My Zunivers

30 September 2008

An Open Letter to Ice Cream Makers

Dear Ice Cream Manufacturers,

I know that you're playing some sort of psychological game by trying to keep ice cream prices from increasing too much same. People buy ice cream by the container, not by volume, and you would sell less if you increased the price instead of decreasing the container size. But there is something bothering me. I do buy ice cream by volume, and you're screwing with my ice cream too. For years I ate my ice cream out of hefty half gallon containers. A few years ago, you took a cup out. This past year, you've taken another cup out. When prices go up, I would rather spend more than get less. These days I keep feeling like I'm running out of ice cream too soon. I could deal with 1.75 quarts, but with the 1.5 quart mini half gallons you now offer I prefer spending even more money per unit volume to get a psychologically pleasing container size. I want my half gallons back.

Thanks for listening, even if you aren't going to do a darn fragin' thing about it, and for the love of all that is sane please don't leave any patronizing comments about how you have to use the smaller containers. I already covered that.

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28 September 2008

This Is Why I Don't Have a Measurable Audience

It was a crazy week.

I had some problems with my programs at work. And just now I realized that I didn't correct one of the places where I had the units wrong. Curses. See what you navel gazers did to me?

I got new glasses, which rock. What I mean by that is that the first two days they made me feel like there were rocks behind my eyes. Oi! It's nice to be able to see clearly again, without the fog of scratches that I had for the past six months. I have clip-on sunglasses now, too. And double spring hinges that can go in any direction Hey dad, remember that time I accidentally broke my glasses on purpose? Anyway, the only down side is that they are a bit bigger than my last (way too small) pair. You can look at my new profile photo and see that I once again have two caterpillar drives in my head. You can read The Hunt for Red October if you don't know what I'm talking about.

My kid continues to Do Stuff. If I ask her where my belly is, she comes over to me, lifts my shirt, and starts tickling. We played with the ball tonight, which she turned into a game more akin to fetch than anything else. I wasn't the one fetching, she was. She can now stand freely, which is fun for me. One of these days one foot will go in front of the other and, oh dear! Boys will want to start parking with her. Tonight the kid also demonstrated, to her mother's embarrassment, that she knows the word "boobies." She's been saying Things, but as usual for babies they are not identifiable things. The phrase "eyed yih" is the most prominent example I can offer.

Joke of the week about Sarah Palin (from this clip on The Daily Show; watch the video instead of reading it, if you can)--

Y'ever hear the old joke about the difference between a flower and a hockey mom? One has both male and female reproductive organs, and the other one's a flower!

Joke of the week for junior high-- spell IHOP and say "ness." Why didn't anyone tell me that one before?

I was so bored this week that I started reading a Frank Peretti novel. That's an interesting thing to mention after that joke, isn't it? But at least it's a novel, which some of you would think is a step in the right direction, yes? You'll stop thinking that when you hear that the last novel I read was Perelandra... last month.

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25 September 2008

Grandparenting Genius

My mom, smart cookie that she is, reminded me that if the kid can't suck against the sippy cup's leak preventing valve, I could just take out the valve. My response-- "Duh! Why didn't I think of that?"

My kid is now working through a four ounce cup of water like it's the best thing since sliced bread. By work on, I don't mean only drink, mind you. My sock is soaked.

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24 September 2008

Bermuda Valley Update

Tonight I got home in 25 minutes, counting unlocking the bike.

23 September 2008

I WIll Call It Bermuda Valley

Riding my bike to and from work today, I realized something. There is a time warp in the holler where the rail trail starts. Clues?

1) It is often misty and cool down there after the sun goes behind the hill. Going down the hill the little valley looks just like a humid summer day, but it's actually a light fog forming in the cooling air.

2) The temperature drops. Always a sign of paranormal activity. Or cooler air.

3) No matter how fast I go down the hill, I always follow someone.

4) Today I pedaled at a fast rate in a higher gear than normal, spent almost no time walking the bike, and got home in the same amount of time it took last week when I pedaled leisurely and walked halfway.

So did the old train line used to go to some sorcery school or something? If I walk around the electrical shed by the trail three times at sunset and then break down the door will I be transported to a Stephen Lawhead novel? Or am I just so fat I'm holding myself to myself?

At least now my wife will know where to look for me if I'm ever late. If this weirdness happens on the equinox, my guess is that as the solstice approaches I will need to ride furiously just to stay upright as I slowly move backward along the trail.

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22 September 2008


This top story in today's news is just one example of why my wife makes fun of the locals.

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20 September 2008

Texas Sucks

This item basically has not made the mainstream national news, unles you count the depths of New York Times and Fox News blogs, but I think it is important enough to share around.

Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr is trying to force a long-shot legal showdown in the Texas Supreme Court to keep Barack Obama and John McCain off the November ballot.

The issue is whether both major parties certified their presidential and vice presidential candidates by the Aug. 26 deadline to get on the Texas ballot. The attorney general argues that the secretary of state already has decided to place the names on the ballot, so the lawsuit has no merit.

In brief, Barr's argument is that the deadline fell before the convention nominations of either party. It fell before John McCain announced that Sarah Palin would be his vice president. For Presidential candidates, Texas State Law explicitly requires the candidate names, not intentions, presumptions, or to be announced.

The attorney general's argument is that the ballot has been certified by the secretary of state. That doesn't strike me as particularly clever. It has the essence of "I couldn't have murdered that man. Someone killed him." In other words, it misses the point. The lawsuit is claiming that an action violated a law. You can't argue against that by saying that the action happened.

Neither the Texas attorney general nor the party peeps have claimed to have met the deadline, but both have claimed that the party peeps took sufficient steps to satisfy the Texas secretary of state. They have taken steps-- I've seen scans of the documents-- but the Texas election laws-- I read them in their entirety-- have no exception to allow the secretary of state to bend any rules as long as she is satisfaction. In 2000 (remember that fiasco?) the U.S. Supreme Court dealt with executive office holders in Florida and in their ruling stated that the legislated law should be primary. Hey, that sounds American to me.

What I find really sad is what the party peeps had to say.

"Quite frankly, I find it very ironic that those in the Libertarian Party, who have in the past been champions of ballot access, are now making attempts to limit that access here in Texas," said state Democratic Party chairman Boyd Richie.

Hans Klingler, Texas GOP spokesman, said that the Libertarians' attempt to stop ballots from going to military personnel was truly unfortunate. "As this is now a matter for the state of Texas, we will await its resolution," he said.

Boyd, you need to re-tune your irony meter. The Republicans and Democrats in Texas have made rules that make ballot access to third parties harder. That is "limit[ing] ballot access...." Those same rule makers, if you allow me to uncharacteristically talk like parties are entities just as party pundits do, are being called out as rule breakers. There's no irony in that. Libertarians argue against unfair laws, not the existence of laws. And they also follow those laws.

Hans, Barr's request to halt sending the absentee ballots overseas was not unfortunate. In fact, the court allowing the ballots to be sent, given the potential to find that they cannot be used, is unfortunate. Stop playing the "honor the military" card to make your party followers angry at the bad Libertarians and start teaching your party followers to respect the laws their government has enacted.

[Update: On September 23, the Texas Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit with no explanation.]

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18 September 2008

Food For Thought

A few weeks back I ranted about how I find it foolish to use artificial environments in parenting. I found something today that supports this idea. In this article about kids being picky eaters, we see that having kids cook has benefits for their diet.

There's other good stuff in there.


15 September 2008

Making America Stupid

In the New York Times on Sunday, Thomas Friedman took on the McCain campaign for its desire to drill for oil to solve our energy problems, and even a few other things.

Imagine for a minute that attending the Republican convention in St. Paul, sitting in a skybox overlooking the convention floor, were observers from Russia, Iran and Venezuela. And imagine for a minute what these observers would have been doing when Rudy Giuliani led the delegates in a chant of “drill, baby, drill!”

I’ll tell you what they would have been doing: the Russian, Iranian and Venezuelan observers would have been up out of their seats, exchanging high-fives and joining in the chant louder than anyone in the hall — “Yes! Yes! Drill, America, drill!” — because an America that is focused first and foremost on drilling for oil is an America more focused on feeding its oil habit than kicking it.

He goes on and explains himself, saying that McCain is going for cultural appeal instead of real solutions. Near the end, he sums up my frustration with the Republican party of the past decades.

Who cares how much steel John McCain has in his gut when the steel that today holds up our bridges, railroads, nuclear reactors and other infrastructure is rusting? McCain talks about how he would build dozens of nuclear power plants. Oh, really? They go for $10 billion a pop. Where is the money going to come from? From lowering taxes? From banning abortions? From borrowing more from China? From having Sarah Palin “reform” Washington — as if she has any more clue how to do that than the first 100 names in the D.C. phonebook?

Not that I think the Democrats will do better, mind you.

Vote for Bob Barr.

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14 September 2008

Get Your German Dialect Jiggy On

I know some people who speak and read German. Heck, I have a friend who recently moved there, his wife soon to follow (read my blog links to find them). Most of these people have at some point expressed to me at least passing interest in our quickly dying Pennsylvania dialect of German.

The language as a whole is steaming rather nicely in Amish and Mennonite waters, but the rest of us are pretty clueless. (Most of my generation thinks of Pennsylvania Dutch as its history, not its culture. That matter has a chicken-or-egg relationship with the language.) The specific pronunciation and quirks from my part of Pennsylvania, the things unique to the secular and Lutheran culture that dominated that small area*, is dying with my grandparents generation. My generation is even dropping a lot of the local English. My grand kids, if they grow up where I grew up, will probably speak Midlands better than mine but with the same hint of Philadelphia.

Even so, there is still some of the language to be found. An example that I would like to give you is Hiwwe wie Driwwe, a biannual newspaper in Pennsilfannisch Deitsch, or however it's spelled. Anyway, all you German speakers can go there and, unless you got some Franconian in your head, you can be half confused about what the heck is going on. I can't read more than a few words of it. Of course, I don't speak German, except for bits of the local dialect that got planted in my infant head and don't seem foreign to me at all. Ask my wife if she can think of any examples. And ask for examples of German, lest she start talking about things like "yous" (a Northeasternism of Scots-Irish origin for which Philadelphia takes the rap.)


[* Outside that small area, "Pennsylvania Dutch" is significantly more likely to mean "Amish" or "Mennonite." My generation of will be the last to get throw a fit about this, or for that matter have anyone who notices.]

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How Life Is Going

The program is basically done. In other words, I have a basic frameowrk that can be expanded. I can even draw dots with arros through them to represent my simulated system. Take that, world!

I made a huge old crock pot of pulled pork for our small group meeting tonight. That was fun. I ran out of my secret ingredient, though, so what I ended up with tasted mostly like bay and thyme.

I've finally started riding the bike to work. Mind you, I haven't tried riding in the rain. My legs are quickly getting used to the torture. I'm getting to know my fellow bike commuters and recreational outdoorsy types by sight. Even though there are thousands of people around, over half of my route is on a little used rail trail. In total, from walking and biking, I've found a dozen or so regulars and seen a couple dozen other people either once or rarely.

On a related note... dang, I'm surrounded by hicks up here! It makes me feel at home. Unlike city and suburban people who ignore you or hate you, hicks are warm and friendly as long as you ain't trespassin'. One of our new friends up here has the honor of being my first Facebook friend who has posted a picture of himself with a gun. Tonight at our small group I learned about Goose Day, celebrated in the next county over (where some of our group is from). Lest you think I'm not quickly turning into one of them, when my officemate wanted to know about possibly going hiking next month the first two things I did were check the PA Game Commission calendar and ask him if he had any blaze orange. I'm also getting a hankering to ask around about going to shoot some skeet. If I want to be certified hick I need to learn how to handle a shotgun.

I went to the doctor this week. I had a tetanus shot. I've got to talk to them about chicken pox vaccination, because I'm finding myself surrounded by toddlers lately and I don't know how many of them aren't vaccinated.

The kid has been Doing Stuff. For a few days this week she was waving her hand in front of her nose every time she heard a bout of flatulence. One day this week I was in bed and I heard, from the other side of the closed bedroom door, a little gentle "Eee? Eee?" sound, followed by pounding on the door and more calls of "Eee? Eee? Eee?" She's been dancing to music of various sorts. She has been eating Real Food, making for Nasty Poop. Her arms and legs are growing longer and her hair is getting fuller and more curly. One of her new hobbies is seeing what she is and is not allowed to do to my arms and legs. I'll keep her.

Tonight PBS showed a remastered film of Queen's 1981 concert in Montreal. Cool. My wife went to bed but when she got up she claimed to have heard me singing along. I have no shame that way. They were doing "Save Me." The song selection was nice because it covered the early days. Hey, "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" Was the number one song in the U.S. when I was born. It was meant to be.

And with that, I go.

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10 September 2008

Can There Be Too Much Chair Time?

Over the past week, I've learned a lot of C++. Much of it isn't fact knowledge. It is mostly experience knowledge, which comes from writing a couple hundred lines of code per day (with a hundred that actually works). A week ago I wanted to use C++ syntax to write code organized like it was Fortran 95. Now I'm feeling the subtle call of Java and turning everything I think about into an object.

Anyway, one thing I've been having trouble doing is counting. Counting can be hard. The word "counting" has two meanings. One is to sit and run through the natural numbers like you're a highly contrary eight year old, you recently learned about place value, and you just heard a rumor of this place they say nobody can reach called infinity. The other meaning of "count" is to sit down and find the natural numbers corresponding to how many of something there are somewhere.

When I say counting is hard, I'm talking about the second type of counting. Scientists do that all the time as part of turning what we see into mathematical descriptions. In physical sciences it can get pretty hairy. If you don't believe me, go figure out how many air molecules there are in your house. I don't do that by counting, I do it by looking up formulas. Those formulas talk about things we can measure and will give the result of the molecule counting accurate to within 0.[a bunch of zeros then a 1]%. I don't need to actually count. Other people already found the formulas by doing different kinds of counting for me. Heck, I did that counting too back when I took classes. They don't call it statistical physics for nothing, and you can't do statistics without counting stuff.

Tonight I discovered yet another counting problem in my program. This isn't he first time, but it is the most subtle one. I can't figure out how to fix it. But I did come up with probably one of my worst puns of the year. Thinking about how when I was programming that function I didn't doing the counting right, I thought that it is rather odd that a computational scientist is having trouble with, of all things, counting. I thought about how maybe people would make jokes about it. Maybe a whole list of them. So in my Facebook status, I offered for people to make ++jokes about it.

If I'm thinking things like that are funny, or even make any sense, I probably need to just stand up and back away from the compiler.

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07 September 2008

Updated Links

Eric and Bethany have a blog up, and I've added it to the sidebar. Be nice to them, people. They're good folk.

I recently met a Viking, and I'm adding his blog to the list as well. (How, you ask, did I meet a Viking? I started going to the church where he is the pastor.)

Brian Jones has stopped blogging, so I've moved his website from the blogs to the links. His shots across the bow will be missed.

And before you ask, no, this is not the extent of my maintenance.


Announcement for People Who Read With a Feed

Did you just get more than one copy of the last post?

Did you recently get a post from 2006?

If you answered yes to either of these questions, I have a request on your behalf-- turn off your feeder. I'm going to be doing some blog maintenance and, if you don't heed my advice, it might get a bit ugly for you.

I'll let you know when I'm done. It might be a couple of weeks. In the meantime, bookmark me or something.


And So On...

What have I been doing lately?

I went to Allentown for two days, last Sunday evening through Tuesday evening. My sincere apologies to those of you who I told that I would tell if I were coming. Lacking foresight, I didn't have your phone numbers with me, and internet access was sparse so I couldn't get to my online cache. Feel free to mock me for being a doodie head. I'll see you later this year, maybe around Christmas.

It was weird being back "home" because home isn't home anymore. My sister lives in our old apartment. Several times I went to the kitchen to check the thermometer, which isn't there anymore. Once or twice I looked for my fish and he wasn't here. Neither was the bookshelf he called home. The baby was a little pile of giggles when we went up and down the stairs, something she doesn't do in the new place. Actually, the kid recognized the outside of the building and was delighted to see it. I bet she was more confused than I was about the differences inside.

Speaking of the kid, she has been on some sort of I don't know what to call it. She has taken a liking to trying out all the different ways to pat, tap, smack, tickle, pinch, lick, and bite me on my arms, legs, face, and torso. I guess she needs to learn what is and isn't socially acceptable form somewhere, lest she end up as the type who eats her lollipop sticks. Judging by what I did to my most recent lollipop stick, I think the kid should learn from her mother.

I went for a bike ride this weekand discovered that a random back dirt road through the wilds of campus (the woodsy and meadowy part without buildings) had been freshly paved. I also discovered that I have some sort of aerobic problem. Anyone want to donate some hemoglobin? I like that road a lot, and I might use it as an alternate to the bike path for the trip to work. It involves a little more uphill but lets me make as much of a loop as I can without adding a lot of extra distance, uphill or front to back.

My boss is in France for the month, and in the week he was gone I did well neigh nothin' of note. I did start wrestling with writing a C++ program to [long boring collection of computer words including things like "C string" and "fixed format data files" and "why don't any of my C++ books talk about substr"]. I've almost cleared the hurdle of reading the data into the program. From there it's a cakewalk. So I'm on the verge of having the analysis tools I need in place.

I've been watching the political conventions with as much apathy as I can muster. Apathy? Yes. There is a certain chicness in the way that every four years being told by every candidate about how things are going to be done differently. It just reeks of "You, John Q. Public, are such a sucker you don't remember how that didn't work before." Sadly, it's true. Maybe the political candidates we have could start being different by stopping the talk about being different when they aren't? Oops. My chicken and egg just collided.

On the drive in to work last week I saw a street sweeper doing its thing. The brushes were spinning on the other side, but it was cool anyway.

Today we had dinner with some people from our church up here. There is a small flock of bechilded younger folks, and they (or more properly "we" I guess) get together weekly. Tonight we did a restaurant trip, and we went to an Italian place in the next county. It was pretty good food. The pasta was reasonably firm, and the chicken was nicely done.

On the way home, we got to witness firsthand the traffic leaving the football games. (Take the stadium capacity, divide by the number of lanes of traffic that go out of town, and you can imagine.) I say "witness" because we were heading back to town and got to see all the cars going the other direction. If you ever come to visit in the fall, contact us first about when to be driving what ways. You'll thank yourself for doing it.

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