September 2005

Thu Sep 01 23:27:55 PDT 2005

Signs of an Empire in Decline

About a decade or more ago (think it was circa 1993), I had a chance to witness the motorcades of numerous heads of state headed during the APEC conference held in Seattle. What struck me was how distant and isolated they all were from any common person, whisked around in big luxury cars, surrounded by phalanxes of motorcycle cops on streets cleared of traffic expressly for them. How could they have the slightest idea of anything relevant to one of their citizens? Only from dim and fading memories of the past, before they achieved VIP status.

I remember thinking that eventually any such system based on such disparities of wealth and power is doomed for the simple reason that the more one is isolated from those one leads, the harder it becomes for one’s decisions to be based on any factual reality.

Now we have a ruler who issues sanctimonious pronouncements that there’s never an excuse for breaking the law (during a situation when breaking into closed shops and taking things is the only way to procure food, water, medicine, and clothing). We have an idiotic evacuation plan that was totally ignorant of a huge chunk of a city without access to personal transportation. Even as of today, the FEMA chief is still blathering about those “…who chose not to leave the city…” (emphasis added).

We have a war that’s sapped resources like the majority of the Louisiana National Guard’s stock of amphibious vehicles, and the Army Corps of Engineers project to maintain and strengthen levees.

Condi Rice is playing tennis and Monkey Boy is stumping in support of the war in Iraq.

We have a totally pathetic and inadequate evacuation. Those levee breaches opened up well after the hurricane passed. They started out small and grew, as levee breaks almost always do. The flood came slowly; there was plenty of advance warning this was going to happen. It was cryingly obvious to anyone with a topographic map exactly how much of the city was going to flood. Yet people were kept in increasing squalor at the Superdome, with no apparently no plans in place for how to get them out through streets which were doomed to flood.

Even now, days after the flood, the Mayor of New Orleans is still complaining that FEMA has done almost nothing and it’s still a local relief effort. I see no reason to doubt his words.

And so the situation is heading into a scene straight out of Nigeria, Sudan, the Congo or any number of dysfunctional third-world kleptocracies.

Much is being made in the media of the incidents of relief helicopters being shot at. Let me make one thing perfectly clear: it’s absolutely inexcusable to do such a thing, and anyone who does deserves to be pumped full of lead and left to bloat and rot in the sweltering Louisiana sun. But, put it in context with all the other incidents of people spontaneously helping each other, and put it in context with the organized and deliberate violence being perpetuated by the American ruling class (violence that’s causing gross interference to relief effort as well as causing incalculable suffering half a world away).

The old saw about Rome is that it was a sure sign of decay when Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Signs of the decay and utter rottenness to the core of the American Empire are playing on the nightly news, live from New Orleans.

Fri Sep 02 11:11:04 PDT 2005

Why No Buses

From a 2002 article (part of an uncannily prescient series) in the New Orleans Times-Picayune (all emphasis added by yours truly):

“I don’t have a question about the fact that a lot of people are not going to leave, not just the 100,000 who don’t have private transportation,” said Terry Tullier, acting director of New Orleans’ Office of Emergency Preparedness. “We think we’re going to do our people a terrible disservice if we don’t tell them the truth. And the truth is that when it happens, a lot of people are going to die.”

“[bus evacuations are] never going to happen because there’s not enough buses in the city,” said Charley Ireland, who retired as deputy director of the New Orleans Office of Emergency Preparedness in 2000. “Between the RTA and the school buses, you’ve got maybe 500 buses, and they hold maybe 40 people each. It ain’t going to happen.”

The capacity of 40 each seems pessimistic to me. The Wikipedia “bus” article reports 50 as a typical capacity. But even if we’re optimistic that every bus is crammed with standees and carries about 60 people each, that’s still only 500 ✕ 60 = 30,000 people, less than a third of what is needed.

So local government knew about the problem and lived in denial about it. Then when the inevitable happened they professed confusion as to why some didn’t leave, and finally claimed they “chose” to stay. (Yes, I’m sure some people did choose. But to claim they all did is patently dishonest.)

None of this should come as any big surprise to anyone who knows a little about Louisiana’s reputation for corrupt, ineffectual governance.

Fri Sep 02 18:23:33 PDT 2005

This is Criminal

I’m pretty skeptical of the Amtrak claim, but that they just let school buses get ruined by the flood, unused is nothing short of criminal:

We have Amtrak here that could have carried everybody out of town. There were enough school buses that could have evacuated 20,000 people easily, but they just let them be flooded. My son watched 40 buses go underwater — they just wouldn’t move them, afraid they’d be stolen.
Full story here.

Fri Sep 02 22:48:38 PDT 2005

“Like a ‘Concentration Camp’”

That’s not my words of what the Superdome was like, that’s the words of reporter from Agence France Presse, the biggest mainstream news agency in France.

Make no mistake: Monkey Boy, his cronies, and the class that put them in power certainly need to be held accountable for this human disaster, punished severely, and perpetually removed from power. They’ve played a real part in making it possible. But the culpability goes beyond the GOP brand of the elite.

Right now, the bourgeois liberals seem to be appointing C. Ray Nagin, Mayor of New Orleans and Democratic Party member, their hero of the day because he’s calling Monkey Boy to task (indeed he is, and everything he says rings true).

His municipal government, however, was the one whose emergency plan was for the rich to drive away from the doomed city while the poor were collected in a concentration camp without food or water and left to wade knee-deep through human excrement. Please, never forget this.

Sat Sep 03 17:24:25 PDT 2005

Shooting at Rescue Helicopters Not the Only Depravity in New Orleans

A trivial amount of searching turns up the following:

(Last two found in this blog.)

So we’re looking at a lot more than just the depravity of some urban gangs here. It’s OK to shoot street thugs who interfere with desperately needed rescue operations. Well, what about government bureaucrats* (and other officials) who do same?

*I think most of the government-caused interference is the fault of those higher up. Sure, there’s the thug element on all police forces (and New Orleans cops are noted for being corrupt), but the stuff about people being turned away sounds mostly like it has its roots in piss-poor organization and communication. People show up offering to help, there’s no way to find out where their help is best needed, so they get turned away. That’s the fault of those responsible for determining the overall structure of the relief organization, not those on the ground caught up in that structure.

Sat Sep 03 21:38:15 PDT 2005

Avoid Sprint PCS

I was walking on Burnside about a block away when I noticed at my feet a cell phone. It was in the curb cut area for a parking lot, and it was pretty dinged up, so obviously someone had put it on the roof of their car and it had fallen off. I picked it up, of course — if I had left it, the next car to enter or leave would have probably run it over and reduced it to smithereens.

It had hit ground so hard, in fact, that the battery had fallen off. I installed it and turned the phone on (which took a little searching for the power switch). Battery’s good.

But what to do with it? Find the owner and return it, obviously. Easier said than done; it’s not as if it’s marked with a name or anything.

Took a few minutes for the obvious to dawn on me. Power up, hit “0” then “talk” (which is what the “send” button was labeled). And got rewarded with an error message saying the thing was in some sort of security mode and asking for a password. Cute — the security feature is now making it harder for an honest person to return the phone. You’d think, perhaps, that cell phones have been around long enough for it to occur to the firmware designers to always allow a call to the operator to report a lost phone.

Oh well, thought I. I’ll deal with it when I get back home.

Got home and popped the battery back off. Success! There’s a label with all sorts of serial numbers, and best of all, a toll-free customer service number printed on it. Call the number and get the Phone Tree From Hell. And you have exactly one guess as to the very first piece of information their computer prompts for.

I do nothing, hoping it will default to giving me a live operator. Nope — it insists on being supplied with the phone number, and officiously scolds me that the phone number is required.

Just fucking great, Bozos. Someone tries to do one of your customers a good turn and you create a system that makes it impossible. I tried bringing up, but not surprisingly there’s no apparent place to report a lost phone there, either. A Google search on “report lost sprint phone” similarly turns up dry.

Cross Sprint off the list of companies I’d ever want to get cell service from.

Just then, the phone rings. It’s the phone’s owner, thinking it was misplaced somewhere around the house, calling the phone in an attempt to find it by following the ringing sound. He’s very surprised to hear his call answered. The way he intoned “you’re using my phone?!” (semi-curiously, semi-accusingly) was priceless.

Told him where I found it, gave him my address, and he’s now reunited with it.

Sat Sep 03 22:37:24 PDT 2005

Two Remarkable Videos

Go here for two remarkable video clips.

First one is Geraldo Rivera and Shepard Smith reporting on the squalor of the New Orleans concentration camps and the gross ineptitude of the system to respond to it. Yes, on Fox News of all networks.

Second one is of Kanye West being overwhelmed on the spot by all the hypocrisy and sugar-coating, departing from his script, and extemporansously telling it like it is on live TV. If you watched NBC on the West Coast, you didn't see it live and his remarks got censored.

I'm going to refrain from making any definitive predictions, since I tend to be too optimistic about such things, but it does appear that events have at least temporarily eclipsed the normal mechanisms that serve to keep brutal realities from being frankly reported in the establishment media.

The last time that happened to any significant degree was in Vietnam, when the military faced, for the first time, the difficulty of attempting to make war look neat and humane while waging same in front of network news cameras. Which was a key factor in ending that war. It's also the case that responses to natural disasters have in the past often served as the pivot points for political realignments,

Sat Sep 03 23:58:22 PDT 2005


Okay, one more entry on gross governmental ineptitude, this one calculated to make your blood boil unless you’re a shameless partisan shill. Go here for picture after picture of unused buses sitting half-drowned in New Orleans floodwaters. For added bonus points, they’ve even kept a running total of about how many people could have been evacuated with those buses.

Yes, it’s a blog run by apologists for the Republican murderers in DC, trying to pin it all on the Democrat murderers in Louisiana. That doesn’t make the essential truth of what they say about unused buses any less true, however.

Sun Sep 04 14:36:51 PDT 2005

Tales from Two “Looters”

In case there’s any lingering doubt that some — probably most — of the “looting” was justified, click here.

Sun Sep 04 15:12:09 PDT 2005

Just One More Reason Why Microsoft Word Sucks

It doesn’t support automatic ligatures for letter combinations like “ff,” “fi,” “fl,” “ffi,” and “ffl.” At least not without shelling extra for an add-on module it doesn’t.

The really sad thing about it is that back in the 1970’s, Joe Osanna’s troff text formatter had support for these built-in. Didn’t even have to type them in or anything, the program detected these input strings and substituted the correct ligature when necessary. So this is a thirty-year-old technology we’re talking about.

Another sad thing is that the awful-looking text generated by most word processors is so prevalent today that most people have become used to it. They have no idea what a ligature is. They don’t demand better because all they’ve ever been able to produce looks like crap and they think that’s all that’s possible.

I’d like to say I’m shocked and disgusted, but I’m not. The generally awful quality of mass-marketed software has already lowered my expectations to the point where this deficiency surprises me not in the least.

Thank you very much, Microsoft. I’m going back to using groff, the modern descendant of troff. It’s sorely lacking in the nice user interface your program has, but it least it handles the basics properly.

Sun Sep 04 18:36:28 PDT 2005

Domain Name Double Meanings

Does this manufacturer of (among other things) toilet paper realize that there’s two ways of parsing their Internet domain name? (Clue: the second one has four, not three, letters in the first of the two run-together words.)

Thu Sep 08 08:12:03 PDT 2005


Well, it seems that, as I feared, the Establishment liberals are indeed shamelessly circling their wagons around Democrat blunders in the name of pinning all the blame for the Katrina disaster on the Republicans.

Consider this, the main thesis of which is because both local and state Democrats and Federal Republicans agreed to turn their backs on the poor, it’s self-explanatory it was the only possible course of action.

Because, of course, murders committed by the State just really aren’t that bad a thing if there’s Democrats involved in them. Only those committed exclusively by Republicans matter. Sickening.

Thu Sep 08 18:46:38 PDT 2005

Proof Most White People Are Clueless Nincompoops
Some 71 percent of blacks say the [Hurricane Katrina] disaster shows that racial inequality remains a major problem in America, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Sept. 6-7 among 1,000 Americans; 56 percent of whites feel this was not a particularly important lesson.

And while 66 percent of blacks think the government’s response would have been faster if most of the victims had been white, 77 percent of whites disagreed.

Full article here.

Sat Sep 10 00:49:48 PDT 2005

“Looting,” and More
The stranded crowd stared at food and water locked in a drugstore across the street from the hotel only to be shooed away by police officers whenever anyone approached the store. Finally, after hours of cat and mouse, the crowd finally broke into the store.

“At that point, we had not seen any of the TV coverage or looked at a newspaper, but we guessed there were no video images of European and white tourists, like us, looting the Walgreens in the French Quarter,” the couple wrote in an eight-page account of their experience.

So late Wednesday afternoon, the group set out for a bridge called the Crescent City Connection, where they would find the help they so desperately needed. But when they arrived atop the highway, the paramedics said, they were met by more police officers, this time from neighboring Gretna, La., who weren’t letting anyone pass.

“If I weren’t there, and hadn’t witnessed it for myself, I don’t think I would have ever believed this,” Bradshaw said.

The officers fired warning shots into the air and then leveled their weapons at members of the crowd, Bradshaw said. He approached, hands in the air, displaying his paramedic’s badge.

“They told us that there would be no Superdomes in their city,” the couple wrote. “These were code words that if you are poor and black, you are not crossing the Mississippi River -- and you weren’t getting out of New Orleans.”

And when exhausted hurricane victims set up temporary shelters on the highway, Gretna police came back a few hours later, fired shots into the air again, told people to “get the f -- off the bridge” and used a helicopter to blow down all the makeshift shelters, the paramedics said.

When the officers had pushed the crowd back far enough, one of them took the group’s food and water, dropped it in the trunk of a patrol car and drove away.

Gretna Police Chief Arthur Lawson confirmed that his officers were under his orders to seal off the suburban city of 17,500 residents.

Full article here.

Mon Sep 12 19:35:42 PDT 2005

Gee, Now Just Who Do You Think That Could Be

Note to the recruiting agency that posted this ad: you might as well just have told who they were. Note to CEO whose last name means “openings in a fence:” your business’s silly policy of preventing recruiters from stating your name explicitly isn’t fooling anyone.

Mon Sep 12 23:34:23 PDT 2005

An Absolutely Rotten Day

It started out with the normal sense of fighting upstream against the current of the universe, with every little thing running into unforeseen complications.

Then, getting up from the computer desk, I catch my foot on a needle that had fallen from the desk (where I last placed it after using it to extract a splinter). It goes in deep, breaking in multiple pieces. I can’t find all the pieces to make a complete needle. Uh-oh.

A little experiment with a stack of rare-earth magnets confirms my worst fears of where the missing piece is. I attempt for an hour to use the magnets to make it exit from the entry hole, with no luck.

And so the rest of the day is blown at the hospital getting multiple X-rays and having the ball of my foot chewed up as the doctor tries to find the offending segment of metal. Now I get to limp for a week or two and worry if the thing gets infected. And just after my digestive system is finally starting to return to normal after having been ravaged by oral antibiotics prescribed in the aftermath of my big bike crash this spring.

The only bright spot of the day was that on both the trip there and the trip back, MAX came right after I arrived at the station.

Tue Sep 13 11:19:03 PDT 2005

Tee Hee Hee

Head over to Google, enter “Little Green Fascists” into the search field, and click the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button.

Tue Sep 13 11:45:25 PDT 2005

What Is It about Paypal

That makes them use huge text (which forces you to do lots of scrolling to see a paltry amount of information) in almost all of their job listings? See here for an example.

Tue Sep 13 15:03:16 PDT 2005

Fixing the Problem

Newsweek Cover
This week’s Newsweek cover. Sorry, not enlargable.

Make no mistake, the developments in the aftermath of Katrina are a problem in the ruling class’ eyes. The problem isn’t that they treated people like unwanted animals and killed them, it’s one of image and truthfulness: the media are starting to report that people were treated like animals and killed (though not in such frank and honest terms, of course). A story has managed to escape the usual mechanisms the system uses to contain such things.

This week’s Newsweek cover has a picture of a crying young child’s face and is entitled “Poverty, Race & Katrina: Lessons of a National Shame.” An aspect of class, the perpetual elephant in the living room, is being alluded to on the front cover of one of the most-read Establishment news magazines in the country. As is race, something that the Conventional Wisdom proclaims is a mostly solved problem (dealt with by the Civil Rights Acts in the Sixties).

That one magazine cover is worth hundreds of articles in Z, The Progressive, The Nation, or any number of left/progressive publications. Those mostly preach to the already-converted; the Newsweek cover is showing its face in convenience stores and supermarkets nationwide. Even if one just glances at a display of the magazines without buying and reading one, the questions are raised. And let’s not forget that faces of this disaster even broke through the Fox News spin machine and got aired live on that network.

Last time the Establishment media started showing things that were grossly inconvenient to the ruling class, it concerned the messy business of war being broadcast nightly into the living rooms of the nation. We all know how that enterprise ended up. In response, a number of mechanisms were established (such as embedded reporters) to deal with that problem.

That events have managed to escape the control mechanisms opens an opportunity. But, beware: the ruling class is well aware of that. They’ve learned their Vietnam lessons well. And already, they are taking measures to ensure the problem (from their point of view) is brought back under control. Because they want to go back to being able to kill and get away with it.

Wed Sep 14 10:00:10 PDT 2005

A Question

If these guys are really just about helping the government enforce the laws it’s unwilling to, and racism plays no part at all in their motives, where’s the patrols to enforce Article VI of their pledge?

I mean, if it’s just about law enforcement, isn’t lawbreaking by white capitalists as much an issue as lawbreaking by undocumented Mexican border-crossers? Especially if each capitalist lawbreaker typically furnishes incentives (i.e. jobs) for multiple people to cross the border illegally.

Wed Sep 14 22:10:49 PDT 2005

Mixed Feelings

The Google job is definitely a no-go, but another prospective employer appears interested in me.

Which itself is a matter of mixed feelings. Sure, it’s nice to be wanted, but a) it involves relocating (to the Bay Area), and b) it’s in the real estate industry. Put (a) and (b) together and the result is a whole heaping serving of mixed feelings.

I know a speculative bubble when I see one, and my hunch is that the real estate bubble is within a year or two of bursting. And it’s reasonable to suspect that when it bursts, it will drag the rest of the economy down with it. That’s what happened in Japan circa 1990, after all.

So I could easily go through all the hassle of moving down there, only to have my job promptly evaporate and be stuck with resuming the difficult task of searching for work (during a recession) in an area where my base living expenses are higher and where I’m further from some non-high-tech options I’ve been interested in pursuing for some time.

Did I mention that, even though they seem flush with cash and willing to pay generous salaries, they don’t seem eager to pay relocation expenses? So it’s conceivable that if the crash happens within about six months of my taking an offer from them, I’ll end up with a net financial loss out of the whole fiasco.

All of which probably means that, in accordance with Murphy’s Law, I'll get an offer from them.

Thu Sep 15 13:14:12 PDT 2005


Two links.

It bears pointing out that these attacks are direct attempts to injure or kill humans, i.e. to inspire a state of terror amongst the targeted by placing them in fear of their lives and health. This should be contrasted with the “ecoterrorism” of groups like the Earth Liberation Front, which is aimed at property and specifically rules out the targeting of any living being.

Fri Sep 16 15:34:55 PDT 2005

Gretna Not the Only Town of Racist Shitheads

Gretna being the town that staged armed cops on a bridge to stop refugees from walking out of New Orleans, for those of you who didn’t know.

There’s also St. Bernard Parish (emphasis added):

Gretna is not the only community that views New Orleans with distrust. Authorities in St. Bernard Parish, to the east, stacked cars to seal roads from the Crescent City. But Gretna’s decision has become the symbol of the ultimate act of a bad neighbor, gaining notoriety partly from an account in the Socialist Worker newspaper by two San Francisco emergency workers and labor leaders who were in a crowd turned back by Gretna police.
Full article here.

Sat Sep 17 15:37:18 PDT 2005

Government to the Poor: FOAD

This is an outrage but hardly a surprise. Congress appropriated money for figuring out how to evacuate the poor in New Orleans, yet it was diverted to study highway issues. Because, of course, cars are more important than people. Which should come as no surprise to anyone who looks at modern suburbia and sees what the majority of the land area is devoted to.

FOAD, in case you don't know, is short for “go off and die.” Well, sort of. Should be easy enough to guess what the real first word is.

Wed Sep 21 09:56:24 PDT 2005

Revealing E-mail of the Day

Got the following in response to my response to a job ad (headers and signature line removed to protect the guilty party, italics added):

You’ve already applied for this job (even completed the proficiency test). Last we talked, you had said that it would take you at least a month from the date of hire to move […] to the […] area, which is too long (I need someone as soon as possible).

Also, upon reviewing your proficiency test, I think I would prefer to go with someone who has a little more experience with SQL.

A little background: it’s already been several weeks since I sent that last response.

Add that background to the fact they decided to advertise the job again and wait for the ideal candidate to apply, and the claim that a month is too long to wait starts looking very dubious at the least. If they really needed someone “as soon as possible,” they’d have already hired the best match they could find.

And if by chance you’re the hiring manager who composed that response: don’t worry. I’m no longer interested in working for you even if you change your mind about how picky you want to be.

You’ve already demonstrated that you consider it fair tactics to create phony “urgent” situations. I’ve had the displeasure of working for one boss who exploited his underlings by keeping them in “crisis mode” most of the time. I’ve also had two more experiences of working for other types of lying, dishonest bosses (albeit ones that don’t use the Crisis Lie). I have no desire to repeat the experience.

Thu Sep 22 13:42:57 PDT 2005

Best Astrology Site Ever


Thu Sep 22 20:55:14 PDT 2005

Another Problem of Auto-Dependency

The most obvious problem with relying on personal vehicles for evacuation was evidenced by the poor left behind to weather Hurricane Katrina. Hurricane Rita is showing another problem — sometimes, the non-poor can’t get out, either:

The storm’s march toward land sent hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the nation’s fourth-largest city in a frustratingly slow, bumper-to-bumper exodus.

“This is the worst planning I’ve ever seen,” said Judie Anderson, who covered just 45 miles in 12 hours after setting out from her home in the Houston suburb of LaPorte. “They say we’ve learned a lot from Hurricane Katrina. Well, you couldn’t prove it by me.”

Drivers ran out of gas in 14-hour traffic jams or looked in vain for a place to stay as hotels filled up all the way to the Oklahoma and Arkansas line. Others got tired of waiting in traffic and turned around and went home.

Service stations reported running out of gasoline, and police officers along the highways carried gas to motorists whose tanks were on empty. Texas authorities also asked the Pentagon for help in getting gasoline to drivers stuck in traffic.

Trazanna Moreno decided to [turn around]. After leaving her Houston home and covering just six miles in nearly three hours, she finally gave up.

“It could be that if we ended up stranded in the middle of nowhere that we’d be in a worse position in a car dealing with hurricane-force winds than we would in our house,” she said.

Full article here.

Fri Sep 23 12:31:42 PDT 2005

Weird Regional Job Title

Rule of thumb: if the title of the job is “Software Development Engineer in Test,” it’s in the Seattle area.

If you look at the job listings on Seattle craigslist, you’ll see this title appear over and over. It’s so common, folks usually abbreviate it. When I first started looking at Seattle craigslist, I wondered what the heck all the “SDET” jobs were. Took me a number of postings to find one where it wasn’t abbreviated.

On the other hand, it’s virtually unknown anywhere else. Don’t think I’ve ever run into the title on the Portland or Bay Area craigslists. Thought I had today, when I noticed the a listing with the title “Software Development Engineer in Test (mountain view)” in the Bay Area craigslist site. But no, it’s actually a lying Microsoft recruiter — after choosing a title claiming the job is in Silly Valley, the posting opens with a bait-and-switch: “This position is based in Microsoft’s Redmond campus.”

Mind you, it’s the title (and its regional nature) that’s weird. Sleaze from Microsoft should surprise nobody. But to have, in this day and age of global communications (in the industry that spawned the Internet, yet!) a title that fully 10% of the jobs in one metro area are seemingly described as, yet which is virtually unused anywhere else, is a truth that seems stranger than fiction. Not to mention that it’s something of a strange title — testing and development are typically two different departments.

Is Seattle (and only Seattle) really that different? Do Seattle companies have a strange preference for automating testing and developing all that test-automation software in-house? Is this a Microsoft-inspired trend to dispense with formal testing altogether while camouflaging it by defining the development team as a testing team as well? Or just some strange local meme that’s yet to go national?

Sat Sep 24 10:26:17 PDT 2005

Worse than They Think

The media are all talking about how Hurricane Rita isn’t going to be that awful because it hit as a weak category 3 storm, and all the really dire predictions were based on it maintaining category 5 strength until it hit.

Alas, they ignore again that the Saffir-Simpson intensity scale is strictly a measure of wind speed, while death and destruction are more closely correlated with storm surge height. While intensity and surge are correlated, it’s a loose relationship, not a strict ratio of some sort.

And Rita’s storm surge appears to be really bad. Initial estimates are around 20 feet. Yes, that’s roughly a third less than Katrina’s surge, but if you use the worst storm surge ever to hit North America as your benchmark, every hurricane is going to fall short. Twenty feet is still an exceptionally strong surge.

Remember, the Army Corps of Engineers was surprised yesterday at how bad the surge got in New Orleans — hundreds of miles from the Hurricane Rita’s center. There’s already pictures of trailers floating in water that looks about eight feet deep in the streets of Lake Charles, LA coming in, and that town is several dozen miles from the coast. Odds are more barrier island communities, and possibly a few barrier islands, have been washed off the map.

I’ll leave the discussion of whether Federally-subsidized insurance should be allowed to encourage the rich to build vacation homes on what amount to nothing more than oversized sandbars (that have been wiped out by hurricanes in the past) for later.

Mon Sep 26 14:48:10 PDT 2005

Why I Call Them “Job Vultures”

Exhibit A: On the 21st of this month, someone posted this. Within twenty-four hours, it caught the attention of a job vulture who swooped in on the opportunity (which he took no part in creating), ingested it, and deposited his own dropping into that same job board.

Granted, that’s a particularly blatant example; it ended up in the same place as the source. Normally, one sees sleaze like Oregonian ads ending up in Craigslist (and vice versa).

It’s time here to bring up what I call the Recruiter Lie: “the client pays our fees.” Yeah, right.

First, wouldn’t “mark,” “sucker,” or “victim” be a more honest term then “client?” If hire an attorney, s/he has a right to call me a “client.” It was I who sought out his/her services. The hiring party in the above example did not seek out a recruiter; s/he sought a person to perform some specific labor in return for money. The transaction between recruiter and so-called “client” is approximately as voluntary as the transaction between mugger and victim.

Second, does anyone honestly expect me to believe that the prospective employer has a secret orchard of money trees from which s/he can harvest an unlimited supply of C-notes? Get real — employers budget their expenses. That fee the “client” supposedly pays comes out of the same pot all personnel expenses come from. Money that goes to the recruiter is money that can’t go towards paychecks. Either my new boss is going to pay me less as a result, or s/he is going to have to spend more (thus limiting the freedom to spend that money on other expenses, which in turn makes it less likely I’ll be hired). Or, most likely, some combination of the two.

And the icing on the cake is, it doesn’t matter if I also send a résumé to that employer. Once the job vulture excretes my résumé onto the unwitting employer’s head, bam! They “establish a business relationship.” Any contact from anyone on the job vulture’s list of candidates is then presumed to have come through the vulture, even if it didn’t. The vulture will extract a finder’s fee, potentially for doing no worthwhile work at all. Oh, sure, it’s possible the employer could litigate his way out of this sticky wicket, but realistically he’ll either shut up and pay or pass in favor of a candidate who’s free of such an encumbrance.

It gets even worse — if I’d send my résumé in to that vulture, it (let’s use the appropriate pronoun here) is free to send it out to any other ad it notices… even if I notice it myself and act on it, too. I’ve introduced an unwanted parasite into not only this job offer, but an unlimited number of potential future offers as well.

No, not all of the recruiting industry drops to these levels of sleaze. But it’s clear from following want-ads that enough of them do to make me want to have nothing to do with the bastards.

Wed Sep 28 12:00:12 PDT 2005

Judging a Language by its Name

Sometimes, it’s as a bad as judging a book by it’s covers.

As an example, consider Objective Caml (otherwise known as OCaml). Take that name, add in consideration of the animal O’Reilly put on their famous book about the Perl language, and my conclusion was that this OCaml language I’ve sometimes heard about is some sort of monstrosity which attempts to hack better object-orientation (or a big class library) into Perl.

Perl itself is a textbook example of both:

So of course, I see the name OCaml, cringe inwardly, and decide it’s something I want to have nothing to do with.

Bad assumption. The name was chosen because the language was based on the functional programming language ML, not any animal that’s come to have an association with Perl. It’s a strange (and terrible) choice; I can only wonder at how many others have been scared away from it based on name alone. Those responsible can’t plead not guilty as a result of being Francophones: the French word for camel is chameau, not that different from either English or the name chosen for the language. It’s similar enough to the latter that the language’s designers chose to feature a dromedary on the logo for it. (Then again, maybe the logo was chosen “after the fact,” by a largely Anglophone user community some years after the language achieved a measure of popularity outside of its inventing institution.)

Name aside, I’m still somewhat ambiguous about the language instead of enthusiastic about it; I find the syntax needlessly clumsy and baroque. Most of the nifty features it has I’ve originally played around with in various LISP dialects, so it keeps grating on me that the syntax of ML is more complex than it needs to be.

However, I’m also intrigued by it. OCaml can be run in either interpreted mode or compiled down to the hardware level for speed*. So can Scheme, my favorite flavor of LISP. However, LISP’s great weakness is balkanization; it’s split up into so many dialects and sub-dialects that the size of the community for each implementation is so small (as a result of the competition from the others), that it seriously harms the availability of programmer-hours to spend on improving it.

Upshot is that OCaml appears to have the standard library and feature set that Schemers can only dream of: a well-tested and documented foreign function interface, full access to UNIX system calls, a comprehensive set of string functions, the ability to use OCaml as a target language for lex and yacc, and so on.

Apparently as a result, there’s a growing community of OCaml users: it actually appears to be a language with significant real world use as opposed to predominantly a plaything for academics. I can’t remember ever seeing a job want ad that mentions Scheme and it’s been a long time indeed since I saw any LISP dialect mentioned. About every week, however, I see one that mentions OCaml.

And that intrigues me. Even if I end up always thinking the syntax sucks to some degree, the utter lack of suckiness in all other aspects makes it look like a worthwhile trade-off to live with the former in the name of obtaining the latter.

*This lets one combine the ease-of-development of an interpreted language with the speed of a compiled one, a major win. It’s also the No. 1 reason why Java sucks: it’s interpreted (yet slow), but the need to byte-compile the code before it can be run plus the way its object model makes it impossible to incrementally code and test in small steps, results in a language that combines the worst of both worlds. Yet Java is still better than C because at least it has garbage collection (and better than C++ because it’s not hopelessly crufted up, FORTRAN-like, with all sorts of backwards compatibility for the syntax of yesteryear).

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Last updated: Tue Sep 13 16:14:09 PDT 2011