Tuesday, October 26, 2004

The Mysterious Question F

In a previous post, I gave my election endorsements. I relied on this article from the Gazette to guide me as to the meaning of Question F. The article said
Question F...would prevent any council members who have served two terms from running for an at-large seat in the 2006 election, assuming at-large seats are added.

Now comes the Washington Post with their endorsement. They say,
We...urge a "yes" vote on...Question F, which would allow a district council member who has maxed out under Prince George County's two-term limit to run again for an at-large seat.

What? That would be the opposite of what the other paper said. Let's look at the text.
To provide that members of the County Council may not be elected to more than two consecutive terms...
So the Post recommended a yes vote based on a complete misreading of the Question.

You know, I was going to change my vote on Questions A-E, since the Post recommends a yes vote, but now I just feel like they're not really paying attention.

Monday, October 25, 2004

The Great War: American Front

Cover of The Great War: American Front

I recently finished listening to Harry Turtledove's the 21 CDs that comprise The Great War: American Front, the sequel to How Few Remain, which I mentioned here last month. As before, I may include spoilers, so if you're planning to read the book (let's face it; you're not), consider yourself forewarned.

First recall that we're talking about an alternate history where the South won the Civil War with the help of England and France. This book takes us to 1914, where World War I is starting. It's England, France, Russia and the Confederates (the "Quadruple Entente") versus the US, Germany, and presumably Austria and the Ottoman Empire. (If the latter two get a mention, it's very brief.) In North America, the war is primarily a struggle of the US versus the Confederates and Canada.

The book is, like How Few Remain, told from a variety of perspectives. Unlike HFR, however, TGWAF (are those acronyms annoying enough?) tells the story from the perspective of common people. There are some historical figures present -- I counted Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, George Custer, Eugene Debs and Marcel Duchamp, but I'm sure there were more. These characters, however, are secondary to the everyday folk -- the New England fisherman, the Confederate Army major with the unfortunate surname "Lincoln", the black butler in a South Carolina mansion...

There's less excitement in "I wonder what a New England fisherman would do in this timeline" than "I wonder what Abe Lincoln would do if he lost the war (and survived)." The book at times sounded like one of those histories where they try to convince you that the life of ordinary people is more worth studying than the life of kings and statesmen. Sounds fun, huh? Nevertheless, the book succeeded in making me think about World War I in different terms -- by hearing Virginia ripped apart by trench warfare, I could more readily imagine the psychological shock to Europeans. And I could more readily appreciate the benefit to America of not having a war on our home soil during the twentieth century.

One of the book's drawbacks is its large cast of characters that makes it hard to remember who's who. Sometimes I had to wait until a soldier cursed the other side to remember which side he was on. Another is that everything is very slow developing and telegraphed. In an early scene, Confederate President Woodrow Wilson is giving a speech in Richmond, and soldiers fire bullets into the air to scare away the crowd. Is it really necessary to have a character wonder to himself what will happen when the bullets come back down? It doesn't move the plot along, and it doesn't really provide any "flavor" to the story.

Nevertheless, the alternate history is fairly compelling. By the end of the book, the USA has advanced across most fronts, though the war is stalling. The USA has also pushed the CSA out of Pennsylvania and is trying to retake the parts of Maryland and DC that have fallen. The South is starting to be disrupted by a Marxist revolution led by blacks. That's one of Turtledove's cleverer ideas, and I'm waiting to see how this will play out.

"I'm waiting to see how this will play out" will probably keep me reading through the next three books in the series. Yes, reading, because the next book is only available on cassettes for some reason. At least by reading the book, I can skip over some of the slow parts.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Wine Update: 3 New Wines

It's been a while since my last update, but we've only tried 3 new wines at home in the interim. This is partially due to traveling, and partially due to enjoying another bottle of the Hardys Stamp Shiraz, previously reviewed here.

1998 Chateau Labarde (Bordeaux)

This is the first Bordeaux we've tried. Despite being the most expensive wine we've tried, it was not from a particularly prestigious Chateau. Some quick Googling turned up this article, which indicates that Labarde is the tertiary vineyard of a Chateau that had fallen on hard times, but is coming back. Still, it is a Bordeaux, and they do make good wine there. We enjoyed this wine, but I don't think it really whet our appetite to get deeper into French wines. We may stick with our apparent preference for Southern Hemisphere wines.

2002 Di Majo Norante Sangiovese

This wine was enjoyable -- fruity, with a medium body, but not too oaky or tannic. I think we'd try it again if we came across it, but we're willing to consider other Sangioveses.

2001 Hardys Nottage Hill Merlot

I picked up this wine at Franklin's after a recent trip. Franklin's is a restaurant and general store just over a mile from where we live, and it makes the best hamburger around. As a bonus, you don't have to fight the students for parking -- just the crowds of locals who show up for good food and the beer from their brewpub.

We both enjoyed this wine; it's the best Merlot we've had in a while. I wonder if the Hardys Stamp Merlot, which generally runs $2/bottle cheaper, would be of similar quality. Christina said she tends to prefer Cabernets to Merlots, so maybe we'll look for a good, reliable Cabernet, although we have several Merlots in the chiller to help us out in that direction.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

The Android's Dungeon Endorses!

I have to fill out my absentee ballot, so I thought I'd share the research I did to come to my decisions. So long secret ballot -- take that, Australia!


I think Jon Stewart summed it up best: "If one guy drove me into a ditch and said, 'Don't worry, I know how to get us out of this,' I'd give the keys to a 7-year-old." The Android's Dungeon recommends a vote for John Kerry.

U.S. Senator

Let's take a look at an article about the Mikulski/Pipkin debate, since I, like 99% of Marylanders, didn't watch it. Let's see. Pipkin criticized Mikulski for voting to raise taxes "350 times", opposing the Medicare prescription drug bill, and opposing some of Bush's court nominees. On the first charge, if he's using the same math Bush uses to count how many times Kerry has voted to raise taxes, he's lying. Also, even if she has, we have a deficit spiraling out of control, so maybe we should send her back to keep trying. On the second charge, the prescription drug bill was a big waste. The Bush administration covered up the bill's true costs. Finally, the Constitution gives the Senate the task of approving judicial nominees. Inherent in that is the right to disapprove. If Mikulski says she voted for 95% of the Bush nominees, that seems a bit high. The Android's Dungeon recommends a vote for Barbara Mikulski.


We've got the second most powerful Democrat in the House representing us. Why mess up a good thing? The Android's Dungeon recommends a vote for Steny Hoyer.

Judge of the Circuit Court

"Vote for No More Than Three"? Conveniently, there are only three people on the ballot. I tend to think judges should stay in office unless they embarrass themselves significantly. In fact, I'm not sure we should be voting on them. So I Googled the candidates to see if I came up with anything embarrassing. I didn't find anything embarrassing -- well, not for them, but I think the State of Maryland should be embarrassed for misspelling "Judge". The Android's Dungeon doesn't really care how you vote on this one.

Judge, Court of Special Appeals

This one is a "for continuance in office" that passes the Google test.

Ballot Questions

Questions A-E are for approving bonds allowing the county to borrow money for roads, libraries, public safety, county buildings and community colleges. The League of Women Voters directs me to a web site where I can look up the text of these bills. Unfortunately, the text just gives a list of projects and refers me to the county "capital program" for details. I can't find the county capital program on-line. They're making this too difficult. In general, I'm going to vote no. But the roads need help, and I find it hard to believe that libraries can't use the money, so yes on A & B, no on C, D & E.

Questions F, G, H and I are a big mess, but it's basically explained here. The key here is Question H, which will add 2 at-large seats to the County Council. Seems reasonable enough. But it will also make the top vote-getter from the two at-large seats the Council Chair. That seems a little pointless. Question G will overturn that second provision. Question F will amend the term limits rules to prevent my council member from running for one of the at-large seats. I hate term limits, so no on that. Question I will make the at-large members non-voting members. This is just a big waste of time. So yes on G & H, no on F & I.

Question J reduces the number of hours the county can hire temporary employees for. If they want me to vote for this, they need to explain it better. No on J.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Hampton Comes Alive

I just finished a two night stay at the Hampton Inn in Woodbridge, NJ. This is enough, in theory, to bring me up to 36 nights and Gold VIP status. I say "in theory" because there is some debate on FlyerTalk about whether free nights count. But I'll make it next week either way.

I originally had a stay at an Embassy Suites, but when the new hotel per diem rates came out, the allowable rate had dropped by around $35, and I had to switch hotels.

The Hampton I ended up with is the first one I've stayed at that has implemented the brand's new "Make It Hampton" enhancements. So, how do the enhancements measure up? Let's take a look.

  • Complimentary High Speed Wireless Internet Access will be available in the hotel public areas. I don't spend time in the hotel public areas, so this wasn't too useful.
  • Complimentary High Speed Internet Access in all guestrooms. This was great, although I wish it were wireless instead of wired.
  • Enjoy our new complimentary hot breakfast items on rotating menus, so you're sure to enjoy a variety of flavorful meals, including sausage patties and scrambled eggs. The scrambled eggs were pretty good this morning.
  • A new blend of robust coffee awaits you in a unique presentation guaranteed to make you smile. I hate coffee. I didn't smile; do I get my money back?
  • If you are in a hurry, ask the breakfast hostess for the new On the Go Breakfast Bag™, complete with water, fruit, a muffin, and a breakfast bar. This was very useful yesterday morning, when I was in a hurry to get to the conference. I didn't even have to ask; they had the bag ready.
  • Curved shower rods for extended shower space. I didn't notice this, which probably means it's a plus.
  • A one-of-a-kind alarm clock making it easier to set your alarm time in three simple steps, as well as find your favorite music. I liked the feature on the alarm clock where it told you both the time and the time the alarm was set for. Three "simple" steps? I guess holding down one button for a long time because an hour button is too complicated is "simple". I was disappointed there was no indicator whether or not you had pressed the snooze button.
  • A portable lap desk that allows you to work in comfort from anywhere in the room. This is a neat idea that would be more useful if the Internet access were wireless.
  • Our new Hampton alarm clock and lap desk are also available for purchase! If you would like to enjoy these new products each retail for $29 plus tax, shipping and handling. Please call 1-888-224-7730 for more information. I won't be calling.

All in all, I enjoyed the experience. There were other nice little touches -- the plastic utensils were actually labeled at breakfast -- no more digging around to find out if you had spoons or forks. I just hope they don't raise prices past the per diem to pay for all these improvements...

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Primary Inversion

As I mentioned in a recent post, I am continuing to read Nebula-award winning novels. As I also mentioned, I will only read books in series order.

That caused me to read Catherine Asaro's Primary Inversion, which is the first book in the "Saga of the Skolian Empire." (The author corrected Michael Dirda at the National Book Festival when he referred to it as a series. Since she is not here to correct me, I will continue to refer to it as a series.)

Primary Inversion is what I'd call "Space Opera", which is unusual in "serious" science fiction these days. By "serious" I suppose I mean "award-winning". I think "faster than light" travel has gotten less popular because people finally got it in their heads that it's impossible, and thus more suited to fantasy than science fiction. Fortunately for the genre, Asaro's a physicist, so she's more than qualified to imagine an FTL drive that's just as plausible as most things found in SF books these days.

"Primary Inversion" was enjoyable, but I'd characterize it as a relatively light, fun read. I suppose I will have to wait until Book Six to get to the Nebula, so it's not fair to compare it to other such award winners. I found out during Asaro's talk that The Quantum Rose, which won the Nebula, is an allegory for quantum field theory. That sounded pretty cool, and I told her so when I went to get a book signed. I mentioned that my background was in mathematics, and she said that I should read Spherical Harmonic, which was about the spherical harmonic. I didn't have the heart to tell her that I was a number theorist, and thus had no clue what the spherical harmonic was.

I've started Catch the Lightning, the second book. It's set in an alternate history 1987, which is weird in and of itself. Most of the book so far has to do with a poor girl meeting a space pilot from the future. The "Are you really from space?" dynamic recalls almost every Star Trek time travel episode ever. I'm only mildly enthused, and have put the book aside for another book, which I thought would be more promising. But that's another post...

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Fun With Gmail

So I'm reading my Michigan Sports News e-mail when I notice the ads that Gmail is displaying for me. "Eliminate Ground Moles"? "Effective Pest Control"? Where is this coming from?

Then I see the final link. "Get rid of those Gophers". Ah, yes, Michigan did that.

Thursday, October 07, 2004


I mentioned FlyerTalk in my previous post. It's frequent flyer discussion site. If anyone would be particularly amused by looking at my posts, you can see them here.

Flying the Ted Skies

For last week's trip to Arizona, we, as is our wont, flew United. For the BWI to Denver segments, I upgraded us into first class, which was a nice perk. For the Denver to Phoenix segments, we were on Ted, United's discount carrier. This was our first experience with Ted, but I thought it would be OK, especially since I didn't have enough upgrades for those segments anyway.

The Denver to Phoenix Ted flight was just like a regular United flight, without a first class cabin (which made getting on and off the plane easier), with orange headphones, where they would only give you half a can of soda (probably more than I need anyway), and where the overhead vent didn't really work. The last was annoying, but I'm not sure we can blame that on Ted.

The return trip was a different story. Apparently the original Ted aircraft wasn't available, so our plane was replaced by a non-Ted plane. And we got a complimentary upgrade! It was just like being in first class on a regular flight, except they would only give you half a can of soda...

Anyway, to prove I've actually flown in first class on Ted to the folks at FlyerTalk, here's my boarding pass... (Name and frequent flier number removed to protect my secret identity...)

Tuesday, October 05, 2004


As part of my Nebula reading project, I read Darwin's Radio in June. I also read the sequel, Darwin's Children. Not as good.

The latest (15th) book I've read in that project is Parable of the Talents. But first, I had to read Parable of the Sower, the first book in the series.

Yep, had to read it. I can't stand to pick up the middle book in a series and start there. When I was a kid, I read all of the Hardy Boys books in order, up until, I think, Number 33. I read them in order, even though the only connection each book had with others in the series was in the beginning, where the book would say something like, "The young detectives had recently broken a car theft ring...", or at the end, with, "The young detectives did not know that events were already occurring which would soon involve them in another challenging case, The Great Airport Mystery."

(I stopped reading when I thought I had lost Book 33. It turned out, I think, that I had forgotten returning the book to the library. Still, the experience spooked me enough to stop reading the series. Yes, I was the kind of child who was spooked by overdue library books.)

Where was I? Ah, yes, the Parable of the Sower. The book is set in a dystopian near-future in the US where climate change and...er, something or other...fuel shortages, I think...have plunged the United States into something approaching Third World status. I found the whole scenario fairly implausible, but then I noticed the word "parable" in the title. Well, why was I taking things so literally? But then, after finishing the book, I read the author interview that was included with the "reading group" edition. Apparently, this book reflects the path that she feels the country is headed down if things continue as they are.

Huh. I sort of recognize this point of view from my days on college campuses --- it's a particular kind of leftist "things are doomed" worldview. I say this, please understand, as a registered Democrat who thinks we aren't taking climate change and alternate fuels seriously enough. But America doesn't rely on a good climate and oil supplies for its position in the world economy. If anything, Third World economies are more dependent on raw materials (oil, food) than the US. So I found the premise of the book (well, both books) hard to swallow.

That said, I found the narrative fairly compelling, if bleak. The characters were extremely nuanced and human --- unfortunately a rarer occurrence than it should be in science fiction. They were books I had a hard time putting down, but I was also happy to be done with them and to move onto lighter fare.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Monday Night Football

OK, I think I'm finally done clearing off the digital camera. Behold, the pictures of Monday Night Football.

When you start tailgating 5 hours before the game, you'd better bring cards. And beer.

On our way to the stadium, we had to dodge a guy burning a Dallas jersey.

On the way to our gate, there was a contest where you could win a cap by throwing a football through a hole. Christina walked away with one.

And then there was the game. Sigh.

Visiting My Cousin

A couple of weeks ago, since I was in the UK on business, I went up to Sheffield (that's in South Yorkshire, which is in northern England) to see my cousin Diane. She had married Mark, an Englishman, in August, so I went to visit them.

They have a very nice house.

Isn't this a great window?

Here are Mark, me and Diane.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Visit to the Boneyard

Today my parents, Christina and I went to visit the Boneyard, where the Air Force mothballs planes. According to our guide, there are $27 billion worth of planes there. Pretty cool.

OK, here's my "picture of a stealth fighter" gag picture.

Here's an A-10 "Warthog".

After the tour, we went to the Pima Air & Space Museum. Here's Christina looking cute in a cockpit.

The museum had Kennedy and Johnson's Air Force One available for touring. This, of course, is the Presidential Potty.

Here are my parents in front of an SR-71 Blackbird. What a plane. Coast to coast in 68 minutes.