Friday, December 29, 2006

Pat Oliphant on President Ford - literally

The text is a little hard to read, but Pat Oliphant wrote/drew a nice cartoon in honor of President Ford. It's a great story, and a wonderful portrait.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

O Tannenbaum - Public enemy #1

It was our great pleasure to have Scott, Carlie, Lili, and Mama & Papa B here for Christmas. Lili sleeps by herself now, so the Holler was full; someone had to sleep on an inflatable mattress in the living room. We offered to do so, and even tried to be bossy about it, but Scott and Carlie insisted that they would sleep there. To their chagrin: at about one in the morning, our Christmas tree fell on them.

They were very gracious about it, righting the tree and going back to sleep - on the couches, away from the tree, thank you - without even waking anyone in the house. But the signs were clear when I came down in the morning: inflatable mattress cast aside, sheets on the sofa, and a tree-shaped stamp of pine needles on the floor.

By all accounts this was an unprovoked attack by a malicious tree. The Furryous Two were upstairs with us, Lili was asleep in her crib, and the thought of Scott and Carlie pulling the tree over onto themselves is just too weird to countenance. No, this was vicious, arboreal assault.

The moral of the story, faithful reader, is not to always secure a tree to the wall. Rather, the lesson is that, if Travis and Kerry say we should sleep on the living room floor, let us.

Friday, December 22, 2006

A chance for Travis, captain of Elkridge, to show his quality

For a motivating setting, there's nothing like being the only person in the office on the last day before Christmas holiday.

I demonstrate my dedication and discipline by posting to The Hollerer.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christmastime is here

It's almost here, anyway. The tree is decorated; Kerry's parents arrive this evening, with Scott, Carlie, and Lili coming Saturday; the last big presents finally arrived last night (sort of).

I don't know why I haven't posted anything. Or, to get to the root of the matter, I don't know why I haven't had any thoughts I wanted to share. Nothing's changed in that respect; this is just a post to let the faithful readers know that I am still here and that we are OK.

Oh, but quite important, The Economist holiday double issue is at the newsstand. I've already read the article on country music. Delight.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

15 Richest Fictional People

Forbes has updated their list of the 15 richest fictional people. Featuring Daddy Warbucks, Mr Burns, and Prince Abakaliki (of Nigerian spam fame), it is a treat, worthy of The Economist's double Christmas issue.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

As Rumsfeld leaves

Admittedly, this is a repeat from March 2004, but as Donald Rumsfeld packs up his office at the Pentagon, it's worth remembering the many kung fu styles he used at press conferences and Congressional testimonies.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Trent Lott - Da Return

It's interesting to see Trent Lott back in the Republican leadership, elected as the minority Senate whip. It's been four years since he was turned out for the racially insensitive remarks he made at Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party. I wonder if that's long enough for people to forgive. I have to think that any ground gained at that time thanks to the Republicans' perceived principles will be more than lost now. Moral convictions that hold only when you have an iron grip on power are not terribly impressive. But I suppose that most people either saw it in 2002 as simple political in-fighting or have by now forgotten.

More amusingly, Lott's competitor, Lamar Alexander, apparently had been lobbying to be the whip for a year and a half and, the night before the vote, predicted he would win by as many as 30 votes. Oops. Way to demonstrate - after the fact - that you aren't the right guy for the job.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

War by the numbers

There's a statistic I've heard any number of times that goes something like: World War I was the first major conflict in which more soldiers died battlefield trauma than of camp illnesses and wound infections. Indeed, such progress continues: Cousin E informs us that, on average, it takes a wounded US soldier three days to get from Iraq to the US, versus 41 days in Vietnam. And yet, The Economist (2 Nov 06) reports that, of the approximately 2,800 US soldiers who have died in Iraq, some 600 (21%) of those deaths were from illnesses or accidents. The figures don't exactly compare, I realize, but it's a sobering observation on the messiness of war, even in our most modern armed forces.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Duct tape - Is there anything it can't do?

Well, maybe.

According to Dutch researchers, duct tape actually isn't an effective cure for warts. But then again, according to the same Reuters article, the Army apparently said it was, even better than freezing warts. When it comes to duct tape and warts, who has more credibility: the Dutch or the Army?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Garry Trudeau article

The Washington Post recently ran an interesting article on Garry Trudeau, author of Doonesbury, and the story he has told over the last 2-1/2 years of BD loosing his leg in Iraq. The article was good enough that I almost missed my train this morning.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Sublime hot dogs

My close-reading friends will not permit me even a moment of retro-chauvinism. So be it. I'll share a recipe. (But at least it's a hot dog recipe.)

On the camping trip, we hit on an awesome preparation of hot dogs: with Desert Trading Co. black bean dip, Old Bay seasoning, and ketchup. Kind of like a chili dog, but better. In fact, with a fire-toasted bun, it may have been the best hot dog ever.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Camping sin mujeres

I went camping in Shenandoah National Park last weekend with Sos and Sperati. We had a great time, serendipidously.

The serendipity came in because this was intended to be a larger trip, including seven people. But for various reasons, the others backed out, so it was just the three of us. Actually, though, this was quite a good thing, as I lost count of the number of times I thought, "I'm so glad Kerry isn't here. She would be miserable." Some of the things that we found perversely fun, which I doubt Kerry would have enjoyed:

  • Driving 20 miles at night on twisting Skyline Drive, with at least two-thirds of the way socked in with fog
  • Setting up camp in the dark, in the rain, in the wind
  • After setting up camp, standing in the dark, in the rain, in the wind, drinking beer
  • Gusts of wind on Saturday up to 50 mph
  • Hiking in five layers of clothing, and still being a bit cold
  • Cooking hot dogs on the uncleaned, un-foil-covered fireplace grill
  • Saturday night, sleeping in long underwear, head-and-all in the sleeping bag, and still being a bit cold
There were bits that she might have appreciated (eg, a lovely trail along a couple of runs, seeing a bear), but on the whole, this was not a trip to make without packing a Y chromosome.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Mum's not the word

Last year, the fall planting on L Street was mumderful. Not this year, though. Today, I saw pansies prepared for planting. The placement of the pots was not as precise as the prank-and-pfile mums previously perceived. Perhaps persistent passers-by and panhandlers had prevented delivery on palettes. Or perchance they pander to prevalent public preference against the predictable and pro pioneering permutations of pulchritude.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Never underestimate Star Trek

Props, set pieces, and costumes from various Star Trek movies and TV shows brought in orders-of-magnitude higher prices than expected at a Christie's auction.

It's not news that people pay lots of money for memorabilia, and it's not news that there are hard-core Star Trek fans, but this article nonetheless put a big smile on my face.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Weather you're here or there

Cold, windy, rainy days can be quite beautiful. When you're in the highlands (Scotland or West Virginia) or at the ocean shore, there's a raw loveliness to the low clouds being driven over the land, to the rain spattering the water, to the wind in your face. It's not the relaxing beauty of a tropical postcard from paradise, but the bracing beauty of a clear view of nature's face.

By comparison, cold, windy, rainy days in the city are just cold, windy, and rainy.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke (2004), is an exceptional historical fiction/fantasy novel. The first several pages of the paperback edition are given over to glowing praise from one reviewer after another. Several liken Clarke's work to Tolkein. At first blush, this is hard to see, as Mr Norrell is firmly grounded in early 19th-century England, not in a Middle Earth of invented languages and histories. But in fact, Clarke has invented a good bit of history, though she does not dramatically introduce it; rather, it just comes up in telling the story. (And after all, why make a big deal of it? Every schoolchild knows that John Uskglass, the magical Raven King, ruled northern England from Newcastle for 300 years.) Like Borges, Clarke has invented much of her magical history through books, and Mr Norrell is peppered with footnotes citing the works of the great English magicians.

Clarke has also captured many plot elements of the Brontë and Austen novels we read in high school. There is a strong sense of social class and propriety, and it matters how many pounds per year one has. These flavors, captured in the language as well as the action, is layered with more familiar history. (Look, there's the Duke of Wellington! and Lord Byron!)

The plot centers on Mr Norrell and Jonathan Strange (really), the first two practical, practicing magicians seen in England for hundreds of years. It takes a while for the magic to kick in, but when it does, it is grounded in the common, natural world, with the everyday-ness of a (19th-century) Twilight Zone. This magic (generally) does not explode on the scene with mystical pyrotechnics, but rather reshapes reality in a way that characters (and the reader) sometimes do not even perceive. And the limitations of the magicians make the magic more interesting. As Jonathan Strange discovers when trying to free a grounded ship, the ability to summon winds is no help if you do not understand sailing.

Mr Norrell is a long book (over 1,000 pages in paperback), and I did find it dragging a bit around two-thirds of the way through. (But when you're flying to Nigeria and back, you don't want some ephemeral Crichton in your bag.) But this is a minor quibble, probably one I won't even notice when I re-read this book, soon. You should get reading, too.

Monday, October 02, 2006


Sorry, it's been a while since the last post. Last week was really busy at work, and besides and before that, I just haven't had a heck of a lot to say.

Last Saturday, I went up to West Baltimore for some neighborhood cleanup around Monroe Street United Methodist Church, a church Glen Mar has partnered with for about five years. I found a piece of notebook paper lying in the street, with a message written in large hand:

Find another house to shoot dope in. I am tired of coming home to the stove being left on.
- Me
A simple request, but I was most struck by the comment about the stove. It seems to say, "Look, I'm not really thrilled about the dope-shooting in my house, but I could live with it if you were just a little more conscientious about turning off the stove when you were done." Of course, some people are never satisfied. No doubt, if they did turn off the stove, "Me" would start complaining about the needles left lying around.

I plan to submit this to Found.

Monday, September 18, 2006


Lint-roll yer eyepatch and sand yer pegleg. Tomorrow be International Talk Like A Pirate Day.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

How to Dissuade Yourself from Becoming a Blogger

The New Irony (tm) virtually requires that The Elkridge Hollerer point you to this wikiHow article on why you shouldn't blog. Separate from such obligations, I would note:

a) Your reading of The Elkridge Hollerer indicates that you already are well underway with Step 1.

b) Their second, self-serving tip, that instead of a blog you write for a wiki (like oh, say, wikiHow) ruins the tone of the article.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Humor is a funny thing

Innumerable times over the past years (as Kerry would wearily confirm), I have quoted, in voice, Comic Book Guy saying to Bart, "No banging your head on the display case, please. It contains a very rare Mary Worth in which she has advised a friend to commit suicide. Thank you." It have always found it funny. And yet today, when it popped into my head for no apparent reason, I found it so funny that I couldn't even get through the line without laughing. I'm still chuckling now (though I must admit, not has hard as I was when blogging about The Economist).

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The cable guys (almost) win me over

My favorite advertisers have a new message in their campaign, replacing the cable worker with twins. It's simple: "Cable delivers today."

And that's how they almost got me. If they had just finished off the obvious laugh-line - "Cable delivers today (sometime between 9AM and 5PM)." - then I would have admired their self-depricating chutzpah and immediately called to order the most expensive service package on offer.

Monday, September 04, 2006

A picture from Lagos

This was the morning view from my hotel in Lagos. Actually, it was also the midday and evening view, I suspect; the weather was persistently overcast.

I'm not really sure what's in the picture, except for the cell-phone towers. I think the big dusty square might be an elementary school. Under the big trees next to the road on the left one-third of the picture, someone was arc-welding in the morning. I know this because I could see the arc from my 8th-floor balcony. Have to imagine it was awfully bright for someone driving by, about 15 feet away.

(I have a higher-resolution (3496 x 948) version of this picture. Let me know if you're just dying to see it.)

Friday, September 01, 2006


Today is the first anniversary of my becoming Greengate LLC employee #1. So far, so good.

In honor of this momentous occasion, I'm moving our web and email to a new host over the holiday weekend. Though it's a fairly straightforward process (at least the part I have to do), it's a little unnerving. The NR engineer in me still imagines dozens of things that can go wrong, all of which end with the cessation of any and all communications with Greengate, business failure, bankruptcy, etc. I didn't say it was likely or realistic; this is just the way I think of it.

But if the link in the title of this post doesn't work, now you know why.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

International Holler Brown (IHB)

As part of our ongoing artistic dialogue with William, The Elkridge Hollerer is pleased to announce a new color:

International Holler Brown (IHB)

RGB157, 163, 0
HSV62°, 100%, 64%
CMYK0.037, 0.000, 1.000, 0.361

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Ahmadinejad v Bush debate

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has challenged President Bush to a live TV debate on world affairs. Champion of liberty that he and the rest of the Iranian political authorities are, Ahmedinejad has requested that "The debate should go uncensored in order for the American people to be able to listen to what we say and they should not restrict the American people from hearing the truth." As for what the Iranian people get to hear (or see or do)... well, let's not get too fussed over that.

I would like to be more snarky and have more of a laugh over this, but my cringe reflex is just too strong. The thought of the President representing "the West" in a debate...

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Me and Jacques Chirac are like [this]

France has decided to send 1,600 more troops to Lebanon. From the article:

President Jacques Chirac said France decided to dispatch many more troops after winning assurances from the United Nations that the troops would be able to defend themselves fully if they came under attack and could use force to protect civilians [, and trenchant observations in The Elkridge Hollerer led them to re-evaluate the full consequences of their decisions].

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

You try to be nice about France...

... you don't make the cheap and easy jokes, you try to think of it as a nation that is a strong, well-intentioned, member of the international community (if sometimes at odds with your personal preferences/biases). And then they go and do something really embarassing, like offer a whopping 200 troops for the UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon.

Look, I understand not wanting to get drawn into a no-win situation without rules of engagement, but if memory serves, is France not a veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council that drafted resolution 1701, calling for the peacekeeping force? Did they not realize during the debate that, when just about everyone was expecting France to take a leading role in any UN force, they meant sending more than a couple busloads of troops? It's either a humiliating step by France, or as well-connected commentators (including Sperati) have speculated, the French know something big and they're not telling (which doesn't exactly bolster the whole "well-intentioned member of the international community" image).

Saturday, August 19, 2006

43 hours in Lagos

43 hours may not seem like much time to spend on-site for one's first visit to Africa, and that's only because it isn't. In rough order of making them, my observations follow. I caveat this with the hopefully obvious disclaimer that this is not intended to be my characterization of Lagos, never mind of a broader region. It's just that several people were interested that I was going to Nigeria, so I thought I'd share what I did see.

Looking out the plane window as we landed, all I could see was small, somewhat ramshackle shacks, with the occasional tropical tree sticking up amongst them. I know, what a sheltered, rich, American reaction: "Hey, there are poor people in Nigeria." But I didn't expect my first sight of the country to be such a stock photo for "developing country". (On the flight out, I saw that these shacks extended for miles in all directions. Many had no roofs.)

Nigerians aren't real keen on forming lines. (Actually, I first noticed this when were boarding our plane in New York.) Faithful readers recall that, on occasion, I have noticed the inefficient habit of people crowding the baggage claim carousel. At the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, this is elevated to an art form as people push their baggage carts right up to the carousel. At its best, the carts are jammed in so tightly that people can't even reach the belt to grab their bags.

Driving in Lagos is for locals. Lane markings are optional - I mean the very existence of the markings, as well as the observance of same - and shoulders are for passing. Horns are for saying, "I'm passing you (on the shoulder). Please move into another 'lane'." (Did I mention that Nigerians aren't keen on forming lines?) That said, being on the receiving end of a horn is undoubtedly preferable to being on the receiving end of the nightstick brandished for miles out the passenger window of an SUV marked "American Consulate Security". People walk between cars, sometimes to cross the street, but more often to sell pre-paid phone cards or bottles of water and juice. We passed a four-vehicle head-to-tail accident on the left of the road. Standing on and next to the jersey barrier between the wreck and oncoming traffic were at least twice as many bystanders as could have been in the cars.

For miles of the drive from the airport, on both sides of the road, as far as one could see, were more run-down buildings of a couple stories and shacks. Based on the painted signs, some nearest the road were stores. There was a stretch of several churches quite near one another. None had walls; they looked like just the roofs of small warehouses, with a set of pews and an identifying sign. But the majority of the buildings seemed to be homes. Many were made of cinder blocks; some had been nailed together out of scrap; tin roofs were by far the most common. I have to say that it was one of the most discouraging things I've ever seen with respect to development. Some people find that they are very discouraged by statistics; the sheer number of poor, sick, etc in the world leaves them feeling helpless. Numbers have never made me feel that way as did moving past thousands and thousands of people living in poverty. And unlike many poor parts of US cities, this was not a neighborhood that had fallen in bad times and decay; this was a vast suburb that had never been anything other than what it was. I wondered how anyone - especially an outsider - could affect any change on or with this huge expanse of people. (Lest you think I've given up, please note these were my feelings at the time. I suppose they still are my feelings, but I have a deeper belief in doing the best I can to better the world with the opportunities I can find.)

I've never seen such a concentration of radio towers. Five to ten stories high, they are everywhere. Tanko, who drove me around, says they are radio stations and cell phone towers. This was later supported by someone's comment that there is a new initiative to get the three or four cell-phone operators in Lagos to start sharing towers, as opposed to each building their own. Parts of the city looked like old pictures of Texas and Oklahoma, during the 1920s oil boom.

Land-line telephones are for chumps. At the airport and the hotel, when I asked for a public phone, the person at information handed me their cell phone.

Beyond sharing their cell phones, everyone I met in Lagos was friendly. (Admittedly, this included one Ghanaian and two Canadians.) Even the woman who let me check in late for my flight back home was nice, in her brusque, put-upon way.

Experiencing at least five power outages in the first 24 hours, I concluded that someone ought to build some improved electrical generation and distribution capacity. (As luck would have it, that's the project I was there to help. And see, I told you I hadn't given up.)

Where there's smoke, there's fire. And there's smoke everywhere in Lagos. You can smell it in the mornings and evenings, primarily from people burning their garbage. You can see it, too, a low haze. It reminded me of Grandad's stories of working in Pittsburgh, back when the smoke from the steel mills made it tough to see across the street downtown. It's not that bad, but I like Grandad's stories.

There are lots of ads for Christianity in Lagos. A good 10% of the billboards advertise a church or revival event. Many cars and vans announce the driver's faith and/or the name of their church on the back glass or trunk. The message on Tanko's cell phone screen reads, "JESUS LV ME".

I would like to know what was previously housed in the offices where we met. All the windows had heavy iron grates over them, and more interestingly, there were numerous reinforced steel doors within, as if at any moment all of Accounting or Corporate Services was going to be put on lockdown. But then perhaps all the offices, ex-pat apartments, and government buildings around made for a rough neighborhood. The deputy governor's residence, just down the street, was a lovely villa, with a surrounding wall topped by steel mesh and razor wire suitable for your local minimum-security penitentiary.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

OK Go video

Continuing to pad the Hollerer by posting videos, I present the latest Internet fad, the OK Go treadmill video:

I don't feel too too bad about this lazy blogging, as I saw OK Go open for They Might Be Giants several years ago. I really liked their set, a good bit more than I liked their CD that I bought or any of their stuff that I've heard on the radio. But I dig this video; apparently there is a strong visual element to my enjoyment of OK Go.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

OPM recruiting

The Office of Personnel Management has all the federal job openings available online. They put the ROCK in bureaucracy.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Why you shouldn't study economics

Some national cable TV trade association has been running ads in the Metro saying, "Cable provides hundreds of thousands of solid, stable jobs." The signs show a young man dressed like a cable guy, holding his twin toddlers in his arms.

To whom is this ad directed? Consumers? It seems unlikely. One would think that an appeal to consumers would focus on hundreds of thousands of entertaining, informative shows on cable. No, the people who care about solid, stable jobs (beyond their own) are politicians and regulators beholden to them.

And why are those jobs so solid and stable? Because cable is the king of entertainment, rolling in revenue from an audience delighted with the provided service? Maybe, but why advertise that? That would just be gloating (and a little obscure gloating, at that). But perhaps, just perhaps, cable jobs are so solid and stable because competition is throttled, such that dissatisifed consumers have no real alternative to the official-lobbying incumbent. And in that case, wouldn't the message of the ad read, "Dear public official, please keep using your power to transfer money from the public at large to the fraction of the population in the cable industry"?

You shouldn't study economics because, if you do, you can be irritated, day after day, by a picture of a dad with his cute kids.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Quality commentary

Don't know if you saw last Sunday's Doonesbury on flag-burning, but I thought it was a great piece of commentary. Not so absurd as to be pure satire, but also light enough to avoid being preachy or offensive (so I conclude, but perhaps because I'm sympathetic with the point). I could do with a lot more of this and a lot less of the shrieking heads bellowing from the extremes of the political spectrum.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Correlation ≠ Causation

A cautionary note sounded in every statistical analysis course, but what does it mean? I offer this email sent to Kerry from

Dear Customer,

We've noticed that customers who have purchased "The Sandman Vol. 8: Worlds' End" by Neil Gaiman also purchased books by B. G. Pachpatte. For this reason, you might like to know that B. G. Pachpatte's "Integral and Finite Difference Inequalities and Applications, Volume 205 (North-Holland Mathematics Studies)" will be released soon.
And lest you think that "Integral and Finite Difference Inequalities and Applications, Volume 205" is an ironic name for some edgy new graphic novel, it's not. From the Amazon description: "The monograph is written with a view to provide basic tools for researchers working in Mathematical Analysis and Applications, concentrating on differential, integral and finite difference equations. It contains many inequalities which have only recently appeared in the literature... Will be of interest to researchers working both in pure and applied mathematics and other areas of science and technology, and it could also be used as a text for an advanced graduate course." And, apparently, will be of interest to readers of quality fantasy and/or comics.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Hola de la Chocolatería San Ginés

OK, I'm not actually at the chocolatería, but I'm just from there, catching the last Metro of the night, so I'm afraid you'll just have to be satisfied. I can't necessarily endorse Dave's assessment, as I've now sampled only one of Madrid's churros y chocolate, but they were pretty darn good.

As I sat down, there was an instant feeling of Cafe du Monde in New Orleans. Admittedly, the physical places are pretty different - San Ginés is much smaller and nestled in a centuries-old close - but late-night fried sweets with stimulant produces an distinct vibe. The churros y chocolate are neither as sweet nor as awakening as beignets and coffee, but they are crisp and delicious. And be forewarned, allow a good bit of time between your massive Spanish dinner and San Ginés; a serving for one is pretty substantial.

(By the bye, for those who know the churros from Central Kitchen at Rice, San Ginés just edged them out.)

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Hola de España

I'm in Madrid for work. It's late, but I still think it's really neat that I can blog from anywhere, so I thought I'd say "hi".

Monday, July 24, 2006

Hendrices departing (ding ding)

Kerry and I spent most of the weekend helping Angus and Julie pack their house into a moving truck. If all goes well with the last-minute items, they'll be off today for Tucson. Angus will be returning to his undergraduate stomping-grounds at the University of Arizona, this time to get a PhD in materials science. Julie will continue doing speech therapy in the local schools. Haley and AJ will do normal kid school things, plus have a pool in the backyard, and grandma, coyotes, and scorpions as neighbors.

Angus was the best friend I made working at Naval Reactors, and our families have been very close for years now. The Hendrices had a Halloween party Kerry's intern year, and she was so tired from the long hours that she crashed by 10pm. They offered that we spend the night, we had breakfast the next morning and hung out for the rest of the weekend. It was a fine time, which we have repeated many times since (even when Kerry wasn't exhausted from work).

We have very much enjoyed their friendship over the years, and it has been a treat to see Haley and AJ grow, from AJ as a newborn to Haley as a tween. Of course we will continue to be friends - Angus will tell you that all of his friends and family are soon moving to Tucson - but it won't be the same with them a few thousand miles away. We will miss them and their weekend breakfasts, and we wish them all the best.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The wily Ken Lay

I admit, I've only looked at headlines and snippets of articles on Ken Lay's death, but I am surprised by the tone. The stories appear to emphasize the fact that Lay will now serve no jail time. It's coming across not as a heart attack, but as bitter spite, an beaten-but-unrepentant man's final middle finger at prosecutors and the thousands of employees and investors that he wronged. Due legal process did find that Lay hurt a lot of people, but this degree of malevolence seems a bit much.

Friday, June 30, 2006


Hank Paulson looks like he was sent to Washington by Central Casting for the role of the Evil Businessman. But actually, he has been confirmed by the Senate to be the new Secretary of the Treasury. From what I've read, he seems a good choice.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Fancy footwork

1. Don't miss the World Cup quarter-final this Friday between Germany and Argentina. These are the best two teams in the tournament so far. The winner will go on to win the Cup. You heard it here first. Or you heard it here, anyway.

2. Yesterday morning, Furry Lewis wrapped herself up in the bit of comforter hanging over the foot of our bed. I discovered this as my bare-foot step merely brushed by the comforter and found it surprisingly substantial and - get this - warm. Who knew that the common foot was so perceptive?

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Make every day Take Your Pet To Work Day

Reuters reports a growing trend of employers allowing their staff to bring their pets to work. I'll limit my comments to saying that I can't wait to take the cats on the DC Metro.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Why I read the boring news

Faithful readers and Holler visitors probably know that I am an enthusiastic reader of The Economist, which is generally respected, if considered a bit dense and dry to get through in a week. Au contraire to the "dry" bit. The following, taken from a column this week on the newish leader of the Conservative Party in Britain, illustrates how hilarious political and economic commentary can be:

"... Most often, when asked to sum up his political creed, [David Cameron] says he is a “modern, compassionate Conservative” — modern because he's open to new ideas, compassionate because he wants to help society's unfortunates and Conservative because he doesn't believe that every problem can or should be solved by state action.

Most people like to think they are open-minded and few would admit to wanting to grind their heels in the faces of the deserving poor. ..."

I choked back laughter, and occasionally failed, all the way from Metro Center to Farragut North. I'm laughing right now, re-reading this.

The Financial Times is also respected but considered dull (in spite of its sassy salmon paper). There's a pretty good Lucy Kellaway column in today's edition on bad "motivational" memos. (Free registration seems to suffice to get you access to the column.)

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Congratulations, Cousin E

Great news came from New Jersey today. We learned that Cousin Eric has been selected for Master Sergeant in the Air Force. In case you are not terribly familiar with the Air Force - and I'm certainly no expert - Master Sergeant is one of the "Top Three" enlisted ranks. That Eric has made this rank is not just recognition of his service as an individual, but of his talent and dedication as a leader. We're biased, but we think this advancement is well-deserved, and we couldn't be happier for and prouder of our cousin. Good on ya.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Footy video

William says it's totally lame to post a link to a video and call it a blog. May be, but this video is cooler than at least 99% of what I write.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Birthday Celebrity Deathmatch: Wm v Wm

Trespassers William versus William Li (no, not Dartmouth, the real one)

TW: "...her voice is immediately lovable and her inconsolable world-weariness completely convincing." (Rock Sound)
WL: ... his voice is immediately mumblable and his world-weirdiness neither pitiful nor pretentious.

TW: " makes you feel like you're listening to music for the first time." (CitizenRobot .com)
WL: ... makes you feel like you're listening to someone speaking English for the first time. It's like the stories about babies who don't speak for years, then start spouting complete sentences. Extend that to a person who doesn't speak for decades, then starts spouting canonical rants.

TW: Played a set on public radio on 21 April
WL: Hosted public radio

TW: "Trespassers William draft warm songs in a cold world. Dreamy melancholy ripples across the lonely stillness of this Southern California band's psychedelic folk-pop." (M. Myers (KEXP) )
WL: The world is warm in Houston. William's dreamy, if you're into that kind of thing (Louren). And William proves his still-ness by still existing, day after day, as he does on this day, his birthday.

WL wins, hands down.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006


Dave visited the Holler last weekend, and extravagant flavors resulted.

  • We came up with a new drink: the Holler water. Vodka, limeade, and a splash of Coke. If it looks like it came out of a filthy pond - and goes down just as smooth - you've got it right.

  • What's tastier than a steak sandwich? A steak sandwich with bacon. Maple-flavored bacon, if you please, just to make it ridiculous.
He's gone now, though, so it's back to stale water, gruel, and generic-brand corn flakes.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Groovy sounds

I've really been enjoying Morning Becomes Eclectic, a radio show on KCRW in Santa Monica. Every day they play three hours of stuff I've generally never heard of, with a handful of things I do recognize (and like). A cool mix, and available at any moment via Real Audio. Plus they now have a podcast offering one new song per day.

Hermanito, I'm looking in your direction.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Spring Break

Kerry was on spring break this past week, so we went to Boston. We stayed with Scott, Carlie, and Liliana, who remains our cutest and most favorite niece by a substantial margin. She's almost five months old now, and we've been lucky enough to see her three times since last November. It's fun to see how much she's changed since Christmas, learning to grab most anything and pull it into her mouth. She's also smiling - particularly when dad makes raspberries - and even rolling over occasionally. (Rolling out of bed and a couple of smiles are about all I've managed this morning on the way to work, so I appreciate her accomplishments.)

We got to catch up with other friends while in Boston. We met up with Emily, from med school in Dallas, at her new home with Rich near Gilette Stadium, and spent a day in Newport. (Speaking of new homes, there are some nice little 56-bedroom summer cottages on the Cliff Walk there, if you happen to be a Gilded Age magnate.) We didn't make it over to Officer Indoctrination School, where I spent six weeks in 1996, but I saw the flagpole on the drill field and my favorite Quonset hut. We saw Jen, whom we knew from Northern Virginia, and her partner, Michelle, one evening. They live near Tufts, where my parents went to school, and right next door to one of Scott and Carlie's good friends. Jen and Michelle took us to a great, authentic Mexican restaurant, and then, even more generous, drove us home through the bewildering streets of Boston. On Friday, we saw Saptarsi, from residency, his wife, Trupti, and their new baby girl, Mira. Sap is just the same as when he left Hopkins; though that seems just yesterday, he's actually nearing the end of his three-year cardiology fellowship.

Our real interests for the trip were family, friends, and chill, but we did manage to get in a bit of touristing. Apart from Newport, we walked almost the entire Freedom Trail. It's really a neat invention, as it takes you to many historical landmarks in Boston, some of which you would otherwise miss, and few of which you would be able to string together so neatly. We actually started off the day west of the Freedom Trail's head, so that we could catch the monument to
ether (yes, ether) and the Make Way For Ducklings statues in the Public Gardens. We had a great day for our walk: a little cold, but that just made stopping for a hot lunch in the North End all the more delicious. The only flaw was making our trip on a Tuesday, when the USS Constitution is not open for vistors (sorry, Thursday through Sundays, only). But we learned about the Barbary Coast war at the museum and took a nice water taxi back to downtown, so that was all right.

A great trip all around. Thanks to Scott and Carlie for hosting us, to all our friends for making time to see us, and to Nick and Christa for looking after the Furryous Two while we were away.

Monday, March 13, 2006

The best birthday present* ever

* based on Aristotelean ethics

William's story is funny and strangely touching. Thank you, William.

The best birthday present involving a series of puzzles and clues in the Holler was given to me by Kerry. It was like one of Dave's elaborate Games, except that it didn't require spending a day in a van with five other people and a reference library. That, and it ended with a Black & Decker food processor. (Yes, it really does sound like a table saw. Cool.) Thank you, Kerry.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Under which line-item is "shamelessness" funded?

President Bush is requesting line-item veto authority. Well, now we know why his sensible, prudent adminstration has been unable to rein in the wild spenders in Congress. It's not because they have advocated tax cuts as the cure for all economic ills. It's not because they have advocated spend-and-spend solutions to policy issues (eg, Medicare prescription coverage, the energy bill). Nor is it because the president has been unwilling to veto even the most egregious examples of fiscal excess (eg, the transportation bill). No, it's because he, like so many presidents before him, did not have a line-item veto.

Friday, February 24, 2006

A scene between two children

Danny: I'm going to throw rocks to break a window in that house! It will be cool!

Robbie: I want to be cool, too! I'll throw rocks, too!

Robbie's conscience: Umm, do we really think that breaking windows is a good idea?

Robbie: I want to be cool! I'll throw rocks!

Replace "Danny" with "Democrats" and "Robbie" with "Republicans", and you have my analysis of this week's news around Dubai Port World handling containers at US ports. Of course, "Robbie's conscience" is a fictional device I invented to make the story marginally more interesting.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

What is the world coming to?

First I was agreeing with the RNC, now I'm defending Dick Cheney.

I am now officially annoyed by the media coverage of the vice-president's hunting accident. The righteous bleating over Cheney's neglect of the "public interest" is absurd. The reason this story is the public interest at all is because the press have decided that they are offended and/or can score points against a notoriously uncooperative official, and therefore they will give what really is a terrible, personal accident top billing.

Don't get me wrong, it was shockingly naive for such a Washington insider as Cheney to think that he could simply notify the local paper that he had just shot his friend in the head, and that would be that. The ongoing foofaraw makes that foolishness clear. But to claim that was an offense against the nation is really a bit much.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

I hope I'm alone in not getting this

As the violence inspired by the publication of cartoons insulting to the Muslim prophet Muhammed spreads, I am becoming more and more surprised. The conventional wisdom is that the violence is being led and propogated by extreme Islamists, not the average Muslim drawn into the streets in pious outrage. Nonetheless, we're still talking about thousands of people, in numerous countries, marching, shouting, burning, and attacking embassies. It's very hard for me to grasp the desire or willingness to reject entire nations on the basis of a handful of newspapers.

The growing storyline is that certain states (eg, Syria, Iran) are instigating the worst riots. That sounds plausible; they are certainly at fault for utterly failing to protect the foreign embassies they host. Be that as it may, it is still striking that so many people are ready to respond to the instigation. What lie would the government have to tell you for you to march on, for instance, the Egyptian embassy?

That's the last bit that strikes me about these riots: the rage is focused on the Nordic countries. I'd understand burning the US embassy, boycotting US goods, etc, etc; in fact, I'm surprised not to see more of it. But the Swedes? The Danes? What has Denmark ever done (other than give the most foreign aid, as percentage of GDP, of any rich country)?

I'm not writing this thinking I should have known better, that I shouldn't be surprised by any of these events. The more I think about this, the more I think there are truly deep differences at work, issues contained in the assumed and the taken-for-granted.

Monday, February 06, 2006

One for the thumb

Hooray for the Steelers, who finally got their fifth Super Bowl championship yesterday. I won't bother trying to recap the game, but to say that it was closer than 21-10, and that both teams had some pretty great plays. (wide receiver reverse pass option, anyone?) It was unfortunate that the two critical interceptions were both just terrible throws, and that the Seahawks had big plays called back for cheating - I mean, on penalties - but no more so than the embarrassing black-and-white ad spots of various Steelers cradling the Lombardi trophy. (Could ABC not sell any ad time for that game?)

Thanks to Angus and Julie for having us over for a great viewing, full of delicious food from them and other guests, and for being gracious in defeat. And thanks to Psos for the buffalo chicken dip recipe. Mmmm, creamy, cheesy buffalo chicken.

Sunday, January 29, 2006


That is the sound that the lower registers of a harpsichord make when they are being played really fast. That is the sound Kerry and I heard at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra last Thursday when the harpsichord was simply thrashing Bach's Brandenberg Concerto No. 5. Yes, thrashing. The urge to applaud between movements was almost overwhelming. Luckily, we kept it in check, but I felt like we were in the Simpsons episode when they hold up candles during the extended organ solo of "In the Garden of Eden" by I. Ron Butterfly. ("Remember when we used to make out to this hymn?")

Sunday, January 22, 2006


Hostel is a currently playing movie that imagines a hostel in eastern Europe where people pay to torture and kill travelers. By all accounts, it is one of the most gruesome and gory films for a major-studio to have released (if not shocking enough for the truly hard-core slasher flick crowd). It confuses, saddens, and revolts me that such a movie was made, never mind that it was the most popular movie in America when it was released earlier this month. But Kerry made a brilliant observation today: can you imagine the response if this film had been made about torturing puppies instead of people?

Monday, January 16, 2006

I can't believe I'm agreeing with the RNC

From the linked article:

"Al Gore's incessant need to insert himself in the headline of the day is almost as glaring as his lack of understanding of the threats facing America."

- Tracey Schmitt, spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee
OK, I half agree with the RNC. I don't think I'm prepared to go on the record with my opinion on Al Gore's understanding of the threats facing America, but I'm fairly certain I'm not too interested in hearing it.

Friday, January 13, 2006

At least Target is safe

Once minor differences in the House and Senate versions are reconciled, Maryland's legislature will pass a bill requiring employers of more than 10,000 people to spend at least 8% of payroll on employee health benefits (or contribute the same amount into the state healthcare system). This is being reported in the media as "anti-Wal-Mart legislation", as the only other employers in the state of that size (Johns Hopkins, Giant Foods, and Northrop Grumman) already pass the healthcare threshhold.

The odd fact that employers explicitly fund health care for so many people in the US is a relic of another government intervention in the labor market, in the mid-20th century. I'm so glad to see that, instead of pursuing systematic solutions to the real health-care issues facing the state (not just those who work at Wal-Mart), the legislature is preserving this distorting anachronism in the system by cherry-picking a firm that is being slaughtered by PR.

If Wal-Mart is violating existing laws, bust them on those laws. If the societal health safety net is inadequate, fix the safety net in a systematic way that shares the costs and benefits equitably. But please, don't write laws to pillory the villain-of-the-week for the cause-of-the-month.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Engineering, writ small

Forbes has released their list of the top ten nanotechnology products of 2005. This list incidentally illustrates the difference between science and engineering: science gives you Nobel Prizes; engineering gives you chocolate-flavored gum and stink-proof socks.