Musings from Brian J. Noggle
Saturday, August 28, 2004
Et Tu, American Greetings?

A family member bought this card for the punchline, but didn't realize that she wasn't part of the niche market this card serves.

The cover:

Cover of birthday card.
Click for full size

Weapons of Mass Destruction. Money.

The inside:

Inside birthday card.
Click for full size

Two things you won't find inside this birthday card.

Okay, I can see some humor in that, well, more an attempt at humor, but something. And then there's the back:

Back of birthday card.
Click for full size

A caricature of George W. Bush, saying "Trust me, they're there."

So what's your point, "American" Greetings?

I suppose they're trying to cater to a hip urban crowd who's swallowed the load that Iraq didn't have weapons of mass destruction because those that have been found were just about destruction, not about destroying Catholic worship cermonies.

I've never paid much attention to greeting card manufacturers, but I know that the maker's name is listed right above the price, and I'll buy my 149 cards from Hallmark now, thanks.

Friday, August 27, 2004
Book Review: You Don't Know Jack: The Book (1998)

I'd hate to reflect on what subtle secrets slip out about my character when the reader of this humble web log discovers that the last two books I have read stem from video games. However, if the reader overlooks the obvious mental deficiencies of such a reviewer....wait, you're already here.

Okay, this book represents a quiz book, ten "games" of ten questions each. It's based on the video game series which featured, as far as I understand it, a host named Jack who was a cynical, smart-mouthed character, much like the ironic characters iconified in the television show Seinfeld. This particular book was laid out like someone eviscerated a copy of Wired magazine, with hip fonts, bright colors, and 128 snarky pages to cover 100 questions.

But if you can pick it up for less than a buck at a yard sale, go for it. It'll help you sharpen up for those unexpected trivia nights where you're confronted with Hugh Hewitt, James Lileks, and Michael Nedved on a team without Michael Savage to handicap them.

Book Review: The Dig by Alan Dean Foster (1996)

Alan Dean Foster has done the novelizations for many movies, including the Alien series and Outland. So what's the next challenge for an author like that? How about a video game novelization?

The Dig comes from the video game of the same name which ran right nicely on Windows 3.11 or Windows 95 boxes. Still, the storyline follows an archetype I like: a strange interstellar artifact shows humans that a greater intelligence exists. 2001, Ringworld, Rendezvous with Rama used the same conceit (although I think the Commodore 64 game Rendezvous with Rama came after the book).

When a strange asteroid falls into a slowly decaying orbit, NASA and the EU send up a shuttle mission to nuke the asteroid into a stable orbit. Once the astronauts successfully stabilize the asteroid, the commander, a scientist, and a journalist visit the surface for a moment of study and sample gathering. They discover what appear to be manufactured components on the surface and when they explore further, the asteroid activates and transports the trio to a far off planet, where they're confronted with a number of puzzles, locations to explore, and objects to manipulate.

It's not that bad, actually; certainly, since I know it's built from a game, I know to look at it in that context, and I spent a lot of time (well, a couple of brain cycles) thinking about its impact, but the novel's an interesting, enjoyable read, and I didn't spend almost a decade reading almost 2000 pages to find out that the ultimate point is that it's all an idle experiment of God's (curse you, ACC!)

In a related note, the synergy worked. After buying this book at a reduced price second-hand, I've won an auction for this game on eBay (for $2.00) for this game. Now, I'll retrofit one of my older PCs with the appropriate operating system and I'll enjoy the adventure of Boston Low (voiced by T2's Robert Patrick). Unfortunately, the media blitz worked almost ten years too late, in a post-shuttle, post 1990s world where the social structures and international cooperation illusions are ancient alien artifacts of their own.


According to Jeff Gordon's Tipsheet, Michael Vick said this in Maxim magazine (the interview's not available online):
    "Yeah, some people think blacks can't make good QBs. It's that Rush Limbaugh (stuff). But it doesn't matter – black, white, or purple – all I wanted was a chance to prove them wrong."
But that's not what Rush said:
    "I think what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well,'' Limbaugh said. "There is a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn't deserve. The defense carried this team."
Let's break it down. Limbaugh said:
  1. The media wants black quarterbacks to do well.
  2. They hope McNabb will do well, so they gave him more credit than he deserves.
  3. The Philadelphia Eagles defense contributes more to the team's success than McNabb.
Rush Limbaugh did not say that blacks cannot make good quarterbacks. But since he's Rush Limbaugh, other people can put whatever racist words they want into his mouth, and everyone should simply nod and cluck, I guess.

The Anti-Lileks Speaks

As a rule, I don't read Bill McClellan of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch because I find him droll, uninformed, and pointless. But I couldn't resist today's offering because it deals with my industry: Computer field leaves veterans out in the cold:
    Twenty-five or so years ago, a lot of really smart, forward-thinking people studied computer science. These were people who recognized that computers were going to change the way the world does business. But revolutions have a way of turning on their own, and this one has been no exception. Many of those smart, forward-thinking people are now out of work, increasingly desperate, their careers in shambles.
Cue the violins.

    One is a woman with a master's degree in information management. She has been out of work for almost three years. She gave up job hunting last summer because it's just too depressing. She told me she sent out more than 300 resumes and got only a handful of interviews. She is approaching 50.

    "Older workers are finding themselves shut out of the I.T. market," she told me.
Must be ageism. Except:
    I got some insight from a fellow I visited this week. He, too, is out of work, but he is still looking. He graduated from college about 20 years ago. Early on, the job market was terrific. Everybody needed computer people. A few years ago, though, there was a seismic shift in the job market. Everybody still needed information technology, but instead of hiring the I.T. workers as permanent employees, businesses hired them as contract employees. They were hired for specific projects. Remember the Y2K panic? Those were good days for computer people. Still, the shift to contract work was ominous for two reasons.

    First, you couldn't settle in with a company. You had to be constantly rehired, and each time you had to be rehired, you were competing with younger people, competitors who were not only willing to work for less but whose knowledge was more current.

    For instance, the fellow I visited this week told me the computer language of his day was COBOL. Apparently, that is as out of date as Sanskrit. Oh sure, he has gone to night school and tried to learn the hot new languages like Java and JavaScript, but companies want people with work experience in the new skills - exceptions made for recent grads - and how can you get experience if you can't get hired?
Not a lot of work out there for blacksmiths these days, either, but undoubtedly that's an upcoming Bill McClellan column.
    The second problem with contract work is outsourcing. So many computer jobs go to India these days. Recently, we were having a problem with a computer at home, and my wife called for help. She spoke with a young man in New Delhi.

    I mentioned outsourcing to the fellow I visited, and he said it isn't just outsourcing. American companies bring Indian workers to this country, he said.

    This was clearly a difficult subject for him. He's an educated man, and he did not want to appear xenophobic. I don't blame the Indians for taking advantage of opportunity, he said. But still, it's difficult to know that our jobs are going to foreigners, and we can't find work, he said. All the big companies are doing it, he said.
Those violins crescendo.

    The fellow I visited has worked for a number of the big companies here - Angelica, Anheuser-Busch, BJC - and he's had a pretty good run of it. In his last job, which lasted five years, he made $70,000 a year, and he got benefits, too, because he works through a consulting firm, kind of a high-end Manpower place. But now he's out of work. He's got house payments and a child in high school. He doesn't know what he's going to do.
Come on, McClellan, you're not spinning any fresh cobwebs here. You know, if you're going to try to make it through a career in the IT industry, you're going to have to keep your skills up to date, mostly on your own, as you zig-zag through a number of positions. Contract work does suck, but within those contracts, you have to take whatever opportunity you have to expand your skill set on your own. Or just don't do contract work for a consulting company.

If you're a good worker, smart and skilled, you should have a network of people who'll keep you up on job opportunities and shouldn't have trouble finding work. Unfortunately, whenever I read these people, I see a parade of Dilbertian Wallies, looking for jobs where they can punch the clock and collect exhorbitant paychecks for forty years and then retire with a pension, or at least a healthy 401K, and that's just not going to happen any more.

You've got to fend for yourself, and keep yourself fresh. Hop jobs, don't incur too much debt, and don't plan on your income remaining the same or growing perpetually. Start your own company if you have to. COBOL Commandoes. You'd certainly have that niche market covered.

Or you could become a newspaper columnist for the Post-Dispatch. Apparently, there you can stagnate and keep getting paid for it.

Thursday, August 26, 2004
Tell Us About What You've Done with What You Have

I cannot fathom why John Kerry chose this Vince Lombardi in Green Bay:
    In arguing for different budget priorities than Bush's tax cuts, Kerry quoted legendary Green Bay Packers football coach Vince Lombardi as saying: "Who you are depends on what you do with what you have."
Help me while I try to keep the universe from imploding from the sheer paradox.
  • John Kerry, personally, has parlayed his wealthy birth and finishing school life into marriage to not one, but two wealthy women and a lifestyle which the common man cannot even dream of with any detail.

  • John Kerry, politically, belongs to the party better served by the quote "Who you are depends on what you do with what the government leaves you of what you had, or what you do with what the government gives you of what it has taken from those who had it."
Kerry should have instead quoted, "Winning isn't everything, winning is the only thing."

Wednesday, August 25, 2004
So-Called Watch

Adam Entous of Reuters shows Matthew Hoye or Phil Hirshkorn the true power of this fully-operational battle idiom:
    Democrat John Kerry will dispatch two fellow Vietnam veterans to President Bush's secluded Texas ranch on Wednesday to press him to condemn television advertisements accusing Kerry of lying about his wartime service.

    The move comes one day after it was disclosed that a top lawyer for Bush's re-election campaign has been providing legal advice to the group behind the ads, the so-called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
You see how it casts aspersions on the group's name even though it's allegedly only modifying the name?

A piece of dirty trick writing art!

Tuesday, August 24, 2004
Hijinks Not Yet a Felony, But Raise Revenue for City

So today's "Child drives off in car" story is brought to you from East St. Louis, Illinois:
    A 5-year-old East St. Louis boy slid into the driver's seat of his uncle's Cadillac Sunday afternoon, put on his seatbelt, turned the key and drove off.

    But he didn't go far. Four blocks later -- with his mother in pursuit in her car -- the boy crashed the car into a fence.

    He was not injured but police gave the boy tickets for driving without a license and without insurance.
Hey, no harm done, and the police raise some revenue for the local coffers, which we metro resident know are pretty thin on the East Side, although these days we're no longer hearing reports of thieves stealing radios from police cars and the police being unable to replace them. Good on ya, ESL. It's due to creative financing like ticketing a boy for driving without a license and without insurance. Unfortunately, he buckled up and did not reach an interstate, where driving too long in the left lane is a revenue-stream offense in Illinois.

But wait! The ESL tins are more creative than you would think!
    Lenzie Stewart, chief of detectives, said the uncle had turned off the car when he came over to visit the boy's mom, Kia Haynes, in the 700 block of Post Place. But he left the keys in the ignition.

    "Mother came out, saw him driving down the street, jumped in her car and pursued him and had him pull over to the side. When he did, he hit the fence," Stewart said.

    Haynes called police after the crash and took responsibility for what happened. As a result, she was ticketed for contributing to the delinquency of a minor, Stewart said.
She called the police herself and said this harmless madcap adventure was her fault, and the helpful ESL tins helped their city meet their payroll by giving her an extra ticket for it.

I am too laid back to be in law enforcement or the legislature.

In Defense of the Electoral College

Key Monk defends the electoral college system with better reasoning and eloquence that I have.

(Link seen on Outside the Beltway.)

The Chosen Language

Slashdot links to this piece: Top Reasons Why People Think Java Un-Cool - Debunked.

Oddly enough, those ten reasons tend to include things like "Java is so easy to use" and "Java is mainstream" and "Java's not geeky enough." Mmm-hmmm.

Funny how the reasons that Java has been considered uncool are also its marketing strengths. Speaking as a QA person and a developer who's worked in several Java shops, I'd posit its uncoolness on its non-robust interface APIs which lead to clunky, good-for-1984 user interfaces which, oddly enough, did not play nicely with the dominant operating system. If you're a Java geek, working from a Linux command line, any window (or frame or panel) looks usable, but a functionary sitting at a desktop trying to do his or her job as easily and as quickly as possible, without handy stack traces, would probably disagree.

What's my point? Java's okay for middleware, but its interfaces have not been cool and as far as I have seen haven't yet gotten cool.

The Obvious Joke

CNN Headline: Report: Raptors euthanized in error

Obvious punchline: Perhaps they mistook them for the Bucks.

Coming Soon: The Australian Tupperware Ban

After all, Tupperware parties can lead to mayhem.

Monday, August 23, 2004
Another American Failure in the Gulf

Foolish American imperialists cannot make the air conditioners stay on in Bahrain.

It's a quagmire!

Was That a Rhetorical Question?

Also from the same Steinberg column discussed below:
    How the Republicans could have imagined there would be any upside in questioning John Kerry's Vietnam record is a mystery. Doesn't it all boil down to this: Kerry went to war and President Bush didn't? Frankly, if Kerry had responded to combat by flinging away his gun and hiding in tears under a tarp on his swift boat, it wouldn't erase the overarching fact that he put himself in harm's way for his country, while Bush hid behind the privilege that was to eventually deposit him, blinking and amazed, into the White House.
Not unless you're purposefully trying to oversimplify the matter.

Oh, I guess that's what he's trying to do by removing the context of each's service.

Steinberg Lost

In his latest column, Steinberg muses:
    Why is Barack Obama an African American?

    He presents himself that way, based on his father being a Kenyan immigrant. But his mother was a white woman from Kansas. Why couldn't he just as easily decide he is a white man? Why does the black half trump the white half?

    The answer has nothing to do with appearances, or affirmative action, or cultural pride, nothing to do with exotic Africa proving a more appealing back story than the bland wheat fields of Kansas. It doesn't have anything to do with Obama specifically -- anyone with a black parent and a white parent is thought of as black. Why is that?

    The answer is: because of our unconscious reflection of 19th century racist attitudes, where one drop of "corrupting'' blood -- be it black or Jewish or whatever -- is enough to put you into a certain racial camp. Obama's great-grandfather could be black, and that would be enough to make him black. It is indeed the logic of plantation owners, accepted unthinkingly by a society that would otherwise reject it. A form of reasoning, I might add, all-too-gladly taken up by some activists, eager to pump their numbers and prestige. Thus Obama -- and Halle Berry, and Tiger Woods and anyone else of mixed parentage -- doesn't get a say in how their heritage is viewed. The choice is already made for them.

    Mind you, I'm not blaming Obama. He didn't invent this. But I do think it is worth noting that we are using a very old scorecard when it comes to race, and as our society moves into the blended, multiethnic mix it is certain to become, we're eventually going to have to come up with something new, and finally set aside the whole idea of "blood," the biblical notion of viewing people through the prism of their parents and their parents' parents, and instead see them for who they actually are. Finally judging them not, as Dr. King said, by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
He helpfully muddies African-American, which would denote origin, with black, which descibes skin color and is sometimes associated with origin, race, or ethnic heritage.

Blackness is more meaningless than any hyphenation which ends in -American because the second at least indicates that the noun modified by the adjective had the good taste to join those of us born here.

So, to recap: Is Barack Obama black? Look at him. Is he African-American? Second generation, so only by heritage. Is he a good man? Seems okay in character, but somewhat wrong on his philosophy.

Be There, Do That

Buy the t-shirt:

Lileks on Lake

James Lileks follows in my footsteps and watches the movie This Gun for Hire.

Veronica Lake was sompthin, ainna?

Sunday, August 22, 2004
My Time is Coming

All six of you daily readers knew it before I did, but this blog will take me to success. Why, just today I received this recognition in my Hotmail Junk E-Mail folder:
    Dear Webmaster,

      I am writing to you because I am exchanging links with some of the best
    business related websites on the web, and I want to exchange reciprocal
    links between your site and my site.
    [obscenity deleted].com
    is a leader in its industry. We
    have thousands of people visit our website each day looking for franchising and
    small business information in their desired category. This will provide
    a valuable resource for each of our readers and will be instrumental in
    building traffic for both of our sites. I look forward to hearing from you soon
    so that we can both
    begin to enjoy the benefits of the exchange.


    Angela Tidwell

    PS- If you are interested in Pursuing a Link Exchange with our site Please feel
    free to use the information below.Also please send me your information as well
    as the exact location of my link and I will have your link placed and confirmed
    within 48 Hours. If you're not interested and wish to not be contacted again
    please just let me know and I will promptly remove you from my contacts.
    [obscenity deleted].com
    [obscenity deleted] has one of the best franchise directories
    and most comprehensive franchise listings in the business.
If I only roll over and play stupid, I could be a meaningless classified ad in the back of an online version of a free-pickup magazine destined to fold after a single ill-conceived issue. Man, I am lucky to have this opportunity!

What's Wrong With This Story?

AFP, which stands for "Agents of France Posse", reports Blair refuses to accept US award, by which they mean the Congressional Medal of Honor:
    BRITISH Prime Minister Tony Blair is refusing to fly to the US to receive a medal bestowed on him by the nation for his support over last year's Iraq war, a London newspaper reported today.

    US President George W. Bush has put huge pressure on his closest ally to pick up the Congressional Medal of Honour in person, the
    Sunday Mirror said, quoting a senior British government source.
Well, that senior source can (how would a silver-tongued sub-Continental bureacrats understand it?) SMEG OFF. Tony Blair cannot recieve a Congressional Medal of Honor. Period. Source this to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, whose word I would trust over some government functionary leaking to the French any day:
    The Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force which can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the Armed Services of the United States. Generally presented to its recipient by the President of the United States of America in the name of Congress, it is often called the Congressional Medal of Honor.
The only way he could get it would be if he really were a bona fide US operative. Is that what they're "admitting" here?

So-Called Watch

Reader Cagey sends in this example of so-called on CNN: Bush adviser quits after appearing in swift boat ad:
    As a so-called 527 group, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth is barred from coordinating efforts with an election campaign.
Unfortunately, the authors of this enlightened piece do not actually misuse so-called correctly. Matthew Hoye or Phil Hirshkorn (Hi, fellows! I know you're going to Google yourselves sometime!) uses so-called as a synonym for what is known as or also known as, which shortcuts the true power of the idiotm.

No, fellows, to properly use so-called to denigrate the noun it modifies, to diminish and sneer with journalistic "sophistication" by using this term, you should have written:
    As a 527 group, Swift Boat so-called Veterans for so-called Truth is barred from coordinating efforts with a so-called election campaign.
Behold the true power!

Overheard in the Den

During the Olympics women's swimming events:

    Beautiful Wife: They look so androgynous in their suits and goggles, but they're really beautiful. They just interviewed Inge de Bruijn, and she's gorgeous.

    Husband: We know Inge.

    Beautiful Wife: How do you know Inge?

    Husband: Uhh....
I blame John Cole.

Book Review: In the Clearing by Robert Frost (1962)

I bought this book at a yard sale some years ago, and I've decided recently to add a volume of poetry to my mix of books on my nightstand (after my experience with the book of Leonard Cohen's selected poems). So I read this book.

It's only 100 pages of primary material, and doesn't represent a collection of material showing a poet's evolution. Hence, I could enjoy it and the poems within it much more easily and much more viscerally than I could something with footnotes or 40 page introductions indicating why the poet was good.

Oddly enough, Robert Frost published this book in 1962, which is within the span of years contained within the four volumes in the Leonard Cohen selection (1956-1968). Cohen's material seems much more contemporary and Frost's more archaic, but the lack of "sophistication" belies some powerful poetry.

Frost rhymes almost exclusively, and any serious poet who attended college gets that beaten out of them pretty effectively (and unserious poets rarely bother). So a contemporary reader, even I, can find himself or herself pooh-poohing the rhymes as unsophisticated. Sometimes, they are; he rhymes US with Russ (for Russian) at one point. I gave that up early in college, and prefer to work a little harder to make rhymes work.

But if you spend too much time carping about the rhymes and the simplicity of the language of the poems, you miss out on Frost's ability to nail a phrase or line that captures something of human experience that you'll want to quote and that his simplistic poems often have deeper meanings below the surface that you can fathom without a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary and certain material related to the Kabbalah.

So read more Frost. I knew once that it was good (high school, before I became more "educated" in my poetry tastes) and now again.

The Benefits of a Classical Education

I love it when I get an allusion made by some author, whether it's Robert B. Parker or Varifrank, who quotes:
    It's not like John Kerry hasn't tried to run for President before, and got nowhere, not even out of the early democrat primaries. He's been "unwept, unhonoured, and unsung" for some time, and he's a not exactly a stunning member of the Senate, he barely makes any kind of presence.
That's Sir Walter Scott. I can almost quote the complete couplet.

Just don't tell my mother-in-law, the former English teacher whom I impressed at our first meeting by reciting "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock", that I know this particular quote because, in the movie Groundhog Day, Andie MacDowell's character Rita recites it to Bill Murray's character Phil Conners and she attributes it. Knowning how I know what I know often spoils the illusion.

(Link seen on Instapundit.)

Free Slogan

For Franzio's boxed wine:

It's as close as you're going to get to having a beer tap, Chester.

Why am I drinking boxed wine? Because I bought it as a joke for Atari Party 5 and the joke's on me--nobody else touched it.

To say Noggle, one first must be able to say the "Nah."