Leslie's Latest News

Friday, February 28, 2003

I'm experimenting with a commenting feature from Enetation. If it works out I'll pay their small subscription fee, which will get rid of the advertising and enable e-mail notification to me of new comments.
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The Boston Globe may have hit on why the Rhode Island nightclub fire spread so quickly. In a front-page story today, they say:

"Investigators are eyeing a Johnston, R.I., foam company as a possible source of the insulation believed to have played a key role in the fire at The Station nightclub last week... A former salesman for American Foam lives close to The Station, in an area where neighbors had complained about noise from the club. The nightclub manager, Kevin Beese, said he believes the soundproofing was supplied by a neighbor who lives behind the club."

And here's the key piece:
"Fire specialists have said some soundproofing foam is highly flammable if not treated with fire-retardant materials, particularly if it is a low-quality grade. American Foam distributes inserts used for packaging and disply of products, not insulation intended for soundproofing." (Italics mine)

Sounds to me like a possible smoking gun.
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How evil are you?

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The book I finished reading during my blood drive vounteer shift was William Gibson's new book, Pattern Recognition. I have to say, I found it a bit disappointing. It started off pretty good, with an interesting character with an interesting job and a few hard-to-believe but creative personality quirks (for one thing, she is a marketing person who is physically allergic to brand logos). The book is based on two mysteries: who is originating a series of film clips that are circulating on the internet, and what happened to the protagonist's father, who disappeared in lower Manhattan on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001? The first question gets a lot of attention, but it doesn't seem important enough that so many people would be spending so much time and effort trying to figure it out, and the resolution isn't all that satisfying. (It seemed like it was just a good excuse for Gibson to take a tax-deductible trip to Moscow to collect background material.) And the second question just seems thrown in to take advantage of the timeliness of Sept. 11 and doesn't really get answered either. (Although I have to say I liked the image of the falling flower petal in the store window at the moment of impact.) Maybe I was expecting too much, since Gibson has such a cult following since he invented the term "cyberspace" in Neuromancer. But this book just didn't do it for me.
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Thursday, February 27, 2003

Shameless plug for a friend's book: Nancy Atherton's new book, Aunt Dimity Takes a Holiday is now available on amazon.com.
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Today I worked a 6-hour shift for a Red Cross blood drive, checking people in and trying to get them to read the preliminary information before they went on to the health history interview that is done by an actual nurse. There wasn't a lot to do, and for some odd reason the check-in room where I was working was miles away from the actual donating room, so I felt pretty isolated. Luckily, they had warned me to bring a book, so I got a lot of reading done (finished the book just 10 minutes before the end of the shift - good timing!). There was also a bit of confusion between the Red Cross and the internal blood drive organizer at the company where we were set up, but nothing really serious. It's just awkward when you're a coolie who doesn't know much and people are asking you questions you can't answer.

One interesting change in the blood donation rules since I last donated is that there's now a restriction on overseas travel due to mad cow disease. If you have spent more than 2 months, total, in the U.K., or more than 6 months in the U.K. and/or the rest of Europe since 1980, you are not allowed to donate. That means that if you've made three or four 2- to 3-week trips to the U.K. in the past 23 years, you can't donate. Seems like that will eliminate a lot of people.
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Wednesday, February 26, 2003

I think I need to put a moratorium on ranting about health insurance in this blog. Otherwise I'm apt to start foaming at the mouth. I spent several hours today on health insurance matters, like trying to straighten out my coverage for the recent eye exam, and still trying to get a working pin number so I can log onto the insurance company's web site to see the status of my account (their promised mail delivery time of 2 weeks has been exceeded by a week now and still no pin). I hates 'em, I hates 'em, I hates 'em. I can't imagine what it would be like if I were really sick and had lots of complicated bills to deal with. At least my web site problem is fixed. It was a billing problem; for some reason they had reverted back to sending bills to my mediaone address, which of course bounced. I sent them a check today and that should be fine.

I've been surfing the web for information about ASL, and have ordered a book and a set of flash cards to learn some simple phrases. There's a lot of stuff on the web, including a fairly complete dictionary with quicktime clips showing the signs. What I'm going to find hard is that ASL isn't just a set of hand signals. It's a complete emotional vocabulary, incorporating facial expression, body movements, etc. - speaking ASL has a lot in common with acting (something I've always been rather shy about). But one interesting thing - since it's not based on English grammar, it theoretically could be a universal language even for hearing folks. I wonder how much it is used in other countries.
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Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Today was an odd combination of pretty good stuff juxtaposed with bureaucratic hassles of unknown severity. More will be revealed tomorrow when I have a chance to make some phone calls.

In the morning I had an eye exam that went very well. I'm always very timid about letting people do stuff to my eyes, but this doctor was very gentle and patient. I also managed to pick out some frames that I liked (which I always have trouble with). I had a nice lunch with Alex, and then came home to find a message on my machine saying that the insurance company had told the doctor's office that I was no longer had coverage. Well, I'm 99% sure this is because they haven't gotten the paperwork for the Cobra coverage in place yet, and that this will all turn out to be okay, but it's going to mean hours on the phone.

The next good thing that happened is that I spent a couple of hours working my first shift at the riding program for special needs children that I mentioned a few weeks back. The hard part was that it was bitterly cold today, and after two hours outdoors I had pretty much turned into an icicle. But the good part was that the people I was working with were just great and made me feel very welcome, and it was gratifying to see how much fun the kids were having. We used two horses - a bay named Ernie and a gray named Travis. Both were pretty well-behaved and easy to work with (although Ernie had a few quirks). I worked with an instructor named Lisa and another woman named Abby who did most of the work of getting the horses tacked up and ready to go. Another woman, who was a physical therapist, turned up for the latter part of the afternoon. My job was to walk beside the horse to give the rider a feeling of safety and sometimes to hold their leg in position as they tried to post or do other maneuvers. It was only a bit tricky because the ring was so icy. There was a plowed circle that we used, but it was a little tight with a horse and people on each side.

We had three kids today: one was autistic, one was deaf, and one was a quadraplegic. With the quadraplegic, Lisa rode on the horse behind him and held him in her arms. This was his first time with the program, and he seemed to be having a blast. With the deaf girl, I watched Lisa and started to learn a little sign language (although it's really hard to sign when you're wearing thick gloves and/or mittens). It was very interesting and they seemed very happy to have me. I'd been there only about 2 minutes when Abby said, "You must be a horse person." I asked why she thought so, and she said, "You didn't back up when Ernie walked toward you." Apparently they've had a number of volunteers who weren't comfortable around horses and didn't understand the terminology, so weren't quite as useful. They didn't ask me to do anything that was all that difficult, but they seemed quite happy with what I was able to do. So I expect I will be continuing with this on a weekly basis. It'll be a lot nicer when the weather improves.

And then when I got home from that expedition, I found a message from my ISP telling me that it was urgent that I call them immediately about my web page (with absolutely no details as to what the problem was). By the time I called, the person who called me had gone home for the day, so I'm left to worry until tomorrow. My web page appears to be up, so at least they haven't lost it. And as far as I know I've paid all my bills. Well, we'll see...
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Hah! I was just reading some commentary on Before Sunrise and someone pointed out that the couple turns up again in Waking Life (which was by the same director, Richard Linklater), in bed together, continuing one of the discussions they had in the first film. How cool. I do remember that now, but of course I didn't get it at the time. That explains the nagging feel of familiarity I had as I watched Before Sunrise. Gosh, now I'm going to have to watch Waking Life again. There are worse fates.
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My last batch of movies from Netflix included two movies about relationships. In Before Sunrise two young people meet on a train in Europe and spend one night together in Vienna before the American guy has to catch a plane home. They talk, wander through the city, meet various interesting people, and talk some more. It's sweet and realistic and worth watching if you're the kind of person that can enjoy a movie where there are no "events" beyond what is going on in the characters' heads. I must say, if I had one romantic night in my life, spending it in Vienna like this would be the best. As an added bonus, Julie Delpy is gorgeous to look at.

White Palace is the other end of the spectrum. James Spader plays a 20-something ad executive who is drawn to Susan Sarandon's 40-something waitress. What brings them together is sex (and some very steamy sex it is), but then they find that they care about each other. The problem is not just their difference in age, but in their social class, religion, and general attitude toward life. (Spader walks into his house and starts carefully adjusting the fringe on his rug; Sarandon's house is a complete mess.) The film is interesting in how they try to reconcile their feelings toward each other with the fact that they don't really fit in to each other's life. The ending is a bit trite, though.
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Monday, February 24, 2003

I know talking about weight loss (or lack thereof) is boring, but I figure if I feel obliged to write about my progress now and then, it'll keep me on track. So after 3 weeks of logging my eating and exercise, I will sadly report that I've lost only 1/2 pound (not statistically significant, I'm afraid). Over the 3 weeks, I averaged 47 grams of fat, 1800 calories, and 30 minutes of exercise per day. That seems like it should have resulted in some weight loss, but apparently not. I'll keep trying...
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Sunday, February 23, 2003

I've been following the Grand Prix results all day, and was pleased to learn that my two friends finished 32nd and 46th overall and 7th and 14th in the amateur standings. So they both win cash prizes, and the guy that finished 32nd (who was the one I beat in round 2) won a pro tour point for a top 32 finish and can no longer be in contention for amateur prizes at future events.
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I am the Natural Number

I go with the flow


what number are you?

this quiz by orsa

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I just checked out the Boston Grand Prix standings, and found that two of my friends finished day 1 as the 4th and 7th-place amateurs; 23rd and 26th over-all! Good for them! If they can stay in the top 32 overall or the top 16 amateurs through day 2 they'll win at least $250, and possibly more. So here's the ironic bit. I was matched against one of these guys in round 2 (much to our dismay, since we had been looking at each other's decks right before the pairings were announced. You'd think with 600 people in the room you wouldn't have to worry about being matched against your friends). The ironic thing is, I beat him (!). This turned out to be his only loss all day (he also had one draw). If I'd known he would do so well, I'd probably have stayed in a little longer and try to pick up some more win points, which would have helped his tie-breakers. I feel bad about the win, also, as there were one or two places where I slipped up very slightly and a more aggressive player might have called a judge to adjudicate, but seeing as we were friends he let it pass. I might have won anyway, but still, I feel bad being his only loss.
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Saturday, February 22, 2003

I scrubbed out of the Boston Grand Prix Magic Tournament today. It was quite a turnout - over 600 people. I didn't much like the cards I got - I had to build a blue/white/splash red deck that was tricky to play and had a lot of vulnerabilities. I got lucky and won the first two matches, but then I had a loss, a draw, and another loss, and decided to drop out. I came home and worked on setting up my new TiVo and transferring my service subscription over to it. After a few small glitches, it has made its first phone call and is processing the data now. If I don't find anyone interested in buying my old one in the next week or so I'll put it up on eBay.
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I've been watching a lot of local coverage of the tragic RI nightclub fire. It turns out that the reason there are videotapes of the interior of the club is that a news team was there that night to do a story on nightclub safety (!) in the wake of the Chicago nightclub stampede. The really heart-breaking pictures show how the door got blocked by people who had fallen down preventing anyone behind them from getting out. Someone told a story about randomly throwing themselves against the walls in the dark, hoping to get lucky and go through a window - and they did.

In the race to apportion the blame, it seems likely that both the club and the band will be found at fault. Although the band claims they got verbal permission for pyrotechnics, the news showed a very detailed contract they had with the club that spelled out every aspect of their show, and pyrotechnics were not mentioned at all in the contract. Also, several other club owners have stated that the band used pyrotechnics at their clubs recently without getting prior permission. On the part of the club, it seems clear that the club was overcrowded. The legal capacity was 300, and they're already close to that in the total injured or dead - add to that the 80 or so people who got out unscathed and it's clear there were too many people in there. I also wonder about why none of the materials used in the club appear to have any fire proof or fire resistence treatment, although apparently it did pass a fire inspection, so legally the owners may not be at fault there.

And on another sad note, CNN is reporting that the teenager who got the wrong type of transplant organs is now showing no brain activity, even though the transplanted heart and lungs are working well.

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Friday, February 21, 2003

Here's an interesting article from The Atlantic, called Caring for Your Introvert. It points out that introverts aren't really shy, and don't hate people, introverts are just "people who find other people tiring". Give us a little alone time to recharge, and we'll be fine.
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I haven't been to the health club recently. After all, who needs a health club when you have tons of snow to shovel? And today I tried out my cross country skis once again. The snow was melting fast, so there were places that were icy and slushy, and some spots that were almost bare. But it felt wonderful to be out in the sun. I got warm fast and had to take off my fleece top, ending up needing only a t-shirt to be perfectly comfortable. I understand tomorrow is going to be rainy and miserable, so I'm glad I had a chance to enjoy today.
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Thursday, February 20, 2003

Today I got the fastest rejection letter yet in my job search. I heard a rumor that a small startup in Cambridge was hiring, and indeed they had a QA job listed on their web site. I sent off my resume and got a rejection e-mail back in about 2 hours. I'm not sure why they were so sure I was not suited to the position, although I wonder if it might be due to my age (or, to be kind, my many years of experience), when they were looking for someone more junior. Of course, I have trouble getting considered for the senior positions because I don't have much test automation experience. (I don't have much test automation experience because although everyone says they want to automate testing, there are a whole lot of reasons why it isn't that useful in practice and the places I've worked haven't done it very much.) Well, I guess it's nice that they sent me a rejection. Many of the other places I've applied haven't responded at all.
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I just finished reading Waking the Dead, by Scott Spencer, the novel the movie was based on. I enjoyed the book, and it made me realize what a good job the movie did in adapting it. The last few powerful scenes in the movie (the main character's almost-breakdown at the restaurant dinner with his family, the all-night scene set in his new congressional office, and the scene where he reads the letters from his constituents and sees them speaking the words) are all taken directly from the book, but are given a great emotional power on the screen.
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Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Aha. I just heard a report on TV that explained why this storm measured higher than the blizzard of '78. Aside from the obvious additional factors (the hurricane force winds and the high tides in '78), apparently they have changed the way they measure snowfall. In '78, they measured the total accumulation at the end, which included a "squish factor" as the later snow compressed the earlier snow. Nowadays, they measure in segments, then clear away a segment before measuring the next one. So the 27.5 inches measured for this storm was nowhere near the 27.3 inches measured in '78. They say that if the same procedure had been in place in '78, that storm would have been measured as about 40 inches!
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The first notes in the longest and slowest piece of music in history, designed to go on for 639 years, are being played on a German church organ today. Read more about it here.
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This site has photos from 150 Feb. 15 peace demonstrations from all over the world, starting with McMurdo Station, Antarctica.
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They're saying that this latest storm broke the record snowfall for Boston, including the blizzard of '78. But if you look at the snow distribution map, you'll see that's only because there was a lot more snowfall along the coast (where they measure the snowfall at Logan Airport) than further inland. They're claiming over 27 inches at Logan, and I didn't get more than 18 inches at the most. In many other ways, this was nothing like the blizzard of '78.
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When I went out to get the paper this morning, I heard a cat mewing unhappily. It turned out that Machinka was up on the roof again. My usual method of opening the attic window to let her in didn't work because the attic window was frozen shut. I tried holding up a box for her to jump down into, but she didn't go for that. So finally I put a stepstool out on the porch, climbed up it so my hands could reach the edge of the porch roof and she walked right up to me. Dragging her over the edge was a bit of a challenge (she was not at all happy about that), but I finally got her down (without getting scratched, even). It took a few minutes to get her to come inside and she is now skittering about avoiding me right now, but I'm sure she'll get over it soon.
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Tuesday, February 18, 2003

I've dug out enough to get my car out so I could drive to the market and get some food for me and the cats. Now we're getting another few inches of snow, but after that it's supposed to get warm for a few days. I never got a mail delivery today, in spite of having a clear path to the mailbox dug out well before the mail person's usual delivery time. Whatever happened to "neither snow nor sleet nor gloom of night...." ?
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I'm about half dug out now. I shoveled a path from the garage door to the road, and then cleared out most of the snowplow wall, which is the hardest part. So at least the mailman can get to my mailbox. (I never did get my morning paper.) I came in for a while to rest my back and will attack the remainder later today. I heard from a friend that Boskone is still going on at the Sheraton, only it's now called Snowkone. About 70 people were unable to get their flights out, so have been partying in the hotel since Sunday. Sounds like fun - sorry I'm not there.
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I took a look out the window and want to go straight back to bed. My driveway, which unfortunately is a sunken driveway between two high stone walls, is totally filled in with snow. I did a little shoveling yesterday, but I might as well not have bothered, as the drifts have moved back to fill it all in. It's going to be really hard to shovel out now because there's just no place to throw the snow - the piles on each side are already way over my head. Well, at least I have food in the house and don't really have to be anywhere until tomorrow.
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Monday, February 17, 2003

I'm back from Boskone and busily engaged in catching up on my sleep. Meanwhile, the snow is starting to come down heavily, so I expect to spend the next day or so cocooning at home, watching DVDs and petting my cats.
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Sunday, February 16, 2003

Just a quick note to say that I'm having a great time at Boskone. I'm not working too much, so have been able to go to a lot of the program and have had time to chat with old friends and acquaintances (and some people I know from other connections that I was pleased to encounter at the convention). The travelling back and forth hasn't been too bad and I've been feeling reasonably well-rested. Being at the Sheraton has been great, because there are a lot of ways to get a quick inexpensive snack over at the Prudential mall without having to get your coat or go out in the cold. At tonight's awards ceremony, I was thrilled to learn that my Slovak artist acquaintance Martina Pilcerova won the Jack Gaughan Award for best emerging artist, and the proprietors of two of my favorite weblogs, Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden, won the NESFA Skylark Award. And on top of that, there was a Clam Chowder concert that was loads of fun.
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Friday, February 14, 2003

Last night's Boskone setup went well. I worked mostly on the Boskone book, Tomorrow Happens, a selection of stories and essays by the guest of honor David Brin. We had to number the 1500 limited-edition copies, then box the first 200 (which were also autographed by the author and artist Jim Burns) and bag the pre-ordered books. Alex also helped set up the art show hangings, but my back was still hurting a bit, so I refrained from physical labor. The buffet was great, with a surprising number of healthy things to eat - there was sushi and fruit salad and stuffed grape leaves and salmon and turkey and a great veggie salad with baby spinach, corn, black beans, cilantro, mango (?), avocado, onions, and peppers. Charlie Brown, the fan guest of honor, was gracious to all, and Tony Lewis proudly showed off the book's dust jacket design, which had been done by his daughter Alice, who is now a professional graphic designer. The trek home on the subway wasn't too bad, but I think we are going to drive in for the next few days. The parking garage across the street is a bit cheaper than the hotel's parking, and when you consider the saving in time and energy, I think it is worth the cost. Especially since the bitter cold weather is expected to continue for a few days.
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Well, here's an irony. I got my serverence pay notification today, and included in the check was a $562.50 bonus for the company's good performance in the last quarter of 2002. I give them points for paying out the bonus to laid-off employees (with one of my previous companies, I had to engage a lawyer to get my bonus payment for the previous calendar year), but you gotta wonder why they felt compelled to lay so many people off when the company had a good quarter.
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Thursday, February 13, 2003

Lemon Squares, from Eating Well. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil an 8x12 or 7x11 inch baking pan. In a small bowl, stir together 1 cup all-purpose white flour, 1/2 ts baking powder, 1/2 ts baking soda, and 1/2 ts salt. In a mixer, beat together 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tbs soft butter, 1 tbs canola oil, 1 large egg white, and 1 ts grated lemon zest until smooth. Stire in the dry ingredients until blended and crumbly. Press the dough in an even layer in the prepared baking pan. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until it is puffed all over and browned around the edges. Meanwhile, combine 3/4 cup sugar, 2 ts grated lemon zest, 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, 1 large egg, and 1 large egg white, and 2 tbs all-purpose white flour. Whisk until smooth. Pour evenly over the hot crust and bake for 15-20 minutes more, or until set. Let cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Cut into squares and dust with confectioners' sugar. Makes 18 squares. (100 calores and 2 grams fat each.)

I'm making these today to take to the SBOF tonight. (SBOF is the Secret Buffet of Fandom that traditionally follows the Boskone move-in and setup work on Thursday night.)
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TiVo upgrade. I have a lifetime subscription for my TiVo recorder, which normally means the lifetime of the recorder itself. However, they're doing a promotion this month where if you buy a new Series 2 recorder, they will allow you to transfer your existing subscription to the new recorder. This is a pretty good deal, since my old recorder is 2 1/2 years old and will not live forever. Used recorders of this type seem to be selling in the $100-$200 range on eBay, so I'll even be able to get some of my investment back. If anyone reading this is interesting in buying my old machine, which should be available in a month or so (as soon as I switch over to the new one and watch all the programs stored on the old one), let me know.
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I got a response already from the New England Wildflower Society. Their guide training course starts on March 5 - it's 5 morning sessions, once a week. I believe they want you to commit to giving one tour a week through the spring season. That should be easy to do. What a great excuse to walk through a beautiful garden every week!
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Well, I took the plunge and started contacting people about doing volunteer work. I'd been thinking about doing something for a while, but I just ran into a bunch of ideas for things that sound like they'd be useful and fun. We'll see if any of them pans out. The first thing I applied to was to help out with local Red Cross blood drives. I used to donate blood regularly, and was very disappointed to learn that the drug I am taking for breast cancer (tamoxifen) makes me ineligible as a blood donor. So this would be another way I could help out in that area. The second thing involves working with horses, which would be way cool. It's a riding program for special needs kids. They have instructors, but they need people to tack up the horses, lead them during the classes, help the kids mount and walk beside them if they need support, etc. Since I have experience with horses, I should be able to do any of those jobs. The third area was with the New England Wildflower Society, which needs guides for their garden tours. They start training in March. They also need some help with database design, which I also volunteered for. So we'll see.
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The United States government says that the latest message puported to be from Osama bin Laden proves Iraq's complicity with Al Qaida. Even if you believe the message actually is from Osama, which is still in doubt, there's a big difference in my mind from expressing support for the people of Iraq (which the message apparently did), to being in league with the government of Iraq. In fact, according to this story from NBC news, "the speaker declares the Ba’ath Party led by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to be a nest of “infidels.” Saddam has denied links to al-Qaida and has run a secular government that bin Laden, a militant Islamist, has harshly criticized for several years."

What I want to know is why does our government twist things like this if they expect to be believed on the more important issues, like Secretary Powell's presentation to the U.N. about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? I do believe that Saddam Hussein is a dangerous man, and I'd love to see the rest of the world present a united front against him, but I shudder to think that the United States is planning to shower a "rain of bombs" that will kill thousands of innocent people. Do we really have a hidden agenda of getting control of the area's oil fields? I don't want to believe that, but on the other hand, I don't trust George W. Bush one little bit.
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Oh goody! The House has passed a national anti-telemarketing bill! I hope it gets through the Senate.
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I went over to the NESFA clubhouse tonight to help with last-minute Boskone preparations. While one crew loaded the truck, I worked with the group that was collating, folding, and stapling 1500 28-page program booklets.

I am sore all over today from yesterday's cross-country skiing adventure, which used muscles I didn't know I had. And the weather is descending back into the frigid temperatures we had for most of January. When will this winter end???
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Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Galactic Jane Austen is a strange blending of Star Wars and Jane Austen fandoms. The best is Yoda Bennet. ("Visited Mr Bingley I did. Escape now the aquaintance we can not.")

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Things may be a bit better than I thought in the medical insurance situation. I called the office of my primary care physician, and they believe that the are on the list of preferred providers for my new insurance company. This is likely, as my previous experience with web site lists has been that they are poorly maintained. I need to call the company to be sure, but since the hospital my doctor is affiliated with is on the list, it seems likely that she is also. I'm still trying to decide between the 100/70 or the 80/60 options.
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Tuesday, February 11, 2003

The draft Boskone program is up on the NESFA web site, and a quick scan shows me that there are a lot of things I'm going to want to go to. Just about one item of interest in every hour. Guess I won't get to eat much... It's really too bad we won't be staying at the hotel this year, but with both of us out of work, and with the convention back in the relatively expensive downtown Sheraton, Alex and I decided that we really shouldn't spend the money. So that's going to mean a lot of trekking back and forth on the T. I haven't yet decided if I'm going in on Thursday night to help with the setup. I might be better off saving my energy for the main days of the convention.
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I was motivated by the sunny day and the light coating of new snow we got last night to dust off my cross-country skis (literally - they were out in the garage covered with cobwebs) and try them out on the two-mile Charles River loop just above Watertown Square. I was a little wobbly at first, but by the end of the loop, I was starting to get some sense of balance and rhythm. The trail was snow-covered the whole way except for one section where it goes out onto a public sidewalk. But the rest of it was fine. The river was partially frozen at the edges, but there was a clear channel down the middle. I didn't see much wildlife until the very end, as I was coming back over the bridge above the dam. There was a flock of wild ducks on one side, a flock of Canada geese on the other side, and two huge white swans floating majestically downstream. Hey, Phil and Dawn, if you're reading this, I haven't forgotten that you guys took me cross-country skiing for the first time, out on Mount Tom some 30 years ago!
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Monday, February 10, 2003

After being laid off, I thought I was all set with 18 months of Cobra health insurance, but I just got a mailing that I've spent an hour puzzling over. It appears that the company that laid me off is switching their insurance provider, so I have three insurance choices to select between in the next few days. All of them use a preferred provider network, and guess what, none of my current doctors are on their list. Of course. So that means that I either have to switch doctors again (which I've already done once before when I started working for the company, to accomodate their previousnetwork), or pay more to be seen by my current doctors. Luckily, I don't have any major ongoing problems at the moment, but this is just a total nuisance. It's one more reason I think it's a shame that health insurance in the United States is so closely tied to employment. I also wonder if this might not add to the over-all high cost of health care in the U.S. After all, each time you have to switch doctors, they have to get your records transferred, and may repeat tests and otherwise do wasteful things to get up to speed.
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The hundred dark days are over. I saw this line in an article in the Globe the other day, and I liked it a lot. So I calculated it out, and today is the 50th day after the solstice. So the hundred darkest days are over as of today. What a pleasant thought! The almanac shows that today is about 1 1/4 hours longer than the shortest day of the year, and the day length is increasing by more than 2 minutes/day.
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It's the end of the fourth week of my weight-loss attempt, and I'm still 1/2 pound over my starting weight. Last week I decided that I would have to start keeping track of my consumption for a while until I could start making progress. Last week wasn't a particularly good week, as I had a dinner party, a pot-luck dinner, and a couple of restaurant meals with Alex at places that weren't particularly good for me. I averaged 50 grams of fat and 1884 calories per day last week, which was only a little bit higher than the 40 grams/1800 calories I was running when I was successfully losing weight. On the plus side, I exercised for an average of 50 minutes per day, which was more than double the goal for the DPP program. So if I can keep this up (and maybe cut down on the calories just a bit), I should start seeing some progress. Of course, they say your metabolism slows down as you get older, so maybe it's going to take more this time around. We'll see.
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Wow - I've made the big time! I've been blogrolled and quoted by Gary Farber's Amygdala.
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I love those pictures of guys going off to look for space shuttle wreckage on horseback.
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The Green Mile is a slow-moving and rather sweet movie where by the end the bad guys get what they deserve and the good guys (with one notable exception) get what they deserve. The movie has supernatural elements, but is not a horror movie (although there is one rather unpleasant scene involving a botched execution). There's a very cute mouse, but entirely too many exploding light bulbs.
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Sunday, February 09, 2003

Today's healthy recipe is from Everyday Cooking with Dean Ornish. It's called Corn Lovers Vegetable Stew. In a large saucepan, bring 1/2 cup vegetable broth to a boil over moderate heat. Add 1 thinly sliced onion and 2 minced garlic cloves and cook about 5 minutes. Add 4 cups cubed peeled butternut squash, 16-oz can of diced peeled tomatoes, 1 1/4 cups fresh or thawed frozen corn kernels, 1 ts dried thyme (or 1 tbs fresh thyme), 1 ts salt, 1/4 ts pepper, and 2 more cups of broth. Stir, bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes. Add 14 1/2-oz can hominy (I substituted black beans because I didn't have hominy handy) and 1 diced red or green bell pepper. Cover and simmer another 10 minutes, until the squash and peppers are tender but not mushy. You can serve this over cornbread. Serves 4. Calories per 2-cup serving: 201, fat per serving: 1.5 grams.
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Saturday, February 08, 2003

I happened to look out in the back yard today and noticed this perfect little 6-inch wide by 10-inch deep cat trail that Machinka has carved through the snow drifts as she goes in and out of the house. (What, you didn't think a little snow was going to stop her, did you?)

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Yesterday worked out quite well. It snowed a lot more than they predicted - about a foot - but it was a nice snow, dry and fluffy, easy to shovel and fun to walk in. And it slowed down in mid-afternoon, so although rush-hour traffic was slow, the streets were passable and we were able to make it down to MIT in good time for the show.

The show - Star Wars: Musical Edition (and another article about it here), performed by the MIT Musical Theatre Guild, - was a lot of fun. Definitely an amateur production, in terms of performance, but the lyrics were very clever and the set design and staging were absolutely brilliant. I wish the libretto were available, because I know we missed a lot of the lines, but we thoroughly enjoyed it. Some of the songs:

  • "Trilogy Tonight", based on "Comedy Tonight" from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum - "Star Trek tomorrow (Captain Kirk character goes slinking offstage), trilogy tonight".

  • "Two Little Droids in Deep", based on "Two Little Maids from School" from The Mikado

  • "I Am the Very Model of a Multipurpose Service Droid", sung by C3PO, also based on G&S

  • "Tatooine" - Luke sings about how boring life is on Tatooine, based on West Side Story's "America" - "Nothing to do on Ta-Too-Ine..."

  • "I Am I, Ben Kenobi", based on "Don Quixote" from Man of La Mancha

  • "Music of the Knight", from Phantom of the Opera

  • "Don't Cry for Me, Princess Leia", sung by the lost souls of the planet destroyed by the Death Star

  • "Death Star Assault Medley", a wonderful climactic battle scene, based on everything from the rumble song from West Side Story to "76 Trombones" - "And there were 6 x-wings in the first attack..."

  • "A Whole New Hope", based on that song from Aladdin, "A Whole New Day", I think it's called

Too bad it's only being performed for two weekends at MIT and then probably will never be done again. (Although there is some talk of a possible sequel next year...)

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Friday, February 07, 2003

It's snowing today and I'm a little bummed out by it. Alex and I have tickets to see the musical version of Star Wars at MIT tonight, and I'm afraid that either we won't be able to get there, or we'll get there and find out that the show has been cancelled. That would be very disappointing. Oh well, guess I'll keep my fingers crossed and see how the day goes.

I had dinner with the Thursday night dinner group again last night. Lots of kids there this time, and much mathematical geekery. The kids and adults were all playing with blocks. The kids enjoyed making piles and knocking them down, while the adults got into deep technical analysis of how to build cantilevered stacks and whether the series was converging or diverging. Also discussion of upcoming experimental results to be announced about the background temperature of space, which may give indications of the overall shape of the universe. I attempted to ask intelligent questions, but mostly just listened.

I almost got to the dinner late because just before I was to leave, I got a phone call from a writer at Reader's Digest. She was working on an article about diabetes prevention for an upcoming health book they are publishing, and had gotten my name from the Joslin press office as someone she could interview about using lifestyle changes to lower the risk of diabetes. We talked for about a half hour as I told her all about my experiences in the Diabetes Prevention Program.
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Thursday, February 06, 2003

I finally got to see the latest Harry Potter movie. Alex has been tied up for the past few weeks helping out his mother, who unfortunately broke her hip recently. But he had a few hours off today while a home health care worker was there, so we had lunch at Out of the Blue and went to see what movies were playing at the Somerville Theater. (Okay, here's a benefit of being out of work: you can go to the movies on weekday afternoons when they only cost $4.00 each.) I enjoyed the Potter movie. The casting was great, and the locations and special effects were fun. The story didn't make a lot of sense, but that didn't really matter. And if you sat through the credits, you got a little reward at the very end.
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Tuesday, February 04, 2003

Here's an amusing blooper from CNN. Another time I saw a crawler go by saying the shuttle was travelling at "Mock 18". Yeah, not a real 18, but a fake one. Geez. Makes you understand why their announcer kept apologizing any time any speaker said anything the slightest bit technical, feeling sure that obviously the audience would not be able to understand it. In contrast, I did enjoy watching Ron Dittemore's press briefings. He spoke like an engineer, and he didn't talk down to people and he didn't try to cover up. The press guys were all in a tizzy, exclaiming in amazement about his candor and openness. Must be quite a change for them after covering politics all the time.
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Yesterday, I attended a birthday dinner for the first one of a group of college-era friends to hit the big 6-0. The friends hosting it did not pull any punches - they brought out a sheet cake with the full complement of 60 candles (6 rows of 10 each). None of those numeral candles, or "each candle symbolizes 10 years" wishy-washy stuff for them. I am sorry to report that Kurt was unable to blow out all 60 candles with one breath.
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There are so many little Catch-22's when you're unemployed. I was having a little problem with a medical bill and wanted to use the insurance company's online database of claims to see what the disposition was. For some reason the pin number I had noted down for the site no longer worked, and to get the correct pin number I had two choices: have it sent it to my work e-mail address (which I no longer have access to), or wait two weeks to get it by mail. In this case, waiting two weeks is not a major problem, but it's certainly annoying.
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Monday, February 03, 2003

I got this message from Pavel Kotrady in the Czech Republic today.

I wanted to tell you that our sympathies are with American people. It was another very bad day in your history. It was so sad to see how Columbia broke up. That Israel´s astronaut Ramon had picture from one small boy on board. It was picture which was painted by 14 years old boy Peter who died in concenration camp during second world war. He was a Czech boy. He died there with his parents and siblings and he was very clever. He wrote also stories about future and he painted that picture in concentration camp. There was view from space to our Earth on the picture. Mr. Ramon took this picture to the Space because he was also jewish and his mother survived Osvetim. So he took this picture to the space as a symbol that people´s dreams can be realized. It is also one of the reasons why so many Czech people is desolate by this tragedy. God bless their families.

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Near the end of this article by Peggy Noonan, there's a mention of Buzz Aldrin quoting from a poem "Fire in the Sky", written to commemorate the Challenger disaster. Well, this is actually a filksong written by sf fan Dr. Jordin Kare. The full text of the song can be found here (Feb 2 entry), along with a link to a M3P download site.

Yet the gods do not give lightly of the powers they have made,
And with Challenger and seven, once again the price is paid
Though a nation watched her falling, yet a world could only cry,
As they passed from us to glory,
Riding fire in the sky!

Now the rest is up to us, and there's a future to be won:
We must turn our faces outward, we will do what must be done:
For no cradle lasts forever; every bird must learn to fly:
And we're goin' to the stars--
See our fire in the sky!

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Good news, for once. I went in for my 6-month mammogram this morning and everything is okay! In fact, the doctor suggested I could start coming in once a year instead of every six months (unless I really wanted to). How cool is that!

And the sun is out and the snow is melting and it's actually pleasant out. I guess we're getting our January thaw a bit later than usual. And the stock market is up. I celebrated by going to the health club and working out for longer than usual (I'm now up to 45 minutes). Still haven't lost any weight, though.
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Ocean's Eleven is a pretty typical intricate caper movie where George Clooney and a big group of sidekicks played by some pretty good actors (Brad Pitt, Carl Reiner, Matt Damon, Elliott Gould, Casey Affleck, Don Cheadle, et al), put together an elaborate plot to rob three Las Vegas casinos. It is well done, and there are some amusing twists, but I don't think it was worth the quite hype that it got. One scene that amused me particularly - one of the robbers is watching the implosion of the Desert Inn hotel on television. Through the hotel window behind him, you get a glimpse of the actual implosion. If he just turned around he could watch the real thing! But this is Las Vegas.
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Sunday, February 02, 2003

I had lunch last week with some people I used to work with at InConcert. Out of the 6 of us, three are currently not working, one had been out of work for several months but had recently found a job, one was expecting to get laid off in the next few months because their company was not doing enough business, and only one had a long-term job that they were expecting to keep for a while (knock on wood).
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On the lighter side, I took the What Poetry Form Are You? test, and came up blank verse, with a touch of haiku:

I am, of course, none other than blank verse.
I don't know where I'm going, yes, quite right;
And when I get there (if I ever do)
I might not recognise it. So? Your point?
Why should I have a destination set?
I'm relatively happy as I am,
And wouldn't want to be forever aimed
Towards some future path or special goal.
It's not to do with laziness, as such.
It's just that one the whole I'd rather not
Be bothered - so I drift contentedly;
An underrated way of life, I find.

Short, terse, unfriendly,
Yet sometimes quite emotive;
I am the Haiku.

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InstaPundit has some interesting commentary about the shuttle disaster. I especially liked this quote from ModerateLeft in response to a Canadian Broadcasting Company interview question blaming "American arrogance" for the disaster:

Well, if this is arrogance--exploring space for science, pushing the envelope of the human experience, doing what our species has always done--then I support it. If it is arrogant to want to learn, we are arrogant. If it is arrogant to want to explore, we are arrogant. If it is arrogant to risk our lives for the possibility of a better future for all mankind, we are arrogant.

Mankind is arrogant. We believe foolish things--that we may one day cure cancer, that we may one day develop new forms of energy, that we may one day walk on Mars. We believe these foolish things, and we dedicate ourselves to achieving them. How ridiculous. How arrogant.

And people die for these things. And people are injured for life. The astronauts of Apollo 1, and the Challenger, and now, sadly, the Columbia have died for the arrogant belief that we can be more than we are, that we can walk on the moon, that we can touch the stars.

So call us arrogant for building the space shuttle. Call the men and woman who gave their lives today arrogant for believing they could fly to space and return to tell about it. But don't call us wrong. For this arrogance defines humanity. And I would rather our species be arrogant than afraid.

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Saturday, February 01, 2003

Except for a quick trip to the health club, I got nothing done today. I just didn't have the heart. Although everyone talks about carrying on, I think this will be the death blow to the space shuttle program. They will send up one more flight to bring back the space station crew and that will be it for a while. I really hope I'm wrong, but that's how I feel right now.
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I've learned a bit more. This particular shuttle was 22 years old and this was its last scheduled flight. And there are stories that there was some sort of accident during the takeoff that may have affected the heat-resistant tiles. So maybe it was a re-entry accident. Still, a terrible thing and I am crushed by the news.
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Oh my gosh. I just heard they lost a space shuttle, and it was one with an Israeli aboard. Could things get any worse? Is there any way this could just be a coincidence? This is so depressing.
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All the news shows are starting to run specials on the blizzard of '78, now that we are approaching the 25th anniversary, so I thought I'd write my own little reminiscence. (I tried to find photos - I know I have a few - but could not track them down. I did discover, however, that my photo storage area is ripe for reorganizing in my copious free time. Should only take a couple of weeks to make sense of it all...)

I was living in an apartment on Cottage Street in Watertown, off of Mt. Auburn St. just over the line from Cambridge. On the weekend before the blizzard I had a big party at my house, and the furnace had failed in the middle of the party. I called my landlord, and he sent someone to fix it, but it turned out that he needed a part from a shop somewhere south of Boston. On the day the blizzard hit, he drove down to get the part, but he never made it back to my house. He told me that by the time he'd got to the store, they'd closed up and gone home, leaving the part for him out in the alley, where it was already covered with snow. So he picked it up and just managed to get to his own home before everything got completely shut down.

I left work early and got home okay. I remember watching the snow fall for something like two days straight. The plows made a few feeble attempts to clear the roads, but there was a driving wind that just blew the snow right back. When the snow stopped, it was piled so deep that the plows couldn't just push it out of the way. It had to be laboriously scooped up and loaded into trucks to be carted off. So it took forever to clear the streets.

Governor Michael Dukakis got on TV wearing a cable-knit sweater and declared a state of emergency, banning all cars from the roads. Pictures of Route 128 showed lines of cars trapped in the snow, and stories talked about people who were unable to get home and were sleeping in hotel lobbies and other shelters.

Meanwhile, I was without heat. Although it was legal for people like furnace repairmen to drive, my guy's road hadn't been plowed yet, so he couldn't come. So I used electric space heaters and my gas stove to keep me from freezing. My friend Fred, who lived in Harvard Square, came over to see me via cross-country skis for a few days. But when they got one lane cleared so the buses could start to run, they banned skiing on the roads because there were too many people skiing and they got in the way of the buses. Luckily, I lived within a few blocks of the Mt. Auburn St. Star Market, so I could trek over there to get food.

Digging the car out was a major task that took several days. After that, people started getting really creative with the huge piles of snow. If I can find my photos, I have one picture of a great snow dragon someone made in my neighborhood. With no one allowed to drive for a week, it was a great vacation for everyone.

Eventually the driving ban was lifted, the repairman came back and fixed my furnace, and life went back to normal.
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