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Missed opportunities…

So the Ambiguously Gendered Cashier in our local natural foods store was making small talk as he* rang up my lunch, and he asked me if I watched the Superbowl this weekend. I was this close to telling him no, that I preferred my homoeroticism as text, not subtext, but I couldn’t quite do it.

Oh well. There’s always next time.

*he: black cardigan w/ white Oxford shirt, tenor voice, longish blond hair pulled loosely back, ‘sexy librarian’ glasses; me: black “<geek>” t-shirt, black hoodie, cut-off woodland BDUs, Chucks, and a days worth of stubble.

‘We,’ not ‘they’

School closings and restructurings naturally bring out the worst impulses in people. The desire to protect and preserve the familiar, even if it is somehow not to standard, is a strong one – who are these outsiders to judge our school? Our community? Are all schools being subjected to equally applied scrutiny?

Well, in the current round of proposed Seattle school closures, a lot of people feel that the answer is no, standards are being unevenly applied. Many of the proposed changes appear to disproportionately affect minority neighborhoods. They also appeared to target city-wide, alternative schools, such as The Boy’s.
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Nevermore

200 years ago today, Edgar Allan Poe was born.

1848 daguerreotype of Poe

(h/t to Evil Mommy for reminding me…)

Ypres, 1915?

Of all the weapons we’ve ever come up with, poison gas has to be one of the more horrific. It isn’t terribly effective as a weapon (too hard to control, too easy to protect oneself against, difficult to apply in concentrations needed to be effective) other than as a means of slowing down an enemy, or otherwise denying them easy access to part of the battlefield. But for those caught by it unprepared, the experience is ghastly:
this vision of a man-made Hell:

But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

Experiences like this easily led to poison gas quickly becoming a symbol of impersonal, industrial warfare along with the machine gun.
Given this history, I was surprised to read today that poison gas was not first used as a weapon in the trench warfare of 1915. It was the product of trench warfare, but from a distinctly pre-industrial era. Like, 3AD pre-industrial. And the first victims were the Romans:

Ancient Persians were the first to use chemical warfare against their enemies, a study has suggested.

A UK researcher said he found evidence that the Persian Empire used poisonous gases on the Roman city of Dura, Eastern Syria, in the 3rd Century AD.

The theory is based on the discovery of remains of about 20 Roman soldiers found at the base of the city wall.

[…]

The study shows that the Persians dug a mine underneath the wall in order to enter the city.

They also ignited bitumen and sulphur crystals to produce dense poisonous gases, suggested Simon James, an archaeologist at the University of Leicester.

[…]

“The Roman assault party was unconscious in seconds, dead in minutes[,” said Dr James. ]

Damn. Viciously resourceful little primates, aren’t we?

Bi-phobia

Have you ever had one of those moments when you had a core belief challenged? Continue reading »

Who is Number One?

You are Number Six.

Patrick McGoohan died Tuesday at the age of 80.

No word on whether or not a bouncing latex ball was seen leaving the scene.

Death by beach ball

Fuck you, Newsweek

Behold the moral vacuity of our chattering classes:

The issue of torture is more complicated than it seems.

No. It isn’t complicated in the slightest. A statement this wrong doesn’t deserve a logical rebuttal. It only deserves scorn, mockery, and opprobrium. So fuck you, Newsweek. Fuck you, Stuart Taylor Jr. Fuck you, Evan Thomas. And the biggest fuck you goes out to the editors who decided that this abomination deserved to be the cover story.

On rings, and hats, and the throwing thereof…

Hats, that is. Not rings…

Recently, I was asked to provide a specification and estimate for a project at work. I’m not a software architect, so I’m having a hard time with some aspects of the spec – I think I know what we should be doing, and I think I have a grasp on best practices for what we’re trying to do, but I don’t know for sure… And estimates? Forget it. Remember how Scotty lets McCoy in on his little secret of multiplying everything by three so he’s always done early and looks like a genius? Yeah. I appear to have a knack for dividing by three and using that for my number.

So I picked up a book and started to read. How I spent my Christmas Vacation…

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Ctrl+WTF?

So I’m test-driving NDepend, and I find the following, um… non-standard keyboard shortcut:

Ctrl+say-what?

My inner 12-year-old was amused all out of proportion and promptly posted a screenshot @ The Daily WTF.

(The funny thing is that this isn’t exactly no-name software… It’s in use in many large .NET shops to monitor code quality. I reported the bug and got an email back from the lead programmer/company owner in under an hour. He’s fixed it for the next release, and seemed kind of surprised that no one had brought it to his attention since it’s been there for months.)

Typical programmer error

In the grand programming tradition of ‘off by one’ errors, yesterday was the birthday of Charles Babbage.

On two occasions I have been asked, ‘Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?’ I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.

How little things have changed, eh?

(and yes… I expect that regular blogging will resume shortly…)

Happy birthday, Hugo

From the Pacific Science Center’s Calendar of Science for August:

August 16, 1884 – Birthday of the American author Hugo Gernsback, who invented the term science fiction and who edited the first science fiction magazine, Amazing Stories.

…and in the process, changed the lives of geeks forever.

(via PacSci’s Calendar of Science Twitter feed)

Sucks to your ass-mar

“Hi. Are you [The Boy]’s dad?”

No phone call that starts with these words can ever be a good thing. The best one can hope for with such a start is neutral. Good? Right out.

Today’s call was definitely not neutral.

“[The Boy] got in a fight and knocked out another boy’s tooth. We’re down at [nearby restaurant]; can you come get him?”

Oh yes. I most definitely can come and get him.

You can tell summer is winding down. The days are getting shorter, our haphazard container garden on the back deck is frantically trying to ripen with the occasional hot day, spiders cover every tree, the boaters on Lake Union try to squeeze in as many day trips as they can… and The Boy is definitely ready to go back to school. Has been for probably about a week. Late summer, Seattle style with a chez static twist.

This week he’s been at kayak camp. He was in it for a couple of weeks last year and loved it, so we figured it was a pretty safe bet again this year. The first week (the first week of vacation, actually) went really well. This week? Eh. Not so much. Yesterday he told us that another kid was picking on him, and asked me if he had to go back today… Not the most auspicious sign, but we told him that conflicts were part of life, dealing with it by not dealing with it wasn’t an option, it was only one more day, so go ahead and have fun and enjoy it. Besides, Friday is when the group paddles to [local restaurant], and you enjoyed that last time, right?

Yeah. That worked real well.

When I got to the restaurant, a knot of the counselors were talking…

“What happened?”
“I don’t know, I didn’t see…”
“Well, didn’t you…”
“Wait, there he is, there he is.” (pointing towards me)

Hm.

What I was able to get from The Boy was that there had been some name-calling, someone had thrown a life jacket at him, and then punches were thrown, whereupon conservation of energy dictated that a tooth be removed from the jaw of someone other than The Boy. From a flustered counselor, I got that The Boy’s been having a lot of problems this week, it’s been getting worse, and this was so unexpected, blah blah blah.

Well, if it’s been escalating, I wish we’d been told before it came to this, I said. We could have intervened.

Oh, not with these kids. It was happening with other ones. Huff. Bluster. Couldn’t see it coming. Blah blah blah.

Oh. Okay. I was able to find out that it was a baby tooth, fortunately. From a less flustered counselor, I got that as far as they could tell it was normal kid friction and frustration, and that this blew up without any warning signs. Okay, I can almost believe that. It still pisses me off that they let it get to that, but I can still see it.

The Boy’s lunch arrived at that point, so I took him off to the side and let him finish it. I couldn’t get much coherent info out of him, but informed him that there were going to be consequences once we got this all sorted out. I brought him home, had him change out of his wetsuit, and brought him down to the office so I could salvage some of my afternoon.

This evening, we finally got a coherent story. The first child, who we’ll call Instigator, was calling The Boy names. The Boy ignored him, at which point Instigator told another boy, who we’ll call Chump, to throw Chump’s lifejacket at The Boy. Chump, chump-like, complied. The Boy threw it back at Chump, who then rushed in for some close-quarter action. Other kids egged on the fight, and The Boy must have been holding his own, because Instigator jumped in at this point, and lost a tooth for his troubles. It was only at this point that counselors noticed what was going on and broke the fight up.

I’m inclined to believe The Boy – once he knows he’s in trouble, and he’s accepted that the punishment is going to be fair, he’s always been very honest about things, including stuff that he’s started or escalated. In this case, he carefully recounted points at which he could have backed out and gotten adult help (or at least quasi-adult help) to stop things; evidently, there were a couple of pauses in the fight; Instigator jumped in during one such lull. It seems that the counselors were too occupied getting the orders placed, handing off food, and herding kids out of the kayaks and in from the dock to the picnic area to catch what was going on before Lord of the Flies: Lake Union erupted; given what I saw (and overheard) when I arrived, I can believe that. But what makes it really believable to me was how indignant The Boy was that Instigator lied when the counselors stepped in. “He said I called him a vitch, and I didn’t! I don’t even know what that word means!”

Well. That’s interesting.

‘Bitch’ isn’t even remotely a standard term in our household, and on those occasions where it slips out, it’s always in a “Quit’ch’er bitchin'” context, never as a direct insult. So I’m finding it hard to get too worked up about a shit-stirring 8-year-old who thinks ‘bitch’ is a.) an acceptable insult of first resort and b.) an acceptable excuse for physical brawling.

Instigator, Chump, and The Boy all got sent home. The Boy is going to lose all his Legos for a week; we were also going to have him write something like “Fighting doesn’t solve anything” fifty times, but after hearing the full circumstances, well… for varying values of solve, it probably did solve something in this case; sometimes violence only understands violence. Not every problem merits the application of brute force, but sometimes… well… there you go. Tear up my application to join the Society of Friends, willya?

I don’t know what consequences Instigator will face at home, but part of me hopes that he’s learned that actions have consequences beyond those that might be inflicted by authority figures: sometimes when you stir shit – or get others to do it for you – you fall in, even when it seems like a sure thing.

Honestly, I doubt it; his style seems too practiced, too well-entrenched for this to have any immediate deterrent effect. I can only hope that whenever his tongue explores that gap between his teeth, he feels a little anxiety, a little doubt about trying to pull this shit again as he remembers that it actually cost him something physical, something tangible. Ultimately he may be able to rationalize it – and he probably will – but maybe, just maybe, there will be a tiny voice that whispers to him “are you sure about this? that last one didn’t look so tough, either…”

I can live in hope. What else can a parent do?

A bird in the bush

As I walked to work today, I saw a new one on me: a hummingbird fluttering around on the sidewalk. I didn’t know if it was injured or a juvenile – probably injured as August seems kind of late to me for juveniles – but it definitely wasn’t going to get itself airborne. I squatted to get a closer look; its beak was slightly agape, and its body pulsated as it breathed, whether from exhaustion or its own fierce metabolism, I had no idea. Its wings blurred to no avail, and it bumped along the ground.

It was under a tree, so I stood up and looked for a nest. Nada. Given the number of cats in our neighborhood, this little guy’s (gal’s?) hours were numbered – and probably with a value less than one at that. Cats, dogs, cars, raccoons, herons, rats, foot traffic; not a great place for a flightless hummingbird. I pulled out my phone and called the local Audubon Society chapter; a very genteel woman at the other end gave me a couple of numbers to try, her voice leaving an audio impression of blue hair and polite strands of pearls.

I dialed the first number as the hummingbird bumbled its way onto the grass. No answer. I let it ring some more as the bird flopped into the shade. 12, 15 rings… still no answer. As I tried the second number, the hummingbird heaved itself out of the grass and up onto the curb, coming to rest right above a storm drain.

For four or five rings, I held my breath, watched and waited. The hummingbird twitched, and fell out of view with a soft plop. Ah, shit. I sighed and ended the call; no one had answered, and now there really wasn’t much point. As I shifted my laptop bag back on my shoulder to resume my walk to work, I headed over to the drain and peeked in. From the bottom, emerald feathers glinted like some lost childhood treasure. I sighed again, and continued on down the hill.

New commenting system

At the prompting of Toast, I’m mucking about with a new, threaded commenting system: Intense Debate. Among other things, Intense Debate allows you to follow someone’s comments across all blogs that have this system installed.

All comments to date have been converted to this system. The most any of y’all should notice is that the comment user interface is slightly different; for instance, it supports Gravatars, something this blog’s theme didn’t do. So far, the only thing I’ve noticed that it adds a little lag time when the page loads.

Feel free to treat this post as a testbed for the new system. Or not, as the fancy strikes you.

[Update @ 31 Jul 2008 2143 PDT – officially, the following tags are supported in comments: <a>, <b>, <i>, <u>, <em>, <p>, <blockquote>, <br>, <strong>, <strike>, and <img>. Some appear to be supported better than others (I’m looking at you, <p>…).]

[Update @ 1 Aug 2008 2032 PDT – I was requiring ‘first’ comments to be approved; unfortunately, it seems that I.D. doesn’t recognize previously approved comments. Sorry, y’all. I’m turning that feature off. The verdict so far? Meh. I don’t know that threading and reputation are worth the somewhat lackluster feature set and the performance drag… I’ll give this a little while longer, but I’m also going to take a look @ Disqus. I suspect I’ll find similar issues there, whereupon I return to the standard, plain vanilla WP comments. It’s an interesting idea, but the platforms aren’t mature enough – at the very least, this one isn’t mature enough – for my liking.]

When company presidents go trolling

Welcome to the intertoobz, boys and girls. Web 2.0, and all that bullshit. Let’s step into the Not-So-Way-Back Machine, shall we, Mr. Peabody?

Seven months ago, in my part-time, volunteer role as webmaster for the Seattle Sea Kayak Club, I got an email from a web entrepreneur asking us to join his community. I sent him back a polite email detailing the issues I saw with his site (including pointing out a potential IP/copyright violation that his development team committed), and then wrote a snarky blog post about the experience.

Well, guess who came trolling tonight? Continue reading »