log (2009/01/16 to 2009/01/22)

So here's an odd thing that happened!

The other day I got to work and parked my car in the parking lot at work and went around and opened up the back to get out my briefcase, and got out my briefcase, and then when I reached up to close the back I happened to look down, and I noticed this like dark brown disk-shaped thing sitting on the edge just where the door comes down.

I stopped closing the back for a second, and reached down and picked it up.

It was an 1859 Canadian penny!

I smiled at it and closed the back and walked in to work, holding it up close to my eyes and squinting at it and how neat it was. I thought about what to do with it vaguely, and slipped it into my pants pocket, figuring that it'd be safe there and I wasn't about to spend it by accident since it was the size of a quarter and the color of a penny, and so clearly not any normal spendable coin.

And then when I got home that night I remembered it, and got the change out of my pocket to find it, and it wasn't there. There was a 1989 Canadian nickel, which is a completely different size and color.

And it wasn't in any of my other pockets, and I haven't seen it since.

And that's pretty strange!

Maybe I just dreamed that I found it in the first place (it does seem pretty unlikely).

Or maybe I spent it (but as what?).

Or maybe, as the little boy suggested, it transformed into the nickel (hey, you never know!).

Or maybe it slipped out of my pocket and is lurking around at work or in the house somewhere, waiting to surprise me.

Or something.

It's a funny world!

My fellow citizens:

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land - a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many.

They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America - they will be met. On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted - for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn. Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act - not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions - who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them - that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control - and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart - not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort - even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.

To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages.

We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment - a moment that will define a generation - it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence - the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed - why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

"Let it be told to the future world...that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."

America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.

A couple of Pictures o' the Day:

Bush and Cheney look at their watches

(Click through to a recent posting of it, and here are two more; note that the original is much older, with a rather different connotation.)

And in contrast:

Pete and some guy at the inauguration celebration thing

That's Pete Seeger and some guy at the pre-inauguration celebration yesterday. Extremely cool. We always called Pete Seeger "Pete", 'cause of we were long-time fans, and I have very fond childhood memories of sitting around listening to him sing, and getting the audience to sing, in various candle-lit and/or incense-scented and/or beer-scented and/or Sloop-related venues, with all sorts of interesting and kind people dressed in all sorts of ways clapping and laughing and singing.

One thing the TV guy said while we were watching this all on TV really got to me: he said, basically, here's Pete Seeger, playing his guitar and singing in front of a big crowd of people in Washington D. C., and it's not a protest.

It's not a protest.

Enough to bring tears to yer eyes...

One of the things that I like about the huge multinational company that I work for is the Business Conduct Guidelines (colloquially "the BCG"), which we have to sign a thing saying that we've read every year, and that basically say "don't be a jerk".

These guidelines, I believe, serve two functions: first and in a sense most importantly, they tell us that we aren't supposed to be jerks, and that the company actually takes non-jerkiness seriously; and second, if someone is a jerk and the company wants to fire him, he can't make a big stink saying "hey, you never told me you didn't want me to be a jerk!".

(I've traditionally sent a note every year to my manager quibbling about various things in the BCG, officially declaring that I don't consider my Swiss Army knife to be a weapon within the meaning of the act, and so on; this year I have a new manager and he's really busy, so I haven't done that. Yet, anyway.)

There's a supplement to the BCG, which is specifically about how not to be a jerk when dealing with government employees, and which mostly says that not only should you not be a jerk, but you should also not do anything that some politician, looking to distract his constituents from an incident with a bathroom stall or a bordello or something, might spin in the media to look like you were being a jerk. I think this supplement serves the same two purposes as the BCG, as well as reminding us just how careful the laws and politicians and so on require us to be.

Now I think someone somewhere must have made a big stink in some situation, saying "well, yes, you made my client promise that he had read the Business Conduct Guidelines, but it's still all your fault because you did not make him read a version of them rendered as computer-animated cartoon stories about ethnically and culturally diverse smiling fictional people!". Because this year not only did we have to sign off that we'd read the BCG and the relevant supplements, but we also had to take an online "training module" featuring computer-animated cartoon stories about enthically and culturally diverse smiling fictional people.

In a typical one of these stories, an ethnically diverse employee offers a culturally diverse govenment official a large bribe. Then there's a series of multiple-choice questions that you have to answer, all of which are something like:

In this story, Ethnically Diverse Employee offered a large bribe to Culturally Diverse Government Official. Is this okay?

  • Yes
  • Definitely
  • Yes, as long as Culturally Diverse Government Official was hot
  • No

I could feel the brain-cells atrophying as I went through it, and had a hard time staying awake. I guess there are people who have a difficult time with text, and learn much better from cartoons and challenging multiple-choice tests; but really...

In other news, Apple Computer's live support is really amazing!

Our Airport Express stopped working (long past warantee) the other month, and we bought a new one, and I spent an afternoon becoming gradually more frustrated and profane trying to get it to join the house's WEP-encrypted wireless network (which the old Airport Express had had no trouble with). Eventually I posted to the Apple support forums, but the only answers I got pointed me at the standard problems that people have with WEP passwords, and I understood those just fine and had already checked for them all (and the fact that the old one worked was good evidence for them not being there).

I put the whole thing out of my mind, and we got along without an Airport Express for awhile (so no streaming of music from laptops into the house speakers), until the other day I remembered it again, looked on the web again without success, tried all the possibilities without success, and was about to give up again when I noticed that on one of the relevant Apple web pages it said "Still need help? Talk with an Apple expert!".

Yeah right, I thought to myself, get put on hold for three hours trying to talk to an Apple expert and being tortured by bad voice-recognition Barbies. But I filled in the form anyway, and the Web page said that they would be calling me within one minute.

Yeah, right, I thought; and something like thirty-three seconds later the phone rang. It was a recorded voice, so I thought to myself Ha again, but the voice just told me that if I was ready to talk to a human I should press One. So I did, and a person came on. And she knew what she was talking about!

Can you imagine? I submitted a question on the Web, and within sixty seconds I was talking to a live, competent, human being!

What is Apple thinking?

(The only small dark cloud in this story is that what the person eventually told me is that modern Airport Expresses don't really exactly support WEP, or at least not all the time, despite that it's in the configuration menu. I found the one device in the house that I wasn't sure would support WPA2, and when (after fiddling with its menus for awhile) it turned out that it did, I went around and converted the house network to WPA2, and the Airport Express could then join in just fine.)

I thought that was pretty noteworthy.

Readers (of whom I don't often enough note that I have the best ones of, and who continue reading despite my not writing) write various things, and toss me various lines:

Congrats on 50,684 delightful words!

sims 2

Charging rhino

hochu vodki!

your sims stories are the best on the web!!

The last of those was actually entered on a different page. And I'm afraid the second-to-last one might be a member of a largish set of obviously fake comments (about how "middle-class" my website is, how nice the guestbook is, how easily they'd been able to find the prayer that they were looking for, and so on) that probably has some nefarious intent, but what the heck.

I haven't posted any new Sims stories for a Very Long Time, because I haven't played any of the Sims games in a Very Long Time. Too much Second Life and World of Warcraft and whatever else it is I've been doing these days. But having the old stuff appreciated is still very validating. *8)