The Chicken Breast Conspiracy

I don’t know the nature of it, but there must be one. I think Applebee’s is the headquarters. I’ll keep you posted.

The Ninth Storyblogging Carnival is up at A Small Victory. There are thirteen stories, and a really nice-looking index. I’m really glad to see this up, because clearly I have nothing else to write about today. Go read a good story.

Today’s soup is Progresso Southwestern-style chicken. I only buy Progresso soup when it’s on sale at a dollar a can, so I stock up when I see it. Sometimes someone buys Progresso soup for me, and then I don’t ask how much it cost, I just eat it. Like sausage, a little pretense makes it more enjoyable.

Predictions for the new year:

  1. The ‘possum will emerge as the next decorative animal, finally displacing the goose.
  2. Texas hold ’em is the new canasta. It will sweep the country, and then be forgotten.

Happy New Year!



I have resolved to eat more soup in the coming year.

Here are this week’s Friday afternoon quotes.

  • No one can have a higher opinion of him than I have, and I think he’s a dirty little beast.
       W.S. Gilbert
  • Do nothing unless you must, and when you must act, hesitate.
  • Old timer, n.: One who remembers when charity was a virtue and not an organization.
       Let me point out a couple of things. First, giving away other people’s stuff isn’t charity. Second, a non-profit corporation is still a corporation.
  • You cannot reason someone out of a position that they did not reason themselves into.
       I don’t think this is really true, but it sounds good.

Long Day, Short Story

In the summer of 1978 I worked for Commonwealth Edison at a coal-fired power plant. It was a fascinating place to be. I cleaned up coal spills, swept the floor, whatever needed doing. ‘Stationman’ was a great job for an engineering student.

One day, the foreman said, “An oil leak is dripping onto the insulation around number seven cyclone. I want you to go keep an eye on it. Take a folding chair and a fire extinguisher up there. When it catches fire, put the fire out and call me. Stay there until it catches; I’ll send sombody up so you can get a break and some lunch. I’ll be out on the turbine floor all day, or you can page me. Got it?

So that’s what I did. It smoldered and finally caught mid-afternoon. I spent the rest of the afternoon shoveling up a coal spill somewhere.

Buried in the links above (along with some original verse which you have, of course, read) is a page that deserves greater prominence. The National Bloodhound Association of Switzerland (Who knew?) has a write-up on organizing search and rescue operations. Well written and through, the procedures should be adaptable to other uses.


I rarely read Kuro5hin, but I did find an article there on Napier’s Chessboard Calculator. The author describes Napier’s algorithms for adding and multiplying with pieces on a checker board. The multiplication algorithm reminds me of the gelosia method.

For some time, I’ve been collecting aphorisms, sayings, and clever quotes. As I run across them, I copy and paste into a text file. I’ve tried to record the author’s name, but I missed it in some cases and probably got it wrong in others. Attribution is uneven, and unreliable. Many of these are from posts on Slashdot. I have (usually) not attributed peoples sigs, since they’re rarely original to that person.

Rather than let these words of wisdom languish on my hard drive, I thought I’d share them with the reader. So every Friday I’ll post a few, and we’ll see how it goes.

  • If you receive something that says ‘Send this to everyone you know,’ pretend you don’t know me.
       seen on Dave Farquhar’s Silicon Underground
  • …To these people, a computer is merely an interesting string of sensations.
       mattkime (8466)
  • If we are willing to become evil to fight evil, why are we fighting it?
  • Progress has value only if it is shared by all.
       slogan of SNCF [French Railways]
  • If voting could really change things, it would be illegal.
       Revolution Books, NY
  • Everything that is bought or sold is worthless. Value has only that, which you are given or give.
       Jan Greshoff
  • If it moves, it WILL break. The more it moves, the sooner it will break.
  • Those who have never entered upon scientific pursuits know not a tithe of the poetry by which they are surrounded.

And with that, I wish everyone a merry Christmas.

It was coughing up blood last night

Who’d have thought it’d be so easy to bail out social security? All it took was a serious proposal to do something. The Democrats are the first to have noticed the system’s new-found solvency. It’ll be something if the Republicans follow suit. “Why, yes! Things are looking much better, now that you mention it. The crisis is past; Social security is well again!”

It kind of reminds me of the end of the energy crisis back in the seventies.

Thoughts on Prayer, Subject to Correction

Imagine that your son calls you from college, deeply upset. He says he needs your advice, doesn’t know how to proceed. “Dad, should I choose vanilla or chocolate ice cream for desert?”

You could say, in a deep pontifical voice, “My son, choose chocolate.” More likely, you would try to find out what’s really going on. “What difference does it make? What’s the matter? Is everything okay?” That kind of thing.

If you can do it without impiety, imagine God the Father talking with Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

Jesus: “Justin called again today.”

God: “Oh? How’s he doing?”

Jesus: “He seems really upset about some trivial issue involving a job, and getting enough food to eat.”

Holy Spirit: “Doesn’t he see the lilies of the field, how they toil not?”

Jesus: “Well, apparently not.”

God: “This isn’t really about food, is it?”

Jesus: “No, I’m sure this is more of that obsessive concern about his social position.”

God: “That’s getting to be a real problem for him. I hate to see him so miserable.”

Holy Spirit: “At least he’s still talking to us.”

Jesus: “What should we do?”

So, if you’re worried about anything, pray about it. God will hear what you say, and what you don’t say. If you think you need something, ask for it. God will give you what you really need.

Teachers and Others

Fold a sheet of notepaper in half lengthwise, then again in half lengthwise. Now fold it up like an American flag, and tuck in the end. This paper triangle is the football. Two boys sit at opposite ends of a cafeteria table. One player kicks off by holding the football on end and flicking it with a finger. Wherever it lands, the other player then taps it some number of times, sliding the football toward his opponent. You get typically two or three downs to score, the exact number depending on the length of the table. You score a touchdown if you can push the football so that it stops with part hanging over the edge of the table. Then you get to kick for the extra point. The defender makes a set of goal posts: fists on table, extended index fingers touching, and thumbs vertical. Flick the football between these uprights for a field goal. Extra points (at least in a social sense) if you manage to hit the guy in the face.

In junior high, the bus brought us to school early. The school wasn’t really open yet, so as we arrived we were to wait in the cafeteria. This is where we played Polish Football.

This was pretty much exclusively a guy’s game. Not that girls wouldn’t have been welcome, in the complex sense in which girls are welcome among boys of a certain age. The girls sat at tables across the cafeteria doing who knows what. Not playing Polish football, anyway.

For some reason, this game caused the Principal no end of aggravation. Unwilling to just ban it, he was always issuing some bizarre edict about it. Though this was well before the heyday of political correctness, he couldn’t really call it by name in an official document. Every week or so, we’d get an announcement: “No Table Football on Tuesdays; The janitors have a meeting,” or “Due to the construction across the parking lot, students may not play table-top football before 10:00 AM on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays until further notice.”

Years later I wondered if our principal had in fact been a genius; Could he have used these pronouncements to subtly undermine our respect for authority? Maybe it was all a sophisticated strategy of double-reverse psychology; kind of an Ender’s Game thing. Or maybe contempt for authority was an unintended by-product. Maybe he was just a run-of-the-mill junior high school principal. Certainly we were unexceptional boys. When we couldn’t play Polish football, we thumb-wrestled.

When the janitor unlocked the connecting doors, we took our stuff to our lockers, then went to the library to play chess. Certainly not everyone played chess, but it was a diverse mix; Geeks, Jocks, Shop guys, Grubs. Rarely did any girls play. Occasionally they would watch. Mostly they sat at different tables, talking about us.

Typically there were half a dozen chess games in progress, with four or five people watching each one. I took this for granted; it was just what we did. I now think our librarian was a remarkable woman. One day she suggested I might enjoy a novel called “The Hobbit.” Another time, she gave me a collection of short stories by Robert Heinlein. The library was for many of us the social center of the school, and remained so into high school. Of course I had no idea then how rare that was. I hadn’t met Smaug the librarian, who sees her books as a hoard to be guarded, and the children as thieves. It never occurred to me that students would be glared at suspiciously as they entered, or told they could only check out books from an approved list, or couldn’t check out books above their level. But I digress.

Chess is a game for which I have zero aptitude. I was never any good, and didn’t really improve. I played because my friends did. When the bell rang, we went to class.

After lunch, we went outside or into the gym, and milled around for ten minutes until our class was called. While we waited, we played a series of improvised games that mostly involved slapping each other’s knuckles. The girls didn’t play these games either. Of course they were impressed by our bravery, or at least our pain tolerance. Not that impressing the girls was our goal. There was no goal. Hitting each other was an end in itself. I don’t believe we had conscious goals, except in the very short term.

After the last class, the girls went home or waited for their buses in the library. We played ping-pong in the shop room until our buses arrived. Often I stayed late to keep playing, and then walked home. We were really into ping-pong one year. This was probably part of the larger national obsession that followed Nixon’s trip to China, and the resulting fascination with everything Chinese. We could talk learnedly about different grips, top and back spins, slams; I had a particularly effective back-spin serve, that I’ve since learned is completely illegal. Guys bought balls of different weights, and special paddles. It was a big deal. Then it was over.

After supper, we got together at a friend’s house for Risk. I remember this as a horribly tedious game. Even after thirty years, I never again want to hear the phrase ‘Attacking Irkutsk.’

It started off well enough. My friend said, “Come over; we’re playing Risk.” “What’s Risk?” I asked. “Oh, humma humma, strategy, wargames, cards, dice; It’s not like chess.”

So, I learned the rules, and played several times a week one winter. Sometimes we had two games going at separate tables. There were certainly no girls here. Presumably they were at home doing their homework. We played in the basement, and lived like pigs. We kept soda in the window well, and threw the empties in the corner. Not just any corner; We weren’t slobs; the designated Trash Corner. It was great. By the end of the winter, we were at each other’s throats. We switched to Rook.

Rook is a card game involving bidding, tricks and trumps. I was, and am, far better at cards than board games of any kind. I can play a casual game of cards without embarrassment. Rook was the first card game I learned well and systematically. It’s a fine game that I could still enjoy playing, but after a few months we tired of Rook. Somehow, we started playing bridge, and moved out of the basement. I think this, all along, may have been the goal of my friend’s father.

Rook was a great introduction, but we found bridge a far different game. No soda drinking contests, either for speed or quantity; Snacks only between games; Trash in the trash can. We were willing to put up with this because the game was far more challenging and rewarding. Some of the girls we knew would occasionally join us for bridge. I think now that my friend’s parents were, like the librarian, exceptionally decent people. They were generous with their time, willing to talk with us, able to teach us a lot about bridge, and at least something about civilized behavior. I can’t say I was a great student of either discipline, but actually learning to play bridge with even minimal skill was as educational as anything I did in high school.

The Penalty Phase

Doc Rampage explains how we might feel sympathy for Scott Peterson.

The deaths of his wife and child could not bring down his spirits, but news of his own impending punishment brought him to uncontrollable tears.

How can a man live such a bleak existence?

If a man starts seeing people as tools to be used, or obstacles to be overcome, he’s in danger. It probably won’t lead to murder, or any crime at all, but it could easily lead to a life in solitary confinement.


I’ve heard people say “Whoever dies with the most toys wins,” but it’s not quite that simple.

In the afterlife, there’s a big awards banquet. They’ll give out trophies and plaques, not only for financial success, but for things like most cars passed on a two-lane road, and greatest average speed while driving. So take heart, our achievements will be recognized. The sales awards, of course, are given out elsewhere.

A promising young lawyer died suddenly, only thirty-eight years old. On meeting Saint Peter he said, “Saint Peter, I don’t want to seem ungrateful, because I’m very pleased to be here, but why did I have to die at thirty-eight?” Saint Peter consulted his book and said, “There must be some mistake. According to the hours you’ve billed, you should be seventy-three.”

People want to know what happens after they die. In fact, many people claim to know, sometimes in great detail. I’ve heard people say things like, “The ‘Great White Throne’ will be over there; The ‘Dead in Christ’ will go over that way, followed by those who died at sea. Then…” etc.

The minute details of eschatology are just of limited interest to me. I don’t know much at all. I believe, as an article of faith, that God will take care of us with justice and mercy. Beyond that, I’m content to wait and see.