Monday, February 28, 2005

Enter the snow

It's snowing in DC. The forecast is for 3"-6", and though the first flakes fell around 0945, all the public schools in the area have been closed for the day. Last Thursday, the federal government closed early because it was snowing all day, though not a flake was sticking. DC tends to be semi-hysterical about snow, and I'd thought that I might riff on that, until I saw an editorial that (half-jokingly) called for salary penalties for school officials who cancelled school without sufficient cause (after the fact, of course). I realized that the issue is not necessarily one of judgement, but of transparency. The percieved problem with cancelling school, sending people home from work, etc, is not (or shouldn't be) that it sometimes snows more or less than expected. The issue is that the decision criteria used by officials are unknown. It seems to me that this ought to be a fairly simple decision tree: If there is X"of snowfall by 0600, or if Y" are predicted for the day, school is cancelled. Admittedly, it's probably a bit more complicated than that, but I can't see that it's so hard that it can't be put in a clear form that can be communicated to the public. If people wanted to criticize the decisions, at least it would be obvious what the decisions were. It would be possible to actually have data, versus anecdotes, to evaluate the decisions, and to consider the effects of other criteria. It would also highlight that it's not the school board's job to forecast the weather. They're relying on the NWS et al, just like the rest of us.

Of course, this tedious talk about transparency and public decision-making presumes that those complaining actually want to resolve the issue and move on to something more interesting, or that they would actually pay attention to publicized decision criteria (which, for all I know, are already out there). Probably very questionable assumptions.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

4 short movie reviews

I, Robot is a terrific summer movie. It is flashy and exciting, and the plot and characters are good enough not to get in the way. (I've no idea if it takes anything from Isaac Asimov's novel of the same name beyond the virtually ubiquitous three laws of robotics.)

Wicker Park is disappointing. It's a puzzling, non-linear story with potential, but the whole thing is undone by some glaring contrivances, eg, there's approximately one cell phone in the entire movie. (Actually, the contrivances are what make the whole thing possible; what they undo is the viewer's belief in the plot.) The story would have been perfect as a period piece in 19th-century England. Maybe you'd enjoy it more if you imagined Josh Hartnett in a high, starched collar.

Shaun of the Dead is a great send-up and reprise of zombie movies. The hero, Shaun, is an underachiever. Some of the best scenes in the movie are him being oblivious to the growing number of ghouls and chaos around him. It is a movie about fighting off hordes of the undead, so there's lots of blood and a disembowling scene that was more vivid than anything I'd prefer to see again. On the whole, though, it's well-done, crude fun.

A Man For All Seasons is wonderful. OK, not a bold call, as it won six Oscars in 1966, but it's true. Virtually all dialogue, it tells the story of Sir Thomas More's effort to be faithful to God, king, family, and friends. His integrity, even as he loses all but the first, is moving and inspiring. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I note that Kerry calls this one of my "snooty" movies. Take that for what it's worth.)

Monday, February 21, 2005

Not for the faint of heart

Anheuser-Busch is introducing a new beer: BE

As if it weren't horrifying enough that the so-called "beer" will contain caffeine, guarana, and ginseng, with cherry, raspberry, and blackberry flavors, A-B's information insists on spelling out that the loathsome concoction is to be called "B-to-the-E" (not C-to-the-R-to-the-A-to-the-P, as the hip-hop-minded among you might have been planning).

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Carbon monoxide mystery solved

It was the GE worker, in the kitchen, with a gas oven. According to the BG&E range man at The Holler today, GE is "notorious" for overgassing their ovens, causing incomplete combustion (hence, CO) and a funny smell. (I thought that was just my cooking.)

My Funny Valentine

As she was heading to the hospital on Sunday, Kerry asked if she could take my car, so that I could wash hers. Unwilling to pass up such a wonderful opportunity, I agreed. Little did I know that she had an ulterior motive for getting inside the Mazda. When I opened the car door on Monday morning, I discovered an interior decorated with shiny, heart-shaped stickers. Steering wheel, gear shift, rear-view mirror, radio controls, and more, all were appointed in sparkly red.

I got her a card. And a couple of days earlier, I had replaced the (broken) mobile-phone earbud I had bought her for Valentine's Day 2004, so you don't need to tell me how to be romantic.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Rapid-fire update

In order of being ordered:

  • The IFC Global Business School Network website I've been updating has moved to the production database, so if you want to see my handiwork, visit Your comments are welcome; please be advised that my deflections are at the ready: "Oh, that's standard IFC webpage format," and "They gave me the content; I just posted it," promise to be heavily used. (Sarkiness aside, I think it's a decent site for a very interesting program.)

  • We're experiencing high carbon monoxide levels at home. The previous residents left us a detector, which alarmed for the second time in a couple of weeks on Sunday night. The fire department came out and confirmed the elevated levels, though still below any health advisories we could find. Unfortunately, they could not trace the CO to an appliance. In fact, the lowest levels they found were right next to the furnace. So we'll just diagnose this non-specific, systematic problem. Piece of cake...

  • A belated happy Valentine's Day to all and birthday to Aunt Ann.

  • Ookla the Mok - a band that finally answers the question: What if They Might Be Giants were more (yes, more!) geeky, more (yes, more!) nasal, and not quite as musically talented/creative? You've got to love music that makes innumerable references to comic books, turns Dylan into a word problem, and offers incisive criticism of Sting's musical career.

  • I'm writing a short paper about the SARS outbreak. It's fascinating, and the early months (Nov 02-Feb 03), when the disease existed in China but no one outside knew about it, read like a thriller. The Chinese government's behavior was truly reprehensible. I understand that there are reasons for a country not to report health problems (fear of (often unjustified) trade and travel restrictions), but the suffering they caused to their own citizens, never mind outher countries, through their secrecy and deception is shocking. And the word from the UN, before SARS, was that they were doing the same thing with HIV. Hopefully they are changing their approach.

Monday, February 07, 2005

And the Hollers go to...

  1. Dave, who as of today has been living on Earth for 30 years. Keep up the good work!
  2. Our neighbor, Ted, who not only invited us over for the Super Bowl, but also correctly predicted the final score, and that the winning score would be a Vinatieri field goal.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Dangerous Ruminations online

In his first post on Dangerous Ruminations, my good friend, Angus, made an overly flattering (or keenly ironic) comment about my writing/blogging habits. There are any number of comments I'd like to make in reply, but Angus's second post is poignant and clear; it deserves to be read without any shallow attempts at wit intervening.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

"It's all on the wheel. It all comes around."

Commander Ace Hunter (Barry Bostwick) of Megaforce was speaking of war, but he might also have been referring to my professional development. I'm back at the World Bank Group, specifically at the International Finance Corporation. IFC is the arm private sector lending arm - well, digit, more accurately - of the World Bank. I'm updating a web site for a group whose current web site dates from before they had any programs underway. I'd point you to it, but seeing as how they've recognized that it is well out of date, that seems ungenerous. Anyhow, it's only a couple-week job, but it's been fun so far.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Van Helsing followup

From Dateline: Hollywood:

Britain’s Prince Harry, who caused outrage by wearing a Nazi uniform to a party earlier this month has caused another major controversy to erupt. New photos of Harry, third in line to the British throne, have been splashed across the front pages of tabloid newspapers showing him at a different party wearing a Van Helsing costume.

That was a painful chapter for moviegoers around the world,” says Earl Wethers, a Royal Family observer. “That film hurt so many people with its offensive script. Evil forces were at work when that film was unleashed on innocent eyes. So many people suffered, and for Harry to turn up at a party dressed up as Van Helsing is inexcusable.”

Secure property rights means never having to say you're sorry for breaking your own stuff*

Since classes started a week ago Monday, I've been surrounded by a cloud of things breaking:

  • Last Monday - The screen cracked on my CliĆ©. For a touchscreen PDA, that's pretty much fatal.
  • Wednesday - The shoulder strap on my bag broke, sending all, laptop included, crashing to the ground. Well, the strap could be fixed; no harm done. (Or was it? Read on...)
  • Friday - At about 0600, the window in our bathroom broke with a sharp pop. No sign of impact, it just broke. Happily, it stayed in the frame.
  • Saturday - Visiting Ros for dinner and a movie, I neatly tore the tray out of her DVD player with a devil-may-care swipe of the hand. (You must understand, a DVD was falling towards the carpeted floor. I had to try to catch it, to avert the terrible consequences. Those consequences were, of course, realized, as my hand was too busy destroying her entertainment center to actually grab the disc.)
  • This Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday... - My laptop has displayed a cavalcade of errors, from the blue screen of death to my blue streak of swearing, from the red badge of courage to the Red Duke of Caladan.
I don't think that any great number of warranties have just expired. I guess I'm just lucky.

* But it does mean having to say you're sorry for breaking other people's stuff. Sorry, Ros.