Musings from Brian J. Noggle
Saturday, January 22, 2005
Cancel the NHL Season, Please

I've spent the season following the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League (the AAA league, so to speak), and I don't want to have to switch gears and root against these fellows when they're called up to the National Hockey League as Nashville Predators, division rivals of the St. Louis Blues.

Milwaukee Police Want to See Boobies

City considers police cameras

Of course police like cameras. They're cheap and allow the police the ability to gather evidence of criminal activity without having to leave the warm confines of their surveillance centers. Police watching through cameras won't actually prevent crime with cameras--the victim will still be beaten/mugged/raped/killed, but at least the police will have full color tapes of it.

Assuming, of course, the police behave better than the security officials at Caesar Atlantic City, who were fined for using the security cameras to ogle women or than law enforcement officials in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, who diverted traffic cameras to look at young women.

I don't want to sound too anti-police on this matter, but I don't think that cameras improve public safety much, if at all, and certainly not enough to justify the expense or the loss of privacy involved.

Misplaced Paranoia

In a column entitled Desktop search threatens your privacy, columnist David Sheets builds a long story about how desktop search applications can threaten your privacy. His main point stems from the thought summed up in first part of the following quote:
    "The thing is, somebody who sits down at your computer after you’ve just used it can go back and look at everything you’ve done, even if you’ve just used your credit card to buy something or typed in your password to your bank account," Moore said. "If no one has access to your computer, then you’re OK, for the most part."
You know, if someone untrustworthy sits down at your computer and wants to do bad things, he or she is not going to use your desktop search. He or she will install backdoors and keystroke loggers and can just use Windows Explorer or the freaking Start menu to go through everything on your PC at will.

But some of you want the advice of your shidoshi of paranoia, and I will dispense the wisdom. What can you do to prevent someone from sitting at your computer and finding out your innermost secrets or sitting at your computer and installing malicious software?

You must always properly secure your computer chair.

Your revered sensei of paranoia always locks his computer chair in the closet when he's going to be away from his desk; as anyone knows, a burglar with hacking skills or an FBI agent with a court-ordered spyware kit won't be able to work their dark magic on his computer if they don't have somewhere to comfortably sit while doing so. Hackers, social engineers, and their ilk simply won't abide by standing, kneeling, sitting on the desk, or bringing their own folding chairs to your computer.

This simple step, often overlooked by computer users, can render your computer more secure immediately.

How Can You Tell When A Politician Is Lying?

When they promise a temporary sales tax that will sunset:
    "It is a one-half cent sales tax for whatever amount of time it takes to pay for the issues," said Presiding Commissioner Mark Mertens. "It will not last for more than five years."
Jefferson County, Missouri, officials want the sales tax for a laundry list of things:
    If approved, the sales tax would provide funds for a new juvenile detention facility, expansion of the county jail and the creation of a park development fund. The tax would also cover the cost of bringing county buildings into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Perhaps presiding commissioner Mertens believes what he's saying, and perhaps he thinks that he and the people who follow him in Jefferson County government will not find further means to spend money generated by the new tax so that Jefferson County will need to extend or make permanent the sales tax.

However, as a private citizen, I have my doubts. Once the sales tax is in place, I suspect it will be permanent and eventually, I predict that Jefferson County will find some reason to raise its amount for the Children or some other pet projects.

Once Jefferson County's revenue becomes dependent upon sales tax monies, watch for eminent domain abuse as its government officials determine that large retail developments are worth more to them than actual residents who own the land the developers covet.

Slippery slope? Not too slippery, since it won't happen suddenly. After all, it would be five years before the Jefferson County government has to act to make the temporary sales tax permanent. But don't doubt they would try.

Friday, January 21, 2005

I just returned from one of those January holiday parties, and I admit that I, too, was finally offended by the overtly PC sensitivity people who insist on calling it a holiday party instead of naming it properly to pay homage to the reason for the season.

The people throwing the party should have called it a Martin Luther King, Jr., Day Party along with any company throwing parties for their employees in January and calling them "Holiday Parties."

Thursday, January 20, 2005
Free Ice Cream

Headline: Ben Kingsley and wife have split.

They had a split? Did it include fudge and crushed nuts?

He's Not Paranoid, He's My Brother

Sure, a skylight sounds nice, but why would you let the satellites look right into your bedroom?

Trust Us

Story: AMR might add flights:
    American Airlines, the biggest operator at Lambert Field, will add more flights in St. Louis if it can negotiate lower airport costs in the coming year, AMR Corp. Chairman Gerard Arpey said Wednesday.

    "If we can get facility costs down, that can only be good news for adding new service in St. Louis," he said. AMR, of Fort Worth, Texas, is American's parent company.
Kudos to the headline writer for recognizing that once AMR gets what it wants--lower rates--it might not actually deliver the possible new flights.

Wrong Focus

AOL to expand capabilities in Web searches:
    America Online is expanding its online search capabilities in an effort to establish a bigger presence in the lucrative search-advertising market.

    AOL is expected to announce on Thursday that it has teamed up with several technology suppliers to help it offer expanded search functions, such as improved geographic-based searches, clustering results by topic and helping people refine their searches through suggested alternative keywords.

    AOL plans to expand the advertising appearing on its search page, the article said. It will also use the unusual approach of charging advertisers based on how many telephone calls are generated by their ads.
No word about improving the customer experience; if anything, it looks like it will adversely impace the user experience with the inclusion of more advertising.

Perhaps AOL should stop the continuous loop of Field of Dreams at headquarters. Just because you build it does not mean the users will come.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005
Book Report: Lullaby Town by Robert Crais (1992)

Lullaby Town is the third Elvis Cole book, and Crais takes the series in a new, but common direction. No longer does Elvis Cole have to figure out what's going on, but rather he knows what's going on and has to get his client out of it.

When a famous Hollywood director hires Elvis Cole to find his ex-wife and child, Cole has to travel from the warm and friendly confines of California to New England. He soon discovers the wife has made a new, successful life for herself but with accidental and encompassing involvement as a money launderer for a New York crime family. So early in the book, we know the whole thing and the remainder of the book is not so much mystery as it is crime-based problem solving.

Robert B. Parker took this tack, too, with a number of his novels and, in many cases, the lesser novels in his canon. Chandler, nah, Marlowe was always trying to figure out what was going on in the room. Whenever crime novels run in this direction, they tend to make their heroes the most clever person in the room, and that goes against the spirit of the hardboiled school in a way, where the detective perseveres and wins in the end not by outfoxing, necessarily, the bad guys, but through his tenaciousness and relentlessness. Okay, with some intelligence, too.

Heather assures me that not all of the remainders of the series reflect this trend, which I hope is the case. I root for the underdog, and guys who hope to outsmart organized criminals aren't underdogs. They're just smart guys who outsmart organized crime. And in series of detective novels, they do it once a year at least.

Confession: When confronted with the name Elvis, most people would think of the Elvis. Me, when I picture Elvis Cole in my head, I have a different Elvis as a starting point.

Together We Will Rule The Galaxy as Father and Daughter

Is it just me, or is there a family resemblence here:

Bill Gates

Ellen Feiss

How The Mitey Have Fallen

I just heard, while listening to Michael Medved show on KRLA 870 in Los Angeles, Gary Coleman doing a radio spot for, an unsecured loan broker.

Heather and I have most recently seen him in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century where he played Hieronymous Fox, a child genius. As he did so many times. I grew up with Gary Coleman as a kind of hero, a kid my age who was always smart, clever, and funny. I'm somewhat sad to see him reduced to stumping for a lender based on his own past poor credit.


Upon hearing the clock chime three, I asked (rhetorically, of course) of the cat, "Where does the day go?"

I realize this was insensitive and wish to apologize, sincerely, to all the Italians I may have offended by saying syllables together that sound like an ethnic slur. Because I understand some members of some ethnic groups take offense at that sort of thing.

Shouldn't We Warn Somebody?

Headline on CNN:

CNN Headline
Click for full size

Four car bombs hit Baghdad in 90 minutes? Shouldn't we warn someone?

The Affect of a Minimum Wage Increase on Some Morale

Over at Boots and Sabers, Owen is covering the proposals to increase minimum wage in Wisconsin using a lot of insightful commentary, meaningful statistics and projections. We here at MfBJN won't rise to that level of discourse, preferring to build consensus on anecdotal evidence about the negative impact of minimum wage increases on the morale of the brighter and harder working mambers of the lower end of the wage scale. Who am I kidding? It's all about me.

I got my first job in the summer of 1990 in Milwaukee at a grocery store. I worked as a bagger and accepted minumum wage, $3.85 an hour, as a matter of course. All the teenage boys and infrequent twentysomething bagger started at minimum wage. Gold's Shop Rite wasn't a union shop, so the raises weren't planned nor mandated. Still, my exemplary nature as an employee shone through as I learned the facets of the business and could be called upon to not only man the checkout lanes, but also to handle the other sundry duties involved in grocery stores without goading from managers. To reward me, they gave me a $.20 or a $.25 raise, so I was making about $4.00 an hour. Then they trained me to run a cash register, one of a few baggers ever entrusted to do so, so they raised me to the checker's starting wage as a reward. As such, I received two merit raises in under a year, and by March of 1991, I was making $4.20 an hour. It's a pittance, I know, but it wasn't brain surgery. I was very pleased to be recognized and rewarded by earning more than people who'd started the job before me.

When I opened my check in the first week of April, I noticed my wage had increased $.05. Without prompting. That's an odd raise, I thought, and my first instinct was to draw the error to the attention of the store manager. Then I remembered something about the minimum wage going up.

Of course my employer couldn't raise my salary respective to the minimum wage, as it already had to contend with increased labor costs in a low margin business. The federal government and my duly elected legislators had deemed me as equal to the freshest, least productive employee hired off the street even though my employer had thought otherwise. Thank you, Uncle Sam, for returning me to my place as poor cog in the machine, getting uppity and increasing my earning power without the help of my betters in bureaucracy. Thank you, comrades, for ensuring that other people who didn't bust their hump were rewarded the same as I was.

See, to this day it rankles me. I was working hard in a low paying job, and I went from a cut above everyone else to earning just as much as anyone else. I know how much a little bit more matters--I spent almost three years after college switching jobs for an extra quarter an hour--but on that April day, the minimum wage increase forced me to trade a point of pride--my heightened salary--for two dollars a week more in income. Pre-tax.

Life in the OC

You know, I always put the outgoing mail in the mailbox with the stamp to the left. It's not a conscious thing, but it just seems right to have the addresses rotated counterclockwise. Isn't that weird?

Close Call For The Athletic

I saw this headline, Sports Authority cuts budget after complaints, I worried because I confused it with the Sporting Authority, our preferred retail outlet for non-bicycling athletic gear.

Fortunately, though, the retail establishment will remain open, and the St. Louis Regional Convention & Sports Complex Authority will continue spending private/public tax largesse with only the normal amount of annual abashment:
    Board members of the St. Louis Regional Convention & Sports Complex Authority made the move after learning last month that the authority's employees had gone over budget last year in nearly every expense category and had not notified the board.

    The authority overspent last year even after Mayor Francis Slay and others publicly accused it of wasteful spending.
One of the cuts:
    One new cost savings for this year: The board declined to renew the contract of the authority's public relations firm.

    Executive Director Kent Underwood had asked for $72,000 to be budgeted this year to pay the Vandiver Group, the PR firm.

    Last year, the authority paid $98,000 to Vandiver - more than four times the $24,000 that had been approved by the board.
Good idea, since the PR firm certainly hasn't convinced we the people of the purpose or necessity of this entity.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005
Harry, Harry, Harry (I)

By now, most of you know, Prince Harry of England recently attended a costume party dressed in a Nazi uniform, and the for-public-consumption outrage uproared and stamped its hoof threateningly in the dirt. Mark Steyn writes a column about the big Hollywood premieresque indignation.

As a service to our readers, I include a handy table of costumes of both evil people and not evil people as whom Harry could have dressed and the uproar those costumes would have provoked:

Costume Reaction:
Nazi Because certain segments of the punditocracy continue to harp the x=Hitler equation, they must continue to reinforce the public's opinion that Nazism and Hitler are the worst evils ever produced in the world, even though by twentieth century standards, they were a pretty standard lot of totalitarian killers of innocent people (see also Stalin, Tse-Tung, Amin, et al.)
Commisar Red chic is so fashionable and retro ironic. Pass.
Mongol Horde Member Sure, they raped, pillaged, and razed villages in the manner of Ghengis Khan, but that was so long ago it's a worthless analogy to use on Bush or Blair, so Harry gets a pass. Unless he's savaged, so to speak, for mocking a barbarian of color.
The Devil As an icon of evil used by one or more major religions, the Devil has no more meaning than kitsch to the intelligentsia, many of whom the plebes could argue are already in the Devil's pocket.
Jesus Christ The professional shriekers only respond to the outrage of a select few Christian moonbats who would express outrage over this continuing example that Christians and Christ are the only thing you can dress up as for Halloween without outrage except for theirs. Those silly people, getting so upset for nothing, the intelligentsia would cluck.
Pontius Pilate Who are you supposed to be? ask the chatterers. Who's that? they ask when told.
Mohammed After someone at the fanatic edge of Islam cuts Harry's head off, the shrieking classes say he asked for it by offending the sort of people who would cut your head off.

So the outrage sort of fits into the total program of presentation, where Nazis are bad bad bad not so much because they're totalitarians who tried to take over Europe and who killed a lot of people (which differs from the European bureaucracy only in body count, but not so much in intent), but because Nazis are bad, bad, bad. Because the Nazis have to be bad so that creatively-challenged dissenters can compare current world leaders to them thoughtlessly.

Harry, Harry, Harry (II)

Does anyone else find this quote (also in Mark Steyn's column) too earnestly Orwellian?
    "In a Europe grounded in peace and freedom there should be no place for Nazi symbols," declared Markus Soeder, general secretary of the Christian Socialist Union party. "They should be banned throughout Europe, as they are with good reason in Germany."
Prohibition=freedom, citizen.

Paranoia Sense Tingling

Satellite lost over the south Pacific:
    Intelsat, Ltd. announced today that its IS-804 satellite experienced a sudden and unexpected electrical power system anomaly on January 14, 2005, at approximately 5:32 p.m. EST that caused the total loss of the spacecraft. In accordance with existing satellite anomaly contingency plans, Intelsat is in the process of making alternative capacity available to its IS-804 customers. The satellite, launched in 1997, furnished telecommunications and media delivery services to customers in the South Pacific.
If this were the early chapters of a Tom Clancy novel, the Chinese would be plinking.

(Link seen on /.)

Monday, January 17, 2005
They Want Reform Now?

Story in Sunday's St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Missouri fee agents prepare to lose contracts after shift in power: Democrats call for change in system:
    Maria Turner knows that any day now, she'll lose her job.

    Turner runs Department of Revenue fee offices in Chesterfield and Clayton. The offices sell license plates, issue drivers licenses, process applications for titles and collect sales taxes on new vehicles and boats.

    Her shops are among the busiest in the state's 171-office network of independent contractors, and Turner is proud of her lower-than-average error rate in processing applications. But she figures her days are numbered. The reason: sheer politics.

    Fee offices are among the last vestiges of patronage politics in state government. The governor's campaign contributors traditionally get the contracts, which in some cases can provide six-figure incomes to their operators. The offices charge a fee for each transaction. After expenses are covered, the rest is gravy.

    Democratic contractors appointed by former Govs. Bob Holden and Mel Carnahan expect to be replaced soon because Matt Blunt, a Republican, took over the governor's office last week.
I don't weep for Maria Turner, the woman who'll have to go from clearing six figures plus salary for a number of years as a Democrat appointee to the soup kitchen. I do gasp, almost, with surprise that Democrats want to act now when their contributors will lose the gravy train. As far as I know, Carnahan, Wilson, and Holden didn't agitate for it when they were governors or when the Democrats controlled the legislature, so I think the Democrats in Missouri are demonstrating another disingenuous and yet transparent maneuver to not allow the incoming Republican administration the same amenities their boys have enjoyed for the last dozen years.

That said, I think it's a capital idea, and I hope pro-business governor Matt Blunt actually goes through with it. I'd like to see a minimum of two fee agents per county to ensure that citizens have a choice in their driver's license renewal options and perhaps see some customer service out of the functionaries behind the counter whose inner clocks move on four year cycles.

What, you think I have had one or more bad experiences in these little ill-furnished storefronts and could do nothing but bite my tongue and line the pocket of someone idealogically opposed to me? I have, and I had no choice in it.

So-Called Watch

From a film review:
    In the film "In Good Company," Dennis Quaid's character, ad executive Dan Foreman, lives out a fear hidden inside millions of American men and women over 50 -- losing their job just when they are hitting their stride professionally.

    Foreman has played by the rules all his life and is living the so-called American Dream. He's respected by peers and clients as the head of ad sales for a weekly New York-based sports magazine. He has a loving wife, Ann, played beautifully by Marg Helgenberger ("Erin Brockovich," TV's "CSI") and two daughters, the oldest of which, Alex (Scarlett Johansson), is just entering New York University.
Is that a sneer towards the values of good family, working hard, living quietly? Why, I think it is! Don't the plebes know the American dream involves a third floor walk-up in Manhattan, foreign film festivals, and endless nights of trying to score at bars and nightclubs with anemic europhile women?

Book Report: Stalking the Angel by Robert Crais (1989)

I read the second Elvis Cole book, my second in 36 hours, so that bespeaks much of how enjoyable these particular novels are proving.

This one finds Elvis Cole looking for a a stolen Japanese manuscript, protecting a wealthy businessman's family, looking for a kidnapped girl who might be complicit in her disappearance, and battling Japanese organized crime. Elvis Cole battles more crime in a day than some fictional private eyes see all book.

The plot is convoluted, but not confusing; as the first person narrator has to reframe events in his own mind, he takes the readers along, so it's not confusing or overly elaborate. Heck, I figured it out sixty pages in with a guess as to how I, as a writer, would play it.

I'm eager to continue with the series as it, like John D. MacDonald's work and some of the sixties paperbacks I've taken to in the last six months, entertains me and inspires me to write. As soon as I finish another book, of course.

Sunday, January 16, 2005
Sunday Night Fiction: "Shepherd: At College"

Okay, so I got nothing this weekend. Here, have a short story. This particular piece piggybacked on a piece I wrote while in high school, not that anyone knew it. "Shepherd: At College" represents the second Jim Shepherd story, which chronicles the adventures of a young man who grew up reading too many hard-boiled detective adventures. This story represents one of my many publication credits, as it appeared in the Spring 1994 Marquette Journal. Lest you forget because this is the Internet, friends, the following piece is copyright 1992 Brian J. Noggle, and it should not appear on your Web sites without my permission until, as Disney rules are in effect, 2999 AD.

Shepherd at College

   Dark rolled down outside the blinds of the little coffee house I was sitting in. I was trying to stare wistfully into my drink, which was difficult because it was a flattening Cherry Coke served in a paper cup with a strange dichromatic ocean picture that became clear only after you stared at it a while. Maybe it really wasn't an ocean scene. Maybe that's only what I saw after staring at it a long time. I was swaying in time with the bluesy jazzy poppy music they piped in to the joint, swaying and looking wistfully into a paper cup of soda. It was not one of my better days. Then she walked in.

   Her heels clicked to a stop on the fake brick floor just inside the door. She shimmered. She glistened. The room coalesced and kaleidoscoped. She did other things in the light that made my eyes hurt. And I had only been drinking Cherry Coke. She swirled a glance over the accumulated misfits and might have lingered on me for a minute. I wish. I straightened up and shoved my hat back. A macho enough gesture, but the hat was kind of tight and moving it back hurt a bit, so she would have no idea how macho it really was. I ran my fingers along my hairline and pulled my hat down. It hurt.

   What would Spenser do? He'd go over and say, "Want to see me do a one-armed push-up?" and she would giggle and he would snap off ten. Spenser was a wuss. I could do one-armed push-ups two at a time. I decided against the gesture. She'd just think it was macho posturing or something. Besides, ten is an awfully high number and she might get bored in the middle of my macho posturing.

   As it were, I just tipped my chair back against the pseudo-brick wall and leaned my head back. The brim of my hat hit the wall and the hat slid painfully down over my eyes. Mike Hammer never had this problem. I coolly chicked the front legs of my chair back down and shoved my hat back. Her back was to me as she paid for some coffee concoction with a crisp fiver. Good.

   She looked over the room and looked at the empty table next to me. It was the only one in the place. Our eyes met and I felt the electricity. She looked around again, probably to make sure that everyone was watching as she swanked deliberately over to the table. It was hard for her to decide whether to sit across the table so she could see me or on the side nearest me, and she settled on sitting with her back to me, acting coy and indifferent but handy when I wanted to strike up a conversation.

   She was doing a good job on the cool thing. She didn't even turn half way and look out at the room so she watch me out of the corner of the eye. She was good at this game, but I was better.

   "Excuse me, do you know what time it is?" I asked her.

   She didn't even glance at the little Seiko on her wrist. "No." she said.

   Hard to get, I thought. I knew the thing. The harder I chase her, the more I'll like it when she gave in. And she could check out just how much I liked her in just how hard I chased her. An ego thing. I was one step ahead of her.

   "Shepherd's the name," I said as she spread a New Yorker on the table in front of her. "Jim Shepherd," I said after a dramatic pause, a pause made more dramatic when she hadn't said anything. Or even looked at me.

   "Good for you," she said.

   "And you are?"

   "Getting irritated."

   A big jockish looking guy came over to her table. "Hi, Sharon," he said. "How ya doing?"

   "Great," she said.

   Great, I thought.

   "I'm headed over to Duffy's. Want to come along?" Jock Boy said. Sure, if he didn't have those muscles and all that where would he be?

   "Thank God," she said, closing her New Yorker slipping it into her bag. She turned and they walked out. She started talking as they were out of earshot. I watched them leave, and I have to say I enjoyed it.

   Sharon. I liked the name Sharon. I liked Sharon. At least it wouldn't be one of those lingering, clinging things. She and Jocko turned the corner and were gone. But not forgotten. I wondered if she were a freshperson. That would give me four years. Plenty of time. It was going to be a good four years. Oh, those blue eyes, I thought and I would have sighed except I'm a tough guy.

   I looked at my soda. It was almost empty. I could use another pretty soon, but the tap was so far away. A little red bird was flying across the sky on the cup, and it wasn't getting anywhere. Tough luck. I was sympathizing with that bird when she walked in.

   She seemed to seep into the room like a fog. A mist of perfume, hair that rolled from her head like a dark warmth, and a presence that crept before her and lingered after she left. She glanced over the room and her big brown eyes flowed over me like molasses. They might have syrupped on me for a moment, but it might have been just me. She looked at the table next to me, the only empty one in the joint, and she cascaded over. I took a healthy slug of my Cherry Coke. What would Philip Marlowe do? I wondered.

Book Report: The Monkey's Raincoat by Robert Crais (1987)

I got this book, and all of Robert Crais' novels to date, for Christmas, so I started with this book as it's the first Elvis Cole novel.

The book features a private investigator in California who follows well the footsteps of Philip Marlowe and Lew Archer, better than that Moses Wine guy. Elvis has to investigate the a husband who has disappeared with the couple's son. The husband, a down on his luck agent, has been cheating on his wife with the sordid lot of starlets and seems to have gotten himself in over his head with drug dealers, organized crime, and femme fatales.

The writing is denser than Robert B. Parker's work, from whose early this work seems slightly derivative. This book does draw its attention to a common modern writing foible, though; the shortcut use of the brand name as an adjective. You don't find it in the older stuff that remains fresh to this day; Chandler didn't tell you who made the high-quality merchandise, he described how the merchandise was high quality. A lot of authors these days just drop the brand name in and let us make the appropriate judgments on how well the character is dressed--or not. Unfortunately, I don't know a lot of California brand names, so I can't get the full flavor of the scene. So I've learned something to avoid in my writing. Sure, the brand names will draw contemporary readers in, but over time, their use will stale quickly.

Still, The Monkey's Raincoat is a good read, even if I don't understand the title or its allusion. I'm looking forward to the rest of the series anyway.

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