Musings from Brian J. Noggle
Saturday, March 11, 2006
Dr. Michael Williams, upon completing his PhD, contemplates a career in technical writing.

Sure, it sounds like a good idea. If you have a freaking English degree and are tired of bouncing around retail jobs.

But a PhD? That would seem like getting a law degree and passing the bar so you can edit phone directory ads for attorneys.

Please, Dr. Williams, think of the starving English majors you'll displace!

Icelandic Exit Strategy Under Way
After several years of quagmire, the United States thinks Iceland security forces are ready to defend themselves:
    Iceland appears ready to take over some of the costs of its defense from the United States, which has long provided the nation's only military forces.
Me, I predict civil war, because that seems to be the happenin' thing to do.

Friday, March 10, 2006
Book Report: The Hanged Man's Song by John Sandford (2003)
My beautiful wife gave me this book for my birthday, and as such, it adds nothing to my annual total of book expenditures. Woo hoo! Additionally, it's one of John Sandford's Kidd novels. I've read only one more (The Devil's Code), but they're pretty good hacker thrillers.

This one details how Kidd and LuEllen deal with the death of a fellow haker and the disappearance of the hacker's laptop. The laptop contains enough secrets to blackmail half of Washington and maybe all of the hacker community. Kidd and krew have to avoid the Feds and the murderous thief to retrieve the laptop and get what justice they can for their friend.

So why do I like the books? They're quickly-paced and are less dated than more realistic hacker novels whose close mapping to current technologies actually apply a date and timestamp expiration date to them. Kidd's hacktions are described plausibly, but broadly, so we can fill in the blanks with whatever current technologies might solve his problem. I wrote an essay about this once, and I like to see it in practice. They're paced well, too, allowing you to move through the action and the chapters quickly--and when you've got hundreds of books to read, you need every advantage.

Books mentioned in this review:

Shidoshi of Paranoia Proven Correct
Remember, friends, I said that eating your private papers is the only way to dispose of things, especially since recycling facility workers pay a lot of attention to what you recycle.

Well, someone braver than I am has illustrated that credit card companies will honor taped-together credit card applications. That have the "change of address" box marked. And that require a cellular phone to activate the credit line.

If you'll excuse me, your Shidoshi will now assume the meditative position of the fetus and will chant a healing mantra which only sounds like whimpering.

Bloggers Get Results
Owen at Boots and Sabers asks:
    We obviously need more background checks and bans to prevent these tragic deaths.
Massachussetts delivers:
    Any individual who requires a machete for the purposes of cutting vegetation shall register the machete with the local police department on an annual basis and, upon payment of an appropriate annual registration fee as determined by the local granting authority, shall be issued a permit authorizing him to possess the machete solely for the purposes of cutting vegetation.
Behold the power of the blogosphere! Or, more importantly, the power of full time governments to enact satire as actual law.

Book Report: Blood Relatives by Ed McBain (1975)
I bought this book used from Half Price Books in Springfield. I got it for $2.00 from the small discount section, but when I bought five books, I got the sixth one free. This, however, was not the free book.

This book represents a quick hit from the 87th Precinct series. Unlike many of the books, it focuses on a single crime: the stabbing of a teenager on a rainy night in the city. Carella and Kling, for the most part, focus on the atypical family structure of the victim and the illicit love that percipitated the murder. McBain deftly offers the reader multiple suspects to think of as whodunit and keeps you guessing. Or maybe I am just easily led.

With so many Ed McBain books spaced throughout my reading career, I'm never sure if I've read a book before, but with the McBain books, it's never dull to reread the books. However, I had read this before, and I knew it from the one thing I took away from this book when I read it twenty years ago: The commissioner's memo about unsigned memos. If you've read the book, you'll remember.

Weighing in at 175 pages, it's a quick read or re-read, and you can't do much better than McBain.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: The Substance of Style by Virginia Postrel (2003)
I admit, I bought this book shortly after it came out in 2003 and am the last cool kid on the block to have finished it (As a matter of fact, Heather read my copy of this book in 2004 either soon before or soon after we met Virginia Postrel). As you all know, Ms. Postrel is the former editor of Reason magazine, the Libertarian bible, and blogs at The Dynamist in between donating portions of her very body to people.

That said, remember, gentle reader, I am studied in the mystical and uninspiring arts of philosophy. Ergo, I understand the differences between aesthetics, metaphysics, epistemology, and all those sorts of branches of philosophy. I'll admit, too, that I've skipped over the branch of aesthetics except for The Romantic Manifesto by Ayn Rand. As a hard-bitten, realistic philosopher, I, too, have given aesthetics short shrift in my contemplations. However, as a hard-bitten, realistic software tester, I know that a difficult interface can render otherwise functional software as unusable. So I appreciate the importance of styling, but I also rankle at the elevation of aesthetics to a comparable value to actual function.

So forgive me my inherent bias here.

Postrel makes a good argument that people like pretty things and that visual and tactile pleasure offer a value comparable to other values, and that when consumers make choices, sometimes they'll trade off other values to get visual and tactile pleasure. Also, given the march of progress, consumers get to pick sets of values (low price, functionality, AND beauty) or get to combine sets of values (low price AND beauty, functionality AND beauty) in ways they didn't before, where they can trade something for beauty. So the world is becoming more custom and more pleasurable not strictly at the expense of other, more concrete values (but sometimes at that expense).

So I'll call the book thought-provoking. Postrel makes her points and has done her research. I rankle when she puts beauty on par with functionality, and feel that she too easily discounts that beauty can still be artifice that hides low quality or poor functionality. She, of course, espouses a free market where rational customers buy from reasonable companies, but I'm a bit cynical and think that a lot of unscrupulous companies will try to deceive inattentive customers. In the aggregate, I suppose it will work out, but I'm not ready to elevate look and feel to the level of other things in the products I buy.

But I'm not letting the people I work with off the hook in products we build.

I'd like to take a moment to comment on the style of The Substance of Style. I didn't actually care much for the prose of the book. The chapter titles were non-specific and the actual topics meandered. I found some of the references repetitve. The book seems more like a long essay stretched than a full book. But fortunately, you don't read this book for the sound of its language but for the argument it makes.

Books mentioned in this review:

Things That Make Me Feel Old: The Thing
Not John Carpenter's The Thing, not Benjamin Grimm, not the Addam's Family hand.

The Volkswagen Thing.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006
Real Estate Secret
How can you tell if a seller is "motivated"?

He or she has a For Sale sign in the front yard of the property for sale!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006
Reading Too Much Into a Headline
We're living longer -- is that a good thing?
The benefits of increased lifespans could come at the cost of greater societal burdens

Damn egoists putting their lives above society!

Conspiracy Theory 2 for 1 Sale
Come on, use your head. Mad Cow disease disrupting the supply of beef, and avian flu causing people to fear the chicken? Of course this is the work of the National Pork Board, who wants to make use of its slogans "Pork: The Only Safe Meat" and "Eat Pork and Live."

Or are they the work of Hamiburton in an insidious plot to starve Muslims?

(That would be much funnier if I didn't have this fear that actual riots and deaths might occur on account of my satire.)

Monday, March 06, 2006
George Bush Hates Wine People
What else can we infer, since he blows up their levees:
    A levee break in the southeastern corner of Sonoma County has flooded part of state Highway 121 and may be threatening a half-dozen homes and a winery on surrounding farmland, according to the California Highway Patrol.

    The levee, built on private property near the Sonoma Creek, broke just before 8 a.m. Monday, flooding the property owner's vineyard and possibly threatening six homes and another vineyard about a half-mile south of the site, according to CHP Officer Gerald Rico.
If the affected residents are not flown immediately to Houston for long, government-paid hotel stays, I demand a Congressional panel!

Like Shooting Fish in a Barrel
Apparently, the Air Force has had its Crossbow Project orbital popcorn maker for 15 years.

Sunday, March 05, 2006
Lessons from the Diner
No, not that Diner.

Every Sunday, I take my sainted mother out to breakfast. Well, perhaps "take" is the wrong word, since she usually drives us there in that new little roller skate of hers (I, of course, encouraged her to invest in a car I'd want to inherit, years hence, with low mileage) and she mostly pays for breakfast. So every Sunday, I go with (or perhaps sponge off) my sainted mother to a small diner in historic (if you count the outlot of a new strip mall as "historic," but someday, it will be, when we're all living in underground catacombs or in orbit, how we'll long for strip malls) Oakville, Missouri, for breakfast.

But I digress. Over the course of my many hundreds of dozens of trips to that diner, I've learned valuable life lessons that have made me a better man, husband, and father. To whit:
  • Spread your jelly thin, for there's only one little tub of it and four halves of cold buttered toast across which you'll want to stretch your limited supply.

  • Don't drink all the coffee in the cup, you greedy bastard. Because you probably don't want to know the real reason why that water is brown--it has something to hide.

  • Damn the masculinity, order the strawberries and whip cream on your waffle; for in thirty minutes, these strangers will have forgotten how nancy you looked, and you'll have the satisfaction of the sweetness in your belly. Assuming, of course, you don't finish the coffee and see what's at the bottom of your coffee cup.

  • You'll never be Norm-al. By the time the regular waitresses remember what you want even though you order the same freakin' thing every freakin' Sunday, the regular waitresses will have real jobs, and you'll have to start breaking in a new set of regular waitresses. So don't expect them to just bring the coffee when you sit down, much less learn your name.
Well, I just have the ill luck to have been born in relatively stable years with great opulence. Some generations get real-life lessons from wars and depressions and real adversity, I get red pepper nuggets in my coffee.

And, sonny, when I was young, we liked it that way.

Things That Make Me Feel Old: Metal Ice Trays
This book mentioned one, and when I spoke to Heather about them, she didn't know what I was talking about. So let me explain it to you damn kids the way it was in the days before plastic could survive the sub-32 degree temperatures of Frigidaires.

The ice cube trays were metal, with a louvre fixture atop of them. Essentially, the tray itself did not have separate compartments for the individual cubes, but the louvre blades made boundaries. You poured your water in and let it freeze. Once it was frozen, you operated this lever atop the louvre which caused the blades to shift back and forth, breaking the ice cubes apart and out of their tray.

None of this little plastic twists to pop individual cubes out. In the old days, when we wanted to drop ice in our scotch, we had to freakin' operate machinery. Which is why we drank it straight, you damn malternative-suckers.

Book Report: The Brass Cupcake by John D. MacDonald (1950)
I bought this book for $2.00 from Hooked on Books in Springfield last weekend, and believe you me, they have the best selection of JDMcD's paperback originals than any other store I've visited in the Midwest. They might have the best selection in the veritable United States (excluding Florida), but I would get ahead of myself with that pronouncement.

The Brass Cupcake represents the missing link between the Travis McGee novels and the pulps, although I'm not sure that such a link was ever missing. The writing style is grittier and punchier (not always a good thing) than I'm used to. Let's face it, the Travis McGee books wax downright elegaic for Florida, but this book could have been set in Jersey for all the true local flavor it has.

The book details the story of an insurance company investigator named Cliff Bartells, a former police lieutenant who left the force because he wasn't crooked enough to fit in and who now recovers stolen gems for a cut of their value (that sounds vaguely familiar...). When an old dowager with gems is bashed to death during a robbery, the dirty cops want to hang it on someone. Bartells, or someone to whom Bartells leads them, or some kid off the street. It won't matter. Bartells finds himself between the syndicate and the corrupt cops and between the heiress and the possible accomplice. He's got to set up a buy to get the gems back, without any additional lead accent pieces for himself.

Ultimately, the book disappointed me a little; as I mentioned, I found the two-fisted stylings a little choppy to read, and some characters blurred together when give only names and brief strokes. Also, the end didn't hang right, like an ill-cut suitcoat draped over shoulders too thin to fill it. But it's good to see the earliest works of MacDonald to watch him evolve.

Hey, since I've joined the Amazon Associates program, every time you order one of these books through my Web site, I get like a penny (for $3 shipping and handling). So if you're intrigued, why not click through and get your own copy, since my copy is locked up until my estate sale:

Books mentioned in this review:

Man in the Gray Flannel Suit Review, 00:07:18
Gregory Peck is the 1950s Orlando Bloom. Gary Cooper could have beaten him half to death with his left hand, and Cary Grant could have given him a wedgie of a quip that would have sent him back home to momma and his sisters.

UPDATE 00:11:07 If he doesn't manage that shrew of a wife of his, I'm going to invent a time machine that travels into fictional time, set it back to 1956 Connecticut, and I'm going to introduce Gregory Peck to a little thing called "Taser." For the simple thrill of it.

UPDATE 00:12:10 Never mind, send back the divorce lawyers instead.

UPDATE 00:17:06 Funny how off-handedly Hollywood whacked America's enemies (or recent enemies) in the 1950s. Now, of course, heroes cannot even look askew at potential enemies of the Republic.

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