Week of 25 May 2009
Update: Saturday, 30 May 2009 11:09 -0500
It's Memorial Day here in the U.S., the day set aside to remember those
who sacrificed themselves to protect our freedom. Although the official
purpose of Memorial Day is to remember those who gave their lives in
the service of our country, let's also remember all of those brave men
and women, living and dead, who through the years have put their lives
on the line to protect all of us. As we have our cookouts and family
get-togethers today, let's all take a moment to think about our troops
in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere, who can't be with their
families. And let's have a thought, not just today but every day of the
year, for them and the sacrifices they are making and have made.
- I was sorry to learn this morning that Bo Leuf, one of my early "Internet friends", died on 24 April. I "met" Bo back in 1998, when he joined a very early blogging circle
that I belonged to. I got to know Bo much better the following year,
when I was a technical reviewer for his and Tom Syroid's first book, Outlook 2000 in a Nutshell.
I'll never forget our first telephone conversation. I was sitting in
the den when the phone rang. I picked it up and the caller asked if he
could speak to me. The conversation started something like this:
Me: This is he. Who's calling?
Bo: This is Bo Leuf, Bob. If you have a moment, I'd like to talk about some of your comments on the manuscript.
Me: You don't sound Swedish.
it's true. Bo spoke perfect unaccented North American English. Of
course, I already knew he was fluent in English from reading his stuff,
but writing English fluently and speaking unaccented English are
different things. As it turned out, Bo had lived here until he was a
teenager, so he came by his fluency naturally.
Since then, we'd
talked on the phone a few times and exchanged email periodically on
diverse topics. Our last exchange, back in February, was about
upstream/downstream cable modem speeds in the US versus Sweden. We'd
often go several weeks or even a few months between exchanges, so the
recent lack of communication didn't alert me that something was
seriously wrong this time. Bo had been fighting cancer for quite some
time, and he often took extended breaks from posting. I wish I had
known about his final battle, even though I could have done nothing to
Bo was a good man. He was smart, funny, kind, and an excellent writer. He will be missed, and he will be remembered.
If there had been any doubt about GM being forced into bankruptcy, the
deadline passed last night for 90% of GM bondholders to accept 10%
equity in exchange for the $27 billion they are owed. The numbers
haven't been made public yet, but I'd be surprised if even 10% of the
bondholders had accepted that crappy deal. They're more likely to do
better with GM in bankruptcy, and they're fully aware of that.
on the current price of GM stock, they were being offered less than a
quarter on the dollar, while historically bondholders generally get
about $0.40 on the dollar in a Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Because the price
of GM stock is likely to fall even further after it goes into Chapter
11, the government's offer to the bondholders really amounts to maybe
$0.05 to $0.10 on the dollar. No surprise that they decided to
take their chances in Chapter 11.
Chapter 11 for GM seems a
foregone conclusion, probably within the next five to seven days.
What's going to be interesting is watching how the bankruptcy judge
rules. The government will be bringing a great deal of pressure to bear
to force the judge to ignore bankruptcy law and allocate assets based
on political preferences rather than the law. If the judge rules
correctly, the UAW will be left holding an empty bag. If the Obama
administration has its way, the UAW will get nearly all of the assets
that the government itself doesn't claim.
That proposed split
has now changed, from the government getting 50%, the UAW 39%, the
bondholders 10%, and the current stockholders 1%, to the government
getting about 70%, the UAW 19% (including preferred stock), the
bondholders 10%, and the current stockholders 1%. What might have
worked was proposing that the government get 50%, the bondholders 49%,
and current stockholders 1%, but that was never on the table.
now Government Motors goes into Chapter 11, with Chapter 7 no doubt
soon to follow when everyone realizes that no one in his right mind is
going to buy a new car from GM. So everyone, including the taxpayers,
is going to end up holding an empty bag. Unfortunately, the break-up
value of GM is pathetically small. Its assets comprise mainly unsold
vehicles that will be difficult to sell at anything more than firesale
prices, along with factories and real estate.
I can't imagine
why anyone would buy a new car from a bankrupt company, knowing that
the warranty is worthless and that the car will essentially be
unrepairable. Oh, the government says it'll stand behind GM warranties,
but that's pretty much meaningless if there are no replacement parts
available and all of the GM dealers have closed. And, given current
overcapacity, there aren't a whole lot of people likely to bid
on automobile factories.
So, right now GM is the walking
dead. The only question is how much more money the government will
throw down the rathole before everyone finally admits that it's
pointless to continue doing so.
12:49 - The religious nutters just won't give up.
They're ignorant. They're contemptible. They're the enemies of
humanity. It's fascinating to watch their continuing efforts to force
their superstitious nonsense on rational people, but only in the same
sense that it's fascinating to watch a train wreck.
efforts focus on redefining atheism as a religion, as bizarre as that
self-evidently is to any person capable of thinking. They then attempt
to link atheism with science so that they can argue that
well-established science--particularly the big bang and evolution--are
actually religious beliefs. If that's true, then obviously it's
unacceptable Constitutionally to favor these atheist religious beliefs
over their own religious beliefs, which they disingenuously argue
must be given equal treatment.
Of course, they're not really
interested in equal treatment; they want their religious beliefs to be
taught exclusively. Think of them as mullahs, because that's exactly
what they are. Fortunately, they're mullahs without any real power.
Otherwise, they'd be burning non-christians at the stake and strangling
witches. Count on it. Christian nutters, given any real power, are at
least as bad as Islamic nutters.
christianity seems to be on the wane. Smart Republicans are beginning
to realize how much their association with this group of
nutcases has damaged the Republican party. Even now, it's obvious that
mainstream Republicans are distancing themselves from the religious
right. We can hope that the day will soon arrive when preachers are no
longer welcome in the halls of power.
My to-do list is becoming ridiculous. I have a lot of stuff to write,
lab work that needs to be done, and videos that need to be shot. The
accessories for Frances's and Al's new notebook arrived from NewEgg
Tuesday, so I need to schedule some time at their house to get wireless
networking installed and configured. I guess everything will get done
Barbara and I have watched the first season of Bones
and started yesterday on the second season. When the first season was
being broadcast we'd watched a couple of minutes of one episode, mainly
because I read Kathy Reichs' books and Barbara likes David Boreanaz.
Something, I don't recall what it was, really bothered me during that
two-minute evaluation, and I told Barbara I really didn't want to watch
the series. So we didn't. Paul and Mary watch it regularly and
recommended it to us, so we decided to give it another shot.
suppose part of what annoyed me originally was that they've entirely
changed the setting. Kathy Reichs' character, Temperance Brennan, is
actually Reichs' alter ego. Author and character both work as forensic
anthropologists, splitting their time between North Carolina and
Quebec. (Actually, I believe Reichs is no longer working as a forensic
anthropologist for North Carolina, although she is a professor at a
state university.) In the TV series, Brennan has been relocated to
Washington DC and now has an FBI partner, played by Boreanaz. She's
also some kind of martial artist.
Also, and this may be what
annoyed me originally, in the TV series they play fast and loose with
reality. The FBI in this show apparently has unlimited jurisdiction,
investigating ordinary murders and such. They also have Brennan
responsible for and performing numerous tasks for which she is entirely
unqualified, including autopsies. The science is generally okay if
often a bit science-fictiony, probably because Reichs herself is
involved in producing the series. Infrequently, they'll drop a real
clanger science-wise, but it's generally something only a scientist
One of the things that really annoys me is that
they portray scientists as dorky and ignorant of real life. In fact,
Brennan, Zack, and Hodgins are the normal ones. The writers make
constant fun of Brennan's unfamiliarity with ephemeral pop culture
crap. She doesn't own a television. She repeatedly says, "I don't know
what that means" when someone makes a pop culture reference. Frankly, I
think she's the normal one. For example, FBI agent Booth (Boreanaz)
tells her she's her grandmother because she is familiar with Treasure
of the Sierra Madre but doesn't know who some woman (something Theron?)
is. Big deal. I'd heard the name, but I don't know who she is, what she
does, or why anyone should care. I certainly don't. Treasure of the
Sierra Madre, on the other hand, is a book that any literate person
should be familiar with.
Interestingly, Brennan as an
anthropologist is a social scientist rather than a hard scientist, or
what most people think of as a "real scientist". Despite that, she
behaves and speaks as a hard scientist, which I find refreshing. I
understand how she thinks, and usually know what she's going to say.
For example, last night we watched an episode in which the new director
of The Jeffersonian (the institute Brennan works for) is introduced.
With two alpha females struggling for dominance, it's obvious what's
going to happen. Brennan comes within an inch of being fired by the new
director for gross insubordination, but they later come to a working
agreement over drinks. The new director recognizes Brennan's brilliance
and talks about a get-out-of-jail-free card (Brennan has never played
Monopoly, so the concept had to be explained to her; I've never played
Monopoly, either, but I did recognize the phrase.) The new director
tells Brennan the GooJF card will allow Brennan to do what she wants
even against the director's orders. When the new director offers
Brennan this deal, I turned to Barbara and said, "How many do I get?"
an instant before Brennan asked the same thing. (The answer was one per
case and a maximum of three a week; I'd have asked for three per case
and 15 per week and settled for 2 and 8.)
So, I really like
Brennan's character, although I suspect if I ever met the actress who
plays her I'd want to throttle her. (She's PETA.) And I sure could do
without the snide remarks about science and scientists. Still, Brennan
gives back better than she gets:
Booth: When the FBI gets stuck, we call in the squints.
Booth: You know, you squint at things.
Brennan: Oh, you mean people with high IQ's and basic reasoning skills?
keep watching the program. I give it a B so far, but I can see where it
may rate a B+ as the writers and characters settle in.
We watched disc 1 of The Wire last night. I can see why this series is
so highly rated by reviewers. Barbara thought it was well done, but
said she simply isn't very interested in watching an inner-city cops
versus drug dealers show. So I'll put that one in the pending file.
happens this weekend in San Mateo. I regret missing it, but I don't
regret missing the trip out and back. I do wish they'd hold East Coast
Maker Faires. I suggested that to Tim O'Reilly and Dale Dougherty last
year. There are some problems, as it turns out. First, finding an
affordable venue large enough for potentially 100,000 or more attendees
isn't trivial. Just as important, MAKE is a relatively small operation,
without any excess headcount. Maker Faire consumes a great deal of
staff effort year-round, and for the two weeks before and week after
Maker Faire, it's basically all-hands-on-deck. Everyone from the head
honchos--Dale Dougherty and Dan Woods--on down through the hierarchy is
fully committed, and none of them worries about getting their hands
dirty, literally. Last year, I helped Dale and Dan set up tables and
carry boxes of books and kits from the loading dock out to the display
area to set up the displays. So putting on an East Coast Maker Faire
would be challenging from a staff resources perspective alone. Still,
as the MAKE phenomenon continues to grow and prosper, I expect that
eventually we'll have an annual Maker Faire in Atlanta or Charlotte or
I see that Microsoft has revamped its search engine, which is now
called Bang or Bong or Bung or something like that. Oh, wait. It's
Bing. A sharp-eyed reader over on the forums points out that Microsoft
has adopted FOSS recursive naming:
Bing Is Not Google
- Barbara and I have been watching a lot of Bones episodes. With series 2, they introduced Tamara Taylor
as Dr. Camille Saroyan. What's very strange is that after watching
eight episodes of series 2, I
still have difficulty distinguishing Tamara Taylor
from Michaela Conlin, who plays Angela Montenegro. I'm not sure why.
to IMDB, both women are of mixed race. Taylor's father is
African-American and her mother is Scots-American. Conlin's father is
Irish and her mother Chinese. Taylor is in her middle thirties, and
Conlin in her mid- to late twenties. Conlin is merely pretty, while
Taylor is stunningly beautiful. When they appear together in a scene,
it's obvious that they don't look at all the same. And yet, when just
one appears in a scene, for at least a moment I'm not completely sure
which one it is.
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 by