Where There's A William

there's always aweigh

Archive for the month “August, 2007”

Mrowerrr, Sphitt, Sphitt!

Like most enthusiasts, I’m always on the look-out for others who share my interest. I just now came across this site with the appropriate enough logo; “Fight Like a Cornered Cat”. The site’s content seems mainly directed towards women and prospective new shooters, but is full of excellent information useful to a shooter of any skill level.

Thanks to Robert Avrech at Seraphic Secret for another good recommendation.

UPDATE: I should note that the link above goes to the Table of Contents for the Cornered Cat website. Click on the sleeping cat icon at the very bottom of that page (or the Cornered Cat Reference Link to the right over there) for a link to what I take to be Ms. Jackson’s main or Home page. Once I’m able to work my way through the existing content, maybe I’ll write her for a clarification. Or not. There really is that much to be read and considered. The lady does good work.

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The Price of Fame

LockMart may call this thing a M.U.L.E.

http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/military_law/4220825.html

but you just know that as soon as the first one hits the field, soldiers everywhere will begin addressing it as “Donkey, …” in the worst “Shrek voice” imaginable. Particularly if voice command isn’t actually an option.

Canadian actor Mike Myers may have to spend the rest of his life dodging irate haggis bombers in such an event.

via Instapundit, who seems more impressed then I am. Yet.

Reading Guidance

I like to read.

I have done, in fact, for most of my life. The first book I ever checked out of a library in my own name was Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”, the summer I was 7 years old. It took me most of the two week loan period to work my way through it, but I did get a good introduction to how the dictionary works out of the experience. Not to mention a cracking good story for a boy that age.

I’ve long since taken to buying the books I want to read rather than waiting for them to appear on the library’s shelves. One problem that has long plagued me though has been what to do with the books afterwards? I don’t worry too much about the flash paperbacks, it’s easy enough to drop off a box of them with the Sally Army or the like. It’s all the rest of them, the one’s I know I want to re-read at some point.

I must have about 2,000 books in my apartment right now. I would almost certainly have more if not for all the time I spend on the computer reading blogs, news, what-have-you. Pretty much what you’re reading now, for example. Since mine is an upstairs apartment, this is probably a good thing. There’s only so much space around the edges of the room to support yet another stack of books. While reading this post at Tamara K’s:

http://booksbikesboomsticks.blogspot.com/2007/08/news-flash-people-are-ignernt.html

I came across something way down in the comments that may well offer at least a partial answer:

http://www.bookswim.com/

Rather like Netflix does with DVD’s, these people rent books. You can apparently buy the copy you receive if you wish, there is no time limit on how long you can take to complete what you already have and apparently no obligation to make a selection until you’re ready to do so. And the shipping (both ways) is included in the rental fee – which isn’t quite the same thing as the advertised “free”, but we’ll just let that one pass by, shall we?

All in all, I think this one worth a try.

Writing Guidance

Want to learn how to do something? Ask someone busy doing it.

http://www.seraphicpress.com/archives/2007/08/the_screenwrite_1.php

It’s nice to find my own bald assertions validated like this; “Egri analyzes the construction of a hero; he delves into why people act the way they do. He shows why the author must start with a basic premise. Egri hammers home the importance of developing the central conflict on the basis of the behavior of your main character — this notion is central, but too often falls by the wayside.”

The more real seeming the entire (or at least the principal) cast of characters is, the more realistic and natural will be the actions they take to achieve the goals I set for them in the story outline. Central to that is the main character, who presumably must be most fully developed of all.

Yet another addition to the personal library. Hello; Barnes and Noble ..?

A Confidence of Toys

I love stuff like this.

The only two magazines I still subscribe to are Popular Mechanics and Popular Science. I do so because both make a regular effort to cover unusual developments similar to the example Al Fin links to.

I should explain that my interest isn’t focused on the technology especially. I do try to understand the physical principle(s) involved, but the growth of personal opportunity is what excites me at least as much. Even for items I’m personally unlikely to ever directly experience.

So much of our individual attitude toward life and it’s inherent challenges is modulated by our perception of our personal capability. Our confidence, our willingness to rely upon our as-yet untested resourcefulness, is influenced in often unappreciated ways by our acceptance of the capabilities our technology proffers us.

It isn’t even especially necessary that we personally own the technology. Our potential capability is often enough to allow us to overcome the self-imposed limitations that arise from our ignorance. The knowledge that something is in fact possible, has been done by others, moves a doubt from being a question of scientific possibility to a question of engineering capability.

For me, it’s a question of confidence more than anything else. I am able to maintain a confident outlook towards life because I know just how capable we humans are at creating the means to our own salvation. The fact that we have made so much stuff that’s often rather dangerous in it’s own right is the most reassuring thing of all. Dangerous as something might be, we can and do use it safely to achieve a desired end. If I can only just carry on for long enough, someone, somewhere – maybe me, right here – will create the tool I need to solve the problem I confront.

Will I ever own a flying boat? Probably not. But I know where to get one if I ever change my mind and I think I could even build one if need be. I know it’s possible after all; it’s just a matter of figuring out how all the different bits go together, isn’t it?

State of Play

I used to be a sports official and particularly liked umpiring baseball. That experience is why I find this story in the Austin fish-wrapper to be borderline insulting:

http://www.statesman.com/sports/content/sports/stories/other/08/14/0814umpires.html

I’ve often said in years past that I liked baseball the best because I had the best seat in the house and got paid to tell everyone else what just happened. Like most such hyperbole, there’s more than an element of truth to that.

Here’s some of the reality.

On any field of play, there are three teams present; the home team, the visiting team and the officiating team. That’s anywhere from 2 to 6 on-field umpires and at least one official scorekeeper for baseball. My own experience is limited to 2, 3 and 4-man mechanics (there was one time I was part of a 6-man crew, but that was a result of a scheduling mix-up and everyone was a bit uncomfortable with the unusual responsibility assignments).

With a couple of specified exceptions, the plate umpire has the sole responsibility for determining if a pitched ball is a strike or not. Before we get to that decision though, there are a few other things he has to rule on also.

Is the field of play still in a playable condition (no fans running around or fences fallen over for example)?

Are the other members of the umpire crew in position and ready for continuation of play?

Is the pitcher making a legal presentation of the ball prior to the pitch?

Is the batter legally in the batting box (and the catcher not)?

In that fraction of a second between release from the pitcher’s hand to arrival at the catcher’s glove, the umpire gets his only opportunity to decide, and immediately announce, where the ball was in relation to an imaginary frame of reference known as “the strike zone”.

At the same time, the umpire has to determine if any action taken by the batter, catcher or other player was within the rules of play.

And with all of this going on, some professor thinks he can detect racism influencing the plate umpire’s calls? Now, I will admit that my opinion of a particular player has influenced how generous I might be as regards his on-field conduct. If the guy’s a whiner, or some other category of asshole, I have been known to adhere to a closer interpretation of the rules for that day’s game. But both teams got the same treatment that day and I’ve rarely run into a catcher who hadn’t figured out what was going on, and why, within an inning or two.

Frankly, you just don’t have time out there to pay attention to what color or accent the pitcher has. In any case, you’re trying to get a complete game in as quickly as the state of play will allow; screwing around with your strike zone is a certain way to have a very long and bad day at the ballpark. Not to mention a very … difficult conversation with the rest of your crew afterwards.

What we have here is a unique opportunity for an academic to demonstrate how much of a fool he can be in public, not how questionable umpire’s judgement is.

We already knew that.

UPDATE: Oh goody. Rob at SayAnything.com has this:

http://sayanythingblog.com/entry/are_baseball_umpires_racist/

Apparently, Time magazine has also decided to carry this story without any critical analysis of the content. Well done Time. (/sarcasm)

Progress on Progression

Connie Du Toit has penned (OK, typed) a beautifully introspective examination regarding how we comparatively hairless apes arrive at a determination of ethical behavior, see here:

http://www.mrsdutoit.com/index.php/main/single/2945/

On the purely individual scale, I suspect she is far more right than not about our individual decision-making process. In fact, I would go so far as to say that for most people, most of the time and for most subjects, there isn’t any deep consideration of the particulars of a given instance; they “know” right from wrong and consider that to be ethical. When they were children, living in Mommy and Daddy’s house, that was even largely true.

Out here in the lonely and more than a little frightening grown-up world, that simply won’t do.

We know that there aren’t any monsters under the bed because we aren’t afraid to look. Similarly, we know that much of what we term “progress” has aspects that are disturbing at best and quite often outright dangerous to our continued existence. That does not inhibit us from continuing to look, however, and for very good reason.

Two of them, actually; self defense and societal consensus. Since the first isn’t especially germane to this discussion, I will leap ahead and ask, how does a society arrive at an ethical consensus?

Mostly by inheritance, I know; “It was good enough for Gramps and Dad, it’s good enough for me.” may in fact offer an acceptable result. In other applications of this same process we call this legal or medical precedent, for example. This is not, I suggest, a particularly deliberative process though. It offers little in the way of direct applicability to an innovative concept and, I would argue even worse, it actively prohibits measured consideration of an idea or process on it’s own merits.

A really simple (and probably simplistic) example can be drawn – pardon the pun – from the question, “Is water good for us?” Without allowing myself to be diverted into the details of the question itself, the illustration it provides is that there is only one way we can come to any sort of considered conclusion, through research. In the end, there’s only one way to be really sure just how much, and of what quality, water is not good for you. With predictably unfortunate – and ethically questionable – results for at least some of the experimentees.

If your response to that circumstance is some variation of, “The ethical ramifications of such research could lead to some really horrible conclusion”, the more intelligent response is to say, “Thank you, do remind us when you think we’re getting too close to that. We don’t want to go there either, but we aren’t going to let our fear defeat our understanding”. Such conversations are the mechanism we employ to arrive at a societal consensus, which is nothing more than a condition of existence with which we are prepared to cope in order to have a society at all.

Human history is chock full of really bad things we’ve learned to make and taught ourselves to do to each other. Human history is equally full of stories of human triumph over adversity and optimism about our eventual state of being. I see little hope for the future being anything other than more of the same in somewhat different and interesting conditions, sad to say. And that’s actually a good thing.

The bing fa, the philosophy of strategic science, teaches that a “problem” is defined by the boundaries of it’s limitations. Consequently, the good strategist uses this condition to expand the strategic field beyond those limiting factors, thereby converting a problem, something that distracts from or works against one’s position, into an asset that can be used to advance one’s position. In other words, don’t confine your thoughts only to the problem, expand your range of consideration to include it’s successful resolution.

That is ethical behavior.

More On American Solutions

I’m not going to blog each podcast as a separate catagory. Some observations:

1) When they say each podcast segment is 60 minutes in length, they mean it. When the time is up they sto

2) The complete session is presented as a video. It is obvious that the videographer is, errr not a professional. So obvious, in fact, that I had to stop watching and listen to the podcast instead. It was amusing the first – several – times he belatedly pursued Newt back into centerframe as he wandered around the stage giving his talk. It got to the point that I kept losing track of what he was saying, though, in anticipation of the camera guy leaping up and screaming at him to “Stand effing still, dammit!”.

3) What Newt is in the process of creating with American Solutions is a potential alternative to the existing political party system. Not especially at the national level for the next political cycle in 2008, that’s when the local and state elective offices are to be the principal targets since the cost per office is less of a financial burden for an individual citizen. If this strategy is successful for two political cycles, a national run for control of Congress and for the Presidency is a real possibility in 2012.

Newt specifically makes the point that American Solutions isn’t a new addition to the existing party system. It exists as a networking resource for individuals who want to change the
American political climate and structure. It is a little recognised historical fact that political party’s as they exist today were not any part of American politics for the first several decades of this country’s existence.

Tale of the Teller

I started this blog because I discovered that I like to write. What I have also discovered is that doing so isn’t just a matter of pumping out the words. That is absolutely necessary, of course, but how you choose to tell a story is more important than having a story to tell in the first place.

In the hierarchy of story-telling priorities, the “who” question is the most important question to be answered by the writer. No matter how expert one may be on a given topic, a story has greater impact, “readability” if you will, when the events are related by a variety of believable individuals actions on the page.

With that realisation in mind, I found this chart for building a character:

http://www.eclectics.com/articles/character.html

If you are able to sufficiently populate your story with characters, each having a unique combination of qualities and flaws, the progression of events necessary to achieve the results of your story outline are related to you by them, in their “voice” and not your own.

A few days ago, Connie Du Toit, aka The Mrs, decided to begin a new writing project:

http://www.mrsdutoit.com/index.php/main/single/2939/

I hope she will find this useful also.

UPDATE: Robert Avrech, an actual professional writer, offers his thoughts on this subject in much greater detail on his blog Seraphic Secret:

http://www.seraphicpress.com/archives/2007/08/my_word.php

Great minds, and all that. Which poses the question, what’s one of those doing in my neighborhood?

Wealth of Nations – We the People …

“A country’s total output consists of both goods and services – houses and haircuts, sausages and surgery – but the international trade balance consists only of physical goods that move. The American economy produces more services than goods, so it is not surprising that the United States imports more goods then it exports – and exports more services then it imports. American know-how and American technology are used by other countries around the world and these countries of course pay the U.S. for these services. For example, most of the personal computers in the world run on operating systems created by the Microsoft Corporation, But the foreign payments to Microsoft and other American companies for their services are not counted in the international balance of trade, since trade includes only goods, not services.”

“This is just an accounting convention. Yet the American “balance of trade” is reported in the media as if this partial picture were the whole picture and the emotionally explosive word “deficit” sets off alarms.”

At some point during the next 15 months or so, we are all going to hear examples touted of how badly mis-managed the U.S. economy is/has been/will be under TODDIT (The or That, the political variation of the O.J. defense – Some Other Dude Did IT). The terms “trade deficit” and “balance of payments” will be tossed around to justify virtually any position, seemingly in total contradiction to previous positions taken, and rigorously relying on official government reported numbers in every instance.

When that happens, keep the quoted text herein in mind. And don’t panic.

“With trade deficits, as with many other things, what matters is not the absolute size but the size relative to the size of the economy as a whole. While the United States has the world’s largest trade deficit, it also has the world’s largest economy. The American trade deficit is 6 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product …”

“The point here is that neither international deficits nor surpluses are inevitable consequences of either prosperity or poverty and neither word, by itself, tells much about the condition of a country’s economy. The word “debt” covers very different kinds of transactions, some of which may in fact present problems and some of which do not. Every time you deposit $100 in a bank, that bank goes a hundred dollars deeper into debt, because it is still your money and they owe it to you. Some people might become alarmed if they were told that the bank in which they keep their life’s savings was going deeper and deeper into debt each month. But such worries would be completely uncalled for, if the banks growing debt means only that many other people are depositing their paychecks into that same bank.”

It seems that people everywhere are constantly trying to frighten us into surrendering some of our wealth or reputation or authority over to them, political candidates most notoriously of all. Don’t be afraid. Mastering the fundamental knowledge necessary to make an informed decision, based on the merits of your personal circumstance, is not difficult, as you have just read for yourself. Whether or not we Americans choose to retain our inheritance of liberty and freedom is up to each of us, of course, but knowledge is the only certain way of doing so. Read the book.

All quoted text taken from Chapter 21 of Basic Economics – A Common Sense Guide to the Economy, by Thomas Sowell.

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