A Mentsh Trakht
A man, a canal, Panama * :דער גױיִשעקאָפּ
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
Monday, November 28, 2005
Gollum, the Wikipedia Browser is an implementation of a surprisingly cool idea.
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
This weekend, some guy called to ask me multiple-choice, phone-survey questions about Christmas trees, the war in Iraq, and the Marine Corps. He thought it was pronounced "corpse."
Roughly a year after the Tet offensive, I was living a little northwest of Da Nang, serving as a radio operator in the 26th Marines. I was back at regimental headquarters, when one of our OPs was attacked. It was tough sledding, and one of our linemen -- the guys who laid and maintained phone lines -- was out there with them, defending himself as hard as he could.
Every Marine a rifleman.
At some point, he did what they'd taught us all not to do: he pulled the pin on a grenade and popped the spoon before he threw it.
They'd explained it to us in ITR. Two of the things we all saw in WWII movies were arrant nonsense: (1) pulling the pin on a grenade with your teeth, and (2) popping the spoon and counting before you throw, to get an air burst.
Technical note: The spoon is the little lever that keeps the fuse from
igniting. It's spring-loaded, and held on with the pin. After you pull
the pin, while you're rearing back to throw, you hold the spoon down in
You pull the pin and throw the grenade. The spoon flies off. The fuse
ignites. The grenade explodes. Marine Corps for "arrant" starts with an
The pin is what keeps the grenade from accidentally going off in your trousers. It does not just slide out. If you try to pull it out with your teeth, you'll loose a tooth. The fuse is designed to burn for the right time. If one of the recipients tries to pick it up and toss it back, he'll get blown up at closer range.
In battle, there's not a lot of time to think. People make mistakes and die.
They train you hard so that more things are automatic and you make fewer mistakes. Lance Corporal Shattuck pulled the pin on a grenade, cocked his arm, popped the spoon, and counted until it blew up next to his face.
He didn't die; it was a white phosphorus grenade. Maybe it would have been better if he had, I don't know. White phosphorus causes terrible burns and doesn't stop burning until you cut it out. A high-explosive grenade would have just blown his head, arm, neck, and shoulder to smithereens.
White phosphorus is awful. High explosives are awful. They're both made of chemicals. Bullets are made of the chemical "iron."
Conventions prohibiting chemical warfare prohibit nerve gas, mustard gas, and their kin. In the US, you'd need to find a living WWI vet to find someone who'd been attacked with chemical weapons. The conventions do not prohibit weapons made out of chemicals any more than prohibitions against biological warfare prohibit human Marines.
Terms like "chemical and biological weapons" have technical meanings and purposes, and aren't just coined to use in anti-military leaflets.
Yet discussions in the press echo junior-high-school nyah-nyahs: "He's a boy. He's your friend. He's your boyfriend!" grew up to be "White phosphorus is a chemical. You're using it in a weapon. You're using chemical weapons!"
Willful agitprop or woeful ignorance? Either way, it's reporters not straying out of their comfort zones. Call it comfort bias.
Reporters today seem no longer conversant with basic military matters. They're "milliterates."
They stick to body counts because they are, at least, at home with small integers. They report for Cindy Sheehan instead of Casey because they know all the words she uses but wouldn't have known the ones he did: she's a protest marcher, he was a soldier. They can spell "Bush lied" better than "Sergeant" or "ordnance."
Citizens of all stripes care about the war in Iraq but cannot get the basic education to have adult conversations about it. Not from Reuters, not from the AP, not from CBS, not from the New York Times.
Find me a non-stupid, front-page story about combat weapons and how we use them. No? How about strategy? Tactics? The services? How they're organized and why? Why military service is honorable and a duty and how you can join?
Who'd write them?
What reporters know a semi-automatic weapon from a machine gun, or a tank from an APC, or a mortar from a howitzer? Who's producing stories about our tactics and strategy in Iraq? About analogous wars, and what worked there, and what we're trying that's new, and why? About how much failure is normal in a successful war? Which editors know the difference between the Army and the Marines? between a non-commissioned and a commissioned officer? between a batallion and a brigade?
This isn't arcana ... it's basic stuff, folks.
You do not have to be "pro-war" to know it. You do have to know it to think intelligently about war, to hear and understand useful war news, to decide how a war is going and how it should be going.
In our country, we get to argue about things and vote on them. The role of a free press is independent voter education. For that to work, we need educated reporters, editors, and producers. Where are they?
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
These thoughts prompted by an analysis of the WP "story" by Jeff Goldstein that I particularly liked.
See, also, Confederate Yankee for more sane writing on that topic.
Perhaps there really are things to learn after kindergarten.
My brother-in-law, T. W. Green, is not only a swell fellow, but puts the ink on real good, too. I look forward to his opinion on this article.
Monday, November 21, 2005
Sunday, November 20, 2005
I think T-Mobile is trying to become the Nordstrom's of the cell-phone world.
I switched from Sprint to T-Mobile because a couple of independent phone stores told me T-Mobile had great customer service. Yes, indeedy. I've even written about this before.
Here's the short version of my latest T-Mobile interaction:
A few weeks ago, I went to Europe. I asked T-Mobile to set up my phone so it'd work in Europe. They said they would, and it didn't. After I got back, I called to ask why. They said that they were sorry but my Nokia 6010 wouldn't ever work in Europe. It's a 2-band, US-only model; to get something that'd work, I'd have to upgrade phones.
Oh well. I'm partial to Nokias, because they're very sturdy, and a tri- or quad-band Nokia would have cost a fair amount.
I said, "Okay, thanks," and went on my merry way.
It took T-Mobile customer service two days to call back.
"Gosh," said Sheila, "we feel bad about your experience, so we're sending you a new, Nokia tri-band phone. Normally, we'd ask for money or a contract renewal, but we just want you to be a satisfied customer."
She continued, "The new phone will have a camera and a speakerphone and some other stuff, too, so we hope you'll like it. We'll call you on November 21 to make sure you like it."
"Uh. Sure. Wow. Thanks."
I'm amazed by my new Nokia 6101.
Do I tell everyone this story? Why yes, I do. Do I even blog about it? Why yes, you're reading it. When contract renewal time comes up, will I stick with them? Why yes, I will. Does this sort of customer service work? Why yes, it does.
Saturday, November 19, 2005
In case you don't follow the Free Software (Open Source) movement, much is made of the distinction between "free as in beer" and "free as in freedom." "Free software" means making your source available so that others can modify and improve it: free as in freedom.
To bridge the gap, some Danes have now posted an "Open Source Beer" recipe.
A couple of weeks ago, Kevin Fenzi, Jeremy Hinegardner, and I made our own version. (We would have made theirs, but the Boulder Beer Store didn't have all the ingredients. We, uh, substituted liberally.)
Details can be found on Kevin's blog.
Tuesday, we find out whether it worked.
Friday, November 18, 2005
Thursday, November 17, 2005
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
Friday, November 11, 2005
Thursday, November 10, 2005
This morning, waiting for me in my mailbox, was a nice note from Dr. Demarche, reminding us all to wish the Corps a Happy Birthday.
I'd say more, but couldn't improve on the good Dr.'s first-rate post.
I learned many good things in the Marines, and I've recommended enlistment to several teen-aged males.
Next time some expert announces negative reinforcement isn't effective, force march her for 30 miles with a full pack, then tell her you'll do it again the very next time she accidentally repeats her claim. See how fast her behavior attenuates.
Nearly 40 years later, I can't remember my last telephone number, but I remember my rifle number from boot camp.
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
A "mashup" combines different web services in interesting ways. Here's an extremely cool Mashup Matrix, that tells you mashups of pairs of web services. You pick the pair, it tells you the mashup.
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
Friday, November 04, 2005
Thursday, November 03, 2005
I'm interested in web services: doing things via the browser instead of desktop apps. What makes something a good web service?
Some web services are applications that are very resource-intensive -- applications that wouldn't work on the desktop because they'd require too much disk space or too much processing power. Google maps comes to mind. Heck, Google itself comes to mind.
Others are at the opposite end of the scale. Would you spend the time to install an application just to find out that "Old man or clean" and "non-local dream" are anagrams for "Ronald Coleman"? And if you've visited the blender, can you resist the temptation to try it out?
Spoiler: This is an anagram.