October 31, 2002:

Just an update to my entry of October 19, 2002: I began my participation in Amazon's Marketplace program on October 1. One month in, and I find that I've sold a hair under $700 in books. That's pretty significant, even if it's a one-time thing for me. (Many of the books were excess author copies of Assembly Language Step By Step or discard books rescued from the old Visual Developer Magazine library.) Amazon has fulfilled its stated participation to the letter, and deposited precisely what they owed me into my account precisely when they said they'd deposit it

About a third of what I listed sold this first month. The listings are good for 60 days, at which time they expire. (I can re-list expired books immediately if I choose to, which I don't think I will.) All but two books that sold were computer books, even though I listed a fairly broad spectrum of topics, from SF to religion to Jungian analysis.

My one serious frustration with the system is that it isn't always possible to list a book that does not have an ISBN, which means, in effect, that listing books older than 1970 (when ISBNs first became common) is a crapshoot. If an older book doesn't come up in a title or author search, you can't list it. I have several relatively rare Lakeside Press editions of 19th century history titles, but they were published in the 1940s and don't come up in Amazon's lookup. Even non-rare out-of-print books from the early 1960s (like Robert Payne's The Canal Builders) don't come up and thus can't be listed. Only the commonest Tom Swift, Jr books are listed, and the ones I'd want to sell would be the later, rarer ones.

Maybe that's the tradeoff. The system works because it's totally automated, and to be totally automated it needs to rely on the ISBN catalog. Bummer—on the other hand, $700 isn't bad for a month's trolling. Amazon will do well with this system, and if you have stacks of uncommon but unwanted books around, it might be worth a shot.
October 29, 2002:

Carol and I have been fighting almost constant migraines recently, which is peculiar in that I almost never get migraines, and in recent days I've fought off quite a few, and it's slowed me down a lot. The culprit appears to be certain boxed stuffing and food coating mixes. We had a supply of these in the cupboard and decided to use them to get rid of them, and that's when the headaches started. The collection included "Shake and Bake" and some of their competitors, and some "chicken helper" kits that give you a stuffing bed to lay chicken breasts on, plus a sauce to go over them. Once we noticed the pattern, we tossed the unused stuff and the headaches vanished almost overnight.

So what's in them that would trigger migraines in someone like me who has no history? Not sure. We think possibly MSG, though I've eaten a lot of MSG in my life and it's not done this to me in the past. MSG plus some spice, perhaps, or maybe some preservative. There seems to be nothing common among all the products except MSG.

Maybe food sensitivites increase with the onset of middle age. I wish I knew. One thing I can tell you, we're going back to plain, ordinary, even kosher meats, with a minimum of chemical additions and corrections. Shake and Bake is history. (We may try Corn Flakes crumbs as a replacement.) I'll let you know how it goes.
October 28, 2002:

In our efforts to reduce our sugar consumption, Carol and I have tried (and use) a number of artificial sweeteners, including stevia, aspartame (Equal), and sucralose (Splenda). Carol read in one of her nutrition books that sucralose is the left-handed enantiomorphic twin of sucrose, otherwise identical to sucrose except that the body doesn't metabolize it. The other day I stumbled across this site indicating that what we thought we knew about sucralose was wrong: It's not the mirror image of sucrose, but a chemical hack that replaces certain molecular groups with chlorine-based groups. Furthermore, it's not clear that it's as benign a chemical as its makers would have us believe.

As Dr. Mercola points out in his essay, very little testing (and no long-term testing at all) has been done on sucralose. So what do we believe? Saccharin was banned on the basis of tests on rats in which the rats ingested an almost unthinkable amount of the stuff, not the dribble in Kool-Aid that was what most of us experienced back in the Sixties.

On the other hand (and there's always an other hand) not everybody thinks Dr. Mercola is a sound follower of objective scientific method. See Kuro5hin's take on him.

Again, what do we believe, and on what basis? That sugar is killing a lot of us is clear. Perhaps we're trading one risk for another here, though they're different kinds of risks. I'm trying to lose my taste for sugar entirely, and it's a problem: Although I'm certain I use less than almost anyone I know, I would be hard pressed to dump the stuff completely.

It's enough to make you nuts.
October 27, 2002:

When I was (as best I recall) in seventh grade, a friend of mine built a radio receiver based on a magazine article in either Popular Electronics or Electronics Illustrated. The radio was an aviation band (108-136 Mhz) AM receiver, and very simple: A one-tube superregen using one of those wondefully weird 12V B+ space charge tubes created for car radios in the late 50s to obviate the need for vibrators. (I'll forgive all you young'uns for not following any of this.)

That's all the hard facts I can provide, but I've been looking for that circuit for a long time, and if any of my more..er..mature readers have stacks of old magazines in the basement, maybe you can find it for me. The time frame would have been 1963 to 1966, though there's always the chance he had an older magazine lying around. I'm gathering likely circuits for a book I hope to write eventually called Junkbox Radio, and what few people understand is that a superregenerative receiver tuning 89-107 MHz can be made to receive broadcast FM by slope detection on the detector's skirts. I want to include a 1-tube radio, but not your conventional, AM band 1-tube radio. This would be terrific...if I can only find the circuit or something like it. I tried to get a space charge pentode to superregenerate a couple of years ago and failed. Space charge tubes are supremely odd things and little has been written about them. They were the rage for about four years tops, and then fell off the edge of the technological world.

So...any clues?
October 26, 2002:

I've been watching Fox's Firefly pretty consistently, and so far I'm happy with it. (Egad! Jeff is watching TV on a regular basis! The Eschaton may be upon us!) No, the Eschaton is not upon us, but SF is in a bad way these days and it may be the best I can do.

Firefly's creator, Joss Whedon, was quoted in an interview as believing that we are alone in the universe, and that there are no aliens. So he breaks with the Trek tradition of ubiquitous humanoids (but nothing freakier, like scorpionoids or intelligent blobs) and with another longstanding SF tradition as well: No ray guns. Eek! What's next? Zero-point energy? I wouldn't be surprised, as it's far from clear what Serenity burns to get itself around the galaxy.

But the ray gun thing is interesting, as I concur. Hand-held rayguns are hard. The problem is first of all energy storage, but also a problem of energy focus. Chemical energy is marvelously compact, and can be released very quickly, and using mechanical confinement (i.e., a gun barrel) can be transferred to a small, dense projectile with enough efficiency to be dangerous. Generating a continuous beam with enough energy to do the damage of a lead slug takes a lot more energy overall. The slug is focused to an extent far beyond what you can do with a beam. Pulses are better, but we're not very good at generating pulsed radiative energy with that sort of instantaneous power, especially from a small package. My guess is that beam weapons will be biggish things carried by even bigger things (tanks, planes, ships.) Weapons carried by humans will be projectile-based for a long time to come.

The Firefly writers misunderstood something crucial in an episode a couple of weeks ago, when the plot called for the use of a conventional machine gun in space. The characters thought that the gun had to be in atmosphere to fire, but that's not so: Gunpowder carries its own oxidizer with it as part of the mix. It has to; there's no way you could release an explosive's energy quickly enough drawing oxygen from the air. In the show they put the gun inside a spare spacesuit and then shot it right through the helmet faceplate, which must have seemed dramatic to them but was kind of a howler to me. At least, when they show action in the void, it's silent. No whoosh! as the ships go past, and no boom! when things blow up. Considering that this is TV, well, one out of two ain't bad.

And does anybody else think that Jewel Staite is the most beautiful woman to work in TV since, well, ever?
October 25, 2002:

I bought something that most of you may already have, but I'm quite impressed: Zone Alarm Pro 3, a personal firewall utility that will replace Black Ice Defender on my system here. Black Ice works, but it's older and progress has simply passed it by. Zone Alarm has a lot more tricks up its sleeve. It's been very good at suppressing pop-up ads and those weird things I'm starting to see on major sites like Yahoo, most recently a Halloween witch zipping around and occluding the site for the first few seconds I'm there.

Zone Alarm starts out by blocking all access to your system from the Internet, and also to the Internet, from the inside—and then when software attempts to either get in or get out, it asks you whether to allow the access. Virtually all direct connections to your system from outside remain blocked by default—Napster and Audiogalaxy are no more, sigh—and I see no reason to allow them at this point. When installed apps like Outlook Express or the Agent newsreader attempt to access the Internet, I can give them permission, which then can be "remembered" by Zone Alarm, allowing future access without interruption.

This was only a nuisance for the first day I had it installed—the first few hours, actually. Once Outlook, Agent, Aardmarks, IE, Norton AntiVirus, and a couple other items had their permission, Zone Alarm retreated into the background to keep an eye on things. It's hell on spyware, stops pop-up ads cold, and can cooperate usefully with the NAT firewall inside my Linksys residential gateway. I'm still exploring what all it can do, but it's worth the price of admission for suppressing the pop-ups alone. Highly recommended.
October 24, 2002:

In poking around in showrooms browsing various house fixtures for our new house in Colorado Springs, Carol and I came across something that definitely belongs in the Guldurndest Things file: Fire on Ice, which is a species of gas fireplace in which pale disembodied flames dance above a pile of broken glass. That sounds bad, except that the glass pieces aren't pointed shards like what comes of a broken window, but more those little cubes of glass that you find scattered around the road after a car accident—well, ok, maybe it sounds bad anyway.

It's certainly spooky looking, and—weirdly enough—cold, in the mythic sort of way that echoes the feeling I get for most ultramodern/postmodern design. There's no sense of coziness like you get from gas logs or certainly a real wood flame. It just looks wrong, like something that belongs in a Harry Potter movie.

Carol I did wood heat to death back in Rochester 20 years ago, and we're not going there again. In the winter (which was most of the time in Rochester) you couldn't hardly breathe outside after dark, once everybody in the neighborhood fired up all those "clean" and environmentally benign wood stoves. We've done quite well without a fireplace here in Scottsdale (duhh!) but irrespective of what we think, fireplaces are just expected in Colorado. So we'll go with natural gas and a stack of good, clean, highly artificial ceramic logs. No ashes. No soot. No chimney fires. Hey, Grizzly Adams I'm not!
October 23, 2002:

Apart from hockey, I find very few human concepts as utterly inane as reincarnation. Supposedly we are repeatedly dipped in and out of physical reality like teabags, in the hope of picking up enough, well, something (Wisdom? College degrees? Scars?) to merit the prize of personal extinction. Of course, we don't remember anything of prior incarnations, so it's hard to conceive of just what is doing the learning, or what is actually learned. But while picking through my library looking for discards to thin out the collection, I came upon a passage in Soul Journey by John A. Sanford:

We began our quest for the origins of the idea of the soul because the idea of reincarnation calls for an understanding of what it is that transmigrates from one existence to another. As we have seen, in Indian thought the soul is an impersonal reality, more metaphysical than psychological. What transmigrates from one existence to another is the seeming-soul, the jiva, which is not an entity of enduring consequence. For an idea of the soul as an individual entity with enduring life and value we had to turn to the idea of the soul as it developed among the Greeks and matured in Christian thought. But the chances are that, with the exception of a few sophisticated people, most modern believers in reincarnation, while they derive their ideas about reincarnation from the East, have in mind a Western idea of the soul. The amount of interest among contemporary Western people who believe in reincarnation suggests this, since for the East the past lives of the seeming-self, the jiva, are of little importance. Thus what we probably have in many cases in the West today is a marriage, as it were, of the Eastern ideas of God as Brahman to a Western idea of the soul. But such a marriage is no marriage at all since the idea of the individuality of the soul, as we have seen, is foreign to the East.

In other words, from the Eastern standpoint, it isn't an individual soul that reincarnates. What really matters in reincarnation is that the raw stuff of personhood is gradually improved over time by passage through the physical, until it is pure enough to need no further processing. This raw stuff, however, is not in any sense an individual. Reincarnation is like a gradual process of removing the impurities from precious metal. There's no sense in which personality or memories or anything specific to individual life persists beyond death. The mental ingredients of a newly dead person are poured back into the crucible from which new lives are drawn, but the individual experience of the old life—the process by which that particular incarnation improved the stuff of personhood—having served its purpose, is gone.

I don't agree with that, of course, but it's not inane, like all this talk of "I was a 14th century British nobleman in my last incarnation." The survival of the individual soul, with memories and personality intact, implies an individual destiny—not just being melted down and poured into a new mold to become a new individual made of slightly better stuff. Philosopher John Hick has an interesting and original take on this, which I'll relate here once I find his book and freshen up the concept in my mind.
October 22, 2002:

I've been fascinated by small-format PCs for quite a few years, and have watched them closely as they've evolved. (Ever hear my wonderful story about a certain Taiwanese "Bible-Size Computer!" that I saw at Comdex circa 1991? Dare I tell the story here?) You may have seen my entry for November 12, 2001, in which I mentioned the Cappuccino PC in all its various private-label identities. A couple of weeks ago I decided to buy one. It's private-labeled as "EZGo" but it's Cappuccino all the way. I need a Windows XP lab system here, and a Linux system as well, even though I intend to continue using my Win2K Dell as my primary workstation. Windows XP has a lot of new support for Wi-Fi, which I have to understand well enough to explain it to others in my book.

So here it is. The thing is tiny, not even "Bible-sized" unless you have a real small Bible. It's defined primarily by the size of the CD-RW/DVD ROM drive built-in. What I find impressive is that the thing is veritably crusty with I/O. The front panel has two USB ports, an IrDA port (not that anybody cares) plus headphones and mic jacks.

And on the back panel, egad. In addition to video, keyboard, and mouse connectors, there are two USB-2.0 ports (480 Mbps!) a 100-Base T Ethernet RJ45, and right beside that a gigabit Ethernet RJ45. How useful that will be I don't know, as I have nothing else in the house to connect it to. There are two FireWire ports, a conventional serial and parallel port, a 56K dialup modem RJ11, plus S-Video, AV-Video, and an SPDIF audio port, whateverthehell that is.

As if that weren't enough, the unit has a single Class 2 PCMCIA slot on the top or left side, depending on how you stand it. That thing protruding from the top is a Cisco 340 Wi-Fi client card, plugged in as much to keep the dust out of the slot as anything else. (They didn't include any sort of plug for the PCMCIA slot, and Arizona is famous for its dust.)

You can set it down flat, or stand it up on edge with two little folding feet. Given that it's running at 1.8 GHz (the same speed as my monster Dell) the internal fan is not surprising, and its white-noise quality is easily tuned out.

The downside to units like this became apparent when I tried to install Red Hat 8. Red Hat attempted to identify the video logic and failed, as nothing more elaborate than 800 X 600 standard VGA will function. What little doc came with the unit sheds no light on what sort of graphics chip set it uses, and I suspect I'll have to call the dealer to see what sorts of drivers Linux will require.

On the other hand, it almost disappears on my overcrowded computer table, and now that I have my KVM switch reinstalled, I can pop between the two machines with one jab of a button. In case you're interested, it came from IBuyPower.com. With some reservations (and given that I've had it running for about 24 hours so far) I do recommend it.
October 21, 2002:

I got a "Where's George?" dollar in change up at Albertson's on Saturday. The URL was right there on the back of the bill, rubber stamped in black ink three times in the margins. I'd heard of this marvelously whacky Web site before, but never actually went there. This provided an irresistable opportunity.

The whole idea behind "Where's George?" is to use the Web to track the wanderings of paper money. You type in the serial number and series year of a piece of currency (it doesn't have to be a dollar) and indicate on the bill somehow that it's been recorded. My guess is that the guy who turned this one loose is really into the concept, as he made up a rubber stamp just for the purpose. (The site does not sell such stamps, which are apparently a little dicey from a legal standpoint.) Most people just use a pen or felt marker. If you get a "Where's George?" bill in change, you can go up to the Web site and record it, along with where you got it and what shape it's in. You can also pull down a complete history of the bill's travels since "Where's George?" recruited it.

There is also a "Where's Willy?" site for Canadian currency. "Willy" is Sir Wilfrid Laurier, who was the first French Canadian prime minister, and his picture is on the Canadian $5 bill. (There is no longer a $1 bill in Canada.) You can buy a "Where's Willy?" stamp from the site, since it's apparently legal to deface Canadian money.

My bill was a relative newbie. The only other record was that of its recruiter, 64 days ago in Glendale, Arizona, which is the suburb on the other side of Phoenix from Scottsdale, and about 25 miles west of here. I recorded it, added my comments, and will spend it at the next opportunity. If the bill is ever recorded again, I will get an email telling me to come and see where it's been. Good silly fun, of a sort that none of us would ever have predicted twenty years ago. O Brave New World, That Has Such Diversions In It!
October 20, 2002:

After having written over 20,000 words on The Other Catholic Church: A Seeker's Guide to the Old Catholic Movement, I had second thoughts and set it aside. I haven't changed my mind about the Old Catholic idea. I still think it's the best spiritual path for people who want to remain Catholic but can't in conscience (for any of several reasons) support the Roman Catholic Church.

No. I stopped writing the book because I didn't want to get people's hopes up in vain. I've mentioned the Old Catholic Church here many times, and people regularly drop me notes asking me where they can sign up. (The photo of Rev. Mary Ramsden presiding at our 25th wedding anniversary Mass in my entry for January 22, 2002 brought several such inquiries.) The kicker is that actual Old Catholic communities are very sparsely distributed, and if you're lucky enough to live within striking distance of one, that's good—but most people are not. So rather than get people all excited and then dash their hopes, I canned the project.

My new thought on Old Catholicism is simpler, but not as easy: Start your own Old Catholic home church. I mean it! Every so often, Mary Ramsden celebrates the Mass around my sister Gretchen's dining room table, and when we're in town we're always there. Mary's a validly ordained priest in the Old Catholic tradition. She has her own vestments, chalice, paten, and antimension. Gretchen invites her estranged Catholic friends, and for an hour or two the divisions in the Catholic world sort of melt away, and we become Church, as Christ Himself told us we would.

What you mainly need is the will to make it happen, and a priest. The will I leave up to you. There are ways to find a priest. I think the organization's name is appalling, but Rent-a-Priest exists to refer Roman Catholic priests who have left the Roman Catholic organization (usually to marry) to people who need their services, for masses, weddings, baptisms, and so on. You can also search on "Old Catholic" for Old Catholic priests and communities in your area. I made up a nice laser printable missal in Word 2000 for Mary's masses, and anyone who wants the file can have it.

It basically comes down to this: God is there for everyone, but you have to go after Him. Sometimes this means creating your own community. Catholics are used to treating their parishes as a given, but believe me: There is something ineffably marvelous about sharing the Eucharist as the very first Christians shared it, around a community table. It changed the whole meaning of Catholicism for me. If that's a path that appeals to you, give it some thought. It's easier than you think.
October 19, 2002:

There was a fuss some months ago when Amazon implemented a new program called Amazon marketplace, which basically allowed people to sell their used books on the Amazon system, with Amazon getting a rakeoff on each sale. This sounds tame enough—the fuss happened because Amazon places a link underneath a new book's main listing reading, "Used and new from $XX.XX."

Those making the fuss were mostly authors, who objected to Amazon steering people away from new book sales. I could see both sides back then, and even moreso now that I've been in the Amazon Marketplace program for three weeks, selling odd books as an experiment. Basically, on October 1 I listed 30 books culled from my library that I was planning on getting rid of anyway. Many were Eighties books on things like Smalltalk 80, which I was bullish on back then. A few were more recent works, like Bertrand Meyer's original Eiffel book, and some other odd lots I saved from the Coriolis library when the company went down and decided since not to keep. I also listed one of my own Assembly Language Step By Step copies to see if anyone would bite.

They bit. Boy, did they bite! In 16 days I sold 14 books. Five of those 14 were copies of my own book. (I got a case of 25 free copies back in 2000, and don't really need to keep that many around, especially since I've begun thinking about the next revision.) As soon as one copy sold, I listed another one. I sold two copies on the same day once.

I think it worked as well as it did because I checked each book before listing it to see what other people were charging for the same book. Most used computer books were going for $6-$10, indicating that they were remainders that the sellers (which were almost always independent bookstores) probably bought for a buck or two apiece. Anything I saw in that price range, I passed. For those books selling at a decent price, I undercut the lowest price by $5 and listed it. Worked like a charm. I've cleared almost $400 since October 1.

This isn't a long-term thing for me. My supply of books is limited, and I have better things to do with my time than schlep down to the Post Office every couple of days. On the other hand, I have a suggestion to silence the authors who hate the system: Have Amazon create a special link for interested authors, reading "Buy a signed copy from the author for $XX.XX!" Authors typically can get case quantities of their own books for 50% off cover, and selling at a discount would net much more per book than your current stingy 10% net royalty, which usually amounts to $1.50 per copy. Everybody would win that way: Amazon, authors, and fans who for whatever reason value author autographs. (It's neither a win nor a loss for publishers—or who knows? Anything to move more books, right?) I'm going to suggest it to Amazon, and I'll report on their reaction here.
October 18, 2002:

I discovered a problem yesterday that I've never seen discussed anywhere, but it must bedevil non-technical people who encounter it. If you're non-technical, glaze over now—I don't have time to explain it in detail right now. But here it is: I bought a D-Link Wi-Fi access point (DWL-900AP+) and for testing purposes connected it to my spare Linksys BEFSR41 router/switch. The D-Link appeared to be dead. I could not bring up the internally served HTTP configuration screen. I scratched my head, and in reviewing possible problems noticed that the two devices were not in the same subnet. In other words, the Linksys config screen was at and the D-Link was at If you plug the D-Link into the Linksys, the Linksys won't find the D-Link. Won't Web, won't ping, won't anything.

The fix is simple: I loaded the Linksys router/switch config screen and changed its address to Bingo! Everything's copacetic. (Does anybody still say "copacetic"? Or even remember what it means?) Neither the Linksys nor the D-Link documentation (if you can call it documentation) even hints at this possibility, although D-Link suggests that its products work best with other D-Link products, heh. Worse, the D-Link unit does not have a way to change its IP address. If you were using a router with a fixed configuration IP, you'd be hosed short of changing the subnet mask, which has other effects, most of them un-good.

A pure edges problem, as people who may recall my famous "edges" editorial in VDM years back will understand. Nobody's in charge of the edges. I've seen this more in my Wi-Fi research than anywhere else in all computing. There's a lot of Linksys BEFSR41's out there. I'll bet D-Link gets pallet loads of perfectly good DWL-900AP's back as "dead." Am I wrong—or am I just missing some easy and obvious fix for this?
October 17, 2002:
Haven't been feeling well. Nothing serious, but what (little) energy I've been able to summon is going into the book the last few days. Bear with me.
October 15, 2002:

As I've written here before (see my entry for December 15, 2000) I'm not much for hard liquor, except perhaps in weak margueritas and cordials to pour over ice cream. Still true—and there's a new item to report on the ice cream front.

But to tell you that story I have to tell you this one. We stumbled on a Haagen Dazs "special edition" flavor called Coffee Toffee Crunch (basically coffee ice cream with pieces of Heath Bar in it) last year, bought the two cartons they had at Safeway, and went back for more only to find that there was a new special edition in its slot. (Bananas Foster? Something idiotic like that. Bananas do not belong in ice cream!) Needless to say, no matter how hard we looked, we never found Coffee Toffee Crunch again.

Fast forward a year, to a glorious day in August when Jeff stumbles across Starbuck's Java Toffee Crunch ice cream at Fry's, and it's pretty much the same thing. And although I can't abide Starbuck's coffee, they make mighty fine ice cream. Well, as you might expect, we ate what they had at Fry's, and went back to find Starbuck's Low Fat Latte in its place. Java Toffee Crunch has not been seen hereabouts since then.

So last week, while I was chasing down the booze aisle at Safeway to see if there were any new zinfandels in the wine section, a garish new bottle caught my eye: Dooley's Toffee Liqueur. Hey, what the hell...it's not chunky but it's as close as we may be able to come. So now we buy Breyer's Coffee ice cream and pour Dooley's over it. No, it's not the same, but it's a good combination nonetheless.

Dooley's is an interesting idea that doesn't quite make it in some respects. Its toffee flavor is not strong, and even the relatively modest 17% alchohol kind of overwhelms it. Knocked back straight, it reminds me powerfully of Bailey's Irish Cream, with a little caramel stirred in, and that's not a bad thing. It mixes well with coffee, milk, and ice cream, and on the whole (though it wish it tasted a little more like Heath bars) it's a win. I'm still hoping for a return of one brand of coffee-ice-cream-plus-heath-bars someday, but in the meantime, Dooley's'll do.
October 14, 2002:

For the last week or so, our friendly bobcat has been back, poking around the house (see my entries for May 20, 2001 and July 1, 2001) drinking from the water bowl we leave under a dripper for the local birds and animals, and (as best we can tell) spending the night up on the porch roof right outside my office window.

Very cool to have a "pet" bobcat, right? Well, it can be a mixed blessing. This morning we found a (mostly) eaten desert cottontail inside our walled courtyard, under the leaning driftwood where the bobcat has been seen hanging out more than once. Everybody loves watching animals, but watching National Geographic specials on TV spares you the unpleasant business of picking up their leftover blood and guts.

Carol and I are torn about this. In this awful season of heat and drought (the worst summer on record here in Phoenix) we're in the habit of sharing vegetable scraps with the bunnies, but the bunnies are getting rather used to the favor. They're almost impatient sometimes; they run right over when we go out to the clay bowl where we put the goodies, and one has been in the habit of coming over and sniffing at my shoes. We can't help but think that our recent mess in the courtyard was one of our "friendly" bunnies, who have gotten a little too fat and trusting to outrun a "friendly" bobcat. We know that if we stop feeding them, most will probably die. There's really nothing to eat out there right now. If we keep feeding them, they'll make more bunnies, and...you know how it is, messing with biological systems. As with many things, there are no answers. We're still trying to figure out what the balanced mode of action might be.
October 13, 2002:

I'm avoiding TV more than I ordinarily do (though mercifully, there's nothing much on but baseball these days) because of the hateful blizzard of attack ads mounted to slander one candidate or initiative or another, in preparation for the November election here. Every one I've seen either omits crucial facts, tells lies, or distorts the truth beyond recognition, and I'm sure this is what depresses voter turnout.

Here in Arizona, one very big deal is Indian gambling. There are three competing initiatives on the slate to govern Indian gambling, including one fronted by the local race track operators, whose lunches the Indians have been eating for years. I'm all in favor of letting Indians have casinos—it's virtually the only thing that has ever improved their lives here. And most interesting to me are the shreiking shrill complaints from various groups about how immoral gambling is, and how all gambling should be illegal, Indian, race track, and otherwise.

It's unclear to me that glambling is a physical addiction, as with tobacco or certain drugs. I suppose people can be addicted to gambling the way they're addicted to video games, and I've read that people are addicted to a lot of other completely legal activities that most people engage in without damage or undue attachment. I myself may be addicted to reading, heaven forbid—and writing, guilty! What we may be seeing here is not an addiction, but a failure to strive for and achieve balance in one's personal life. There are a lot of ways that that can go wrong. Gambling is simply another one.

Weirdest of all the reasons given to outlaw gambling is the one that insists that we should be teaching the poor to work hard, save, and invest, not to take a chance on getting something for nothing. In America we get rich by working hard, not by buying lottery tickets.

What a crock. Your typical store clerk or other unskilled worker has zero chance of getting rich or even comfortable by "working hard, saving, and investing," especially with interest rates asymptotically approaching zero. Starting a business and working hard is also a gamble. Every so often somebody gets lucky, but most business startups run on the edge for awhile and then tank and die. Perhaps one entrepreneur in ten thousand can sell out and get rich. The rest lose everything. Hey, does that sound like a lottery or what? At least with Lotto you don't have to pour your life savings and ten years of your life into the pot before you understand that you've lost the wager.

Apart from the occasional fluky jury award (and the lawyers get most of that) the only way poor people can get rich is by gambling. It's a dream, and I say, let them have that dream. Dreams are scarce enough these days. If we do try to teach them anything, let's teach them the value of a balanced life—which is a lesson we should be teaching everyone, from the top of society to the bottom.
October 12, 2002:

How did this happen? I was reading yesterday's Wall Street Journal, and I came upon a mention of a major canivorous mammal which is widespread in the Eastern United States, that in all my fifty years I have never seen or heard about. It's called a fisher, and it's a big mustelid—basically a fifteen-pound weasel. Although it was once on the edge of extinction, the broad reforestation of the East has given it new habitat, and it's come back with a vengeance because it now has a reliable and plentiful food supply: Stray house cats.

The fisher was previously remarkable as the only really successful predator of porcupines. (How it accomplishes this feat is ukky enough that I don't feel like relating it.) Porcupines are still fairly sparse, but feral house cats are a worsening problem in suburban rings around large cities, which are now growing into the new hardwood forests existing where marginal farms stood until the Great Depression. The fishers live in the woods, and along with coyotes are feasting on stray cats. This is splintering the environmental/animal rights movement along several lines, as cat lovers want to wipe out the (protected) fishers, and bird lovers are cheering the fishers because cats eat a lot of birds. (The fishers can actually chase cats up trees, while the coyotes have to stand on the ground and watch.)

I guess the problem is just one of those unexpected consequences of regenerating "lost" habitat—but what I find astonishing is that I can be a voracious reader all my life to middle age without ever hearing of something as big, snarly, and interesting as a fifteen-pound weasel. (That's heavier than Mr. Byte was!) Talk about keeping a low profile...
October 11, 2002:

I find myself turning to the problem of evil more and more these days, especially since 9/11. The explanation for evil I worked out for myself over the years (that we are radically free but not radically wise) just doesn't seem to explain the sort of pointless, avid but self-defeating evil we see in things like Naziism, Stalinism, Pol Pot, and Al Quaida—or even on a smaller scale, with situations like Columbine that defy reasonable explanation. The evil of things like Opus Dei (see my entry for October 7, 2002) might be ascribed to a misunderstanding of the nature of God. I consider Opus Dei, in fact, to be nothing more than the latest of countless upwellings of the ancient heresy of Manichaeism, which itself is a gloss on gnostic dualism. Dualism holds that our flawed creation is unworthy of an infinite and all-good God, and that we're stuck in a nuthouse created by a finite and evil creator god (the Demiurge) and run covertly by countless lesser godlings called archons.

Setting aside the theology for now, it's worth a closer look at this idea of "archons." Jung himself noted that his description of archetypes residing in a collective unconscious mapped well onto the dualists' archons living in the unseen realm of the pleroma and causing all the unpleasantness we experiene here on Earth. The literature of schizophrenia seems to describe wars going on inside people's skulls, between the beset human being and one or more persistent but stupid-sounding voices advising destructive behavior. Psychiatrist Wilson Van Dusen, in his 1974 book The Presence of Other Worlds, describes his work in which he attempted to hold conversations with the voices heard by his schizophrenic patients. That these were other autonomous minds seemed obvious to him—but where were they located? Were they fragments of the patients' personality (whatever that means) or were they actually invaders from somewhere else?

Even people who grant Jung a lot of credibility in describing the human mind often stop short of accepting the existence of an objective "collective unconscious" that extends outside of and connects separate human minds in some sort of unseen whole. That there may be autonomous patterns abroad in that unseen collective undermind, and that those patterns have to power to influence, smacks too much of medieval demonology and is written off without sufficient consideration. But the more I read of psychotic killers of various stripes, the more I begin to wonder if there is in fact a sort of tension (let's not be dramatic and call it a war) between the collective unconscious and the relationships we build out here in the conscious, physical world. The archetypes abroad in the undermind pull us toward selfishness, isolation, and chaos, while the connections of friendship, respect, and mutual dependence we build in our waking world pull us toward community and wholeness. When people are isolated, abused, and set apart by others (as happened to the Columbine killers and to many young men in certain inherently violent cultures like the Bedouin) connections to our waking world weaken, and the archons start reeling them in. The archons, because they exist apart from and are not dependent upon any single mind in the physical world, don't care if they win or lose individuals or whole nations. Archons may not in fact be minds as we know them; they may not be self-reflective to any greater degree than a higher animal like a bear or a dog. That's why self-defeating evil persists: Evil doesn't care if it wins. It doesn't care if it loses. It's just out there, a lurking pattern that seeks to draw lonely minds to itself. Eliminate lonliness, perhaps, and we could make a huge dent in the prevalence of evil.

Out of space for today. More later.
October 10, 2002:

Yesterday morning's Wall Street Journal carried a piece on how all across the country, symphony orchestras are running out of money and shutting down. The reporter who wrote the story proffered every conceivable explanation except for the correct one: Symphony orchestras have this bad habit of putting on concerts in which they play absolutely nothing but opaque, self-indulgent crap.

Carol and I had season tickets to the Phoenix Symphony some years ago. We went to just about every concert all season long (hey, they were paid for!) and when the season was over, we sort of looked at each other and said, Well, we're sure not doing that again.

One evening's concert was typical: They had a young woman violin prodigy named Midori sawing solo on her Stradavarius to some painfully long symphony by some composer I never heard of. She stood there stage center and sawed and sawed and sawed, and the sweat was coming off the poor thing's forehead, and after awhile I just wanted to scream. There was furious energy but no melody, no harmony, no sense that any great pattern was coming together to resonate with the great human myths in the collective unconscious. The music—if you could call it that—was enormously sophisticated, and absolutely cold. I gave her points for effort, but the guy who chose that piece should be taken out and shot, along with the guy who wrote it.

I will not pay to listen to stuff like that, nor Shoenberg and his atonal "music" nor modern composers who think they're inventing something new by having highly-skilled musicians bang on rocks and pipes and make an incoherent racket while the oh-so sophicated audience nods knowingly and congratulates themselves on their sophisticated tastes.

We got tossed one bone that season—Beethoven's Fifth—but not a single item by the English Romantics, and only an occasional scrap from Hayden or Mozart that seemed chosen for its tepid qualities, as though to say, Surely you folks don't want to hear any more of that.

Yup, we sure don't. And we never went back. I will not spend that kind of money on classical concerts unless and until I'm guaranteed that I will hear melody, harmony, and rhythm. Yes, I am a Philistine—see this big P on my T-shirt?—and apparently there are a lot of others like me. Collectively we are boycotting classical music, until classical music comes to its senses, which may be after classical music as a live art form is long past extinct.
October 9, 2002:

I guess one shouldn't expect such foresight from a bunch of electronics guys, but one great big honking hole in the IEEE 802.11 wireless networking standard is the lack of any kind of software API. One of the things I'd like to do is write software to control (or at least poll and sample signal and noise levels) a Wi-Fi client adapter from a Delphi program. One thought I had is that I could easily mount a spaghetti sauce can antenna on a Meccano altazimuth mount worked by a pair of small stepper motors, and then write software that would allow the antenna to aim itself by scanning in two dimensions while sampling signal strength.

APIs for Wi-Fi clients exist, obviously, but the kicker is that they are chipset-dependent, and the functions are all different among the three or four significant chipsets kicking around the industry. Because they're all proprietary interfaces, they're mostly undocumented in public places, and I'm not sure I want to spend the time chasing them down, or the money to buy a chip foundry's API toolkit. I keep waiting for somebody to create a component set or function library for even one of the major chipsets (Prism II would be socko) and when it does I guess I'll just sharpen up my Delphi component writing skills and make me some software. If you see a Wi-Fi library of any kind, in any language (even—urrrp—FORTH) do let me know.
October 8, 2002:

I've got just under 60,000 words down on my Wi-Fi book (heading for 90,000) and it's been wonderful fun. I went out in the garage today and built the Tin-Can Bandwidth Expander, Mark II. The idea is to mount a 2.4 GHz waveguide antenna on a gooseneck base, so that it can be aimed at your access point from the fringes of the access point's coverage area. I have a rambling and much-extended house, and the path between the livingroom coffee table and my office here (where the access point lives) is optimal bad. The signals must pass through the kitchen, with cabinets full of pots and pans, several walls (including an exterior wall that is now an interior wall) and a steel spiral staircase. I can barely connect from within the microwave shadow cast by the kitchen, and the connection I can achieve usually hangs onto the minimum 1 Mbps data rate by its fingernails.

The antenna is a 3.375" diameter Hunt's 26.5 oz spaghetti sauce can, drilled to accept a single N connector, into the solder pot of which is placed 1.22" of #10 copper wire. (That's what a quarter wave whip cooks down to at microwave!) The base once belonged to a 50's vintage gooseneck desk lamp that I picked up for $6.95 on eBay. When plugged into the Orinoco Gold card in my laptop, the signal in the livingroom jumps to near-normal levels, and I can pull the full 802.11b bit rate of 11 Mbps without any trouble at all.

Mark II is the prettier child of the Mark I prototype, which used a 20-year-old 1-pound coffee can that had been hosting wood screws in the garage since I lived in Rochester, NY. Coffee cans work just as well, and have a lower noise level, probably because they have fewer corrugations to scatter the incoming microwave energy. But the spaghetti sauce can gets the signal where it needs to go, and that's all I would ask of a junkbox gadget like this. It will have a starring role in Jeff Duntemann's Drive-By Wi-Fi Guide. January 2003, Paraglyph Press. Watch for it.
October 7, 2002:

Pope John Paul II yesterday raised Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer to sainthood, culminating a meteoric rise that many think suspicious, considering who the old guy was: The founder of Opus Dei (the Work of God) a secret society promoting reactionary conservative Catholicism and obedience to the Pope. Opus Dei is highly secretive and cultic, and although they claim to be nothing more than a society promoting spiritual purity and sexual probity, people who have left Opus Dei have made it plain that the society's kingpins quietly attempt to influence international politics as a way of furthering the reactionary Catholic position and a brand of Spanish political philosophy so far right as to reasonably be called "fascist" without exaggeration.

It's interesting to me that Opus Dei is actually V2.0 of a covert Papal dirty tricks squad. V1.0 (and the archetype for the category) were the Jesuits, who appeared after the Reformation to "put things back" to what they had been before cranky Martin Luther upset the medieval Catholic applecart. The Jesuits were the original "masters of method" and in some ways make the CIA look like drooling amateurs. They tormented the independent-minded Dutch Catholics in the 18th century and in doing so laid the foundation for the Old Catholic Church's coalescence in 1870. For reasons that are still obscure to me, during the 20th century (and especially after Vatican II) the Jesuits morphed into a hotbed of liberal theological teaching and liberal social sensibility, and are now considered the #1 thorn in the Pope's side. (Rough justice, but justice nonetheless.) So Pope Pius XI had another go at it, and now we have Opus Dei.

I don't begrudge the Pope his conservative societies, just as I think Presidents should be able to nominate their own guys to federal courts irrespective of their politics. What I object to (and my objection borders on the rabid) is to secrecy within a religious movement. Religion should have no secrets. Secrets turn a religion into a cult, and cults are not good things. Though overall they're good people, the Mormons card you on the way into church, and that's not religion—that's a cult. There are cultic elements in Roman Catholicism, and even more in Eastern Orthodoxy. I think the iconostasis is blasphemous, as it implies that the laity is unworthy to look upon the re-enactment of the Last Supper. Cultic—and dead opposed to the whole spirit of Christianity. I would prefer that religions stay out of politics entirely, but what politicking is done should be done out in the open. Hey, if you don't like the way your enemies live their lives, shame them with your goodness—don't try to slit their throats in the middle of the night.

In case you'd like to see more, here's the Opus Dei Web site, and here's an opposing view. (Forgive the shaky English; that second site is Austrian.) And still another, focusing on the brainwashing and intimidation that Opus Dei visits on its unfortunate adherents. We are definitely heading for a split in Roman Catholicism, and to be honest with you, I can't wait. Reactionary Catholicism is an extremely scary thing, and the very best course would be for it to pull back within itself and let the rest of us get on with pursuing the Catholic idea as Christ—not the Pope—taught it.
October 6, 2002:
Carol read somewhere that when one firstborn marries another firstborn, the marriage has a much better than average chance of lasting throughout the lives of the partners. No idea why—and she no longer recalls where it was that she saw the note. But it's an interesting thing to ponder.
October 5, 2002:

Slashdot aggregated a link today that made me roar. Out of bravado or reasons obscure (it's really a stupid thing to do) bookseller WHSmith dared some guy to break Microsoft's ebook copy protection system, and the guy responded by sending WHSmith a copy of the ebook in question, completely unprotected. Did he break Microsoft Reader? Hardly. He wrote a script that used screen-capture software to create bitmaps of the displayed pages that Microsoft Reader puts up on the screen. He went on to say that had he wanted a textual copy, he could have just fed the bitmaps into an OCR utility like FineReader Pro.

The guy was not a hacker of any stripe. He just knew his Windows and a little scripting. All he wanted to do was demonstrate the complete futility of copy protection.

My view? Keep the price low and make it easy to pay for the goods. People will buy. People will also steal the goods, and when they do, figure it into your PR budget. Especially today, word-of-mouth seems to be the single most effective promotional vehicle. Bits are cheap—and pirates are the cheapest PR mechanism ever devised.
October 4, 2002:

Every so often, I run across something both unexpected and wonderful. The other day Carol brought home a box of Shamrock Farms Super Size Malt Missiles, and we had to slap our hands to keep from finishing them all at one sitting.

A Malt Missile is a one-stick popsicle that tastes like a chocolate malt. Stunningly good. They're made in Phoenix (Shamrock Farms is a local dairy) which implies that they're one of those underground local cult favorite things and not available outside the greater metro area. I'd be curious to know if any of you elsewhere have ever seen them. After what seems like decades of obscurity, malt seems to be coming back into fashion. Bring it on!
October 3, 2002:

A reader who (understandably) asked to remain anonymous recommended an interesting book: Man-Made UFOs 1944-1994. I ordered a copy from Amazon and had a lot of fun with it. It's a less professional but more detailed (and slightly more paranoid) telling of the tale that Nick Cook told in his book The Hunt for Zero Point (see my entry for September 16.) The premise is basically this: sometime during the last part of WWII, the Nazis hit on something new and powerful that enabled aircraft to fly without propellers or even jets. They made small, remotely piloted versions, but didn't quite get a full-sized, man-carrying model into production before the Reich collapsed in May 1945.

The Americans walked into Germany, piled the whole mess into trucks, and disappeared over the Atlantic with it. Ever since then, some ultra-black component of the military has been sitting on the secret as something too powerful to even hint at, and the scattered UFO sightings have not been spacecraft owned by aliens, but spycraft owned by the Air Force. There are no aliens. The idea of aliens was disinformation invented by the CIA to make the whole idea of flying saucers ridiculous. (Boy, did that work or what?)

No, I don't buy it, c'mon already. But it pleases me to see somebody dump on the whole aliens thing, which I loathe. And I'm fascinated by the idea of zero-point energy welded to an antigravity device, especially after reading of the research of various parties (especially a Russian named Podkletnov) into alleged gravitational effects of rapidly spinning disks of high-temperature superconducting material. Spooky physics is an ancient interest of mine, and this is spooky in the extreme. Podkletnov's research isn't beyond skepticism yet, but I'm willing to grant that the idea should be pursued. And key to what little we know of the Nazi experiments is that they were spinning circular disks or turbines of exotic materials very quickly—as fast as 20,000 RPM, which is fast indeed.

Anyway, it's a fun book, if you keep your science fiction writer's (or reader's) sense of perspective closely wrapped about you. Highly recommended.
October 2, 2002:

Today is our 26th wedding anniversary. 25 was The Big One, but 26 has been pretty good too. Carol gave me a very simple card that brought tears to my eyes: A starry, moonlit night, a shooting star, and the simple phrase: I made a wish...and you came true. I'm not sure I can add much to that.

Cherish your spouse. Marriage is a ground deeper than you can imagine, rooted in our humanity but reaching toward the divinity that the Almighty promises to those who keep to the path.
October 1, 2002:

We tend to think of climate as a given, something fixed and unchanging except gradually over thousands or tens of thousands of years—until, of course, the invention of the SUV, which according to the Greens has single-handedly warmed the world's oceans by, well, by some amount that scientists can't quite agree on.

But enough about SUVs. Climate has changed, and changed both quickly and abruptly in the recorded past. Brian Fagan's excellent The Little Ice Age is part popular history, part popular climatology, and overall a very intriguing read. The title refers to a volteface in temperatures in Western Europe from 1300 to about 1850, during which time the Thames froze over every winter. It was particularly cold from 1600 to 1800, and Fagan makes the case that much of European history during that time was directly influenced by climate.

It was warmer earlier, warmer than even today. In 1000, the Vikings were raising wine grapes in Greenland. In 1200, Norwich and Ely, now landlocked, were both active English seaports. The oceans were higher then, and we can assume that the ice caps were smaller, though there were no satellite photos of arctic ice masses in 1200. But in 1300 everything changed. The book is weaker on science than on history, but much depends on flows of ocean currents called the Great Ocean Conveyor, which carries heat from the tropics to cooler latitutdes. One portion of the Conveyor, the Gulf Stream, keeps northern Europe much warmer than its fairly high latitudes would suggest. If that system were to stop delivering its heat, Europe and northern North America would be headed for the freezer in a big hurry.

Fagan's book only touches on this mechanism, but a much more detailed description is here, written by the director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Key to changes in the Conveyor appear to be the amount of fresh water joining the ocean from the icecaps and rains. Too much fresh water, and the flows change. We know this has happened at several periods in the past, including the Little Ice Age, and an older, much deeper thousand-year ice age called the Younger Dryas. WHOI's scientists think that if we melt too much fresh water off the ice caps, we could drive ourselves into another ice age. The argument is compelling—but y'know, I'll give up my SUV when the Greens embrace nuclear energy as one way of reducing carbon in the atmosphere. In other words, don't wait up for it.