Monday, April 30, 2007


I was late getting home tonight (around 7 p.m.), as I was talking to my boss about my promotion. I've now entered the ranks of management! Effective tomorrow, I'm the company's new Support Manager. I heard a couple of weeks ago that this could be happening, but I didn't get confirmation until today. The rest of the company is learning about it tomorrow.

We're still ironing out the details of my position, but I'm going to have peeps! I'll have half a dozen people reporting to me.

I'm still not sure what all I'll be doing. I'm going to have to learn our older product so that I can support it, and manage the folks who support it. I'll also have a bunch of administrative things to do.

I'm pretty excited about it, and kind of in shock. I'll explain more about the job later. I just wanted to post something before going to bed.

Original Homeland Security t-shirt

Alana sent this to me. It's a Homeland Security t-shirt... but with a difference!

I want one!

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Skye is no more...

I just discovered today that as of this coming Thursday there will no longer be an Isle of Skye in Scotland. Skye is changing its name to Eilean a' Cheò.

Yeah, doesn't exactly roll off the tongue for non-Gaelic speakers, does it?

There's a move in the Scottish Highlands to develop Gaelic, the ancestral language of the Gaelic people of northern Scotland. Lowland Scots have their own language, called Scots, which has the same root language, the same grammar, and many of the same words as modern English. Unlike Scots, which is dying out mainly due to the cultural imperialism of the English language (as well as years of it, improperly, being thought of as a slang or pidgin version of English), Gaelic is thriving.

So, as part of this boost to the Gaelic language, the Highland Council — based in Inverness — has changed the name with the blessing of the majority of the island's residents. Skye and the neighbouring island of Rassay were already going to be combined into one political district, so they were already looking for a new name. From Thursday on, Skye will be known as Eilean a' Cheò, which is pronounced roughly as "ellan-uh-ch-yaw", and means Island of Mist.

As I noted above, the reason is to promote Gaelic. Some 40% of the islanders speak Gaelic fluently. (This is in contrast to the "Gaelic-speaking" percentages you hear quoted for Ireland, which include many folks who can speak only a few sentences.) There's also a haunting, romantic quality to "The Island of Mist".

The issue is that Skye, an anglicized name and thus disliked at a point when Scotland is actively considering independence from the rest of Great Britain, has a really good "brand identification". There are many songs with the name of Skye in it, most famous being the Skye Boat Song ("Speed bonnie boat like a bird on a wing, over the sea to Skye"). "Skye" itself is a romantic, evocative name.

Skye is easy for English speakers — and, most importantly North American English speakers — to pronounce. Eilean a' Cheò is not easy to pronounce. It looks like it should be pronounced "I lean a chee-oh". Forget the fact that English has been moving away from accented characters for years. I had to cheat to spell the island's name, by copying and pasting it from a web site.

Few Americans will learn any time soon that "Skye" is now "Eilean a' Cheò". Apparently the tourism boards will politely explain the change, but it's still going to cause confusion among those whose greenbacks are the life blood of the island. Tourism is big business in Scotland, as well as Eilean a' Cheò. The name change has angered and scared some B&B operators and tourism groups on the island. They see it as political correctness at the expense of business.

There is a slight tourism backlash in Scotland. Oh, Scots love tourists, and are a very hospitable people. Still, it grates on their nerves a little that people visit expecting everyone to be wearing kilts in colourful tartans (most tartan patterns were fabricated, figuratively, in the 19th century and in no way historically realistic). There's a feeling that their entire culture is sliding toward becoming a caricature on a shortbread tin. A retrieval of the country's Gaelic heritage, regardless of tourism, is seen as a positive step by many.

There are those who agree with that sentiment but still oppose the renaming of Skye to Eilean a' Cheò. The chosen name is apparently a nickname found in poems and songs. The true Gaelic name is An t-Eilean Sgitheanach. It means "the winged isle", in reference to the island's headlands that stick out into the North Sea. These critics see Eilean a' Cheò as a move toward fantasy romanticism.

Regardless of the opposition, the island will have its name changed before the end of the week. It remains to be see how long it will take the rest of the world to adopt the new name, or if it will always remain Skye outside of Scotland.

For the record, my maternal grandfather was born on Skye — uh, I mean Eilean a' Cheò. I visited the island in 1992. The island was beautiful, and worth the trip, and I regret only that I didn't have the chance to explore the island thoroughly. That having been said, the town of Potree didn't hold much interest once they rolled up the streets at night. Perhaps it's different today (my visit was 15 years ago).

Support the troops... with dice and games!

I just read about this on

The U.S. military in Iraq is about to do something never before attempted: they are going to hold a game convention in a warzone.

The U.S. Army's Morale Warfare and Recreation Department has given permission for the troops to use the Community Activity Center at Camp Adder/Tallil Airbase for a game convention. The convention is known as Ziggurat Con (named after a nearby ziggurat), and it will take place on June 9 from 1200 to 2100 hours local time. It's open to all allied military personnel, as well as civilian military contractors.

While some game companies have graciously offered games and supplies, they are still in need of game books, prizes (for tournaments), and dice.

While the convention will be heavy on D20, they are also running some White Wolf and Steve Jackson Games RPGs (roleplaying games, in this case, not rocket propelled grenades), and historical miniatures games. They plan to do a LARP (live action roleplaying) event at the nearby ziggurat.

If you want more information about this (such as to donate stuff like dice and whatnot) here are some links:

The Toys 4 Troops web site:

The thread:

Friday, April 27, 2007

Will Harry serve in Iraq?

"I saw young Harry with his beaver on,
His cuisses on his thighs, gallantly armed,
Rise from the ground like feathered Mercury,
And vaulted with such ease into his seat
As if an angel dropped down from the clouds
To turn and wind a fiery Pegasus,
And witch the world with noble horsemanship."
- William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 1, act 4, scene 1

The quote, above, is spoken by the character Vernon on seeing Prince Hal — the future King Henry V — prepare for battle in the Shakespearean play Henry IV, Part I. The modern interpretation of the play is of Prince Hal's coming of age, becoming the man who would eventually rule England.

If the current Prince Harry has his way, he too will soon be in battle. Unlike the prince in Shakespeare's work, our young Harry may not be allowed into combat, depending on the decision of the the British Ministry of Defence.

There's been a small, but vocal, argument in the United States that very few members of Congress have relatives serving in the U.S. Army in Iraq and Afghanistan. This lack of representatives in the military among the nation's elite politicians evokes a common complaint by Southern soldiers during the Civil War, that it was "a rich man's war, but a poor man's fight". Right now, something of the exact opposite debate is happening in Britain.

Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales (and, presumably, future king depending on when Queen Liz kicks it) had two children by his late ex-wife Princess Diana. These are Prince William and Prince Harry. The almost twenty-five year old Prince William is the heir to the throne. He is in the military, but he is undergoing a rather unique career. He's currently in the The Blues and Royals (Royal Horse Guards and 1st Dragoons) regiment, part of the Household Cavalry. seeing as how the British army only uses horses for show, this is a mechanized regiment. After completing a stint in the army, William will go on to serve in the Royal Air Force, and the Royal Navy.

The younger brother is Prince Henry, commonly known as Harry. He's twenty-two, yet he preceded his older brother into the same unit. Harry has said that he wants to pursue as normal a military career as his status as a royal will allow. He's a 2nd lieutenant (pronounced left-tenant) and a troop leader. A troop is a unit bigger than a squad, but smaller than a platoon, consisting of about 15 soldiers and up to about four vehicles. 2nd Lt. Harry Wales (his adopted surname) leads a troop of scimitar armoured reconnaissance vehicles.

Late last year it was announced that Harry's unit would be deployed to Iraq in May or June of 2007. The prince had apparently threatened to quit the army in the past if he was given a desk job and prevented from going to a combat zone because of his status as a royal. At the time, the Ministry of Defence said he would be deployed.

Now the Ministry is rethinking that position.

The press mention a Challenger tank that was damaged in Basra on April 9. The Challenger 2 is the rough British equivalent to the Abrams. Like American tanks, and the German Leopard 2 tanks Canada is purchasing, the Challenger 2 was designed to fight a conventional war against Soviet/Warsaw Pact/Russian-made tanks. To save weight, the front armour is the thickest, with thinner sides, and much thinner rear and bottom armour. The U.S. has lost a fair number of Abrams tanks in Baghdad, but this is the first Challenger lost. The Scimitar recon vehicle is much more lightly armoured.

Reports also suggest that insurgents will target Harry and his unit once they get to Iraq. They are due to patrol an area of southern Iraq that's a mecca for Iranian weapon smuggling, and an area that's seen a lot of sectarian violence. The British Army is now worried that the prince would become a "bomb magnet", putting the lives of his fellow troops in danger simply by his presence.

Some have suggested that the controversy is whether or not a royal should be allowed in a combat zone. His fellow soldiers, and many families of British servicemen, believe he should be allowed to serve, that he shouldn't be given preferential treatment. Harry, himself, doesn't want to be treated special.

The primary worry seems to be whether his presence would bring undue attention to his unit and spur insurgents into a higher level of activity in order to wound or kill the prince. Some civilians oppose Harry from going for that very reason. The flip side is that the insurgents have a limited number of resources. They may try to target Harry, but they are limited in what they can do. Yes, Harry may receive more attention, but that only means that other servicemen and women, and Iraqi civilians, would be spared a bomb blast that was used in an effort to hunt Harry.

It's a decision that the British Army is not taking lightly, as there is much at stake. If the prince does become a "bomb magnet", his presence will be severely criticized if British soldiers are hurt in the attempt. There's also the effect the death of the prince could have on the morale of the British people. Army morale is something to watch for, too. If someone of privilege is allowed to join the army but get out of the dangerous missions because of a quirk of birth, it could demoralize the army and hurt recruitment (which is already hurting in Britain). It would also impede Harry's career, unless of course he rises through the ranks based on his family, something Harry does not want.

There are precedent's for the prince fighting in battle. Shakespeare's quote post date's the first appearance of princes on the battlefield by millennia. More recently, Harry's uncle — Prince Andrew — flew helicopters during the Falklands War in 1982. At the time Andrew was second in line to the throne, but dropped a level when Harry's brother was born a day after the official end of hostilities.

It's an interesting problem. Harry must be commended for his bravery and his intent to serve his country in a time of war, regardless of whether or not he is allowed to serve in Iraq. At least someone from the privileged class in Britain is fighting in what has become a very unpopular war in the mids of Britons. It stands in sharp contrast to an administration and senior Congressional officials who do not have children in Iraq. It stands in even sharper contrast to the military service of the President (who managed to spend the Vietnam War in the Texas Air National Guard, and — briefly, and to work on a Republican senate campaign — in the Alabama Air National Guard) and the Vice President (who received four student deferments and a hardship exemption to stay out of Vietnam).

The story of Harry's potential combat assignment can be found at these two links:

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Snow, like you wouldn't believe

I got a sunburn last week in New Orleans. And I got more of a sunburn on Sunday. That was the really good weather (temperatures hitting the low 80s with low humidity) of the spring, because the last few days (except for today) was part of Louisiana's rainy season. Once that clears, we'll be in the summer. The sweltering summer...

Meanwhile, there's snow in the mountains in Washington state. Lots and lots of snow.

Someone at work forwarded this link. It contains photographs of the North Cascades Highway, a beautiful road that as of April 13 was still, uh, snow covered. Okay "snow covered" is an understatement.

Here's the link:

Check out the snow doughnuts!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Edited Friday's post

If you read Friday's post and scratched your head wondering what the heck was up with the third paragraph, the finicky laptop keyboard accidentally selected some text that was overwritten, rendering that paragraph pretty much incomprehensible.

I have since fixed it. If you scroll down to the Friday post you'll see it more or less the way I intended.

Gun control and massacres

We first heard about the Virginia Tech shooting Monday night. Couldn't miss it at that time, as it was on almost all the channels. I was surprised that ESPN didn't find a way to wiggle it into their coverage.

(Edit: CNN Headline News' sports coverage just managed a piece on the Virginia Tech baseball team...)

Tuesday morning we woke up in a Baton Rouge hotel to a radio jock explaining how the massacre would have been prevented, or mitigated, if the school had not put into effect a restriction preventing concealed weapons on campus. This argument has been repeated in the days since the massacre. I heard some gun ownership proponent on CNN spout the same argument this morning.

TV news has been arguing that the massacre has led to a gun control debate in the U.S. Interestingly enough, they started saying this on the day of the massacre when no one was talking about gun control. News outlets continue to say this in spite of the fact that almost no Democrats (and we know no Republicans will talk about gun control) have mentioned it. It seems like the only ones bringing up gun control are opponents of gun control who want to cut the debate off before it starts. Oh, and the other people bringing it up are the news channels themselves. You'll hear more about gun control (or the spectre of gun control) from Glenn Beck and Nancy Grace than you will from politicians.

I will start by saying that I don't believe gun control laws would have prevented this massacre. There have been a number of massacres in countries with strict gun control: the Nanterre massacre (France, 2002), the Erfurt massacre (Germany, 2002), the Dunblane massacre (Scotland, 1996), and the École Polytechnique massacre (Canada, 1989).

Clearly gun control laws do not stop massacres. About the only way you can stop these shootings is not only to ban guns, but ban their creation, ban the creation of ammunition, and confiscate all those out there; all of which is impossible. Even if you did all that, massacres would still occur. The deadliest school massacre in U.S. history — the Bath School disaster — was the result of several bombs placed in a school in 1927. The Osaka school massacre in Japan in 2001 was conducted by a mentally ill man armed with a kitchen knife.

From what I can see, though, there are more killings of this type in the United States than in other Western countries, most of the killings in the U.S. involve firearms, and the United States has the most liberal gun control laws in the West.

A friend sent me this link. The article is "'Only in America?' Gunning Down a Claim". It's by Steve Stanek and posted on the TCS Daily web site (a seemingly conservative site dealing with "Technology, Commerce, Society"). The article is here:

Stanek states what I did above, that gun control laws do not prevent massacres. He goes further, though. He suggests that gun control laws don't work. He points to Australia's increasing rate of violent crime, for instance. I did a little Googling and found that Stanek was... well, let's be charitable and simply assume he didn't dig far enough.

Yes, Australia's rate of violent crime has increased in the past few years. However, homicides are down, and in particular firearm homicides are down. Assaults are way up, but sexual assault and robberies are likewise down.

In other words, the Australian data does not support the premise that stronger gun control laws have not had an effect on crime. In fact, you could argue the opposite: violent crime, for whatever reason, is up but there are fewer homicides, so something is happening such that fewer people are dying in Australia in spite of more crime.

Stanek spends a lot of time talking about trends, without talking about actual murder rates. He mentions mass killings in Australia, Scotland, the Netherlands, and Japan. He does not give the murder rates for those countries, as compared to the U.S. From 1998 to 2000 the U.S. had a murder rate of 4.28 per 100,000 people. This compares to 1.50 for Australia, 1.47 for Canada, 1.41 for the U.K., 1.12 for the Netherlands, and 0.5 for Japan.


Are Americans really three to four times more violent than Canadians, Australians, the Dutch and the British? Are they really 10 times more violent than the Japanese? Or do they have more problems with poverty than (in spite of a lower unemployment rate) and drugs which result in much more violence? Or do Americans tend to use weapons that are more likely to result in death?

I don't believe stronger gun control laws would stop this kind of nutcase who is determined to go on a killing spree. As this article shows, stronger gun control laws do not stop this kind of incident. As former president Bill Clinton said on CNN Thursday night, the killer passed all the Brady Law checks, which is how he was able to legally purchase his guns. I'm convinced that there was virtually no way authorities could have seen this coming without dedicating a huge amount of resources into investigating each potential gun owner who has a hint of mental instability. However, the question of whether or not a nation is safer with stricter gun controls versus more liberal gun control laws is an entirely different debate.

I don't like the argument that if the students at the university had been armed they would have prevented, or limited, the massacre. There is a possibility that, on the face of it, the argument is correct. I'm not entirely convinced of that. I've read enough accounts of combat and police shootings to know that trained personnel have trouble hitting targets at close range with pistols when they are hopped up on adrenalin. The killer in Virginia hit his targets multiple times; apparently "cold blooded murder" was a fitting description. Would the prospect of an armed campus have deterred the killer? Could other students with guns have shot at him with the same accuracy as the murderer before he turned on them? Could students have pulled out their weapons before he gunned them down? Even if concealed weapons were allowed, would enough students have been armed at the time of the shootings to make a difference? I'm not convinced armed students would have made much of a difference, but let's just follow the argument and say that yes, armed students could have stopped the killings.

This is part of the "an armed society is a polite society" argument. It doesn't hold water. The most "armed society" the U.S. has ever seen was the Old West of the late 19th century. It was anything but polite.

The fallacy with the "armed campus" argument is that it ignores the downside of an armed campus. No one knew that a massacre was going to happen at that school before it happened. It could have been at Virginia Tech. It could have been at any of Virginia's other school, or any other school in the nation. Up until last Monday no one could have said, "Let's arm Virginia Tech's students." You'd have to allow concealed weapons in all schools in the state, or even all schools in the country.

And therein lies the problem. The reason concealed weapons are banned from these schools is to prevent violence during the entire school year. Thirty-two students were killed on Monday (not including the gunman). How many students in the state of Virginia would have died of gun violence — potentially fuelled by alcohol consumption — in, say, the last five years if guns were freely available on campus? How many would have died in the entire nation if all schools allowed weapons?

The answer: we don't know. What we do know is that arming the students to prevent the massacre is a simplistic view that doesn't take into account the potential deaths that can result from ready access to firearms throughout the school year, year after year.

You won't see campuses allowing concealed weapons any time soon. You won't see any radical gun control in the United States either, at least not in my life time. Democrats won't try to ban guns, because they'd lose a reelection bid, particularly in the South. And of course Republicans won't put forth anything that restricts anything to do with firearms.

Instead, both sides will try to ban violent movies and television. One of the big ironies in American politics is that the same people who consider the 2nd Amendment (the right to bear arms) inviolate are often quite willing to chip away at the 1st Amendment (freedom of expression).

Friday, April 20, 2007


We're back home from New Orleans. We made good time, leaving at 9 a.m. and stopping at the outlet mall in Gonzales for about an hour, we arrived home at 2:25 p.m., in time to pick up Logan at school.

I gave a fairly rosy view of New Orleans from the perspective of the touristy areas of the city. Alana's comments about the rest of the city give a more realistic, and depressing, view of the city's recovery.

Alana was involved in the largest Medicaid outreach event conducted in the United States. Louisiana does more to reach out to the public with Medicaid information than any other state (which is fitting, as East Carroll Parish was recently listed as the poorest county in the United States). This week's blitz of New Orleans, which continues through Sunday, is the largest event undertaken by the state.

Alana's work in New Orleans took her to the 7th and 8th wards. These parts of the city did not receive the same media attention as the 9th ward. The 9th ward was the poorest in the city and horribly flooded, so it was an obvious media magnet. The 7th and 8th wards are more of a lower middle class, working area. They, too, were badly flooded. Alana saw buildings with water marks well above her head. There was the odd repaired building, but around it remained homes still bearing search and rescue marks.

She was in a church that was wrecked by the storm. Volunteers from around the country and Canada have been coming down to fix up the church, living dormitory style in the gymnasium. The gym is in rough shape, with the floor pulled up to bare concrete, but it's serviceable. The sanctuary has a new roof and ceiling. In the pastor's words, this is just a drop in the bucket of what needs to be done. It will be years before this church is up to what it was before the storm.

The human psychological toll is not something that's reported very often. Alana met a woman who was stranded in the storm. Her cousin was to pick her up on the Sunday before the hurricane hit, but the woman fell asleep while waiting and either missed her cousin or the cousin never appeared. When the levees broke, she was chased to the second floor by the rising water. Then she had to go into the attic. Part of the roof collapsed, so she climbed onto the roof. Neighbours rescued her via a small boat and took her to their roof. A day or two later they walked through chest-high water to a highway onramp, where they were picked up by rescue helicopters. The woman was doing okay before the storm, but now she has nothing. The psychological scarring is obvious.

This is just one of many, many stories to come out of the area.

A friend and co-worker of Alana's drove down I-55 to New Orleans (we came down via Opelousas, and drove home via I-10 to Baton Rouge). Our route was fairly sparsely inhabited until you got about 30 miles from New Orleans. That area wasn't hit hard by the storm. Alana's friend came down through Hammond, LA. Hammond is in very rough shape. It still hasn't recovered from the devastation. We imagine that Slidell, LA is in the same or worse shape, seeing as how it was further east (on the more powerful edge of the storm).

I mentioned yesterday how Metairie didn't seem in too bad a shape. The Lakeshore district is apparently another story entirely. If Katrina had been a bear that had mauled it, Lakeshore — like the 7th, 8th, and 9th wards — had seen little more treatment than some gauze and a bandaid.

As Alana's friend said, it's appalling that the city is in such poor shape overall some 20 months after the disaster.

Tourism is the lifeblood of New Orleans. For most tourists, the city is back in business. The French Quarter, Garden District, and shopping areas in Metairie are all in pretty good shape. The rest of the city, the parts the tourists never saw before the storm and are unlikely to see now, looks like a bomb had hit it.

* * *

We both felt a particularly strong affinity to New Orleans this week. I guess it's because we both saw parts of it we'd never visited before (Alana more so than me).

When we drove into the city, Green Day was singing "We're coming home, again" on the CD player. Alana choked up a little and smiled at that. There was something special about listening to the Tragically Hip play, "New Orleans is Sinking" (written in 1989, and with the song's original intention firmly in my mind) while walking through the French Quarter. More poignant was walking back from the New Orleans Public Library while the Hip's Gord Downey sang, "If New Orleans is beat, where does that leave you and me?" I had just spent several hours reading old New Orleans newspapers from around the time of the Union occupation. New Orleanians were as defiant then as they are now.

As we left the hotel this morning, there was a sadness, like we were leaving a friend without knowing when we would be back to see them. Alana said that if we ever came into money (Ha!) we would have to buy a condo or something in the city. That way we could go home any time we wanted. The feeling that New Orleans is the city we should be calling home was never as strong as it was this trip.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

More notes from New Orleans

I drove up to Metairie yesterday, to check out the book stores and the Galactic Games game store. First I went back to the Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 and took some more photos, this time with the ISO settings correct on the camera!

It appears that Metairie has mostly recovered. I didn't see much hurricane damage at all. Lots of homes had new paint, suggesting that they have been repaired. The roads were busy and I didn't see any closed stores (though there was a Wendy's lot that no longer has a Wendy's; not sure if that was due to the hurricane or not).

Alana was in various parts of New Orleans yesterday with LaCHIP. She says that the poorer sections don't look much better than they did back in December. There are still problems with wrecked buildings, with restoration going slowly. There are all sorts of help wanted signs. Stores can't open without employees, employees can't move back to those areas without housing.

Alana heard on the news that the number of restaurants open in New Orleans has now reached pre-Katrina levels. That's the good news. The bad is that a higher percentage of these restaurants are fast food places. There still aren't enough tourists to push upper scale eateries outside of the French Quarter.

Below is a picture of something that's become controversial in the Crescent City:

The palm trees are back on Canal Street. Each of them is anchored by four lines looped around the trees. You can also see that not only do they line the streetcar tracks, but they also line the street in general.

Each of those trees cost $1000. I don't know how much the additional landscaping cost. I easily counted well over 20 trees in that one section of Canal Street. Proponents point out that the life blood of New Orleans is tourism, and that the trees are a symbol of the city's recovery. It also makes the city look pretty. Critics point out the areas of the city that are still devastated while money is spent on "beautifying" the downtown core.

I think this is a case where the city council couldn't do anything right. They do need to make the city attractive to visitors. There are a fair number of tourists in the Quarter, but less than any other time I've visited the city except for last December. At the same time the council can't blame people living in trailers for being upset for this expenditure.

At any rate, tourists to the city are in for a treat this week. Except for a couple of nights of late evening showers, the weather has been wonderful. Today the temperature is in the low to mid 80s, and there isn't a cloud in the sky.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Garden District, New Orleans

Alana and I are in New Orleans again! Alana is here for work, I'm on vacation. Actually, Alana is here for something special. In order to help give health insurance coverage to the thousands of uninsured children living in post-Katrina New Orleans, the State of Louisiana is doing a blitz in the city, informing people about their LaCHIP children's health insurance plan. Medicaid people from all over the state are here. In fact, while I was out today I saw group of them in a Walgreen's.

We drove down to Alana's parents' place around 1 p.m. yesterday. They live in Pineville, LA. We then drove from there to Baton Rouge. We hit the best game store in the state (and one of the best I've been in, period), we went to supper at T.J.'s Ribs, and then we stayed at the Crossland's hotel. Okay, two out of three was a good idea... The Crossland's was cheap, at least. No internet access. No hair dryer in the room. Hell, no shampoo! It didn't matter much, as we simply crashed when we got into the room. Oh, the first room they put us in had a double bed which the woman downstairs insisted was a queen, because it said so in the system. We switched rooms and informed her that the second room had a larger bed. She seemed unimpressed. The pillows were flat, and there were only two of them, so neither of us slept great.

Today we're in New Orleans. We got down here at 11 a.m. and were able to check in here at the Doubletree on Canal right away. The only thing I could complain about is the fact that they don't have free internet acces. The don't have wireless internet at all. I'm typing this because, apparently, Alana decided to go ahead and pay for internet access tonight. Don't be surprised if you don't hear from me until we get home after tonight's posting.

Alana isn't going to get back until about 7 p.m., so I'm doing a blog entry.

I spent the day traipsing through the Garden District. I eventually wound up at Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. The cemetery itself is, I believe, the first in the city, founded in 1833. It's one of the first if not the first, anyway. It's the quintessential New Orleans cemetery with its above-ground mausoleums closely packed together.

I didn't see any damage I knew for certain was from Katrina. This cemetery was never submerged in the flooding, though I could see some fairly recent cracks in the walls. (Other cracks were old, having been whitewashed in the past rather than fixed.)

There is a lot of damage to the cemetery. Some of it happened years before Katrina, but I'm assuming some of it was from the storm.

I'm kicking myself for not changing the ISO setting on the digital camera, so the pics are grainier than I wished. If I have the chance, I may go back tomorrow and shoot some more pictures. I will eventually post the pics to my web site, too, but in the meantime below are a sampling of pictures.

Click on the picture for a bigger view.

This next one is interesting. It's the grave of Confederate Major General Harry T. Hays. Hays started the war as the Colonel of the 7th Louisiana regiment. Later he took over the command of the Louisiana Tigers brigade. (Technically he was a Brigadier General, as his promotion to major general was never officially approved by Confederate president Jefferson Davis.

One of the more interesting graves, for the Jefferson Parish firemen.

This one is for the guys in our gaming group. I'm going to have to edit our write-ups from our Delta Green game set in New Orleans to take this into account, but this is where the ghouls popped up! The inscription is "New Orleans Home for Incurables". You can't really see it, but there's a spot near the back of the plot that looks like something was dug up, the hole filled in, and then the void settled a bit...

My impression of the Garden District is that it's mostly up and running, and what isn't is being renovated. There are a few places that are empty with "for rent" signs in the window. I couldn't tell if the New Orleans Culinary School was still operating, but a portion of the lower floor beside the school's restaurant had big rental signs on it. Copeland's Cheesecake Bistro is shut. I peered in the window and I can see they are renovating. Apparently so is the hotel the restaurant is attached to. One of our favourite restaurants (admittedly, after a single visit) is gone. The Garlic Clove is now Igor's Bar-B-Q Mama. "Igor" owns a number of restaurants in New Orleans, including Igor's Lounge & Game Room right next door. I believe he owned The Garlic Clove. I'm guessing they had to change menus due to a change in chefs.

The Garden District looks pretty good. The stately homes in the area are all well kept up, with quite a few sporting new paint. There is evidence of new construction, too, as you can see in this next picture. Of course none of this is "affordable" housing. With the sun out, the place looked very pretty. There was a ton of traffic, too. With a veritable lack of litter, people driving and walking about, and the sun shining brightly, it almost looks like the place is back to normal. Almost.

On the downside, I saw a lot of homeless people. Well, not Toronto level of homeless people, but at least a dozen, probably more. There were half a dozen hanging around the base of the Robert E. Lee statue in Lee's Circle. They were on the mound on which the statue is perched. One of them tried to accost me as I was walking up to it (I thought he was a worker having lunch) but he didn't come near me. I suspect he was looking for a handout. Most of the homeless I saw were middle aged, and probably unemployable. In New Orleans right now, where they'll hire anyone with a pulse, you have to be in pretty bad shape — or not interested — to not have a job.

Finally, the St. Charles streetcar line is still not up and running. I have no idea when it will be running, if ever. I assume they'll get it going once there's enough money to repair the trolleys damaged and destroyed in the storm. They will also have to fix the rail lines. In the 20 months since Katrina, the lines are now overgrown. I guess this next picture is as symbolic of the Garden District as you'll find: bright, sunny, cars on the road, but overgrown trolley lines.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Poker with Dick Cheney

I don't usually get left-leaning jokes at work, seeing as how most of the office is very much right-leaning. (Ironically, one of the most conservative people in the office is very much looking forward to a change in administration, but that's neither here nor there...) However, this one managed to sneak through, albeit sent by a Libertarian (who is neither left or right leaning; what a concept!).

I laughed.

Fans of Dick Cheney and/or conservative media elite should probably just pass...

* * *

June 20, 2004
Poker With Dick Cheney
Transcript of The Editors' regular Saturday-night poker game with
Dick Cheney, 6/19/04. Start tape at 12:32 AM.

The Editors: We'll take three cards.

Dick Cheney: Give me one.

Sounds of cards being placed down, dealt, retrieved, and rearranged in hand. Non-commital noises, puffing of cigars.

TE: Fifty bucks.

DC: I'm in. Show 'em.

TE: Two pair, sevens and fives.

DC: Not good enough.

TE: What do you have?

DC: Better than that, that's for sure. Pay up.

TE: Can you show us your cards?

DC: Sure. One of them's a six.

TE: You need to show all your cards. That's the way the game is played.

Colin Powell: Ladies and gentlemen. We have accumulated overwhelming evidence that Mr. Cheney's poker hand is far, far better than two pair. Note this satellite photo, taken three minutes ago when The Editors went to get more chips. In it we clearly see the back sides of five playing cards, arranged in a poker hand. Defector reports have assured us that Mr. Cheney's hand was already well advanced at this stage. Later, Mr. Cheney drew only one card. Why only one card? Would a man without a strong hand choose only one card? We are absolutely convinced that Mr. Cheney has at least a full house.

Tim Russert: Wow. Colin Powell really hit a homerun for the Administration right there. A very powerful performance. My dad played a lot of poker in World War 2, and he taught me many things about life. Read my book.

TE: He's extremely good at Power Point. But we would like to see the cards, or else we can't really be sure he has anything to beat two pair. We don't think he would lie to us, but ... well, it is a very rich pot.

Jonah Goldberg: Liberal critics of Mr. Cheney's poker hand contend that "he doesn't have anything". Oh, really, liberal critics? Cheney has already showed them the six of clubs, and yet these liberals persist in saying he has "nothing". Why do liberals consider the six of clubs to be "nothing"? Is it because the six of clubs is black?

The Drudge Report has learned that Dick Cheney has a royal flush, hearts. Developing ...

TE: Perhaps if you could just show us a subset of your cards which beat 2 pair? Or tell us exactly what your hand is?

DC: We will show you our cards after we have collected the pot. It is important that things be done in this order, otherwise the foundation of our entire poker game will be destroyed.

TE: We aren't sure ...

DC: Very good. And here are my cards. A straight flush.

Judith Miller: Dick Cheney has revealed a straight flush, confirming his pre-collection claims about beating two pair.

TE: Those cards are of different suits. It's not a flush.

Mark Steyn: When will it end? Now liberal critics complain that Dick Cheney's cards are not all the same suit. Naturally, these are the same liberals who are always whining about a lack of diversity in higher education. It seems like segregation is OK with these liberals, as long as it damages Republicans.

A witness has come forward claiming that The Editors engage in racial profiling in blog-linking. Developing ...

TE: Wait! It's not even a straight! You've got a eight and ten of hearts, a six of clubs, and the seven and five of diamonds. You have a ten high. That's nothing.

Sean Hannity: Well, well, well. In another sign of liberal desperation, liberals now complain that a ten high is "nothing". Does ten equal zero in liberal mathematics? That would explain a lot.

Robert Novak: It's a perfectly valid poker hand. Apparently, liberals have never heard of a "skip straight". It's a kind of straight, just with one card missing. But if you skip around the missing nine, it's a straight.

Alan Colmes: Mother says I mustn't play poker.

TE: There is no such thing as a "skip straight".

Brit Hume: It seems like some people are still playing poker like it's September 10th. Back then, you needed to have all your cards in order to claim a straight. But, as we learned on that day, sometimes you won't have perfect knowledge. Sometimes you have to learn to connect the dots, and see the patterns which are not visible to superficial analysis of the type favored by the CIA and the State Department. Dick Cheney's skip straight is a winning poker hand for the post-9/11 world.

Rush Limbaugh: Do The Editors have two pairs, or a pair of twos? First they say one thing, then another. What are they hiding?

Andrew Sullivan: Dick Cheney never said he had a straight. He was very careful about this. His cards can form many different hands. None of these hands alone can beat a pair of twos; but, taken together, the combination of all possible hands presents a more compelling case for taking the pot than simply screaming "Pair of twos! Pair of twos!" as unprincipled liberal critics of the Vice President so often do.

Did The Editors claim to have "a pair of Jews"? Are they anti-Semites as well as racists? Developing ...

Zell Miller: As a lifelong liberal Democrat, I believe Dick Cheney, and I hate liberals and Democrats.

William Safire: Why are liberals so obsessed by Dick Cheney's poker hand? The pot has been taken, the deal is done. If liberals are upset that we are no longer playing by the Marquis of Queensbury patty-cake poker rules, they clearly lack the stomach to play poker in the post-September 11th environment. And why do they never complain about Saddam Hussein's poker playing, which was a thousand times worse?

Christopher Hitchens: The Left won't be happy until the pot is divided up equally between Yassar Arafat, Osama bin Laden, and Hitler. Orwell would have seen this.

Ann Coulter: Why do liberals object so strenuously to the idea of conservatives having a "straight"? Perhaps because it doesn't fit in with the radical homosexual/Islamist agenda they hold so dear?

Report of the Bipartisan Commission on Poker Hands: There is no such thing as a "skip straight".

DC: I have access to poker rules that the Commission doesn't, and so I know for a fact that the cards in my hand are all intimately connected.

George W. Bush: Dick Cheney is telling the truth. I'm a nice man who would drink a beer with you.

Vladimir Putin: I dealt Dick Cheney three aces and two kings.

DC: My deal.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Young Invincibles

New York Magazine has a fascinating, and depressing, story about health care in the United States:

The article is about young Americans who are under-employed, and can't afford health insurance, living in New York. They include a young man with titanium pins in his back who can't afford the twice yearly checkups, or the carpenter who carries his own suture kit, the woman who walked around for days with a bad cough only to eventually head to a walk-in clinic... and discover she had tuberculosis.

The story about the young man with appendicitis is particularly alarming. Not only did he get sub-level care, he was looking at a staggering bill until he was forced to use the "m" word — malpractice.

Alana and I have to deal with health insurance issues ourselves. We really can't afford the $500+ a month we're paying for insurance for us and Logan, but we can't afford not to have it, particularly since Alana is now on insulin. I thought about dropping off insurance myself, but Alana won't allow it. Probably just as well, as insurance companies penalize you when you finally get into a plan if you haven't been insured for 6 months prior to signing up. (This happened to me; they wouldn't take the fact that I was covered by Ontario's government-sponsored plan as "insurance".)

Our insurance company, Vantage, is no longer offered to State of Louisiana employees in this region. The replacement, Humana, is available elsewhere in the state. It's less expensive than Vantage, which is good. Unfortunately neither of our doctors takes Humana (although Logan's does), so we have to find new primary care physicians. I like my doctor well enough, so that's a pain. Alana is unimpressed with her doctor, so she was in the market for a new doctor anyway. The trick is going to be finding one in this area. There aren't that many that take this insurance plan, as it's fairly new.

Having an insurance company dictate your choice in doctor isn't exactly what you expect from a country that prides itself on liberty. At least we have a choice; the uninsured do not.

I have a friend in Canada who bemoans the state of Ontario's health care. He heard an earful from me. Having lived under both country's systems, I can say that the Americans get woefully bad health insurance coverage for the money.

I don't think it will change, though. There is too much money at stake, and too big a fear of "socialized medicine". I suspect the only thing that will change the system is if the number of uninsured becomes vast enough that a fast-moving spiral takes hold. Prices shoot through the roof, more people drop their insurance, resulting in higher rates for those left behind, which causes more to drop off. Then maybe something will be done, given all the doctors and hospitals who would be unable to collect a growing number of hospital and visit bills from the uninsured.

This is assuming that the economy survives such a catastrophe.

Unfortunately, we'd be among some of the earliest victims. It's the sort of thing that keeps you awake at night... and feeling not the least bit invincible.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

The decline of DRM

It's way too early to claim that Digital Rights Management (DRM) is dead, or even sick, but it does seem to be in decline.

DRM is a fancy name for "copy protection". Copy protection has been around since the early days of personal computers. I remember breaking the copy protection scheme on a database program I bought for my old Atari 800 XL computer back in the late 80s. (The copy protection prevented me from making a back up of the program floppy disc. The law in Canada was, and perhaps still is, such that breaking the copy protection scheme to make a back up copy was entirely legal.) Today's DRM schemes are designed to protect copyright owners from illegal copying. Unfortunately, it in practice it hasn't worked out that way.

The problem with DRM is that it does not prevent pirates from stealing copyrighted material, but it does adversely affect the use of that material by people who have legitimately paid for it. I posted earlier this year a message about MP3 software that I use. One piece of software allows me to take protected .m4p files from iTunes and convert them to unprotected .m4a files. The only reason I need to do this is because the DRM on files sold by iTunes requires me to burn the files to a CD before I can convert them to MP3s. This is an unnecessary step from a legal standpoint. It's required only due to the onerous nature of DRM.

This week EMI announced that they would make their entire catalogue available on iTunes in a non-DRM format (for a slightly higher price). Apple applauded this move. It turns out that a lot of Apple's iTune support calls involve DRM problems. People purchase music and then can't figure out how to get them onto their MP3 players. They have a hard drive crash and the can't understand why they can't copy the music onto the new hard drive (because they've accidentally registered their work computer, their two home computers, and even Aunt Betty's computer with iTunes).

As Apple pointed out, it's not stopping pirates anyway. Its just peeving you and me. Apple is encouraging other companies to follow suit.

Also this week, Wizards of the Coast, the company responsible for Magic: The Gathering and the owners of Dungeons and Dragons announced that they would make all their products available as PDFs without DRM.

A PDF is Adobe's Portable Document Format. It's a format for files such that the file will look the same and print the same (or close enough) on every computer and printer. It has become a popular format for roleplaying games. It costs the company very little to provide PDFs. There are web sites that specialize in selling PDFs. Many companies supply printers PDF files to print their product, anyway. The PDF is cheaper than the print copy, mainly because you're not going to pay $40 for a PDF when you can buy the same game in hardcover for $40. (The optimum pricing seems to be between $5 and $15 for a PDF of a $30 to $50 book.) A new phenomenon is people buying the hard copy book, and then buying the PDF for their laptops. (I never fully understood this, until I found that I could travel with a virtual library on my laptop. And when I'm running a game I usually have my laptop running anyway. Most games have hideously awful indexes, so being able to search it on the computer is a bonus.)

Wizards of the Coast (known as WotC) is going to stop making their books — their D20 roleplaying books — available in DRM protected PDFs. Instead, they will be on watermarked PDFs. Digitally watermarked PDF files can be viewed and printed from any computer, while the watermarking will still indicate where the book came from. (I don't know how the watermarking works. It could be that it identifies the book with you, meaning if you spread it around it will have your name on it.)

WotC discovered the same thing as EMI and Apple. DRM gets in the way, while all of their products are available for free on eMule and other sites due to people scanning their books and posting the scans in PDFs. I have a DRM protected PDF. (which is currently down) has C.J. Carella's Witchcraft available as a free PDF, but it's DRM protected. I've downloaded it about four times now, because I can only run it on a single computer at a time. There is a way to register different computers so that I can run the game on those machines, but I seem to have messed that up. So here's a free book which I can use on any computer I own, and yet the DRM makes it difficult to use. This is just ridiculous. Welcome to the world of DRM.

I don't know if this is the beginning of the end for DRM. Too many companies are tied into it for anyone to know for sure. It is interesting that a number of big companies who invested in DRM are having second thoughts. This is good. I personally won't buy a DRM-ed CD any more. I have enough problems with the one CD that I have that's protected (an Our Lady Peace CD). I couldn't play it in either car, or the laptop. I had to rip it on the DVD player on the desktop computer and then burn it to a new CD without the DRM. Yes, I had to "illegally" copy the CD in order to play it in the car. As I said, just ridiculous...

Friday, April 06, 2007

Animated Bayeux Tapestry

YouTube is for many things, most of it frivolous, much of it copyright infringing. This link, though, is a bit different. Someone has animated the Bayeux Tapestry.

The Bayeux Tapestry is the famous medieval embroidery that told the story of William of Normandy's defeat of the Saxon army in 1066, making William king of England.

This link is to an animation. Someone has taken the images from the tapestry and animated them. English words were added to explain what the current portion of the tapestry was representing.

It's pretty cool, at least to a history buff like me. Here's the link:

If you would like to see the actual tapestry, not animated, and with a more thorough commentary, this next site is excellent:

Gosh, Designated Import is now educational!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Funniest. Spam. Ever.

I received this spam mail today. Okay, it may not have been the funniest ever, but it was so horribly inept that I laughed out loud. My comments are in bold. Otherwise, I have maintained the spelling of the original.

Dear Selected winner,

This is to inform you that you have been selected for a cash Price of £1,000,000.00(One Million Pound Sterling) in cash.from International programme held on the 1TH MARCH. 2007 in the United Kindom. (This sentence is wonderful on so many levels! I particularly like the fact that my "cash Price" is in cash!) The selection process was carried out through random selection in our computerised email selection system from a database of over 250,000 email addresses drawn from all the continents of the world which your email was among the first ten (10) lucky winners. (Wow, the word "selection" and the word "email" used three times in the one sentence. That can't be easy.)

You are therefore advise to contact Claims Agent for the release of your winningsprovide him with the under listed informations. (Another great sentence. I was giggling mightily by this point.)

EMAIL: (Apparently Tom forgot how to spell his last name when he set up his Hotmail account.)

1.Name in full.
2.Address in full.
3.Nationality & Present Country.
5.Phone /Fax /Sex. (I don't know if he wants my phone number, fax number and gender, or if he wants to get all nasty with me long distance. And I'd never even heard of fax sex...)
6.Email address. (Why? Couldn't he just pull it from the email?)
Yours Truly,
Sir Steven Moore Co-Coordinator (Online Promo Programme).. (Gosh, such hilarity, and from a knight no less!)

I'd be really curious to find out if this nets the spammer a single reply. Considering the state of the world, it probably will...