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Wed, 31 Mar 2010

Opus 61

"It is the end of the end!" said Ned Land.
-Jules Verne, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea

Much in the manner of the Ironman triathletes after which this event was named, Dan Ichov and I, the survivors a larger starting field, now stagger across the finish line, sixty months and close to 200,000 words each from where we started. When we first set out on this little adventure, I (rather arrogantly and smugly) thought this would be easy -- after all, I was a reasonably good writer, and had never had any particular difficulties cranking out term papers and essays in school, or reports at work. How hard could this be, especially with an entire month to prepare?

Well, it turns out that this little adventure was a lot more difficult than I had ever realized it would be, mostly because I did not know then the limits of just how far one could go relying on last-minute inspiration and innate talent to reach such a demanding goal -- and not just once, but month after month, for five solid years. I had to teach myself the discipline needed to turn out these articles on time, every month, and I had to develop a technique for writing to a deadline that would work for me for the long haul. Although I always paid attention to words and content (I am the only person I know who would write drafts of letters to friends in those bygone days before email, Facebook, and Twitter made every unpolished passing thought a potential nugget to be cast out into the ether for all and sundry) I never payed much attention to the mechanics of writing. I would soon learn better.

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Posted Mar 31, 2010 at 01:56 UTC, 3214 words,  [/richPermalink

Thu, 25 Mar 2010

Five Years of Iron Writing

Four years, eleven months, have passed. I've written 195,557 words, Rich has written 199,513 words. At long last, barring an unanticipated eleventh-hour SNAFU, at the end of this month the five-year Iron Writing challenge will reach its conclusion. Rich and I will have both met our commitment to write and publish at least 3000 words a month for five straight years.

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Posted Mar 25, 2010 at 14:25 UTC, 4307 words,  [/danPermalink

Sun, 28 Feb 2010

Sleight of Hand

"Oww! Damn!"

Despite having spent more than a month on board, Mike Allen still managed to forget just how confined his rack space was. Not unlike being on board a submarine, his sleeping compartment was just adequate for his height, and less than three feet from bottom to top. Inevitably, each day's wake-up call resulted in Mike bumping his head as he sat up too quickly in the still-darkened space.

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Posted Feb 28, 2010 at 22:58 UTC, 3179 words,  [/richPermalink

Sat, 27 Feb 2010

The Greatest
As the public penance of Tiger Woods' mea culpa fills the cable TV channels, a plethora of talking heads bemoan the ominous fact that all today's sports "heroes" are flawed. They say: "Look at how they've all let us down. Woods is an adulterer; McGuire is a druggie; OJ is a murderer. How disappointing! Where have all the real heroes gone? What is the world coming to?"

For some reason, I don't feel the same disappointment in the humanity of these sportsmen. Maybe it's because of my deeply ingrained love of tragedy. Maybe it's because my adolescent interest is sports began with Jim Bouton's Ball Four. Or maybe it's because my Catholic upbringing allows me to understand the idea of perfect God as imperfect man. Whatever the reason, I've never seen sports figures, even my personal sports gods, as being anything other than humans. Flawed humans. Limited and finite beings. And that's their biggest honor, isn't it? My apologies to Yankees fans, but could an übermench athlete (or a whole team of them in pinstripes) be deserving of heartfelt cheers? Maybe, but not from me.

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Posted Feb 27, 2010 at 00:09 UTC, 3780 words,  [/danPermalink

Sun, 31 Jan 2010

You Pays Your Money and You Takes Your Choice

Throughout time immemorial, human beings have been fascinated with gambling. Psychologists have spent countless hours theorizing on what exactly it is that attracts most people to the notion of the big payoff, beating the odds, getting something for nothing more than a lucky toss of the dice or the turn of a card.

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Posted Jan 31, 2010 at 21:40 UTC, 3108 words,  [/richPermalink

Sat, 30 Jan 2010


Although the MPAA claims that the profitability of the movie business is being ruined by digital bootlegging, the recently released film Avatar has now become the highest grossing film in cinema history. That's in un-adjusted dollars. Correcting for inflation, Avatar still ranks high, although it's hard to imagine Avatar's box office take will ever exceed the $6 billion present-day dollars that Gone with the Wind has earned since 1939. Nor is James Cameron's latest epic likely to beat the likes of Snow White, Star Wars, Bambi, Jaws, or The Sound of Music; Avatar maybe has a shot of unseating A Hundred and One Dalmatians to rank number 7 in all-time constant-dollar world-wide movie earnings, but that's as far as I expect it will go.

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Posted Jan 30, 2010 at 19:40 UTC, 3191 words,  [/danPermalink

Thu, 31 Dec 2009

The End of The Year, The End of The Decade

We're now deep in the final days of 2009, which means not only is another year coming to an end, but the first decade of the twenty-first century is ending as well.

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Posted Dec 31, 2009 at 22:56 UTC, 3353 words,  [/richPermalink

Wed, 30 Dec 2009

An Engineer's Holiday Wish List

While the country at large is engaged in polarized debates over health insurance reform, I have been thinking about other problems -- problems I know a bit more about -- and wishing for their solutions to appear under our collective Holiday tree. In this essay, I'll describe a few of the solutions I want Santa to put in his bag.

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Posted Dec 30, 2009 at 17:03 UTC, 3615 words,  [/danPermalink

Mon, 30 Nov 2009

Voyage de Noces Après Vignt Ans

As had been noted in my previous essay, one's honeymoon is in many ways a more challenging test of a newly-formed marital union than even living together can be.

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Posted Nov 30, 2009 at 01:38 UTC, 3610 words,  [/richPermalink

Sun, 29 Nov 2009

Favorite Movies 5 and 10 -- Base 8

Two and a half years ago, I posted my top 8 movie list in this space. I'm proud to say that nothing in the intervening years has changed my opinion of any of my all time favorite films. There have been some good new films, Slumdog Millionaire was pretty darn good, but no new film has surpassed any of my old picks. I still stand by the radix of my list as written in 2007.

Over those two and a half years, I have posted essays that explain my appreciation for most of the films on that list; however, two of the eight favorite films still have not been covered thus far. The two films in question are: Searching for Bobby Fischer and Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?

That I left these two for last should not imply they are of lesser quality. I feel they are the equal of any other film on the list. In fact, with the Iron Writers term drawing to a close, swift action is needed lest I disparage these excellent films further and leave a critical life's task undone. Thus my aim, today, is to fill the gap in my movie review list.

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Posted Nov 29, 2009 at 04:18 UTC, 3149 words,  [/danPermalink

Sat, 31 Oct 2009

Lune de Miel Après Vignt Ans

More often than not today, marriages are not what they used to be. Divorce rates hover near fifty percent, and this trend has only been moving upwards over time. Gone are the days when getting married was a more of less ironclad commitment for life, and divorce was looked upon as something somewhat scandalous. Changing societal mores (aided by the ready availability in this country of "no-fault" divorce laws) have changed divorce from a somewhat rare event to a condition rapidly approaching the norm.

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Posted Oct 31, 2009 at 20:04 UTC, 3351 words,  [/richPermalink

Bad Science

No inconvenient questions are asked about William's death. In a world without evil, instincts toward suspicion once common in the species have become extinct. No one at the camp gives a second thought to Jaryn's story: he tells anyone who asks that he was mistaken when initially reporting William wasn't badly hurt. There is no autopsy; there is no investigation. Who would investigate? There are no police detectives. Everyone mourns the boy's death, new rules are established that discourage running near the water and the city adds more beach front caretakers. Otherwise, life goes on.

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Posted Oct 31, 2009 at 02:08 UTC, 3083 words,  [/danPermalink

Wed, 30 Sep 2009

Meus Carus

What is the appropriate kind of relationship to have with people from your past, with whom you were once close but have subsequently lost contact?

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Posted Sep 30, 2009 at 04:43 UTC, 3359 words,  [/richPermalink

Mon, 28 Sep 2009

Evil is Born Again

The last evil man wasn't conceived evil; yet he was born evil. He became evil several years before he was born -- in some senses centuries before; yet it wasn't till his fourteenth birthday that he knew himself as evil.

Let's start at the beginning.

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Posted Sep 28, 2009 at 20:53 UTC, 3406 words,  [/danPermalink

Mon, 31 Aug 2009

Don't Spend More; Spend It Better

Unless you have been lost in the jungles around Manchu Pichu or wandering the Gobi Desert for the last several months, you are almost certainly aware of the great national debate now currently underway in this country regarding the future of the health care system, and how it might be reformed. It's a subject which affects us all, except for those of you who never get sick and who will be perfectly content to die quietly in your beds while you sleep.

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Posted Aug 31, 2009 at 02:28 UTC, 3233 words,  [/richPermalink

Sat, 29 Aug 2009

Contact First

"Houston, we have a problem."

Bob Houston sighed, shook his head, and shot a look of disdain at Ken.

"Oh jeez, Bob," Ken quickly added, "I'm sorry. You hate that don't you. But I the thing is, umm, Bob, we really do have a problem."

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Posted Aug 29, 2009 at 15:10 UTC, 3098 words,  [/danPermalink

Fri, 31 Jul 2009

Hail and Farewell: Part IV

In this age of Google, it's fairly hard to stay anonymous and private. Buy a house, get a mention in your local newspaper's caption under a photo of the local Little League team you coach, get a land line phone, get arrested, have your name mentioned in the meeting minutes of the local garden club's web site, make a posting to a Usenet newsgroup, have a child, sue someone (or be sued), or have your obituary published when you die -- it takes remarkably little for the tireless little search bots to cull your name from somewhere, then cross reference it, index it, and make it available to anyone with the time and patience to ferret it out.

Some people do manage to do remarkably well at keeping themselves "offline", as it were. They stay off the Internet radar, and out of view of the search engines. But sometimes, with a modicum of luck, and by having a more-than-typical level of familiarity with where to mine for data, even someone apparently lost and gone forever will suddenly and unexpectedly turn up.

More than twenty years since I last saw her, reenter Beth, stage left.

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Posted Jul 31, 2009 at 17:44 UTC, 3350 words,  [/richPermalink

Telling The Other Guy What To Do

Telling other people what they should do is tricky business, even if what you are telling them is for their own good.

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Posted Jul 31, 2009 at 00:18 UTC, 3328 words,  [/danPermalink

Tue, 30 Jun 2009

T Plus Forty Years

It is perhaps a few weeks premature, but an important anniversary is fast coming upon us -- and, as seems to be the trend today, it seems to be being largely overlooked. I ascribe this unfortunate state of affairs to the twenty-four hour news cycle, and the subsequent dulling of our sense of history. When there's a desperate rush to call something (anything) "news", day in and day out, I think we tend to lose our sense of proportion, our feeling for what is (or ought to be) truly memorable.

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Posted Jun 30, 2009 at 17:15 UTC, 3197 words,  [/richPermalink

Sun, 21 Jun 2009

Activity Buddies

Many activities are more fun with companions. Sex, obviously. Generally we enjoy sex involving a fuck buddy more than a solo experience. Generally, but not always. And that's the point.

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Posted Jun 21, 2009 at 05:05 UTC, 2641 words,  [/danPermalink

Birds In The Morning

How do birds know that the dawn has arrived? It's not just roosters, many birds know this.

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Posted Jun 21, 2009 at 05:05 UTC, 639 words,  [/danPermalink

Sun, 31 May 2009

Four Pills A Day

I was watching a rerun of Saturday Night Live not too long ago, featuring Steve Martin as the host. One of the sketches had Martin playing the title character, "Theodoric of York, Medieval Barber". A parade of people with various maladies were brought to him, and in each case, Theodoric impressed the crowd with his advanced knowledge of the healing arts: "Once we would have believed that this man's afflictions were caused by being cursed by a troll, or a witch. But now we know that it is instead caused by an imbalance of humors in the blood," for which the inevitable prescription was leeches and bloodletting. The audience roared as each hapless victim was led away to cut and bled.

A funny bit, but one that also got me thinking of the progress in medicine since Theodoric's day, and my own interactions with our health care system.

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Posted May 31, 2009 at 19:43 UTC, 3121 words,  [/richPermalink

Sat, 30 May 2009

The Walking Purchase -- Curiosity
In school I was a math and science nerd. Not that my grades in other subjects were bad, they were OK. I read a lot (science books and science fiction) and a beneficial spin off from the incessant reading was decent language arts skills that buoyed my English grades. The reading also gave me a passable understanding of the point of historical research -- or at least "psychohistory" as visualized by Asimov.

Regardless of the adequate spin off skills that kept my grades from being too slanted toward science and math, if you had asked the 16-year-old Dan Ichov to list school subjects ranked in order of his enthusiasm and interest, then undoubtedly history would have been at the bottom of his list, with gym and health being the only competition for his academic interest cellar.

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Posted May 30, 2009 at 04:28 UTC, 3426 words,  [/danPermalink

Thu, 30 Apr 2009

An Inconvenient Debate

Do certain kinds of topics bring so much additional baggage to the table that it makes it difficult to discuss them rationally? And, if so, is there anything that can be done about that?

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Posted Apr 30, 2009 at 04:47 UTC, 3189 words,  [/richPermalink

Wed, 29 Apr 2009

Driving The Numbers

Because of my geek nature and technical training, I have an uncontrollable compulsion to check numerical relationships. It makes no difference if the relationship is obvious or subtle, or if it's such a platitude that we all have it memorized as axiomatic fact. For example, if somebody says, "That's six of one, half dozen of the other", I'll compulsively verify in my mind that the division of 12 by 2 equals 6, exactly. Since this was typically offered as a cliche for approximate equivalence, I usually quip "Maybe more like six of one, two pi of the other," hinting that the equivalence may not be precisely exact.

This number checking habit is, no doubt, one of my less endearing qualities. But, despite the fact that I know I'm being a dork, I can't help but do it.

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Posted Apr 29, 2009 at 20:37 UTC, 3274 words,  [/danPermalink

Tue, 31 Mar 2009

Aux Armes, Citoyens?

A conversation over a beer one evening not too long ago provoked me to think about the sociology, economics, and psychology of revolutions. (Hey, what do you talk about while you're sitting at the bar?)

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Posted Mar 31, 2009 at 18:11 UTC, 3046 words,  [/richPermalink

Sat, 28 Mar 2009

Beta Sigma (Chapter 5, conclusion)

The two men and the Highlander reached the upper edge of the canyon wall without further catastrophe. The truck again fouled on rock steps a few more times, but Jiabao had been running the winch slower, and Fred took great care in freeing them from each snag. Mundi had placed the last anchor well beyond a nicely ramped section of the uppermost cliff edge, allowing the truck to pull itself smoothly around from the vertical wall and finish on level ground, neat as can be.

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Posted Mar 28, 2009 at 21:16 UTC, 3121 words,  [/danPermalink

Sat, 28 Feb 2009

Ad Astra Per Aspera

At dinner with my family a while ago, the conversation turned to the subject of hobbies. I was bemoaning the fact that my kids' hobbies seemed to be pretty much limited to things like achieving high scores on the X-Box, or serving in a godlike capacity as the master of a group of players in an role playing world. I was gently tweaking them over the fact that these kinds of activities were primarily computer based, involved at best a limited kind of interaction with other people, and kept them glued to the computer screen for hours at a time. While advanced joystick proficiency gained by hours playing Halo 3 might make my son a good candidate for piloting a Predator done someday, beyond that these activities didn't involve many opportunities for learning much of anything.

My kids, of course, immediately challenged me right back, asking me about my hobbies: what things did I do to occupy what little free time I had?

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Posted Feb 28, 2009 at 20:55 UTC, 3524 words,  [/richPermalink


Last Fall I was up on Blue Mountain (about 10 mi west of the NE Extension PA Turnpike tunnel. It was very nice too. Crisp at night, but not cold. Near full moon. Clear skies.

An odd thing happened, though.

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Posted Feb 28, 2009 at 16:26 UTC, 1033 words,  [/danPermalink

A Walk up Brunswick Mountain (conclusion)

I lay on a small rocky clearing, a mile above Howe Sound, eyes wide, seeing nothing but black, ears hearing only silence...

Well, that's not exactly true.

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Posted Feb 28, 2009 at 16:22 UTC, 2248 words,  [/danPermalink

Sat, 31 Jan 2009

In Memoriam P.J. McG. (1928-2009)

Without alarm or light, silently and abruptly, John Drake awoke.

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Posted Jan 31, 2009 at 19:43 UTC, 3502 words,  [/richPermalink

Wed, 28 Jan 2009

A Walk up Brunswick Mountain (continued)...
And so it was that as I began my traverse on the Howe Sound Crest Trail (HSCT), I had not yet set foot on snow, even though I'd seen several patches ranging in size from little bigger than a manhole cover, to as big as a sheet of plywood.

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Posted Jan 28, 2009 at 18:54 UTC, 3262 words,  [/danPermalink

Wed, 31 Dec 2008

Present At The Creation

The year end is a time for looking back as much as for looking forward. People compile their lists of "Top Ten" movies, music, political events, and the like, for the year just past. Others look forward, placing their moistened fingers in the air, and, having discerned the direction of the prevailing winds, more or less confidently prognosticate on what the year to come has in store for us.

I hold no special claim to any abilities in the area of predictions -- if I did possess any, I would undoubtedly be spending more time at the racetrack and the casino than I do now. Instead, I use these short days at year's end to look back, not only at the preceding twelve months, but over even longer time frames. Having also turned fifty this year, I look back at my life so far, and find myself asking (among other things) about how fortunate I seem to be to have grown up at just the right times to have been in on the start of a true historical era or two.

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Posted Dec 31, 2008 at 16:37 UTC, 3227 words,  [/richPermalink

Sat, 27 Dec 2008

Riding a Bike Across the USA

Now that I've announced my intention to pedal across the USA on a bicycle during the summer of 2009, I think it's my obligation to go on record with my reasons. Given the vast array of potential accomplishments and adventures I might choose to crowd into the diminishing remainder of my life, why did I choose to spend a precious summer on a bike trip? If for no other reason than self curiosity, this question demands an answer.

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Posted Dec 27, 2008 at 02:30 UTC, 3819 words,  [/danPermalink

Sun, 30 Nov 2008

A Travesty On The English Language?

My friend Dan recently pointed out to me an interesting opinion column which appeared in one of the local newspapers a week or so ago. The writer was identified as "an entrepreneur and a Republican Party activist" in local political circles, and his subject was "How Civil Unions Square with GOP Principles".

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Posted Nov 30, 2008 at 19:29 UTC, 3102 words,  [/richPermalink

A Walk Up Brunswick Mountain

Visible from most areas in greater Vancouver, the North Shore Mountains form a distinctive backdrop for the city. At 5866 ft, Brunswick Mountain is the highest of these peaks, located north of slightly lesser summits of Mount Harvey and The Lions.

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Posted Nov 30, 2008 at 15:00 UTC, 3202 words,  [/danPermalink

Fri, 31 Oct 2008

Beta Sigma (Chapter 4)

I learned the details of Jiabao's ill fated hunting trip during the investigation we held prior to Mundi's trial. The only human witness to the events that transpired, if you could call him human, was Mundi himself, but it was hard to doubt his factual account of events, an account that was detailed and consistent. Virtually all the facts of his story were confirmed by the data loggers in the skimmer, gear truck, Segways, and other smart-gear later recovered from the scene.

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Posted Oct 31, 2008 at 20:39 UTC, 3051 words,  [/danPermalink

East 161st St and River Avenue: Part II

The passage of time affects all things, and my family's annual outing to Yankee Stadium was no exception. All too soon, most of my siblings and I had reached the age where we had moved on to bigger and better things than getting a new Louisville Slugger bat every year (most of us were also past the eligibility age of fourteen anyway). So by the early 1970s, although we continued to watch on TV and listened on the radio, we had pretty much stopped attending Yankee games as a family.

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Posted Oct 31, 2008 at 17:37 UTC, 3734 words,  [/richPermalink

Tue, 30 Sep 2008

East 161st St and River Avenue: Part I

On September 21st, 2008, with a 7-3 victory over the Baltimore Orioles, an era ended in New York and for the entire sport of baseball: in its 85th year, after hosting more than 6500 games and thirty-seven World Series (as well as twenty championship boxing matches, Masses offered by three Popes, concerts, and numerous professional and college football games), the Yankees played their final game in Yankee Stadium.

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Posted Sep 30, 2008 at 21:16 UTC, 3230 words,  [/richPermalink

Beta Sigma (part 3)

It was 8 Terran years since Beta Sigma tossed Dela Fagan's blood stained O2 mask onto my desk. In that time, the UNASA agency office in Valles Marineris city had changed very little. I still read TFB reports till my brain ached. And terraforming data was the same in the first three decimal places. Only the coffee in the office was different, as some enterprising souls in Hellas Planitia had managed to get Bolivian plants to grow in the hyper-alpine Martian environment.

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Posted Sep 30, 2008 at 16:34 UTC, 3130 words,  [/danPermalink