No, the government isn’t going to come take your trains

Friday’s news that the Department of Health and Human Services have added formaldehyde to the list of known carcinogens and styrene to the list of potential human carcinogens caused a rumble in some of the circles I run in.

Let’s calm down, everyone. This doesn’t mean the government is going to send FBI agents to your door, guns in hand, confiscating your plastic trains and toys. The bottom line is that there is some danger for industrial workers who are exposed to the raw chemicals, but comparatively little danger to the consumers who posses plastic products made from those chemicals.
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And this is why I don’t drink

Early in the morning of April 9, 2008, just hours after pitching six shutout innings, 22-year-old Nick Adenhart was killed when a repeat-offender drunk driver ran a red light and plowed his minivan into the Mitsubishi sports car Adenhart was riding in. He died in emergency surgery a while later. Two other passengers died at the scene.This kind of bullcrap happens all the time, pretty much every weekend, in at least one major city. Usually it doesn’t even merit more than a couple of paragraphs in the newspaper because we’re so used to it. It made national headlines this time because one of the victims happens to be one of the California Angels’ best pitching prospects.

It’s a symptom of a macho culture where the measure of a man is how many six-packs he can put away, and what he can manage to do afterward. I saw this in college all the time, where the role models we were supposed to emulate were the losers who would stay up until 4 or 5 in the morning drinking, then sleep for two hours and get up, shower so they didn’t smell like a brewery, put on a suit, and go to the 7:45 church service.

At least my story doesn’t get any worse. Church was right next door, so they didn’t have to drive and put anyone else in danger. Of course, if they’re still playing the same game today and driving to church two hours later, that’s reprehensible.

But in some circles, driving 45 minutes to get home is part of the culture. Down a case of beer, make a lot of noise, then drive home without killing anyone, and somehow, that makes you a man.

Bull puckey.

Real men consider the potential consequences of their actions. Real men set out to do as little damage to the people around them as possible. Real men try to make the world around them better, not worse, as a result of their actions. There are even some men who manage to deal with high stress jobs with lots of responsibility, deal with that and with all of their other problems, and manage to deal with it all without ever turning to alcohol.

Now that’s a man.

I don’t care what the myths say. Supposedly if you weigh 400 pounds, you can drink about three times as much alcohol as I can, because you weigh almost three times as much as I do. And indeed, you may be able to drink larger quantities than me without passing out. But a beer or two still affects your judgment, whether you weigh 98 pounds or 400. I once saw a demonstration where a professional race car driver drove an obstacle course. He drove it effortlessly when he was completely sober. Then he drank a beer and got back behind the wheel. He still did fine. After two beers, he still did OK on the course, but he said he could feel a difference. After three beers, he could no longer drive the course.

So after three or four beers, you really don’t have any business behind the wheel. Your ability to react to emergencies is diminished enough that at that point, you’re putting yourself and others in danger.

I don’t know what the answer is. We can lock Adenhart’s killer up in jail, and that’ll keep him away from beer and out from behind the wheel of a car for a while, but eventually he’ll get out. Will he do it again? One thing I learned living with an alcoholic for 18 years is that alcoholics never really learn a lesson from their addiction, regardless of the consequences. At least not until it costs them something that they want more than the bottle, which is rare. I don’t know if he’s an alcoholic or not. If he is, you can make him go to treatment, but once again, if he’s not ready, it won’t take, and he’ll be drinking again shortly.

Taking his driver’s license away didn’t keep him from driving this time. Can you take his car away and prevent him from being able to purchase another one? That sounds good to me, but I don’t know if that’s legal.

Ultimately the solution is cultural, but I don’t know how you get rid of that. For some reason, a sizable portion of the United States is fascinated with people who can put away gutbusting quantities of alcohol. We don’t have the same admiration for people who can smoke a pack of cigarettes in one setting. We’re morbidly curious about people who can eat half their weight in hot dogs, but I’m not sure that we really look up to them.

And I don’t know why that is. Because frankly, all you have to do to be able to drink huge quantities of beer is to sit around and drink on Friday and Saturday nights. Do it long enough, and you get enough weight and tolerance to be able to drink a six pack or two without passing out. Some people see that as an achievement. I see it as someone desperately needing something better to do on Friday and Saturday nights.

Seriously. Get a hobby. It’s no cheaper than beer, but it doesn’t hurt anybody, and on Sunday morning you have something to show for it other than a bunch of empty cans or bottles and a headache.

Or in this case, a bunch of empty cans or bottles, a splitting headache, a wrecked minivan, and three dead victims. Not to mention a much-deserved new address, behind bars.

Working with idiots can kill you

My mom sent me a newspaper article today to make me feel better. Maybe I should say she sent what looks like a newspaper article. I don’t think it’s genuine, for a number of reasons: no byline, feature style in what’s presented as a hard news story, grammatical errors you wouldn’t expect to see in a newspaper, only one source, more than half the story is long quotes from the single source, and most convincingly, I couldn’t find any mention of it online.

Still, it at least makes an entertaining read. I present it verbatim.IDIOTS in the office are just as hazardous to your health as cigarettes, caffeine, or greasy food, an eye-opening new study reveals.

In fact, those dopes can kill you! Stress is one of the top causes of heart attacks–and working with stupid people on a daily basis is one of the deadliest forms of stress, according to researchers at Sweeden’s Lindbergh University MedicalCentre.

The author of the study, Dr Dagmar Andersson, says her team studied 500 heart attack patients, and were puzzled to find 62 percent had relatively few of the physical risk factors commonly blamed for heart attacks.

"Then we questioned them about lifestyle habits, and almost all of these low-risk patients told us they worked with people so stupid they can barely find their way from the parking lot to their office. And their heart attack came less than 12 hours after having a major confrontation with one of these oafs.

"One woman had to be rushed to the hospital after her assistant shredded important company tax documents instead of copying them. A man told us he collapsed right at his desk because the woman at the next cubicle kept asking him for correction fluid–for her computer monitor.

"You can cut back on smoking or improve your diet," Dr. Andersson says, "but most people have very poor coping skills when it comes to stupidity–they feel there’s nothing they can do about it, so they just internalise their frustration until they finally explode."

Stupid co-workers can also double or triple someone’s work load, she explains. "Many of our subjects feel sorry for the drooling idiots they work with, so they try to dover for them by fixing their mistakes. One poor woman spent a week rebuilding client records because a clerk put them all in the ‘recycle bin’ of her computer and then emptied it–she thought it means the records would be recycled and used again."

Looking for stock video footage?

I’ve talked about archive.org before. I revisited it this evening. As usual, another hundred or so films have been added. A handful of selections from another library, owned by the University of South Carolina, have trickled in.
But most importantly, many of the films in the Prelinger collection, which currently numbers 1,255 films, now have descriptions and the ability to view with RealPlayer in streaming format. So if you need a clip showing New York City, you can do a search and view the films to see if the clip is suitable before you spend a lot of time downloading a monster MPEG-2 file.

And since the copyright on these films has long since lapsed (if ever it was copyrighted in the first place), you can use it.

Some of the films are interesting to watch in their own right. The film The Challenge of Ideas shows just how much we’ve changed in 40 years. Some of the changes are good–virtually all of the narrators held lit cigarettes in their right hand as they spoke.

But as I watched, I couldn’t help but think the ACLU would never permit this film to be made by the U.S. Government today. For one thing, it showed churches and used the now-controversial phrase “Nation under God.”

The film talked about winning to Cold War in people’s minds. But the film’s description of the Soviets sounds an awful lot like today’s United States. Meanwhile, our values infiltrated the former Soviet Union. So who really did win the Cold War?

There’s also a lot of footage that shows the flip-side of the fifties. I remember in my 20th Century U.S. History class in college, my professor drove home the thought that Happy Days was a myth–there was a darker side. The films in this archive certainly show that–the beginnings of the demolition of historic neighborhoods to build pre-fab buildings, drug addiction, oppression. And of course there was the ever-present threat of war. I don’t know that the Fabulous Fifties were actually any darker than the decades that followed it. But they don’t seem to have been much better.

This stuff almost makes me want to be a history teacher.

But I’ll probably just abuse it as stock footage instead. I don’t have to go back to school to do that.

Back to the old grind again.

You are my addiction
My pleasure and my pain
You’re my infection
Disease, you burn my brain
–Pale Divine
That song was either talking about a girl or about cigarettes. I’m not sure which. But my addiction is something else. You’ll understand in a minute.

Conversation with Gatermann. “Something big came out this week,” I told him.

He took a few shots in the dark. Ridiculous things, like Windows XP.

“What are the necessities of life?” I asked.

“Women–“

“More important than women,” I said.

“More important than women!? What’s more important than the advancement of mankind?”

“You’re getting warm,” I said.

He stumbled around a really long time. He even said the settlement with Microsoft, which really got me going. Microsoft deserved to be run over by a steamroller. Very slowly. What they got wasn’t even a slap on the wrist. It was more like a warm caress. Excuse me while I gag. I dropped hints so he’d quit saying such repulsive things. It involves a computer but not an operating system. It’s not hardware, it’s software. Unfortunately, it only runs under Windows for the moment. Finally he started getting warm.

“Something to do with Railroad Tycoon?” he asked.

“Railroad Tycoon is indeed one of the necessities of life,” I pontificated. “You’re getting close.”

“More important than women and Railtycoon…”

“No, on par with Railtycoon,” I said. “And I’ll give you another hint. It’s not Baseball Mogul.”

He stumbled around some more.

“C’mon, Tom! What other games do I play?”

The answer is, of course, Civ3. I remember when I bought Civ2. The cashier was female, a year or two younger than me probably. “I love this game,” she said as she checked me out. Er, as she rang me up. I don’t know if she checked me out or not.

But because I’m a real dipstick, I didn’t propose to her on the spot. I didn’t even ask her out. Yeah I know. I coulda dated someone whose idea of a good time was a Civ bingefest.

Other stuff. If you ever put a parallel scanner on an NT4 workstation and run into all sorts of problems like bluescreens and service/driver failures at startup, check to make sure your parallel port and your sound card aren’t using the same interrupt. Better yet, get a real–I mean SCSI–scanner and use parallel ports for what they were designed. That’s printers, not Zip drives. If the interrupt’s free, the scanner will work, but you can forget about any other process getting any CPU time while you’re scanning.

I found a nice groupware app at www.phprojekt.com. It requires PHP, Apache, and MySQL. Not quite an Exchange killer but the price is sure right. And Exchange sure hurt Notes, because it’s cheaper, even though Notes is completely in another league.

And if someone complains about banner ads on your corporate intranet, check and see if Gator is installed. Then slap the hand of the dolt who installed it. (Probably the same dolt who went and bought a parallel scanner at CompUSA for 25 bucks and came in and told you to make it work.)

12/20/2000

~Mail follows today’s post~

A failed review of McAfee Utilities 2000. I was going to write about the successor to Nuts & Bolts, the utilities suite that could have been so good, except parts of it were so bad. It was never second-best of the three I looked at in Optimizing Windows. It was sometimes the best in a particular category, and often the worst. I was hoping the new version would fix some of the shortcomings–add the launch acceleration features of Speed Disk, Fix-It, and Windows Defrag to DiskMinder and it would be the best of the bunch when configured properly.

It’s bloated. While Fix-It is clean and simple and NU is getting there, McAfee still insists on throwing in the kitchen sink and a hair dryer. Never mind that’s a particularly  dangerous combination. You can’t de-select some of the kitchen sink or hair dryer features either. Worse yet, the installer missed installing at least one critical DLL, so it doesn’t run. At first I figured it was incompatible with Windows Me, so I tried installing it on a 98SE system. It had the same problems there too–and this was a fresh install, with no special trickery. So I can’t tell you how good the good parts are because I don’t know.

I should probably look into getting a retail copy of it, because it’s presumably more polished (I sure hope so–imagine not even being able to install something, but not being able to return it!) but I’m less than hopeful. The reasons are obvious, I hope.

You can download an evaluation copy at www.mcafee.com , but I really can’t recommend you do. Check out Norton Utilities 2001 instead. You can get an evaluation copy of it at www.symantec.com .

Time for a new system. A friend and I are spec’ing out a system for another friend. We’re having fun spending someone else’s money. So far, we’ve managed to run up a $10,092 tab, but my friend was slacking. For one, he forgot the second 21″ NEC flat-panel display and TNT2-based PCI video card. We want him to be able to watch IrfanView slide shows on his second monitor while he plays Quake full-screen. (IrfanView doesn’t require the greatest of available cards, but we want like manufacturers since that works better for multi-head displays. And never mind that Tim doesn’t play Quake.) And he went with a TNT2 card for the main display. What’s up with that? Why would they make $400 64 MB GeForce 2 Ultra cards otherwise, except for Tim to buy them? But I approved a PCI-based TNT2 for the secondary display because I didn’t want to look too extravagent.

So we’re not done yet.

He’s been sending me specs and I’ve been telling him what’s wrong with them. I’d be great in upper-level management.

I’ve even got a Plan B. If what we come up with is too much, I’ll admit to Tim that The Gator’s being too extravagent. “Yeah, he insisted on putting a second floppy drive in there, in case you needed to copy disks. ‘Who copies disks?’ I asked him, but he insisted. So I humored him. You and me, we both know you can copy disks with a single floppy drive. So we’ll nix that drive, cut the bill by 15 bucks and everything’s perfect. There. Now THAT is a practical system.”

~~~~~~~~~~

From: Dan Bowman
Subject: RE: Whaddayadoin?
Yeah, there are some issues here. …and you are one of the voices of your generation, like it or not. Speaking of that, when you can, please take a look at the story I linked from the ETP site on Sunday, the one about smoking and the ads. Is her take on the ads valid? Are you qualified to answer? http://www.thegardencafe.com/2000_12_10_arc.shtml#1615885
 
Thanks; just looking out for my kids’ futures. I may have to take them by a morgue.
 
dan
~~~~~

Sorry for that aside.
 
Am I qualified to answer? Who knows. Does it sound accurate to me? You bet. I haven’t seen that ad, but it’d strike me as morbid, maybe funny. It sure doesn’t sound effective to me. Wouldn’t stop me from smoking. The stat that 1 cigarette cuts your life expectancy by 7 minutes helped, but that’s just me. I’ve smoked three cigars in my life. Cigars are worse for you, I know. But fear is a terrible motivator, when someone else is trying to scare you. Internal fear is a great motivator, but nobody thinks smoking will make them a failure.
 
Maybe the financial aspect could be effective. What will a year’s worth of cigarettes buy? I don’t know the answer to that question. But if smoking versus not smoking is the difference between driving a Ford Escort and something with some prestige to it, that’ll get some people’s attention. Not everyone’s. I see my peers thinking more about money than they used to. That may just be a coming-of-age thing.
 
I think honesty is just the best way, regardless of the other approaches used. Respect and honesty. Not that I’m an expert, but when my dad sat me down and talked to me like someone he respected and said, “This is what’s bad about marijuana,” and on down the line through each drug, I listened to him. (Tobacco may or may not have been included. Alcohol was not. I learned what was bad about alcohol from watching him. Some people can pick things up that way. Others won’t.)

~~~~~~~~~~

From: “Jan Swijsen” <qjsw@nospam.oce.nl>
Subject: Re: strings

Hey, I won’t out-do you every time. Just every time I can.

In Computer Shopper, the subtitles and section headings are worth a laugh too. Their editors add a personal touch without giving the impression of doing self promotion. In fact Computer Shopper and PC Plus (also a good one) are the only mags that I buy these days.
~~~~~

I’ve noticed that. I know Chris Ward-Johnson recommends PC Plus; when Shopper approached me about doing the “Optimise Your PC” series I noticed
they were published by the same outfit so I asked him his opinion of both magazines.

When I showed a copy of the article to a marketing guru I work with, he asked me where “those guys” were when I wrote Optimizing Windows. (“Why
didn’t you have those guys design your cover, and that ‘Try David Farquhar’s tips for pepping up your PC’ phrase should have been on it! Right on the front!”) That’s not the O’Reilly way, but I bet it sure would sell…

~~~~~~~~~~

From: Dan Bowman
Subject: Whaddayadoin?

Trying to take the heat off Pournelle or something?????
 
I didn’t see a slavish devotion to The One True Penguin Path in that post<g>.
 
dan

~~~~~

There is no One True Penguin Path. If someone tries to create one, then they’ve just totally destroyed the entire purpose. Not that they haven’t already. That “slavish devotion” you mention says a lot. Linux is supposed to be about freedom, not slavery. Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with paying for intellectual property. The people who think otherwise have traded one form of slavery for a much more vicious form. I see absolutely no difference between total, blind devotion to Linux and total, blind devotion to Microsoft. None. Not at all. If you reach that point, you desperately need to go find religion.
 
And if people disagree with that, good. I would love to hear a reasoned argument why total, blind devotion to Linux is a good thing and people should do it, because I sure can’t figure out why on my own.
~~~~~~~~~~

From: “Håkan Waara” <hwaara@nospam.chello.se>
Subject: editthispage

Hey, great site!

How did you change the <body> attributes on your Manila site? I can’t see any way to do that from the “advanced” preferences..

Thanks.
~~~~~

Thanks!

I don’t think I changed the body attributes; I specify the font for the
daily posts (you’ll notice occasionally I miss), so I get a mixture of Times
and Verdana.

You can define a body tag in your cascading style sheet to accomplish that,
I think. I know standard HTML pretty well but I never bothered to get
comfortable with either XML or CSS. But maybe one of my other readers will pipe in.

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