Tuesday, 24 February, 2004

A Catcher in the Rye

Somehow I managed to make it through high school and halfway through college without reading A Catcher In the Rye.  I found it on the bookshelf here at home last week, tucked away in a corner that's hard to reach.  Having heard the book discussed as "a classic," I figured I might as well read it.  There's just no way to put this delicately.  The book is trash.  Garbage.  Pointless.  A complete waste of time.  It reads like half the blogs you'll see if you go cruising over on Blogger, except J.D. Salinger understood grammar and punctuation rules.

The book is interesting from an historical perspective.  I didn't realize that the term "cool" was popular in the late 1940's.  There's some discussion of "miles per gallon," which I thought wasn't much concern until the 70's oil embargo.  Comments in the book lead me to the conclusion that even people in the late 1940's knew that smoking cigarettes was bad for your health.  Apparently the word "flit" described a homosexual man, and the word "Lesbian" was capitalized.  And, not terribly surprising, teenage boys liked to smoke, cursed a lot, and were obsessed with sex. 

Historical curiosity aside, I can find nothing in the book to recommend it as a piece of literature.  It certainly doesn't live up to the flyleaf endorsement:

"Mr. Salinger's novel," said Lews Vogler in the San Francisco Chronicle, "is funny, poignant, and in its implications, profound.  It is literature of a very high order."

I'm reminded again of THE ROYAL NONESUCH (see January 27, 2003).

Sunday, 22 February, 2004

Fast Food Nation

I picked up Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation at the airport bookstore in Houston on Friday.  I'd heard about the book and figured I'd get around to reading it at some point.  The book explores some of the less appetizing aspects of where and how we get our food, with emphasis on the fast food industry in general and McDonald's in particular.  The book covers pretty much the entire food chain, from beef on the hoof through the slaughterhouse, to McDonalds and finally to your plate.  It's not a pretty picture.

There's no doubt that cattle ranching and meat packing have changed drastically over the last 30 years or so, but even after reading the book I'm not convinced that fast food is the primary culprit.  Certainly the fast food industry has benefited greatly from these changes, and the large chains like McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, and Jack in the Box enough power to change things when it makes good business sense.  Even so, the primary benefactors aren't necessarily to blame for the changes.  People like fast food.  They like the price, the convenience, and apparently the taste.  Without that, no amount of advertising to any age group would convince people to eat there.

Schlosser did a great job digging up information for the book, and he does a good job presenting the facts.  Unfortunately he sprinkles the facts a bit too liberally with, well, liberal propaganda.  He uses the fast food industry as a too-convenient scapegoat, and in my mind fails to prove that fast food is the underlying cause of these problems rather than just another consequence of the huge changes we've seen in the past 30 or 40 years.  That said, I'd still recommend the book for the quality of the research, if not for the conclusions that the author reaches.

Saturday, 21 February, 2004

Dinner with the General

I flew to Harlingen, Texas yesterday for the H.M. Smith Memorial Dinner at the Marine Military Academy.  The H.M. Smith Foundation was created as a means of expressing the official gratitude of the Academy for extraordinary support given toward its growth and development.  H.M. Smith Fellows are those who have donated $100,000.00 or more to the school.  No, I'm not one of them.  I go to the dinner to honor those who are and also to visit with old friends.  General Holland McTyeire ("Howling Mad") Smith was one of the most famous of the United States commanders in the Pacific during World War II, and a great benefactor of the Marine Military Academy.

The Guest of Honor at last night's dinner was Lt. General James T. Conway, Commanding General of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.  Yes, the Marines that took Baghdad.  He gave quite a moving speech during the dinner last night, and had some great stories to tell during the reception later that evening.  He also served as reviewing officer for the parade this morning, honoring the H.M. Smith Fellows and all veterans of the Iwo Jima battle.  I was surprised to see how many Iwo Jima veterans (remember, that was 59 years ago) visit the Lower Rio Grande Valley in the winter.  There must have been 40 or 50 of them at the parade.

Wednesday, 18 February, 2004

Dean's out. Who's left?

So after a dismal showing in the Wisconsin primary yesterday, Howard Dean has decided to throw in the towel.  I find it curious that he's going to stop campaigning, but will not officially step out of the race, thereby giving his supporters the opportunity to vote for him come convention time.  That doesn't make much sense, especially when you consider that Dean has denounced frontrunner John Kerry as being "beholden to special interests," and has said publicly that John Edwards would be a better candidate to beat Bush.  If Dean were to hold on to his supporters through the convention, he just might take votes from Edwards and give Kerry the nomination.  I suspect that Dean is playing some silly game, hoping to get something from Edwards in return for an endorsement.  Does Dean want to be Vice President?

I've lost track now.  Who's left in the race besides Edwards and Kerry?  Gephardt, Lieberman, and Clark are gone, and Dean is headed for the door.  Did Kucinich ever really get into the race? Sharpton and Braun were never serious contenders, so it's irrelevant if they're still in the race except that they might "bring out the vote." Did I miss anybody?

Tuesday, 17 February, 2004

Pit Bulls

There was a thread over on Free Republic today discussing two "pit bull" attacks, one involving a 53-year-old woman, and one involving a 91-year-old woman.  The discussion was mostly innocuous, except for one poster who insisted that "pit bulls" are inherently vicious and unpredictable and should be outlawed and the "breed" extinguished.  His postings are similar to comments that I see and hear every time a "pit bull" attack is reported in the media.  The people expressing these opinions show an astounding lack of understanding of basic canine behavior and reflect total ignorance of the breeds that informed people call "pit bulls."

First, there is no such "breed" as a "pit bull."  Bull Mastiffs, Boxers, Dobermans, and Rottweilers among others have been called "pit bulls" by the press and by uninformed individuals.  To many people, the term "pit bull" is synonymous with "vicious dog."  That is, any dog that bites or exhibits very aggressive behavior is a "pit bull."  In fact, many times a news story will say "pit bull attacks child," when the dog was actually a Labrador or a Cocker Spaniel.  The paper might print a correction, but of course then nobody cares.

The term "pit bull" refers to a handful of very similar breeds, including the American Bulldog, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, and the American Pit Bull Terrier.  These all are medium sized dogs with broad shoulders and powerful muscles, 16 to 22 inches tall and weighing from 30 to 70 pounds.  They typically have a blocky head with powerful jaw muscles.  A pit bull's jaws, by the way, don't "lock."  They do, however, have very strong jaws and are very persistent.  If they do latch onto something, they tend to hang on more than most other dogs would. 

People who raise pit bulls intelligently will tell you that the dogs are energetic, playful, loyal, loving, protective, strong willed, and extremely intelligent.  In other words, they're not much different than many other breeds.  As with any dog, early positive training and socialization are important.  It's especially important not to indulge any dominant or aggressive behavior.  Like any other large and powerful dog, an out of control pit bull can do a lot of damage.  A Labrador or Golden Retriever can do just as much damage.

There's simply no good evidence that pit bulls are any less predictable than other dogs.  The stories of a dog suddenly turning on its owner or an innocent bystander for no apparent reason are just that:  stories.  Cocker Spaniels and Chihuahuas are much more likely to bite a child, and any dog that is abused or neglected and then set loose is likely to be a danger to people and other animals.  Whereas it's true that pit bulls (among others, like Dobermans and Rottweilers) have been trained by idiots to be "attack dogs," there is nothing to indicate that these breeds are inherently vicious.

My personal experience with Charlie and some of my friends' dogs bear this out.  A properly raised pit is a great family dog, fun to play with, and very tolerant of children who sometimes hit or tug inappropriately.  They're usually fine around family pets (cats and other dogs), but might be very aggressive towards other animals.  This is extremely variable from dog to dog, as it is with all breeds.  They are dogs, after all, and chasing things is in their nature.

Monday, 16 February, 2004

Music for the Mag Trainer

It's been over a week since I was last on the road with my bike.  Last week was cold and wet, so I spent every morning in the garage on the trainer.  Saturday I was lazy and didn't ride, and yesterday I had no opportunity.  It's cold again this week, but expected to warm up by Wednesday or Thursday.  Unfortunately, I'm going to miss my long rides again this coming weekend because I'll be out of town.

I've been experimenting with music while I ride the stationary trainer, trying to determine the best music for riding.  I've come to the realization that "best" is determined in large part by what kind of workout I want.  If I'm aiming for a slow or moderate workout, Pink Floyd seems to work well, and The Cars debut album isn't too bad.  For a fast ride at a steady pace, my favorite is Deep Purple's "Best Of" album because most of the songs are similarly paced with some raw guitar and heavy percussion.  I can turn off the brain and just pedal along with the music.  I'm still trying to decide what's best for the interval workouts.  BTO's "Best Of" album is pretty good, with a few moderately slow tunes interspersed and some hard-driving rock & roll that pushes me to the limit.  Today I tried Bob Seger's "Nine Tonight" live album and was pleasantly surprised.  Even most of his slower cuts have enough energy in them to keep me pumping, and songs like "Her Strut" have me pushing my heart rate up over 100%.

Believe me, you need stuff like this to alleviate the boredom of pedaling in one place.  I've tried music other than rock and roll, but it just doesn't seem to work for me.  Classical music and jazz require active listening.  I can hardly bear to listen to modern "Country" music.  The older stuff is great for dancing or drinking beer, but doesn't have the raw power of classic rock.  And rap, well, that's not really music. 

Sunday, 15 February, 2004

Motorola Marathon

I got up this morning at 3:00 am in order to help out at the Motorola Marathon.  At 4:15 we were climbing on busses attaching GPS and 2-meter radio antennas.  At 5:00 I was sitting on the bus babysitting the equipment and handling communications from net control.  Our job was to ferry runners and spectators to and from the finish line, the start line, and the half marathon finish.  We had 14 busses each with a ham radio operator onboard, and a few other operators at each of the three stops.  The GPS antenna fed data to the onboard APRS (Automatic Position Reporting System) radio, which then broadcast the bus' position every minute.  Net control was able to see all of the busses' positions at a glance, and direct us around traffic problems or change our destination.  It all worked very well and I learned quite a bit about the APRS technology and how to work with a directed net.  All good practice for emergency situations.

I didn't get to see much of the race, but then marathons aren't all that exciting to watch anyway.  I did enjoy the scenery, though, and conversations with some of the runners who were riding the bus before and after the race.

Saturday, 14 February, 2004


We got our annual cold snap yesterday and today.  I woke up at 6:00 this morning to find two and a half inches of snow on the ground.  It was all gone by mid-afternoon, of course, but it was entertaining while it lasted.  Charlie had a good time running around in the snow, chasing snowballs and rolling in it.  Even Tasha the poodle got into the action, bounding through the snow and getting it all over her fur.  Area drivers were similarly enthusiastic, wrapping their cars around trees, landing in ditches, and generally proving that they have no business being out on the roads when the snow falls.  I find it curious that people who have little to no experience driving on snow and ice aren't more careful.  You'd think they'd recognize an unfamiliar situation and be a little less aggressive.  But then, I suppose that's giving people way too much credit for innate intelligence.

Wednesday, 11 February, 2004


I've purchased four new cars in my life.  The first, a 1983 Volkswagen Rabbit, had 90,000 miles on it when my ex wife and I separated and she took it.  The second, a 1986 Volkswagen Quantum, had 140,000 miles when I donated it to a local charity.  My 1996 GMC Sonoma Pickup just turned 100,000 miles today.  I took a picture of the odometer at 99,999.9, but it didn't turn out.  The other car, Debra's 1996 Nissan Maxima, has right at 92,000 miles now and is still going strong.  Both cars are in very good shape and I don't envision selling or trading either one any time soon, although I sometimes wish my truck had an extended cab.

I've never understood why some people get a new car every three years.  Especially today, when a reasonably well-maintained car should last 10 years or more, and 200,000 miles.  Sure, the car gets a few dings and rattles over time, but those just add character.  Scheduled maintenance and infrequent unexpected repairs don't even approach the cost of a new car.  I figure that Debra and I will keep these two until the cost (monetary and aggravation) reaches the pain threshold.  With the average new vehicle price approaching $30,000, you can bet that I can put up with a lot of aggravation.

Tuesday, 10 February, 2004

Removing the GRUB boot loader

I deleted my Lycoris install the other day because I needed the partition for something else.  What I forgot was that the GRUB boot loader configuration file was on that partition.  Oops.  Computer doesn't boot.  I set the problem aside and headed off to work, confident that I could fix it easily enough when I got home.  I won't go into details about all the hoops I had to jump through, but I got it fixed.  A few notes in case you find yourself in a similar situation.

  • It takes a very long time to boot from the Windows 2000 installation media (CD-ROM)  
  • The manual recovery process is useless in this situation.  Or it appeared to be.  Windows would spend 10 minutes examining my drives before rebooting, and then GRUB would give me the same error.
  • The Windows Recovery Console, poorly-documented as it is, is the solution.  When you boot the install media (this was my fourth or fifth try), get to the Recovery Console and then execute the two commands fixmbr and fixbootfixmbr will give you a dire warning about a non-standard master boot record and that you might make your disk unreadable.  Everything seems to work, though.
  • You can get more information  about Recovery Console from this Microsoft Knowledge Base article.

Sunday, 08 February, 2004

My longest ride to date

It's been a very busy week in which I've had little time to think about posting entries.  Bicycle training takes an increasing amount of my time.  Yesterday I went out for what was supposed to be 120 miles but because a meeting went too long I ran out of daylight and had to settle for 108 miles.  I had originally planned to ride 100 miles today, but I had a few things to catch up on and didn't get on the road until 12:30.  My second flat of the day occurred at 45 miles and seeing how badly slashed my tire was I decided to pack it in.  I called Debra to come pick me up.

From the way I felt after both rides this weekend, I'm reasonably confident that I could make the planned 350 miles in three days any time.  As long as I keep my heart rate down, keep fed and hydrated, I can go pretty much forever.  I'll keep training, of course, but now it's more to maintain my fitness rather than continue to push myself to ride farther and faster.

Monday, 02 February, 2004

Wardrobe Malfunction?

I was going to write a long comment about the Super Bowl halftime flap, but seeing how everybody else has already mentioned it I'll just make a few observations:

  • Janet Jackson's breasts don't appear to be sagging like her singing career is.
  • If you publish something on the Web, it's there forever.  MTV has removed last Wednesday's article that promised "shocking moments" during the halftime show.   But the Google cache lives on.
  • TiVo reports that this incident resulted in the biggest spike in audience reaction that they've ever measured. Hundreds of thousands of viewers paused their live TV and went  back to view the event again.  And again.  And again...
  • "Wardrobe malfunction"?  I near busted a gut.  It's a good thing I didn't have a mouth full of grapefruit juice when I read that one.

Sunday, 01 February, 2004

Linux Going Mainstream?

Slashdot ran a story today (Feb 1) about Linux Going Mainstream.  The story links the BBC article Linux steps into the limelight about the growing use of Linux in many different environments.  The Slashdot discussion raises some interesting points, among them the very real possibility that this isn't necessarily "The Year of the Linux Desktop," but rather "The Year of Articles About Linux on the Desktop."  There's no doubt that Linux has grown into a very useful desktop operating system for some people, but the evidence that it's being adopted in large numbers is still shaky at best.  I think its use in the mainstream will grow, but not quite as fast as the media is making it sound or its proponents would have us believe.