Tuesday, May 28, 2002

You know, when you say that the last few days were a "long weekend," you're usually referring to the fact that it was three days long. For Carrie and me, though, it was a long weekend in the sense of tiring. I spent all day Saturday helping my friends move into their new house (congratulations again, J&J!). Then I spent all day Sunday at work migrating the company's data to a new server. Then back into the office on Monday afternoon to verify that everything was working after the migration. At least I got to watch the end of the fabulous come-from-behind Celtics victory on Saturday and all of the almost-but-not-quite game yesterday.

Carrie, meanwhile, spent the weekend in D.C. After flying down on Saturday morning, she attended a bridal shower that afternoon, went to a bachelorette party on Saturday night, attended a wedding on Sunday afternoon, and went to a brunch on Monday morning. Then she flew home and got picked up at the airport by yours truly, who vowed (again) to never drive to Logan Airport at the end of a holiday weekend.

Things don't promise to get much quieter for the next couple weeks, either. On Friday and Saturday, I will be in Worcester attending the state Democratic Convention. Oh, and I'll be gaming on Sunday, too. The following weekend holds another wedding and my 10-year (eek!) high school reunion. Then there's a family reunion the following weekend. I think sometime in late June, we might actually have a day with no plans. We'd celebrate by cooking ourselves a nice dinner, but our kitchen will be in the middle of remodeling.

How is it that a couple with no children can be this busy? At times like this, living as an isolationist in the woods with no electricity or phone seems almost appealing. But then, I guess I wouldn't be able to update this blog, so what fun would that be?

Well, back to life in the bumper-to-bumper lane...

Friday, May 17, 2002

Happy birthday Carrie!

Today, my wife turns a year older than me. She always enjoys that 5-day period when our nominal ages are the same, but it quickly comes to an end. And, of course, I go out of my way to remind her of her seniority during the other 360 days. ;-)

Last weekend, we celebrated our birthdays and Mother's Day by meeting my parents in Manhattan. After a day of tourism in which we devoured large quantities of tasty foodstuffs (pastrami and corned beef at Katz's Deli, hot dogs from Nathan's, shaved ice from the guy on the corner), we saw Liam Neeson's and Laura Linney's excellent performances in The Crucible. If you're looking for a good play the next time you're in New York, I highly recommend it.

On Sunday morning, we went to brunch at Norma's, a restaurant located on 57th street inside the Parker Meridien hotel. The place is pricey, which is too bad, because I think Carrie and I would seriously consider driving 4 hours each way some weekend just to have brunch there if it were cheaper. :-) After starting with a complimentary taste of their "Smoothie of the Day" and a delicious basket of baked goods which included a fresh Krispy Kreme donut, we had the main course. My dish was Granny Smith apple and red pear crepes with a light glaze. Yum! Carrie had the same fruits in thick Irish oatmeal with a brulee' top. I don't remember what my parents had, but all of us (even my mom, who somehow almost always orders something that doesn't turn out right) loved the meal. If you're in New York and you want a special treat for breakfast/brunch, I highly recommend Norma's. Mmmmm.

This weekend promises to involve a bit more effort. My grandmother is moving on Monday into senior housing from an apartment that she's lived in for 38 years. You can only imagine the things we've been finding as we've sorted through nearly four decades' worth of accumulated possessions. Anyway, tomorrow is packing day, and the biggest challenge is probably going to be keeping 6 family members working in the same apartment without any murders taking place. After the packing, though, we plan to celebrate with a birthday cake from Party Favors, the bakery in Brookline from which we got our wedding cake. Since we picked our cake entirely based on taste (near as we could tell, most decent wedding cake places do a good job with appearance), we know from experience that Party Favors has delicious cake. Mmmmm. Cake. Mmmmm. We just couldn't wait until next November (our anniversary) to enjoy it again.

With a busy weekend of packing ahead (with time out for gaming and watching the Celtics game, of course), I doubt I'll have an opportunity to update the blog. So, see you Monday!

Tuesday, May 14, 2002

The other day, I read this article about a new (second attempt) child pornography law. The law's primary purpose is to eliminate 'virtual' child porn. By virtual, they mean pictures or movies that show children having sex, even if the pictures are computer-generated and do not involve real children. In the case of teenagers, the law allows such 'virtual' porn, but it is up to the creator or distributor of the porn to prove that it's virtual, not real. In other words, the producers of American Beauty are off the hook because they can easily prove that Mena Suvari is over 18. But if some pervert uses a computer animation package to create a realistic-looking teenager having sex, the pervert will be convicted unless he can prove it was computer-generated and not real. How he proves that, I'm not sure.

Now, I find child pornography sick (especially if it involves young children - yuck!). Still, this legislation bothers me for a couple reasons. First, I don't see how it really benefits anyone. I mean, maybe it would be nice to know there are a handful fewer gross pictures and movies in the world, but do we need federal legislation to do that? Who's being protected? Virtual porn doesn't involve children the way 'real' porn does. So kids don't benefit. And protecting kids is really supposed to be the goal of child porn legislation. It's the reason that such laws are considered Constitutional, in spite of the
First Amendment. Personally, I think the legislation exists so that a group of conservative Republicans (the sponsor and co-sponsors, including Tom DeLay) can impose their values on society.

Second, there's the Constitutional issue which I already mentioned. The First Amendment allows people to express themselves. It even allows them to create pictures and films of their fetishes and fantasies. This is the freedom that America promises: the ability to create things, even if other people don't like them. The exception is, or at least is supposed to be, when person A's invocation of his/her rights interferes with person B's safety or freedom. Creating 'real' child porn goes beyond free speech - it also involves abusing children. But virtual porn does nothing of the kind. There are no rights or freedoms being violated. It's nothing more than some person's sick idea of fun. Don't like it? Don't look at it.

Third, there's the problem of turning the tables on our legal system's standard 'innocent until proven guilty' paradigm. This legislation would basically say 'if it looks like 17-year-olds were involved, then they were, unless you can prove otherwise.' There is no burden of proof on prosecutors to show that minors were involved in the creation of the images. Taking this to the extreme, it could lead to McCarthy-like witch-hunts against everyone involved in pornography creation and distribution. 'Are you, or have you ever been, involved in creating porn using minors? No? Prove it!' Even in a less extreme case, a religious fundamentalist like Attorney General John Ashcroft could have a field day arresting every creator or distributor of porn with younger-looking women. No burden of proof means less time and expense for the prosecutor's office and a higher conviction rate.

Overall, I think legislation like this is dangerous. I'm planning to write my congressman (the legislation is currently in a House committee) and let him know he should vote against it if it comes to a floor vote. If you're interested in doing the same, the bill number is H.R.4623.IH and its name is 'Child Obscenity and Pornography Prevention Act of 2002.'

Friday, May 10, 2002

As reported in today's Boston Globe, the Massachusetts Department of Education plans to begin testing certain math teachers. No, not just people who are trying to become math teachers. And, no, not all the math teachers in the state, either. Just the math teachers who teach in school districts where students are doing poorly on the state's MCAS exam (a controversial standardized test which is given to 4th-10th graders and is required for high school graduation). Now, the teachers don't have to pass these exams that the state is going to administer. And, supposedly, the teachers won't be held accountable if they score low.

This seems like a really stupid idea. First, because it seems highly unlikely that a major cause of students failing the math MCAS is teachers not knowing the material. In fact, the article in the Globe cites research which indicates that absenteeism of students is the leading correlated factor. Second, because it will make it even harder to keep good teachers in the very school districts that need it the most. Not only will the teachers resent having yet another task piled on their already busy schedules, but they'll really resent having their knowledge of the field questioned by administrators. And who can blame them? Teachers rarely get treated as the educated professionals that they are. Finally, because the state already has pretty strict requirements for becoming a math teacher. Heck, you have to have either been a math major or taken equivalent college coursework to become a certified math teacher in this state. What are the chances that a former math major is going to be unable to do basic algebra or geometry?

I think the whole thing is ridiculous. The teachers are pissed. The state is going to blow who-knows-how-much money and time developing, administering, and scoring the test. The results are either going to be as expected (most teachers actually know the material they teach) or shocking (the exam is written poorly causing a high percentage of teachers to fail - can't you see the headlines?) And, meanwhile, students in low-income districts will continue to fail the math MCAS.

Thursday, May 09, 2002

What ever happened to stock dividends? Sure, a few blue chip stocks still pay dividends ranging from piddling to generous. But most don't pay a dime. Wasn't it Warren Buffett who stood proudly on a hill in New England and declared, "Give me dividends or give me death"? Seriously, though, dividends make perfect sense. I own a piece of a company, so I get a piece of its profits. Makes sense, doesn't it? Most stocks don't work that way, though. You risk your money by investing in a business and what do you get in return? Nada! Your only hope is that some other fool comes along and is willing to make the same mistake you did but at a higher price. Ultimately, this means that as a shareholder, you couldn't care less whether the company makes a profit. All you care about is the future stock price. Is it any wonder then that so many public companies (can you say dot-com?) focus on things like revenue growth instead of profit growth? If profits, in the form of dividends, were a substantial part of an investor's potential return, you can bet she/he would be paying a lot more attention to the bottom line, and we'd see a lot more profits (and more cash for investors) in the end. Hmm... maybe this is the key to reviving the economy! Instead of a tax rebate, let profitable corporations start paying dividends to their shareholders! Just think of all the people who would suddenly get a nice check in the mail, courtesy of Enterprise America instead of the IRS.

Moving on to other random thoughts, I received a mysterious envelope today from a vendor I recently did business with. I wasn't expecting anything, and the envelope felt stiff, as if it contained something more substantial than just paper. It crossed my mind as I opened it that maybe it was some sort of thank you for the $3000 of business I had given them. I was right, but I must admit that I've never before received a package of microwave popcorn as a thank you. Now, don't get me wrong. I like popcorn, and I appreciate their thought of sending me a gift. But microwave popcorn? Weird.

The server at work is still causing me grief. It made it 24 hours without a crash, just enough to tease me into thinking the problem was fixed. No such luck. I just gave it a brain transplant (replaced the CPU), so we'll see if that fixes the problem.

Tonight, Carrie and I are going out to celebrate our six-month anniversary. It's hard to believe it's been half a year already. The wedding (or, really, the wedding planning) seems like it was just yesterday. Time flies when you're incredibly busy, I suppose.

That's all for now,
Max

Wednesday, May 08, 2002

So, this is it. My very first blog! I bet millions of people around the world are rejoicing over the ability to read my random thoughts. Uh, yeah.

Last night, I went to see Spider-Man. Really fun movie. I thought Tobey Maguire was surprisingly good in the role, and Kirsten Dunst was really charming as Mary Jane. The action scenes were not only visually great, but they drew me in. Parts that were supposed to be scary or tense actually made me feel scared or tense. There was even a cohesive story with the expected Spider-Man interwoven plotlines. If you haven't seen it yet, and you think there's any chance you might like a movie of the comic book action variety, I'd recommend a trip to the theater.

On a less positive note, the server that has been a thorn in my side at work all week continues to frustrate. It crashes at least 4-5 times each day, with no apparent rhyme or reason. I'm fairly sure it's a hardware problem, but I have been unable so far to isolate the cause. My best guess was overheating of the CPU, until I ran it overnight with the case wide open and a heavy-duty fan blowing directly towards the CPU, only to have the machine crash again after a few hours. A battery of RAM tests came up negative for problems, but I swapped the RAM and am waiting to see if it crashes again. Since the machine has gone as long as 8 hours between crashes, trying to isolate the cause has been a very slow and agonizing process. Oh, well. I'm the one who likes working in IT. :)

So, my first blog post comes to an end. But, don't despair! More posts will be coming along soon.