Friday, March 31, 2006


The post that draws the most viewers to my blog is "The elite milestone." which comes up when people search for "31337" images via Google. I get about 20 hits a day that way. (Unfortunately, they go to the February 2005 archive page.)

And what is this big draw? It's a picture of an odometer reading "31337".

(If you're confused about the significance of 31337, see the 31337 entry at Urban Dictionary.)

Back when I posted that, I said that'd be cool for me to do someday, but what I actually thought was that there's no way I'd remember it. As it turned out, not long after that, I got a used car with fewer than 31337 miles on it, and since that post is constantly splattered all over my activity logs, I could hardly forget.

Not only did I not forget, I practically counted the minutes. I did arithmetic. I planned ahead. When just the right moment arrived, I was navigating a bumpy off ramp going a little too fast in traffic that was (not unexpectedly) too close for comfort. This is the picture I got:


Drat! Try again:


A tenth of a mile too late. You can see what I was aiming for. Having done all the preparation and risked my life to take a picture of my dashboard when I really should have been watching the road, I feel justified in using my meager image manipulation skills to doctor up the image I rightfully should have had. Behold:


So for all you 31337 searchers out there, this one's for you.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

A movie star's relation to the mint.

I was half watching a talk show, waiting for Natalie Portman to appear, when Denzel Washington comes on to talk about his recently released movie. My daughter, making conversation as she likes to do, asks me who that is. That's Denzel Washington, I tell her.

We do a little back and forth confirming that she understands this man's name is, indeed, Denzel Washington, and she leaves.

She returns a minute later with a quarter in her hand, and she holds it up, "heads" side facing me. "Is this is Washington?" I'm stunned (and proud) that she's made the connection. That's George Washington, I tell her.

She doesn't quite understand that these two men with the same name are not the same man. I try to explain by pointing out that she and her brother both have the same last name. I'm not sure she got it, but I'm still tickled that she knows who's on a quarter.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

My daughter, my advocate.

We went to The Cheesecake Factory for lunch the other day, and while we were inside, the valets who took our car changed shifts. The guy who was there when we got outside looked for someone else's car while carrying our keys, and then he looked for our car but couldn't find it. As we stood and waited, another family, tired of waiting, spotted their own car, took their own keys, left the payment at the stand, and left.

Still we waited. Another valet drove up. He was there to run an errand, not to work, but he saw what was going on and stopped to help. The guy who parked our car, he explained, had marked the ticket "row C", which is not normally how they mark tickets. They didn't know which row was supposed to be "C" any more than we did.

As he's talking to us, my daughter interrupts. "That's my dad's car," she says. "He needs it to go to work."

Not long after, they found the car, and we were off. I'm sure I wouldn't be telling this story if my five-year-old daughter hadn't made perfectly clear how important it was.

(P. S. We tried to tip—heavily—the errand-running valet, but he wouldn't have it. He wouldn't even let us pay for the valet service. I bet my daughter could have made him, but we wouldn't want to get all heavy handed.)

Outrage of the minute.

I'm very grumpy that an event whose purpose is to honor excellence in a particular type of entertainment contained nothing—nothing—to honor what I think is really important. I'm shocked and appalled. Obviously, this means they do not share my strong American values and are therefore not properly Americans.

Friday, March 24, 2006


First, let me say, "ditto." Approximately, I mean.

Second, since I now have my template open, it might be high time for some other changes, kind of like how, when you've got your CO's gut sliced open in front of you, you might as well toss in some marbles. Another anniversary is coming up, and maybe I should update that list of best posts (if, indeed, it's true that I wrote anything better this year than the year before). I've already tossed the zombie thing. If you have suggestions for how exactly to clutter my sidebar or otherwise fix what ain't broken, let me know.

Third, and related to first, it's pretty much common knowledge now that I've been laid off my job. My last day is April 28. I'm dreaming of a train ride.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Knowledge vs. Belief

My mom's dad told me that before he joined the Navy, he knew the Earth was round, but he didn't really believe it. The first time he saw a ship on the horizon rise straight out of the water, he believed in the curvature of the Earth in a way he never had before.

When I was in college, I took a physics class in which we learned about light in mathematical detail. I understood the concepts well enough to manipulate them. I could explain it, and I could analyze it. I could do the math. I didn't really believe it until I performed an experiment that only made sense if light propagates in waves. My eyes grew wide. Light! Is in waves! For days afterward, I raved to my friends about my revelation.

There are things we know but don't really believe.

People fear death—even people who think there is an afterlife and that they'll be happy there. They don't really believe in their afterlife.

Everybody wants to go to Heaven, but nobody wants to die.

This is a point I saw best made in Tuesdays with Morrie (which, as I recall, was absent from the movie version, so read the book). Everyone knows they're going to die, but few really believe it. People who believe they'll die do not behave the way most people behave.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this except to say that it's one challenge of life to reconcile knowledge with belief. Often times I know what I think without knowing what I believe. When it comes to simple binary questions ("will you die?"), it seems obvious that knowledge and belief can be in direct conflict, not merely a little uncoordinated.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Dreaming ahead of myself.

When I was in college once, I fell asleep in class and dreamed that the class was almost over. I woke and looked at my watch to find there was still 40 minutes left. Naturally, I fell back to sleep.

This morning I dreamed it was Thursday. In my dream, I was surprised that it was Thursday, but still, it was Thursday. That was at 4:30 when I was letting the dogs out for their late night lawn sprinkling.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

A school-related experience my parents didn't have.

My wife sat down with my daughter and her class roster. She read the names off to our four-year-old and asked, in each case, is this a boy or a girl? When I was a kid, my parents could look at the names of the kids in my class and know their sexes in all but a few cases (such as kids named things like Kyle). Now it's reversed. In all but a few cases, we have to ask.

Don't mistake me here. I'm glad she's in a class with many colors and cultures. I want her to grow up and not find this situation as foreign as her dad does.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Five years old.


This is my daughter this morning on her fifth birthday. Five years ago today she broke Mommy's water, and we drove to the hospital in the snow. It wasn't until my wife talked to her sister that we realized what day it was, a holiday we'd hoped to avoid.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Pregnancy rates on contraception

I took the table of contraception effectiveness numbers from this page and plugged them into a spreadsheet to answer the following question:
If a woman is sexually active from age 18 until menopause (age 50.5), how many pregnancies can she expect with various methods?
I computed this for both typical use and ideal conditions.

The most effective method was male sterilization. In the ideal, it's the same as the pill, and typical use is only a tiny bit worse than the ideal (how exactly someone misuses this method, I have no idea). In any case, typically expect .05 pregnancies over the woman's lifetime if she has sex only with sterilized men (.03, ideal).

A typical user of the pill will get pregnant 1.6 times (again, ideally, .03 times).

Latex condoms with spermicide will get one pregnant 4.6 times, typically, but ideally only .98 times.

Methods of birth control that don't involve anything but calendars and discipline will ideally produce a little over one child and typically produce anywhere from 4.6 to 8.1 children.

A woman who does nothing to control birth will likely be involved in about 27 of them, assuming she survives them all. Frankly, while this question allows for the hypothetical woman to become pregnant at 50 years of age, I have a hard time with the notion on a practical level.

So, what have we learned?
  • To avoid pregnancy and have a sex life, our hypothetical woman's best shot is sterilization (male sterilization).
  • Abstinence is ideal for pregnancy prevention, of course, as long as our hypothetical woman doesn't get raped. (And, I mean "ideal" in the sense that the "ideal" cure for a headache is amputation.)
  • Without sterilization, an active sex life carries a pretty significant probability of eventual pregnancy.
I have in my head a couple who get married at the age of 18, don't want children, use the pill the whole time, and probably get a child anyway. At this point, it would be pretty easy to lead into an argument about abortion, but I leave that to another post, and maybe even another person.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Tell your senators to censure President Bush

I read last night that Russ Feingold plans to submit a resolution censuring President Bush for warrantless surveillance. That post at Obsidian Wings suggested contacting senators to register our interest in this.

I copied contact information for my senators (Barack Obama and Dick Durbin) into my address book and planned to call them in the morning on my way to work.

This morning I discovered I'd forgotten to sync my phone to my computer, so my dreams of just entering in my senators' names and giving them a ring were shattered. I had to call 411 instead.

In each case, the 411 operators I talked to weren't familiar with the senators. "Is that B-A-M-A?"

Senator Obama's office didn't have a statement. That was pretty much that. I'd never called a senator's office before, and I completely forgot to mention that I had a statement of my own. Perhaps it's enough to make it known that I'm paying attention. The woman I talked to said that watching Senator Obama's home page might ultimately yield the answers I sought.

Senator Durbin's office didn't have a statement either, but they asked what my position was, so that was nice. They also told me that Senator Durbin's Washington office usually tracks the answers to the question I was asking a lot better, and would I like that phone number? It saved me another call to 411. The Washington office asked my ZIP code, but otherwise it was the same conversation.

Contact your senator too. Even if you're calling long distance, it's a short call. Each time I got a live human on the phone right away.

See also:Post script: Frist calls for censure vote "this afternoon or tonight." So if you haven't already registered your opinion, it may be too late. Who knew the government could act so fast?

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Brag book: 12 weeks old.

This is my son, who was tragically born without a neck, yawning with enthusiasm.


For more baby face goodness, see my son asleep, awake, and smiling. (All were taken with my Treo 650 because our good camera was broken.)

Friday, March 10, 2006

Taxing for security

Deinonychus antirrhopus has a post that I'll summarize like so:
  1. Congress gives every state a certain minimum in security money.
  2. States with hardly any security problems have a surplus to spend on them and so spend on tangential security issues.
  3. Congress has no incentive to fix this.
  4. The solution is to make states spend on their own security.
I agree with the problem assessment.

I disagree with the proposed solution.
  • Some states with great threats do not have correspondingly great budgets to address them. For example, Alaska isn't raking in the dough, but its pipeline is vulnerable and valuable.
  • Pushing the cost to the states doesn't solve the incentive problem. The feds who wrote the minimum grant laws will be the same ones writing the "you must spend" laws. Furthermore, security is always a tough problem for a legislator. It can potentially cost a lot of money, and—if you're lucky—you'll never need it.
  • The right place for national security is at the national level. If Louisiana has to take care of its own hurricane problems and can't (because its tax revenues are also somewhat below average and hurricanes are, shall we say, expensive), then gas prices go up in other parts of the country. I'd rather pay the feds to fix the problem for me than rely on the taxpayers in another state.
The discussion over there also veered off into the perceived effectiveness of government in general and a bit of finger pointing. If you want all the gory details, by all means, do not settle for my simple summary. There's interesting reading to be had by following the links.