Thursday, March 31, 2005

If I can't see it, it doesn't exist.

This seems to be "criticise government schools week" for me. My brother-in-law had this a link up with his own succinct opinion.

As Bugs Bunny would say, "What a maroon!" What's next for this principal? The expurgating of all references to weapons from the textbooks? The Revolutionary War taught as if it were one big fist-fight? The Civil War was called such because it did not include the use of weapons? What is most notable to me about this is that the principal, when confronted with the illogic of her position given the school's mascot, instead of admitting that a mistake was made and apologising, is now going to consider de-mobbing the mascot to create consistency and avoid having to back down.

"Snoho" or "SnoHo"

No, that isn't a corruption of "Soho" or even (for Seattle-area residents) "SoDo". It's a shortening of the name "Snohomish". Snohomish County is the county just to the north of King County (where I live and where Seattle is). Recently, a boy at Snohomish High School was suspended for a day (he also received another day of suspension for swearing when he was informed of the first suspension) for wearing a shirt that said "SNOHOS" to school. He had taken a common abbreviation of the school's name, added an "S" to indicate plurality and individuals and (along with friends) had shirts made to wear. Granted, this is an unfortunate nickname. It can indeed be interpreted to contain two separate ideas "SNO" (for Snohomish) and "HO" (a common slang word for "whore"). But it is not evident to me that this was the intent of the student. He has in fact explicitly denied it.

And it doesn't seem to me that the school really has a leg to stand on. Perhaps they are on solid ground legally, but they should certainly have had better foresight and a more consistent policy before coming down on this particular student. Not only (according to the article I linked) did the school allow the term "Snoho" to appear multiple times in their 2004 yearbook, as of today it still appears on the Snohomish school district website to refer to students at Snohomish high school. (Screen cap is here, in case they decide to change it and because it is the last item and will probably be bumped off the bottom of the page soon anyway.) And even more oddly, the district website spells it "SnoHo" giving it the appearance of two words combined, while the shirts simply read "SNOHO", which is more consistent with the abbreviating of one word. If anyone needs to be in trouble for innuendo, it's the school district.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

May the Force be with you

I've been watching a bunch of the fan films over at The Force.net lately, and some are quite good. Most aren't, but some are quite impressive considering the smallness of budgets and the amateurs who put them together. Most recommended are: Dichotomy (odd film, but fairly impressive effects), Brains and Steel (same guy that made Dichotomy and while less well acted, a fun double parody), Ryan vs. Dorkman (simply a well-choreographed lightsaber fight), and Troops (probably the best of the lot; a spot on parody and a funny imagining of what happened in the gaps of the first Star Wars movie).

A couple films that had obvious potential in their trailers and concepts, but were not well made are House Wars and The Invisible Enemy.

If you like Star Wars, they're worth checking out, but you'd better have a fast connection because they're all pretty big files.

The Final Book

Not ever, of course. Simply the final book in the Earthsea series. I finished reading The Other Wind yesterday. It wasn't bad. It read quickly and I finished it in a matter of a few hours. All in all, I was disappointed with the series. I think it was primarily because the axe that LeGuin was grinding was one with which I disagree. Her notion of "balance" and the Eastern philosophy that runs through the book grated on me at every turn and diminished my enjoyment of the stories. And while I liked several of the characters, I never felt that I could identify with any of them in any strong way. Each did things I could not imagine myself ever doing. I could not agree with, nor always understand, their motivations and purposes.

The story, rather obviously, was not initially intended to span six books, but at most one or two. And while one could say that the "tale grew in the telling", it did so in a fashion different from, say, Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien's story was all part of one writing process, and though it is not perfect, it feels as one story when read. On the other hand, LeGuin's books subsequent to the first two feel tacked on and mismatched to ever increasing degrees. I do withdraw my comment here (at the bottom of the post) that the ending of Tehanu was inadequately explained, but I have to say that the explanation was unsatisfying to me.

Finally, I want to take issue with a comment by the author. (Something I don't like to do. Most always I am of the opinion that the author is the final and best interpreter of his own work, which is why I am so hesitant to conscience interpretations of Tolkien that contradict his stated assertions about his own work.) Arevanye quoted a section of an interview for me.
"All the books are, in large part, fictional studies of power. The first three see power mostly from the point of view of the powerful. The second three see power from the point of view of people who have none, or have lost it, or who can see their power as one of the illusions of mortality."
Not so. The title character in Tehanu has immense power, though initially untapped. Three of the five stories in Tales from Earthsea are about exceptionally powerful people and the final novel The Other Wind is filled with kings, dragons, wizards and the like.

My ridiculously simple review of the series as a whole is "well-written, but muddled". LeGuin has a fine command of language, writes dialogue well (which I always admire because I have no talent for that myself) and has some interesting plots, but all this is harmed and hampered by her muddled and confusing philosophising.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Goading my brother-in-law

It worked to get permalinks, so maybe this will work too. He needs comments. How else can visitors let him know the ways in which his blog is deficient? Or superlative? Or just hassle him in general? That's right. They can't.

And how is "ed-u-ka-shun" supposed to make me smarter?

Which was really a better question than Homer realised. I've never been a big fan of government schools and I've always been grateful that my parents decided to homeschool me and my brothers. (Thanks, Mom and Dad!) But the point was driven home in yet another way when I got my GRE scores back the other day. Along with your scores they send a couple sheets of paper that have average scores for each test and explain how they tabulate things and explain the basic statistical concepts used in percentiles and standard deviations and things of that nature. But also included are average test scores based on intended graduate school major field.
Posted by Hello (click for a slightly enlarged picture)
Guess who had the lowest overall scores? Yep, education students. Our country's future teachers, ladies and gentlemen score lower on the GRE than anyone else. Granted, while they did have the lowest combined score, they did manage to edge Business students by two points on the verbal section to avoid dead last on that portion, but they were well behind everyone on the quantitative (math) section. There's a lot more data here and this is a much more detailed listing of majors and scores.

Yeah, I'm going to homeschool my daughter. Do you even have to ask?

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Best Player List

No, not that kind of player. Blog Shares (which is rapidly becoming an addiction) player. Currently I'm 44th of the top 100 players in March. What is this a measure of? My net worth growth since the beginning of the month, which is (as I type this) 2,406,067%. I've gone from B$500 to B$12,030,834.60. Of course, the top 100 or so players are all over a trillion dollars, so I'm still bush league compared to them.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Final Bebop

The 6th and last DVD of Cowboy Bebop episodes came from the library and I watched it yesterday. It was good. Quite good. Even though the last two episodes were the series' only two-part story, the stories themselves still felt a bit rushed, however. I was surprised by how several of the characters were dealt with before the very last episodes. I was surprised by how sad I felt at the end. While it should have been longer, it was still set up effectively and it was an emotional climax to a fine series.

Books Read

I most recently read Surprise! Surprise! and The Secret Adversary, both Agatha Christie books. The first is a compilation of shorter stories published in other books, all but the last I had not read before and the second book was a Tommy and Tuppence novel, the first one.

The first book was pretty good, all the stories were interesting, most did have a bit of a surprise, but the last story (which I had read before), though it did not surprise, was the strongest and most interesting I think. I can't think of the name of the story at the moment, but it's also a play that's included in this book.

The Tommy and Tuppence novel was okay. It was obviously an early book and, like several other of Christie's early novels, it featured a master criminal in the mold of Doyle's Moriarty. I find these stories to be generally less than convincing and the lack of conviction takes me out of the story enough to seriously degrade my enjoyment. Tuppence also got on my nerves. She was just too dang perky all the time.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Coolidge

I have changed my quotation at the top of the blog back to one I had previously. The more I have thought about it, the more this particular quotation appeals to me. When I am in doubt about whether or not I should post something on my blog, this quotation is my guiding motto. It means that I probably will never be a famous blogger, but then I had no ambition to be one nor do I think that posting all or even most of my ideas would make me famous.

Nouns are not verbs!

Just a quick note about something that irritates me. I'd call it "verbing", but some one wouldn't grasp the irony and would leave me a comment telling me I'd just done what I said I didn't like.

It bothers me when a perfectly good noun, say "verb", is transformed into a verb by adding a verb suffix and using as a verb. That is to say, "verbing" a noun. As Calvin and Hobbes have taught us, "Verbing Weirds Language". A writer whose work I was reading recently used "image" in this way ("imaged"), and while that word does have a respectably long pedigree as both noun and verb, there are plenty of others that do not. "Impact", in the verb sense most common today has only been in use for less than one hundred years.

Of course, (deep breath) I shouldn't get so uptight. There are far more egregious problems that are far more common. Capital letters, anyone? Proper use of commas, semi-colons, etc.?

Sunday, March 20, 2005

I never thought of that

I was reading a post on Armavirumque, and ran across the paragraph below. My interest was caught by that particularly because the sub-point it makes (to support a larger point about something I wasn't very interested in) is one that had never occurred to me previously.
Dr. Johnson said that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. It is perhaps the least enduring of his famous statements, in part because it is oblique and in part because it is too specific. It is often trotted out to condemn patriotism. What it actually implies is this: when something seems good in itself, though its value cannot be divorced from its use, that thing will be easily and frequently abused. Patriotism, benevolence, and...free speech fit the bill.

ANWR, Oil and Jonah Goldberg

An interesting article from a couple years back which bears bringing up now because of the recent vote in the Senate in favour of opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration and drilling. It's long on facts that most people never get from their standard papers and/or TV news.

Coining Money

So, I believe I mentioned Blog Shares a while back, did I not? Yes, yes I did. So what they start one with is B$500 and 1000 shares of your own blog, which, since it started at B$.43 gave me a beginning net worth of B$930.00. From that humble beginning, in two months I have turned that into B$367,893.34, as you can clearly see here. Of course, if you are looking at this a day or so after I've posted it, it may have changed somewhat, but I expect it will still be a fairly large amount. I still have a long way to go to make it to the trillionaries club, but this has been a lot of fun so far.

Lance Armstrong

It was he who got me interested in cycling. And I still am. I liked watching the Vuelta a España a couple years ago even though Lance wasn't competing. So it's not purely to see Armstrong ride that I watch and enjoy cycling. But it was an interest in a fellow American performing well in the Tour de France that first piqued my interest.

Armstrong and his wife divorced in 2003. At the time, a friend of mine noted that Armstrong had fallen in his estimation because of this. He commented that, yes, Armstrong's physical feats were impressive, but that to admire someone requires more than just an impressive performance on a field, with a ball, riding a bike or what-have-you.

This morning, it came up again. During the sermon at church, the minister used Lance Armstrong as an example of someone who put his pursuit of his goals ahead of the welfare of his family. And it got me thinking again. I don't think I'll see Armstrong the same way anymore. It's not for me to say that he is a bad man, nor do I know the circumstances that surround his divorce. But I do know that, like my friend, I have revised my opinion of him.

Avert thine eyes!

Ouch. My predictions for the NCAA Basketball tournament have not gone well. I think I'll skip the putting up of a bracket. The horror might be too much for those with weak consitutions.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Where have I been?

Garry Kasparov has retired? I found the news when I was catching up on some blogs that I hadn't really visited since I lost my internet access when I moved. There's lots more info at the blog I linked, just follow the posts forward to today. (There is one post that's kinda odd from when the blog proprieter went out and got snockered on St Patrick's Day.)

This kinda reminds me of what Sandy Koufax did. He quit baseball while he was the greatest pitcher in the game because he knew that if he stayed longer, his skills would diminish and he would only hurt himself physically. Not an exact parallel, but there you are.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Sweet, Sweet Broadband

I have finally joined the 21st century. My DSL was installed an hour or so ago, and now I can get all those important things done that needed broadband internet. Like downloading all the Homestar Runner stuff I missed. And checking my e-mail. And updating my blog. And stuff. Yeah.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Mad As A March Hare

It's that time of year again. That wonderful, magical time that gets UW coaches in trouble.

I've filled out my bracket, and you can check how well I'm doing here. (I really hate Yahoo! But it is free.) This year, unfortunately, they don't seem to allow anyone to link to my actual bracket unless they are logged into my account. I'll try and get a picture of it up at some point before the tourney is over.

Here's hoping I do better than last year!

Tolkien Book

Finally finished (weeks after starting it) Tolkien and the Critics. It was particularly interesting because it was not universally laudatory, which so much of what I read about Tolkien is, or very nearly is. There were several essays that criticised him rather harshly in different regards. I didn't agree with all of it, but it was all certainly thought-provoking. As well, all of the essays were written before much more had been published about Middle Earth, so really all that most of the authors had to go on to formulate their criticism was The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. This led to some errors, most quite understandable given their limited information, but other errors were quite ridiculous and several people had written essays riddled with the most basic errors (conflating two different characters, asserting things directly contradicted in the text, etc.) that resulted in reducing their credibility in a drastic fashion. Most, however, deduced from very insightful things about Middle Earth despite having such limited information. Probably the most insightful essay was "Men, Halflings, and Hero-Worship" by Marion Zimmer Bradley.

Something a Tolkien fan ought to look into; you'll probably find several excerpts you'll want to jot down to save. Though it is out of print, one should be able to find it at the library or a fairly inexpensive used copy online. Beware, the copy I got from the library was missing page 99-100 (I think, it was about there), and it seemed to be a printer's error, not a damaged book. There is an updated collection of Tolkien criticism compiled by the same two people that was published just last year: Understanding The Lord of the Rings. It is about half essays from the first book and half new essays. It is next on my list.

Strictly Baseball

I started watching the "Extra Inning" Baseball DVD. It's the 10th and final disc in the series. I just couldn't do it. The thing was more boring than dirt. It was like watching paint dry. And Ken Burns himself looks like a punk teenager badly in need of a haircut. He looks like a chrysanthemum. So, my final verdict on the series is, good, but not great. The documentary itself is something to check out, especially if you're a big fan of baseball, but the "making of" DVD is one to skip.

Also I recently watched Strictly Ballroom for the first time. It was, well, not as bad as I had anticipated. There was a lot more comedy and it was played much more for laughs than for romance, which was good. The plot was mostly predictable and the characters were pretty stock and flat, but it wasn't a movie one watches for ground-breaking stuff. It won't become a favourite, but I also probably won't roll my eyes quite as much next time my wife wants to watch it.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Milk, please.

I finished a Nero Wolfe book recently, Trio For Blunt Instruments. Not a bad book, two of the three stories were interesting. Creative, plausible solutions and most of the clues left in plain sight of the reader, which is nice. I always think it's a bit of a cop out for a mystery author to reserve a piece of evidence from the reader. If it will give the game away to the reader, why not to the characters? (Dorothy Sayers did a good job with a similar situation in Five Red Herrings. In that case, she left out the evidence that indicated that the death was murder and not an accident and, breaking the fourth wall so to speak, challenged the reader to be as smart as her detective and come up with the right answer.)

The middle story, however, was a disappointment. In it, Stout tries to convince that Archie Goodwin could be considered a suspect in a murder case. It falls flat because we all know he didn't do it, and we know that the police should be confident that he didn't do it. Archie Goodwin isn't a murderer and trying to get the square peg in the round hole rings false to any devotee of these books. Still, on balance, a solid Nero Wolfe installment. (It's not even close to as ludicrous as The Black Mountain.)

Power Point Madness

I watched someone scroll through a Power Point presentation the other day and I reflected on how little information was actually placed on each page. It reminded me of something. But what?

After a few minutes of thought, I remembered. It reminded me of this article. I'm fairly impressed with Edward Tufte. I've read a book of his called Envisioning Information. It was an excellent book that talked about ways to present information of widely varying types in efficient, clear and effective ways. I'd suggest you at least read the article, and if that interests you, then you might consider reading the book.

I'd wear one

But I probably would not buy one. It's odd. I'm really not much of a math guy. Didn't excel at it, never found it tirelessly compelling, though I was never awful with it either. Yet now that I no longer need study or use math that is remotely advanced, my interest in it has grown. Probably has something to do with "making learning fun", or some such.

Most things get better when I kick them...

Okay, so that line was from the previous Cowboy Bebop DVD. Finished up the 5th DVD. This one has episodes that are both about as gritty as anything else in the series and as comic. One episode features a super-assassin that got loose from a government facility and is taking revenge on his former masters and another features an honest-to-goodness cowboy riding a horse who becomes a rival for our heroes while they try to catch a mad bomber using teddy bear bombs.

This set of episodes was better than some others. The stories didn't feel rushed, they fit the length well, though many could easily have been spun into much longer episodes. That would be my one complaint with this series, really. While I admire the ability of the show creators to end their series before it gets old and stale, this is one series that could have lengthened a few more of their stories into two- and three-part episodes and run another couple seasons without having to come up with any more stories.

Do robots get cancer?

Apparently Transformers do. Okay, I'm all for fighting cancer and getting people checked for deadly illnesses that are easily preventable (who isn't?), but this is ridiculous.
[The television program] showed Optimus Prime with incontinence (or urination) problems followed by a trip to the doctor and then death.
I'm not a fan of integrating public service messages into the television programs themselves. And, to me, a cartoon seems even less appropriate than a sitcom for some reason.

L'Engle and LeGuin

Tales from Earth-sea was a decent book. It helped to flesh out the world that LeGuin is imagining. I'd say to this point the depth of the world she has created has reached a point about on a par with that of Lewis' Narnia. I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but what I can glean of LeGuin's philosophy from these books seems to me to be similar to that of Madeleine L'Engle. To be frank, though, I'm not terribly familiar with either author. I've only read in LeGuin's Earth-sea series and I've only read L'Engle's A Circle of Quiet. (If I recall correctly, a friend who had read it wanted my opinion.) I find myself disagreeing a fair bit of the time.

At any rate, 5 down, 1 to go. Thoughts on the final book, and the series as a whole, shouldn't be too far off. I have the last book from the library, so I should get to it in the next couple weeks at the latest.

Surprise, Surprise

I generally avoid talking about my personal life too much on my blog. I don't think it's too wise to broadcast too much about oneself on the internet. But also, frankly, I doubt many people who read my blog are that interested. Talking about my opinions in general is probably a stretch as it is. Be that as it may, I do have something to make known.

I had been planning to have those last couple of posts up sooner, and I planned on having a few more written. (I finished Tales From Earth-sea and watched the 5th installment of Cowboy Bebop episodes; thoughts on those to come later.) But my plans were interrupted by my wife calling me at work on March 3 and informing me that I had better come home because she was in labor.

Right. So, an hour and a half and some efforts not to drive like a maniac later, we arrived at the hospital and in about another hour and 45 minutes we had a daughter. Which is pretty cool. Her name is Deirdre Fiona Estelle (though my brother-in-law has determined [and he needs permalinks!] that he will call her "Horatio", regardless) and she weighed 6 lbs. 2 oz. Mother and daughter are well and home now. My mother-in-law bumped up her flight (my daughter was about 2 weeks early) and arrived this morning and my mother added a week (starting on the 9th) to her previously scheduled visit next month.

So far, being a father agrees with me, I think. So, some details that may interest: She is our first child, born on Girl's Day (Japan), appropriately enough. Also interesting is that this is the first girl born to my father's side of the family in about 90 or so years. And my wife's labor clocked in officially at 4 hours and 19 minutes. I'm told this is impressively quick, especially for a first child. So, please, if this makes anyone envious, don't leave harsh comments. :-)

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Build your own reactor!

That's what The Radioactive Boy Scout tried to do. Not only that, he tried to build a breeder reactor in his backyard shed. It's a pretty impressive story, but the author seems compelled to do a fair bit of lefty moralising about how the USSR wasn't as dangerous as nuclear power and the evil of the US in dropping a nuclear weapon on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It's a short read, only about 200 pages, and if you skip the parts that aren't really about David Hahn's attempt to build a reactor it'll be even shorter. I'd give it a reserved recommendation.

How do you feel about that?

I was not as enthused this past week about participating in the Lord of the Rings discussion in TORn's Reading Room. The questions are not ones that I like to answer, nor do I find myself particularly edified by the answers of others. I'm not interested in how others feel when they read certain parts of the story, nor am I interested in questions about how Tolkien constructed his story. I prefer to think and analyse the story from within rather than from without. Questions like "What are your thoughts and feelings on the description of BagEnd in this passage?" mislike me.

On the other hand, these questions do seem to be fairly popular, the first couple sets of questions this week garnered 40 or 50 responses each, which is pretty high.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Take me out to the ball-game...

You know what this is? That's right. A box score. Not only that, it's a box score of one of the first games this spring and it's a box score of the new Washington Nationals. It's baseball time again!

Blog Shares

So I joined Blog Shares. As far as I can tell, it's a market trading game, but I'm fuzzy on the details. Still, looks like fun to dink around with. Got the link from Arevanye.

Fantasy+Mystery=Excellent

I finished reading Lord Darcy recently. It's an interesting book. The volume I linked to is actually a collection of all the Lord Darcy stories, some of which were published individually as short stories in magazines, I believe. It's one of those books that you'll either like a lot or think extremely silly. It's something of a cross between fantasy, "What if" history, and the detective story. Here. Read the back cover. If that doesn't pique your interest, it's probably not for you.

I was referred to this book from a recommendation that I saw on the Main discussion board at TORn. I generally only venture there on Wednesdays to read the thread where everyone talks about what book they are currently reading.

Male Fashion Sense

I've said things like this.

More Movies

Bad one first. I watched (yes, all the way through) Star Trek: Nemesis. It wasn't as bad as Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, but it would have had to try hard to win that distinction. It was campy, clichéd, the dialogue was stilted and hackneyed and the techno-babble was particularly annoying. While I'm not a "Trekkie" (I would never go to a convention, have no interest in learning Klingon and never watched any of the TV series regularly) I have generally enjoyed the Star Trek movies. I've seen them all and I had pretty much bought into the Even-Odd Theory, but Nemesis spoiled it.

The other movie I have watched recently was A Man for All Seasons and it was magnificent. Great acting, great story, great script. It's easy to see why it won 6 Oscars (including Best Picture, Actor, Adapted Screenplay and Director). I'm not terribly familiar with the actual history involved, but if it's about right then Sir Thomas More was a pretty impressive guy. I'm a big fan of Leo McKern too, and he did a fine job as Cromwell. If you haven't seen it, I recommend it highly. It's not a very exciting movie by modern standards. No explosions, no chases, and only two deaths, one of which is merely implied. But the plot moves along at a great pace, the dialogue is superb and the actors actually know how to act.