Week of 4 May 2009
Update: Friday, 8 May 2009 08:35 -0500
- We're batting two out of three on the new series we've been sampling from Netflix.
a story about Walter White, a high-school chemistry teacher who learns
he has terminal cancer and decides to start making methamphetamine to
build up a nestegg for his wife and son, is very well done. The science
is about as accurate as I've ever seen on a mainstream TV drama
program, and the series presents scientists as normal people who just
happen to be very, very smart.
an autobiographical tale by the author, forensic anthropologist Kathy
Reichs, about her alter-ego, forensic anthropologist Temperance
Brennan, is also reasonably well done, but very annoying at times. It
requires a significant suspension of disbelief to watch Brennan
supposedly doing about six different people's jobs, including the SOCO,
forensic pathologist, and medical examiner. Not to mention the FBI
investigating ordinary murders, for which they have no brief. But the
most annoying part is that the series presents scientists, including
Brennan, as complete dorks who utterly lack social skills. David
Boreanaz, playing Brennan's primary FBI contact, repeatedly refers to
scientists as "squints". And the series catchphrase is Brennan, any
time someone makes a pop-culture reference, saying "I don't know what
And then we have Big Bang Theory,
which despite excellent reviews has to be one of the worst series I've
ever seen. Barbara and I got about three minutes into the first episode
before we wrote off the series. The incredibly intrusive laugh track
alone is reason enough not to bother watching any more of it.
And I spent some recreational time last night taunting the true-believer lefties over on Greg Laden's blog,
where women are women and men are women, too. It's not really sporting.
They're so easy to get cranked up. Just mention libertarianism and they
start frothing at the mouth. I didn't even have to trot out the phrase
"global warming alarmists".
Several people have recommended that we give Big Bang Theory another
chance. I don't doubt that it's an excellent series, but the best
writing, acting, and production in the world isn't going to make the
laugh track tolerable. The laugh track simply makes me cringe. And I'm
not alone. Do a Google search for "Big Bang Theory" and "laugh track"
and you'll see what I mean. I don't understand why the DVD doesn't
offer the option to play the episodes without the laugh track. I've
seen other DVDs that do.
Several readers have recommended we
give The Wire a try, so I added series one to my queue. Frankly, I'm
not a big fan of realistic cop shows, but Barbara may like this one.
Barbara's sister called me last night to ask for advice about buying a
notebook system for her husband, Al. Frances said they looked at
netbooks and notebooks at Costco and elsewhere, and concluded that
netbooks are simply too small. Al needs both a larger screen and a
larger keyboard. Their target price range is $500 to $800, although
they can go higher if necessary. An entry-level system is fine. It'll
be used only for email, web, Skype, and so on. No video editing or
other demanding tasks. And Al is bigger than I am, so anything that
weighs less than an anvil or a boat anchor is fine with him.
was two years ago this month that Paul Jones called me on his cell
phone from Best Buy. Mary was just about to take off on her
around-the-world run and they needed to buy her a personal notebook
system quickly. Paul stood there in Best Buy reading me the specs and
prices of the various notebooks they had. I was stunned even two years
ago by how much notebook one could buy for how little money. Mary ended
up with a $600 Toshiba notebook with pretty impressive specs.
I told Frances that it shouldn't be a problem to find something well
within their price range. I visited Newegg and after some searching I
tentatively settled on the Lenovo G530-444623U.
It has a 15.4" WXGA display, which should suffice. They'd no
doubt prefer a larger display, but 17" notebooks are out of their
target price range. It also has Intel graphics, which is a plus. I
wanted to avoid anything with nVIDIA graphics, given the ongoing
problems with nVIDIA mobile graphics chipsets.
Finally, they run
Ubuntu on their home desktop system, and wanted a notebook that could
also run Ubuntu. I did a Google search on "Lenovo G530" and Ubuntu, and
the only problems I found were that the built-in web cam and modem
weren't supported (although they may be supported by the current
version of Ubuntu). They won't be using dial-up for Internet access, so
the non-functional modem isn't a problem. It'd be nice to have the
webcam working for Skype, I suppose, but that's a very minor issue.
before I tell Frances to go ahead and order this notebook, along with
accessories like a mouse and headset for Skype, is there anything I
should know? Is there a better option? I'm not a notebook guy, so any
advice, cautions, etc. would be appreciated.
We were under a tornado warning until 2100 last night and a tornado
watch until 0400 this morning, but nothing came of it. There were lots
of funnel clouds spotted, but none touched down. The TV weather people
were talking about EF2 and EF3 tornadoes. People in the Midwest sneer
at those, but they're pretty serious storms for around here.
kept the TV news on with the sound turned down until the storms
appeared to have passed, although the watch persisted through the
evening and early morning hours. I came back to bed about 2230, when
everything appeared to be settled down. We discussed what to do about
Duncan if a tornado was likely to hit near us. In that case, we'd head
for the basement.
My lab is also our storm shelter. The wall
between it and the rest of the finished area in the basement, which is
open to the back yard, is made up of alternating 2X8 studs and steel
lolly columns on 12" (30 cm) centers bolted into the joists and the
concrete floor. There's a layer of 3/4" (19mm) yellow pine (an
extremely hard wood) sheathing on the finished side and 3/4" plywood
screwed to the studs on the lab side. It's not exactly bullet-proof,
but it's a reasonably good storm shelter, particularly if we sit on the
floor, which adds a layer of cabinets to the protection.
We decided that if a tornado was about to strike, Barbara would take care of everything else and I'd carry Duncan downstairs.
I'm thinking about giving up writing and starting to practice medicine.
Wake Forest University Bowman Gray School of Medicine thinks I'm
qualified, and nothing I can do will change their minds.
They keep sending me mail to invite me to social events, continuing education, and so on.
all started more than 20 years ago. When Barbara and I were first
married, we lived at 811 Miller Street, in the Ardmore section of
Winston-Salem, near Wake Forest University's Baptist Hospital. A few
years later, I was keeping Barbara company at the library one evening
and happened to look at the latest edition of the cross-reference
directory. A couple of years before, we'd moved a few blocks from
Miller Street to Lyndhurst Avenue. The cross reference directory still
listed the resident at 811 Miller Street as Robert Bruce Thompson, but
listed his employer as Baptist Hospital. Barbara and I had a good laugh
about that, wondering how they'd gotten things so screwed up.
it turned out, it wasn't so funny. Immediately after we moved out of
811 Miller Street, another Robert Bruce Thompson moved in, and he was
employed by Baptist Hospital. Then, in 1987, we moved from Lyndhurst
Avenue out to our current address at 4231 Witherow in the Town
& Country Estates section of northwest Winston-Salem. (It really is
aptly named, by the way; there are sheep grazing about a quarter mile
from our house, in a field just across Valley Road from the house where
the multiple murders occurred that were made famous by the book and
movie Bitter Blood.)
Unbelievably, shortly after we bought this
house, the other Robert Bruce Thompson followed us out to Town &
Country and bought a house at, if I recall correctly, 4321 Wycliffe. I
used to get deliveries intended for him. I'd tell the UPS guy, "No, no!
You want the other Dr.
Robert Bruce Thompson. He's one street over at 4321 ..." and he'd look
at me strangely. I'd sometimes get my own deliveries a day or so later
than expected, so I assume he got stuff intended for me as well.
a few years ago, he moved out of state, and apparently Wake Forest
University glommed onto me as a substitute. Ever since, they've been
sending me mail with invitations to whatever medical events they're having.
They used to telephone me to beg for money, but at least I apparently
convinced them to take me off that list. But despite multiple written
and phoned in requests to explain that I'm not who they think I am,
they simply won't take me off their mailing list.
- More on name confusion...
From: Andy Preston
To: Robert Bruce Thompson
Date: Thu May 7 11:09:45 2009
Re: name confusion
tidbit about the name confusion, but I can do you one better. My
older sister's married name is Lynda Coram. Her husband has two
brothers whose wives are also named Linda. The three Lindas, as
they are known, have been known to go shopping / dinner / etc. together
and each pay with a check or credit card, just to see if the clerk
notices that the names are the same. On a serious note, when any
one of them goes to the doctor they have to demand to see the file,
just to make sure that the physician is treating the correct sister in
I can see where that would lead to confusion. But, believe it or not, I can do even that one better.
paternal grandmother was married twice. Her first marriage, to a Mr.
Howell, resulted in her having two sons, Arthur and Robert, as well as
a stepson, William, from Mr. Howell's first marriage. After Mr.
Howell's death, she married my grandfather, George Burns Thompson. They
had one son, whom they named William Ewing Thompson, my father.
I remember more than once overhearing my Uncle Bob talking to
someone and using the phrase, "No, my other brother Bill." When
the Bob Newhart show was being broadcast, among the minor characters
were three brothers, Larry, Darryl, and Darryl. I was probably one of
the few people who saw that show who didn't notice anything unusual
- Here's a surprise.
Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee,
says he isn't opposed to Obama nominating an openly-gay candidate for
the Supreme Court vacancy. Maybe the Republican Party is finally
beginning to understand the reason for the backlash against it in the
It all started more than 30 years ago, when
religious voters overwhelmingly supported Jimmy Carter. The Republicans
decided to build bridges to the religious voters, and ended up selling
out to the religious fundamentalist nutters of Moral Majority and
similar organizations. The Republicans thought they were onto a good
thing. These religious nutters make up a small percentage of the
population--12% to 15% by most accounts--but they are big contributors
to political campaigns, both in terms of money and grassroots
Unfortunately for the Republican Party, these
nutters expect much too much in return for their support. They have
forced the Republican Party to adopt positions that are so far removed
from the mainstream that normal people are unable to stomach them any
longer. In the 2008 election, people voted for change. Any change, even
bad change, as long as it was change from the policies foisted
upon us by the religious nutters.
Lately, we've started to see
some real change, and it has nothing to do with Obama. We've seen
several states recently break the logjam by recognizing that gay people
have, or should have, the same rights as anyone else, including the
right to marry. This causes religious nutters to froth at the mouth, of
course, and the more they froth the better. They've already
marginalized themselves with their attacks on science, their attempts
to force religious beliefs into science classrooms, and their violence
against women's health clinics. Perhaps the Republican Party has
finally understood that they needn't pander to these wackos. What are
they going to do, vote Democrat?
The Republican Party has the
opportunity to redefine itself to match the political beliefs of the
majority of the American public, which are generally libertarian. If it
returns to its roots by advocating small government, low taxes, and
noninterference, the Republican Party will be in the position to take
control of the executive and legislative branches when Obama finishes
what is almost certain to be his one and only term.
Republican Party needn't worry about the religious nutters. They were a
small minority to begin with, and they're getting smaller. Because the
general backlash has been not just against the policies so dear to the
religious nutters; it's been against religion itself. The percentage of
the US population who define themselves as having no religion has
skyrocketed to 15% over just the last few years. That's dramatic
enough, but there's more bad news for the religious nutters. Among
young people, our future leaders, the percentage who define themselves
as having no religion is now between 30% and 40%, depending on which
poll you believe.
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 by