Monday, January 26, 2009

Blagojevich - Palin in '12

Okay, that's a cheap shot.

While I don't hold Sarah Palin in extremely high regard, it is unfair to link her in any way to Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Governor Palin, please accept my sincere apology.

As I write this, Blagojevich is in New York appearing on Good Morning America, "making his case" before the world, rather than facing his impeachment trial in Illinois, which starts today. His attorney, or perhaps former attorney, Ed Genson has pulled out of the impeachment trial. By all accounts, it seems likely this is a calculated tactic, not a sign of crumbling unity. Genson doesn't walk away from lost causes.

My guess is that they are following the time-tested game plan: If you can't dazzle them with your brilliance, baffle them with your bull.

Gov. Blagojevich has stated, many times in the past week, that the rules of the impeachment trial are unfair, and unconstitutional. He went so far as to suggest the trial is an attempt to deprive Illinois voters of their duly-elected government.

And that suggests a simple solution that everyone can live with.

So, I call upon the Illinois Legislature to suspend the impeachment proceedings, and replace it immediately with a recall election. The Governor wants the voice of the people heard. We're ready to give him an earful.

Of course, he might not like what he hears. Pity.

The Federal investigation of Blagojevich has already claimed some victims in Illinois politics. It will continue, and likely others will be caught. I have a solution for that, too.

As a lifelong Illinois resident, I call upon all elected officials hiding skeletons in their closets to step forward. It is not the will of the people of Illinois that our government be for sale. So do the honorable thing. Step down. Get out, now. We don't want you anymore.

You are the weakest links.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Review: Tom Schreck's "Hounding Duffy"

This review of Tom Schreck's audio short story, "Hounding Duffy", was originally posted to the Dorothy-L mailing list. A few people outside the list asked about it, so I'm reposting it here.

My mother-in-law and father-in-law spent the last 8 years of their lives in ever-diminishing transition. As they moved from their house to a retirement apartment, an assisted living facility, and full nursing care, at each step they had to give up some of their personal possessions - heirloom furniture, workshop tools, the family car - each mirroring the capacities they gave up as their bodies gradually failed them. It is a process of constant decision, daily deciding what is important.

As time progresses, the physical property remaining becomes ever more important - the last tangible links to a life lived well, to ancestors long gone, and to children, grandchildren, and descendants yet to come. Whether the item is large or small, extravagant or inexpensive, or lovely or homely is unimportant. The significance comes from the connection to a grander life, beyond the limits that have been imposed.

And that is the problem confronted in Tom Schreck's short story, "Hounding Duffy". Personal property is disappearing from residents of the County Home. A sweater here, a wristwatch there. Nothing of significance, right? But when Duffy Dombrowski discovers that one of the victims is someone who played an important role in his life, someone who has been reduced to a shadow of his past, there is nothing to do but right the wrong.

Duffy Dombrowski may well be compared to Spenser - both have experience in the boxing ring, both are smart-alecs who don't know when to keep their mouths shut, both have faithful canine companions, both... er, both...

Well, okay. Duffy isn't an amateur gourmet chef. Duffy isn't a P.I. Duffy isn't living with Susan Silverman. It doesn't appear that Duffy has a friend named Hawk, Falcon or Ptarmigan, and Duffy doesn't end every speech with "Duffy said".

But if this short story is any indication, Duffy may well be a hell of a lot funnier than Spenser, and capable of just as many poignant moments. Some elements of the story were predictable - I attribute this to the short format, more than anything else. But the world Schreck tells his stories in is sufficiently rich that this minor lapse (if indeed it is a lapse) is not important - there's too much to do, hanging on for dear life and enjoying the ride to worry about minutia. And the conclusion was more satisfying than a 6-pack of Schlitz.

I listened to the free audio version of "Hounding Duffy"; I didn't really know anything about Tom's work, but hey, he offered it, right here on Dorothy-L - and I had a brand-new MP3 player begging to be used. When I hear the words, "Read by the author", I generally hold my breath. Even professionally-produced author readings are sometimes bad news. In this case, I am not waiting to exhale. The technical aspects of the recording - sound quality, consistent volume levels, etc - are all quite good, and Tom Schreck's performance is absolutely hilarious (and I mean that in a good way).

"Hounding Duffy" is available for audio download on Tom's web site, and also as a PDF download, along with three other short stories, and details on the two Duffy novels, TKO and On The Ropes.

I have been deliberately vague on details I would normally mention, not because they would be spoilers, but because they are introduced in such a way that I would not want to deprive anyone else of the full-bodied laughs they induce.

Two final comments - while "Hounding Duffy" is not set specifically at the holidays, it is, I think, a great holiday story. And last, I love a story where the sleuth doggedly persists to see that even a petty thief gets it in the end.

So go on, start downloading. You know you want to. If only to find out what a basket hound is.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Why I'm Ticked at Samsung

I consider it generally bad form to air my personal disputes in public.

Personal opinion is one thing - and I generally am not shy about that, but I at least pretend to retain some air of decorum.

But this time, well, I'm not sure I have any other meaningful recourse.

So, here come the sour socks and pizza-stained tee shirts - I'm digging out a bit of dirty laundry.

It all started when I went to's web site, to do a little comparison shopping on a computer monitor, to replace one which recently went to hardware heaven. I had already identified a suitable candidate, in the right price range and the right features. But before buying, I wanted to simply see what retailers were offering it for what price.

No big deal, right?

Well, no big deal, except that Samsung had placed a banner ad with Not just a simple, static graphic banner, nor a basic animated banner. This one contained what I call a "pop-out". The dimensions of the banner seemed pretty well defined - but this ad overstepped its boundaries. And covered literally half of the web page I was looking at. Including the links to the retailers that Pricegrabber had produced from my query.

The Samsung ad was for HDTVs, priced starting at $500. Okay, HDTVs sort of look like computer monitors. But they're not. And I was looking for a sub-$100 piece of work. So the ad was completely irrelevant to my search.

Irrelevant, except that it obscured my search results as effectively as bird poop on my glasses. What a spectacle that would be. And no matter what I did, I was unable to display the page without the ad. Here are a couple of attempts, with the ad "page" both closed and open:

So, what to do?

Simple. I'm not buying anything from Samsung. Ever. And I'm telling my friends, dear reader. Please let me know if you think I'm on target or off the deep end. I could also rant about corporate civility and generally acceptable manners, but this is enough to vent my boiler.

The full text of the note I submitted to Samsung Public Relations is included below. I'm blaming grammatical errors on the heat of the moment. I also provided Samsung with my real name along with internet and postal mail addresses. I am waiting for a response.


I am angry with Samsung's television division.

I was attempting to research a computer monitor on the Pricegrabber web site. I was looking for information on a very specific make and model (which was not Samsung). Unfortunately, I was unable to get the information I needed, because of an extremely intrusive Samsung HDTV banner ad, which opened a Flash animation which covered nearly half of the Pricegrabber page I was looking it. I was unable to dismiss the ad using either the embedded Flash controls or the Flash Player settings. Consequently, I was unable to view the information which was of interest to me.

I was NOT looking for information on HDTVs, and I was not looking for information on a Samsung product.

Banner ads should remain in the banner, and most definitely should NOT obscure other content.

I have had respect for Samsung products for many years, but this intrusive ad has destroyed any good will I held for your company. I will NEVER purchase another Samsung product, and should the
opportunity arise in my employment as an IT manager, I will strongly recommend against purchase of any Samsung components.

I will also be socializing this incident with my online contacts, unless I receive written assurance that the ad has been pulled, along with a list of web sites where the ad was placed, so I can verify that it has been removed.

Sorry to be the Grinch, but Samsung has no right to interfere with my personal business.


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Looking Forward

In my previous post, I questioned whether it was right for a voter to target their registration, for, well, political reasons. I've had several conversations on this since, and I have made my peace with it. It is legal, and and as much we want our leaders to do all in their power, within the law, to lead us into peaceful prosperity, it is only right that we, as voters, want our individual voices to be heard to the full extent permitted within the law. 'Nuff said.

As I am writing, it appears that Barack Obama is to become the next U.S. President. In Chicago, there is one hell of a party warming up, with seventy thousand invited guests, and by some estimates, perhaps a million well-wishers converged upon Grant Park. (Added later - the estimates of 1 million were wildly optimistic. Reports now place total attendance around 150 thousand.) And while most of the cost of added security, cleanup, etc., is being covered by the Obama campaign, Mayor Daley was asked a few days ago if the city should do this - was it really a reasonable thing to do?

I don't recall his exact response, but the general idea was something like: "Home-town guy makes President. Should we do this? Are you kidding?" And you could see it in his eyes. This wasn't politicking - it was honest-to-God genuine Chicago pride.

Well, I suppose a successful party for a million wouldn't look bad on an Olympic resume, either.

But in the middle of all this hoopla, all the rhetoric, and at times all the bitterness, I found a reason to rejoice. As ABC News interviewed voters in Times Square, they spoke with one young woman - possibly a first-time voter - carrying a McCain/Palin sign. Confronted with the news that her favored candidate was unlikely to prevail, she replied with a smile, "I voted for John McCain because I was voting for change. We need change. And with Obama, we will have change. So either way, it's for the greater good, and I'm happy with that."

Those are wise words. And if I rise in the morning, and the headlines declare that after the final tally, McCain was elected President, I'd like to think I could say those same words, and mean it.

We are walking a narrow, rocky path through dire times. No one man or woman can single-handed take us safely through, but we can easily nudge each other off the path. Our best hope is to walk together, keep looking forward, and follow the leader.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Governor Gerry's Bequest

In January of 1812, Massachusetts Governer Elbridge Gerry (pronounced with a hard 'G') reluctantly signed a bill redefining political district boundaries in his state. In so doing, he inspired a cartoonist for the Boston Gazette, and much to his chagrin introduced a word into common usage which forever linked his name with the process of manipulating political boundaries to influence election results.

A marvel of applied statistics, Gerrymandering has been with the United States since the very beginning. The basic concept is simple - by carefully moving district boundaries, political allies can be concentrated to do the most good, and rivals spread out to dilute their influence.

When I first learned all this in Mildred Homan's 8th grade history class, I did not grasp the cautionary tale, and believed Gerrymandering an obsolete practice. As a lifelong resident of the Chicago area, I have since learned that the Gerrymander is alive and well. But recently, I learned of a much more subtle variation on the concept.

An NPR story describes efforts of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, to mobilize student voters. Founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, Liberty is an Evangelical University with a conservative leadership and student body. And they are doing a very effective job of encouraging their ten thousand resident students to register to vote.

I don't have a problem with that. In fact, it is admirable. All learning institutions should encourage their students to participate in the political process. Liberty is carefully not advising its students how to vote, but has been very successful at registering student voters. The reason is a bit of an eyebrow-raiser; Virginia has a tight presidential race. Ten thousand votes could conceivably determine whether Virginia's electoral votes go to Barack Obama or John McCain. As a conservative institution, Liberty would like McCain to emerge the victor.

This is all legal, and not really a big deal. If an election outcome is determined by voter apathy on one side or the other, then the voters got what they asked for. Nobody is telling liberal colleges not to encourage voter registration.

What bothers me are the comments of a single Liberty student. Quoting from the NPR story:
[A Liberty Junior], for example, switched her registration from North Carolina to Virginia. The reason was simple.

"North Carolina is going to go red," she says. "I'm not really too worried about that, and I am nervous about the outcome of Virginia. I feel like my vote may be a little more important here."

This particular student, and likely many more like her, are not full-time Virginia residents. But rather than vote as an absentee in her home jurisdiction, she is voting in Virginia, with a stated reason which says, in effect, that she believes her vote can help overrule the will of full-time Virginia residents.

It's perfectly legal, but it strikes me as rather Machiavellian. While our electoral system is far from perfect, the basic concept is supposed to provide for the voices of all to be heard. Arbitrarily moving voter populations around for the express purpose of suppressing those voices seems, to me, somehow wrong. There is no established residency, at least as far as we can tell. Shouldn't the votes be cast in the student's home jurisdiction?

Or is this just an example of an all-American need to win?

This bothers me, but I don't have an answer. Do you?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Head 'em off at the Cliffs

This is my third post, and, I suppose, about time to actually provide something resembling an introduction to my blog. Welcome.

While writing the first entry, I decided that I won't be a daily blogger, or even a weekly blogger, for that matter. I'll update as the muse hits and time permits. As such, use of a subscription mechanism to get updates might be your best bet, if you like what you see.

How do you do that? Heck, I don't know. I've been working with computers in a professional capacity for 25 years, but I have long passed the point where I'm perfectly happy remaining competent in my areas of specialty, and letting the world pass me by in other areas. If the Internet is the Dr. Seuss universe, than I am perhaps one of the Zax, standing toe to toe, face to face in the Prairie of Prax, waiting for completion of the bypass...

I choose to believe, whether you agree with me or not, that I am putting quality before quantity. Time will tell. But as a general rule, I find shortcuts unsatisfactory. Your high school English teacher probably agrees. Remember him or her? That's the person whose X-ray eyes could see the yellow and black stripes of a CliffsNotes booklet through the combined thickness of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and your World History textbook. But who probably didn't need this ability to recognize direct CliffsNotes quotes.

That's right. Whether you were ever told to your face or not, chances are you were caught in the act.

Of course, the CliffsNotes format leant itself to, er, rapid reading of large works. But at the college level, that wasn't enough. Instead, there were barely-clandestine services from which you could purchase "study guides", which happened to arrive in the form of a completed research paper. Of course, nobody would ever actually retype these and hand them in as their own work. For one thing, most college students were much too honest. And for another thing, most major universities had files of these papers, collected for comparison purposes. Nobody wanted to risk getting caught.

This was, of course, back in the days before the Internet, before developers plowed under the Prairie of Prax. Today, these papers - uh, I mean, research aids - are widely available online. In fact, I found one this week, while searching for a reference from Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird". One of my Google hits (subtext for the day: "Google is Your Friend") was a page on a paper-for-sale web site, for a 2000-word essay titled: "The Class System in To Kill a Mockingbird" The first sentence alone gives a sense of product quality:
The existence of a superior and inferior stratification in societies are due to economic status, social status, religion, and skin color between the white and black race as demonstrated in To Kill a Mockingbird.

I am reluctant to quote much more of the provided excerpt, for fear the publisher may sue for defamation. The work is rife with basic structural flaws, grammatical errors, spelling and punctuation errors.

Were this the work of one of my wife's students, or one of my kids, I might offer (unsolicited) private criticism and suggestions. As this is a piece of merchandise for sale, I don't feel reluctant in offering public ridicule. But while that may bring temporary satisfaction, the larger context is troubling.

The bothersome thing about this is not that someone is willing to try and pass off crap writing as a valuable "educational" tool. The bothersome thing is not that there are students at high school and college levels willing and able to buy papers. The thing that really wrinkles my shorts is that the web site implies the existence of a market in which the consumers don't recognize this product for the garbage it is.

It's one thing to have a subpopulation of lazy, dishonest students, and a whole 'nother thing to have lazy, dishonest, stupid students.

But I attempted to take the paper at face value. As a teacher, my wife has a different take on it. She suggests that if a student turns in a bad paper, a teacher is less likely to bother investigating it as plagiarized.

Maybe the younger generation has more on the ball than I gave them credit for...

So, teachers, if one of your students turns in a bad paper, and you know they really could have done much, much better, remember: Google is your Friend.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Flowers and Hearts

Yesterday, February 14th, 2008, a friend happened to say something that called up a memory from my courtship with Karin, my wife. I gave my friend a lengthy response, and decided to whip it up into a blog entry, appropriate for Valentine's Day.

Then I heard the news.

And now, I wonder if some day I'll have grandchildren who will ask about the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, and whether my kids will answer them with the question, "Which one?"

Northern Illinois University is about a 30 minute drive from my house. I have friends with kids there, and I am quite sure many casual acquaintances with kids there. And I wonder what the news will bring, as more details become public.

There's really not much more I can add, except a request for prayers for the victims and survivors.

Including the gunman's family.

My friend Julie Hyzy has a student at NIU;
read her comments here.


Update, added 18 Feb 2008
Is it turns out, my daughter knew one of the victims.
Ryanne Mace was a few years ahead of my oldest, but they spoke
nearly daily in choir rehearsal. Ryanne's memorial service was today.
I'm told it was beautiful.
But there are many wounds yet to heal...