Saturday, December 31, 2005

News Roundup

A 19-year-old PETA staffer changed his name from Chris Garnett to to protest alleged mistreatment of animals by KFC. A statement by fellow PETA supporter Pamela Anderson says "I'm sure Chris can't wait till KFC stops torturing chickens so he can change his name back." No details on what humane procedures the group would like implemented while the chickens are parted out and deep fried in a crispy coating with 11 herbs and spices. Also, no mention of any inhumane treatment of potatoes and cole slaw. Where is the outrage over biscuits?

Guppies go through menopause. The subject is intriguing, but the article authors could probably have found a better phrase than "raises the question of why some female animals live beyond their fertile years at all."

Researchers spice up cow manure
. One of the active ingredients in thyme neutralizes the odor and bacteria in cowpies, which could lead to breakthroughs in large cattle operation sanitation. Apparently, oregano also works. Yes, I know thyme is an herb, not a spice.

Police officer attacked by a pack of angry chihuahuas
. Insert your own Taco Bell joke here.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

New Year's Resolutions

I'm not big on the New Year's Resolutions. I prefer hitting the post-resolution sales and resolving change around Groundhog Day (note to self: run marmota check Feb. 2). This year, I made a resolution at the end of November to get myself into a shape besides round. If you are making a similar resolution, allow me to shamelessly plug the following. I have no commercial ties, or at least none that involve money coming to me from them. I use these and have found them helpful, to the tune of 6 pounds and one pants size.

e-diets. This is an online diet site. For a small monthly fee ($12, I think), they plan healthy menus for you and provide recipes. What makes this different from any other diet plan? It is flexible and it is not weight-loss oriented as much as it is geared toward instilling good nutrition habits. They encourage substitution, so if you don't like pita or there is no way you are shelling out for fresh blueberries in December, you can substitute another bread or fruit. You never have to eat anything you don't like on this plan. I mean that. If you don't like fish or tofu, it will create an entire varied menu selection without those items. There is a wide selection of home-cooked meals, convenience foods, and what to order at fast food restaurants, which allows you to cater to your schedule. Best of all, the weekly menus come with a shopping list that includes everything you need down to the parsley.

Push. Customized workout DVDs delivered to your mailbox every month. You choose among trainers and specify focus areas and length of workouts. Based on your fitness level and goals, they compile a disc of workouts just for you.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Top 50 Robots

Wired Magazine lists the top 50 robots of all time. To their credit, only 18 are fictional. There is an excellent picture of #40, Elektro and Sparko, whom I discuss here. Wired mistakenly calls him "cable-controlled." It's an honest mistake. Elektro runs on AC power, so a cord runs from his heel to supply the current. Strictly speaking, though, he is voice controlled.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Geek Gifts

Emp. Peng. got me an ionic hairbrush. Basically, it is a brush with a small Ionic Breeze air purifier built in behind the bristles to shoot purified air through the hair as I brush. Weird, but it does pep up the hair and take out that used hair smell. Since I have enough hair for myself and four bald men, that takes some doing. We found out, entirely by accident, that the brush also will turn off the touch-activated lamp from a distance of 3 feet. That was almost as funny as the time we found out why one should never have the bedroom lamp attached to The Clapper when one has a chest cold.

I got him an Alien Clock. The clock on the page there reads 12:59.

Merrappy Whichever

If you are celebrating or preparing to celebrate a holiday, have a merry/happy one.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


A penguin chick was stolen from a British Zoo over the weekend. No, this isn't the hoax about some little kid sticking a penguin in his backpack and bringing it home. Amazon World has confirmed that their 3-month-old jackass penguin* is missing. Fear is that someone got enamored with March of the Penguins and decided a live chick would make a great Christmas gift. They're in for a big surprise, since the penguin will not likely survive to Christmas without the special care of its keepers. If it does manage to live, the recipient will soon find out that, contrary to Madagascar, penguins are not in fact cute and cuddly. They bite, and if they think pet hair is a cleaning problem, wait until this thing fledges.

I suppose I should take this opportunity to clarify that I had nothing to do with this. I do not know the whereabouts of this unfortunate chick. I have never been to the Isle of Wight, where the penguin was snatched, nor do I know anyone there.

*-That really is the common name for the penguin. They have a very distinctive bray-like call. For the prudish, they are also called Blackfoot penguins or African penguins because their feet are black and they are native to the African coast.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Study Says...

A new study shows that people eat more in the fall and winter. "Winter variations may be partly due to the 'calorie dense' foods consumed during the holidays, [study author] Ma notes." No kidding. I'll invite the researchers to my house for Thanksgiving, the meal where I use a full pound of butter just for the stuffing, mashed potatoes and yams.

Also, we exercise less in the winter. No conjecture from the researchers on why, but I'll venture that it might have something to do with a lack of desire to go jogging when it is 2 degrees fahrenheit outside (actual current thermometer reading).

Who are the people who fund these and where can I apply for several thousand dollars from them?

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Everyone Dreaming of a White Christmas, Grab a Shovel

Going grocery shopping was not, in itself, a problem. Trying to get back up the driveway, on the other hand, will henceforth be known as Mistake #3. Owing to a series of partial thaws, followed by 12 degree nights, our sloped gravel driveway is now a sloped gravel ice rink. Still, we figured with a little kitty litter for traction and enough momentum, we just might be able to park indoors. I'm not sure if the kitty litter would have worked. We never quite got that far. We never quite got past the snowbank at the edge of the lawn. We also learned Murphy's Law of Getting Your Car Stuck in a Snowbank on Your Own Lawn: it will happen right as your neighbors come home to witness your ineptitude.

As soon as we got the car dug out and the groceries packed up the driveway, I went online and ordered a blowtorch so this doesn't happen again.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Heads Up!

It's almost time for the annual NORAD Tracks Santa Night (some may know it as Christmas Eve). Here's the video promo, with some of last year's Santa footage.

Penguins in the News

To keep the king penguins annual winter weight gain in check, penguin keepers at the Asahiyama Zoo in northern Japan have implemented twice-daily walks around the zoo grounds. No word on the peng-lates classes.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Amish Internet Sex Scandal

The story starts with a lonely, 75-year-old Amish widower looking for what we will euphemistically call "companionship" in the personals. He found a 35-year-old Cleveland prostitute, who met with him about 6 times. That works out to $10,000 per visit with the $67,000 that the prostitute and her boyfriend got out of the Amish man after convincing him that incriminating photos of him were on the internet. Note: I understand many women consider buggy rides romantic, and I've known a few women who will provide "companionship" after little more than a couple dinners out.

The story is all in this article.

Seriously, though: convincing an Amish guy there are naked photos of him and a hooker on the internet? Why not just go throw some dynamite in a barrel full of fish? There are easy marks, but pinning an internet sex scandal on an elderly Amish guy? That's just phoning it in.

Friday, December 09, 2005

That's a Bold New Look, All Right

Between my bank and my grocery store sits a Taco Bell. Since it remodeled last summer to come in line with the chain's new gold, magenta and blue color scheme, the restaurant's message board has declared, "Come see our bold new look!" The sign still says the same thing, but as I drove by today, something about the restaurant's decor seemed different. The roof was in the dining area, and one whole side of the building was burned out. According to the newspaper, the fire happened a bit past 8 o'clock last night. The other side of the sign still says, "Now hiring."

Religious Officially Lose Moral High Ground on Christmas

The New York Times reports that several churches plan to be closed this year on Christmas. Why, you may ask, would a house of worship lock its doors on the second most important holiday on the religious calendar? Because this year Christmas falls on a Sunday. You know, the day most Christians observe as the 10-commandment-mandated sabbath. The day people are supposed to refrain from secular pursuits and contemplate God, coinciding with the celebration of the birth of the religion's central figure, apparently is a day that churches have decided it is not worthwhile to offer observances.

Come to think of it, this also negates their moral high ground on the display of the 10 Commandments in classrooms, courthouses, and other public places. Here's the deal: they can display them after they manage to get their houses of worship to follow them regardless of inconvenience.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

For Boobs, By Boobs

Just what the world needs: a tinfoil hat for the mammaries. A Taiwanese inventor has patented an innovation in brassiere technology to block electromagnetic waves. The proposal is to add an intermediate layer to bra cups comprising 75% cotton fiber and 25% stainless steel. News flash: underwires are bad enough. I'll let my bosom keep getting good AM radio reception before I stuff my bra with a Brillo pad.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Robots (and one gratuitous emu)

Technology saturates life these days, but have you ever seen a real robot in person? Think about that for a second. Robots are mostly confined to industrial uses. Unless you count the three days I owned a Roomba, I've never shared breathing space with a robot.

Until today. I met Elektro. He is over 7 feet tall and walks freely. He can talk and his mouth syncs with the words he speaks. He can even exhale to inflate a balloon. He is voice controlled and can distinguish a limited range of colors. Oh, and he does this without a single chip or microprocessor. He has to. He was built in the 1930's, serving as Westinghouse's centerpiece for the 1939 World's Fair.

Elektro lives in a museum here in Mansfield as part of an exhibit on the family robots Westinghouse created from the late 1920's through the 1940's. The first, Televox, invented in 1927, could call a preselected telephone number to reach its owner, answer the phone, and manage a few switches to control certain actions in the house remotely. In short, the internet-enabled toaster predates the internet by almost a half century. Elektro himself is still fully functional, except that the motors that move his legs are not installed so he could not walk even if he were connected to the power supply.

The way the museum exhibit is laid out, one doesn't immediately notice Elektro, which is quite a feat to accomplish with something that is 7-foot-six, silver, and has footprints the size of a coffee table tome. The floor layout draws one first to a non-functional replica of Televox, some photos and documentation of the other early Westinghouse Robots, and a taxidermied emu. You read that right: an emu. Really. I still don't understand what the emu was doing there. When I turned to ask the curator, that was when I saw the gleaming seven foot robot behind him. He looks like something out of Metropolis. That was an omigawd moment.

I've written this all about "him." In the room with Elektro, it is amazing how quickly and naturally one falls into speaking of "him" and relating to him on human terms. Noticing a dent in his left foot, I commented to the curator, "He looks like he stubbed his toe," even though the lack of toes is quite apparent. I asked, "Can he see?" knowing that the technology for vision was in its infancy at best back then (he can distinguish between red and green).

Evangelical Christians: Christmas not Commercialized Enough

Does anyone else remember when the alleged problem with December was that Christmas was that a sacred holiday was being co-opted by department stores just to line their coffers? Seems the new problem is that stores are not sufficiently exploiting Christmas.

Jerry Falwell is spearheading a campaign that includes lawyers sending letters to organizations that don't secularize Christmas enough. According to the president of another group involved in the effort, "We'll try to educate, but if we can't we'll litigate." Did I miss the memo where the meaning of Christmas was changed to "celebrate the holiday or we'll haul your ass to court!"?

The Catholic Rights League has called off a boycott of Wal-Mart, instigated after the employees wished people "Happy holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." Apparently, they were satified when someone lost her job and had to retract an entirely truthful statement.

Bill O'Reilly has a whole list of stores he wants shunned because they're not using the word "Christmas" to attract the commercial feeding frenzy of December.

The American Family Association posts an online form for people to register their offense at the lack of commericalization of Christmas by major retailers. It is billed as a petition, but no mention is made of when or to whom the group is submitting it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Why Multiple Perspectives Are Good in News

The headline in Reuters is "Creativity Linked to Sexual Success," detailing a study that shows creative types get more tail, or at least have more sex partners, than the non-creative types. Higher creative output means more people willing to put out. To whit, their hook:
Pablo Picasso, Lord Byron and Dylan Thomas had more in common than simple creativity. They also had active sex lives, which researchers said on Wednesday was no coincidence.
Over at Scientific American, the story takes a somewhat different angle in the first paragraph:
The list of promiscuous poets and artists is long, as is the list of poets' and artists' children who suffer from mental illnesses such as schizophrenia. Now new research links creative ability and sexual success--and explains why something as seemingly maladaptive as schizophrenia would persist among humans.
Seems the study in question does not just show that creative types are getting more than the rest of us. It shows that both traits are linked to a propensity for schizophrenic characteristics. Scientific American dwells on this more than the original press release, which points out that schizophrenic patients don't normally exhibit the high level of promiscuity, as other characteristics of schizophrenia tend to negate the womanizing.

Of interest, Reuters may be salacious with their headline, but it is the one from the original press release, and their lede is almost exactly the one from the press release. The title of the study is "Schizotypy, creativity and mating success in humans."

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Cable a la Carte

The FCC has now come out in favor of allowing customers to order cable channels a la carte instead of in bundles. I subscribe to satellite TV, but for a moment, let's pretend I'm a cable subscriber and look at how the a la carte system works, vs the current bundle system.

My local cable company, Time Warner, has three basic levels of service before one gets into premium channels. The basic package has 17 network affiliate channels, which are really only 10 different channels since we get both the Cleveland and Columbus versions of 7 networks. This costs $11.66. Under the a la carte system, we'd still have to get this even though we watch exactly 3 programs on any of these channels. The expanded basic cable package has 95 channels (including the 17 of the basic package) and costs $47.50. The digital package adds another 60 channels and $12.49 to that.

Now, in our house, the programs we TiVo regularly are all on 5 channels, two of which are inconveniently located in the digital tier. Occasionally, we'll catch a program on one of maybe 10 other stations. Under the current tier system, we would have to pay $59.99 to get the channels that carry our favorite programming. At the average channel price of $3.90 on top of the basic service subscription, we would pay about 12 bucks more a la carte than we would bundled. If we only purchased the channels we watch regularly, we would save $28.83 per month.

Makes me glad I don't have cable and wish the satellite TV providers did a la carte. Then I wouldn't have to wade through all the "family friendly" channels that show infomercials 20 hours a day.

The funniest part of the article though, it this bit:
Kyle McSlarrow, head of National Cable & Telecommunications Association, called the a la carte mandate a "very dangerous idea." He said it would violate cable companies' free-speech rights and would be struck down by the courts.
I have to wonder, what part of this free speech is free when I'm paying real honest to God money for it? Is it actually a free speech right for the cable company to compel me to to receive Pat Robertson's The 700 Club so I can watch Carl Sagan's Cosmos?

Revenge of the Spamee

The Washington Post has an article with several suggestions for stopping junk faxes. My favorite is the woman who takes a black piece of paper and faxes it to the "reply to" number. Oh, and she tapes the ends together while it is in the machine to create a continuous loop so the junk faxer's machine keeps spitting out page upon page upon page of toner-wasting blackness until someone on the other end notices and cuts the transmission. Add a "please remove" message in white out, and the cathartic gesture might just be effective at stopping them.

Guillemot, I think you know someone who could use this information.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Warning: Irreverant Holiday Content

It's the holiday season, so it was only a matter of time before someone got hopped up on eggnog and decided to bridge Christmas and Hanukkah with the Matzoh House. Picture the bastard child of a gingerbread house and a box of matzoh, and you've pretty much got it.

Mensa Membership

The Mensa membership card came in the mail Saturday. There are all sorts of perks and goodies one can get, but apparently I am going to have to go to a custom bumper-sticker printer to get the one for my parents that says "Proud parent of a Mensan. What was that about your honor roll student?"

Post-WriMo Novel Update

Word Count: 51,762 (yeah, the pace had dropped off a bit)
Chapter 20 of 29

For 28 days, I have pushed my internal editor down out of mind. Now, having finished NaNoWriMo, the internal editor has joined forces with the Plot Monsters to slap my head against a brick wall a few hundred times. Usually, the Plot Monsters have the decency to wait until I finish a story before they show up and point out the plot holes you could drive an aircraft carrier through. This time, they've stepped in when I'm only 2/3 of the way through to keep telling me that there is no way a woman could genetically modify a human embryo and then implant it in herself, all without anyone knowing she had done it or that she is taking hormone supplements to sustain the pregnancy because her ovaries are in a jar (long story). Hence the title, Belly of the Beast. If she does not impregnate herself with a genetic engineering experiment, the title, not to mention most of the rest of the book, does not make sense.

I'm trying to push forward with it anyway. I just keep telling myself this is sci-fi. I make all the rules in the world. Realistic is anything I can convince the readers of.

Friday, November 25, 2005

NaNoWriMo Update

Word count: 50,123

Whoo-hoo! I got my winner banner and certificate! I'm not done with the story yet, but I've been declared an official NaNoWriMo winner (and five days earlier than last year). That makes two years entered and two years won. At the rate I'm going, I should be done in a couple more weeks. Then I start over plotting, outlining, and writing another novel while I forget about this one until February when it comes time to edit.

NaNoWriMo Update

Word Count: 49,069

Almost to the 50,000 NaNoWriMo mark! That is roughly 2/3 of the way through the story I'm trying to tell.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

NaNoWriMo Update

Word Count: 47,080

I plan to hit 50,000 tomorrow, when the website starts validating winners.

Tis the Season

If the stuffing has stopped steaming, that can only mean the Christmas season is upon us once again. We've already had the two events that officially ring in the holidays: the annual near-riot at Wal-Mart over the season's must-have gift (no serious injuries reported from the scuffle over the Xbox 360), and the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon injuries (two in stable condition after The Cat in the Hat took out a light post).

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

NaNoWriMo Update

Word Count: 45,381

I may not make it to 50,000 by tomorrow night, if only because I would have to have a really hard day of writing between making the turkey and the stuffing (see below), sweet potatoes with marshmallow topping, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce. Made the pie ahead. Not likely. I'm not saying I wouldn't be able to keep a train of thought when I break to fix the tubers. It's just hard to type while one is stewing the cranberries.

Geek Women

So, computer companies and electronics stores have figured out that women buy electronics and gadgets. To whit, Dell has started advertising on the Oxygen network and Lifetime Television [or, as I call them, the chick channels], and Best Buy has redecorated 60 of its stores, eschewing the standard blue and yellow for (get ready for this) pastels. According to the article linked above, "A Best Buy salesperson doesn't talk megapixels but instead asks if a digital camera is primarily for still photos or soccer games and if buyers plan to print their own photos."

Which leads me to thinking that these companies may have noticed that 50% of tech purchases are made by people who also receive Pap smears, but they hold on to the notion that women aren't capable of understanding what they are buying. Let's hope the tech companies' next female-related epiphany is that we're not all pink-wearing Oprah groupies who need the specs dumbed-down.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

NaNoWriMo Update

Word Count: 43,219

Almost to the 50,000 word target! And unlike last year, I have not had to resort to blatant word-padding. Last year, I actually gave someone the rank of Lieutenant Colonel just because that was one more word every time he had to give his rank. However, for next year, I am going to remember to not create corporations named Zava, and stick to easy-to-type words for names I have to type often.

Monday, November 21, 2005

NaNoWriMo Update

Word Count: 40,452

Currently writing what is outlined as chapter 16, which may or may not correspond with the 16th chapter that I have actually divided the work into. I don't want to go back and check right now. After the morass of Chapter 9, these last couple of chapters have been exceedingly short. At the moment, 16 stands at 771 words when it should be closer to 2,500. I may resort to finding a subplot to work with. I've been neglecting those.

My goal is to hit 50,000 by Thanksgiving and get my protagonist arrested by the end of the month. After that, it's just a matter of getting her divorced, tried, sentenced, and letting her hit rock bottom. That stuff writes pretty fast.

Today's Lesson Learned The Hard Way

What will fit in a baggie should not be confused with what the baggie will hold. For instance, 5.61 pounds of sweet potatoes physically will fit in the smaller plastic bags in my grocery store's produce section. 5.61 pounts of sweet potatoes will also roll quite a distance when the bag gives way as one puts it on the checkout conveyer belt.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Stuffing's the Word

Thanksgiving is fast approaching. If you haven't started defrosting the bird yet, probably ought to get on it or the giblet pack will still be frozen fast to the body cavity when you need it to make the most important part of the Thanksgiving dinner: the stuffing. The turkey may hog the spotlight on Thursday, but the stuffing is what really makes the meal. So, once again, I offer you the recipe for Grandpa's Stuffing, which is what all stuffing aspires to be.

You need:
2 packages lightly seasoned bread cubes (or see note below about making your own)
1 onion (two if they're small)
several ribs of celery
1-2 Red apples
small handful of chopped walnuts
the giblet package that came in the turkey
[This is my one exception to Rule of Eating #1, "Never eat anything that is now or has been entrails"]
Poultry seasoning and salt
*A tasty alternative to bread cubes for those with a bread machine: make a large loaf of white or whole wheat bread, substituting chicken broth for the water and adding 2 teaspoons poultry seasoning and 1 teaspoon onion powder. Cut the entire loaf into cubes and toast lightly in the oven.

Remove the giblets from the paper pack, rinse lightly, and simmer in 6 cups or so of water until they're cooked through and have produced a tasty giblet broth. Feed the liver to the cats (this is where my liver-disliking self parts company with the original recipe), snack on the neck as you work, and chop the remaining innards into little tiny pieces. Reserve the broth. Chop the onion, celery, and apple, and saute until the onion is translucent.

In the biggest bowl you have, or the lid of the roasting pan, mix together the bread cubes, sauteed onion mix, walnuts, and giblet bits. Mix in poultry seasoning and salt to taste. Drizzle the giblet broth over the bread cubes while stirring, until the mix is well-moistened but not soggy. Use regular water only if you run out of broth. If you have extra broth, use it to supplement the turkey drippings when you make the gravy.

Lightly stuff the turkey's body cavity and neck cavity with the mixture. In the neck, make sure the skin flap completely covers the stuffing, and in the body cavity, protect the opening with the heel of a loaf of bread. If you are not planning to make a big demonstration of carving the bird at the table and do not require a picture-perfect bird, consider bread breast implants. Separate the skin from the breast meat and lightly pack additional stuffing under the breast skin. It isn't as pretty, but it will keep your breast meat nice and moist and provide you with that much more coveted "from the bird" stuffing. Unless you have a truly enormous bird, you will not fit all the stuffing in any available turkey orifices. Put the rest of the stuffing in a greased casserole dish or those nifty foil packets people who are not me are adept at making, drizzle with melted butter, cover and bake for about the last hour of the bird's roasting time.

The end product is the stuffing to end all stuffings. Enjoy, and happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 18, 2005

NaNoWriMo Update

Word Count: 35,048

Bad Greek Letter Hurricane Puns

Well, we now have Tropical Storm Gamma. Let's all hope it stops now, or we'll end up enduring headlines and news crawls like these for the rest of the Greek alphabet:

Delta slams Mississippi Delta
Epsilon Still On Course
Theta Threatens _____
One Iota More
Kappa Kappa Sigh!
Storm Makes Lambda-Fall
Mu-tilation of homes, businesses
Nu in the news again
Xi Marks the Spot For Yet Another Storm
Omigod! Omicron
Pi Squares Off Against _____
Rho, Rho, Rho Survivors to Safety
Sigma adds up to record season
Upsilon Upends Homes in ______
Omega. Really the End?

I left out Zeta, Eta, Tau, Phi, Chi, and Psi for lack of bad jokes that came easily to mind.

So Much For Video Games Being For Kiddies

Just caught a commercial for Neutrogena T-Gel shampoo on CNN Headline News. Someone has finally taken notice of the fact that the average gamer is 30 years old. The result: they're hawking dandruff shampoo using a blatant ripoff of Space Invaders. It's only a matter of time before Ms. Pac-Man starts touting natural menopause relief products and Frogger shills for Ben-Gay.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

NaNoWriMo Update

Word Count: 32,026

The good news is, I'm definitely on track to hit 50,000 by the end of the month. The bad news is, the 50,000 word mark is now in chapter 18 of a 27-chapter-long outline. To make it to the end of the story by November 30, I'm going to have to shoot for about 3,200 words per day every day. So far, I've only had three days that came close to or surpassed that. The growth of the outline is also a good thing, though, as I'm hoping to make this a respectable, publishable book. The usual minimum for a first published novel is somewhere around 90,000 words, so I actually need to come up with another 18,000 words of story. I'll probably end up fleshing out the plot line of a secondary character, since 90,000 words is a lot to devote to the development arc of a single character

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

NaNoWriMo Update

Word Count: 29,007 and hoping to break 30,000 by bedtime

I'm stuck in the gravitational well of Chapter 9, from which neither light nor story line can escape! What was originally plotted as a 2,500-word chapter 9 has become an 8,250-word chapter 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13. Next time, I outline on index cards.

Check The Dilithium Crystals

The rocket that was supposed to blast the ashes of James Doohan, aka Scotty from Star Trek, into space is having engine problems. 'Nuff said.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Death By Chocolate

Okay, okay, even I can't make this one seem novel-related. Still, when I saw the RSS feed headline "Just How Many Cups of Coffee Will Kill You," I just had to take a look. It's a blog that (for entertainment purposes only, not to be taken as medical advice) calculates just how much of whatever caffeine-containing substance it will take to kill you. Of interest to penguin fans, and Guillemot in particular, it also calculates how many Penguin Mints it takes to send one to the coroner. I'm assuming that they are going strictly by a fatal dose of caffeine, since I think I would run into other life-threatening gastrointestinal problems if I consumed 435.92 Hershey's Special Dark bars in one sitting.

NaNoWriMo Update

Word Count: 25,011

Past the halfway mark! It's all downhill from here. It took a day longer than I had hoped to reach 25,000. You can choose as your excuse either the blistering headache I came down with yesterday that kept me in bed asleep until the Aleve kicked in, or the antics of my protagonist. Somewhere around 23,500, her development arc took an unexpected turn. A secondary characteristic came to the foreground and what was supposed to be an undercurrent to her character became a riptide. I've spent the last 1,500 words trying to extract her and the story from that, and it has not been easy. I'm hoping to be out of the 2oK story doldrums by tomorrow night.

Back to the salt mines.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Novel-Related Web Search, I Swear

Did you know you can order yak meat over the internet? The site also sells venison, for those of you for whom roadkill just isn't good enough.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Site Changes

The comment spam keeps coming. It's safely stashed back on a post I made about 400-odd posts ago, so it's unlikely anyone is ever going to read it. Still, I don't like the idea of companies freeloading on my site. If you're a legitimate reader or I'm getting some kind of kickback, bring on the shameless commerce. Goodness knows I plug this site enough.

Henceforth, I will be screening out the comments that are obviously from commercial entities with comment-leaving bots trying to sneak ads on. The only change you should see is that comments left by legitimate humans (whether or not they include blatant self-promotion) may take longer to appear, as I will be moderating them and tossing out the ads for digital subscriber lines.

Friday, November 11, 2005


It has come to my attention that the trial in Dover, Pennsylvania, over a school board requiring a somewhat misleading anti-evolution, pro-intelligent design statement to be read in biology classrooms, is not, in fact, Scopes II, but rather is Scopes III. Scopes II was Edwards vs. Aguillard in 1987, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against teaching Biblical creationism in public schools.

NaNoWriMo Update

Word count: 21,072

I'm a day, maybe two days from 25,000, putting me within sight of the halfway point of NaNoWriMo, and on track to hit 50,000 by Turkey Day (which got a mention in today's Chapter 8). I'm actually only about a third of the way through my outlined story, which is so far pegged for 60,000 words and 24 chapters. It will probably get longer than that, though I still hope to pen the final sentences by the end of November. I may split what I outlined as Chapter 9, since I think the two story points I planned to cover could each support their own chapter. Things are looking up.

I suppose I should mention that you can watch my progress and read a clip by clicking over to this page, my NaNoWriMo author profile. Please note that in the excerpt, you have to mouse over the lower right corner, click, and drag to turn the page. Please also be forgiving that I chose that particular excerpt because it's a major plot point, not because I think I did anything particularly steller with the writing.

Better Living Through Basic Chemistry

During a legitimately novel-related web search, I came across a basic science project that can double as an easy way to polish silver. So, as we approach Thanksgiving and time to break out the good dishes, teach your kids about electrochemical reactions and knock the tarnish of the flatware at the same time. All you need is a glass dish big enough to hold the silverware, baking soda, a sheet of aluminum foil, and a pot of hot/boiling water (it will work with cooler water, but nowhere near as fast). Put the foil in the dish and set the silver on top of the foil. Mix about a half cup of baking soda per quart of hot water, and pour the water into the dish. Tarnish fizzles right off, even out of deep patterns. A word of warning. Silver is also an excellent conductor of heat, so you'll want to handle your newly-polished items with an oven mitt or other insulating material, as they'll be quite hot.

Basically, the baking soda solution and a small electric charge that runs between the foil and the silver piece transfer the tarnish to the foil. This has the added benefit of leaving more silver attached to your original piece. I just tried it on the silverplate candlesticks we got for our wedding, that haven't been out of the box in the five years we've been married. Shiny as new!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Double Take

Can someone please explain the meaning of the word "scrutiny" to the people who run oil companies? Yesterday, the CEOs of the 5 main petroleum companies were called before the Senate over questions about high gas prices and record profits. Today, news is that the price of oil dropped another $1 per barrel. Today, also, my local gas stations raised their prices by 10 cents per gallon.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Related Item

In otherIntelligent Design news, yesterday, voters in Dover, Pennsylvania ousted eight of the nine members of the school board that pressed the Intelligent Design fracas into the courts.

Next, Kansas Redefines Chutzpah

One of the ideas that the Dover Intelligent Design trial (aka Scopes II) has brought to the foreground is that, technically speaking, Intelligent Design isn't science. Science presents testable hypotheses. Part of a theory (standard scientific definition) is that there is a way to disprove it through observation. There is no way to prove or disprove "The world is so complex that there must be a higher intelligence at work in the creation of it." [ed. note--Oops. There I go using the C word.] Intelligent design is actually more of a hypothesis, like my hypothesis that we are culling the lobster morons to dip them in drawn butter, so one day crustaceans will develop intelligence and take over. It might be logical, but there's really no way to prove it through observation. Actually, it would be fairly easy to prove or disprove the lobster hypothesis, which makes that bit of whacked-out paranoia more scientific than Intelligent Design by the common standards.

But I digress. The notion that ID doesn't pass muster as science has trickled its way into the brains of even Kansas, the great square state where they've spent six years so far trying to find a way to squeeze evolutionary theory out of the classroom, lest impressionable young Kansans start questioning Genesis (the Biblical narrative, not the defunct Sega video gaming console). Having their current pet non-evolution theory demoted out of the realm of science presented a problem to Kansas. If ID isn't science, they can't very well teach it in a science class, and that is not an acceptable outcome for them.

You have to admire their ingenuity in solving this little problem. Intelligent Design was incompatible with the accepted standards of science, so they made it compatible. Most scientists would have probably done this by formulating some kind of testable hypothesis for Intelligent Design. Kansas went about it a little differently. Rather than meddle with the content of ID, they decided to redefine science. In Kansas, science is no longer "limited to the search for natural explanations to phenomena." Fortunately for the future of human knowledge, the more limited definition of science will still apply to the 99.969% of the Earth's land surface that is not covered in Kansas.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Gratuitous WriMo Update

Whoo-hoo! 15,000! Time for doubt, panic, and the need for anti-inflammatories to set in.

At present I'm stuck with a plot device character who is taking over and I have no idea what I'm going to do with him in the end, or even how to slap him back down into a supporting role so my legitimately conflicted protagonist can come back center stage. This is, of course, more a fault of my outlining than the writing itself. I wrote him simply so my protagonist would have someone to interact with, and I didn't think ahead to what he would do and how I'm going to get rid of him. My world seems flat because in my effort to turn myself into more of a character-based writer, I'm afraid to put in background characters just for color. My characters seem to exist in a bubble even though I have a very good idea of what their world is like. I need some action to break up pages and pages of dialog. Seriously, I'm at 29 pages and I think I have a grand total of a page and a half that isn't in quotation marks.

Mr. Grooism, this is why I need a WriMo buddy. Whenever you're up for it, I'll always have another novel in my head that needs writing. Right now, this one needs defibrillation. Clear!

NaNoWriMo Update

Word Count: 14,364

Ahead of schedule

Election Day

Lest you forget, today is election day. I just got back from Performing My Civic Duty, which for the first time in my 9 years of voter eligibility, was performed on a punch card ballot. I can see why people want to eliminate them. I am a young, able-bodied, reasonably mentally capable and more or less ept person, and I was concerned that I might not be doing it right. Did I have the ballot seated properly in the slot? Was the booklet lined up right above the ballot? Was the stylus poking all the way through? Did I make sure I poked in the hole I meant to? How do I know the counters are really going to count Hole 37 as a "No" vote? Why are there 8 holes in my ballot if I only voted on five issues? If that sort of paranoia was going through my head, I can just imagine the problems that folks with unsteady hands and no cheat sheet might have. I was so concerned about getting the mechanics of voting by punch card right, I probably wouldn't have remembered how I planned to vote if I didn't write it down ahead of time. As it was, it took a few minutes of examining my ballot after I pulled it out to realize that the three extra holes most likely calibrated the counting machine.

Actually, I only did half my civic duty. I voted on the issues--one economic stimulus measure and four measures trying to fix the snafus from last election day--but I skipped over all the local government official elections, since try as I might, I couldn't find out enough about any of the candidates to say yea or nay on a single one of them. I'm not sure what my county elections board does to inform voters, but I'm pretty much left relying on whatever campaign literature gets left on my doorknob. Considering I live 5 miles out of town on a road with probably 10 registered voters per mile, we don't get a lot of canvassing. Living in Oregon spoiled me, what with the Board of Election's efforts to make sure all registered voters had a reasonable chance to find out all the names of people running for office and some cursory biographical information.

On a peripherally related note, I'm used to running the gamut of campaign workers outside polling places. This was the first year I also had to avoid the school's bake sale.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

NaNoWriMo Update

Word count: 10,113

I'm back on schedule. If I keep this pace up for the rest of the month, I might actually make 90,000 words by the end of the month, which is closer to the length of a respectable novel. Of course, I'll have to find another 35,000 words worth of plot to do that. My chapter outline only goes up to 55,000 right now.

In non-NaNoWriMo news, did you hear about the pirates?

Saturday, November 05, 2005

NaNoWriMo Update

Word Count: 7,004

If I manage to keep this up, I'll be caught up by the end of the weekend. Then I can work on that matter of exceeding the 50,000 word goal.

Friday, November 04, 2005

It's Official

I got my test results back from Mensa. They don't give out the scores, just whether they are good enough to get in or not. Mine were.

Back to the writing. Current word count: 3,258

Thursday, November 03, 2005

NaNoWriMo Update

Word count: 2,217

Slightly behind schedule, but the deficit is still surmountable.

I'm Back

As usual, November blogging has been light to nearly nonexistent for the first few days. This time, though, it is not because I've been pounding out a literary masterpiece. No, the Penguin Parents, who have been trying for about six months now to visit, finally managed to get their employer to send them to my neck of the woods. They took off on the migration back, which leaves me with at least three days worth of novelling to catch up on before I can consider anything like extensive blogging. Check back tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

NaNoWriMo Update

Ten hours, 22 minutes into National Novel Writing Month, and the official word count is 1013.

Saturday, October 29, 2005


Computer programmers have a nifty hypothetical arrangement to test artificial intelligence. Called the Turing Test, it involves a human sitting at a terminal and basically instant messaging to the test program. If the human cannot tell if the entity on the other end is human or computer, we will have finally developed real artificial intelligence.

The people leaving comment spam on my August 30 blog entry fail this test miserably. It's fairly obvious that the comments are being left by an automated program that plugs the title of the post into a text advertisement that does not do a very good job of disguising itself as a comment from a real human reader of Penguin Perspectives.

Blogger allows me to block this, but it would add a step for you legitimate commenters. If I set this to block comment spam, you all would have to do the word verification thing, where you enter the series of letters that is shown on the screen like a Salvador Dali painting, before you could leave comments.

I like getting comments. If you comment, I know you're reading--except for the dumb spambots. I don't want to do anything that would turn actual people off from making legitimate non-ad comments. At this stage, if anyone says the extra step would keep them from commenting, I'll leave it as is and we'll just all laugh at how stupid the comment spam is.

Poll question: would you be less likely to leave comments if you had to go through the extra step of verifying that you are a human?

Friday, October 28, 2005

Welcome to the Fourth Dimension

Ready to have your mind bent? Here's an article on a statue of a four-dimensional object. It's warped a bit to work in the three-dimensional space we humans are able to wrap our brains around, something like how a cube gets distorted in a two-dimensional drawing, but most of the important parts are rendered true to form. I recommend the animated tour. It twists the brain just enough to make the whole thing work.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Sci-Fi is Now

You, too can own General Grievous's wheel bike. We're talking a real full-size, fully-functional wheel bike that can do 0-40 km in just over 8 seconds. Sets you back $4,600 plus shipping from Rotterdam.

Google Print

I've been going back and forth in my head over Google Print, Google's project to make the contents of entire libraries searchable online. There's some debate over whether that constitutes fair use or goes over the line to infringement. Oddly enough, no one has ever, as far as I know, raised hackles over searching web content, a good chunk of which is copyrighted simply by virtue of it being there. From what I've heard so far, I'll accept that the project takes precautions that people will not be able to access full copies of text under copyright, so the project is essentially a souped-up card catalog. As long as those precautions remain effective, I'll side with those who say that free exposure is good for authors. The minute someone hacks the database so that entire works are accessible (I give it a week after it goes online), that goes out the window.

However, I'm siding with the anti-Google publishers on another point. According to this article, when Google digitizes the books, they're making two copies, "using one to index for Internet searching and giving one to the libraries that supply the books to be indexed as 'payment' for access to the books." Put less delicately, in addition to the lofty goals of making the sum total of human knowledge searchable, they're making bootlegs and using them as currency. It's been a while since I've read the copyright laws, but I'm pretty sure that that isn't covered under fair use. It might be legal to rip a record you own to CD, but I'd venture it's infrigement to barter a second CD to the person who let you use his phonograph and CD burner.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Question of the Day

This question comes curtesy of listening to the Feynman lectures on physics during dental work and at 5 a.m. driving people to the airport. Nonetheless, it has been vexing me for days, so I'm putting out a call for answers, lest my brain explode under the weight of the pondering. If you can help me, or know someone who can, please send them my way [jharriett {replace this with the at sign} gmail {replace with the dot} com].

Background Point #1
Experiments have shown that a clock on an aircraft moving at high speeds will run slower than a clock on the ground. This has been interpreted as proving Einstein's theory of relativity, which apparently (I've never actually read it) says that time slows down at high speeds. This nicely facilitates time travel, including the entire Buck Rogers franchise.

Background Point #2
Back in the day, maritime navigation was a dicey proposition because calculating longitude required an accurate chronometer (e.g. a clock), and pendulum-based chronometers that kept perfectly decent time on land were unreliable at sea because the motion of the boat interfered with the motion of the pendulum. Since then, we have developed chronometers that are not affected by the motions of ships at sea. Nonetheless, every method of keeping time depends on the periodic nature of some motion (e.g. pendulum swing, coiled mainspring acting on a lever, electric pulses from a quartz crystal, the oscillations of a cesium atom).

Background Point #3
Now, obviously Albert Einstein did not get into a supersonic jet, fly around for fourteen hours, and notice that his watch was twelve billionths of a second off, then came up with the theory of relativity to explain it all. He came up with the whole concept on paper, and now we can do experiments that support it. Obviously, there is something to this, but I really don't have the theoretical physics mind to work it out myself.

Pre-Question Point #4
Without getting too technical (partly because I can't put up diagrams), every explanation I've seen for the time slowing down phenomenon basically comes down to the effect of high speed on the measuring device. Photons have longer distances to travel when the thing it's oscillating around is moving really fast, that sort of thing. Is it possible that we're just proving that there is still a mechanical flaw in the way we measure time? After all, no one thought that time actually slowed on the high seas when the clocks came back off.

Which brings me to my question:
If we could develop a method of measuring time that was completely independent of motion so the chronometer would show an accurate time no matter what the forward velocity, would time still slow down at high speeds? Does time objectively slow down or do we just lack a way of measuring time that is not influenced by high speeds?

Congratulations to anyone who has made it all the way through this post. Double congrats if it makes any sense. Triple congrats and a dozen homemade cookies if you can help me out with an answer. Quadruple congrats and a fresh apple pie for those of you who have to live with me and my asking out-of-nowhere questions on theoretical physics, just as long as you don't cut off my Science Channel. Emp. Peng. puts up with a lot, doesn't he?

Monday, October 24, 2005


NaNoWriMo starts in a week. Are you ready? Register at, and while you're at it, download and listen to The Secrets Special Edition #5, where Michael A. Stackpole discusses the ins and outs of NaNoWriMo participation and talking to your doctor about the consequences of taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for extended periods during your participation. Aleve does wonders for writer's cramp. I fully intend to finish again this year. Who's with me? I haven't found some of my partners in crime from last year registered as participants this year. You know who you are.

I think I'm almost set. I'm registered for this year (pengyfelix if you want to look me up). I have a plot and my protagonist's development arc roughly sketched out. My antagonist is giving me a little trouble, but I think that should work itself out. This year, as I may have mentioned, the novel will be titled Belly of the Beast, and unlike last year, the title bears some slight resemblance to the story I have in my head. The TV Guide synopsis: a scientist cures cancer, but the cure proves hard to stomach. Apparently, people in my fictional future have some moral reservations about splicing artificially created DNA sequences into embryos. I don't know where they get it from.

There is one plot point I am trying to clarify before I get too far in, since a large part of the plot hinges on it. Does anyone know if there is any reason that a woman who had her ovaries but not uterus removed could not carry a pregnancy to term (or at least to the stage of viable premature birth) if she had the appropriate hormone supplements?

Saturday, October 22, 2005

From the Mailbox

Our new neighborhood has rescheduled Halloween. According to the note in our mailbox, trick-or-treating will now occur on Oct 30 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. They say it's for safety reasons, but I think the teachers want the extra lead time to have the kids crash from the sugar high before school.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Here Goes Nothing

Tomorrow's the big day: Mensa National Testing Day, when I'll be taking the Mensa Admissions Test. You can find a test site near you here and take the plunge with me. The test is a 2 parter, and you have to get a score in the top 2% on one part to qualify for Mensa. Thing that worries me is that absolutely everyone expects I'll breeze right in, and I've never thought of myself as nearly as intelligent as other people seem to think I am. I guess after tomorrow, we'll see who's right.

On the other hand, if I do get in, that will be one sweet I Told You So to my 4th grade teacher, who apparently gave a rather negative assessment of my intellectual capabilities.

Early Adopters

USA Today crunched some numbers and found that 29% of US households are "likely to be early adopters" of technology. That should have raised some flags. It's not early adopting if a quarter of the country already does it. They looked at 20 behaviors like making VOIP calls (done it); replacing landlines with cell phones (what, and give up my TiVo?); using Wi-Fi networks outside the home or office (done it); playing group online games (and get my butt whipped by at 10-year-old? I think not); and buying home theater, PDA, PVR, etc. (done it). They then put the data through the wringer and came out with that 29% number.

I have an easier way to tell if you're an early adopter. Count the number of things in your house that track, tell, or display the time. Divide that by the number of people in your household who have a firm grasp of telling time in either a digital or analog format. Add 1 for every timepiece satellite linked to the US Naval Observatory or that displays time in binary. If the result is more than 14, you may well be an early adopter.

How did I come up with that? Time is one of the foundations of technology, so pretty much every bit of advanced technology includes a clock. I figured basic time-telling devices--alarm clocks, living room timepieces, wristwatches, and such--account for about 3 clocks per capita. Another six timepieces can be accounted for with what would hardly be considered advanced technology: microwave, VCR, car dashboard, home computer, stove, cordless phones, answering machine, etc. A third class of technology may have been in use longer in early adapters, but is fairly common in most people's day-to-day lives: cell phones, PDAs, laptops, video game consoles, MP3 players and the like. These account for another five clocks. So people who live connected but not technologically advanced lives can reasonably be expected to have about 14 things in their lives that tell the time, even if that is not their main function. More than that, and you probably have some cutting-edge technology, multiples of some of the items, or a very large cuckoo clock collection (there are of course flaws in my system). The bonus points are for what I consider truly geeked-out timepieces.

My score, by the way, is 17.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

More Neuticles

Speaking of fake dog testicles, the guy who invented them has put out a book. What am I doing wrong that the guy who invented scrotal implants for pets has a book deal and I don't?

Book 'Em

I just have to say that I've had professional portraits taken of me that don't look half as good as Tom DeLay's mug shot. Also, is it just me or does he look downright happy?

Penguin News

Th Ig Nobel Prizes, awarded by the Annals of Improbable Research to scientist who have done something that "first makes people laugh, then makes them think," were awarded two weeks ago, and it was not by oversight that I failed to mention that this year's Fluid Dynamics Ig Nobel went to a study of pressure when penguins go guano.

The Ig Nobels are an amusing award ceremony with the laudable goal of celebrating unusual and imaginitive science, and drawing attention to scientific pursuits. The official qualification for the prize is research that "cannot or should not be reproduced." Here's a nice, positive discussion on that phrase from the editor of AIR. Unfortunately, the people covering the iggies don't usually characterize the awards in the spirit they are intended. It's a funny human interest story for news outlets to fill some time or space with, but they always seem to do it with a bit of an interrobang, as in "Someone actually invented testicle implants for neutered dogs?!"
Although the Ig Nobels can be a thought-provoking tidbit for those who tend toward thought provocation, most people only give it the 10 seconds worth of brain time it takes to process, "Penguin poop? Someone did a study on penguin poop?"

The subtext of the Ig Nobel coverage is almost uniformly one of highlighting the most egregious wastes of resources for scientific research. After all, what use is it to humanity to know what sort of pressure builds up when penguins poop? Maybe a few penguin keepers would like to know, but shouldn't we be curing cancer or something like that?

The thing with scientific research is that a lot of it is done without any idea of what the result might end up being. A few years ago, we might have wondered why we were throwing money after a researcher who wanted to find out what made certain species of jellyfish glow. Who gives a jellyfish tentacle why they glow? Turns out, the thing that makes jellyfish glow is Green Fluorescent Protein, and it can be attached to any number of substances. Again, who cares? Then someone figured out that if you attached it to a substance that is in pretty much every cell of the body, you could make mice that glow like ghosts. Mutant glowing mice, while cool, still score about a zero on the usefulness meter in the minds of the general public, particularly as they are not available as housepets. But these green fluorescent mice can be implanted with cancer cells that fluoresce red, and viola! Now, by switching on light, researchers can track exactly how a cancer grows and spreads throughout the body of a living being, bringing us a big step closer to figuring out how to stop it. Finding out why jellyfish glow isn't such a stupid waste of time anymore, but years ago, no one could have seen that coming.

As for the penguin guano study, it's noteworthy, though not noted in any of the press coverage I read, that the study was completely noninvasive. Penguins are protected species, and permits are required to get within 5 meters of them in the wild (presumably this doesn't apply to certain penguins that live in suburban New Zealand and regularly approach humans of their own volition). The study was done entirely by observing penguins from a distance. I'm sure the penguins preferred that to having pressure gauges attached to their butts.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Part II

If there is one positive thing to be said about undergoing dental work without adequate anesthesia (see previous post), it does have a way of putting the rest of the day in perspective. I thought my day had already hit bottom at 2 o'clock this morning. Sometimes, it can get worse.

Shortly before 2 a.m., I was awoken by the melodious yowlings of one of the cats picking on another. I'm not sure who started it, but I staggered out to the living room to find Sonja on the coffee table hissing and yowling at Chessie. This is a fairly regular occurrence in our house, and we usually just put Sonja in a bedroom to calm down, since she's the one most prone to peeing on things. I grabbed Sonja by her middle and was just reaching to cradle her paws in the other hand when


The water softener kicked on. Sonja was already edgy, and a sudden loud noise was about the last thing we needed to add to this mix. For a declawed cat, she can sure inflict damage when she's spooked. She sliced open the entire length of my left pinky finger, put two punctures in the heel of my right hand, and left an impressive scratch that goes across my right wrist and about a third of the way down my forearm. The pisser is that the water softener kicks on at 2 a.m. because we're not supposed to run water while it is cycling, which really puts a damper on effective wound irrigation.

Some Days It Just Doesn't Pay to Get Out of Bed

I don't think anyone likes the dentist. Given the choice between routine dental work and a day basking on the beach or taking in a really good movie, there isn't a person alive who would pick the dentist. I'm sure there are people out there who don't mind going to the dentist, and would pick that over, say, having their nosehairs plucked out one at a time. I am not one of them. I genuinely hate having to go to the dentist, for several very good reasons. Most notably, the dentist who almost dislocated my jaw with a bite blocker, the one who replaced all of my silver fillings with the less durable white fillings without telling me, and the one who said I needed a root canal right before I moved and didn't have time to have it done. The need for a root canal suddenly evaporated when I changed dentists, and no one else has mentioned it in seven years since.

Then, of course, there was this morning. My most recent dentist found five cavities. Not the record, but close. No dentist has ever looked in my mouth without wanting to drill at least one tooth and undertake a major renovation. Best of all, these five cavities are arranged such that they can't all be filled at the same time, so today I was in for the first three. Things were going fine for the first fifteen minutes or so when they put the numbz-it on and gave one more plug for the renovation [I had a condition that caused severe pain and potentially could have rendered me unable to bear children that doctors weren't half as concerned about curing as dentists are about this one misaligned tooth]. Actually, things were going well for about the first hour and fifteen minutes. Then, the novocaine started to wear off about halfway through filling #2 of 3.

I would have mentioned this development to the people drilling my face, but they had fitted me with a combination spit sucker and bite blocker that limited any sort of vocalizations to grunts, and those are pretty hard to hear over the drill and spit sucker. They must have been, since no one noticed I was trying to get their attention to stop leaning on my face so that I was biting my own upper lip against my will. However, the lack of novocaine did allow me to notice that the aforementioned spitsucker had glommed firmly on to the inside of my cheek, presumably spending the last hour giving my mouth the king of all internal hickies. And the next hour, too, since the appliance restricted my tongue just enough to make it impossible to dislodge the chunk of flesh from the sucky tube. The swelling has gone down, but that spot still feels raw five hours later. I probably should have just grabbed their arms to draw their attention to my increasing lack of anesthesia, but at the time, that did not seem like a good choice for dealing with people with power tools and pointy metal things in my mouth. I'll have to come up with something before I go back in a couple weeks for the other two fillings.

For this, I got to pay them a hundred and fifteen bucks.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

The government is preparing a plan to deal with a flu pandemic. This is good, because we're long overdue for one. Stockpiles of Tamiflu seem to figure highly in this plan. This is bad, because bird flu--currently the frontrunner for Source of Next Pandemic--has already developed a Tamiflu-resistant strain. Plastic wrap and duct tape all over again.

So Much for Unnatural

First we had Roy and Silo, the male-male penguin pair at the Central Park Zoo (by the way, they've broke up). Now, Canada has homosexual yeast.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

I miss all the fun

I leave for six months, and Toledo starts rioting.

A few years ago when I was working as a freelance reporter in Toledo, I had the distinct honor of a brief interview with Jack Ford, Toledo's mayor. I only vaguely remember what the topic of the article was, but I vividly remember that if I had to describe Mayor Ford in one word, it would be "intimidating"--I might not be afraid to cross him on the sidewalk, but he had the air of a man you definitely did not want to cross. If I get a second word, it would be "large." I've also, in a less official capacity, met the Toledo chief of police, and if there was a situation that the two of them together could not gain control of in under a minute, it must have been quite the doozy.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Notes on Suburban Homesteading

I just learned something very important about canning. When planning the purchase of Mason jars, take the number of jars you think you will need to preserve your bounty, then multiply by at least 2. This is how many canning jars you will need to buy, and buy them early.

I have two apple trees still laden with fruit that say it is still peak canning season. This opinion is apparently not shared by any retail outlets in the city that would stock canning jars. The displays of canning supplies have been repurposed for candy canes and evergreen wreaths, which I'm willing to bet a jar of my maple cider butter will not be gone before New Year's. I've tried grocery stores, the fruit market, and Wal-Mart*, and before I resort to buying basic glass jars online, I'm taking suggestions about other places to look.

*-My apologies for anyone boycotting Wal-Mart, but it is an unfortunate reality that here in the boonies, that is often the best bet for finding certain items.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

I'm the Queen of All Dorkopolis

I know, I know. I should have figured that one out long before now, but it just hit me when someone expressed a bit of astonishment that I would have driven the 102 miles back to help out my former employer with some annual reports. I told them I didn't mind, that I had spent the two hour commute listening to physics lectures.

Apparently, most people don't listen to physics lectures for fun, and certainly not at 8 a.m. driving down the Ohio Turnpike. Me, I've started working my way through the Feynman Lectures, the audio recordings of the two-year introductory physics course that Richard Feynman taught at CalTech in the 60's. Nothing like Physics 101 taught by a Nobel Prize winner with a sense of humor. I assume at some point later on in the lecture series, he'll explain the discovery in quantum electrodynamics that got him that prize. Some may also remember Richard Feynman as the one who figured out why the space shuttle Challenger exploded and provided a surprise demo of the exact problem on live TV.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Pain at the Pump

I learned to drive in Oregon. Now, there are two things Oregonians will never do: pay sales tax and pump their own gas. I had been driving three years before I learned how to operate a gas pump, and I only broke down then because I had moved to Nebraska, a state that has no problem with self-service fuel stations, even when it is cold enough to neuter a person as they "remain in view of vehicle while fueling." The move to Nebraska also marked the exact moment I stopped paying cash for gas. In Oregon, I usually just cracked my window, threaded a $5 bill through to the attendant, and specified "regular." I never have gotten the hang of how one pays cash for a fillup at a self-serve station, so I've transitioned to using the card swipers on the pumps. Today makes three times I've spoken with a gas station attendant since leaving Oregon.

I'd gotten some of those prepaid gas cards and was trying to use up the odds and ends of the balances to fill up my tank. I put in 1.07 gallons using one of the cards, then the card reader refused to read any of the other cards. I tried them all three or four times, then decided heck with this and went for my bank card. The pump wouldn't read that, either, which meant I had to brave the Land of Stale Twinkies and get the attendant to process the card.

I handed my bank card to a woman who looked like she belonged working in a place that sold tobacco and trans fats and said, "I'm on pump 7. It won't read my card."


It took me close to half a minute to register that she had just given me a total and was waiting for me to pay it. Now, I know gas prices have been going up lately, but I didn't think we'd hit $15 a gallon yet. "Are you sure?"

"Pump 7?"


"On the end there?"


"Silvery bluish car?"

According to the dealer, the paint on my car is Aqua Ice, but in a certain light and around enough hot dog fumes, it might look silvery blue. "Yes. Second car out there, behind the maroon one."

"That'll be $15.01."

"I just pumped $3 in, and I paid for that with this," I handed her the spent prepaid card. "Now I want to finish filling up, but it won't read my card."

She consulted her computer screen. People wonder why the evil empires are always technologically advanced. "It says here '$15.01.'"

"But I didn't put $15.01 worth in my car."

"You can go out and check the display if you want." I think she just wanted to get me out of there so she could get to the line forming behind me.

As I suspected, the display read $3 for 1.07 gallons of 87 octane. I went back and told her that.

We went back and forth a few more times. She insisted that my total was $15.01. I countered that I in fact did not owe her anything at the moment, but would like to come to some sort of arrangement to pay her for hydrocarbons I would like to purchase. When it was clear we were going nowhere, she called the manager.

Lucky for me the manager had lost fewer brain cells to exposure to lotto scratch ticket coating. She figured out in short order that the person before me had neglected to pay for $15.01 worth of gas. A legitimate and reasonable oversight, I'm sure. That's 20 minutes of my life I'll never get back, all so some guy could make off with what amounts to not even half a tank of gas. May that person's tank run dry near festering roadkill skunk.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Almost Time

We're facing down central October, which means NaNoWriMo is barrelling down on us faster than you'd think. It also means the Christmas decorations are sprouting, but I think I've thoroughly addressed that subject. I'm all registered for this year's Novel in a Month. The prep has already started. I have an idea, rudimentary characters, and am working on an outline so I know more or less where I'm going. The title this year is Belly of the Beast, and I'm sticking with sci-fi. According to my current planning, it will be a novel concerning the ethical dilemmas of scientific progress, but then again, what sci-fi isn't.

With my status as Work at Home Wife, I should have more time this year, so I'm hoping to produce something closer to the length of an actual publishable novel, which means aiming closer to 90,000-100,000 words.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Serenity Online

The first nine minutes of Serenity is available for online viewing, and through what appears to be a legitimate movie publicity site not some cheesy bootleggers. Click here to view, no software plugins required. I challenge you to watch that opener and not want to see Serenity's other 110 minutes. I assure you that the movie just gets even better afterward. Fair warning that the movie is PG-13, and toward the end of the clip, it becomes apparent why.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Truth is Stranger

In the spirit of Supporting America Without Making Any Real Sacrifices, we went in on Dine For America. A bunch of restaurants coordinated to donate profits from tonight (Wednesday nights being a notoriously profitable night for restaurants) to hurricane relief efforts. We went to the local Outback Steakhouse, where our waitress was named Katrina. That's the kind of thing I wouldn't dare make up.

Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!

Every day, I like to learn at least one useful thing, in keeping with my philosophy of not giving the cosmos a reason to regret letting me wake up alive. I think today may have given the universe pause while still adding to my trove of semi-useful knowledge. Today's lesson: never reach into a flowering plant without paying attention to what else might be there. I have the wasp sting on my finger to prove the usefulness of that (and also to make typing that much more interesting).

Monday, October 03, 2005

A Couple Random Thoughts

On the newest nominee for the Supreme Court: I know that, technically, there are no minimum job qualifications for being a Supreme Court Justice, but shouldn't someone be required to have ajudicated at least one case before being appointed to The Highest Court In The Land?

On those "American Pride" bumper stickers stuck to the same cars as the "What Would Jesus Do?" and "God is my Co-Pilot" bumper stickers: Isn't pride on that list of Seven Deadly Sins?

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Willing Suspension of Internal Editor

Usually, books and movies are mutually incompatible. Horrible cinematic adaptations of literature are far too numerous to list here. Even the good book-based movies lose a lot in the translation. When John Le Carre's The Taylor of Panama moved to the big screen, the author observed that the adaptation process was something akin to watching a cow reduced to beef bullion.

By that same token, novelizations of movies often turn out about as well as attenpts to build a cow out of bullion cubes. It may taste vaguely cowlike, but it won't moo. Some of the better movie novels manage to fill in a little backstory or include scenes that ended up being cut for cinematic reasons. Some are basically the shooting scripts stretched out into complete sentences, which is a huge waste of reading time after one has already invested at least an hour and a half in watching the movie. Other novelization--notably the Star Wars Revenge of the Sith--made me wonder if I was watching the same movie that the book was allegedly based on. Either way, the novelizations often end up as time one will never get back.

Serenity is different. I've already gushed about the movie. This morning, I burned through the Serenity novelization by Keith R.A. DeCandido. The book merits the best bit of praise I can give to a work of fiction: I enjoyed reading it. Normally, that would not be much of a compliment, but I read as a writer, dissecting the technical aspects of the piece. I still read a lot, but that is for a combination of market research and professional skill development. Most of Serenity bulldozed right through that and got to that little corner of my brain that still reads just for fun. A book that can get past my internal editor is a rare gem indeed.

Friday, September 30, 2005


Mother of pearl and son of all things holy, I can't believe Serenity. Joss Wheedon did things with and to the characters that defy expectation and convention. I laughed--hard. I cried--hard (then again, I cried during Jersey Girl). There was one point when I thought, "This can't possibly be happening." Okay, that one happened twice. The first was when the theater inexplicably showed the trailer for Serenity right before they showed the movie Serenity. The second time...I'm not going to tell you when the second time was. Suffice it to say the Alliance isn't the only one who ain't gonna see this comin'. Never before in a movie have I ever sat there, mouth agape, completely surprised by what just passed on the screen.

Click here to watch the trailers. My suggestion is Trailer 2. Stay away from the clips until after you see the movie. Only "River" actually spoils a plot point, but the clips are better when you see them as part of the movie. Go see it.

Study: Small Children Hazardous to Your Health

OK, that's not exactly what it says. They found that toddlers and preschoolers lead off flu epidemics, with 3- and 4-year-olds presenting flu symptoms up to a month before the illness starts showing up in adults. Preschoolers generally start showing signs about the end of September, which for those of you paying attention to the calendar, is right about now. Flu-like symptoms in the under-5 set, particularly in the 0-2-year-old set, are a good predictor of how deadly a flu outbreak will be. In short, children are adorable, but they're basically influenza's Typhoid Mary. Or, as the paper's lead author says, "The data indicate that when kids are sneezing, the elderly begin to die."

Which brings us to the practical application of the paper's findings. Currently immunization policy is to push flu shots hard on people most at risk for dying of the disease: the very old, the very young, and those with underlying respiratory ailments. The paper's authors suggest a different approach: make a priority of immunizing the toddling germ factories that are spreading the virus to Grandma, Grandpa, baby, and pretty much every set of homo sapien lungs in screaming distance at the supermarket. Right now, we're trying to limit deaths, when it might be a more efficient use of resources to try to limit the overall scope of an outbreak. Why fight a pandemic when you can keep it from becoming a pandemic in the first place?

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Something Driven Life, All Right

Remember the gal who got all the huzzahs for her role in capturing the guy who shot up a courtroom in Atlanta a while back? She's the one who said she gained the guy's trust during a 7-hour hostage ordeal by reading to him from The Purpose Driven Life. Comes out--now that she's gotten the book deal--that she shared a little more than just her faith during the ordeal. Specifically, she also shared her stash of crystal meth.

She's waited six months to tack on the little addendum to the story line, and that was probably the smartest move she made since getting him high. The Power Of Faith And Getting Your Captor Strung Out On Meth just isn't as compelling as faith alone. The media likes a young widow a lot more when she isn't a druggie.

People who keep their stashes of illegal drugs next to their Bibles are one of the reasons I gave up religion. Churches are full of too many people who think an hour on Sunday absolves them of the rest of the week, and people who look the other way.

Brief Penguin News

Gentoo penguins are finding leftover minefields from the Falkland War make excellent breeding grounds. The penguins, weighing in at about 10 pounds, are too light to detonate the land mines.

Quote of the Day: Joss Wheedon on the Pale Friendless Virgin

"They're a diverse group, fairly well-adjusted socially, and I expect that a lot of them are even having sex. I really think the line between geeks and the rest of the world is blurring."
-Joss Wheedon, on the fans of Firefly and Serenity, from an article you can read here.

I'm a certified, card-carrying geek. I'm gradually redecorating my house into an homage to the two great geek pursuits: science fiction and comics. I'm thinking of replacing the froofy floral entryway curtains with window decals of the Coruscant skyline. Elie picked out the living room drapes and curtain rods based on a vague resemblance to Jaffa Staff Weapons. I'm trying to put LEDs into a Boggle timer. I don't think they make lines blurry enough to get my grandparents on my side of that.

The Firefly marathon is showing on the Sci Fi Channel today starting in an hour and a half. The tagline for the marathon: "Whoever said there's no honor among thieves never met these guys." Firefly is the show about what happens when you throw two soldiers from the losing side of a war, a mercinary, a geisha/courtesan, an average hawaiian-shirt wearing guy, a sunny young woman, a priest, and two federal fugitives (a doctor and his mentally unstable younger sister) together on a small boat--not even a ship--at "the corner of 'no' and 'where.'" What happens is great sci-fi, and great sci-fi means that you learn more about being human.

Serenity opens in movie theaters Friday. I will give you my spoiler-free impressions when I get back Friday night.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Military Porpoises

They're the next best thing to Dr. Evil's sharks with frikkin' laser beams attached to their heads: dolphins armed with toxic darts. However, unlike the sharks with frikkin' laser beams or the ill-tempered sea bass, the armed trained attack dolphins are real. Oh, and they might be missing. So long and thanks for all the fish.

It might be just a rumor. Trained attack dolphins are one of the worst-kept military secrets since Area 51. Unnamed government sources "close to US government marine fisheries" have supposedly told a "respected accident investigator who has worked for the government and industry" that the dolphins escaped. Suspicions arose when the Navy--which operates the Cetacean Intelligence Mission--helped a local seaquarium to locate some of their resident dolphins that got loose into the Gulf of Mexico during the hurricanes, but were very keen to examine the prodigal cetaceans before returning them to the care of the seaquarium. It isn't a big jump to the conclusion that the Navy was making sure those were the unarmed dolphins. We wouldn't want to go through all the trouble of training an anti-terrorism marine mammal just to have it jump through hoops for herring.

UPDATE: has put this story in the "dubious" category owing to the lack of reliable (or multiple) sources that I alluded to above. As amusing as the story is, it is rather fishy. One would think if the military had trained attack dolphins, they probably would take steps to make darned sure that, hurricane or no, they don't get out and mix with wild populations. Particularly in light of the recent observations that dolphins can learn behaviors from other dolphins.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Sunday NY Times Tackles the Tough Subjects

At the moment, it escapes me what question Lewis Black once said should rank "right above 'are we eating too much garlic as a people?'" We must be, and that has overwhelmed any of the other issues of the day, because today's Sunday New York Times editorial page devotes not one but two articles to a debate over the relative merits of purchasing pre-peeled garlic vs. peeling garlic cloves by hand.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Hot Coffee

Emp. Peng.'s curiosity finally got the better of him and he installed the Hot Coffee mod on Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. In case you forgot, Hot Coffee is the thing that got the Congress' collective knickers in a knot because it unlocked some content in the video game that showed two characters supposedly having unpixelated sex. Had the rating board known of the content, they might have given it a different rating. The game was originally rated M, the video game equivalent of a movie's R rating, "for blood and gore, intense violence, strong language, strong sexual content and use of drugs." After the mod went public, the ratings board re-visited the rating, giving the game an AO (Adults Only) rating, which is essentially equivalent to a movie's NC-17 or X rating. In practice, this means most retailers won't get anywhere near it, even for behind-the-counter sales with ID. The ratings change also added the content descriptor "nudity."

Thing is, there's no nudity in the new content. Emp. Peng. found the unlocked content, and I watched the full scene. Not only are any naughty bits obscured by other body parts, it bears repeating that NO ONE GETS NAKED. Throughout the entire supposed sex act, the girl is still wearing her panties (which you can tell are still completely on) and a t-shirt, and the guy doesn't remove so much as his wristwatch. Closest thing to digital indecent exposure is some buttcheek visible around the girl's thong panties. There's some bumping and grinding in various positions, but I've watched the scene 3 times now and I can confidently report that there is more accurately simulated sex in the commercials for Axe Body Wash.

Egg Timer Modding

The dental hygenist mercifully skipped most of the floss lecture today. It isn't that I don't know how to floss properly; it's that someone put a bunch of between-teeth crevices waaaay back in the back of the mouth where it's hard to reach. You'd think intelligent design would have made the plaque-prone parts of the body easier to clean.

You'd also think that dental product manufacturers would make a wider variety of flavors, considering they're used so close to the taste buds. I have a rather intense distaste for artificial mint or cinnamon flavors, and today was the first time a dental hygenist actually thought to connect that with my somewhat lax brushing habits. Instead of just lecturing me on technique, she gave me suggestions for some palatable workarounds. However, having worked out ways to make preventative care less yukky, she was absolutely insistent that I have to brush for a full 3 minutes after every meal. Which brings me to why I now have an egg timer in my bathroom.

I was hoping for something with whimsy to match the rest of the house, which is mostly a mix of sci-fi and comic books. Unfortunately, I couldn't find whimsy, so I settled on the standard under-$ 2 white-sand hourglass in a wood frame. I'm looking for suggestions on mods for my egg timer to give it a little more personality. Something like installing some LEDs or the like. Please post any suggestions to the comments. I'll post before and after pics when I get the modding done.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Speaking of Birthdays

Sunday was June Foray's birthday. You may know her better as Rocky the Flying Squirrel, Warner Brothers' Granny and Witch Hazel, or about a thousand other cartoon voices. I've never met her, but I did sit right behind her during a panel at last years Comic Con International. Aside from marvelling that I was sitting right behind June Foray, I couldn't help wonder just how old she was. If she had voiced the Warner Brothers cartoons as a fetus, she would still have to be in her 50's, and if I had to give a description to the police, that would have been about the age I would have fixed her at. She looked like she was aging well for a woman pushing 60. Really well for a woman who just turned 88.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Happy Birthday :- )

Today marks the 23rd birthday of the :-)

On September 19, 1982 at 11:44 a.m., Professor Scott Fahlman proposed the smiley to signal a joke, after a post on a Carnegie Mellon University bulletin board was not taken for the joke it was. A few years ago, Microsoft techs who had too much time on their hands got a hold of the old Carnegie Mellon backup tapes and a machine capable of reading them, and tracked down the moment the smiley was born. Click here to read the entire thread that gave birth to the smiley. Personally, I prefer some of the other options that were floated about as early emoticons. My personal favorite is {#} if only because I have a soft spot for the octothorpe (that would be the pound sign for those of you who spend too much time on automated phone systems). That mark has been repurposed and renamed so many times, it's hard not to feel a little sorry for it, particularly since people call it pretty much everything except its actual name.

Todays Winner of the "Completely Missing the Point" Award

Saw about a half dozen rolling 401(k)'s in the grocery store parking lot today. They're the ones that look like if the owner put half as much time into doing something productive as he does with his car, we'd have cured cancer, and if they invested half as much money in something that pays dividends as they've put into chrome, Social Security would be irrelevant. They're also the kind of cars one frequently finds quadruple parked to avoid the possibility that someone might open a door too far and ding their paint job.

These people did not disappoint. However, insofar as there is a point to quadruple parking one's pimped out ride, these people seem to have missed it. While all six cars were parked squarely over the junction of four parking spaces, they'd all pulled up right next to one another.

And The Winner Is...

The type of fruit fly trap I'm using--a paper funnel set atop a cup with bait in the bottom--is making it difficult to get an exact count of the flies before they're released to the wild outdoors. However, preliminary results after the first 12 hours of trapping show the vinegar trap with what I will estimate as "some" flies and the honey trap with what I will estimate as "no" flies.

Again, these results are preliminary, but it seems that you do in fact catch more flies with vinegar than with honey. Take that, conventional wisdom.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Honey vs. Vinegar as Fly Bait

I firmly believe that there is no reason why one should just do housework when one can make it into a fun science experiment. No comments from any of you who have eaten my cooking after Clean Out The Refrigerator Day.

My kitchen is beset with a minor infestation of fruit flies, which gives me a perfect situation to test whether one can, in fact, catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. I have set out two traps, identical except that one is baited with apple cider vinegar and the other is baited with honey. They're right next to each other in the area where most of the flies seemed to congregate before I removed the ripening fruit from the counter. Preliminary observations show more flies clustered around the funnel of the trap that is baited with vinegar, but we won't know for certain until the infestation clears and I observe the contents of the two traps before I dispose of them. Stay tuned for results.

Can We Kick All These People Out of the Gene Pool?

A Washington man and his girlfriend had been trying to have a baby for nearly 3 years when they turned to in vitro fertilization using the man's sperm, being as nothing was happening naturally and the girlfriend wasn't getting any younger. Acting as a responsible father, the man took out a life insurance policy with the child as the beneficiary, signed an affidavit of paternity and paid his girlfriend $650 per month in informal child support. The child was given his surname. All signs seem to indicate he was very involved in the child's life. Three years later, she bore a second child using the donated sperm, and he increased child support payments to about $1,000 per month.

Shortly thereafter, the man's wife found out. No word on just how she discovered this situation after more than 6 years and who knows how many thousands of dollars of general mistress support, child support, IVF bills, etc., but she probably would have found out eventually even if the man had been very careful about covering his tracks. When an affair goes south, a picture may be worth a thousand words, but that's nothing compared to the blackmail value of two genetic offspring.

What's a married man to do when he's caught having fathered and supported his mistress's two children? This man's strategy was to immediately cut off contact and financial support and try to claim he just donated sperm to a friend. Yeah, the state Supreme Court didn't buy that, either.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

In Defense of Insurance

Now that cleanup is underway, there are the predictable rumblings against the insurance companies. A lot of the editorials seem rooted in the assumption that insurance companies are going to try to screw over their insurees to deny every claim.

Here's the thing. Insurance companies are not social programs. Insurance companies are businesses that exist to turn a profit for their owners or stockholders. Profit is not a dirty word; everyone lives on profit. Furthermore, insurance is not charity. Insurance is a contract by which a person agrees to pay premiums to so that someone else will pay for damages if A, B or C happens. The contract only requires the insurance company to pay for A, B or C. If D happens, it may be unfortunate, but it is not part of the contract and the insurance company is under no obligation to pay. Since their ultimate obligation is to owners or shareholders, they are beholden not to pay claims for losses not covered in the contract.

The thorny issue arises when B and D happen concurrently. Even thornier, the issue of what to do when a reasonable argument can be made that B was a contributing factor to D. In the current situation, the fact that flooding occurred should not absolve the insurance companies of their responsibility to pay for damage caused by the hurricane. By the same token, the presence of a hurricane should not require the companies to pay for flood damages someone was not insured against.

Given that the president has generously offered that the federal government will pay for the rebuilding, minus whatever insurers pay, the suggestion has been raised that we should make sure insurers pay as much as possible. Bad idea. The more insurance companies have to pay out, particularly on questionable claims of damage for which they may not have collected premiums, the more they have to raise premiums across the board to make up the bottom line. In effect, requiring a bigger payout from insurance companies will penalize the responsible people who purchase all the appropriate coverage and who are least likely to require federal disaster assistance. On the other hand, having the federal government pick up the slack (or god forbid anyone actually incur a loss) spreads the financial burden across the entire tax base, including to people who do not purchase adequate insurance coverage for their homes and property.

Most insurance is a gamble between the policyholder and the insurance company. Uninsured or underinsured people are effectively betting that they will not incur losses greater than the amount of premiums they would have paid. Sometimes people lose that wager. Let's not assume the insurance companies are the only ones welshing on a bet here.