September 16, 2005

Blog Move Imminent!

I'm getting ready to move the blog over to the new software right now (8:45pm Pacific, 11:45pm Eastern, on Friday Sept. 16). Please do not post comments here, or else they won't get carried over into the new system. Remember, the new blog link is It should all be functional by Saturday morning, and this old blog should redirect you to the new one.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 08:44 PM | Comments (0)

Video Car

I just I'm just a blogging fool today. I came across this blurb about a remote control car with a camcorder built in. It's a cool idea. But after watching the linked video, I don't know that I could stand much of any video produced by kids, even my darling baby.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 01:49 PM | Comments (0)

See-Through Concrete

Well, not exactly see-through, but there is now a type of concrete that passes light. Too cool! You could put walls around your garden or yard, and get more light than you otherwise would, among many other applications.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 01:38 PM | Comments (0)

Big Blue For Schools

CNN is reporting that IBM is starting a program to support its employees who want to become math & science teachers. IBM, along with the rest of the technology industry, is concerned about the shortfall in math & science education in the US. So, they're going to give financial support to some employeees (up to 100 in their trial phase of the program) to get teaching credentials and then move over to schools.

Bravo to IBM for putting money into a program that could help the nation's long-term educational goals, even if nothing is guaranteed to come directly back to IBM.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 12:41 PM | Comments (0)

Too Smart Airplanes

I was just reading an article about computing advances, and more than one futurist predicts we could have human-level intelligence in computers by 2020. I like this part:

Pearson said that computer consciousness would make feasible a whole new sphere of emotional machines, such as airplanes that are afraid of crashing.

Just what we need: Airplanes that refuse to take off.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 10:28 AM | Comments (0)

Clarification on Military Thoughts

While playing with the new BlogSearch tool at Google yesterday, I found out that Elizabeth D. has a blog, and she'd linked to some of my posts. Unfortunately, it turns out that she and some of her readers either misunderstood me, or couldn't understand me at all. :-) So, maybe I can clarify things a bit.

The post was about the military and citizenship. I'd tried to make a few points in the article:

  • America has a standing army which is large enough and well-funded enough to allow politicians to send troops around the world without causing undue distress at home. As the article I was quoting put it, "Modern warfare lays no significant burdens on the larger body of citizens in whose name war is being waged."

  • This disconnect between military and the broader population raises the scary possibility (based on the history of other nations) of the USA at some point becoming a military empire, a fear the nation's founders felt: "a danger made manifest in their day by the career of Napoleon Bonaparte, whom Jefferson described as having "transferred the destinies of the republic from the civil to the military arm.""

  • Compulsory service to the government, which could be both in service to the military or to other functions (such as land beautification), is distasteful in many ways. But it does tie some large fraction of the citizenry to the nation's politics, especially its military activities.

In the comments on my post, Elizabeth D. wrote, "Draftees tend to make poor soldiers." I think it depends on the situation. Surely the Israeli military (which requires everyone to serve for some time, I believe) is not seen as a poor quality army? I don't know enough about other countries to compare other volunteer versus draft armies. Options to keep both a volunteer component and a draft component in the military could also probably help with some of the problems.

The other comments about mandatory work are valid. I'm not saying that forcing all (or a randomly selected fraction) of the population of a certain age to work for the government (either in the military or in infrastructure improvement) is a great solution. I do think, however, that variations of the idea should be explored, because the current system has its own problems.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 09:44 AM | Comments (2)

Hey, Math

Thomas Friedman writes in today's New York Times ("Still Eating Our Lunch") about a program called HeyMath (note that the URL is, NOT as it says in Friedman's column), which serves to collect the best way of teaching individual math concepts from teachers in multiple countries. Abstract concepts are combined with illustrations and animations to help explain the concepts, and now teachers from around the world can use the website to help their own math instruction. It sounds like an interesting idea.

And of course, the reason for Friedman to devote his editorial segment to the topic is clear:

Why am I writing about this? Because math and science are the keys to innovation and power in today's world, and American parents had better understand that the people who are eating their kids' lunch in math are not resting on their laurels.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 08:48 AM | Comments (0)

September 15, 2005

So Cleansing...

Some of Dorothy's bath toys (esp. the ducks) have been getting mildew or something inside of them, presumably due to not properly drying out. So, last night during bath time, Elizabeth's suggestion was that it was time to:

give the duck a bleach enema.
So funny, yet so disturbing...

Well, today I gave the duck (and a few others toys) the bleach enema, and now they're squeaky (was the pun intended, or wasn't it? you'll never know...) clean!

Posted by Tom Nugent at 03:16 PM | Comments (1)

Compare and Contrast

How did this happen?

Posted by Elizabeth Nugent at 10:59 AM | Comments (1)

Changing Blog Software

At some point in the near future, I'm going to switch this blog from using MovableType to WordPress instead. I'm using MovableType v. 2.65, whereas the software has been upgraded beyond version 3, but now costs money to use. And I don't like the administrative interface or the way it has to rebuild every single page if you change the layout etc. WordPress has worked pretty well as the LiftPort blog software.

When I do switch things over, I'll move the location of the blog as well. The new URL will be (instead of /blog). I will leave a placeholder here, redirecting people to the new location. And I will post an announcement to the blog when the switchover is imminent.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 09:57 AM | Comments (0)

Baby TSA

From Elizabeth: A Toy for the Times. "OK dolly, time for the full body cavity search!"

Elizabeth says, "I can’t decide if this is a good idea or horrifying. Maybe it’s both." It is a bit sad.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 09:52 AM | Comments (0)

September 13, 2005

Smart Chimps

Wild chimpanzees capable of passing on knowledge of how to detect and destroy traps have been found in the West African nation of Guinea.
Very interesting. You can read more here.
Posted by Tom Nugent at 03:24 PM | Comments (1)

Cobalt holds his ground

The cats have pretty well-defined territories around the house. The seat of the rocking chair belongs to Cobalt, and the top of the chair back belongs to Rhodium. Rhodium also has Dorothy's folding mat/chair, although Cobalt will use it occasionally when she's not around. Cobalt has priority on our pillows.

Of course, the territiories are somewhat fluid, and Dorothy's mobility has definitely shifted which are the preferred locations. But Cobalt decided that enough was enough this weekend.

(As background, I should mention that Dorothy likes to climb on the rocking chair and armchair, and she wants them to herself when she does so. In fact, she will grab me or Tom and insistently pull on us to evict us from the chair. As soon as we stand up, she will turn around and ask for help climbing onto it herself, from the very person she just booted.)

She decided that she wanted to be in the rocking chair, where Cobalt was taking a nap. She did the same thing to him that she does to us, poking him and urgently saying "uh, uh, uh." He just looked at her. Eventually, she graduated to puttting both arms around him and pulling as hard as she could, while he stared at her as if she had gone crazy. He actually outlasted her, refusing to get out of the chair until she lost interest and went to play with some blocks. Then he left for higher and safer ground.

Posted by Elizabeth Nugent at 11:50 AM | Comments (1)

More On Tribes

It appears that Elizabeth and I took away very different messages from the post about Tribes. I agree that the author might have come across as smug, and I disagree with many of his comments on modern-era politicians (e.g., George Bush et al). I believe that the message shouldn't be confused with the way it is said, but Elizabeth and I seem to take away different core messages. Here's what I took from the article.

  1. Race is not a primary determining factor in people's behavior. The best and worst of human behavior can be found in people of all races.
  2. Classification of people should not be done by race, gender, socioeconomic class, etc. It should be based on the actions of the people.
  3. The author calls these groupings of people "Tribes."
  4. Different tribes have different characteristics. Some solve their problems, some choose to blame others for their own problems. Some are independent and self-sufficient, and some are totally dependent on outside forces for their support.
  5. Membership in a Tribe is decided by the individual. You choose your own behavior, and thereby what "tribe" you belong to.
  6. Some people just go and help in the best way they can. Others (he accuses celebrities) present the image of helping, without doing a serious amount of work.
  7. The overwhelmin majority of people are not violent (at least as reflected in the assault and murder rates). A small minority are violent, even sociopathic. Some of the non-violent people choose their life paths as protectors, which is a noble calling. Many others act as protectors, even if it's not their vocation.
  8. Comparing the response of the so-called protector class in the cases of 9/11 and Katrina shows widely different behaviors, especially at the ruling level (i.e., mayors).
  9. It is important for society to have some number of protectors to keep society safe from both natural disasters and the sociopathic tribe.
All the other stuff he posted involved gross generalities (Pink vs. Grey) and self-aggrandizing examples. But the core messages I list above were ones I saw value in.

In addition to everything the author stated, I also inferred that people can generally identify who is in their tribe, although they can sometimes be wrong. People are occasionally surprised by someone they thought they knew well.

If the author was smug or self-centered, that's his problem - it doesn't detract from the message that tries to see the inner value of people instead of their surface characteristics.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 09:49 AM | Comments (0)

September 12, 2005

First Photos of September

OK, I've got the latest batch of photos online. Uncle Keith's visit, deer in the back yard, and cheesy grins from Dorothy.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 02:54 PM | Comments (0)

Flame On!

Seen on the back of a trailer parked in the construction zone behind our house:
So, does this mean that the contents of the trailer are controversial and might start an internet flame war?

Posted by Tom Nugent at 01:45 PM | Comments (0)

Cat Nose Beeping

I just downloaded two weeks' worth of photos from the camera, and will be uploading some of them later today. For now, here's a movie of Dorothy beeping Cobalt's nose (the movie requires Quicktime 7 to view). He's surprisingly unphased by the ordeal.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 12:09 PM | Comments (4)

18-Month Checkup

Dorothy had her 18-month check-up this morning, and everything looks good. For the record, her weight was 26 lbs. 15oz, and her height was 33 inches. So she's still bouncing around the 75th to 90th percentile. Oh, and her head diameter was 19.25 centimeters.

They asked us if she knows 20 words. We replied that she knows almost that many animals. Dog, cat, bear, deer, bird, owl, otter, frog, giraffe, hippo, rhino, ape, etc. etc. Plus she knows her head, hair, ears, eyes, nose, mouth, teeth, tongue, belly button, heinie (very cute when she points to it), knees, ankles, toes, etc. Words are not a problem. :-)

Posted by Tom Nugent at 10:49 AM | Comments (0)

September 11, 2005


I think it's appropriate, on this anniversary of 9/11, to post a link to an excellent post about humanity. Warning: There's some profanity from the article quoted here.

The post is long, but well worth reading. Here is a selection from the beginning, only a part of the entire post:

I believe that the human animal – the raw material of our physical bodies – is essentially interchangeable. By this I mean that I could take the children of Fallujah and turn them all into Astronauts, convert Jewish babies into fanatical, mass-murdering SS guards, and shake a generation of the poorest Voodoo-worshippers in Haiti into a cadre of top-flight nuclear physicists, chemical engineers and computer scientists.

Race has nothing to do with this – precisely nothing. The mobs of murdering Hutus and swarms of slaughtering Serbs are as different racially as it is possible to be, and they are cut from precisely the same cloth.

I know this is so because there have been murdering scumbags of every stripe and color in the long history of the human race – which is depressing – and that these animals, at any given time, represent only a small percentage of the majority of people, also of every stripe and color – which is not. There is no corner on virtue, and no outpost of depravity. Human hearts are indistinguishable and interchangeable. Anyone who claims otherwise is, without further argument or statements necessary, a complete God-damned idiot.

Now, with that said – have we all heard that loud and clear? – there are light-years of difference in how various Tribes will behave.

Only a few minutes ago, I had the delightful opportunity to read the comment of a fellow who said he wished that white, middle-class, racist, conservative cocksuckers like myself could have been herded into the Superdome Concentration Camp to see how much we like it. Absent, of course, was the fundamental truth of what he plainly does not have the eyes or the imagination to see, namely, that if the Superdome had been filled with white, middle-class, racist, conservative cocksuckers like myself, it would not have been a refinery of horror, but rather a citadel of hope and order and restraint and compassion.

That has nothing to do with me being white. If the blacks and Hispanics and Jews and gays that I work with and associate with were there with me, it would have been that much better. That’s because the people I associate with – my Tribe – consists not of blacks and whites and gays and Hispanics and Asians, but of individuals who do not rape, murder, or steal. My Tribe consists of people who know that sometimes bad things happen, and that these are an opportunity to show ourselves what we are made of. My people go into burning buildings. My Tribe consists of organizers and self-starters, proud and self-reliant people who do not need to be told what to do in a crisis. My Tribe is not fearless; they are something better. They are courageous. My Tribe is honorable, and decent, and kind, and inventive. My Tribe knows how to give orders, and how to follow them. My Tribe knows enough about how the world works to figure out ways to boil water, ration food, repair structures, build and maintain makeshift latrines, and care for the wounded and the dead with respect and compassion.

Go read the entire article for yourself.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 09:46 PM | Comments (1)

Katrina Craziness

There are so many stories coming out of New Orleans, it's hard to know what is true and what is not. Although the story from the EMS workers about getting shot at by police and repeatedly bullied by law enforcement seemed plausible, numerous comments are debunking the story (e.g., in this blog and this Free Republic blog), pointing out the authors' political history and inconsistencies in their story. The sad thing, of course, is that the story was so believable.

Another story from Thursday's New York Times ("New Orleans Begins Confiscating Firearms as Water Recedes") does, in a way, highlight at least one (perhaps more) political axe people might grind: gun control.

No civilians in New Orleans will be allowed to carry pistols, shotguns or other firearms, said P. Edwin Compass III, the superintendent of police. "Only law enforcement are allowed to have weapons," he said.
I understand that looters stole guns and have been shooting rescuers etc. But taking guns away from legally registered owners serves no point. Worse, the well-connected get to keep their bodyguards' weapons:
But that order apparently does not apply to hundreds of security guards hired by businesses and some wealthy individuals to protect property. The guards, employees of private security companies like Blackwater, openly carry M-16's and other assault rifles. Mr. Compass said that he was aware of the private guards, but that the police had no plans to make them give up their weapons.
What is the difference between a law-abiding, legally registered owner of a gun who might help fight off looters, and a security guard with a gun (besides the rented uniform)?

There are a number of "question the government" items. Another one is the story about the buses that were ordered by a hotel to evacuate its guests which were then confiscated by police before the buses could get to those who ordered them.

And what about FEMA commandeering a hospital's generator fuel? To what better use could that fuel possibly have been put?

The craziness and the state of decay was summed up well by a couple of incidents related in another NYT article from Thursday("Macabre Reminder: The Corpse on Union Street"):

In the downtown business district here, on a dry stretch of Union Street, past the Omni Bank automated teller machine, across from a parking garage offering "early bird" rates: a corpse. Its feet jut from a damp blue tarp. Its knees rise in rigor mortis.

Six National Guardsmen walked up to it on Tuesday afternoon and two blessed themselves with the sign of the cross. One soldier took a parting snapshot like some visiting conventioneer, and they walked away. New Orleans, September 2005.

Hours passed, the dusk of curfew crept, the body remained.
Night came, then this morning, then noon, and another sun beat down on a dead son of the Crescent City.

That a corpse lies on Union Street may not shock; in the wake of last week's hurricane, there are surely hundreds, probably thousands. What is remarkable is that on a downtown street in a major American city, a corpse can decompose for days, like carrion, and that is acceptable.
The incomprehensible has become so routine here that it tends to lull you into acceptance. On Sunday, for example, several soldiers on Jefferson Highway had guns aimed at the heads of several prostrate men suspected of breaking into an electronics store.

A car pulled right up to this tense scene and the driver leaned out his window to ask a soldier a question: "Hey, how do you get to the interstate?"

The forced evacuation of the city is another item that confuses me. Does martial law really give the mayor the power to force everyone to leave the city?
Many of the residents still in the city said they did not understand why the city remained intent on forcing them out.

"I know the risks," said Renee de Pontchieux, as she sat on a stool outside Kajun's Pub in the working-class Bywater neighborhood east of downtown. "We used to think we lived in America - now we're not so sure. Why should we allow this government to chase us out and allow people from outside to rebuild our homes? We want to rebuild our homes."

What about the rebuilding, and what about taking care of those who are in hospitals?
When police officers came to Billie Moore's 3,000 square foot Victorian to warn her of the health risks of remaining in the city, she pushed her identification tag from the hospital where she works as a nurse through slats in the door.

"I guess you know the health risks then," the officer said as he walked away.

Ms. Moore and her husband, Richard Robinson, who do not drive and use bicycles for the 5-mile ride to their jobs at the still-functioning Ochsner Hospital in suburban Jefferson Parish, have no plans to leave. Their circa-1895 home, on the city's southwest flank, suffered virtually no damage in the hurricane or its aftermath.
Ms. Moore said she had not worked since the hurricane because there are few babies left at the hospital, but that she remains on standby; her husband has been on duty the past five days.

"I don't want to go, I don't want to lose my job," she said. "Who's going to take care of the patients if all the nurses go away?"

While kicking everyone out so you can just raze entire neighborhoods may make it easier to rebuild, what if that's not what people want? And for those few who stay behind, why not give them the option, as long as they don't demand free medical care if/when they get cholera?

The entire situation is, of course, confusing and complex, so there's no clear answers to most of the questions (except that it's a bad idea to build a city below sea level in a hurricane zone). It does seem clear, though, that the "system," which encompasses agencies, the law, etc. at city, state, and federal levels, is broke. Feds were hemming and hawing about trodding on the state, state leaders didn't know to call FEMA, and a zillion things went wrong that shouldn't have. There is no one individual or any single action that can be blamed - the chaos is a result of numerous causes. I do not have high hopes that the system will be dramatically improved any time in the next few years.

UPDATE: No forced evacuations:

A police spokesman said Sunday that authorities will not forcibly remove the holdouts.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 08:32 PM | Comments (1)

September 09, 2005

Weed Galore

Reason magazine's news blog "Hit and Run" links to a NYT story about a couple who don't want to leave New Orleans. In addition to regular supplies and a fully intact house, they have something else:

Ms. Harris said she did not want to leave. "I haven't even run out of weed yet," she said.
Go read the comments on the post - there are so many useful things and funny things being said.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 10:11 PM | Comments (0)

Which Card Was It?

An article in yesterday's New York Times ("A Legal System in Shambles") about the loss of legal records and offices of lawyers was interesting. But then there's this quote:

"I talked to one guy who was arrested for reading a tarot card without a permit," [Phyllis Mann, a local lawyer] said.

There's just so many things wrong with that statement. I leave the enumeration of them all as an exercise to the reader. :-)

Posted by Tom Nugent at 10:43 AM | Comments (1)

September 05, 2005

Katrina and Institutions

Two recent editorials in the New York Times ("Ben Franklin Had the Right Idea for New Orleans" by John Tierney and "The Bursting Point" by David Brooks) highlight important points about the hurricane Katrina disaster, but also highlight differences in attitudes towards the government by their different perspectives.

Tierney argues that New Orleans is in so much worse shape now than New York was after 9/11 because of the different histories our nation has in regards to fighting their types of disasters (water vs. fire). Specifically, fire (which used to burn down cities frequently) has been seen as a local problem, and Ben Franklin invented two ideas which helped to combat fires - the fire department, and fire insurance. As a result, building codes for buildings have improved so much and fire departments have become so powerful that fires usually do not threaten widespread areas - they are generally well-contained.

Floods, on the other hand, have become the federal government's responsibility since the 1960s. Worse, it subsidized flood insurance, thereby encouraging people to build in flood zones.

People don't bother to protect themselves because they figure - correctly - that if disaster strikes they'll be reimbursed anyway by FEMA. It gives out money so freely that it has grown into one of the great vote-buying tools of the modern presidency.

Tierney doesn't argue that the federal government should completely leave flood control to localities, but he points out the appropriate respective roles:
The federal government has a role in coordinating flood control among states and in organizing outside disaster relief, but the locals should fight floods much the same way they fight fires. Fifteenth-century Dutch burghers didn't have the financial or technological resources of today's Louisianians, but they managed to hold back the sea without the Army Corps of Engineers.

Tierney argues that a reduction in the federal government's role in flood relief (especially in subsidizing flood insurance, and spending gobs of money to rebuild every shack hit by a hurricane) combined with flood insurance would encourage development of city capabilities to handle floods:
Private flood insurance has come to seem quaint in America, but in Britain it's the norm. If Americans paid premiums for living in risky areas, they'd think twice about building oceanfront villas.

Brooks' article, on the other hand, focuses solely on the government's role. Given the current situation (as opposed to the preferred one, as outlined by Tierney), he makes good points. He notes that after 9/11, Rudy Giuliani "took control" and the response was seen as relatively well-organized and competent, and people came together regardless of class, race, etc. For New Orleans, however, things were different:

Last week in New Orleans, by contrast, nobody took control. Authority was diffuse and action was ineffective. The rich escaped while the poor were abandoned. Leaders spun while looters rampaged. Partisans squabbled while the nation was ashamed.

The first rule of the social fabric - that in times of crisis you protect the vulnerable - was trampled. Leaving the poor in New Orleans was the moral equivalent of leaving the injured on the battlefield. No wonder confidence in civic institutions is plummeting.

I wonder if the breakdown of coordinated response and cohesion amongst people is an indication of the beginning of a transition in our culture, similar to that seen in the 1930s as untrusted institutions were replaced with new ones to handle unforeseen problems (e.g., formation of the SEC to deal with stock scammers). Brooks feels the same way:
Katrina means that the political culture, already sour and bloody-minded in many quarters, will shift. There will be a reaction. There will be more impatience for something new. There is going to be some sort of big bang as people respond to the cumulative blows of bad events and try to fundamentally change the way things are.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 09:05 PM | Comments (2)

Scientific Notation

A few weeks ago we bought some new pajamas for Dorothy since she was seriously outgrowing her old ones. I found some nice unisex ones (read: got them off the "boys" rack) that had planets and stuff on them. Later, I discovered how cool these jammies were: One pair had a drawing of the planet Saturn on it, along with the mass of the planet in scientific notation! How cool is that?!

Posted by Tom Nugent at 08:46 PM | Comments (1)

September 02, 2005

Last Week's Photos

I finally had the time to upload photos from last week. The new photo album has pictures of Dorothy with her grandparents, her Raggedy Ann doll, and more.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 05:41 PM | Comments (0)

September 01, 2005

More Alternate Viewpoints for Kansas

Elizabeth sent me the link to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster ("Touched by His Noodly Appendage"). It's a hilarious site, and is devoted to the author's letter to the Kansas School Board about a theory other than Intelligent Design that the author thinks should be taught in schools. Go read and smile. :-)

Posted by Tom Nugent at 05:03 PM | Comments (0)