Tuesday, November 22, 2005

True Names

You don't mess with the Muses. Diss them, and they hold your head under the waters of Parnassus until you see the error of your ways. The contretemps over Open Source Media nee' Pajamas Media (and now Pajamas Media again, hurray!) illustrates that nicely. It is a painful truth, but when you are dealing with something truly new you can't trust the Old Established Suits to give you good advice. In the same way OSHA never inspected the research labs I worked at -- if it is cutting edge research, how the hell would they know what was safe? They'd have to ask US! (The equipment we knew about, but the coffee needed a warning label and a release form. Even the mold left it alone, which should have been a clue.)

You make the name have the meaning you want it to have. Here's another story. Way back in the mists of time, there was a company that made rubber tubing and other accoutrement for the enterprising chemist. The Chemical Rubber Company, always trying to be of service, would include a handy sheet of data on the rubber tubing et cetera they shipped with things like melting point, specific gravity, and anything else they thought interesting and of use to the customer. The years pass. More types of rubber, tubing, and other stuff. The little sheet grows to several sheets, and then in 1913 they brought forth the first edition of the Holy Tome: The CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics. Every scientist I know has a copy of this thing, some have three. Mine is the 84th edition and can be used as an emergency source of gravity. The funny thing is many people don't even know what "CRC" stands for, or why it is there. CRC doesn't make rubber tubing any more. It does have an extensive publishing business that is considered the gold standard for scientific work. If it is accurate, esoteric, and mind-numbing in detail, they probably have a volume on it. A very partial list ...
  • "Fingerprints and Other Ridge Skin Impressions"
  • "Handbook of Human Factors and Ergonomics Methods"
  • "Postharvest Physiology and Pathology of Vegetables" (second edition!)
  • "Coding Theory and Cryptography" (it has penguins on the cover, it must be good)

All this started from a simple little fact sheet on rubber tubing. I wouldn't worry about a trivial thing like the name "Pajamas Media". Really.

Monday, November 21, 2005

It would be broke if the UN fixed it

To hear the MSM tell it, the United States was graciously permitted to continue stewardship of ICANN and the servers that route the Internet after the UN convened a meeting to discuss the matter. After all, the Internet is very important! Business (they want to tax it), Information (they want to censor it), and a wonderful, diverse, culturally-rich environment (WARNING! contains content that others may find offensive, such as references to women driving, voting, thinking, and showing skin; the existence of Israel;people speaking disrespectfully of sin;Republicans who don't think they are wrong.)

It was particularly amusing to see the wisps of understanding floating around the UNophiles (the brainer ones, that is) who began to grasp that they could not, in fact, force the world's only superpower to do anything it didn't want to do. All that diplomatic skill for naught ...

Even the most rabid anti-American UN fans had to admit we'd done a pretty good job not messing with Internet freedom so far. The arguments they used were along the lines of we *could*, maybe, someday go to the bad and decide to Abuse our Power so why not take that power away now instead of waiting?

Funny, the people they were going to hand it over to have a HISTORY of abusing power and squashing free speech like a bug, but they aren't the US -- and that's really all that mattered. I would like to point out that even at the height of the Iraq war Al Jazeera's website remained unmolested, despite their (shall we say) fondness for slaughtered Westerners. If they couldn't tick us off enough to go postal on them, who could? Besides, those darling little technophobes persist in thinking the Internet is a *thing*, that can be put in a crate and controlled. What it really is is a collection of protocols and agreements. Nothing stops anyone, even me, from setting up my own root server. The difficulty is getting other people to agree mine is better than ICANN's. It really boils down to who wants to talk to whom. This is going to be rude and insensitive, but most of the world wants to be able to communicate with the United States of America. We have money to spend, and information that isn't filtered through five hundred mullahs.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Bloggers have more fun

Barb and I finally got to meet the legendary BillT, one of the inmates of Castle Argghhh! Folks, everything you heard is true. He's even funnier in real life, because when he tells his TINS you get to see the patented Evil Grin(tm). Sometimes he just chuckles to himself when he thinks of something particularly sneaky and devious. Alas, the scruples were not allowed to join us. The restaurant muttered something about their insurance policy. We were also not granted the presence of the 27" zipper, since he's now disguised as a civilian.

We ingested booze and fine food. Bill appears to have some tapeworm in his family tree, because he ravaged the menu *in a manner reminiscent of Ghengis Khan* and still had room for dessert. We heard tales of long-range potato guns, of the impact-absorbing qualities of Army fuel truck drivers, of fire-extinguishers flinging themselves out of helicopters to attack innocent tanks below, the curious (and alleged) thinking processes of the upper echelons, and the effect of chocolate-covered espresso beans on small children. Among others. I stayed up MUCH later than I usually do and now have to prop my eyelids open, but I wouldn't have missed it for the world. In fact, I want to do it again!

Friday, November 11, 2005

Veterans Day: Stories from the past

I've always been fascinated by military history, at all levels. The tactics, the gear, the philosophy, the strange intersections with science. (Did you know cloud seeding was developed when someone -- probably a grunt -- wondered why the army ALWAYS seemed to end up fighting in mud?)

The stories are what stick in the bone, though. Stories told to me by those who fought. My father is a veteran of WWII, tailgunner on a B-17 flying out of England. I know all about the crew. The nervous navigator who once forgot to shut the tokyo tank valves, the waist gunner who needed to be watched in combat, the ball turret gunner who was only in the Army because he'd been caught stealing horses off an Indian reservation and the judge had given him the choice of the Army or jail. The time they were preparing to bail out over the Atlantic because all but one engine had iced up, until the pilot managed to get one more engine going. The time flak ripped through the tail at what would have been chest height for my father, except his helmet had slipped off and he'd bent down to get it at that exact moment. Flying back-to-back missions, so tired he thought he was hallucinating bright flashes of light -- only they were really tracers, from some idiot who thought firing *through* the bomber formation to get at a German fighter was a good idea. (Dad's pilot broke radio silence to inform this moron that if he did it again he'd shoot him himself. It stopped.)

Two of my great-uncles fought in WWI. They were second-generation German-Americans, and still spoke German at home. The younger lied about his age to join up. The war affected him more, and he never talked about it. Uncle Henry, on the other hand, saw the elephant and had many stories to tell. He shipped out of New York, and waited for transport on the island with the Statue of Liberty. Bored, he and his buddies set up an impromptu baseball field (Lady Liberty was second base) but they had a problem with line drives ending up in the drink.

Once in Europe, somebody found out that he could speak and *telegraph* in German and he got yanked from the Infantry to Signals just in time to miss out on Belleau Woods. Uncle Henry still sounded miffed about being taken away when he told me this. A good buddy of his didn't make it out of that battle. A big man who liked the ladies, his last words were "Tell the girls on Broadway Big Jim died game."

Uncle Henry ended up at the end escorting a courier to the Weimar government. The Lieutenant (aka "The Looey") had just received a "dear John" letter from his girl back home, and consequently did not pay as much attention to survival as my great-uncle would have preferred -- especially since their personal weapons (Bowie knife and pistol) were taken away so they couldn't possibly start any "incidents". See? PC stupidity has a long history.

So there they are, naked in the armament department, when a German soldier gets on the train they are sitting in, sees them, and heads right for them. Uncle Henry is mentally reviewing his will, when the soldier speaks. Please. There is a child in this village who must have milk. Do you have any? Can you get some?

They get to Berlin and hand over their communiques. While they wait for the reply, Uncle Henry bribes the hotel chambermaid with chocolate to let him up on the roof to take forbidden pictures of Berlin. Then the Looey decides he really wants a beer. Not hard to find, even in war-wracked Germany, and they stumble on the Ratskeller (under the Rathaus, naturlich) , one of the most famous places to get a beer. It was also upholstered wall-to-wall with German soldiers, who took one look at their uniforms and started to hiss.

Uncle Henry tried to draw the Looey's attention to this, and suggested an immediate tactical retreat. "Nah, it's OK!" said the Looey, with typical officer insight. Then he said, in very bad German, "Not British. American!"

Instant change in atmosphere. Now the cries were along the lines of "why are you standing in the door? Come on in, the party is just starting!" (Evidently the British and American uniforms were similar enough to be mistaken -- and even though we'd been fighting them too, it wasn't personal.) It was, according to my great-uncle, quite the party. Especially enjoyable since he had been quite sure he was going to die earlier, and that kind of disappointment is the best kind.

There are more like that. Stories that should be told. So Uncle Henry and the daft Looey and Big Jim and the horse-thief ball turret gunner will live in memory. Lux Aeternam, militis.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

le Racisme

There has been an element of "how do you like them apples?" running around the blogosphere, unfortunately, in connection with the French riots. Folks, it wasn't nice when people said we had it coming on 9/11, and it isn't nice for us to do the same. Regardless of cause, effect, or cure innocent people are getting hurt. No, I'm not talking about the rioters -- they deserve a good old-fashoned Malaysian caning. Especially the vicious animals that set a handicapped woman on fire.

That said, I will confess to a certain icy intellectual curiosity regarding how the French government plans to show the world (and the cowboy USA) the correct way to deal with such difficulties. Certainly their methods are different than ours, and I'm not very impressed with them. What are they going to do, wait for the high price of gasoline to curtail the available supply of Molotov cocktails?

Who knows what really started the violence. Maybe it was planned, maybe it was just the tiny spark that fell on dry tinder. The French government is largely to blame and not for the usual frequently spouted reasons. Why should anyone take a job if they can live on welfare? On the other hand, why make the effort to get a job if you know you will be turned down? For all the Europeans like to speak of American racism, they practice it a lot more than we do.

- how many high government officals in any European country have what you might call a permanent tan?
- how many mixed marriages exist in these countries?
- how many friends of different ethnicity does a typical European have?
- how many Europeans have participated in a festival or ceremony not of their own culture?

I feel this personally because I have friends in France. An interracial couple. Not even worthy of comment in good ole cowboy America ... not any more. They have had problems over there, though. They have a child, too. I wonder what the future holds for that kid. I worry. For them, and for Europe. Europe kept telling itself it was better, more intellectual, more multicultural and sensitive, not like those Americans. Somehow that translated in all the visibly foreign magically ending up in the same slums but it could not possibly be because of racism. See, they don't even keep statistics on race so it is impossible. Really.

They don't have to keep statistics. Did you know schoolchildren are examined in their proficiency and accent in French over there? Do you think perhaps a child growing up in an immigrant household might get poor marks in "proper accent"? Maybe that's why they just don't show up on the lists for the prestigious universities. Yeah, America had, and has, a problem with racism. Thing is, we know it. And we recognize it when we see it too.

J' accuse.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Calling All Ships!

Valor-IT Collegial Knock-down Drag-out Branch Fundraising Competition

Since the Navy is straggling in, and I did spend two years at the Naval Research Lab in DC (Code 6686, yes I still remember ..) I feel an obligation to help them out. This shall not construe a slight against Army, Air Force (hi Dad!), Marine, Coast Guard, or Meter Maid branches, no, not at all I love you all really.
Our Fearless Fuzzy Leader has sent out the call. The Navy Rally point is at Smash's place. Go! Click the Button! Click the Button, Max! We can't let these uncouth barbarians (Marines, Army) and effete loungers (Air Force) get all the credit! Did John Paul Jones let a measly ocean get in his way? No, he didn't! It's torpedo-damning time, sailors! Show yourselves worthy of those ultra-cool submarines*! Donate early, often, and with vigor! Tap the Admiral if you have to!
*(disclaimer: I have not been promised a submarine for my help even though I hinted quite strongly I would like one, but I'm still doing my part. So you can see this is a noble cause!)