Browse Month: July 2008

07/31/2008

“The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one’s time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.”

— H.L. Mencken

07/30/2008

People whine about the U.S. economy’s woes, but it’s those people in Zimbabwe who should really be worried. You know it’s bad when your government prints money like this.

07/26/2008

Good news: the Associated Press has declared that the Iraq War is essentially over, and we’re victorious. Woo hoo!

From their article:

Systematic sectarian killings have all but ended in the capital, in large part because of tight security and a strategy of walling off neighborhoods purged of minorities in 2006. That has helped establish a sense of normalcy in the streets of the capital. People are expressing a new confidence in their own security forces, which in turn are exhibiting a newfound assertiveness with the insurgency largely in retreat. Statistics show violence at a four-year low.

Wow, that’s amazing. But before we break out the party poppers, let’s review a few things that happened in the last 60 hours:

  • A roadside bomb planted outside the residence of Dawa Party member, Abdulrahman Mohammed Dawood in Zafaraniyah, southeastern Baghdad exploded injuring Dawood and two of his security detail at 11am
  • Police found two unidentified bodies in Baghdad. The first body was found in Zafaraniyah district while the second body was found in Ur neighborhood.
  • A woman was killed in a roadside bomb in Abo Saida area east of Baquba around 11:30am
  • Gunmen killed a civilian in al Midan neighborhood in downtown Mosul city.
  • Gunmen attacked a checkpoint in al Tahreer neighborhood in east Mosul city on Wednesday afternoon killing two Iraqi soldiers.
  • Gunmen attacked a checkpoint manned by Awakening Council, a U. S backed militia, in Adhamiyah at 9am killing two members. The gunmen used silencers on their weapons, said Iraqi Police.
  • One unidentified body was found by Iraqi Police in Nidhal Street, central Baghdad.
  • A suicide car bomber targeted a checkpoint manned by Iraqi Army in al-Intisar neighbourhood, eastern Mosul killing two soldiers, injuring two others.
  • A female suicide bomber wearing an explosive belt targeted an Awakening Council Commander in Baquba, Naeem al-Dulaimi at 3pm. The explosion, which took place in a car dealership while Dulaimi was checking a car killed him, his two security guards and four civilians, injuring at least twenty four others including women and children.
  • A roadside bomb targeted an Iraqi army patrol in Ghazaliyah, western Baghdad at 3pm injuring two soldiers.
  • Around 8am a roadside detonated in Jihad neighborhood (west Baghdad). One person was injured.
  • Around 10am a roadside bomb targeted an army patrol in Sleikh intersection(north Baghdad). Two soldiers were injured.
  • Around 2pm a roadside bomb targeted civilians in Kamb Sara in Adhamiyah neighborhood (north Baghdad). Six people were injured (including 1 policeman and two Sahwa members).
  • Around 3pm gunmen attacked and injured awakening council official in Daowdi neighborhood, west Baghdad.
  • Around 4pm a roadside bomb targeted awakening council member, a U.S. backed militia, in Sleikh neighborhood, injuring two militia members.
  • Police found one dead body in the Baladiyat neighborhood.
  • A gunman with silencer opened fire on an American patrol in downtown Kirkuk. A 14 year-old kid was killed in that incident.
  • In the morning gunmen opened fire on a combined patrol from Iraqi security forces and Americans. One Iraqi policeman was killed and another was injured.
  • Yep, clearly things are looking up. I think Bush said it best:

    “Mission Accomplished!”

07/26/2008

I just got a check from a client. I don’t know who signs the checks, but they’re awesome.

It reminds me of my credit-card signature.

07/26/2008

Every week I get a couple of leads for web projects. Usually we have a phone conversation or two, trade some e-mail, and then the project either gains momentum (in which case I write a formal proposal) or sputters out (in which case I move on with my life).

Of course sometimes it takes a little prodding to get potential clients to understand that they need to actually tell me what they need. Sometimes I get vague requirements like “Yeah, uhh, I need a web site for my collectible Pez container business” or whatever. Then I have to explain there are a lot of facets to web sites, how much some of them cost, and so forth. After doing that, sometimes I never hear back from the person… generally because they expected to pay a few hundred dollars for a site that rivals Amazon, and when I tell them it will be several thousand dollars and the site most definitely won’t rival Amazon, they change their minds and decide to do it themselves in FrontPage or whatever.

Anyway, there are times when I don’t know whether they’ve gone off to learn FrontPage, or they’re just really busy with things and would in fact move forward with the project if only I moved things along. So I do my best to follow up with all of my leads, if nothing else so they’ll remember me six months from now when they find out FrontPage is a piece of crap and their site looks like something built by a nine-year-old, and then I’ll get their business.

So I wrote to one of these mysteriously quiet leads today, reminding him that he had promised to call me to hash out some details of his proposed project. He wrote back with what must surely be the strangest reply I’ve ever heard from a lead:

What happened is I’m not going to do anything with a website right now and I confused you with somebody else Mike Jones put me in touch with who is starting a baseball team here in Honolulu and knows the mayor.  Anyway, I should’ve called you back… thanks again for following-up with me.

Umm.

Who the heck is Mike Jones? And what does the mayor of Honolulu have to do with a baseball team? And– more to the point– how in the world does this have anything at all to do with a web site?

I guess I’ll write this one off. Heh.

07/26/2008

I just got back from Dick’s Sporting Goods, where they’re apparently having a Random Sale.

I was in the market for a couple of breathable poly shirts (it’s hot out there playing ultimate!) so I perused the racks and found several I liked. The only problem was some had red clearance stickers on them while others didn’t. Some didn’t have price tags or labels at all. And they were on the same rack, same style, just different sizes or colors.

It turned out that the Nike shirt I wanted wasn’t on sale. But the Reebok one was, and it was actually half price from the red clearance tag (sweet– a shirt for $7!). And the third Reebok one, which also had a clearance tag but for a different amount than the first one, was not marked half price, although the woman gave me a discount anyway.

So in the end I walked out with three nice shirts at a good price, but shaking my head because it was literally impossible to know how much I was going to spend. Whee.

07/26/2008

It seems that “old school recess” is a trend that’s catching on around the country. Basically it’s a group of adults who get together frequently and play the same games we all played as kids: dodgeball, floor hockey, Duck Duck Goose, kickball, and so forth. It’s being heralded as a Good Thing because (as we all know) the majority of adults in this country have weight problems or just generally don’t get enough physical activity.

It’s funny to read about these because I think back a couple of years when I organized a dodgeball game with a group of friends at church. We all sort of laughed and decided it would be hilarious to play dodgeball for a night. About a dozen guys showed up, and we ended up having such a good time we decided to do it the following week. Week after week the games continued, but other people heard about it and started coming. At one point we had around thirty people coming to play every week. Since we were on a full-sized basketball court, there was plenty of room, but when you have twenty or so balls flying around at high speed, things get interesting.

A few months ago I was standing on the sidelines of an ultimate tournament wearing one of my Google shirts (which they gave me for free for my help on a project). Some guy came up to me and asked if I worked for Google; I told him I didn’t but he went on to explain that he was asking because his company team was going to play against the Google team in the next week’s Boulder kickball league. I had no idea there was a kickball league in Boulder, but it must be a hoot.

With all the craziness in elementary schools these days– where kids aren’t allowed to play tag or climb on the monkey bars or run around too much because someone might get hurt– I wonder what this rising generation will do for exercise. Sure, they play soccer and lacrosse and so forth, which is great, but in many ways it’s those goofball games like Red Rover that define what it is to be a kid.

Speaking of Red Rover, in college I was in charge of organizing some activities for a workshop and I decided it would be fun to play Duck Duck Goose and Red Rover. The former went really well (we had about thirty people, which made for a big circle to chase around) but the latter ended up being sort of a disaster. A few turns of “Red Rover, Red Rover, send so-and-so right over” went just fine, until we screamed for Amy Hansen to come over and she ended up getting clotheslined something fierce. As I recall, she was just about knocked unconscious and ended up with neck problems for a week.

On that note, the article I just read had this quote in it:

We vetoed a plan to play Red Rover because we felt pulling shoulders out of bodies at 35 or 40 years of age is not a good thing.

Amen to that. But bring on the dodgeball! I need to get that going again…

07/25/2008

Yesterday I was driving home from work and the guy behind me was doing something weird to his face. I couldn’t quite make it out in my rear-view mirror… was he talking on some strange cell phone? Rubbing his cheek? Then I realized what it was.

He was brushing his teeth. While driving at 60mph on the highway.

07/24/2008

Slate just published a handy chart showing five of the high-profile scandals that have taken place during Bush’s reign in office. It makes a nice Venn diagram because several of the players are implicated in multiple scandals.

Although Bush and Cheney played major roles in several of the issues, it’s Alberto Gonzales at the heart of it all– he was involved in every one.

07/23/2008

Since the air conditioning in my car died last year and it’ll cost more than the value of my car to fix it, I decided that I should get the windows tinted so it won’t get quite so hot on these long summer days. So I had it done yesterday, and today I drove down to Denver (about 60 miles each way) for some meetings.

Man was it scorching hot. I couldn’t roll down the windows because I have to wait 24 hours for the tint to dry (or whatever). So I had the sunroof open, the internal fan blowing hard, and still the sun was baking me. Woo.

But hey, now I’m all gangsta cool and stuff.

07/22/2008

Today is Kyra’s birthday (she turned 10) and she was clothes-shopping with Laralee, looking for a suitable outfit, when La sprung the big question on her:

“Do you want to get your ears pierced?”

I imagine that’s what every ten-year-old girl wants to hear, because Kyra was ecstatic. She forgot all about the clothes and started dreaming of hoops and colors and danglies and whatever. Of course it’ll be six weeks before she can take out the posts and get “real” earrings, but she’s so excited it’s fun to watch.

I guess my little girl is growing up…

07/22/2008

I went out and played ultimate at lunch today, and it was a great game. We had a big crowd and some amazing plays. But wow was it hot. The fields had just been watered, so there was a lot of humidity rising off the grass, making it even more oppressive.

After an hour of running in 95-degree heat, and then biking back to the office, I was beat. I think I had a whiff of heat exhaustion, because I was literally seeing double for about half an hour. After laying down for a few minutes and sipping some water everything came back into focus, but I think that’s the first time I’ve had symptoms like that. Gotta be careful on these hot summer days.

07/20/2008

As part of our family trip to Laralee’s reunion in Utah, we decided I’d fly back home while she and the kids stayed around a few extra days and then drove up to Idaho to visit her mom and family. That meant I would have a chance to run the gauntlet at the airport, testing whether I could still fly without showing photo ID. According to the TSA’s New Policies Designed to Keep Us Safe, you can no longer go through security– even with “enhanced security screening”– by refusing to show your ID. Apparently “I forgot it” remains an acceptable excuse, so I figured I’d give it a go.

I showed up about an hour before my flight with just a backpack and headed for the Frontier ticket counter, where I told the woman I didn’t have ID. “Nothing at all?” she asked, apparently amazed. But when I was steadfast, she printed a boarding pass with the legendary “SSSS” code on it. I walked to the security area and plodded along as the line made its way through the checkpoint. When I arrived at the checkpoint I gave a friendy “Good morning” to the TSA agent and handed him my boarding pass. He, too, was incredulous that I didn’t have ID, so he directed me over to a nearby holding area.

So far this wasn’t a big deal; it was pretty much the way it’s been for the last few years. But now the adventure began. I was asked to fill out a TSA form with my full name and mailing address. I shrugged and did so, curious where this was going to lead me. There was another passenger there filling out the same form, and a couple of TSA people (including a supervisor). The supervisor picked up a cell phone and called someone, reading off this other guy’s name and address.

There was a pause, she re-read the name and address, asked him to confirm that was really where he lived, confirmed with the guy on the other end of the call, and waited. After a few more minutes of all of us standing around, she asked him if that was really his home address (it was somewhere in Santa Fe). He insisted it was. Then she started asking all kinds of other questions:

“How long have you lived there?” (He said it had been a few years.)

“Where did you live before that?” (Pecos, Mexico.)

“Who did you live with in Mexico?” (His mother.)

“What’s your mother’s name?” (Esperanza or something.)

“Do you have any brothers or sisters?” (No.)

“Where do you work?” (At an asphalt company.)

“What’s the address of your employer?” (Somewhere in Santa Fe.)

After barraging him with all of these questions, she repeated everything to the person on the phone. While all of us continued waiting, I asked the guy where he was going. It turns out he wasn’t going anywhere… he was just trying to get into the terminal to see his thirteen-year-old son, who was on a layover. In other words, he was being subjected to all kinds of personal questions, asked to reveal his family and employment history, and he wasn’t even getting on an airplane!

I was stunned.

Anyway, the clock continued to tick. It had been about twenty minutes, and I was starting to worry that I was going to miss my flight for this nonsense. I asked one of the TSA guys who was hanging around doing nothing how long this usually takes, and he told me he’d seen it take “a lot longer than this”. This guy was all business: he was absolutely serious that twenty minutes was nothing in the identity-verification game they played. I asked if some other TSA person could call the magic phone number to verify my identity while they sorted out the craziness with this other poor guy. Nope. Apparently only a supervisor can make the call, and even if another supervisor called, they’d use the same number so I’d have to wait for this first woman to finish anyway. What?

A couple other TSA guys wandered over. I started chatting with one of them (he was really nice, and even shared his last Altoid with me) and explained that I’d been waiting for a while, and my flight was leaving shortly, and asked if there was anything we could do to speed up this ridiculous process. I told him I’d be willing to go through extra screening or whatever (like the Good Old Days) but he said this was a new policy and they had to verify everything using this inane process. I told him I found it really hard to believe there was only one guy somewhere in a TSA office who handled every passenger verification. Couldn’t someone else call? He agreed that it was indeed sort of silly, and promised to see what he could do.

A few minutes later yet another TSA guy came up to me. Apparently he was another supervisor, and he was willing to help. However, the TSA didn’t provide him with a phone to call the secret office, so he was forced to do it on his personal cell phone. He grumbled about that for a minute, and after getting through to someone he had to explain who he was, give his TSA identification code or whatever, and tell them why he was calling from an unauthorized phone. But finally I guess they accepted his credentials, because then the questions for me began:

“How long have you lived at this address?”

“What’s your home phone number?”

“What kind of car do you drive?”

He passed along this vital information and waited. I asked him what the heck the guy on the other end was doing. “Is he looking me up in the phone book or something?” He looked at me and smiled. “Oh no. It’s much more involved than that. You’d be surprised how much information they have on you.” That’s a direct quote. He went on to explain this process was sort of like a credit check, but more involved. As someone who had a security clearance long ago, I’m well aware of how “involved” The Gov can be when they investigate Citizens. But for crying out loud, I’m just trying to get on a one-hour airplane flight here!

The clock continued to tick, and it was becoming clear that I was in real danger of missing the flight. We were pushing forty minutes by now. I pointed this out to the guy, who assured me that he was doing what he could but that The Process just took time. For the love of all that is holy, I could’ve done the verification myself by just going to Google and searching for my name! I have no idea what kind of databases they were cross-referencing back there.

At long last I was cleared, and allowed to hop to the front of the screening line. I went through the metal detector, which beeped at me. Apparently my watch (which contains very little metal!) set it off, so I dropped my watch in the bin about to cruise through the x-ray scanner and walked through again. All was well, but I was asked to move into the little glass cell to await a Wanding. I argued that the metal detector had just passed me, that my flight was about to take off, and that I had already been subject to forty minutes of scrutiny (not counting the time in the security line itself). She insisted that I had to wait for an authorized screener to attend to me– as a woman she wasn’t allowed to give me The Wand. I was saved by one of the other screeners, who was rooting through my backpack and called me over.

This new team (there were three of them) used the bomb residue swab to check my shoes (a pair of cheap sandals from Target– clearly a security risk) and laptop. They also emptied everything from my pack, pausing to examine the network cable I’d brought as if it was some kind of bomb component. Finally I was cleared, so I stuff everything back into my pack, ran up the escalator, and zipped down to the gate…

… to learn that the plane had left early because (in the words of the guy at the Frontier counter) “everyone was on board and we paged you several times”. I told him I’d spent close to an hour in security, but of course there was nothing he could do because the plane was already on the tarmac.

So I’m sitting in the terminal now, writing this and reflecting on how absolutely ridiculous this whole thing has been.

I wonder if the guy from Santa Fe was able to give his son a hug.

I wonder how the type of car I drive has anything to do with my identity.

I wonder whether I’ve been added to a watchlist now because I didn’t follow protocol.

I wonder how any of these New Policies do anything at all to deter an attack on a plane.

And I wonder why so few people seem to think anything of the police state we are gradually becoming.

07/16/2008

From BoingBoing:

The national Terrorist Watch List has now crossed one million names– that’s a million suspected terrorists (including nuns, members of Congress, and people named “Robert Johnson”) who will spend their days being harassed, denied the fundamental right to travel, and punished for having a name vaguely like the name used by someone who may or may not be a terrorist. There’s no way to get off the list, and the list (and the criteria for adding names to it) are secret.

“America’s new million record watch list is a perfect symbol for what’s wrong with this administration’s approach to security: it’s unfair, out-of-control, a waste of resources, treats the rights of the innocent as an afterthought, and is a very real impediment in the lives of millions of travelers in this country. Putting a million names on a watch list is a guarantee that the list will do more harm than good by interfering with the travel of innocent people and wasting huge amounts of our limited security resources on bureaucratic wheel-spinning. I doubt this thing would even be effective at catching a real terrorist.”

— Barry Steinhardt, director of the ACLU Technology and Liberty Program

07/11/2008

Man, it’s all sorts of awesome when I open a bill in the mail and a whole bucketload of ads drop out of the envelope.

As an example, I just opened my mortgage statement. Never mind that my mortgage doesn’t exactly thrill me… I also have to deal with:

  • An application to apply for a line of credit
  • A privacy policy statement telling me they might change my privacy policy someday without telling me
  • Something called “HomeConnect” that is apparently useful if I realize I should sell my house
  • A guide to my escrow account, in case I have no clue what I’ve been paying for all these years
  • An application for a student loan
  • A pre-addressed envelope in case I suddenly decide to stop paying online or something
  • Holy cow. Just send me the frickin’ mortgage statement and leave it at that!

    I find that Comcast is pretty bad too… with my monthly statement I usually get about two ads for more Comcast services, as well as life insurance applications and the occasional coupon for some store I’ve never heard of before.

    Whee, advertising!

07/10/2008

Tonight we had another double-header ultimate game in the Boulder league. For the first time all season the weather was nice for both games (no wind, no rain, no lightning) so it was a fabulous chance to enjoy a gorgeous summer evening at the foot of the mountains.

(Yes, I’m still playing barefoot after eighteen years.)

(That’s me on the left with the frisbee, and Laralee coming in from the right. I’m not sure if I made that throw– her defender is pretty close.)

We played two hard games, including a hilarious “upside-down point” at the end of one, and were exhausted afterward. After coming home I realized how thirsty I was and managed to down a half-gallon of orange juice in a sitting. Oof.

But hey, I can’t argue with a beautiful evening, the mountains, a group of friends, and a sport I love. Bring it.

07/10/2008

Although it continues to be my opinion that George W. Bush is the worst president in recent history, it’s clear that the 110th Congress is the worst group of legislators in memory.

Today the Senate approved the legislation Bush has been having lurid dreams about for weeks: the overhaul of the FISA process and a broad expansion of wiretapping and surveillance powers. Despite the tough talk by Democrats, as usual they folded over like paper dolls in a hurricane when it came time for the vote. In a 69-28 landslide, the legislation passed and the Bush administration got exactly what they wanted.

Perhaps worse than the expanded surveillance capabilities the bill allows is the fact that it grants retroactive immunity to the telecommunications companies who played along with the NSA a few years ago when Bush asked them to illegally monitor phone and internet traffic of American citizens. What kind of a dangerous game is this? Break the law, go to court, and stall until Congress passes a new law that makes everything okay! This is a huge slap in the face to the judicial branch of government, and (of course) a huge victory for the Bushies.

Bruce Afran, a lawyer representing several hundred plaintiffs in the federal suit against the telecoms, said:

The law itself is a massive intrusion into the due process rights. It is a violation of the separation of powers. It’s presidential election-year cowardice. The Democrats are afraid of looking weak on national security.

One could argue he’s upset about the fact that he can no longer pursue a fairly open-and-shut case against the government and thus collect a nice judgement for his firm, but that doesn’t change the fact that… well, he’s right.

Despite the Democrats storming into Congress this past January and saying they’ll stand up to Bush, it seems like they’ve capitulated on every major piece of legislation he’s proposed. Everything from wiretapping to interrogation tactics to funding for the Iraq War has been done precisely as the Bush camp planned. We continue to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on a war that most Americans feel is a lost cause, we continue to expand the power and oversight of the government, and we continue to hear the tired rhetoric from the two-faced Democrats about how this is all for Our Security.

Russ Feingold continues to stand firm in the fight, but his quote

I urge my colleagues to stand up for the rule of law and defeat this bill.

went unheeded by his fellow Senators. Even the champion of Democrats, the golden boy Barack Obama, changed his mind about the bill and voted for it. A few weeks ago he’d opposed it and even threatened to filibuster the debate, but not surprisingly he turned tail and followed the rest of his cowardly colleagues.

What a bunch of freaking losers.

07/06/2008

Woo hoo! After several hours of yanking cables and spilling the guts of various old computer systems, I think I finally managed to resurrect my Xbox.

07/05/2008

This is simply awesome.

From Flickr comes the “Song Chart Meme”, which is a series of over a hundred graphs and charts that represent popular songs. Many of them are terribly obscure, but most of them are absolutely brilliant.

07/05/2008

Zack is finally getting his front teeth back. For the past few weeks he’s looked like a real hillbilly, missing three of those four teeth.

We had corn on the cob a few nights ago, and the poor kid couldn’t have any.

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