Comments on life, the universe and everything from an aging Sixties survivor.

Location: Massachusetts, United States

Ummm, isn't "about me" part of the point of the blog?

Sunday, February 28, 2010

It's not rocket surgery

We're paying more wages of meteorological least if one lives on the Pacific. The tsunami predictions following the Chilean earthquake managed to produce a consumer panic equal to anything generated by any recent hurricane or blizzard. Caution is good: informed caution is better.

The principal false media hysteria had to do with "a tsunami racing across the Pacific." Racing, yes. Noticeable, no. NOAA, which is very good at dampening panic, has produced this fact sheet about tsunami characteristics, including their behaviour in deep water. I first hit this item in a mariners' meteorology course some years ago. On the open sea, most vessels will not notice a tsunami. NOAA says they might be up to three feet at sea; I recall learning that most of them are inches high, and undetectable at sea amongst much larger masses of wind-driven water.

The Poseidon Adventure shaped most peoples' ideas of tsunamis at sea. It was fiction.

Any wave is something like a lawn roller. It has a top and a bottom. Onshore waves form when the bottom of the roller meets resistance. Tsunamis move rapidly across open seas as an energy pulse, then slow and grow when the bottom meets resistance. Its speed is reasonably predictable. The size of the wave that hits a shore in the way depends on a host of variables, but it isn't inevitably a mountain of water. Some mainland U.S. newscasters have been inclined to sneer at the tsunami impact in Hawaii. It was modest if you expected everything up to 500 feet above sea level to be inundated. By the looks of the video, it was not so modest if you lived in a house on the beach.

It's unreasonable to expect your average Joe and Jane to be up on their meteorology. It should be reasonable to expect their news and weather to provide accurate information that draws the line between caution and panic: but it's not.

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Friday, February 26, 2010

Empty-headed Friday

1) Storm-watching is the leading outdoor sport hereabouts. I've been well enough the last couple of days to give it a try and was richly rewarded. I posted some scenic views on my Facebook account. What I ought to have included was the sour faces of the privileged who live on Marblehead Neck and who were, for whatever reason, marooned on the mainland when the cops closed the causeway. They were sitting in the yuppy-wagons waiting for the "go" signal.

Note to the curious: those scenic waves that break over the seawall have enough water mass to push your vehicle right off the causeway. They also contain rocks ranging in size from golf and tennis balls (as today) to basketballs (as in the 1991 Perfect Storm). These become lethal projectiles. So suck it up, yuppies, and wait patiently for the tide to fall enough to let you cross safely. Privilege hath a few penalties. I think the cops should let them cross: this is called "culling the herd."

2) Let's have a show of hands: who thinks the IOC has had its collective head up its collective arse throughout the Vancouver Olympics? They get their knickers in a twist over a partying snowboarder and now the Canadian womens' hockey team. Oh yes, we all know Canadians are supposed to be dignified and polite. That's the trouble with stereotypes, and they don't apply to hockey anyway, eh? The IOC has fits over exuberant young people getting excited over a victory, but engages in Olympic-level finger-pointing when one of those young athletes dies on the luge course. I guess we're not supposed to notice the disconnect.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

More Olympic contemplations

The U.S. Nordic combined team did it again, medaling in the team pursuit event. What we Nordic buffs need now is for them to communicate some of their mojo to the rest of the U.S. Nordic athletes.

Incidentally, I have it on good authority that Canada will offer asylum to any Norwegian and Austrian atheletes who are denied re-rentry to their own countries due to poor performance. The one condition is that the Norwegian curling team has to burn their infamous pants.

Evidently Plushenko's "platinum medal" has disappeared from his Web site. Could it be that he's angling for a diamond medal?

Latest nomination for athletes who can learn something from the exuberant snowboarders who finished off the podium but seem to have had a grand time anyway: Julia Mancuso. Lindsey Vonn was already on my list, but I hoped for better behaviour from Mancuso. It sucks to have a combination of fog, accidents and rules spoil your giant slalom chances, but all of those things are out of one's control. Despite the obvious bad blood between Mancuso ond Vonn, I think we can assume that Vonn didn't crash and break a finger (Or was it a nail? I forget.) just to spite Mancuso.

I'm enjoying the ski cross events, because they remind me of the Alpine skiing we did as kids, when grooming was something that happened twice a day, ski patrols were around to pick up the injured and dead, not to be ski nannies, and groups of adolescents would race each other to the bottom just for the hell of it. What I want next is ski cross grudge matches that are compulsory for any athletes who throw hissy fits, whether they can ski or not. let's start with Mancuso and Vonn.

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Turning Point

Once upon a time, when I could do stuff in winter, I loved Nordic skiing. Under the influence of a couple of more athletic friends, I even did some citizen racing. Yesterday was something we talked about and dreamt about. But if anyone had said that there would be a day in my lifetime when Americans would have realistic medal prospects in not one, but two, Nordic events, on the same day, they would have been put into therapy. If they had gone on to say an American would take a Nordic medal away from one of those events, and that three of the top six finishers in that event would be Americans, they would probably have therapy for life. And if this prophet had said the event would be Nordic Combined (ski jumping and cross-country skiing, if you don't watch the Olympics), psychiatry would have invented a new psychosis.

It's happened. Johnny Spillane (silver), Todd Lodwick (4) and Billy Demong (6) fulfilled fantasies for the small culture of American cross-country skiers that have been just as potent, and have lasted exactly as long, as the Red Sox World Series drought. Just as good, the prospects forced American media to cover both events in depth and in real time. Save for the brief period following Bill Koch's 1972 silver in straight cross country, American TV has generally sneered at cross-country skiing and, if they covered it at all, did it on C-Span at 3 a.m.

The flat races are still to come, and one can hope for further success. It's important to observe that these things don't happen out of the blue. The slow process of building interest, then teams, was beginning when I raced in the late 80s and early 90s. I suppose too that the endemic pissing contests that were crippling the U.S. Nordic programme have been at last resolved.

I'm pleased that the Canadians got their first gold medal yesterday, but it's the Nordic Combined performance that gives me lasting satisfaction.

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Friday, February 12, 2010

More dumb job hunting tricks

Every day, I open one or two posts from the LinkedIn advice-to-the-jobless lists. From the perspective of someone who has done all this before, few have anything constructive to offer, mainly because they serve up opinion as fact, and the opinions conflict.

But they are an endless source of unintended comedy. For instance, take this nugget from the latest post on the "new" resume: if your name isn't gender-specific, or it's hard to pronounce, use your nickname in your resume. HR people shy away from names that are either, we are seriously told.

Well, that must be one hell of a diverse workplace! Here's a little rocket for the pundits. The world of Anglo-Saxon names as the gold standard is d-e-a-d. A great many of us who possess diverse names don't have nicknames, don't want nicknames or, if we do, the nicknames are as unpronouceable as the given name.

Not to mention that many people with ethnically acceptable names don't like their nicknames either and don't like people assuming that they do. This isn't advice: it's the sort of smarmy bonhomie that makes so much of American business a joke. Nope, sorry: the burden is on HR people to ask the courteous question "How do you pronounce your name?" or let the candidate pronounce it. In a diverse world, discomfort is a pathetic excuse.

It makes me wish my first name was Gruffydd (Griffith, to English-speakers, and so pronounced) so I could follow this idiotic advice and use the nickname that goes with it: Guto (GEE-toe). Wouldn't that help in HR?

Deliver us from experts.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

I hate being right all the time

More than 20 years ago, when I was working in a museum with a natural history department, the staff had a not-so-serious lunchtime riff going about global warming; after a couple of snowstorms. The natural history curator explained exactly what is in this item, that the changes were likely to cause more disruptive winter weather as well as warmer summers.

"Then why do you insist on calling it global warming?" I asked. I put my PR puke hat on and said, "people tend to be literal-minded. If you say warming, they're going to expect beach days in winter, not blizzards. Call it global climate change." The curator acknowledged the truth of that, but stuck to the idea that warming being the culprit, then warming was the correct term. Talk about literal-minded!

So here we are, almost a quarter-century later, with serious scientists finally speaking about global climate change. But that horse left the barn so long ago that it's now damn near impossible to catch up with the misconception. Climate science, in this sense, created its own opposition by sticking to a term which is literally correct in a narrow sense, but which does not cover all the consequences of radical climate change. This sort of thing is OK in casual conversation, but it doesn't cut it in scientific monographs.

Too late: Instead of spending the next 20 years making more substantive progress toward containing and mediating climate change's effects, you'll spend much of that time trying to roll public attitudes over from "warming" to "change." Such is the power of the ill-chosen word.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


The Beast, which Harrumpher recently renamed my head Orc, has been particularly Orkish in the past few days. It's exhibited so many new and disagreeable features that I suspect it comes from Saruman's stables. That the Orc in the image (by Warren Mahy) is an archer all too appropriate.

However, the postal gods have delivered a diverting creature of another sort: my spiffy new mini-mouse for the netbook. I confess that I've never been very ept with a touch pad, and the one feature of netbooks that makes touch pads a problem is the lack of real estate surrounding the keyboard. When one reaches for the top rows of the keyboard, it's very easy to graze the touch pad and send the pointer on a mad journey of its own. The mini-mouse avoids this irritation.

Next question: it's a USB mouse because at $9 on eBay it's a cheaper solution than the wireless item, at $30 or more. This isn't the problem on a netbook that it might be with other machines.
Because netbooks need peripherals for so many functions, they come (or should come) liberally supplied with ports. I can spare one for a mouse. It is totally plug-and-play (I feared worse with a bargain anything) and was underway within seconds. My spouse, who is even less friendly to touch pads than I, is very happy to see it.

Whilst we're playing with images, it is the sort of mini-mouse to the right, and not the sort below. Nonetheless for people of a certain age, this peripheral inevitably conjures up Disneyesque associations, and I'm surprised someone hasn't taken advantage of that.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Umm...and you thought these guys were WHAT?

Since so few Americans study history, it's no surprise that Somali pirates aren't well versed in history, either. Let's spell it out: Danish=Norsemen=Vikings= don't fuck with these people.

The Somali pirates wouldn't be the first people to have a slow learning curve on the idea. It took the Saxons about 100 years to figure out that truce with the Danes was a good idea. But then, the Saxons may have been the only people since the Stone Age thicker than Somali pirates. Now that the Danes have given up the battleaxes in favour of automatic weapons, though, I'd have thought the lesson might come quicker.

Ya, they've done other stuff than make cheese...and never mind that Hamlet guy.

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Friday, February 05, 2010

John Reading

Writers get strange gigs. For example, I wrote for a trade publication targeted at antiques dealers. That only sounds good. Working with antiques dealers is not only a herding cats job, at times it's like being referee of the World Championship Extreme Cat Fighting competition. A number of my peers have had equally strange writing jobs.

To my knowledge, none has written for Portable Restroom Operator. Now, I allow that every business represents a niche, but one wonders. How does one present this on the resume? How do these articles look in your portfolio? What goes on in the editorial meetings?

These aren't light and transient questions, pilgrims. Along with everything else one can imagine about writing for Portable Restroom Operator, it's possible to assume that it faces the same business challenges faced by every other print publication these days. Those writers may soon be our competition in places that don't elicit chuckles. No matter what your topic, writers in print media have a shitty future. (There: now that I've written a scatological remark, I feel much better.)

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Thursday, February 04, 2010

Not that there's anything *wrong* with that

Scott Brown seems to have let the god thing go to his head this week. First we hear that he sorta kinda forgot his election night convo with Ms. Palin. Forgetting his talk with the goddess is one thing: admitting it is another. That's the sort of faux pas that would go into any politician's little book of retribution, even someone more forgiving than the queen of the snows.

That got buried in tactful coverage of Brown's decision that he did not want to wait until February 11 to be sworn in, but wished to be sworn in today. Those of us who have raised children easily recognise the the refrain of "I wanna go NOW."Even the most friendly of media could find no other verb for his action than "demand." Evidently he's getting his wish from the permissive parents of the Senate.

Perhaps. The Senate is an august body with a deep respect for tradition, protocol and above all, seniority. The spectacle of its most junior member, Greek god though he may be, giving orders to the rest of the body is very likely going into 99 other little books of retribution. Mr. Brown will shortly discover that he has other things to do than vote. His committee assignments will be the most public sign of retribution. Less obvious will be his office assignment. There are hardly worse offices in the world than those typically assigned to junior Senators. Obama, even though he had behaved himself reasonably well, had a concrete square in the basement. If Brown gets something down the hall next to the furnaces, that may be a hint that he has overreached.

It may be that Brown is confused about offices and eras. In Tudor England there was a much-sought-after office called Groom of the Stool. The job of the Groom was to wipe the royal arse after the royal bowel movement. Oddly enough, the job was prized, chiefly because of the intimacy one had with the King.

Memo to Brown: arse-wiping has come down in the world since the 16th century. You would be wise to look into every dimension of your new job before you open your mouth again.

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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Of course its our fault

Here in sunny Massachusetts we're once again having one of those oh-so-pious debates about bullying, because an Irish girl new to her school was harassed 24/7 until she committed suicide and because, as always, not one single "adult" close to the problem had the spine to prevent it.

Now, as always, we have Expert Opinion jumping into the question. They reach into the top hat and hey, presto! It happens because it's the victim's fault. We're going to fix the problem by making sure that the people who get bullied become passive conformists and enablers of the rage and violence of the people doing the bullying.

First, as I've said numbers of times here, the bullying that causes kids to bring home-made bombs and automatic weapons to school, or that causes them to hang themselves in a closet with electrical cord, has long since gone past the occasional wise-ass remark or classroom snicker. By the time these things happened, the bullying has escalated to round-the-clock verbal and physical abuse. Parents of victims do nothing because they never think it's serious. Parents of bulliers do nothing because their little darling could NEVER. School officials do nothing because they are cowed by such Expert Opinion as this, and because they are themselves afraid of the legal bullying that parents of bulliers can pull off, absent statute law that forces the officials to act. In this case, I'm not playing a bullying victim on TV. I was one.

So sorry, experts: hanging yourself with an electrical cord is a very nasty death: ask the cops or EMTs who have to take down the body. Blowing away half your school appears to have only momentary satisfaction. These things don't happen because a kid's feelings got hurt, or because they misread some non-verbal cue that says something like "I'm gonna beat the crap out of you because I feel like it." They happen because of abuse, abuse, abuse. And experts still don't get that because of denial, denial, denial.

Now excuse me whilst I go puke in a wastebasket and purge myself of the stupidity of the human race.

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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Snoopy's Revenge

One can always depend on greater New York when searching for offbeat news. It appears that Long Island is under attack by packs of beagles.

Aggressive as they may be, I'm inclined to hold the beagles relatively innocent in all this. They did not ask to be feral creatures. Once thrown into the outdoors, it is perfectly natural that dogs with a strong pack instinct should form packs. Then, being dogs of a certain intelligence, it is natural that they should go after the best-known food source: people.

"Hand over the kibbles, lady, or the foofy poodle gets it" doesn't seem so strange from the
perspective of a hungry beagle. Who made so many of them, after all? Who turned them loose?
Nature has a way of evening things out, and the packs are just trying to do their part.

But the first time I hear one say "curse you, Red Baron!" I'll check myself into a nice, quiet home.

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Monday, February 01, 2010

Pain Scales

I was just reading a nursing thread discussing the shortcomings of pain scales. For those unfamiliar with them, pain scales are self-evaluations (on a 1-5 or 1-10 scale) of how much you hurt. Up to a point, they're useful clinical tool.

Trouble is, first, pain is subjective. The same person who will present at the ED with half their humerus hanging out, able to discuss what happened and why until they go under, may be reduced to uncontrollable tears and tremors by a root canal. Second, people are wimps. For example, on a ten point pain scale, 10 out of 10 is reserved for people who are unable to speak and possibly unconscious from excruciating pain. It is not for use for someone who presents with a twisted ankle, laughing and joking with friends, with a cell phone glued to their ear. Third (and someone in the thread brought this up) those of us who deal with chronic pain function on an entirely different scale of pain than those gigglers with the cell phones.

On one scale, I observed that the scale's designer equated two of the intermediate levels to "average" migraine, and the next to "severe" migraine. The little club of people with neurophysiological disorders, myself included, hit those levels regularly. It can be a relief when an episode tops off at, say, a level 6 (the average migraine level) because you have enough reason left to know that your heavy-duty painkillers are going to get a handle on it before it gets worse. On the other hand, you can become completely useless when trying to explain a lesser pain experience to a clinician, or when getting some procedure that is supposed to hurt. It doesn't: really. It doesn't because one casualty of one's condition is anything approaching a normal set of pain responses.

People who say their twisted ankle or whatever is a 9/10 or a 10/10 simply haven't been there. They don't want to. Even if they are wimps, I don't wish it on them.

For the scorekeepers, yesterday was about an 8.8. It makes me imagine a little row of neurological judges holding up their scorecards at the end of the performance.