This is a test. This is only a test…. Then again, perhaps not.

I love it when the National Weather Service tests its “watches, warnings & advisories” system. Like tonight, for instance:
NWS Seattle map
Clicking on the “Read watches…” brings up the comforting message:
No Warnings are currently in effect
UPDATE: Well, maybe it’s not a test – maybe the NWS was just slow to link up the map to text warnings. Apparently they had had another big earthquake off the Kuril Islands – an 8.2 this time. (You may remember there was an M8.3 less than 100 miles away back on November 15.) The Tsunami Warning Center has a map up, and WCATWC is showing all sorts of graphical stuff but no explanatory text. Japan is bracing itself for a possible surge.

A fortuitous sellout

This evening I’d planned to meet Jon* and his wife Laura at the Harvard Exit to see Pan’s Labyrinth. I was frustrated: the bus was late and then slow, and at 7 o’clock I was still walking quickly towards the cinema, eyes down to watch for patches of ice on the sidewalk. (Seattle doesn’t “get” winter.) As a result I almost bumped into Jon and Laura, who were walking the other way hoping to intercept me! Neither Jon nor I had bought tickets ahead of time, and the show was sold out. So instead we made our way to Café Septième for a drink, which turned into a delightful leisurely dinner. I hadn’t met Laura before, and relaxing with good food and a bottle of Brothers in Arms No.6 strikes me as a much better way to get to know someone than whispered comments during a movie.
And there’s always the Sunday matinée…..

* Or should I link to him here? People with multiple blogs make my head hurt…..

Troubling times for liberal Christians

Here’s a thoughtful piece by Father Jake on the unravelling of the Episcopal Church. Obviously it doesn’t involve me directly, but it’s sad to watch people I care for in pain over the thinly-disguised bigotry that’s being peddled. He quotes Ruth Gledhill:

…Tell anyone outside the Church that you’re a Christian these days, and they make one assumption about you. It is not that you are spiritual, or ascetically-minded, or dedicated to helping others, or opposed to the culture of consumerism. It is that you are a homophobe…

And as someone who still has a naive belief that tolerance is a British character-trait (yes, I know…), it’s dispiriting to see the Archbishop of Canterbury pandering to the bigots in Africa and Texas.

Oh bugger, I thought I'd dodged this one

I just noticed an incoming link from Julian: Having fulfilled my blog duty, I hereby tag fellow ex-pat Brit and PSB fan Geoff Arnold. Yes, it’s the “Five Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About Me, But Were Afraid To Ask” meme. It’s late: I shall have to be brief. What the hell can I come up with?

  1. Although everybody that knows me knows I’m an uncompromising atheist, as a teenager I kept going to (Catholic) church for several years after I realized it was all hokum. The reason: I had a reasonable high tenor after my voice broke, and they needed an alto in the church choir. I can still run through the Latin Gloria and Credo in my head, pretty much note-perfect.
  2. The first serious job I had after grad school was writing a complete hierarchical DBMS, complete with its application programming language. The system was called Maestro, and the language was… Music. [groan]
  3. I got a job in the US in 1980, but I wasn’t able to take it up for over 6 months. The reason was that my father was American, so there was a possibility that I might have a claim to US Citizenship, and apparently it’s illegal (and seriously so) to grant a US Citizen a visa to enter the USA on another passport. I finally got here (“just for a few years”) in March 1981.
  4. When I was a teenager, I was an avid (crazy, obsessive) bridge player, and after finding a few equally-crazed school-friends I decided to put together a team to compete in the Schools Championship. However it was against the rules to have playing cards on the school grounds, and so we had great difficulty in organizing training sessions; I remember at least one detention and stern talking-to from the headmaster. In our first year, we didn’t make it past the regional heats, but the next year we got to the finals and came second after the tie was broken in the other team’s favour. Funnily enough the headmaster then became our greatest supporter, and talked up our success at every opportunity!
  5. In 1982, I spent a few months working as Manager of PC Software at Raytheon Data Systems. Raytheon sold a range of word processing systems under the Lexitron brand, and customers could buy a “PC Software Option” consisting of a copy of CP/M together with Microsoft Basic (on 8 inch floppy disks!). We negotiated a reasonably good deal with Microsoft, and sold quite a few copies. Eventually we decided that the grey boxy Lexitron was looking a bit stale, and we came up with a new streamlined white plastic enclosure. Same electronics, same software, just a couple of bucks worth of injection moulded ABS. The Microsoft salesman promptly turned up, announced that these were brand new systems not covered by our existing contract, and that the price had gone up… 400%! Instead of getting bogged down in contract negotiations, I really should have paid attention and bought MSFT at that point….. (OK, I just noticed the anachronism – Microsoft didn’t go public until 1986. Oh well….)

Having done my duty, I now tag Chris, GeneBob, and Paul.

Criminal incompetence

From the Baltimore Sun, via Daily Kos, via Majikthise

Better armor lacking for new troops in Iraq
By David Wood
Sun reporter
January 10, 2007
WASHINGTON — The thousands of troops that President Bush is expected to order to Iraq will join the fight largely without the protection of the latest armored vehicles that withstand bomb blasts far better than the Humvees in wide use, military officers said.

And why was that? Simple:

“At each step along the way for the past four years, the key policymakers have assumed we were just months away from beginning to withdraw.”

Up until recently, I felt that there was no point in impeaching the organ-grinder’s monkey instead of the organ-grinder. However since Cheney appears to have left the building, it’s time to nail the monkey.

National Delurking Week, 2007

Via PZ and Janet, I see that this is National Delurking Week. Why it should be “National” beats me; isn’t blogging a quintessentially trans-national medium? Anyway, if you read my blog but you don’t normally comment here, why don’t you “delurk” by adding a brief comment to let me know you’re out there? (And not just this blog – do it for all the other blogs you read.)
National Delurking Week button
(Of course this could be a very sobering experience… maybe all my readers are just bots….)

Expecting perfection

Yesterday evening I finished assembling some shelves from IKEA, and then decided to fix supper, which involved reheating some lamb curry that I’d made the day before. I put the covered glass dish (also from IKEA, as it happens) into the microwave, programmed 5 minutes at 50% power, and left the kitchen. When I returned I found this:
The shattered glass lid from a bowl of left-overs.
The lid of the bowl had shattered into four or five large pieces; there were also plenty of tiny slivers of glass.
The interesting thing about this is that I did not immediately think, “Those !@^*$%#s at IKEA! What a piece of $#^*&!!” Instead I was struck by how completely unexpected this was. I’m pretty sure that 20 years ago I would have found such a product failure far less surprising. Things used to malfunction occasionally, and no-one was particularly taken aback when failures occurred. Today, I think, there’s a much greater expectation that stuff will just work, routinely, perfectly. Of course there are areas which seem to contradict this – some electronic appliances, for example – but in most of these cases we tend to overlook how dramatically we’re pushing the technology envelope. It’s hardly surprising that products depending on new technologies and (especially) production processes would have unexpected failure modes.
Anyway, I was able to find something else for supper….


Just finished watching V for Vendetta (my first NetFlix DVD, actually). I remember reading the original graphic novel years ago, set in a post-Thatcherite world. Updated for the 21st century, it’s even more disturbing. “Terrorist as hero”. Hmm. As John Hurt said in the “making of” documentary, all forms of war are awful – but why did we decide to say that one particular form of war was “not on”. (The answer, of course, is that it’s the form “our” enemies use, but that’s a lousy basis for an ethical judgement.)
Anyway, I’m glad I finally saw it (even with all the gore). Recommended.