Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Gender of Computers, and the Passing of Leslie Nielsen

My friend Nadja sent this to me in this morning's e-mail, knowing that I am interested in both language and computers. I'd seen it before, but it's still not only funny, but grammatically correct ...

A teacher was explaining to her class that in German, unlike English, nouns have a grammatical gender - they can be masculine, feminine, or neuter.

For instance, spoon is feminine (die Loeffel) while fork is masculine (der Gabel) and knife is neuter (das Messer).

One of the students asked, "What gender is the word computer?"

Instead of giving the answer, the teacher split the class into two groups, male and female, and asked them to decide for themselves whether the word computer should be a masculine or a feminine noun, and to give four reasons for its recommendation.

The men's group decided that computer should definitely be of the feminine gender (die Computer), because:

1. No one but their creator understands their internal logic;

2. The native language they use to communicate with other computers is incomprehensible to everyone else;

3. Even the smallest mistakes are stored in long term memory for possible later retrieval; and

4. As soon as you make a commitment to one, you find yourself spending half your paycheck on accessories for it.

The women's group, however, concluded that computers should be grammatically masculine (der Computer), because:

1. In order to do anything with them, you have to turn them on;

2. They have a lot of data but still can't think for themselves;

3. They are supposed to help you solve problems, but half the time they are the problem; and

4. As soon as you commit to one, you realize that if you had waited a little longer, you could have gotten a better model.

Imagine that you are the teacher ... who do you think won the argument? Do you have any other arguments in favor of one or the other grammatical gender (yes, Kathy, it's time to put all that experience teaching English to good use)? Add them to the comments.

Finally, take a moment to mourn the passing of one of the great comic actors: Leslie Nielsen. If you've never had the sheer, loopy joy of watching him in the Airplane! films, you are missing one of life's true - if guilty - pleasures. Surely, we'll miss him ... just don't call him Shirley.

Have a good day. More grammatically (if not politically) correct thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, November 29, 2010

Great Moments in Editing

You may not realize it, but I put a great deal of effort into putting together quality blog posts for your enlightenment and entertainment. I carefully craft what I want to say, edit carefully, proof-read each post a gazillion times before I hit the "Publish Post" button ...

... and, all too often, later find embarrassing typos that I have to go back and fix.

But that's the beauty of the Internet - I can go back and fix those mistakes with a relative minimum of difficulty. In print media, you're not quite so lucky. Here are a few examples of editing that didn't quite make the grade:

Perhaps we have found a new test for potential Congressional candidates ...

Stop the presses!

Well, yes ...

Friends don't let friends ... never mind ...

Is this a counting problem, or a recognition problem? ...

And finally, this one isn't really a typo, but I just couldn't resist it ...

And now it's now time to go back to work after a long and enjoyable holiday weekend. I'm not complaining, though ... at least I have a job to go back to. One more thing to be thankful for.

Have a good day. Edit well. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Making Christmas Safer and More Politically Correct for You!

Christmas is only a month away (except at our local Costco, where seasonal decorations have been on sale since midsummer). Shopping lists are being drafted, Christmas cards are being addressed, decorations are being brought out of storage, carols are being played in stores and on the radio, lawsuits are being filed on behalf of those who aren't Christians, and - in Portland, Oregon - a naturalized American citizen (!) from Somalia has celebrated the holidays by attempting to detonate what he thought was a van full of explosives at a Christmas tree-lighting party. I will leave you to guess his religion.

Welcome to Christmas ... oops ... excuse me ... Sparkle Season ... in the 21st century!

When I was growing up, the Christmas season started the day after Thanksgiving. We wandered the neighborhood singing Christmas carols, delivered loaves of mom's banana nut bread to the neighbors, and wondered how a guy the size of Santa could make it down those little chimneys. Today, we wonder if that street-corner Santa is hiding an suicide vest under his red suit. Times have changed.

Our beloved Christmas songs are changing, too.

In order to make our Christmas music more politically correct and to reflect modern concepts of safety and inclusivity, here are a few analytical comments about the changes we may need to make to some of our more popular Christmas songs...

Jingle Bells

Dashing through the snow
In a one horse open sleigh,
O'er the fields we go,
Laughing all the way.
Bells on bobtails ring
Making spirits bright
What fun it is to ride and sing
A sleighing song tonight!

Review Comments: A risk assessment must be submitted before an open sleigh can be certified as safe for transporting members of the public. This assessment must consider whether it is appropriate to use only one horse for such a venture, particularly if passengers are of larger proportions. Safety considerations may dictate the use of two or more horses, particularly if the sleigh is to travel over extended distances which could not be safely covered on foot by stranded passengers if a single horse expires during the trip. Note: permission must be obtained from landowners before entering any fields considered private property. To avoid offending those not participating in celebrations, laughter must remain at moderate levels and bells on bobtails must be equipped with noise dampening devices to minimize undesirable noise pollution.

While Shepherds Watched

While shepherds watched
Their flocks by night,
All seated on the ground,
The angel of the Lord came down
And glory shone around.

Review Comments: The International Brotherhood of Shepherds and Nomadic Animal Caretakers has filed a lawsuit alleging that long-established health and safety regulations are violated by forcing shepherds to watch their flocks without the provision of appropriate seating arrangements; therefore benches, stools, or orthopedic chairs (when required by a doctor's certification) must be made available on demand. The Brotherhood also demands that, due to inclement weather conditions frequently encountered during the Christmas season, flocks may be watched via closed-circuit television cameras from inside centrally-heated observation huts. In addition, angels of the Lord must be prohibited from shining glory all around prior to ascertaining that each shepherd has been issued safety glasses capable of filtering out the harmful effects of UV-A, UV-B and glory.

We Three Kings of Orient Are

We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts we traverse afar.
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.

Review Comments: While the gift of gold, which is considered legal tender and may be redeemed at a later date, is considered acceptable, gifts of frankincense and myrrh are inappropriate due to the potential risk of allergic reactions from oils and fragrances. Suggested gift alternatives include hypoallergenic skin creams and lotions which have not been tested on animals, donations to worthy causes in the king's name, or gift cards from local businesses. Traversing kings should be discouraged from relying on astral navigation. Use of a suitable GPS navigation device to provide the quickest route and advice regarding fuel consumption is recommended. Camels employed to carry kings also require regular food, water, and rest breaks, and animal welfare regulations require the attendance of at least one trained veterinarian for each three camels. Because the repetitive action of the camels' hooves on sand creates high levels of airborne dust and other particulates, wear of appropriate HEPA-certified face masks is required.

Away in a Manger

Away in a manger,
No crib for a bed…

Review Comments: Social Services organizations will be surveying mangers and similar places of temporary lodging throughout the season, and may remove any child found there to a place of safety pending further action against parents or other persons who may be found guilty of neglect by not providing adequate bedding and shelter for a child in their care. After a formal case study has been carried out and fully discussed with the appropriate Social Services Committee, criminal proceedings may be instituted.

Little Donkey

Little donkey on the dusty road,
Got to keep on plodding
Onwards with your precious load.

Review Comments: The ASPCA has instituted strict guidelines regarding permissible maximum load and weight distribution levels for donkeys, mules, oxen, and other beasts of burden; these guidelines are carefully calculated according to the stature of the animal ("little," "big," etc). Additional guidelines govern feeding schedules and the number and duration of rest breaks required per given period (typically, four hours) of plodding. Due to the increased risk from inhalation of dust and other particulate pollution from primitive roads, HEPA face mask guidelines apply (see previous comment under We Three Kings of Orient Are) for both animals and riders. Reference to donkeys as "little" is considered demeaning to an animal of diminished stature; "Mr. (or Ms.) Donkey" is the preferred form of address. Finally, if donkeys (or other protected beasts of burden) are employed to carry loads characterized as "precious," the caretakers of said animals are required to carry, and show on demand to appropriately-identified officials, evidence of theft and liability insurance.

Don't thank me. It's all part of the new philosophy of never offending anybody for any reason, and ensuring that common sense remains uncommon.

Merry Christmas!

Have a good day. Ignore the PC crowds. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Cartoon Saturday

North Korea has shelled a South Korean island, killing military personnel and civilians while petulantly shrieking that the South Koreans are driving them to the brink of war; President Obama received twelve stitches to his lip after being elbowed during a basketball game with family members and friends; after the European Union stepped in with a huge loan to bail out insolvent Irish banks, the European debt crisis is escalating as Spain and Portugal teeter on the brink of bankruptcy; according to a report submitted to the Federal Election Commission, the Republican party has already spent $636,800 - 18 times the amount spent in a comparable period four years ago - on its convention for the 2012 presidential election; and the unstoppable terpsichorean team of Jennifer Gray and Derek Hough finally edged out Bristol Palin and Kyle Massey to win season 11 of Dancing with the Stars.

Is that lady hot, or what?

But now it's time for Cartoon Saturday to help you cope with it all - and this week, with bonus cartoons to make up for last week's hiatus while we were family reunioning. How much better does it get?

We lead off with two cartoons offering different takes on the same punch line...

I'm amazed it took this long for someone to come up with this awful pun-based cartoon ...

Have you ever had the experience of having a posed photo shot against a blank background that, when you see the end result, has magically changed into a scene that wasn't there before? Here's how one cartoonist looked at it ...

Naughty pine and memory foam - a combination made in cartoon heaven ...

The virtual Thanksgiving ... what happens when you indulge in too many bytes ...

The baby isn't the only thing that's kicking ...

Every day I can relate more and more to this one ...

If only organized religion could be this funny ...

And finally, sooner or later everybody gets tired of all the ... well ... you know ...

Thanksgiving is over for another year, and I hope you and your family enjoyed it as much as Agnes and I did. Twice. But now it's time to put Thanksgiving behind us (yes, including on the backside!) and start getting ready for Christmas. There's the annual letter to be written, cards to be addressed and mailed, gifts to be purchased, decorations to be put up, cookies to be baked, and ...

I think I'll go back to bed.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, November 26, 2010

Andrew Carnegie

Because of my focus in yesterday's post on the Thanksgiving holiday, I neglected to note another significant event that occurred on November 25th: the anniversary of the birth of one of the most fascinating figures in modern American history.

Andrew Carnegie was born in 1835 in Dunfirmline, Scotland, and his family emigrated to the United States in 1848, settling in my home town of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Young Andrew found work as a bobbin boy in a cotton mill, bringing empty bobbins to the girls working at the looms, collecting the full bobbins of spun cotton thread, and fixing minor problems with the machines - all for the princely salary of $1.20 per week. He loved reading, and took advantage of the generosity of a local gentleman, Col. James Anderson, who allowed working boys to borrow books from his extensive personal library. Most of Andrew's education came from these books while he worked his way through a series of jobs from bobbin boy to messenger boy in the city's telegraph office, to superintendent of the Western Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Carnegie ultimately made his fortune in steel, introducing the Bessemer steel making process to America and, in 1875, opening his largest steel plant, the Edgar Thompson Works, in Braddock, Pennsylvania. In 1899, he combined several of his business interests to form the Carnegie Steel Company, which immediately became a leader in the steel industry.

A man of contradictions, Andrew Carnegie was a consummate robber baron, wielding his economic and political power ruthlessly to build his empire, although he had privately decided eventually to give away his fortune for the betterment of his fellow man.

In 1901, Carnegie sold his empire to financier J.Pierpoint Morgan for $400 million and retired from business life as the richest man in the world. He turned from industry to philanthropy, and by the time of his death in 1919 had given away over $350 million to establish more than 3,000 public libraries across the country, requiring only that the libraries inscribe phrases like "Free Library" or "Free to the People" over their entrances, so that they would always remain free. He also gave money for museums and concert halls (including Carnegie Hall in New York City), and founded the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh (now known as Carnegie Mellon University).

You can't grow up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, without knowing something about Andrew Carnegie, if only his name applied to a section of the city. As a boy with a love of reading, I enjoyed the wonderful Carnegie Library (which, true to Mr Carnegie's demand, is proudly marked as being "Free to the People Since 1895").

One more thing to be thankful for in this Thanksgiving season - free public libraries, courtesy of one of the most interesting and contradictory men ever to rise, in true American tradition, from humble beginnings to the pinnacle of power and wealth.

Have a good day. Visit a free public library.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving, 2010

It's early on this rainy, cold morning here in the Bilbo household. Agnes is asleep, the sweet potatoes are baking in the oven, Nessa has been for her first walk of the day, and all is temporarily peaceful and quiet. This condition will, of course, change as the day goes on, but now is a time for reflection.

Today is the holiday we here in America call Thanksgiving. Most cultures throughout history have had some form of feast to celebrate a good harvest, but the American version of the holiday dates back to the year 1621 when a group of Pilgrims sat down with the Indians who had, quite literally, saved their lives, to celebrate not just their first successful harvest, but their very survival in a strange and dangerous new world. The official Thanksgiving holiday dates to 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln decreed the last Thursday in November as a "national day of thanksgiving." In 1941 Congress - then, as now, always willing to fix things not requiring fixing - designated the fourth Thursday in November as the Thanksgiving holiday.

There are many traditions associated with Thanksgiving. It's a time for families to gather (as ours did last week in Pittsburgh) and presidents to pardon a few turkeys, and it marks the traditional start of the Christmas holiday season (which nowadays, of course, begins just after the Fourth of July).

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. In a crazy world in which we too often focus on the negatives, it's good to have a day on which we can sit back and reflect on the things that are good in life ... the things for which we can be truly thankful. On this Thanksgiving Day, Bilbo the Cynical Curmudgeon yields the blog to Bilbo the Reflective Grandpa to think about some of the things that are right with the world ...

A beautiful wife that makes getting up every morning worthwhile;

Three loving and successful children who have made their own marks on the world;

Five adorable, intelligent, and loving grandchildren that can warm the most jaded heart;

The world's best son-in-law and daughter-in-law;

A job;

A home;

Good health (well, most of the time, anyhow);

The good fortune to be able to live in a country which, for all its faults, gives me the opportunity to enjoy all of them;

The ability to write what I wish in this space without worrying about the heavy hand of the censor;

The ability to enjoy the good things of the world that would be denied by those whose harsh and intolerant worship of a jealous and angry God ignores the beauty and possibilities of the present in favor of a belief in an imagined paradise in an unknowable future.

I have many things to be thankful for on this Thanksgiving Day. And as I get ready to finish cleaning the house and cooking the dinner for our friends who will join us later in the day, it's only right and proper that I should take a few minutes to acknowledge that I am, as ever, most richly blessed.

I wish all of you, Dear Readers, the very happiest and safest of holidays.

Have a good day. Give thanks for the good things you have ... and the bad things you don't.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Security Haiku ... and Bumper Stickers ... and Evolution

The popular Japanese poetry form called haiku creates short, elegant poems free of every extraneous word. It's very simple: each haiku is three lines long - the first line has five syllables, the second seven, and the third five again. It's deceptively simple, but creates beautiful and haunting poems.

It also lends itself very well to humor.

One of my friends sent me a link to a collection of security-related haiku at the Greater Greater Washington website. Here are three of the best ...

Welcome to DC
You need two forms of ID
Please remove your shoes

This is who I am
I am bored but in control
Let me scan your bags


Yesterday yellow
Today went up to orange
Wake me when it's green

Speaking of all things security (are you enjoying those pat-downs at the airport?), here are a few bumper stickers to raise your security consciousness, courtesy of my friend Bob ... and the Transportation Security Administration, of course ...

Can't see London/Can't see France/Unless we see your underpants.

Grope Discounts Available!

If we did our job any better, we'd have to buy you dinner first.

Don't worry, my hands are still warm from the last guy.

It's not a grope, it's a freedom pat.


We rub you the wrong way, so you can be on your way.

In other news, today is the anniversary of the date in 1859 on which Charles Darwin published his classic work titled On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.

Darwin's theory (which was not new) argued that organisms gradually evolve through a process he called natural selection. In natural selection, organisms with genetic variations that suit their environment tend to have more descendants than organisms of the same species that lack the variation, thus influencing the overall genetic makeup of the species. Darwin had formulated his theory of natural selection by 1844, but he was reluctant to reveal his ideas to the public because they so obviously contradicted the biblical account of creation. Indeed, even today - in the face of overwhelming evidence - many people insist on believing in "creationism."

Charles Darwin died in 1882, but his theory of evolution by natural selection remains central to our understanding of the development of life.

Except for the development of hardshell Republicans and Democrats. Nobody can explain them. Or explain anything to them.

Have a good day. Be secure. Evolve. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What's in Your Juke Box?

I've been on vacation since last Wednesday, and today is the day I have to grit my teeth, put my nose to the wheel and my shoulder to the grindstone, and go back to work (Mike: insert snarky comment about the joys of retirement here). Once again, I have clothes to match, lunch to pack, etc, etc, etc ... and so I think I'll do a relatively short post. In honor of digital friend and fellow blogger Andrea, how about let's talk about music this morning?

It seems that today is the anniversary of the date in 1889 that the juke box made its first appearance. The device was installed at the Palais Royale Saloon in San Francisco, and consisted of an Edison Class M Electric Phonograph inside an oak cabinet, with tubes coming out of the cabinet through which, when the appropriate coin was inserted in the slot, the music could be heard. In its first six months of service, the first juke box earned more than $1,000 - quite a sum of money for the time.

The first juke boxes were less popular than their major competition, the coin-operated player piano, because their sound quality was inferior. The first jukebox with a sound quality good enough to entertain an entire room wasn't introduced until 1927. After that, the juke box took off, with famous companies like Wurlitzer, Rock-Ola, and Seeburg producing boxes of every size from the table-top boxes popular in roadside diners ..

to the larger boxes popular in bars and dance halls, containing hundreds or thousands of records that could be played in exchange for one's coins ...

So here's today's question: what would be the first five songs you'd put in your juke box if you had one on your desk? Here are mine:

1. Still Me, by Erkan Aki.

2. Four-Twenty AM, by David Rose and his Orchestra.

3. The Perfect Partner, by Jimmy Buffett.

4. Song for Judith (Open the Door), by Judy Collins.

5. Pachelbel's Canon in D, by Johannes Pachelbel.

Probably not five choices you'd see in the average honky-tonk, but hey - it's my blog?

What's in your juke box? Add your list to the comments.

And now, it's off to the salt mines.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, November 22, 2010

We're Back!

After a fun-filled and calorie-laden family reunion weekend, Agnes and I finally got home last night. As you know by now, we celebrate Thanksgiving twice each year: we have a family reunion celebration the weekend before the holiday, then have a private celebration with a few friends on the holiday itself. The family reunion is usually the most fun, as we try to bring in all the far-flung members of the family for one day to catch up on things and celebrate being part of a large and loving group.

Here are a few pictures...

Our traditional group picture - Great Grandpa with many (not all, unfortunately) of his children and grandchildren, and all five of his great-grandchildren:

Bilbo and Agnes show off the world's most adorable and intelligent grandchildren:

Everyone showed up with a good appetite. Our youngest grandchild, Elise, seems to like turkey:

I spend a few minutes on break watching "Toy Story 3" with a lapful of grandchildren - Noah and Leya:

I haven't seen my cousin Claudia since I was in high school, but she finally moved back to the Pittsburgh area and was able to come to the reunion. I think she aged better than I did...

Leya and Marcy examine cousin Elena's head. Really...

We had plenty of food...

And when it was all over, some of us couldn't move very well...

There were lots of other pictures, but those will have to do for now. And also for now, I must go...for we didn't get home in time to rescue Nessa from the kennel, and she'll be ready to come home.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, November 19, 2010

Cartoon Saturday...Not

Just a short note to all my faithful readers that this week's Cartoon Saturday will not appear as usual. We are in Pittsburgh for our annual Thanksgiving Family Reunion (celebrated, as always, the week before Thanksgiving), and will be spending all day on Saturday cooking, getting reacquainted, playing with the grandchildren, and generally having a grand family time.

Cartoon Saturday will return next week with a special extended edition as a reward for your patience.

Have a great weekend...my next post will appear on Monday morning.

More thoughts then.


Random Commentary From Pittsburgh

We're in the 'burgh, it's early, I'm still half asleep, and there's a lot to do yet today. In the absence of any coherent and rational thought, here are a few disjointed observations from a look at the news as reported from various sites I visited this morning...

A headline link on the CNN website: "Democrats Clueless; GOP Panders." Well, that pretty well sums up American politics in November, 2010, dontcha think?

USA Today is reporting that the infamous "Mission Accomplished" banner - the one that formed the backdrop aboard the aircraft carrier USS Lincoln during President Bush's May 1, 2003 speech in which he proclaimed the end of "major combat" in Iraq - will be part of the permanent collection at the George W. Bush presidential library. Yep, mission well and truly accomplished: Iraq destroyed, Iran empowered, the economy in the toilet, and our standing in the world at a low point. I'd certainly build a library to that.

Slate Magazine has an interesting article about Republican anger at the Transportation Security Administration and its latest effort to improve airline security - a choice between a "full-body scan" in a science fiction-quality device or an "invasive" pat-down search. With the GOP in the ascendancy at the moment, secure in it's mistaken belief that the American public actually trusts it, I believe I can safely predict the new Republican approach to improved airline security: no passenger will be allowed to board an aircraft unless he or she is packing heat. The new, improved, Tea-Party-sanctioned no-fly list will contain not the names of suspected terrorists, but the names of unarmed people who are an obvious threat to others because they won't be able to shoot bad guys when necessary. Clearly, at least according to the philosophy of the NRA and the hardshell conservatives, if ensuring that everyone is allowed to be armed at all times will ensure that we are safer from street crime, it stands to reason that we will be perfectly safe on board aircraft if we know that we are all armed to the teeth. I feel safer already. Not.

Okay, that's enough for now. Time to visit the lobby for some coffee, and get ready to face the rest of the day.

Somehow, though, I think it's going to take more than coffee...

Have a good day. More thoughts later.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Say, "Fromage!"

As we pack for the trip to Pittsburgh for the annual Thanksgiving family reunion, one of the rituals I go through is the thorough inspection and preparation of my camera equipment. The battery packs must be charged, the 4GB memory card emptied and properly formatted, the flash and external power pack loaded with new batteries, and the wide-angle lens packed for those memorable after-the-Thanksgiving-dinner pictures, ha, ha.

Yes, I'm a photo junkie. I love photography, and I like to think I'm pretty good at it. But that's the joy of digital photography: you can take hundreds and hundreds of pictures, delete the ones that are yucky, and only show the great ones ... whereupon everyone will think you're the next Ansel Adams or Anne Geddes.

But all of us photographers ought to mark today on our calendars, for today is the anniversary of the birth in 1789 of Louis Daguerre - one of the early inventors of the art and science of photography.

Mr Daguerre started his career as a theater designer, creating stage illusions through the use of hand-painted translucent screens and elaborate lighting effects. In 1829, he learned about a new technology that made it possible to use light to capture an image on a metal plate, though the quality of the image was poor. Mr Daguerre experimented with ways to improve the process, and eventually came up with a combination of copper plate coated with silver salts that could be developed with the application of mercury vapor and table salt. He tested his process by making a series of images of the Louvre, Notre Dame, and other Paris landmarks. The process was cumbersome and time-consuming, with the camera needing about 15 minutes of steady exposure time to fix an image on the plate ... as a result, most of Daguerre's early pictures don't show any people. The only one of his early efforts that actually shows a person is a Parisian street scene that shows a man in the foreground who has stopped to shine his shoes; in addition to having nicely polished shoes, this unknown gentleman has the distinction of being the first human being ever caught on film ... you can see him in the lower left corner of the picture (click on it for a larger, easier-to-see image) ...

Louis Daguerre announced his invention in 1839, and the images he produced became known as daguerreotypes - quaint, gray-shaded images that today look hopelessly archaic, but which in the mid-1800's were the very cutting edge of ultramodern photo technology.

Somewhat later, my father made a career of professional advertising photography after graduating from art school, and can tell many wonderful stories of the trials and tribulations of finding impossible props, designing complex sets, and working with models both human and animal to get just the right shot - things that are much easier today, when we can take dozens of digital pictures quickly and create polished images with Photoshop and other software that often took him hours or days to get to the customer's satisfaction. He also served as an aerial combat photographer during World War II, flying harrowing missions over Europe while lying on the floor of a B-24 bomber to capture images of bomb damage. Dad lost his front teeth on one mission when the gunner in the top turret of the aircraft panicked and dropped out of the turret, landing on the back of Dad's head as he lay on the floor over his cameras. I suppose that qualifies as suffering for your art.

My photography, of course, is far simpler. I can, if I choose (and I usually do, being lazy), just set the camera switch to automatic and let a computer calculate all the exposure settings and shutter speeds. It's almost embarrassing to be able so easily to take wonderful photos that Louis Daguerre and my father worked so hard to craft. And there are other side effects as well - the nice tans that my grandchildren have are not the result of exposure to the sun, but to endless photographic flashes. They were probably at least a year old before they realized that there was a face on top of my neck, and not just a black box that emitted bright flashes.

We've come a long way from the days of Louis Daguerre and his cumbersome equipment, and from the days when Dad spent hours in darkrooms loading film cartridges and ruining his hands in baths of chemical developers and fixers as he coaxed images from the silver trapped in his film. I appreciate the work and artistry invested in the craft by men like Mr Daguerre and my father ...

... but I still like that automatic setting on my trusty Canon Digital Rebel.

Have a good day. Take lots of pictures. More thoughts coming.


P.S. - since we'll be in Pittsburgh and preoccupied with the family reunion and the Spoiling of the Grandchildren for the next few days, my posts may be late or spotty. Deal with it. The schedule will return to normal on Monday.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Cloak of Invisibility, Bwa, ha, haaaaaaa!

In just about 10 hours, Agnes will be back from Germany, and tomorrow morning we'll be heading up to Pittsburgh for the annual Thanksgiving Family Reunion ... which means that today is going to be another one of those frantically-flailing days as I try to get everything ready. Fortunately, I'm a fairly competent housekeeper, so I won't have to do too much to get the house back in order (only had to order up one dumpster for the trash, dontcha know), but I still have shopping to do and I need to drive down to Manassas to take Nessa to the vet for boarding for the weekend. She doesn't know it yet, so please don't tell her.

But before all that, let's talk about something really interesting - it seems that Harry Potter may not be the only one with an invisibility cloak.

According to this article from CNN, a "space-time cloak" that could conceal events and actions is a theoretical, if not a currently practical, possibility. I don't profess to understand any of the science and mathematics behind the whole thing (being the guy who crashed on the academic rocks of calculus and advanced chemistry all those years ago), but it's still a pretty neat concept.

It seems that all you need is a metamaterial (briefly, an artificial material engineered to provide properties which may not exist in nature) that manipulates light rays as they enter a material so that some parts speed up and others slow down. The result is that the light (that is, the image of the object or event to be hidden) doesn't reach the observer until well after it has happened. That's the theory, anyhow.

Did you follow that?

Just think of the possibilities ... Congress could use such a cloak to conceal its ineptitude and intellectual and moral cowardice, and banks could toss one over all those piles of cash they aren't lending. I could drape one over the yard and make all those tons of unraked leaves disappear, or use it to conceal my car parked in a prime no-parking zone.

The possibilities are endless.

Of course, there's a catch. According to one of the scientists quoted in the article, because light travels at 100 million meters per second, cloaking it would require a roughly equivalent number of meters of metamaterial ... which is a lot. I doubt that I could run down to the local G Street Fabrics store with Agnes and pick up a hundred million meters of cloaking material to hide the leaves in the front yard. But if you're a politician looking to hide inconvenient truths from gullible voters, you could easily afford it, since the Supreme Court has provided you a convenient invisibility cloak to drape over all your sources of campaign contributions, which could then be diverted to purchasing your real invisibility cloak.

Wow! What a concept. I'm sure there's a Republican PAC working on it right now, with the Democrats close behind.

Just another thing for you to worry about as you contemplate the dim future of competent and ethical government. Sorry about that.

But now, it's time to move on to things that are more fun - like getting ready for the return of my Very Best Beloved, and the joy of seeing all five grandchildren and most of my siblings in one place for the weekend. Life is good.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Justifying the Unthinkable

You, Dear Readers, know that I have a particularly jaundiced view of religious belief. I have written often enough in this space about the dangers of blind faith and the horror that can be unleashed when religious belief turns to violence against The Other, The Infidel, or whatever we call those who believe in a God other than our own.

There's a very interesting discussion on CNN that grows out of a bizarre kidnapping case here in the United States: for those of you unfamiliar with it, a 14-year old girl was kidnapped in the night from her home and forced to be the "bride" and sexual slave of a self-proclaimed "prophet" who claimed his bed was an altar. She was later rescued and the "prophet" arrested, and the man is now on trial for the crime.

But is it a crime?

Lawyers for Brian David Mitchell, the accused kidnapper, say in his defense that his bizarre religious beliefs were delusions, and that he is mentally ill and, therefore, not responsible for his actions - not guilty by reason of insanity.

When does intense, blind religious faith turn from worship of God to delusion to murderous criminality? It's no small issue in a world where young men and women strap explosives to themselves and believe they will spend eternity in paradise for killing infidels, and where a woman can face death by stoning for the "crime" of adultery. Blind religious faith gave us the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, 9/11, and the horrific massacre in Mumbai.

Where is the line between extreme religious faith and criminal insanity?

I have faith in some things. I have faith that the sun will rise this morning. I have faith in the love of my wife, children, and grandchildren. I have faith that Congress will continue to be a worthless swamp of partisan bickering.

Unfortunately, I also have faith that men will continue to be motivated by religious fervor to do terrible things. As Voltaire once observed, "Men will continue to commit atrocities so long as they believe in absurdities."

Does your faith comfort you and bring you closer to others, or does it inspire you to bend others to your will, and murder or enslave them if they resist?

It's a serious question, and it gets more serious by the day.

Think about it.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, November 15, 2010

Monday Odds and Ends

Yes, it's happened again - I'm running late. Agnes comes back from Germany on Wednesday afternoon, and I need to clean up all the party rubble get the house looking nice for when she returns. With this in mind, here are a few useful and/or just plain funny things from my collection...

This may help you evaluate the impact of the inevitable sex scandals that will come up in the 2012 presidential campaign season ...

There will also be the inevitable things trotted out (usually out of context) from a politician's past ...

The historian in me really likes this one ...

There's nothing like a good pun ...

And then, there's the good advice for those who didn't vote in the recent midterm elections. Or in any elections, for that matter ...

New topic: does anyone have any idea why my beloved Firefox browser suddenly stopped connecting to the internet? I upgraded to version 3.6.12 for Mac yesterday (I'm running Snow Leopard OS version 10.6.5), and ever since it petulantly refuses to find any web sites. Yes, the Internet connection is fine - I can send and receive e-mail, but for browsing I'm reduced to using Safari, which I detest. Any ideas? There's nothing on the Mozilla help sites. AARRGGHH!!

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Really Long-Term Storage

A few years ago, Agnes and I discovered that the amount of stuff we'd accumulated over the years and didn't want to part with had exceeded the amount of storage space available in our house; therefore, I rented a commercial storage unit. Within a month, we decided that the unit I'd rented was too small (!) and we traded up to a larger unit. This unit has served us well thus far, although it sometimes seems a bit like Fibber McGee's closet.

I'm not the only one with a storage problem, though.

In our search for a source of safe and reliable energy, many people see nuclear power as the way to go. The only problem with this, of course, is that nuclear power generation results in nuclear waste which will be extraordinarily deadly for tens of thousands of years.

This does not strike me as being particularly safe but, hey, who listens to me?

I first took an interest in this issue from a linguistic perspective. Back in September of 2007, I wrote a post titled Don't Dig Here! that looked at the problem of how to communicate a warning message that would be understandable to someone receiving it many thousands of years in the future. After all, how many people today can understand the Shakespearean English of 400 years past, or the Middle English Chaucer used to write The Canterbury Tales some 700 years ago?

For the moment, though, the linguistic challenge is a moot point here in America, where we still have no permanent repository for highly radioactive nuclear waste. The Yucca Mountain facility in Nevada is no longer an option, and nobody seems to have come up with a better option. Except, perhaps, the Finns.

According to this fascinating article, the government of Finland has created "Onkalo", the world's first permanent nuclear waste repository, consisting of a vast system of underground bunkers and tunnels carved from solid rock in a three-mile long spiraling track that will reach an eventual depth of 500 meters (about 1600 feet). The facility is designed to last at least 100,000 years.

A question that arises in the long-term storage of nuclear waste is, "how long is long enough?" Some types of low-level waste may decay to the point of safety in a matter of months or a few years; others (the spent fuel rods from nuclear reactors, for instance) will be deadly for nearly geological time spans. While the Onkalo facility is designed to last 100,000 years, some experts believe that a million years is a more realistic time span.

Well, I won't be around to worry about it in 100,000 years, much less a million, so in principle I guess I really don't care. But I have children and grandchildren I love, and they'll have to deal with this problem a lot longer than I will. In the meantime, our desperate search for cheap and reliable energy will continue to bump up against environmental concerns that insist on absolute safety, aesthetic concerns that oppose things like gigantic wind turbine farms on otherwise pristine landscapes, and continuing desires for the latest in powered gadgetry.

Something will have to give somewhere. I wish I were smart enough to know where.

In the meantime, I'll be happy just to ponder the linguistic issues. I think it'll be easier to communicate into an unimaginable future than to make the compromises necessary to survive in the politically correct present.

Good luck.

Have a good day. Turn off a few lights. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Cartoon Saturday

For Amanda, who has already noted in a comment to Mike's blog that I'm running late this morning (I slept in for once, go ahead and sue me!) ... and for all the rest of you out there, here we go ...

Indonesian volcano Mount Merapi has killed 240 people, injured at least 162 people with severe burns, and displaced more than 390,000 people since it started erupting in October last month; a winning lottery ticket worth $129 million was bought in a porn shop in Detroit; authorities are investigating a report of a laser being aimed at an aircraft landing in Seattle; in China, cities are engaged in bitter fighting not unlike an American political campaign as they contend for tourist business; and forward-looking Republicans are already planning for the 2012 presidential campaign by courting deep-pocketed campaign contributors who are not subject to federal campaign finance limits.

If you thought you needed Cartoon Saturday to get you past the lunacy this year, just wait until 2012...

This week, we have six cartoons in sets of two, each set on a common theme.

I remember the good old days, when vast destruction was caused by monsters in the movies, not by political and religious zealots ...

And ...
We really need a rational, affordable health-care system in this country. Some, of course, need it more than others ...
And how do you affordably treat a hypochondriac? Here's how the Republican health care plan approaches the problem ...

You have to wonder how far back in history our tendency to lawyer everything to death goes ...

And whether or not the Ten Commandments might have been different after a legal review. Or an accident ...

You may recall Mel Brooks' classic take on this last cartoon from the movie, History of the World, Part I ...

It's a gorgeous fall day here in Northern Virginia: the sun is singing, the birds are shining, and the leaves are still hip-deep in the front yard. Isn't it nice of Mother Nature to help me cope with all that excess time on my hands?

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, November 12, 2010

Condensed Thoughts, and Other Things

Yesterday I started once again to try to clean up my study. Have you ever noticed that when you try to clean up a huge mess, it always seems to get worse before it gets better?

Of course you did, because you've been living through the Great Recession.

But anyhow, I spent all day yesterday working on trying to bring order to the chaos of my study. I can now see large sections of the surface of my desk, and have rearranged the distribution of computer monitors, printers, and radios in an attempt to maximize desktop space and reduce strain on my eyes and neck as I work. Agnes is coming home from Germany on Wednesday. I hope to be finished by then.

I discovered this morning, on reading my daily Writers' Almanac e-mail from Garrison Keillor, that today marks the birthday in 1889 of DeWitt Wallace. So what?, you ask. Well, let me tell you...

Mr Wallace was concerned that people were not reading enough - that there was plenty of good material available in the many periodicals that were published, but the long hours that most people had to work didn't leave enough time to read all the enriching things that were out there. One day, Mr Wallace had the idea that the best articles available in many other magazines could be edited down to their essentials and the condensed versions published in a single magazine that would allow the reader to maximize his or her reading time. Mr Wallace published the first issue of his magazine in February 1922, and it went on to become the most successful magazine of all time.

Mr Wallace's magazine is, of course, Readers' Digest.

The Readers' Digest concept of condensed books and articles reminds me of the old Woody Allen joke about taking a speed reading course. "I read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It involves Russia."

Moving on to other short topics for a cold November Friday morning...

Courtesy of my friend Bob, a topical photo:

No other comment needed.

I need to get moving so that I can get to the office and get a head start on the day so that the evening will come faster. There's dancing to be done, you know. And then comes the weekend, when there will be leaves to be raked, a house to be cleaned, and all sorts of other fun things.

Just a swingin' bachelor, that's me.

Have a good day. Tomorrow is Cartoon Saturday - be here. More thoughts then.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans Day, 2010

On November 11th, 1918, at eleven o'clock in the morning ("the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month"), the guns fell silent on the Western Front, ending the conflict known then as "The Great War" and later as "The First World War" - for all its horror merely a prelude to the more horrendous conflict to come.

November 11th came to be called "Armistice Day" in honor of the armistice between the Allies and Germany that marked the traditional end of the First World War (fighting actually continued in other areas, particularly Russia and portions of the Ottoman Empire), and it is still observed as a national holiday in many countries. In Great Britain, it is known as "Remembrance Day," and after World War II, it became known in the United States as "Veterans Day." Nowadays, instead of commemorating the sacrifices of World War I, it is a day set aside to honor all the veterans, living and dead, who have answered the country's call to service. Memorial Day, observed on the last Monday of May, is the day of remembrance for those killed in military service.

Whatever your feelings about war as a way of settling differences between nations, you can probably agree that the common soldier who leaves the safety and comfort of his or her home and steps into the jaws of danger in the service of the nation deserves our thanks and our respect. Today, only a tiny fraction of eligible citizens choose to serve in the armed forces, placing the burden of service on a disproportionately small number of people representing a small wedge of America - largely the southern and western states and the lower and lower-middle classes. Very few Americans have any real connection to their military, or to the wars being fought in Iraq and Afghanistan - in the words of one service member a few years ago: "America is not at war. America is at the mall. The Army is at war."

Our sitting president, who is the constitutionally-designated Commander in Chief of the armed forces, has never served in the military. And the number of veterans serving in Congress - the body that actually declares war - is depressingly small: 26 in the Senate (out of 100) and 95 in the House (out of 435) ... and that was before last week's elections.

I find that a sobering thought.

On this Veterans' Day, take a moment to honor those who make the sacrifices most of us would rather not, and defend the freedoms we hold dear.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Pineapple Upside Down Cake, and Great Moments in Musical History

This is another of those busy mornings, when I'm flying to get everything done before I have to leave for work. So two quick things for today.

As you know if you've been with me for long on my blogging journey, I love to cook, and I'm actually pretty good at it. Baking, not so much. But every once in a while, I can pull a rabbit out of my baker's hat (why not check out John's blog, speaking of magic hats) - here is a picture of the Pineapple Upside Down Cake (my favorite!) that I baked last night for today's office potluck party...

One of my regular readers and commenters is Bandit, who is a retired music teacher. In his honor, and with a tip of the hat to long-suffering teachers everywhere, here are a few great moments in music history, as documented in grade school students' responses to test questions on classical music by author Richard Lederer in his wonderful book, Anguished English ...

J.S. Bach died from 1750 to the present.

Agnus Dei was a woman composer famous for her church music.

Refrain means don't do it. A refrain in music is the part you better not try to sing.

Handel was half German, half Italian, and half English. He was rather large.

Beethoven wrote music even though he was deaf. He was so deaf he wrote loud music. He took long walks in the forest even when everyone was calling him. I guess he could not hear so good. Beethoven expired in 1827 and later died from this.

Henry Purcell is a well-known composer few people have ever heard of.

An opera is a song of bigly size.

A harp is a nude piano.

Aaron Copland is one of our most famous contemporary composers. It is unusual to be contemporary. Most composers do not live until they are dead.

A virtuoso is a musician with real high morals.

Music sung by two people at the same time is called a duel.

I know what a sextet is but I'd rather not say.

Most authorities agree that music of antiquity was written long ago.

My favorite composer is opus.

Probably the most marvelous fugue was between the Hatfields and the McCoys.

My very best liked piece is the bronze lullaby.

Here's to all you teachers out there! Some of us really appreciate you.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Of Big Bangs and Little Particles

Yesterday one of my co-workers passed me a link to this amazing article from the BBC: Large Hadron Collider (LHC) Generates a 'Mini-Big Bang.'

The LHC is an enormous scientific complex that forms a circular tunnel 27 kilometers (16.7 miles) long beneath the border between Switzerland and France. On November 7th, scientists used the vast machine to accelerate lead ions to almost unimaginable speeds before smashing them together to create a miniature 'Big Bang,' duplicating the conditions thought to exist in the first milliseconds after the real 'Big Bang' and resulting in temperatures more than a million times hotter than the center of the Sun.

Two questions come to mind regarding this amazing scientific feat:

1. Why on earth would we want to do this in the first place?; and,

2. If the experiment created a temperature a million times hotter than the center of the sun, why didn't it melt the whole complex?


According to the BBC article, the experiment allowed scientists to observe the conditions that existed - literally - at the beginning of time. It should permit them to study the "Higgs Boson," quarks, gluons, and other odd particles that make up the universe at its very smallest level of existence. I find this fascinating. I actually thought that a boson was the guy who blows the silly whistle when the admiral comes on board the ship, but I guess I was wrong.

Many people object to the existence of the LHC because of their fear that it could create a true 'big bang,' a vast and uncontrollable explosion that could, theoretically, destroy the earth. This fear has apparently not come to pass. Nevertheless, there are other dangers that could result from the LHC's experiments ...

I am greatly concerned that future experiments with the LHC could release enormous quantities of morons - highly-charged political particles with a high rate of spin, no atomic (or intellectual, for that matter) weight, and - unlike quarks - no charm. We've already got enough of those that have been generated by the Republican and Democratic parties, the Tea Party, and similar critical masses that form under conditions of intellectual vacuum.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Have a good day. Beware of morons.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, November 08, 2010

Guest Post

Hi, there! It's me again, Nessa. Remember? I'm the dog that lives with Bilbo and Agnes. How about this cool picture of me helping Bilbo rake the leaves yesterday?

I think he works too hard, so I try to encourage him to take some breaks once in a while and play frisbee with me. He tends to get pretty focused on what he's doing, so I sometimes have to get pretty obvious to get him to do the right thing.

Bilbo has been pretty busy lately since Agnes went to Germany to visit her parents. I do my part to keep him busy by trying very hard to make him feel guilty for leaving me at home alone while Agnes is gone. It's working - I'm getting more long and longer walks, and he's playing ball and frisbee with me for longer periods of time. He should be thanking me for helping him keep in shape, but I'm not sure he sees it the same way I do.

I also have plenty of time to practice my special Sorrowful Lab Look™ in the full-length mirror while he's at work. We Labs have this look in our nature, of course, but I've made it an art form.

When Agnes is home, Bilbo is usually able to resist the Sorrowful Lab Look™, but now that she's away, I'm more successful in getting him to give me extra treats and more goodies in my supper dish. It's all part of the Master Management Program that we dogs learn early.

I also have a very important job that Agnes gave me before she left: I'm supposed to bark really loudly and growl as ferociously as I can whenever a pretty lady comes near the house or gets close to us while we're out walking. I'm really good at this. You should see how fast they move quickly to the other side of the street, or go to the house next door instead of knocking at our house! What Agnes told me is true - if I make lots of noise and act fierce, nobody will know that I'm really a pushover.

Well, I've gotta go now. Bilbo will be out of the shower soon and I need to make sure I've emptied my supper dish so that I can keep picking it up and dropping it on the floor at his feet. That helps him remember to fill it up before he goes to work. He's getting a little old, you know, and I always like to help him remember the important stuff.

It's all part of being a good dog. Which I am. Really.

Have a good day. Bilbo will be back tomorrow.


Sunday, November 07, 2010

November 7th, and the Joy of Small Children on Computers

Well, my blogging friends, it's happened again. I add another ring to my tree of life today, attaining the esteemed age of 59 - one year short of the big six-oh. I don't mind growing older, actually ... it does beat the eternal alternative, and age is said to bring wisdom and insight. Of course, sometimes age comes alone, but we'll look on the bright side for now. The only real drawback to advancing age (aside from the annoying creaking in the body when one does something challenging...like moving) is the horrifying realization that I am now older than most Air Force Generals and Chief Master Sergeants, and older than both the President of the United States and both the President and the Prime Minister of Russia.

I can't for the life of me understand why they're not calling me for advice.

But I thought that, in celebration of my birthday and my love of history, I'd take a few minutes and look at some of the other interesting things that have happened on November 7th throughout history:

2000 - Al Gore won the popular vote in the US presidential election, but lost the electoral vote to George W. Bush. We all know how that turned out.

1989 - Douglas Wilder was elected governor of Virginia, making him the first black governor of one of the United States...not to mention of the state that was the home of the Confederacy during the Civil War.

1976 - The classic film Gone with the Wind was shown on television for the first time.

1944 - Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected to an unprecedented fourth term in office, defeating Republican challenger Thomas E. Dewey. The 22nd amendment to the Constitution was adopted, limiting any one individual from serving more than two terms as president.

1874 - The first political cartoon to depict an elephant as the symbol of the Republican Party was published by cartoonist Thomas Nast. The elephant is, of course, a perfect symbol for the GOP: a huge, lumbering animal that trumpets loudly while crushing everything in its path. The use of the jackass as the corresponding symbol of the Democratic Party needs no other comment.

and finally,

1805 - Explorers Lewis and Clark first sighted the Pacific Ocean after their heroic exploration of the western United States.

All in all, not a bad day to celebrate a birthday, eh?

Looking back to some more immediate history, yesterday I hauled my laptop computer down to my daughter's house to set up a video chat over Skype, so that Agnes could see grandchildren Leya and Elise and show them off to her relatives in Germany while she's visiting there. Here's what I learned:

1. It is impossible to have two children - one three and the other 8 months - on your lap at the same time while attempting to manipulate a computer.

2. A mouse does not work any better if it's banged lustily on the keyboard.

3. A child who laughs hugely and happily at virtually everything will stare blankly into the camera when you really want her to smile.

4. An eight-month-0ld child with a cold really wants to share it with you by sneezing in your face while you are preoccupied with working the computer.

In the end, it all worked out. Agnes and her cousin got to see Leya and Elise, and the computer made it home in one piece. Nevertheless, I think I will not tempt cyber fate again any time soon. I'll wait until the children are older. About 30 ought to do it.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, November 06, 2010

Cartoon Saturday

After a wonderful party at the dance studio last night, the 20-minute drive home took me an hour and a half because of the traffic mess resulting from a huge accident (not mine, fortunately); Antonio Ezequiel Cardenas Guillen, one of the top drug lords in one of Mexico's largest and most feared drug cartels, was killed yesterday in a fierce gunfight with Mexican soldiers; in Indonesia, at least 76 people are dead in the continuing eruption of the Mount Merapi volcano; leaders of the GOP (that would be "The Party of No") are thumping their electoral chests and demanding that President Obama make all the compromises they steadfastly refused to make for the last two years; and in Oakland, California, rioters were said to be "tearing up the city" as they protested a two-year sentence for a former transit police officer convicted for killing an unarmed man.

I don't know about you, but I could use a dose of Cartoon Saturday right now.

As soon as I saw this cartoon, I thought about Mike and his work with Habitat for Humanity ...

You'll know we've reached the ultimate in outsourcing when ...

I never saw this sign when I was going to my Catholic grade school, but I guess it wouldn't have surprised me ...

I think I should have a few of these all-purpose protest signs made up for the next time I run into a Tea Party rally. But then, I might end up getting my head stomped ... and have the ass clown who did the stomping demand an apology from me ...

This one goes out to all my Facebook friends who appear to spend all their time playing Farmville, Zoo World, Mafia Wars, and all the other games. You know who you are ...

And finally, there are some signs that the restaurant you chose to impress your date might end up being just a wee bit out of your price range ...

It looks like it will be a sunny, if cold weekend here in Northern Virginia. Once I wrap up this post, I'll walk the dog, pack up the computer, and head for my daughter's house, where we'll test the limits of my technological savvy as we try to organize a Skype video chat with Agnes, who is now in Germany visiting her parents. If you think getting two children - ages 3 years and 8 months - to sit still for photographs can be a challenge, this ought to be really good. I'll let you know tomorrow how it came out.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.