The Declarer (Floyd McWilliams' Blog)

Friday, September 20, 2002

Everything went black (with white lettering)

Yesterday I turned on my computer and it would not boot; instead there was a weird error message. I rebooted a couple of times to give it a chance to fix itself. (Maybe I should have slapped it on its back.) Second verse same as the first, so I broke out of the config.sys script and tried to edit it:

edit.exe: Error

I called my friend Dave who is a high-powered sysadmin at WebTV. He claimed to know little about Win98. His first suggestion was to scandisk the disk:

scandisk.exe: Error

Dave then basically said to take off and nuke the site from orbit, by which I mean to reinstall the OS (which wipes out all data on the hard disk).
He said I could try to use the Win98 CD's repair function to replace the missing files that confused the setup scripts.

Dave had helped me figure out that my built-in Zip drive was on B: in MS-DOS (it's D: in Windows), so my plan was to write all my recent data to Zip disks and then muck around with the Win98 CD. I started navigating about in MS-DOS. I was going to say "it's the Windows equivalent of being a quadriplegic" but then I realized that I was healthy and it's a beautiful day out and I'm going hiking, and felt ashamed of myself when I thought of what real quadriplegics have to go through. Still it was difficult. My plan was declared moot for two reasons:

  • Although I could read B:, I could not write to it.
  • All the files that I had worked with yesterday were gone. So were all the directories containing the programs I had run! No more Eudora (my mail client), no more Netscape, no more Civilization III (sob!), no more Palm Pilot data.

Dave thought that the fact that this pointed to a FAT corruption.

That afternoon I decided to seek professional help, and called a tech who had helped my wife and her boss when their office computer had had hard drive problems. He said more or less the same thing Dave did, which was that my hard drive was probably fried and that fixing the FAT table would not solve the underlying problem. I had thought that hard drives occasionally wrote or contained the wrong data, and that outside agents like cosmic rays could corrupt hard disks. (The attraction of this belief being that if nothing was fundamentally wrong with my hard disk, I could fix the FAT and be on my way.) Now I am a brave man -- you can tell because after losing my Civilization III saves I am gamely typing on my weblog at a computer in Kinko's instead of being curled up in a ball -- but I'm not brave enough to ask Bo the tech if the problem could be cosmic rays.

After I get done here I am off to Fry's to get a new hard drive and some more memory. Tomorrow Bo will install the new drive, then mount the old drive and attempt to recover my data. Wish me luck, but feel free to focus on someone who has real problems.

Thursday, September 19, 2002

Today I woke up and turned on my computer so I could browse some news and some blogs. Instead of a pleasant web browsing experience I was confronted with some difficult questions:

Should the result of turning on my computer be a black screen with white text?

I decided that it should not.

Should the aforementioned text say "Error in config.sys line 14. RTF.CLK not found"

I decided that it should not.

Should I run screaming for a pair of asbestos gloves and some safety goggles?

I decided that I should.

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

Say something stupid for us,!

The Truth about Telephone Polls: Why They Fail to Represent the American People
This article, first published last April, is truer now - and the findings more critical for Americans to know - than ever.

Truer now? Was it a lie in April? How critical and true will it be in another five months?

"In short, polls do not represent: the very poor, people in armed services, people on Indian reservations,

Cowboys on horses, too. Never saw a cowboy with a cell phone.

in hospitals, in nursing homes,

Senility is no obstacle to voting Democrat, as is demonstrated every two years in Florida.

in group homes, drug rehab centers,

bridge players, people getting their nipples pierced, webloggers at weblog bashes, Ken Layne fending off spiders, and people who have to take a dump really bad.

most roommates in a roommate situation,

This is wonderful. This is the shit on the shlag. For all x in your article, replace with "x in a x situation."

people with unlisted numbers, those with caller ID who do not accept unknown calls,

It is hard to reach those by phone when they don't answer the phone. But I bet if you walked up to their house and knocked on the door holding a clipboard, they would welcome you with open arms.

people with telemarketer/survey fatigue (a growing percentage),

When you have telemarketer/survey fatigue do you break out in hives?

people who live alone (especially women),

Would you make up your fucking mind? First people who live in groups are under-represented, then people who live alone are. I realize that mathematics is not your strong point, but what do you think is over-represented? Empty houses?


Look, you already got nursing homes, so the elderly remaining are the ones in their own homes. What else have they got to do but talk to strangers on the phone?

urban young people (a growing percentage of whom have cell phones).

What about suburban young people? What about the transurbaned? What about young people who are questioning their urbanity? Please report for sensitivity training at 9 a.m. tomorrow.

So basically, what we have even on a good day in telephone poll land, is a tendency for results to be weighted toward white, higher income conservatives and away from low income groups, especially urban minorities.

Wouldn't a higher income person -- excuse me, a higher income person in a higher income situation -- tend to be at the office when a telemarketer calls?

But even if everyone possible could be reached, the way questions are worded helps skew polls away from true public opinion.

If everyone possible could be reached, the conference call would be a bitch.

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

The VodkaPundit, neť Stephen Green, posted a snarky takedown of Congressman Ron Paul's "35 Questions on Iraq". This provoked furious responses from Charles Oliver and RiShawn Biddle.

I have my own doubts as to the wisdom of an Iraq campaign, but I wasn't impressed with what Paul had to say. Here are some of his objections:

18. Are we willing to bear the economic burden of a 100 billion dollar war against Iraq, with oil prices expected to skyrocket and further rattle an already shaky American economy? How about an estimated 30 years occupation of Iraq that some have deemed necessary to "build democracy" there?

and in an op-ed quoted by Biddle:

"First, there are practical military reasons not to initiate a war in Iraq. Our military has been severely weakened over the last decade. Conservative estimates call for 200,000 troops to mount a successful invasion of Iraq. Placing 200,000 soldiers in Iraq- with hundreds of thousands already deployed around the globe- will further dilute our ability to defend our own shores.

Willis and Biddle claim that Green is wrong to dismiss Paul as possessing a "knee-jerk anti-Washington stance, devoid of any consistency or logic", because these paragraphs contain nothing about government. The problem is that the paragraphs are not coherent arguments; they are content-free objections.

Where did Paul's $1E+11 price tag come from? I didn't see a list of war and occupation costs, and 100 billion being a round number is kind of suspicious, no? Why would it take 30 years to occupy Iraq? Why not 20 years or 50 or 100?

Where did the estimate of 200,000 soldiers come from? (The estimates I have seen range from 50,000 to 150,000.) Why is it necessary to worry about the defense of our own shores? Will Mexico or Canada mount an invasion? Are there other enemies who have the ability to mount amphibious assaults? Does Paul really think it would be impossible to move any soldiers from overseas to deal with an invasion of the US?

Green's contention that Paul objects to the war because of anti-government beliefs is an inference. But it's a reasonable inference based on Paul's refusal to make coherent arguments and his professed beliefs. So when Green responds to question 18 with

Yes, yes, and yes. Scare tactics might work against gullible Texans in your district, but donít try that crap in Manhattan.

Bully for him. As counter-argument Green's statement would be fatuous -- but he is responding to the lack of argument, and is making a statement that he's not interested in being snowballed.

Monday, September 16, 2002

Colby Cosh found a picture of Tony Iommi posing as Jethro Tull's guitarist for the movie Rock and Roll Circus. Colby called it "the "what might have been" lineup of Jethro Tull."

What would Paranoid sound like with a flute solo?

I saw a Usenet post by Doug Haxton in that made my eyebrows go up. Some charming folks at object to private development of the moon -- and their reasons, are, well, very special:

While Nation Looks the Other Way on 9/11 Anniversary, Bush Gives Moon to Private Corporation for 'Industrial Development'

Like all the other international laws, Bush is now ignoring those pertaining to space. As America is distracted by 9/11 remembrances and warnings of new threats, His Heinous has turned the moon over to a private, for-profit corporation called TransOrbital that has a far-reaching, frigthening agenda for the corporate domination of space. All TransOrbital had to do was promise not to contaminate and pollute the moon - yeah, right. That's what the oil companies say about ANWR. There was no Congressional vote - not even any consultation. Bush simply acted as if the moon were his to give away. The TransOrbital venture could be disastrous for the globe - no scientist today could predict yet how adding mass to the moon via human infrastructure or removing mass, via mining, will impact the delicate gravitational interplay between Earth and its only satellite. The moon belongs to all the people of the Earth - not to George. W. Bush or his friends at TransOrbital.

Worrying about the pollution or contamination of a lifeless vaccuum is weird enough -- a classic case of environmentalism as religion. But what about this "adding mass/removing mass" nonsense? Does have any idea how much mass can be launched into space by a rocket, and how small that amount is compared to planetary mass?

"A liberal is someone who is mathematically illiterate, and proud of it." -- Robert Heinlein.

The anarchist position on the war on terrorism, courtesy of James Donald:.

On the one hand, war is the health of the state.

On the other hand, if scum like Fisk are against it, there must be
some good in it.

Sunday, September 15, 2002

Thursday the Mercury News ran an editorial decrying the "problems" faced by America's Muslims since 9/11. I present an excerpt, which also serves as a justification for the scare quotes:

During the days that followed Sept. 11, Muslim, Arab and Sikh Americans became victims of anger and ignorance. Dozens of incidents of hate, from strangers' slurs to job discrimination, firings and physical harassment, were reported to the police and civil rights groups. As Mercury News writers Karen de Sa and Michael Bazeley make clear in today's editions, the trauma lingers for those who experienced it.

Slurs are a major problem? Have de Da or Bazeley ever been to a high school? A sporting event where the visiting team is razzed?

Sean Rawlings did an admirable job of putting the issue in perspective with his letter to the editor:

I'm getting tired of all the rhetoric in the media lately about American intolerance. ...look at tolerance elsewhere. In India earlier this year, more than 50 Hindus were killed by Muslims. The reaction? Hundreds slaughtered, homes burned to the ground and omen raped by enraged nationalists. In Muslim Pakistan, on not one but several occasions, Christian churches have been attacked by grenade and gunfire from Islamist thugs.

What was the death toll here? Two: one Sikh gentleman in Arizona and a Muslim Arab in California. While the loss of life is deplorable, this does not make a case that the United States is a seething hotbed of murderous racist rage, and I deeply resent the implication.

Eddy L. Harris travelled in Africa around 1990 and wrote a wonderful book about his experiences called Native Stranger. A more recent book in this vein was Keith Richburg's Out of America. The pattern of the books is the same: A black American goes to Africa to find his roots, to find companionship with his race, and instead discovers poverty, disease, and mass murder. While Richburg was shocked, angry, and betrayed, the prevalent tone in Harris' work is sympathy and angst.

Harris travelled down the west coast of Africa. He went from Mauretania to Senegal at a time when the two countries were hostile to each other, though not at open war. Immediately after he arrived in Senegal, violence exploded:

"Senegalese are being slaughtered in Mauretania ... their throats are being cut and their bodies hacked to pieces with machetes."


Forty thousand blacks -- Tukolor, Fulani, and Wolof -- were forced out of Mauretania. Hundreds and hundreds were killed. Their throats were slit and their heads cut off. Women were disembowled. Men were castrated.

In Dakar, the Senegalese responded in kind to the grisly stories coming out of Mauretania and went on a rampage of retaliation. Crowds crazed with anger flooded the streets. They rounded up Mauretanians to lynch them, to club them to death, stone them to death, burn their bodies and pillage their shops."

Remember this the next time you hear someone whine that America is intolerant and racist.

Bridge Geekery: The Friday Barometer
  Now in astounding Hand-o-Vision!

Friday night Sherry and I played bridge at the Palo Alto club. This is the best of all the local club games; it is a barometer, which means that everyone plays the same hands and gets their scores at the end of the round. This game also attracts a lot of good players; there were 16 tables.

The most interesting hand was board 9:

North dealer, E-W vulnerable.














Sitting North I passed. East passed, Sherry opened 1C. West overcalled 1H.

I bid 1S, which shows 4 or more spades. (We do not play negative doubles.) East bid 1N. Now what should Sherry do? If she passes, we may miss a good spade fit. If she raises, we could be in a bad 4-3 spade fit. At the table she bid 2S and all passed.

East led the ace of hearts and switched to a trump. I considered playing low but that might prove awkward if West had the ten. East was more likely to have the king than the ten, so I played the queen and it held.

I liked the idea of pulling trumps because it meant that I could enjoy my clubs. So I crossed to the king of clubs and led a spade up. East ducked and I won the jack. Now I cashed the king of hearts, played a club to the queen and led a heart. East pitched a club and I ruffed with dummy's last trump. At this point I had taken six tricks.

Now it was time to play clubs. On the third round of clubs East ruffed with his small trump. Now he played a diamond to his partner, who played a heart. I could ruff small and get overruffed; then I could ruff back in with the spade ace and cash my club. At the table I ruffed high and put my last club on the table. East could ruff this with the king, making my S8 good, or let me score the club. +110 was worth 25 on a 30 top.

Hands like this are why I am a firm believer in raising on three trumps. Note that there is no defense to 2S. The diamond position appears unfortunate for the defense but that really has nothing to do with it. Switch the Q and 2 of diamonds so that N-S cannot set up a diamond trick.

Suppose E-W start with a tap:

  • DT (from QT92, remember)
  • DK
  • DA ruffed.
  • A spade towards dummy; East rises SK
  • DQ. West ruffs with the S10 and North overruffs.

    Now North has S85, West has the S7, East has S643, and South has SQJ.

  • heart to the king. East can rise and do whatever he likes; if he ducks I win the king and play another heart.
  • high spade (unless East has played another round when in with the heart ace)
  • club to the king
  • heart ruff high
  • club to the queen
  • S8
  • A third round of clubs.

East gets a small trump at the end.

If East leads a trump and continues trump thereafter, North can pull trumps and score all four clubs, three trumps, and the heart king.

There are other variations, but they all add up to eight tricks for N-S.