Monday, March 29, 2004

Di and I went to the theatre this weekend to see the new Coen Brother's flick. I actually wanted to like it, since the world it was set in, while bearing some resemblance to the real world was in fact totally different in many bizarre ways. It just didn't come together though, and in many parts it was rather unwatchable. Plus there was excessive use of an old english term for copulation... I don't mind cursing, but it really didn't seem to fit the mood of the movie... I think the R rating must have been based on profanity alone, since there was no nudity, sex, or even violence really...

We saw the film at the theatre off of I-65 in the 100 Oaks mall... rather than the place we've gone in the past, the Green Hills mall. The outside of this theatre seemed to promise a 50's vibe to the inside, as it was spectacularly lit up with multi-colored neon, and the whole shape of the entrance had a vaguely art-deco feel. Disappointingly, the inside of the theatre was standard modern fare... and the screen seemed rather small.

Friday, March 26, 2004

My mind is of course prone to wandering... I have too active of an imagination... So, I recently picked up some books from the library which I read in between chapters of my biology texts. Because of the limited amount that I've read in each so far, I've only whet my appettite as it were, but I look forward to reading more after next weekend (when my GRE is over).

I picked up two books on somewhat related personages... one a successor of Alexander, the other the grandson of a successor. The first is Lysimachus, the second Antigonius II, grandson of Antigonius I (who evidently had use of only one eye). I'm reading about these fellows as I contemplate painting miniatures to represent the forces they commanded in defense of their respectives portions of Alexander's empire. Reading about Lysimachus, I've been struck by how much Alexander's conquest of the world resembled some sort of fraternity rush week event. I get the picture of Alex and his buds from growing up in Phillip's court back in Macedon riding around, killing lions, getting in scraps with Persians, drinking all the way to Babylon. Maybe I'm reading too much into this particualr author...

The other book I've picked up is a volume from the Cambridge history of China. Right now I'm reading about the beginnings of the Han dynasty. (Also as research for a possible painting project... what a great hobby!)

One reason I have not traditionally liked reading ancient history as much as 18th-20th century history, is that the names have such enigmatic pronunciation... at least to me...
This has also proven to be a bit of a problem with Chinese history. I get into the habit of reading names, but not actually reading them... that is to say, I'll see the letters that make up the name, and say, "oh yeah, it's that fellow", but I won't actually be connecting the symbols on the page to the pronunciation of the fellows name... since I'm uncertain about the pronunciation to begin with. I find that this leaves me with less memory of what I've read about, and certainly less memory about that actual people and places involved. After all, when I think back to what I've read, my internal monologue can only say "that guy with all the 'y's in his name" instead of "Lysimachus" or whoever else. And it's not as if I memorize the spelling of every character's name during my read through.

Coincidently, this same phenomenon has on occaision confounded me in my studies of biology. In the case of biology texts, it's not ususally latin or greek pronunciation (although occaisionally), but more often acronyms or abbreviations for proteins or other chemicals. When I see "MAPK", I'll read it as a symbol, rather than reading it as "Mitogen activated protein kinase". That latter reading gives actual information, while the former merely serves as a place holder... to be replaced after reading with a blank space. Thankfully, I've generally been able to weed myself away from the lazy reading, and now make a pointed effort to make certain I'm reading the meaning behind abbreviations and acronyms as I come across them in the text...

I'm still going to read "5-bromo-4-chloro-3-indolyl-betagalactoside" as "IPTG" though...

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Got a few random things to talk about today, so let's get started.

First, congratulations to the senior graduate student in our lab, Elaine, who passed her thesis defense today. She'll be switching places with me in a sense as she now goes to a post doc at NU.

Secondly... it is both a joy and a tourture to have a high quality grease pit in your backyard. Every night when I walk home, I'm treated to the odor of deep fat frying chicken and potatoes... and yet I know that I cannot have any, lest I break the bank...

Thirdly, in an effort to get published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, I've made some preliminary observations about various organisms that live near (or in) my apartment. First, there are the ants that inhabit my bathroom. The interesting observation I've made about them is that they appear to be averse to light. If I walk into the bathroom and turn on the lights, I will see perhaps a dozen ants walking around. Individually they don't seem to scurry away the instant the light is turned on (like a roach might do), but after a minute, there are noticably less ants visible. Obviously, I have thusfar failed to control for other variables... they might be sensing my presence by olfactory clues, or perhaps temperature changes or air flow that is caused by my breath or movement. However, the simplest hypothesis is that they move out of direct light.

The second creature I have investigated was a slug which came into my house along with the board on which I was spray-painting miniatures. It had evidently crawled onto the board while I let the paint dry on my front porch. I got the fellow to crawl onto a piece of thick card (perhaps symbolically, the card was a mailer from NU asking for donations), and watched it for a while. I noticed that the slug left a trail of glistening viscous liquid behind it as it moved. I assumed that the slime enabled the creature to move over surfaces, since its body did not visibly move or change shape as it moved (like a catapillar might). Instead, the slug seemed to effortlessly glide over the surface. Also of note was how the slug's antennae were able to retract entirely within the slugs body in response to my breathing on the slug. Finally, perhaps most fascinating to me was my experiment with the slug and water. I allowed the slug to crawl into my sink, and then began filling the sink with water. The slug was able to crawl despite being submersed in water, and in fact crawled up above the water line successfully. I repeated the experiment, only this time with hot water. Rather unexpectedly, the hot water very quickly seemed to kill the slug... and at that point the slug instantly was swept away from the bottom of the sink and carried around by the eddies of the water flowing into the sink. What this seems to suggest is that the slime that the slug leaves behind is not what holds the slug to its location. Instead, there must be some sort of acting gripping method used, which allows the slug to maintain its location despite the presence of a solvent (water) but of course stops working when the slug dies. I'll have to see if any more slugs come inside with spray-painted figures in the future...

Monday, March 22, 2004

Last night I saw the new Jim Carrey movie. Went with a couple of Di's co-workers...
I thought the movie was great... Di reminded me that the last movie I had called great was "The Sting", which I saw back in Kemper last spring. I'd recommend the movie, but you don't really need to see it on the big screen... just make sure no one tells you about the movie before you see it, as that might diminish your enjoyment of it...

Friday, March 19, 2004

Just as Julius had his Ides in March, an American brand of insanity has gripped the staff of the lab. Everyone is refreshing their browsers in the afternoons to learn whether they have taken astep towards winning the lab "braketology" pool.

I failed to recollect that I had won our suite pool last year, and so mostly deferred to Mr. Gustafson's picks with just a few little changes. So far I'm doing ok... missed five opening round games, but only one of those affects the second round, and no more.
If I end up winning the lab pool, I shall be using the money to order some livestock from the Heifer Project.
The weather here is getting really beautiful... the sun is actually coming out with some regularity, and it would probably be possible to go outside in short sleeves. I'm sticking with a sweatshirt for now, but still, it's nice to be toasty warm outside.

In addition, the natural flora and fauna of the campus area are returning with gusto. Birds are singing everywhere, all the trees on campus (with the exception of the magnolias and the bamboos) are covered in blossoms... this does have the unfrotunate side effect of forcing me to experience the scent of arbor amour... pollinating insects may find it pleasant but not I...

All told though it's nice to have spring around.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

I've been ruminating on on the Spanish operation and what it might say about AQ and associated groups' ability to conduct operations.

The reason I've been thinking about this is that I've identified what seems to be an optimal strategy for AQ over the next six to twelve months. (Since I don't know who's reading this, I won't elaborate on what that strategy is... don't want to give anyone ideas) While the strategy doesn't require much as far as financial or military resources, and certainly nothing approaching the training time required for the operators of 9/11, it would require something approaching a coordinated command, control and communications infastructure. So, I've been thinking about what the Spanish operation says about the condition of AQ's C3.

Thankfully I don't think that AQ does have the C3 resources to pull off my optimal strategy. The nature of the Spanish operation, with its still developing potential ties to local nationalists ETA, suggests an outsourcing approach to terror by the financial backers. Similarly, the letters received in France from a potentially Chechneyan group suggest piggy-backing after seeing a successful op conducted by an indirectly related group. Finally, the interception of the so-called Zarqawi memo in Iraq a few weeks back suggests that the US may have its intelligence tendrils deep in the organization.

The other interesting thing about the Spanish situation is that it raises the prospect that Spain may try to join the trio of France, Germany and Belgium in attempting to conclude a seperate peace. Of course, this could result in the absurd situation of the Spanish government attempting to conclude peace without having anyone on the other side to sign the treaty. The government will be forced to operate in the way that it "thinks" the enemy will view as acceptable tribute... but of course they'll simply be guessing, and the terrorists will always have some new excuse to conduct operations.

Of course... perhaps I'm wrong... perhaps the terrorists will indeed make their demands explicit.

Even assuming an actual entity to conclude peace with, the Spanish should take heed the lessons of the northern neighbor. France attempted to conclude a seperate peace in 1940, with the hope of averting greater bloodshed. When Paris was declared an open city, it did indeed save la Tour Eiffel from physical destruction. The cost however, was turning it into an exclusive tourist destination for megamaniacal Austrians. To Petain et al in 1940, maintaing sovereignity over southern France seemed like a "victory of diplomacy". Of course, that sovereignity was only at the whim of Berlin, as evidenced by France's complete absorption into "Fortress Europa" in 1942. Just as France's surrender did not lead to Britain's capitulation, pulling out of Iraq will not jepordize America's war effort so much as Spain's independence. With decreased cooperation will come less intel from US and British sources (who will not risk compromising their more more valuable sources by sharing them with a now intransigent ally), and therefore less ability to counter enemy ops in Spain... and with greater threat of enemy ops will come greater need to subordinate ever greater portions of national policy to Islamicist will. (At pain of train bombing).

While the election may end up constituing a net victory for freedom in the war against the jihadis, it will likely come at great cost to the people of Spain...
We should mourn for them.

The Chapman Brothers know how to celebrate a 100th anniversary!
When I went to do laundry this evening, I picked up a copy of USA Today that was sitting around. I read a couple of articles on the Spanish election results, including this article. I noticed a quote attributed to incoming PM Zapatero...

"The war has been a disaster, the ocupation continues to be a great disaster," Jose Luis Rodriquez Zapatero. "It hasn't generated anything but more violence and hate."

Now... maybe that is a very poor translation of the Spanish... but I doubt it. The notion that the war and occupation was and is a disaster is utterly specious. Certainly one can make claims that things could have been done better... that mistakes were made... these are the critiques of rational people... but "a great disaster"?? Great disaster for who??!?! The French, who were slated to get $100 billion worth of oil contracts had Mr. Hussein remained ensconced in Baghdad? The Palestinians, who no longer receive twenty-five grand if they sent their children on successful suicide bombing missions? The Pakistanis, who have one less potential client for their nuclear knowledge? Sickening...

And then... "It hasn't generated anything but more violence and hate."
Oh really? That must be why 7 out of 10 Iraqis say things are going well... Of course, some people won't be able to help but notice that while Saddam was in power, a similar poll would have revealed 10 out of 10 Iraqis saying things were going well...
(Of course 9 of those 10 would be saying so to avoid the eye of the secret police, but hey...)

Anyhow, I comforted myself by reflecting on the uncanny resemblance of the new PM with a certain English actor...

On a much less serious note, some thoughts about Lucasarts (relatively) new offering, Knights of the Old Republic

Intital impression: Morrowind crossed with FFX.

The game has some really great dialogue in it, funny in the "will somebody get this walking carpet out of my way" episodes IV-VI way, not the "This dialogue is painful to listen to" way of episodes I-II. The combat system is a neat idea in theory but a little clumsy in practice. Execution is "real time" but not really... each character gets one action per unit of time, and everyone's operating on the same scale of units. It's just "real time" because there's no automatic FF style "beginning of the turn, decide what you're doing" pause after each set of actions. You can pause the action easily at any point though, so technically if you want to micromanage your actions you can do so... in practice though you just seem to let most battles manage themselves. This is sort of a shame, since you end up ignoring some of the more interesting combat and force abilities because of this...

The one real drawback of the game in my opinion is the light/darkside aspect of the game. In theory, the player should be ever mindful of their actions lest they fall to the darkside of the force. In practice, it seems that the player has to be blind, or deliberately trying to become a dark Jedi to actually move in that direction. The dialogue options that move you towards the dark side are always blatant "Screw what you think, I'm going to kill you and burn your house with your children inside" sort of vicious options... I thought the dark side was supposed to be subtle and insidious... why the heck was master Yoda always warning Luke to "beware the darkside". I think it would be infinitely more interesting if the dialogue choices were much less divergent in intent, forcing one to think carefully or risk the darkside through rash responses... after all, isn't lack of patience one of the contributing factors in Anakin's demise.

Anyhow, interesting game, not quite as ground breaking as some of the reviews I read, but entertaining nonetheless... and I can easily see three or four play-throughs a possibility... there are myriad opportunities and side quests that I have skipped in this first play through.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Not that he needs any more traffic (being most influential blogger), but I put a new link in on the right side to Instapundit. He does a great job of collecting some of the most interesting foreign, domestic, and tech news, and putting it all at your mouse-fingertip.

The most interesting story I found there today was a Reuters story about France holding joint naval manuevers with the PRC off the coast of Taiwan right before the Taiwanese elections. I liked this commentary on the French navy's recent experience...
Here's a question that should have an objective answer.

Have there already been, or will there be in the future, editorials and opinion pieces in the influential newspapers of the world decrying Spain's decision to "squander American sympathy after 3/11" by either voting in the Socialist Party, or acting on incoming PM Zapatero's stated plan to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq?

If not, why not?

As I've thought and read more about the Spanish election, my opinion on it has begun to subtly change. I still think that (with the large caveat of if the pre-bombing polls were correct) this represents a reverse for the forces of freedom. However, I'm not sure that it actually constitues a victory for AQ or Islamism in general.

When looking at military strategy, one important rule is to make your plans based on your enemy's capabilities not their intentions. The Madrid bombing and subsequent election have done nothing (in the short term) to increase AQ's capabilites. Even in the long term, the most they have gained is a marginal security benefit for operations in Spain (and that is by no means guarenteed). The Spanish contingent in Iraq is unimportant, should it be withdrawn (Not because they are useless or unappreciated, but because the US has the means to easily replace them... perhaps with more Poles). The biggest story here seems to be that terrorist bombing can influence elections in European nations, and influence them in a direction more conducive to AQ's aims.

However, this seemingly great boon is not a capability that AQ has gained because of their attack... had no such attack taken place and the Populists gained the majority in the election as predicted, there would still be lurking in the Spanish population a majority of people willing to vote for the "peace" candidate the next time around if a bombing did occur. Likewise, the courage and moral fortitude of the populations of the nations of Europe were not changed by the bombing... in the case of one nation they were merely tested. AQ's operations then may act as a refining fire to test the will of Europe's population, but that will (whether it be for resistance or submission) already exists in untested form no matter AQ's actions.

In other words, right at this moment, the electorates of France, of Britain, of Poland, of Belgium, of Italy etc. all have characters. Some may be willing to submit to any indignity rather than take up arms. Others may be willing to pay any price in blood and treasure rather than submit. The Madrid bombing did nothing to change those characters. (Other than perhaps peripherally) Nations prone to such tactics are just as much so now, while those immune are likewise still immune. AQ has gained no power over any nation which it did not already possess.

While AQ's capabilities have not changed, their intentions may. Having been confident enough in the probable effectivness of the Madrid bombings during the planning stages, it seems likely that AQ have contigencies for operations in other European nations. The dramatic (seeming) success of the Madrid operation may lead to a faster timetable for operations in other parts of Europe. This could result in overextension if the AQ leadership is too overconfident. The late leadership of AQ certainly was overconfident... we shall see if their successors have learned from their masters' demise.

Of course, the whole incident also portends a time coming when we will have to worry less about a newly assembled Persian bomb than a older model from Paris.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Spanish Independence (1492-2004) RIP
Wonderful fondue dinner last night with the most charming company in the city.
Quite a price tag though for a meal you essentially cook yourself... next time we'll have to use Di's fondue pot and do it at home...

In other news...

If you're not already reading Belmont Club on a daily basis, you need to start now. This fellow's prose is remarkable, and is of course directed at the most important issues of the day.

What are you still waiting around here for... go read.

Friday, March 12, 2004

Exactly one year ago this evening I was wearing a sweater...
I don't often do that...
I think it paid off.

We could not have forseen where the next twelve months would lead us, or what they had in store. About all we had was a bit of faith and some intrigue.

Can't imagine what the next year has in store either...

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Had a good conversation with the sister last night on the tele-phone. It's spring break time down in GA, so she's got the campus to herself. I almost had a heart attack when she said she was "going greek". It turned out she's just joining a professional/academic fraternity. Which judging from my NU experience means the occaisional pizza seminar, and that's it. Which is better than kegs and formals and unprotected sex in filthy frat brother bedrooms. *Phew*

Also of note is the fact that she has switched to xanga, and has a new (and actively updated) site. I've updated the link at right.

I'm currently making insuiries about a line of 20mm Han Chinese figures that would be compatible in scale to the 1/72 plastics I'm painting. You can see the 25mm versions of the molds to get an idea of them. Nick at DBX in Plastic gave some of their other 20mm ancients good reviews, so I'm really tempted. The only problem is that whether I order direct or get them from a US distributor, I'm likely to be paying 3 dollars for 4 figures after shipping. That's a big jump up from 48 figures for 7 bucks... Still, it would be cool to assemble a Chinese army... would be fun to research and paint the hanzi for their standards. We'll see... gotta paint the Gauls and Thracians first anyhow.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Added a new link on the right side to a nascent subsite dealing with the exciting Armati Ancients set of wargaming rules. Doesn't look too pretty at the moment, but hopefully content will continue to be added. I'm convinced after my DBAOL experience that Armati Intro is much better (both as game and simulation than DBA. DBM is an improvement on DBA, if my memory of a few ancients games at conventions and the Last Square serves me well, but I'm still not convinced that it is superior or even equal to optimal level Armati.

At this rate in a couple years I'll even be playing Shako (*shudder*)

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Had a strange dream this morning before I woke up...
I was back in a NU science class lecture, but instead of folks I knew from NU as classmates, there were instead people I had known back in elementary or middle school. Not even friends really, but merely classmates... people whose names I knew from the class roll and from the semi-annual rearrangement of desk seating order.
Quite strange indeed.

'Twas an exciting and enjoyably week-ende.
Some of the boys came down for the weekend. As planned, we spent a large portion of our time marshalling our forces and leading them to victory (or defeat). I had a blast. I think we all did.

We were lucky enough to be joined by Miss Yao for dinner on Saturday night. Went to a Japanese restaurant, ("Benkay") and after sitting down discovered that our server was in fact a former coworker of Di's. It was rather amusing to hear them break into (to my ears) frenetic Mandarin in the midst of tables-full of sukiyaki and udon. For dinner I had the pork tonkatsu, which unfortunately was cabbage-less. I really should have gotten Brandon to teach me more cooking while we cohabited at Kemper.

Work this week seems somewhat less interesting after such a full weekend, but no doubt in a couple of days I'll be back in the grind. Thankfully, I've also gone painting crazy as a result of seeing so many miniatures in action over the weekend, and have already expanded my collection of Republican Romans by a stand each of equites and archers, and two stands of Triarii spears. If I'm lucky, this frenzy won't subside for a while... it would be nice to be excited enough to get my Gauls finished.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

As I walked to work this morning, I saw a bumper sticker on a pickup outside of the medical center.

It read simply "Fire Sprinklers Save Lives".

I had not previously been aware that fire sprinklers were a fixture in need of bumper-sticker advocacy.

Last night I had the joy of seeing local government and law enforcement up close and personal.

Yes my friends, I went to traffic school.

First of all, my age evidently made me ineligable for the two hour long safety course that the officer who had given me the citation said would be available. Instead, I joined a group of fifteen of my peers in the National Safety Council's "Alive at 25" program. (GASP! Age-ism in our city government! Somebody DO SOMETHING!) As far as I can discern, the only substantive difference was the length and the company...

Anyhow, it turns out that the map included with my summons to class was not up to date, and only the timely intervention of a kindly parking attendant saved me from tardiness or being "disappeared" off the streets of downtown Nashville.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the "class" was the extent to which the "instructor" seemed to be flirting with the young speedstress sitting next to him. There were of course several films to be viewed; one showed the obligatory carnage resulting when alchohol and high-octane are mixed, while another featured actors in their late twenties playing "normal" high school or college students. The second video was perhaps most remarkable for the brilliant performance of a young Asian female actress playing "Pam", the underage student lovestruck over "Phil", the recently broken up instigator of both teen alchohol consumption and dilinquent roadway antics. Also of note was the fellow in the class for going 135 in a forty-five zone through road construction... I have to confess, I felt a little inadequate in comparison, what with my "rolling-stop" citation... Nevertheless, the other kids didn't pick on me... perhaps because a large number had children of their own...

One other amusing factoid which we learned was that people in the 16-25 year old range lead all categories of traffic citations given (More age-ism!!). Judging by the recidivism rate observable in the classroom, it's somewhat uncertain just how much effect the class had on altering that statistic...

There was one interesting realization that hit me towards the end of the ordeal... for some reason, I was filled with a profound sense of deja vu... Inexplicably I felt that I had seen most or all of the other attendees somewhere before. Quite strange.

Unfortunately the night finally had to come to an end, and I was able to almost immediately show off my new safe-driving knowledge by engaging in a cell phone conversation with Esther and Tim on the drive home. In other circumstances I probably would have done something foolish like pull to the side of the road or into a parking lot to finish the conversation... but, thanks to being at driver's safety school, I was in downtown Nashville at 9:30 pm, and no pull-over spots looked particularly appealing. Thank goodness for "Alive at 25"!

It's experiences like this that make me incredulous about some people's political beliefs. Why do people view government as such a monolithic, near omnipotent force for good? When you get down to the dull, jagged cutting edge of government, you find out that it's just a bunch of bleached blond guys in their late thirties hitting on bleached blond girls in their early twenties... or something like that...