Saturday, 31 May, 2003

Recycling a body?

The article I mentioned yesterday brought up a point, mostly as a joke, but that I thought would be something to consider:

If a 175-pound man fell into one end [of the machine], he would come out the other end as 38 pounds of oil, 7 pounds of gas, and 7 pounds of minerals, as 123 pounds of sterilized water.  While no one plans to put people into a thermal depolymerization machine...

Why not?  It's certainly a more reasonable thing to do than burn the body or plant it in the ground taking up valuable real estate!  Instead of paying for a cemetery plot, or a perfectly good pine box to be burned in, sell your body to the recycling center.  You certainly won't need it after you're dead.  I had thought that I wanted my body to be composted (although nobody does that), but this is a much safer and productive way to dispose of me when the time comes.  Imagine, not a crematorium, but a body recycler.  If you don't want to sell the materials, use the oil and gas to light a torch that will burn during my wake.  Or, bottle the gas and let me cook the hamburgers.

Okay, some of that is tongue-in-cheek.  Quite honestly, though, I'm not planning on being buried in the ground.  I always thought I'd be cremated and my ashes scattered over some place special.  But if I could be recycled?  "Cool beans," as the young kids have been saying recently.  And before ya'll start saying "ewwwww," you might want to think about what people who live in near-future closed environments like Moon colonies will do with bodies.  Organics are damned tough to come by when you're living on a dead pile of rocks.  You can bet they're not going to plant those bodies in the ground where they won't decompose.  No sir, they're going to be recycled, and this would be one good way to do it.

Friday, 30 May, 2003

Thermal Depolymerization

The May issue of Discover magazine has a fascinating article called Anything into Oil.  The article describes the thermal depolymerization process developed by Changing World Technologies that can turn just about anything organic (this includes many plastics, all kinds of tires, medical waste, and many other materials) into oil and other useful by-products.  The cost?  About 15% of the energy produced.  The outputs vary with the inputs, but usually include a light oil (similar to home heating oil), some gases, sterilized water, and refined carbon and metal solids.  Since gas is expensive to store and ship, the gas produced is used to power the machine.  The company has been developing its process in a small pilot facility in Philadelphia, and is just now opening a $20 million facility in Carthage, MO that will process 200 tons of turkey waste daily from the local Butterball Turkey plant.  The daily output?  600 barrels of oil, 21,000 gallons of water clean enough to discharge into a municipal sewage system, 11 tons of various saleable minerals, and about 10 tons of gas that will be used to power the system.

Now that is recycling.  I'm excited to see if it works as well as its hype.

Thursday, 29 May, 2003


When I was filling in for the night computer operator at the bank where I worked, I taught myself to juggle.  This would have been the summer of 1984.  Since then, I've practiced off and on, and even showed a few friends how, but all I've known are the most basic moves.  There's a lot more to juggling than the basic 3-ball cascade.  I recently became acquainted with the folks at the Texas Juggling Society, who meet down by the University of Texas campus every Thursday for three hours of juggling followed by pizza and beer at a local hangout.  They're a great group of people, friendly, and willing to share their knowledge.  I've gone to the last four meetings, and have picked up a half dozen new patterns and seen plenty of things to keep me busy for a long time.  (I suppose "meeting" is a bit strong.  This isn't an  organization with membership, dues, officers, agendas, and all that.  All we do is get together, socialize, and juggle.  It's my kind of club.)

If you want to get started juggling, show up at a local club and somebody will be happy to show you the basics.  If you can't find a club in your area, find a book called Juggling for the Complete Klutz.  It has everything you need to master the 3-ball cascade, and even comes with a set of beanbags.  Be prepared to spend a little time with it, but don't get discouraged.  Just about anybody can learn to juggle.  It's fun, it's entertaining, and it's deep and wide enough to keep your interest for years.  As an added benefit, 30 or 45 minutes of juggling even counts as "moderate exercise."  Especially when you're first learning and chasing the balls all over the living room.

Wednesday, 28 May, 2003

Mid-life crisis?

I've spent the last 19 months or so in a very strange place mentally.  Shortly after my fortieth birthday I started re-evaluating my life.  I spent an embarrassing amount of time sitting here in this chair playing one brainless game after another while my mind wandered over the last 20 years, analyzing, evaluating, and critiquing from uncountable angles every memory I could dredge up and comparing where I am now with what I expected of myself when I was 20 years old.  It wasn't pretty.

"All those wonderful dreams," my 20-year-old self said, "and what do you have to show for it?  Five years on a failed marriage, 10 years 'going with the flow' instead of pushing, pushing, pushing to achieve all that I had planned.  Where is the mansion on the private island?  Where is the private plane, the yacht, the international fame?  Where are the crowds of beautiful adoring women?"

My 20-year-old self is idealistic, unforgiving, blunt, foul-mouthed, and damned annoying.  I named him Arrogant Prick.  He pulled out every one of those memories and spat on it, showing me where I went wrong, how he would have done it better, and ground even the good memories into the dirt.  He was terribly disappointed in the shambles I've made of the promising life he had started for me.  He nearly had me convinced that I was a Total Failure.

I don't know why I let the little bastard torture me for so long, and I'm not entirely sure how I managed to tie and gag him.  At some point he was just gone.  The blessed silence that followed was filled with a quieter and friendlier voice who started the process all over again.  But this time we laughed at the funny parts and cried when we were sad, enjoyed the successes, mourned the failures, reviewed the lessons and filed each memory fondly away after picking it up out of the dirt and brushing it off.  I untied the Arrogant Prick too, finally, and filed him away where he belongs as well.  It will do me good to remember him from time to time.

My life, of course, is no more a shambles than I am a total failure.  I'm blessed with a loving wife who is also my best friend and who has put up with my somewhat erratic behavior as I stubbornly fought my way alone through this.  I remain in good standing with my mother and my siblings, due more to their kindness and forgiving natures than to my meager efforts.  I have a small circle of close friends with whom I share many wonderful moments.  In terms of relationships with other people, I am a very wealthy man indeed.  At 20, I had no idea that wealth could be measured in this way.

Materially, I'm not nearly as well off as that 20-year-old dreamer wanted to be by now.  Even so, Debra and I live very comfortably with few worries.  I can't afford to just quit working and spend my time jet-setting around the world, but that's okay.  A life filled with mansions, yachts, lavish parties, and a parade of beautiful, vacant, anonymous women sounds like a whole lot more trouble than fun.  I'm happy, and I think smart enough to know that I'm not deluding myself.

Is this what they call a mid-life crisis?  Whatever it is (or was, I hope), I seem to have made it through the worst of it without having to buy a sports car and ruin my marriage by taking up with a woman half my age.  Although looking back I can see how going that route might seem attractive.

Why am I posting this, probably the most personal note I'm likely ever to post in public?  Because it seems like the thing to do in order to finally close the book on this most difficult part of my life so far.  On now to happier times.

Tuesday, 27 May, 2003

Free speech versus private property

I picked this one up on NPR's All Things Considered this evening.

Students at Wesleyan University in Connecticut are accusing administrators of trampling on their rights to free speech. The university recently banned the long standing practice of "chalking," in which students used campus sidewalks to make political statements. But in recent years, administrators say, the messages had become offensive.

You can listen to the entire program (or just the one segment) here.

The problem is more than just that the messages are becoming increasingly offensive.  Some have been downright slanderous, accusing other students or members of the faculty of all manner of things.  Chalking proponents are quick to point out that the Constitution guarantees the right of free speech, but says nothing about a right not to be offended.  Fine.  But there's no accountability in chalking, either.  Anybody can write whatever they like, anonymously, and there is no recourse for anybody who is harmed by indiscriminate scribbling.  Accusations of sexual misconduct or other crimes, groundless though they may be, can do irreparable harm to a person's  reputation.

We've been through this before, with the "Free Speech Movement" (what Ayn Rand and other conservatives properly labeled the "Filthy Language Movement") in the 1960's and the current insistence on anonymity on the Internet.  Some people seem to think that, because they have a Constitutionally-guaranteed right of free speech (extended to "free expression" by the Courts), that they can express themselves however they choose with impunity.  What these free expression advocates seem to forget is that society places limits on what is considered acceptable, for example holding that a person who yells "Fire" in a movie theatre can be held liable for damages if there is in fact no fire.   Private institutions (of which Wesleyan University is one), have the right to dictate not only where messages are placed but also (if they wish) what messages are presented, just as individuals have the right to control what messages (if any) are painted on their private property.

It's sad to see each generation of young people making the same mistake with regards to expressing themselves.  Insisting on the right to say whatever they want (or express themselves in any manner they choose) and expecting no repercussions is short-sighted, simple-minded, and shows an astounding lack of respect for the principles upon which the Constitution was founded.  With rights come responsibilities.  The students' right of free speech is and should be subject to the guidelines set down by the University.

If the students want to regain their chalking privilege, they should develop a set of guidelines and ensure that every member of the student body reads and understands the guidelines.  If they follow that with a group of student volunteers (perhaps elected by the student body) who will examine and eliminate any messages that don't meet the guidelines, perhaps the University will agree to reinstate the privilege.

Sunday, 25 May, 2003


I'm getting an increasing number of messages from people who've been playing my game TriTryst, but are having difficulty getting it to run on their newer systems.  It never ran well (if at all) on Windows NT, but I had very little trouble with it on Windows 95, 98, ME, and 2000.  I'm getting reports now that it won't work on Windows XP.  Next week I'll be back in the office where I have easy access to XP machines, and I will do some experimentation to get the program running there.

I'm also getting requests for updates or fixes to the game.  I have a working prototype clone of the game that I finished over a year ago, but haven't released it because the art is so horrible.  That and I need to come up with a new name for the game.  The original publisher of the game has been acquired so many times that I doubt the owners of the intellectual property have any idea that they own the game.  I'm not at all worried about the legal ramifications of releasing a clone of the game, seeing as how I have no access to the original source code and there were no trade secrets in its operation.  My clone is written in a different language using totally different tools and technologies.  Still, the name itself probably is copyrighted, so I'll have to come up with something different.

The final hurdle is how to market the darned thing.  I could just put it on my web site as freeware, I guess, but I'm going to incur some support costs (mostly time), and will inevitably have to address problems that crop up on other systems.  I don't have the resources to test the game on every conceivable platform, and would have to pay somebody to do that if I wanted to market the game.  Shareware is an option, I guess, and I could use income from registrations to complete the platform testing and possibly extend the game's capabilities.  Finally, there's the idea of kioskware—selling the rights to a company that fills the $10.00 bins in discount computer stores.  Do such things still exist?

Friday, 23 May, 2003

Life isn't fair. Get over it.

In the eyes of God, the U.S. Constitution, the courts, and most of society, all men (and women) are created equal. God, the Constitution, and the courts maintain that equality status throughout a person's life, but society places a higher value on some than on others. This is neither right nor wrong—just the way it is. As a human being, there's nothing that makes a corporate CEO somehow "better" than a plumber.  Society, though, places a much higher value on the corporate CEO because he (in theory) contributes more to the functioning of the society, although I suspect that if there was a shortage of plumbers things would be a bit different.

Do I think that a professional basketball player should be paid more than a fourth grade teacher?  In my world, no.  I don't watch basketball and contribute nothing (directly) to the basketball players' coffers.  But basketball players are few and far between and serve many millions of people whereas there are many, many fourth grade teachers.  The amount of money spent on primary education (and you can figure that as a total or per-capita, the result is the same) far outstrips the amount of money spent on basketball, but it takes more teachers to educate than basketball players to entertain.  Lots of education dollars divided by lots of educators means a little for each.  A few basketball dollars divided by a handful of players equals a whole lot of money each.  That's just the way it is.  Get over it.  Better yet, stop watching professional sports.  That won't increase the amount of money spent on education, but it'll make you feel better about it.

Thursday, 22 May, 2003

Why is FrontPage search slow?

Why is the search function in FrontPage so slow?  As I write it, this document is 90 kilobytes in length.  Searching for the non-word "xyzzy" from the start of the document to the end takes approximately  takes approximately 8 seconds on my 700 MHz Pentium III.  Granted, this isn't the fastest machine in the world, but TextPad returns "not found" instantly, as does FrontPage when in HTML mode.  It's only when in Normal (i.e. WYSIWYG) mode that it takes so long to tell me that the word isn't in the document.  The reason, I'm sure, is that the HTML parsing code is less than optimal.  The funny thing is that if I load the same document into Internet Explorer and search for the word, it too returns instantly.

Maybe I should upgrade my copy of FrontPage.  Or find a different program with which to write this diary.

Wednesday, 21 May, 2003

Democrats' new "hot topic": Health Care

So the field of Democratic Presidential hopefuls seems to have selected health care as the "hot topic" for next year's campaign.  The frontrunners are all tripping over themselves and each other to propose one or another unworkable plan to revamp a health care system that, for the most part, works very well.  They're all proposing solutions that look good at first glance, but don't bear serious scrutiny.  Bill Clinton tried this during his 1992 campaign, but then was unable to pass any legislation, even with a Democrat-controlled Congress.  The average American voter is smarter than politicians seem to think, and they have long memories when it comes to big promises that are then not upheld.  The simple fact of the matter is that what these hopefuls say they're trying to do with health care can't be done (see my January 18 entry for details), but nobody has the integrity to stand up and tell the American people that.

It's good, I guess, that the candidates have finally figured out that "I hate George W. Bush" won't win an election, but selecting health care as the issue on which to defeat him is folly.

Tuesday, 20 May, 2003

My brother's surgery

My brother Jay was scheduled for surgery at noon yesterday.  Due to circumstances of which I know nothing, they didn't get started until about 4:00 in the afternoon.  After a five hour surgery in which they performed five bypasses and inserted a mechanical valve to replace the damaged one, they wheeled him into post-op.  The surgery went  as expected and he's recovering nicely.  This evening he was sitting up and drinking water, although he probably isn't totally conscious.  My mother is there with him.

He's not totally out of the woods, of course, but the worst of it is over.  I and my family would like to thank all of you for you prayers and support.

Students at Southern Oregon University, according to this article, canceled their blood drive this term because many gay men are ineligible to participate.  FDA guidelines prohibit men who have had a homosexual encounter since 1977 from donating blood.  Student organizers of the blood drive feel that the policy goes against the school's anti-discrimination policies and falsely labels AIDS and HIV as gay men's diseases.

Idiots.  Get over it!

It is with great sadness that I announce the passing of Gunnery Sergeant Larry Wisnoski, USMC (Ret.).  "Gunny Ski," as he was known by all who attended the Marine Military Academy over the last 25 years, was a career Marine, a devoted father, and a loving husband.  He also was an excellent teacher of young men.  He didn't just tell us how to be leaders, but showed us every day in the way he lived his life, the way he worked with the other staff, and the way he treated us—firmly but fairly.  My life is richer having known him.  The school just won't seem quite the same without his smiling face.

Tuesday, 13 May, 2003

A fawn at the garage door

Debra was headed out to work and Charlie, as usual, was leading the way.  He found this fawn curled up in front of the garage door..  Debra caught up and pulled him away before he could get too insistent with his sniffing.  He probably wouldn't have hurt the thing unless it got up and started running away.  We took some pictures and left the fawn there.  Debra had to take the other car to work.

It's not uncommon for deer to leave their young and go off  somewhere to forage.  Usually, though, the fawn is left in deep grass or under a bush—somewhere secluded.  I've come close to running one over with the lawn mower a time or two.  This is the first time I've seen one left out in the open like that.  The best explanation I've heard (this from a friend) is avoidance of fire ants.  A fawn that inadvertently lies down on or near a fire ant mound will probably end up as ant food.

Saturday, 10 May, 2003

Troubles with the hosting provider

Having some trouble with my Web hosting here.  This site is hosted on a test server by my employer, Catapult Systems.  We've had some major systems changes there that caused some upheaval and the test servers apparently aren't yet back up fully.  That and, as I understand it, they're actually doing some testing on this server so it's been down for software upgrades and such.  Hopefully it'll get better soon.

Wednesday, 07 May, 2003

Heart Trouble

My brother Jay is 43—18 months older than I am.  A couple of weeks ago he began having unusual pains in his left arm and shoulder, shortness of breath, and general lack of energy.  After visiting a number of doctors, he finally ended up with cardiologist who administered an EKG and a stress test, and then sent him to the hospital for an angiogram.  That was last week.  Today he visited the heart surgeon and is scheduled for surgery next Thursday.  The angiogram revealed several severe blockages and a heart murmur that's the result of a major heart attack that he didn't even know he had suffered.  Next week's surgery will bypass the blocked arteries and either repair or replace the damaged valve.

My brother isn't the picture of health but then, he's not all that bad, either.  One hardly expected him to develop heart trouble at such an early age.  The surgeon said that his symptoms would be consistent with his lifestyle if he was 70 years old.  Advanced arteriosclerosis at the young age of 43 is due mostly to genetics.  A very large percentage of people who die from heart disease have no warning—they just die, leaving everybody wondering how things could have gotten so bad without their knowing about it.  Believe me, I know.  My dad died from undiagnosed and untreated heart disease at the young age of 57.

If your family has any history of heart disease, I strongly suggest that you visit your doctor and arrange a full examination.  You can bet that I have.  Get yourself checked out, and then follow your doctor's recommendations.  As my friend Jeff Duntemann pointed out, you are not a prisoner of your genetics.  Moderate exercise, a reasonable diet, limited stress, and avoiding smoking will go a long way to prevent heart trouble even if you do have a genetic disposition.