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Last weekend, we went back to the hometown to visit the in-laws. My hometown weekly has a Peek At The Past section where they recap stories from one, five, ten, 25, and 50 years ago that week. It so happens that 25 years ago was my senior year in high school, and between track season and various academic stuff, I got my name in the paper something like eighteen weeks in a row. Being the vain bastard that I am, I was looking for a mention of myself in Peek At The Past.

After half a year of no joy, they finally did one. However, of all the mentions I can recall, this is the one I am least proud of (it's only in the print edition):

Feb. 19, 1982

ALMA - Allegan High School's quiz bowl team took it on the chin from last year's champions Feb. 6, in first-round action of the 1982 Alma College High School Quiz Bowl.

Defending Class A-B champ Okemos tallied a score of 210 to Allegan's 80, though coach Cheryl Kaechele reported that the match was far closer than the score indicates.

Competing for Allegan Saturday were Eric Babcock, Chris Carter, David LaGatutta and Ellen Manning.
I know the publisher has a sense of humor (from personal experience; she was also my senior year Creative Writing teacher), so I prefer to interpret that as our own little in-joke.

But then again, I'm a vain SOB.

I'm sorry - I forgot to mention that the publisher was, at the time, the coach of our quiz bowl team.

A Peek Inside My Mind, Part IX

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I remember to thank my father and other family members for their service...

...but forget that my father's birthday was Sunday.

Bad son! No inheritance!

I've got about a dozen projects in some 'pause' state right now, which is a polite way of saying I'm not a very good closer. For instance, it took me almost three years to write my Iron Chef parody episode, and my magnum opus is still in work - and only about half-done - twenty-two years after I first thought of the central concept. I don't have any excuses, really. Between work, family, and school, I'm a busy guy, but who isn't these days?

And that's why I'm profoundly embarrassed to see this example of what a seriously motivated person can accomplish with basically no resources:

Following the communist takeover [Czech photographer Miroslav] Tichý spent some eight years in prison camps and jails for no particular reason other than he was ‘different’ and was considered subversive. Upon his release in the early 70’s, Tichý wandered his small town in rags, pursuing his obsession as an artist with the female form by photographing in the streets, shops and parks with cameras he made from tin cans, childrens spectacle lenses and other junk he found on the street. He would return home each day to make prints on equally primitive equipment, making only one print from the negatives he selected.

Here's the camera he constructed (click for larger image):

The camera built by Miroslav Tichy.  Click for larger picture.

Sure, one man's "seriously motivated" is another man's "obsessed." But when I've got everything I need at my fingertips and a head full of ideas available to me, and I take 22 years (and counting) to write a space opera buffa (the sparking event of which is now historically near-impossible), it forces me to reflect on my own inability to accomplish much of anything beyond the basics of trying to raise a family and putting in a respectable day's work.

And you all know how much I hate self-examination.

[H/T Boing Boing]

All My Life I Knew I Was Different

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So my referrer log shows someone who found me by googling for "indiana farm bureau daylight savings time." Just out of curiosity, I ran the same google to see where I was on that list. Turns out my original rant against the Farm Bureau's obstructionism of Indiana adopting modern time is #1 on that particular search. Not too far down the page is the misc.transport.road FAQ. Just out of curiosity (again), I started reading it.

Half an hour and twelve related links later, I came to a realization. I. Am. A. Roadgeek. From Adrian Leskiw's highway photo galleries of (among others) Northern Michigan (where I used to vacation), St. Louis (where I used to live), and the the UK (where I went on business once, about which more later), thence to Chris' British Road Directory and his listing of Britain's worst intersections, thence to, well, let's just say I had no idea roads and highways interested me so much.

Right, then. When I was in the UK on business in September of 2003, the hotel I stayed at was in Swindon but the office I worked in was in Chippenham (about a half-hour drive via the M4 and the A350). Since I had never driven on the left side of the road before, and I knew English roads are narrow anyway, I was a little nervous about the task, so I decided to practice the evening I got into town. I started out on country roads, and everything was fine except that I kept drifting to the left, at one point hitting a few small branches on a bush that was way too close to the road. But you know what P.J. O'Rourke says: "Nothing parties like a rental."

Anyway, emboldened by my success so far, I decided to try to drive into downtown Swindon. Somewhere around the third or fourth roundabout, I exited a little fast and a lot left and clipped the curb (sorry, 'kerb'). Immediately I felt the left front go flat - and by 'flat' I mean 'shredded' - and I had to find a place to stop. Unfortunately, there really wasn't one. I was on a narrow two-lane street with tight curbs and no parking, so the best I could do was roll forward about a hundred yards until I was just short of a pedestrian crossing where the road was a little wider - and by 'a little' I mean 'maybe a foot'. I was more irritated than worried - the weather was good, traffic was light, and I had at least an hour of daylight left, and it was only a flat tire, right?

I dug the jack and the tire iron out of the back of the car and (after a moment's panic where I couldn't find the proper dongle for the anti-theft lug nuts) loosened the nuts on the offending wheel. I looked for the proper hardpoint on the underside to mount the jack against, and realized that there wasn't one. Well, the hardpoint was there, all right; right behind the wheel like you'd expect, but its shape was orthogonal to the top of the jack - it was like trying to balance the car on a pencil point. After a puzzled search of the owner's manual, I discovered why. The jack was a half-scissors model with a semi-circular flange on the top designed to engage the hardpoint, like this:

What the jack SHOULD have looked like

Instead, the flange had been bent back upon itself:

What the jack actually DID look like

The net effect was that every time I would get the car a few inches off the bottom of its springs, the jack would pop out. This was annoying the first time.

It was aggravating the second time.

By the fifteenth time, I had stopped counting. Nothing I did seemed to help, and by this time I noticed that the light was beginning to fade. Finally, after about a million more tries, I got the car up far enough that I could take the wheel off.

Verrrrrrry carefully.

Trying to ignore the grinding metal noises from the vicinity of the jack.

I tucked the old wheel on its side under the front of the car in case the jack popped out again while I was putting the spare on (otherwise the whole hub would drop hard into the gutter and I'd REALLY be screwed), and - with the same level of caution required by mating porcupines - mounted the spare. The jack popped out about the time I got the third lugnut on. It took me five more tries to get the jack to stay up long enough to get the dead wheel out from under the front and hand-tighten the nuts on the spare.

The drive back to the hotel was uneventful, if you don't count the stretch of dual carrigeway where I kept right instead of left, forcing somebody to pass me on the left (with the appropriate hand gesture).

So during today's trek around the roadgeek web, I encountered what Swindon is apparently most famous for: a magic roundabout, which, had I encountered it during my orientation drive, would have made me soil myself as my brain turned to Cream-of-Wheat and ran out my ears. I mean, look at this thing!

The Magic Roundabout

Here's another view:

The Magic Roundabout

Digital Norseman has a few pictures of it in action. I can't even figure out how it works!

The moral of the story: don't drive through Swindon.

Update: Man, I wish I'd read this before I went over to the UK. I may even have been able to deal with the Magic Roundabout:

The Magic Roundabout demystified

Analyzing My Mind, Part I

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A comment in my PETA post noted "I've only read 4 stories on your site so I can't quite analyze your mind yet . . .." I live to serve, so this should get you off to a good start:

  • I've called myself an 'interventionist libertarian' in the past, but I'm coming to the conclusion that my political beliefs are more in line with South Park Republicans than strict Libertarianism.
  • I am a willing lackey (enthusiastic, even) of the Imperialist-Capitalist-Running-Pig-Dog-Military-Industrial-Complex.
  • I think the greatest threat to Western Civilization is militant Islam, and I think it wants the West converted, subjugated, or dead.
  • I think the second-greatest threat is a tie between militant Leftism and militant Christianity.
  • I think the Palestinian conflict is 10% the fault of Israel and 90% the fault of the Palestinans and their paymasters (which includes the U.N.).
  • I am a fan of disc golf, the Detroit Red Wings, Michigan football, and Michigan State hockey (there's a logical explanation, but I'm trying to keep this brief), and I think baseball and most basketball are wastes of TV time that would be better spent covering any of the aforementioned.
  • If you see a nick of 'parking_god' (perhaps without the underscore) anywhere on the Net, it's probably me. I got the nickname from my cousin on the Saturday before Christmas 1987, when I found a parking space twenty feet from the door of Twelve Oaks Mall in suburban Detroit: "You are the parking god!"
  • Once in a great while, I come up with an idea that I think is good enough for The Onion, and I feel awed by people who can do it consistently, like iowahawk, Frank J., and a host of others who are far more prolific and far more funnierer.
  • I occasionally double-repeat the last syllableseses of wordseses on purpose, for reasons I can't explain.

Nice Work If You Can Get It

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I think I've found my dream job. Watching old sporting events and cracking on them, kind of like a "Mystery Science Stadium 3000" thing. Unfortunately, somebody is already doing it. On ESPN Classic's "Cheap Seats", comedians Randy and Jason Sklar make fun of old sports footage; for example, one of college football's all-time classic games, 1982 Cal-Stanford (Joe Starkey's call of The Play is one of the best of all time - right up there with Bob Ufer's 1979 U-M - Indiana call [short] [medium] [full 3:00 version (currently broken)]).

So I missed out on a cushy ESPN gig. That's OK - I'll just make my own (.mpg file, 3.6 MB).

Missed Him By That Much...

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I had an exam in my networking class Monday night, so I went to campus a couple of hours early for some last minute studying. I got to the student union bare moments after the end of a lecture by International Socialist Solidarity Movement co-founder Adam Shapiro. Dammit dammit dammit! I pay my dues to the VRWC precisely so I can have advance notice of things like this! At the very least, I could have taken notes for a vigorous fisking later; with a little more lead time, I would have been able to ask embarrasing questions like:

  • Why are you still perpetuating the fraud that the IDF massacred innocent bystanders in the Jenin refugee camp when in fact there was no such massacre?
  • Do you still support the Palestinians' right to resist through "legitimate armed struggle?" How exactly do you define "legitimate armed struggle?"
  • Do you condemn Palestinian suicide bombing? Do you deny that New Jersey ISM chapter leader Charlotte Kates said "Why is there something particularly horrible about 'suicide bombing' - except for the extreme dedication conveyed in the resistance fighter's willingness to use his or her own body to fight?"
  • Why do you not endorse the Roadmap? What do you think would happen to Israeli Jews under a one-state Palestine?
  • Don't you think your energies in the occupied territories would be better spent keeping the Palestinians from perpetuating their culture of hatred than in overtly suborning yourselves to terrorist groups?
And that's just off the top of my head.

Degrees Of Ugly

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When you take a chick back to her place because you were looking through beer goggles, and you wake up the next morning, look at her, and think, "Damn, she's ugly!", there are three categories she can fall into.

First, there's garden-variety "Coyote Ugly," (no, not that), where you wake up with your arm around her and gnaw your arm off so you can escape without waking her up.

Second, there's "Double Coyote Ugly," where you gnaw your other arm off after you escape because you know she'll be looking for a one-armed man.

Finally, there's "Strap On An Explosive Vest And Blow Yourself Up So You Don't Have To Marry Her Ugly:"

The family of the latest Palestinian suicide bomber have expressed shock at his involvement in the attack because he was due to be married next week.

. . .

His father expressed surprise at the family home near Bethlehem shortly before reports arrived that an Israeli demolition squad was on its way. "I was expecting to marry him, not to bury him. This is just not my son. I just couldn't believe it."

(Hat tip: Allah. The BBC story is almost two weeks old - how did I miss it?)

Some Stuff Holds Up Better Than Others

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I usually listen to audiobooks when I'm driving by myself because local radio is pretty lame (although there will always be a space on my presets for Bob & Tom). Right now, I've got Michael Crichton's The Terminal Man in one car, and Robin Cook's Shock in the other. I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that anything Crichton writes is better than anything Cook writes.

For instance, The Terminal Man holds up very well, despite being written in 1972. With only a few minor tweaks (mostly involving doctors smoking (!) inside the hospital (!!) anywhere they want (!!!), references to homosexuality as a 'disorder,' and obsolete computer stuff), it could have been published now. Reader George Wilson does an excellent job keeping things moving along and performs the voices acceptably. My biggest quibble with this novel is a bit of a 'longshot premise' - the idea that a man paranoid about computers taking over the world would allow a computer to be implanted in his brain. I'll just file it under 'Suspension Of Disbelief - Major' and drive on.

OTOH, pretty much everything about Shock bugs me (and not just me; read the reviews on Borders!). The main female characters, allegedly graduate students, speak and act like teenagers. The dialog is stiff, the pacing is glacial, and the other characters are stereotypes. C. J. Critt's reading is just awful - slow, bad on dialog and worse on voices (which is strange, because I like her work on other stuff like Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta series). I especially don't like the scenes where the characters use computers - it seems like Cook interviewed a hacker for fifteen minutes and then just used buzzwords to fill in the other stuff he needed to do. As an aside, that's one of my entertainment pet peeves: Impressive Sounding Tech Jargon I Know Is Wrong. '24' is about the worst offender here - from the dialog, you'd think everybody at CTU is a sysadmin. But I digress.

Bottom line here: when I finish both these audiobooks, I'm getting two more Crichtons. I doubt I'll get anything else by Cook for a long time.

Battle Palace Intrigue

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[Full Disclosure: this is my day job.]

Field Artillery has long been known as the King Of Battle. But there are rumblings that the King may be dethroned, at least in the U.S. Army.

From Inside The Pentagon, Army Eyes 'Joint Fire Control Teams' To 'Enable' Lighter Ground Troops (I'm not sure why 'Enable' was in scare quotes):

One capability being eyed for cuts is artillery. Given the changing missions the Army is being called upon to perform in the post-Cold War era, Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker has told a number of Pentagon officials his service could cut 40 artillery battalions across the active and reserve components, sources tell ITP.

But Maj. Gen. William Webster -- the 3rd Infantry Division commander tasked with reorganizing his forces as a vanguard for Army structural transformation -- says he is hanging onto all his artillery battalions, at least for now.
There's a surprise. The Pentagon brass tries to tell the operational guys what they need to do the job they just did.
Webster this month has begun implementing a plan to divide his division into five brigades rather than the current three (ITP, Jan. 22, p1). But the commanding general says eliminating even a single artillery battalion could jeopardize readiness for near-term operations. Rather, Webster has opted to reduce the number of guns within each of his artillery battalions, he tells ITP.

Each of the 3rd ID’s three brigades currently have a cannon battalion of 24 guns. Under the new configuration, the division will field just 16 guns in each of four brigades, says Webster, whose headquarters is at Ft. Stewart, GA. His fifth brigade, centered around aviation, will have no artillery.
Not counting the divisional artillery (and I don't think it changes under Webster's plan; they allude to that later), that reduces the total number of tubes in the division from 72 to 64. That doesn't seem so bad. What the article proposes is the idea of 'joint' fire support controllers who are capable of directing air, naval gunfire, mortars, tube artillery, rockets, and missiles (currently, it's a stovepipe situation, with each service controlling their own fire support systems). I think in general it's a pretty good idea; coincidentally, AFATDS is quite capable of tasking all those systems.

The Air Force isn't too keen on the idea, though:

"I’m not sure that we’re solving a problem," responds Air Force Lt. Gen. Dan Leaf, who, as a two-star, served with Webster at the Coalition Force Land Component Command headquarters at Camp Doha, Kuwait, during major combat in Iraq last spring. "In my recollection, we had an abundance of close air support" in Iraq.

In fact, Leaf said in a Jan. 23 phone interview, coalition ground force chief Army Lt. Gen. David McKiernan requested shortly after the war’s onset that planes shift from the close air support mission to air interdiction. That meant attritting enemy ground forces from the air much deeper, before they came into close contact with friendly land troops.
He's half right, but the reason for the shift was beause the artillery was pounding the dogshit out of the close targets -- they didn't need nearly as much CAS as they originally thought, so they wanted to save air support for long-range interdiction.
The joint community continues to seek ways to minimize close battle, when avoidable, Leaf said. In the right context, effective tools exist to hit enemy forces from a distance, he said.

. . .

Many in the Army believe Air Force officials sometimes exaggerate the ability of longer-range weapons to achieve objectives that, in the end, require close-up solutions.

"We have to realize that fighting, though, can’t always be solved with a JDAM," said one officer, referring to the Air Force and Navy’s Joint Direct Attack Munition. "There are things that guys have to roll up their sleeves and [do, like] crawl in a hole and see if it’s Saddam. Or you have to go into basements or go into buildings. You can’t always stand off and say, 'Kill ’em.' And we saw that during Iraq."

"It is clearly preferable to engage an enemy at a distance when you have a choice," Leaf responded. "Long-range precision weapons are an important part of that capability. When the close fight is necessary, precision becomes especially valuable to the land commander. It would be wrong to overstate or understate that contribution."
Fair enough; one of the longstanding criticisms of artillery is that it is inherently non-precision, especially in a close fight. However, that's being addressed with new GPS-guided rocket and cannon rounds. Another effect will be a smaller number of rounds required to achive desired effects, which will result in a shorter logistical train.
Another lingering Army concern has been to avoid the appearance of relying on another service, like the Air Force, for combat effectiveness, some observers say.

In December 2001, Army Lt. Gen. Franklin Hagenbeck -- then the two-star commander of the 10th Mountain Division -- left behind his air support operations squadron when he deployed forces to Afghanistan, according to ground and air sources. When 10th Mountain forces ran into a tougher-than-anticipated al Qaeda enemy in Operation Anaconda three months later, Air Force officials -- left out of Hagenbeck’s planning -- pieced together single-man ETAC teams and, with the Navy and Marine Corps, assigned aircraft at the 11th hour to rescue and support ground troops in trouble (ITP, Oct. 3, 2002, p1; and Nov. 21, 2002, p1).

Later, when Hagenbeck complained about lagging Air Force support in a military journal, air officials privately were outraged. But Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper sought to bridge the growing fissures, and initiated an effort with then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki to review the Anaconda experience.
. . .
The Army left its heavy artillery at home when it deployed to Afghanistan in 2001, but brought it to last year’s major combat operations to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. Some ground force leaders say artillery proved useful in Iraq, but others say it was unnecessary against such a weak foe.
Sooooo... had Hagenbeck brought his artillery to Afghanistan, would there have been a need for an 11th hour rescue? I don't think so. Also, who exactly is saying that we didn't need artillery in Iraq since they were such a 'weak foe?' We already SAW what happened when we didn't bring artillery to a fight against a 'weak foe' (*cough*ANACONDA*cough*)! And that's ignoring the possibility of fighting a stronger foe in the future! Iran, North Korea, Syria? Yeesh -- bring every tube you got, then call UD and order more!
Once in place, howitzers have a slow rate of fire compared to other weapon systems on the modern battlefield, some critics say. Many military experts believe tanks and aircraft are more responsive and decisive than artillery against a challenging adversary.
No, no, and no:
  • Rate of fire: the M109A6 can fire four rounds per minute for three minutes (then one round per minute thereafter, based on barrel temperature). With 24 (or even 16) tubes per battalion, that's a lot of steel on target. Compare that to a strike aircraft -- once it dumps its basic load, it's back to base for more. How many 155mm rounds can you get on target in that time? Tanks? Yeah, they can get off two or three good shots per minute as long as their ammo holds out, but tanks have other problems...
  • Responsiveness: ...a tank can only hit what it can see. A cannon can hit a target 20 miles away, shift fire, and hit another target 20 miles from the first, all in a matter of minutes. An airplane can do that, but it has other problems...
  • Effectiveness against a challenging adversary: We have become spoiled in battle - our aircraft have not faced a significant threat since Vietnam. We have 0wnZ0r3d the skies everywhere we've fought, losing only some helicopters and a handful of fixed-wing aircraft to enemy fire (and none at all to enemy aircraft!). How much less effective would a strike aircraft be if the crew actually had to be worried about enemy fire? How many fewer F-14s, F-15s, and F/A-18s would be available for strike missions if the enemy could put serious pressure on their bases or carriers?
I wish I could quote the After Action Reports I've seen, but trust me when I tell you that the Field Artillery was a Stone Cold Bad-ass Mutha True Playa in Iraq. With a little bit of streamlining, it will continue to be for the foreseeable future.

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