 1985, expanded to other college campuses, and then to malls. Today, there are about 130 stores, with six opening in August and September alone... Steven Shore and Barry Prevor have managed to undercut Wal-Mart and Target by scoring great deals from landlords at crappy malls, buying directly from overseas, and offering only house brands. The result: absurdly low prices. Walk through the aisles and you'll shake your head in disbelief: polo shirts, rugby shirts, hats, university T-shirts, bulky hooded sweatshirts, jeans and khakis, shorts, warm-up jackets, all for less than $10. You could clothe your family for a year for $100. If Steve & Barry can figure out how to make a few pennies on each sale, they can certainly figure out how to make sure Marbury gets a penny or two.


This morning, the Manhattan Mall was generally empty--except for the line of 75 people queuing up outside Steve & Barry's to get a look at the shoes, which had arrived earlier this month. Inside, many were frustrated by the lack of selection and the two-pair-per-person limit. But that didn't stop them from loading up on Starbury apparel--T-shirts and varsity jackets, jeans, satiny warm-up jackets and baggy shorts, basketball jerseys--all for a tiny fraction of what similar products would cost at Niketown or at the New York Knicks' online store. Meanwhile, foot traffic at the Foot Locker one floor down was nonexistent.
Marbury vs. Madison Avenue (Slate)


06 September 2006

GOOD Magazine: Political NASCAR

In the 2006 midterms, Senators Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Rick Santorum (R-PA), both running for re-election, have raised the most money of any candidate in their respective parties. Here are the NASCAR-style uniforms they would wear if companies were proud of their political donations, and if running for Senate required a flame-retardant suit.
GOOD MAGAZINE | What Matters: Political NASCAR

Hat tip: BoingBoing

Online word processors: A hands-on comparison

The last year has seen the first appearance of online word processing applications such as ajaxWrite, ThinkFree Online, Writely, and Zoho Writer. Online office applications are an unproven product in a new market. To see how worthwhile they were, I compared their interfaces, basic and advanced features, and their document export and administration capabilities. The results are not only a summary of the four applications' strengths and weaknesses, but also an indication of how far online word processors still have to go before they can match their desktop counterparts.
Linux.com | Online word processors: A hands-on comparison (Bruce Byfield, September 5, 2006)

05 September 2006

The return of Bill in Exile

Look who's back.

The first post is only mildly NSFW, but I'm sure that a return to the customary levels of depravity will be forthcoming shortly.

Bill in Exile: A Post From The Joint (September 5, 2006)

"This Is Your Brain on Music" | Salon Books

[Daniel J. Levitin, author of "This Is Your Brain on Music"] is a neuroscientist and a former record producer. He is one of those people -- think of a Nick Hornby character -- for whom music has always been a source of infinite aesthetic and emotional pleasure. He is also one of those people lucky enough to have turned his abiding interest into worthwhile work. Levitin's primary scientific pursuit concerns how music operates on the human brain, though it might be more fitting to say that he uses music to study how everything works in the human brain. By looking at how our brains process music -- at how we turn collections of sounds into patterns that we think of as songs, how we remember and categorize those patterns, and how we feel them as intense emotion -- Levitin and other scientists have uncovered important neural processes that had previously eluded researchers. The brain systems they discovered explain why music -- whether in high school or in life beyond -- can touch you so deeply: Our brains seem to have evolved to maximize musical ability. Indeed, Levitin argues, music has been essential to our very success as a species.
"This Is Your Brain on Music" | Salon Books

Hat tip: John deVille

Dogs May Laugh, but Only Cats Get the Joke

The last time I wrote about cats and humor was 20 years ago. It did not turn out well.

I was happy with the column, which appeared in a science magazine, but many readers were not. The mail was unfriendly, to say the least. One letter writer (this was back in the days of actual letters) wanted to see me eaten by a Doberman. Another suggested I should be in a mental hospital.

What prompted their ire was that I had argued, with support from Darwin and other luminaries, that cats have no sense of humor.

My idea was simple and based on evolution. I argued — and I did not invent this idea — that animals like wolves and primates that live in hierarchical social groups need a sense of humor to survive. Wolf pack or newsroom, when the big dog growls, the beta, gamma, delta, epsilon, lambda, mu, nu and omega dogs had better be able to laugh it off, so they can live to reproduce another day. Thus, laugh-it-off genes are preserved. If they were not needed, they would probably be lost.

Dogs May Laugh, but Only Cats Get the Joke - New York Times (September 5, 2006)

Coup de blog

In an absolutely unexpected turn of events, Digger of Digger's Realm has deposed The Commissar of the Politburo Diktat as the leader of the Raging RINOs in a palace (Kremlin?) coup.

For more details, check out the new official Raging RINOs web site.

I've heard of peer training, but this is ridiculous

In an utterly surreal meeting of management theory with interspecies communications, I am somewhat stunned to report that Mister Gato appears to have successfully taught the Chows how to catch mice.

All right now, stay with me here.

(1) Good technical managers have long believed in sharpening the skills of their employees via "cross-functional" peer training, in which team members train their colleagues in their particular specialties.

(2) We have observed some instances of cross-species communication that could arguably be considered peer information exchange between the two Chow Chows who live with us and the irascible tomcat who is the Senior Manager of our household.

(a) The Chows have attempted to learn to purr; when Mister Gato brushes up against them, buzzing, they make low, encouraging growls in an attempt to replicate the noise he's making.

(b) Mister Gato apparently has earned his union card as a canine-surrogate door guard. Before the cat moved in with us, a Chow Chow was always guarding our front door through the simple expedient of lying against it in a proprietary fashion, and they took shifts. Now Mister Gato can be seen taking his share of the door-guarding duty.

(3) Most amazingly, however, the Chow Chows seem to *finally* have learned, through a process of repeated observation, how to catch and kill mice. They have always been very interested in Gato's hunting activities, and recently they have become more active participants; the other day I saw Chow Fun playing a game with Gato that looked a lot like hunting behavior.

Well, tonight, Mister Gato caught a tender young mouse in the kitchen (he is getting one every other week; I guess it's that time of year) and brought it out to our little foyer to formally torture and eat it. The Chows immediately followed. He instructively batted it around for a few minutes...

...and then Carrie and I were absolutely shocked to discover that Chow Bella was playing with the mouse as if she were a cat.

She even picked the little half-dead carcass up in her mouth (!) for a few seconds, though, sadly, not long enough for us to take the documentary photograph that would convince all of you that we neither prevaricate nor hallucinate.

We thought that the cat would be disturbed by the dogs actually attempting to eat his kill, but instead, he sat by and groomed himself in an attitude that seemed very like that of a proud parent.

03 September 2006

David Brooks: The Jagged World

Samuel Huntington once looked at the vast differences between groups and theorized that humanity is riven into different civilizations. That’s close but not quite right. Today’s divisions aren’t permanent. Instead, groups are constantly being formed and revised in a process of Schumpeterian creative destruction.

Yesterday’s high-tech entrepreneurs look like pikers compared to the social entrepreneurs of today. Islamist entrepreneurs have quickly built the world’s most vibrant and destructive movement by combining old teachings, invented traditions, imagined purities and new technologies. The five most important people in the Arab world, according to a recent survey, are the leaders of Hezbollah, Iran, Hamas, Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. Microsoft’s market conquest is nothing compared to that.

The Jagged World (David Brooks, New York Times, September 3, 2006) - behind TimesSelect firewall

By the way, if you find the adjective "Schumpeterian" (or Mr. Brooks) a bit of a poser:

Brooks, who shows increasing signs of wanting to be Bill Buckley when he grows up, is talking about this guy, an Austrian economist who made his bones theorizing about cycles of economic and social development, is considered one of the fathers of evolutionary economics, and who first coined the phrase (and explained the concept of) "creative destruction."

Weapon of mashed destruction

I wonder what the laws are in New York City governing the building and firing of potato cannons, aka "spudguns?"
"I think at the heart of every Appalachian American is an inventor-scientist," [spudgun builder Rob Payne] writes. "Taking an ordinary object and using it in a way that was never even conceived by its designer is what we do best."
My people, my people.

Tater Shots: Boys Love 'Em (Washington Post, September 3, 2006)

Labor Day Weekend

A few anniversaries to celebrate this long Labor Day weekend:

Two years ago, over Labor Day Weekend 2004, I started blogging. (Well, if you count a placeholder post as "starting to blog.")

Ten years ago, over Labor Day Weekend 1996, I moved to New York City, to be with Carrie. (Two years and one month later, we were married.)

I think the jury's still out on me as a blogger, but I have to say that the last ten years spent in the company of Carrie, for all of the trials that we have been through, have been the happiest of my life. And yes, I've finally gotten used to Manhattan, and may be ruined for living anywhere else now.

We have faced plenty of difficulties (usually, thank God, not of our own making) and seem only to have become the stronger for it. Whatever the future may hold for us, I am serene and happy knowing that we will be facing it together.
somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully, mysteriously) her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

- e.e. cummings

Offshoring and data theft

Leading British and American companies face being dragged into an emerging fraud scandal at a call centre company in India.
V-Angels, a Delhi-based outsourcing company that handles customer inquiries for telecoms firms in the West, has reported a number of employees to the police for allegedly stealing highly confidential customer data.

Som Mandal, V-Angels' lawyer, confirmed that the firm had made a police complaint. He declined to identify V-Angels' clients, citing commercial confidentiality, but confirmed that they include 'half a dozen blue chip companies in Britain and the US'.
The Observer: New data theft scandal rocks subcontinent's call centres

Now, this is service journalism

Gothamist on where to find fresh crowder peas in New York City.

02 September 2006

America's smartest cities

If you equate education with intelligence, then the smartest city in the United States is Seattle - 52.7 percent of its residents age 25 or older have completed a bachelor's degree or higher.

The education rankings were released this month by the U.S. Census Bureau.

My hometown of Raleigh, NC was tied for second with San Francisco, CA. (The presence of the Research Triangle Park and the three major research universities that form the points of the Triangle accounts for the high level of educational attainment in the area.)

My current residence, New York City, came in at #20. If you break it down to just Manhattan, though, we're number one by a wide margin:

For Manhattan alone, however - the center of New York's knowledge economy - the percentage of residents with bachelor's degrees is a whopping 57.5, and the figure for advanced degrees is 26.9 percent.

America's Smartest Cities (CNNMoney.com)