Thursday, September 28, 2017

Under the counter

One of the businesses along my route to work had a little shooting: An employee at an East Side gyros carryout shop, upset that a man tried to run off with “a kilo” of his cocaine without paying for it, shot the man in the back Monday. (He survived.)
The man said the incident had started in a back room, where Howard had retrieved the cocaine from a cabinet or small refrigerator. He said Howard weighed the cocaine on a scale in front of him.

Police executed a search warrant later at Spartan, where a bag of cocaine was found inside of another bag, which also contained a document confirming that Howard was a patient of a local medical clinic. The bag was found stashed above a refrigerator in the food preparation area at Spartan.

Along with cocaine, police found a digital scale and two 9mm handguns and ammunition for the guns.

I ran the story by Youngest Daughter, who graduated from a culinary arts program. She wondered about food safety there. What sorts of mistakes might be made?

FWIW, the company announced that the actions of “temporary employee” Eric C. Howard, ... “in no way approved or allowed by our corporation in anyway.” And that they'd never seen any cocaine. No word on whether they ever tried to use small bags of flour...

Wednesday, September 27, 2017


"It went zip when it moved and bop when it stopped and whirrr when it stood still."

An hour of 1950's sci-fi effects, with aching neck (though the improvised pad helped) and back. What freedom it is to scratch my nose again! And rest on a mattress.

And know that the doctor's worry was groundless.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Attitudes towards authority

AVI's parable reminded me of a couple of anecdotes.

About 40 years ago I was listening to a preacher who was talking about the calling of God. He described the last question the ordination committee put to him: "If we decide not to ordain you, what will you do?" He said (I paraphrase) "I gave them the only answer I could--
'Whether you ordain me or not, I must preach because God calls me to.' It was the answer they wanted to hear."

Simon Stylites chose a curious approach to austerity--living on top of a 6 or 8 foot high (but the Egyptians built them wide!) pillar. Instead of finding himself alone, thousands flocked to hear him and ask for advice. Church elders weren't sure what to make of him.

Elders living in the desert heard about Saint Simeon, who had chosen a new and strange form of ascetic striving. Wanting to test the new ascetic and determine whether his extreme ascetic feats were pleasing to God, they sent messengers to him, who in the name of these desert fathers were to bid Saint Simeon to come down from the pillar.

In the case of disobedience they were to forcibly drag him to the ground. But if he was willing to submit, they were to leave him on his pillar. Saint Simeon displayed complete obedience and deep Christian humility. The monks told him to stay where he was, asking God to be his helper.

Of course in Simon's case obedience meant he wasn't crazy, so the cases differ there. But in both cases they asked the same question: are you willing to accept the judgment of your elders that you are mistaken about your calling? The great difference is in the expected right answer.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Truth being said

From Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
Some nights, abed, Will put his ear to the wall to listen, and if his folks talked things that were right, he stayed, and if not right he turned away. If it was about time and passing years or himself or town or just the general inconclusive way God ran the world, he listened warmly, comfortably, secretly, for it was usually Dad talking. He could not often speak with Dad anywhere in the world, inside or out, but this was different. There was a thing in Dad's voice, up, over, down, easy as a hand winging soft in the air like a white bird describing flight pattern, made the ear want to follow and the mind's eye to see.

And the odd thing in Dad's voice was the sound truth makes being said. The sound of truth, in a wild roving land of city or plain country lies, will spell any boy. Many nights Will drowsed this way, his senses like stopped clocks long before that half-singing voice was still. Dad's voice was a midnight school, teaching deep fathom hours, and the subject was life.

It is different when you're being addressed directly, for then you have to react (and maybe repent) and can't muse.

Mr Weston's Good Wine

I don’t remember where I read about Mr. Weston’s Good Wine, by Theodore Powys, but it was just a couple of days ago. The idea intrigued me (and the book was in the library): a traveling wine merchant comes to the village of Folly Down and time stops. The wine merchant turns out to be God.

His assistant’s name is Michael. They purvey vintages new and old—the very oldest and darkest are cash-only sales—no credit.

The book is supposed to be T.F. Powys’s masterpiece. The setting and characters are well-drawn, the story ambles along nicely, and there’s redemption and damnation. There are predators and innocents, dark secrets, a local version of St. Francis and a priest who doesn't believe in God, and a girl who fell in love with a picture of an angel and won’t be satisfied with a mere man. What else could you wish for?

Well, a story with God incognito should have Him display—not gravitas exactly, the incognito forbids that--fittingness. Weston is at pains to distance himself from organized religion (he’s never been to church before) and he didn’t really mean for people to take the Bible seriously. Author’s privilege so far. But most of the resolutions involve (perhaps not surprisingly, given the book’s title) Cana in one form or another—as though there were no other loves than the sexual. Maybe Powys wanted to use marriage to stand in for other things (as Paul did), but if so I missed it. Powys and his wife did have children, so he knew there were other varieties of love.

In other words, there’s a whiff of ground axe and most of the denouements seem a bit of a single-note. (Love or death--or both) The miracle is telegraphed, but the judgment and punishment comes out of nowhere—I can think of several authors who’d have done that scene better, though perhaps with less elegant prose. When you write an allegory, the core needs to hold up better than that.


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Error rates

I'm often asked for my email address. I try to partition my internet interactions, and in consequence use 5 gmail accounts. I know that PayPal will never email me at address X, or amazon at address Y--it helps with the signal to noise ratio.

One address was a complete dummy, used to test the integrity of a Saudi-backed group (they proved trustworthy, btw). The dummy account was idle for several years, until a 1-byte message appeared, which showed whoever was probing that the address was real. The amount of spam has been rising fairly steadily since then. And the rate of real messages. That dummy account got email from a woman wanting to talk about vacation pictures (I set her straight), and then nothing but spam until a few months ago, when somebody accidentally set it as the account reset location for his membership in some Belgian porn site. (I gather he got things straightened out, since the reset messages only showed up for a week.)

On another account, for the past year, I've been getting messages inviting some woman I've never heard of (and whose name bears no resemblance whatever to the account name!) to visit one or the other college. There's typically no place to ask to be removed from such lists. On another account, which I use for Craigslist, I just got Verizon's billing information for somebody in New England with a new cell phone. I spent a quarter hour on the phone being a good citizen about that one.

There were two other similar errors that I can't recall the details of. In sum, over the past 3 years, on 5 accounts, I've found 6 errors. Last year Google said there were over a billion accounts. Shall I extrapolate that and say there are of order 400 million errors per year? (plus or minus 160 million :-) ).(*) Not google's errors, of course--typos or misunderstandings or made-up addresses. At Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry, they used to have a demonstration of phone number reverse lookup--type in a number and it would give the address. Pick a random number, and the chances were it was a real phone number...

(*) I know, the look-elsewhere effect--I wouldn't be posting if there hadn't been something recent--the real error rate is lower, of course.

Monday, September 18, 2017


We had to miss Mark's funeral because of my wife's surgery today.(*) The bio doesn't mention that he was also active in church. He was very alert and creative and a joy to be around.

The large photo of him, in among the flowers at the visitation, showed him looking dignified and happy in his lab coat--with a little chick on his shoulder.

He arranged for a few of our kids to do job shadows with him: one was startled to find that part of the day's duties involved blenderizing chicks.

(*)It looks like the surgery went OK, but of course the first day or two feels worse than before.

Friday, September 15, 2017


I remember a TV game show called "Name That Tune." Contestants were given a clue, and then a bidding war ensued starting at 7 notes: "I can name that tune in 4 notes." When one conceded, the piano player played the winning number of notes (sometimes only 1!), and the other tried to guess the name of the tune.

I don't know why I remembered that show yesterday, but I wondered: how well can you identify a tune from the last notes?

Friday, September 08, 2017


Crowley seems to have won the field. "Do what you will" seems to be the dominant touchstone for ethics. He meant, or at least professed to mean, that your true self would make appropriate decisions, but the simpler way (and I hope I may be forgiven for thinking it Crowley's true meaning) is to follow your impulses. We measure how strong we are by how strong our feelings and impulses are.

And in the society that resulted, the most valuable things are experiences. To see the Shire in New Zealand, or ride a hot-air balloon, or free climb El Capitan--OK, most of us aren't eager to take on the years of discipline to manage El Capitan, but watching the GoPro video is almost as good. Right?

A cruise in the Bahamas, see the pyramids of Egypt, a trip to Machu Picchu--what is on the usual bucket list? For that matter, what's on the unofficial bucket list--the things you want to experience but would be embarrassed to tell your friends?

The most valuable experiences are those that demand training and skill. The pinnacles of experience would be free-climbing K2, surfing a tsunami, sky-diving from orbit. Most settle for less. But after you've sky-dived, you will have to try to sky-dive while balancing on a skate-board, or while playing the accordion, or while trying to have sex.

Lots of people covet celebrity, which can be very decoupled from any accomplishment.

"Getting stuff" doesn't seem quite so fashionable, but I suspect that's because we're rich, we have most of the stuff we want anyhow, and we noticed that it wasn't making us happy enough. But next year's iPhone--that'll be the ultimate!

What doesn't seem to be so popular is writing a symphony or the next Moby Dick, or building cabinets that the Smithsonian displays. (Or becoming a saint, but that's never been popular) Accomplishment is harder than simple experience--is it also less popular? Accomplishment may be "what you will" but it involves a lot of grunt work or doing what other people want. And following rules--which conflicts with the "what you will" theme.

Maybe you can keep experiences longer than stuff, though dementia can steal those too, but at the end of the day you don't get to keep anything, unless you've invested with Someone in the resurrection business.

Can you tell I read Ecclesiastes recently?


The 'Internet of Things' Is Sending Us Back to the Middle Ages

What Joshua means by that is that more and more in our lives is not owned but rented/licensed, and therefore controlled by someone else. The most dramatic example he gives is John Deere farm equipment--the embedded software is owned by them, and therefore the whole system must be repaired by them alone.

Yet the expansion of the internet of things seems to be bringing us back to something like that old feudal model, where people didn’t own the items they used every day. In this 21st-century version, companies are using intellectual property law – intended to protect ideas – to control physical objects consumers think they own.

My phone is a Samsung Galaxy. Google controls the operating system and the Google Apps that make an Android smartphone work well. Google licenses them to Samsung, which makes its own modification to the Android interface, and sublicenses the right to use my own phone to me – or at least that is the argument that Google and Samsung make. Samsung cuts deals with lots of software providers which want to take my data for their own use.

Have you noticed an uptick in businesses cutting customers off for their political persuasions? I get a whiff of Hell's Pavement (wikipedia) too. "I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that. You bought a Thermolux heater, and you know you're only supposed to buy P&D."

And everybody wants a revenue stream, not just a sale. Office 365 comes to mind here: You don't own it, you rent it. We use an older (licensed) version of Office on one machine, and LibreOffice on the rest.

Sunday, September 03, 2017


AVI is musing about measures of worth past and present. And future.

I was sure there was a chair behind me when I sat down. I trusted that bench to carry my weight. I trust that the gas station will take my cash in payment. I trust that if I push this button, the elevator will go up.

I trust that stores will be open when they say they will, and that the food inspectors keep the suppliers honest. I trust that the bus will go where the timetable says it will. I trust I don’t have to watch my back because my immediate neighbors will not try to kill me. (*)

These are important things for me.

For myself, I like "flexibility." There've been plenty of days when it would have been tempting to call in sick. And I have more interesting projects to work on than those I get paid to do.

We care a lot about faithfulness—in other people. Glen Campbell’s signature song Gentle on My Mind celebrated his lady’s faithfulness and his own "flexibility."

Not very fair, is it?

Some select people have succeeded in getting acclaim for their "flexibility," though usually under the name of "being true to him/her/itself." It seems that most of us just lose people's trust, though.

(*)About 2 blocks away I’m not so sure. If neighborhood and police reports are anything to go by.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

The ENArchs

Class stratification in France: the ENA-rchs and French unions:
For all what the history books show, the French never actually had a Revolution. It is possible to go to Russia, and live there for years, and never see a trace of the old aristocracy in the state institutions or companies. There is a definite hierarchy in place, but it is not one based on class. In France, by contrast, it doesn’t take one long to figure out that the entire government and major corporations are dominated by an elite consisting of the old French aristocratic families (take a look at the names, and see how many have de in them) and the cream of the crop of the French grandes ├ęcoles:


And as with the government and the electorate, stuffing the upper echelons full of well-connected elites results in a huge disconnect between the management and the workers. For it is largely true that, no matter how hard one works and how brilliant one is, you will never surpass the chosen few from the grandes ├ęcoles in terms of promotion and prestige. For sure, many try, and considerable efforts are made by the company management to convince the ordinary folk that if they show sufficient compliance, obedience, and work themselves to death they will be admitted to the hallowed ranks of the chosen few. But in reality, they are being sold an absolute lie.

Anybody with experience in France care to comment?

Found via White Sun of the Desert