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Saturday, April 30, 2005

California state of mind

I slept until 6 am this morning, my circadian rhythm finally adjusting to Pacific time. So, of course, I now head eastbound to Chicago from the wilds of San Diego.

I finished packing, wandered out of the room for a smoke, and found Poor Kitty reclining against the door. When I opened it, he actually fell over backward and rolled into the room. He then sat up and vocalized a bit, doing that little business cats do when you've caught them in an embarrassing, un-catlike situation and they attempt to assume a cool, nonchalant demeanor and pretend the faux pas hadn't occurred.

He then reassumed his prone position on my doorstep. As I pondered what is was about me that attracted stray animals, I noticed his ears swivel to the right, his entire head following a fraction of a second later.

I then realized why this furry little moocher has been loafing in front of my room for the past week: I have a clear view of the side entrance of the motel complex and the road that leads to the local McDonalds. Sure enough, a mom, dad and gaggle of kids appeared, toting bags with golden arches. Poor Kitty was up like a shot and covered the distance to them in three seconds flat.

"Oh, look at the Poor Kitty, Mama. I bet he's hungry. Can I give him some of my McGriddle?

There's something to be said for the laid-back, California lifestyle.

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Friday, April 29, 2005

Left coast report

Remember that stray cat wandering the hotel parking lot? The one on whom I was going to take pity and buy some outrageously-priced tuna at the convenience store?

Well, screw him. The little bastard eats better than I do.

I watched him yesterday as he made his rounds, wandering through the buildings of the Holiday Inn, issuing plaintive little cries directed at vacationing children. "Oh mommy, look at the poor kitty...". Poor Kitty would be scooped up, tenderly carried into the mark's room, and stuffed with leftovers. A bit later, kitty was deposited outside, where he staggered over to another building. Then again... "Oh, poor kitty!"

Poor kitty? This ingenious little beggar has a 24-hour smorgasbord at his disposal.

Hmm... what else is going on? Alas, internally I'm still on Pittsburgh/Chicago time. I either dozed off during Bush's press conference or was rendered unconscious by his imbecilic ramblings. Next thing I knew, it was 2 am. No point in trying to go back to sleep; I'm up for the duration now.

It rained rather heavily yesterday during the morning rush hour, and San Diego turned into a Godzilla movie. The teevee said there were over 130 accidents on the freeway, and one of persons in the class I'm teaching insisted on driving me the 300 yards from the hotel to their office. I told him I'd take the hotel Courtesy Ark, but accepted his generous offer anyway.

I have an 11:30 am flight back to Chicago tomorrow morning. I decided to skip the Friday night red-eye. The last time I took it, when I arrived at the cab stand outside O'Hare I was treated to 20 available waiting taxis, staffed with unconscious drivers, heads hanging over the seats or slumped against the steering wheels like gunshot victims. I took the train.

No earthquakes or tsunamis. Here's hoping my luck holds for another 33 hours...

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Photo of the day

(Thanks to Dennis Brumm on the ABC World News Now Discussion List)

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Thursday, April 28, 2005

The 23rd Sigh

Bush is my shepherd; I dwell in want. He maketh logs to be cut down in national forests. He leadeth trucks into the still wilderness. He restoreth my fears.

He leadeth me in the paths of international disgrace for his ego's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of pollution and war, I will find no exit, for thou art in office.

Thy tax cuts for the rich and thy media control, they discomfort me. Thou preparest an agenda of deception, in the presence of thy religion. Thou anointest my head with foreign oil. My health insurance runneth out.

Surely megalomania and false patriotism shall follow me all the days of thy term.

And my jobless child shall dwell in my basement forever.

(Thanks to Grace McGarvie on alt.quotations)

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Tuesday, April 26, 2005


Because I didn't go through all the pre-arrival security hoo-hah, I have a restricted visitor's pass here at the customer site, and I have to be escorted or in view of someone at all times. They're not Rumsfeldesque about it, though, so bathroom visits are uneventful. (We have a sticker in a stall in the men's room back at Datalogics that says "Toilet camera is for research purposes only." But I digress.)

I went to a local Chinese restaurant for the lunch buffet, and the cookie's fortune pronounced:

You can be trusted with a secret.

I proudly presented this to the security person when I returned to the customer site, but she was not impressed, and I'm still sporting the "requires escort" badge. Hmph. She probably can't see my blue aura, either.

I'm staying at a Holiday Inn with broadband access a mere five minute walk from everything, so I'm actually sort of enjoying this trip. There's a cat that wanders the hotel parking lot that apparently survives by following the example of Blanche DuBois. I'm going to wander over to the mini-mart and buy her some tuna so when I wake up at 3:30 am again (my circadian clock only adjusts east, not west), I'll have someone to talk to in the morning.

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Monday, April 25, 2005

Another reason to give Santorum the boot

(Not surprisingly, the proposed bill has no provision for charging AccuWeather for the billions of dollars of capital investment- paid by our tax dollars- in weather satellites, Doppler radar sites, and other facilities. Like Social Security privatization, it's another Republican scheme to channel money to campaign contributors, who charge the public for services they've already purchased. Give Santorum a piece of your mind while the venal scumbag is still in office. Send him a message here)

Feds' weather information could go dark

By Robert P. King
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 21, 2005

Do you want a seven-day weather forecast for your ZIP code? Or hour-by-hour predictions of the temperature, wind speed, humidity and chance of rain? Or weather data beamed to your cellphone?

That information is available for free from the National Weather Service.

But under a bill pending in the U.S. Senate, it might all disappear.

The bill, introduced last week by Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., would prohibit federal meteorologists from competing with companies such as AccuWeather and The Weather Channel, which offer their own forecasts through paid services and free ad-supported Web sites.

Supporters say the bill wouldn't hamper the weather service or the National Hurricane Center from alerting the public to hazards- in fact, it exempts forecasts meant to protect “life and property.”

But critics say the bill's wording is so vague they can't tell exactly what it would ban.

“I believe I've paid for that data once. ... I don't want to have to pay for it again,” said Scott Bradner, a technical consultant at Harvard University.

He says that as he reads the bill, a vast amount of federal weather data would be forced offline.

“The National Weather Service Web site would have to go away,” Bradner said. “What would be permitted under this bill is not clear- it doesn't say. Even including hurricanes.”

The decision of what information to remove would be up to Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez- possibly followed, in the event of legal challenges, by a federal judge.

A spokesman for Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said the bill threatens to push the weather service back to a “pre-Internet era”- a questionable move in light of the four hurricanes that struck the state last year. Nelson serves on the Senate Commerce Committee, which has been assigned to consider the bill.

“The weather service proved so instrumental and popular and helpful in the wake of the hurricanes. How can you make an argument that we should pull it off the Net now?” said Nelson's spokesman, Dan McLaughlin. “What are you going to do, charge hurricane victims to go online, or give them a pop-up ad?”

But Barry Myers, AccuWeather's executive vice president, said the bill would improve public safety by making the weather service devote its efforts to hurricanes, tsunamis and other dangers, rather than duplicating products already available from the private sector.

“The National Weather Service has not focused on what its core mission should be, which is protecting other people's lives and property,” said Myers, whose company is based in State College, Pa. Instead, he said, “It spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year, every day, producing forecasts of 'warm and sunny.'”

Santorum made similar arguments April 14 when introducing his bill. He also said expanded federal services threaten the livelihoods of private weather companies.

“It is not an easy prospect for a business to attract advertisers, subscribers or investors when the government is providing similar products and services for free,” Santorum said.

AccuWeather has been an especially vocal critic of the weather service and its parent agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The company has accused the federal agencies of withholding data on hurricanes and other hazards, and failing to ensure that employees don't feed upcoming forecasts to favored investors in farming and energy markets.

The rivalry intensified last year, when NOAA shelved a 1991 policy that had barred the weather agency from offering services that private industry could provide.

Also last year, the weather service began offering much of its raw data on the Internet in an easily digestible format, allowing entrepreneurs and hobbyists to write simple programs to retrieve the information. At the same time, the weather service's own Web pages have become increasingly sophisticated.

Combined, the trends threaten AccuWeather's business of providing detailed weather reports based on an array of government and private data. AccuWeather's 15,000 customers include The Palm Beach Post, which uses the company's hurricane forecast maps on its Web site,

NOAA has taken no position on the bill. But Ed Johnson, the weather service's director of strategic planning and policy, said his agency is expanding its online offerings to serve the public.

“If someone claims that our core mission is just warning the public of hazardous conditions, that's really impossible unless we forecast the weather all the time,” Johnson said. “You don't just plug in your clock when you want to know what time it is.”

Myers argued that nearly all consumers get their weather information for free through commercial providers, including the news media, so there's little reason for the federal agency to duplicate their efforts.

“Do you really need that from the NOAA Web site?” he asked.

But some weather fans, such as Bradner, say they prefer the federal site's ad-free format.

Another supporter of the weather service's efforts, Tallahassee database analyst John Simpson, said the plethora of free data becoming available could eventually fuel a new industry of small and emerging companies that would repackage the information for public consumption. He said a similar explosion occurred in the 1990s, when corporations' federal securities filings became freely available on the Web.

Shutting off the information flow would stifle that innovation and solidify the major weather companies' hold on the market, Simpson said.

Santorum's bill also would require the weather service to provide “simultaneous and equal access” to its information.

That would prevent weather service employees from favoring some news outlets over others, which Santorum and Myers said has happened in some markets. But it also could end the common practice of giving one-on-one interviews to individual reporters who have questions about storms, droughts or other weather patterns.

“What we want is to make sure that whatever information is provided to one source is provided to all,” Myers said.

But Johnson said it's importanst to answer reporters' questions so the public receives accurate information- especially when lives are at stake.

“We are not interested in turning off our telephones,” Johnson said. “I would be concerned that that would actually be dangerous.”

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Sunday, April 24, 2005

Motley Sunday

The apartment in Chicago has become a rather pricey storage area for my clothing. I flew in from Pittsburgh two hours ago and quickly packed up for a week-long business trip to San Diego. When I finish this, I'm heading across the street to Gino's North to say hi to George and Peggy and show them Scooter's second birthday photo (see below). I need the fortification of one of Peggy's famous cocktail pizzas before heading back out to O'Hare for the quasi-red eye (pink eye?) flight to the left coast. I updated my AvantGo account so that in addition to all of the normal news stuff I cram into the PalmPilot for in-transit reading, I also have the latest earthquake reports. I'm going to be staying at a Holiday Inn a mere 1,200 feet from the customer's office and a quick 200-foot sprint to the wide-open, multi-acre parking lot which surrounds the sports arena there. I got the earthquake angle covered; if there's a tsunami, I'll just grab on to the mini-bar and float on down to Tijuana.

It was a busy week: Reinstalled Windows on my mother's PC and added 256MB of memory, so it's virus-free and a lot faster. Handled an above-average number of interesting software support cases. Wrote a training course. Destroyed the lawn mower while cutting down the remains of one of the missus' former flower gardens. Decapitated a bunny. A goddam concrete decorative bunny, a Pythonesque killer rabbit that bent the drive shaft on the mower. Thank goodness for today's snow and cold weather; it should keep things from growing until I can get back to town and fix the mower or get a new one.

There was a sudden spike of hits on the web site today, apparently due to a mention by Zay Smith in his Chicago Sun-Times' QT column. It's the only thing I read in the Chicago papers.

Ah, well. Off to Gino's and the airport. I hope United substitutes a Boeing for the Airbus 320 they say they're using for tonight's flight. I dislike Airbuses. Aside from the rudders falling off from time to time, the passenger cabin power always glitches when they switch from ramp to internal electricity, which resets the channel on the audio feed. Hey, guys... ever heard of a make-before-break switch? Then the flaps make that screwy noise that sounds like a small dog barking.

A week of temporal discontinuity awaits. The family's three hours ahead, the office is two hours ahead, and I have a feeling I'll be wide awake when I touch down tonight at 2 am eastern time.

But it's better than crab fishing.

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Top five things about posing for your second birthday photo

5. Shoes optional.

4. Stuffed kitty easy to pose.

3. Hair can be styled with easily-available office supplies.

2. Sausage-like appendages appealing at this age.

1. The reason for the smile? Guess what I have in my pants...

Leanna Renee Salopek
(aka "Scooter")

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The e-mail address is now something other than saga. used to be until December, 2007 when the domain name broker Trout Zimmer made an offer I couldn't refuse. Giving up and adopting created a significant problem, however. I had acquired the domain name in 1993, and had since that time used as my sole e-mail address. How to let people know that was no longer but rather which is longer than and more letters to type than and somehow less aesthetically pleasing than but actually just as functional as I sent e-mails from the address to just about everybody I knew who had used in the past decade and a half but noticed that some people just didn't seem to get the word about the change. So it occurred to me that if I were generate some literate, valid text in which was repeated numerous times and posted it on a bunch of different pages- say, a blog indexed by Google- that someone looking for would notice this paragraph repeated in hundreds of locations, would read it, and figure out that no longer is the they thought it was. That's the theory, anyway. Ok, I'm done. Move along. Nothing to see here...


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