My Zunivers

30 June 2007

America The Church Service

Next week we have another patriotic holiday, and that has me all buggered as usual about church on Sunday. There is no pledge of alligenace to the flag scheduled, thankfully. That little ritual makes me sick, especially in a church from the Brethren tradition. Straight from Jesus' mouth:

"Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.' But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything more than this comes from evil."

Of course, I've met a number of zealous patriot American Christians who say "But the pledge to the flag it's not an oath, it's a pedge." Well, if the word of the law rather than the spirit is your sort of thing, than fine. I can't make you stop being a Pharisee. Someday I'm sure God will have words with you for telling everyone how loyal you are to a piece of cloth. "But, it's not about the cloth," I get told, "it's about the Republic for which the cloth stands." Bull. "I pledge allegiance to the flag..." it says. I'm comforted, though by one self-consistent thing-- it is hard for one to follow the spirit of a law if he cannot read for comprehension well enough to realize what the letter of anything is.

We still have patriotic hymns on the plate, though. Sadly, that minor key atrocity known as "The Battle Belongs to the Lord" is also on the schedule. Someone apparently has war on the brain. The "Battle Hymn of the Republic" is strangely absent. "God of our Fathers" is still there, though. I hate that song for the end of the second verse. "Thy Word our law, Thy paths our chosen way" is says. Right, some theocracy we've got going here. I'm sure that the book of Hezikiah contains texts quite similar to the Bil of Rights, and probably precident for earned income tax, the definition of a felony, and the notion that the President must not be foreign born. (To save you heathens some embarassment, and so you can understand the humor, there is no book of Hezikiah in the Bible.) Oh, and the Star Spangled Banner is up for an airing. I'm sure we'll enjoy a delightful treat of singing "the second verse, too" even though the hymnal skips the middle two verses making the fourth verse into the second.

I'm sure that on top of all of this there will be a pile of rhetoric that is only half true about this being God's land and how it was founded to preserve religion and no other place in the world where people are free to worship and blah-blah blah-blah blah-blah-blah.

Blah.

You know, I really can live with all of that, though. What I can't live with is something more sinister-- the stares, stammering, and hostility I meet when I express my disinterest for patriotism in church.

It has nothing to do with separation of church and state. There is definitely no reason for a Christian to refrain from saying "I like my country" or "I thank God for the freedoms I have" or whatever. Heck, I think America is a good place. I can't think of one I could enjoy better. I sing that national anthem. I get a stirring of passion in my heart when I hear those words, see the flag, or watch some A-10s do a demo of blowing up a column of tanks. On the other hand I don't do any of that in church (although some A-10s would be pretty impressive in there). I go to church to worship God, not to have America displayed before me and shoved down my throat. And what I don't understand is why people get their panties in a knot over sentiment like mine. The either-or mentality so rampant in our culture (our whole culture, not just the Christian culture) gets extended to the point where one single statment, one little concept, one little expression of personal discomfort gets you pulled from one "side" to the other. Say that you don't like singing God of Our Fathers because of a line in it and you're instantly a soulless, spineless, troop-hating, flag-burning, communist-kissing, baby-aborting, quarter-brained, horse-breathed-- dare I finish this-- Democrat! And you might even be a feminist or vegitarian or believe in evolution or global warming, too! The horror!

It's really sick that it comes down to that.

So, I will go to church, again, and I will try my best to avoid being involved in the uncomfortable patriotic nonsense taking place of what could otherwise be a fun church service dealing with the more usual topics like... well... God. And maybe, just maybe, during that time in the afternoon festivities when we plan to sing "America" I'll be feeling cantankerous enough to stand proudly, singing with all reverence and gusto that greatest song of the Empire, "God Save the Queen." Either that or I can get the musicians involved to give us Neil Diamond's "America" instead.

On second though, no.

And God save us all, indeed.

[Nate wanders off to bed, breaking into song with his best British accent]

God save our gracious Queen,
Long live our noble Queen,
God save the Queen:
Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us:
God save the Queen.

O Lord, our God, arise,
Scatter her enemies,
And make them fall.
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks,
On Thee our hopes we fix,
God save us all.

Thy choicest gifts in store,
On her be pleased to pour;
Long may she reign:
May she defend our laws,
And ever give us cause
To sing with heart and voice
God save the Queen.


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27 June 2007

At Least The Food Is Good

Okay, I'm bored out of my fremadalacking mind. It's one thing to be stuck with a bunch of nerds for a week. It's another when they have no life. Seriously, some of them have been in the next room talking science for the past two hours. They have an abundance of alcohol-- there are at least six kinds of beer in the fridge, along with a few bottles of cheap wine and huge piles of empty bottles and boxes. Some of these people even have some personality if you wrangle them into a corner and wrench it out of them. Left on their own, however, it is nothing but science. Dull, boring surface science and crystal interface experimental drivel on and on and on and on and on. I have no problem with experimentalists, mind you, but the ones here have no interest in talking science with a theorist, which therefore sucks for me when they don't talk anything but science.

Seriously. Can they buy a clue about how lame they are?

Okay, I admit, I get along with the old people. They seem to be the only ones who realize that there's more to life than this week's AFMSTMPQRMPIJKL images of some crappy aluminium gallium alloy and whose 110 interface epitaxial schlepping in Crap Science Weekly is giving who's citation list a bigger penis for everyone else to envy. When it come down to it, beyond all the rhetoric about the good of mankind, that is what science really comes across as being about-- monstrous citation list genitalia insecurity piled on egos. Anyway, back on topic, the old people know how to have a conversation, and I've had some enjoyable ones. But they go to bed early and get up at the crack of dawn, so that doesn't do me any good now.

I found an old road on campus on an old campus map. The road is hidden and overgrown but from my peeking into the trees only the lowest section of road and guardrail was removed. Maybe I'll go for a little midnight walk. This is the most beautiful campus I've ever visited, and it has my favorite library ever. I'd be there now except that it's closed.

Seriously, though, I'm not cut out for research science. I actually have a soul.

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25 June 2007

I Don't Get It

The last time they had a hot snap like this up here was... let's see. Oh, yeah. Two years ago when I was here. What's up with that? Temperatures in the mid 90s when the average is 80, and things were fine last week and will be fine next week. I swear I'm just freaking cursed.

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15 June 2007

For The Loyal Readers

How you people could all be so bored, I don't know. But I'm not here to talk about your mental ilness, so we'll save that one for later.

Tomorrow begins the annual week or two in which I do not update my blog due to low internet access. I will be at camp for a week, and then back for the weekend, and then off to a conference for three or four days.

Before I leave, I should share some highlights of life:

The left brake light died on the car. It was the last original bulb on the back of the car. In other car news, Sylvia had some computer resets and electrical tinkering as a result of her rotor going to shreads (literally), and now when we leave the car she is, for the first time in five years, properly reminding us that either the key is in the ignition or the headlights are on. And in still other car news, nobody seems to sell wiper blade refills. Well, nowhere that I checked, anyway.

Yesterday I spent hours upon hours programming, reworking about 500 lines of code to do something new. It does something, for sure, just not quite the right thing. I wasn't getting results, so I made a major Excel spreadsheet, and the Excel sheet gives numbers that agree with what I should get to get the results. So if I can get the numbers from the program to match the spreadsheet, we're golden and I can put in the new model. If not, I'm sunk, and may jsut drop out of school an give back all my degrees and become a mime. (Why not use Excel, you ask? I could use Excel, except that to get precise numbers I would need gigantic spreadsheets along with some very complicated commands to go from what the sheet has now to the numbers I need. Excel is cute for some things but even mid-level numerical analysis is not its strong point.)

I am very much looking forward to camp, even though the weather is going to suck. (It's more about how grumpy people get and how much they complain than it is about me not liking it.) This year I will be armed with medication of various sorts, and thus we can hopefully prevent any medical incidents. I will, however, try to retain my perfect streak at counseler hunt. Actually, my streak was marred once, but that was because I gave myself up in a chivalrous manner to prevent a fair counselor miden, also hidden nearby, from being discovered. I think I gave myself up, anyway. It might have been one of those things where they found me but didn't get my back to base before the game ended sorts of things. So maybe I'm up on a technicality. I must track down the fair maiden and see if her memory is better than mine.

I started another one of those Facebook groups making fun of MySpace. Join if you wish.

While I'm gone, go read some Trail Journals. If you click on the "Journals" link across the top, you get a list of this year's AT fun. I recommend everyone read up on Gatorgump. If you want to pick and read at random, just find someone with a lot of posts, because it's more interesting that way.

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14 June 2007

A Word On Hiking Training

Today I walked all over campus, and a few other places, and overall I put in only a mile or two at most. Yesterday I hiked a mile home, downhill, from where the car coasted after the rotor died a horrible and catastrophic death (taking out the distributor in the process, and luckily ending with shorts going to non-essentials; she's been fixed), hauling my butt at over four miles per hour so that my Ben & Jerry's wouldn't melt.

And you know what? My legs feel crappy.

I've hiked twice this much in recent times and my legs didn't even ache. The combination of walking faster and walking on paved surfaces and hills sloped in gentle ways... all of this adds up to a diiferent combination of muscles. I've told people who want to hike that hiking is the only good way for sedentary slobs to get into hiking shape. That might be true. I can hike all over Ruggedville, Tall Mountain and be just fine, but and my butt and calves get sore from what amounts to my old jaunt around the neighborhood? And my old jaunt around the neighborhood used to leave a mirror-image set of leftover aches in my legs? Seriously. My guess is that I could take up something like bike riding, do that for a while without hiking, and then the hike would make some new combination of muscles ache.

Yes, hiking is the only way to prepare to hike. Of course, thre are probably two or three things that, added up, cover everything else. Fat guys like me don't know that for sure, because we've never done it on our whole bodies. We do understand a related principle that works locally in the mouth, however. Eating a variety of foods keeps your mouth from getting tired when eating anything new that comes along. So what food will prepare you for all others, like cross-country skiing for the mouth?

Hmm.....

So, did I ever tell you about the first time I went cross-country skiing with the pole length I have now? The length was a tiny bit bigger than what I had used previously, and it worked this bit of my triceps right near the elbows really, really hard. I had major lactic acid pain for three or four days. In the end, I got this little hard spot of triceps there on each side that is in the same conditions as the rest of the triceps. Ever since that incident I've had no problems again, even though I ski infrequently at best. I haven't skiied for 18 months and it's still there. Go figure.

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12 June 2007

If It's Going To Happen...

If your car is going to pass out on you and not want to wake up, it might as well happen at the top of a hill less than a mile from home and less than a mile from the garage.

Grump.

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11 June 2007

Where Is The South, Really?

I found this interesting little analysis online, using sweet tea as a guideline for the border between the north and south. I do, however, have two problems with it.

First, although southern food and drink could well be an indication of the presence of southern culture, sweet tea alone will not suffice. My own similar but informal analysis, using the breast cut of fried chicken as sampled over the years throughout the disputed regions, places the border somewhere much farther north in Maryland and West Virginia.

Second, food and drink really aren't enough to find the border with the south. There are other elements, like personalities and accents.

My proposed method is the following:

First, find the average line where people stop saying things equivalent to "This palce is Southern, but just a bit north of here is not."

Second, find the average line of people who say things that amount to "This place is not Southern, but just a bit south of here it is."

Third, sampling only between those two lines, find the average line demarcating a few different elements of southern culture, including foods, accents, and how many times you say "thank you" to show gratitude instead of implying hatred.

Note that for the first two steps, you must discount people who indicate that some place other than their own region is where the borders lie. If they do this, they are not making one of the statements required for step one or two. One reason for this is that it helps keep those who don't really know a place. Another reason is that it keeps out preconceived notions, especially among people who migrated across what they were taught was the border. The purpose of those steps is not just to find people's opinion of where the south is, but to find the average location of where the poeple live who think that they are living just near the border. My gut instincts tell me that this is a sound method for solving this problem.

Also, even though my first two steps seem to get the most debate, they could actually matter very little if the outlined region ends up being broad, as I think it will be. For example, steps one and two could basically end up outlining Virginia. That would make me say that the sweet tea analysis people made a very good choice. I don't think the region will be quite that big, but I do think that it will cover a lot of area.

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09 June 2007

On Research

My new model, suggested by my adviser, is not new at all. One of his previous students analyzed it two years ago. Crazy old man.

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Commie-Lib Freaks

I can't take Sylvia to Maryland or Northern Virginia without the risk of her being a great expense due to emissions testing.

Did you know that in the liberal haven of Northern Virginia, you have 120 days to get your vehicle repaired due to an emissions test failure, unless you just moved into the state and then you need to have it done within 30 days in order to register the vehicle? At least I think that's what their convoluted website is saying.

And did you know that in Maryland, that bastion of unsafe headlight aim, cars do not need regular safety inspections but do need emissions tests? How about a headlight aim inspection instead? Hmmm? Your car's front end could fall apart driving down the street in Rockville, killing a gruop of kids waiting for the school bus, but nobody in the state government would give a crap as long as the car was farting to their hoity-toity standards sometime within the past two years.

Don't even get me started on the gun laws down there.

Of course, if we get the engine rebuilt, we'll be set to go. I wonder if the place where we got her is interested in a little work.

There's just no place like the wilds of PA, where guns can be toted by nearly anyone and cars can practically throw up as they please. The thought of possibly leaving makes me miss it already.

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08 June 2007

First, I need to share this one, the craziest thing since Dr. Strangelove.

Onward, I got to take two hikes this week.

The first hike was an adventure. I'll spare you the full details, but it involved a few things including

--Learning that the south side of the mountain can still be very humid even when the north side is cool and dry; why that hand't crossed my mind, I don't know

--Playing with poisonous snakes is lots of fun, especially if you do it with your hiking pole and do it before you come to wits and realize it's a poisonous snake (and then shrug your shoulders, because what's the little copperhead that tiny really supposed to do except get out of your way?)

--Placing things like hiking poles on the trunk deck so that you can see them if you don't forget them is useless if the rearview mirror is pointed so high that you can't see the trunk deck (I was able to recover the one that fought the snake, and as a bonuds in my search of the area I got to walk the AT section that for some time has escaped any good reason to be walked)

--My water bottle is leaking, and it doesn't care if it leaks onto my wallet. Must buy real Nalgene.

--There are no nasty things like typhoid in the spring by the shelter; ask me in a couple of weeks about whether I've found any nearly as nasty things like cryptosporidium or giardia

section hiking must suck; that poor guy was going so slowly!

Today I got to take another hike with Jeff, and we went all over South Mountain. Last night he and I went shopping for new cheap hiking poles, a pair for him and a replacement pair for me. He got the newest release of the Swissgear $10 each specials from Wal-Mart. I took a pass, because they were all red, which is what I had but not my preference. On Monday I had seen blue ones at another Wal-Mart, so I went there. Verily, I found blue ones, and they have the older style of handle like the pair I originally had (nothign else changed) and they were $15 a pair.

Anyway, we romped on the mountian, and it was pleasant. It wasn't super rugged, but it had some ups and puds. I saw a deer and a chipmunk. Jeff saw two of each. I think he's seeing double. Actually, he isn't. I don't much pay attention to wildlife unless it's really obvious. If things come in pairs or multiples, I'm often the person who sees one and doesn't notice the rest. I'm more of a rocks and trees guy.

The only real problem that today's hike may have created is that if Jeff and I ever go hiking again, he might try to out-stink me. As usual when I'm planning on hiking, I didn't bother showering and I wore the stinky hiking clothes that my wife is becoming unhappy to even wash with everything else (rightfully so; this well used synthetic stuff can overpower the detergent and taint a whole load with BO). Anyway, Jeff had insects clamoring around his head for along, long time, while I was pretty much left alone to giggle at his hat waving, air slapping, and sprinting antics. I think it was his hygene that was getting him in trouble, and I think it'll start getting pretty smelly if he decides the same.

Thanks Jeff, by the way, for spotting me for lunch. I owe you.

My research is going better, by the way. Did I mention that I submitted le papier perpetuel, and how happy that makes me? I won't be seeing that again for a week or two. Also, after some failure with my new model, and then some verification of the original use of some elements of it, I figured out what to do to get the new model to at least behave reasonably. So hooray for that. And I'm registered for a conference in western MA the week after camp.

Oh, and this evening (I think) a mourning dove egg in the nest outside hatched. Or some bird, nested nearby somewhere. About an hour ago I started hearing little baby bird squeaks outside every five minutes :) (FYI, the smiley has nothing to do with my wife being pregnant. I've loved baby birdies since forever.)


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04 June 2007

TMI Alert

I was sad to read this article, confirming that it's true. I am a wee man. So why do people need to rub it in?

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03 June 2007

Stupid Shoes

I was all set to order a pair of hiking shoes, but....

You see, I have these terrible feet that are hard to fit. I don't even want to talk about what my mom had to go through to find me shoes when I was a kid. New Balance came to the rescue in the 1990s and started putting a lot of shoes in my size. Only recently did other companies get the message, although they all do only a limited number of shoes in in my size. I cried my little eyes out when I put on my very first ever pair of Nike shoes in December 2005. It was my first time out of New Balance for over ten years. I'm wearing Avias now (and, I add, the material used for the soles is crap). My wife brough home a box of Reeboks that were cute, but the soles were way too soft (that's a nice way of saying "significantly crappier than the Avias") for me to keep them.

I've spent my life unable to find and wear the cool shoes, except during that phase when New Balance was all the rage a few years back. Thanks to all of you losers who fadded them most of my choices have gone from being a brand unknown outside the running world to a has-been fashion. You people suck.

To demonstrate my problem, because I'm sick of people coming along and saying "It's not that bad," I will show you that it is. I searched around for some major-brand shoes at a major shoe website, and here's what I found that is made in my size in various categories.

Walking
models, 350; my size, 85

"Athletic Performance"
models, 1625; my size, 120

Running
models, 827; my size, 40

Hiking Boots
models, 295; my size, 8

Trail Shoes
models, 700; my size, 8

Hiking Shoes
models, 415; my size, 2

Athletic Sandals
models, 402; my size, 0

Obviously, some shoes are cross listed, such as most of the running shoes and many walking shoes being listed in athletic performance. My big feet take a good chunk out of the options, though. For the record, the limiting factor is width. Although choices in longer sizes like 17 are limited as well, there are often at least twice as many options, usually more, in those sizes at regular width as there are in my size and width. These monster shoes are difficult to find in stores, actually harder to find than mine, but there are more avalable options overall, especially for technical shoes. The only people I feel sorry for more than myself are the people with fat feet that big. Nobody's gotten around to making shoes for them.

Anyway, this selection looks healthy, right? There are some options, yes? Well, it isn't good. Consider that these are major brands. Off brand shoes do not come in my size, so I can drop into places like Suck-Mart all I want but they just laugh at me when I tell them my size. No $20 shoes for me. Heck, one shoe usually costs me more than that. Last year's models never go on sale, because somebody who needs shoes that size can't care.

Also, note that most stores do not have, for example, 400 different kinds of mens running shoes. I can go places that specialize in athletic shoes and find one, maybe two models to fit, if I'm lucky. Actually, it could be higher these days, like five or six. I don't go to find out, though. Searching for those couple of boxes out of all those piles, shopping for a number rather than for shoes I like or that actually serve some purpose besides everyday grubs, is absolutely depressing. I usually end up with plain walking shoes. My only choice is black or white. When the cheapest shoes you can find are $60 a pair, you only get one pair.

So tonight, I found the perfectest hiking shoes ever. Actually, I found two or three kinds that all basicaly fit the criteria of what I could use to make hiking better on my feet. They are from New Balance, and so are made on one of their standard lasts, so I can order online and knwo that they will fit. They are all pretty in obnoxious shoe styling sorts of ways that you only appreciate if you've been stuck with plain black for a decade. Doign waht any young man willing to spend $100 for decent shoes will do (yeah, you heard me, $100), I checked the stock on my size and width. Nothing. They have all teh widths in every every other size around it, my size in every other width, but my size and width? Nothing. Other online stores? Six to be honest? Nothing. None of the models in a form that fits my feet. They are made, but nobody has them in stock.

And so, I bid farewell to the search for lightweight hiking shoes. I'll just keep chewing up my plain black walking shoes on the local rocks. I'll keep avoiding hiking in the rain (I love hiking in the rain) because I can't have my only pair of shoes get soaked. I'll keep on dreaming that I can have something pretty on my feet, probably one of my only city-boy desires.

To everyone out there who makes shoes-- you suck. And if I weren't a nice person I'd tell you what I think about your sandal choices.

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01 June 2007

We're Better Than You Are

For what it's worth, this is my apology to Italy for people like this. Yep, him.

In an interview earlier this week with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Speaker said he declined to report to Italian health officials because he believed the only lifesaving care for his condition was available in the U.S.

"I'm a very well-educated, successful, intelligent person," he told the newspaper. "This is insane to me that I have an armed guard outside my door when I've cooperated with everything other than the whole solitary-confinement-in-Italy thing."


Apparently, people of Italy, he is not well educated and intelligent enough to know that the top medical facilities and research in the world are not solely the domain of the United States.

Amerians often confuse national health systems in a region of the world and their treatment of chronic problems in citizens, a political matter, with their facilities and the ability of the hospitals and medical professionals. They've heard that Canada and Britain's systems sometimes prevent people from getting the treatment that they need, so they think that all of Europe is a cespool of hospitals that can't get people well and doctors who can't treat a sore throat or order a bandage on a cut.

Frankly, some of us know that this is bull, and we'd be perfectly happy to drop into a hospital in Zurich, Berlin, Paris, or Rome if we were overseas and had some really weird problem. We know that world-class medicine can be found around the world, not just in the US, because we're educated to know at least that much. Heck, most of us can understand what this guy did to deserve his armed guard for a while, too. If the best he can come up with is some rhetoric about how he actually didn't deserve it because he's smart and lives a sucessful life, you can just ignore him. We all can.

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