Archive for September, 2011

The New Soldiers

After reading various first-hand descriptions of what war and battles, from World War II to the current conflicts in Afghanistan, are really like, I offer these words of wisdom:

The people who can declare war are the people who should fight it.

I’m betting there would be fewer wars.

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I’m aging.

I understand that and I embrace it. I’m forty-two years old and I don’t shy away from that fact.

What slays me is not so much the digits that my personal odometer show, but the fact that as the number of candles increase on my birthday cake, I am become progressively more and more un-hip.

There is not a single moment when a culturally aware being (such as I prided myself of being) suddenly become un-hip, it is a slow progression with many checkpoints. Your mileage may vary, but here are my milestones of losing touch with the culture.

…In college, I can no longer identify half of the acts on Billboard magazine’s Top Ten pop chart;
…After college, songs I listened to in college are now labelled “classic rock”;
…After marriage, I have kids and this prevents me from seeing movies every week like I used to do.

Another milestone was reached today when I pointed my browser to Woot’s T-shirt site and saw this T-shirt…and had no idea what the heck it was referencing. Nary a clue!

I like Woot’s T-shirts. I find them funny and inventive. I have also liked them because I can get the jokes. I’m fairly decent with literary references and I can grok most of their T-shirts that reference anything with a “Star” in them (Star Wars, Star Trek, Starfire, Star Castle, Battle of the Network Stars, Star Jones, Starsky & Hutch).

But this “And That’s Why You Always Leave A Note” had me flustered.

It was Google to the rescue and so I discovered that this quote is from the television show, Arrested Development, which I never watched.

Just put another notch in my belt of un-hipness, hand me a grape Nehi, let me watch my Betamax tapes of reruns of Voyagers! and I’ll be one hoopy frood.

(And if you don’t get any of those references, welcome to my world.)

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A Return to Comedy

Ten years ago yesterday, I laughed again for the first time in over two weeks. Here is my entry from September 28, 2001.

A large thank you goes out to the writers of The Onion for making me laugh and cry.

The humor magazine/website came back this week with an issue devoted to the Attack entitled “HOLY FUCKING SHIT”. It had articles about:

  • How the hijackers were surprised to find themselves in Hell;
  • A press conference by the Lord attempting to clarify, once again, His “Thou Shalt Not Kill” commandment; and
  • How the President’s father apologized to his son for funding Bin Laden during the 1980s.

Humor lives – even now.

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Haven’t mentioned this before, mainly because it is quite embarrassing (and yet oddly fills me with pride also), but here it is in all of its red-faced glory.

After moving to our new location, we had a few weeks where all we had in our house was the luggage we brought with us. Our household items were en route so the only things we had in our house were the items we brought with us on the airplane. One of those items we brought as a diversion for our trio of kids (because, really, a horrible thing to witness is bored children and an even more infernal situation is to be the parent of said bored tykes) was the card game Mille Bornes.

This is a wonderful card game that I actually inherited from my parents. They used to play this game at parties they hosted before they had kids (it was the early 1960s…and I bet you won’t see that scene on Mad Men) and they introduced this game to me. I took to it like a Frenchman takes to wine and I even took this game to college…where I found no interested takers in playing this game.

My college girlfriend and I did try a strip version Mille Bornes, but let’s move on to the point of my story.

To help fight the evil monster of boredom, I have started playing Mille Bornes with my family. Long story short – the goal of the game is to be the first to score 5,000 points.

Here’s where the embarrassment and pride come in. I have played five games with my daughter, who is my youngest child, and she has beat me every single time.

She’s seven.

Just curious, but what is an appropriate age to teach card counting?

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Saw in the news recently that American swimmer Diana Nyad has ended yet another of her attempts to be the first person to swim between Florida and Cuba without a shark cage. As an aside, the person who did it with a shark cage can be found here although there appears to be some disagreement.

This desire to break records reminded me of a recent ceditra entry that I wrote. From August 10 of this year, my process for finding subjects randomly to write about (no jellyfish were harmed in this process) landed me on page 876 of the World Almanac and Book of Facts 2011 where I found this line…

400 meters(4×100) 41.37s E.Germany Oct 6, 1985 Canberra, Australia

This snippet tells of the current world held in the 4×100 meter relay race. The last names of these record holders of a 26-year old record are Glabisch, Rieger, Auserwald, and Goehr. Now you know.

There was a time in my life when I wanted to break a record in the Guinness Book of World Records. When I was young, probably about the age of my middle child, Jared (which is ten), I was fascinated by this book of world records. There was even a time when I was buying a new edition of this book each year. Not that most of the records changed with the new year. The oldest tree was still the oldest tree; the largest object in the Universe was still the largest; and so forth. The only records that seemed likely to change were the human achievements and so that is where I set my sights.

Tree house-sitting was still mildly popular when I was young but I didn’t have a tree house. My dad was unlike all those cinematic and TV fathers and he never built me a treehouse. It also didn’t help that I lived in suburban Southern California and there were no trees in our small backyard that would support such a structure.

I tried practicing balancing coins on my elbow and then trying to snatch them with the same hand. I could do up to five quarters reasonably well, but I do believe the record back then was somewhere well north of forty.

Continuous pogo-stick jumping seemed boring and I certainly didn’t want to try and become the world’s heaviest man. Being the tallest or shortest was out of the question and I didn’t think I had the stomach (literally) to break any of the multitude of eating records that were in the books (e.g., x pancakes in y seconds).

I once thought I could set the record for most editions owned of the Guinness Book of World Records by one person.

Now, I’ll settle for being the oldest man ever.


Back to September and that last sentence is still my dream.

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So that I may better navigate my way around my new home, I have been taking French classes.

However, this post is not to pontificate on the difficulties of learning a new language or to gripe over how difficult I find it to pronounce certain French words. Oh, not to mention the whole conjugating thing.

Instead, this post was to mention something I found rather intriguing. There are only nine (there’s your number for the day) students in our class and as we went around the room introducing ourselves we also were asked to say our birthdays.

As it turned out, two people in our ennead had the same birthday.

What are the odds of that?

Well, it turns out, I could figure out what the odds were. The puzzle of figuring out what is the probability of n people sharing the same birthday is known as the birthday problem.

According to the graphic in the Wikipedia article that I have linked to, the odds of nine people sharing the same birthday is less than 10 percent.

This web page shows how to calculate the odds of a group of n people not having the same birthday.

For the computer programmer in your house, this page shows you how to write a program to calculate the probability.

For me, the thing I wanted to know was if our pair of conjoined birthday celebraters felt ripped off. Because both people shared December 24th as their birthday, did they only receive one set of gifts?

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It’s been awhile since I’ve checked in with the two drivers I have been following this NASCAR season: Dave Blaney and Jeff Burton.

Just to recap, I have been following this pair of drivers because they have connection with the number 36. Dave Blaney drivers the #36 car and Jeff Burton came in 36th place at NASCAR’s season-starting race, the Daytona 500.

We’re twenty-seven races into the season and this week saw the first race of the ten-part Chase.

At Chicago on Monday, Jeff Burton finished in 15th place and earned himself 29 more points. This gives him a season total of 647 points and puts him in 24th place overall in the standings. Since Burton was not in the Top 12, he is out of the running for this year’s Sprint Cup.

Dave Blaney finished 33rd in Chicago and so he picked up only 11 points. He is in 32nd overall with 360 (hey…that’s 36 times 10!) points.

Next up, Loudon.

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September 17, 2001

Wrapping up my string of decade-old journal entries that began on Wednesday, September 12, 2001, comes these words written on Monday, September 17, 2001.

So how do I cope?

Why haven’t I just broken down weeping at the thought of five thousand souls winking out and at the thought of over five thousand family members that will never be the same?

Instead of seeing the attack as some senseless act of undeniable evil, I have tried to understand the motives of the terrorists. This exercise in no way is meant to condone this act. What these people did was horrific and those reposnsible who are still alive should be hunted down and tried for their crimes.

My attempt to understand the motives is my method of coping. By seeing the rationale behind the act, I can identify it, quantify it, and categorize it. By doing this, by seeing this act as rational, yet hideous, I can continue to view the world as rational and under a modicum of control.

Otherwise, if I am wrong, and the world is simply a collection of irrational, unexplainable string of occurrences, then I am already deluding myself and I am already insane.

And that is how I cope.

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I can keep items in my veridiction (my name for the process of verifying predictions) for a long time to see how true or incorrect a person’s prognostication can be.

This was the headline was the September 16, 2001, edition of The Washington Post:


Score one for the former President, George W. Bush, as the statement he made ten years ago is undeniably true. A decade later, the war in Afghanistan is still going on.

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With news that Congress’s “supercommittee“, the group of Representatives and Senators who have been tasked with cutting the federal government’s deficit and debt, has met for the first time, it made me wonder about the wisdom of committees and the adage that a platypus is an animal built by committee.

That train of thought took me to a ceditra entry from over ten years ago. Back on May 21, 2001, my process for randomly creating a topic to write about (which was never dreamt up by a committee) took me to page 12 of the Money section of USA Today where I landed on…


[An advertisement for Aether Fusion showing the results of six people painting the Mona Lisa.]

Well, if it’s Monday and time for a ceditra and I have had USA Today chosen for me, then I must be faced with an ad.

My first thought about this advertisement centers on the Mona Lisa because it’s also where my finger fell upon. The use of this painting is to imply the high end of a scale of sophistication. This painting, by Leonardo da Vinci, is seen as one of the best painting, if not the best painting, in the world. I have always been curious about that sentiment since, to my classically untrained eye, there is nothing spectacular about this portrait.

Oh sure, there’s the smile. Countless art scholars have commented on the smile but there has to be more to it than that. Can the epitome of all painting really be based on an enigmatic smile? There must be something else to this portrait that I am missing that gives such prominence to La Joconde. Or could it be that Mona Lisa is nothing spectacular but only through the years of praise heaped upon it has it gained in status. Therefore, since all believe it is a good painting, even thought no one can say why, it is, ergo, a good painting. Because if one tried to seriously analyze the painting and critique it, one would risk going against years of accepted art orthodoxy. We certainly can’t have people going against orthodoxy now, can we?

So given that the Mona Lisa is the apex of all things of a painted nature, why is it in this ad? Besides being free of charge to use since the copyright has long since expired, it serves as one end of the taste spectrum. The other end, the low end, of the taste spectrum is filled by the image of the dogs playing poker. Similar to my rant about how Da Vinci’s painting is perceived to be all that is just and wise in painting, who are the people that have decided that card-playing canines is the ultimate in bad taste?

Whoever that committee is, let us proceed with the premise that the Mona Lisa and the bulldogs are the yin and yang of the visual arts. The combining of these two images degrades the splendor of da Vinci through guilt by association. The juxtaposition result answers the question of the ad “What if it took six painters to create the Mona Lisa?”

The underlying premise of the question and the ad harks back to the Aesop moral, “Too many cooks spoil the broth”. Having too many people work on or create something denigrates the value of the final product. Aether is banking on the fact that people reading the ad absorb that message when they read the copy of the advertisement. This ad is for a product called Aether Fusion. Like most current technology ads, this one doesn’t go into great detail about what the product actually does. It seems to revolve around making various wireless technologies (device, networks, protocols) work under a common infrastructure.

Now to tie these two threads together. Having multiple wireless technologies at your company degrades your product as surely as six painters diminished the glory of the Mona Lisa. By using Aether Fusion, your product will become like Leonardo’s masterpiece.

What does the name Aether mean anyway? Much like the current trend of not identifying a product’s feature, there is a trend towards using names for products and companies that make no sense. That, I’m sure, has a purpose, but I can’t see it.

I’ll bet good money that it took six (or more) people to develop the name Aether.


Back to 2011 and if six painters could so mess up the Mona Lisa, I will be curious to see what double that number does to the federal budget process.

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