Monday, August 31, 2009

Bishop Martino Claims Fatigue Impels Retirement

This update from the AP on the early retirement of Bishop Martino of Scranton.

SCRANTON, Pa. — A Roman Catholic bishop in northeastern Pennsylvania says he is stepping down for health reasons.

Scranton Bishop Joseph Martino says he suffers from insomnia and crippling physical fatigue.

The 63-year-old leader of the Diocese of Scranton is resigning more than a decade before the usual retirement age of 75. He had led the diocese since 2003.

Martino had been heavily criticized by parishioners who felt alienated by his imperious leadership style and staunch defense of Catholic orthodoxy. Supporters say Martino was simply enforcing church doctrine.

Pope Benedict XVI appointed Cardinal Justin Rigali, who leads the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, to oversee the Scranton diocese until the Vatican appoints a new bishop.

Something is still screwy and doesn't add up right. This is not normal for a Catholic Bishop. Time will tell; it always does.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival #20

This week on Sunday Snippets, WBN presents: No kidding.

A bishop, a priest, and a father walk into a bar. "Don't I know you from somewhere?", says the bartender ...


Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival is a weekly opportunity to share your best posts with the wider Catholic blogging community. To participate, create a post highlighting posts that would be of interest to Catholics and link to the host blog at Go to the host blog and leave a comment giving a link to your post.

Beknighted Dunkel: Brew Plus 3 Weeks

Making beer is as much about taste as it is about sustenance. Beer, properly made without fillers, is like drinking a loaf of bread. It is the yield of the grain, the staff of life. What can be more basic than wheat beer?

On this edition of Me and the Homebrews, WBN chronicles the making of a Dunkelweizen, or dark wheat, beer.


After 3 weeks the beer is showing definite signs of stratification. Primary fermentation is complete and the beer is clarifying. There is an inch and a half of sediment on the bottom. As you move up the carboy, the beer goes from murky milk chocolate color to a nice clear dark chocolate hue. That's the beauty of the clarification phase; you can see the beer that you will have at the end. Only two weeks to go.

Overheard In My House

As we were preparing the Nodlings for Mass this morning, I asked them to pay particular attention to the readings, so I could ask them questions afterward.

They immediately began to try to recall last week's readings. Nod-girl pipes up:
I know it! St. Paul's Letter to the Egypts!
Hmm. Must have been in a different translation than mine ...

Bishop of Scranton Retiring Early?

What in the world is going on in Pennsylvania? For a state dominated by mostly small towns and only a handful of big cities (Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Allentown, Erie, Reading, and Bethlehem), there seems to be always some kind of foment.

Now the Bishop of Scranton is retiring early?

[AP] SCRANTON, Pa. - A Roman Catholic diocese in northeastern Pennsylvania will hold a news conference next week after media reports that its bishop will be stepping down.

The Times-Tribune reported that workers removed furniture from Bishop Joseph Martino's residence in Scranton this week, ahead of his planned resignation. The diocese refuses to comment, but announced Friday that a news conference will be held at 10 a.m. Monday.

Martino is only 63 years old. It is highly unusual for a bishop to step down ahead of age 75, when the Vatican requires bishops to submit their resignation.

Martino has been a controversial, conservative leader of the diocese that serves 350,000 parishioners. He was installed in 2003.

(Wait. Scranton has its own dialect?)

Anybody in PA know what's going on?

Father Brown: The Secret Garden

Just because.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

They Took My Safeway

The Safeway grocery store up the street closed its doors for the last time here at the end of August. Not much reason was given, except for one employee said they weren't making enough money and something about their stock price took a big hit recently.Now, since my average grocery bill is 3-5 Benjamins, I thought I was personally keeping them afloat. The Nodlings cried when they heard about it: Safeway's the best store -- ever! Wah!

(Uh, really? I don't remember you having a preference before today ... but I digress.)

Now I'm stuck with only Shoppers, Giant, Bloom, Harris Teeter, Trader Joe, Costco, and Wegmans. Whatever will I do?

Catholic Dads Have New Online Home

Anyone who might not be aware, the cyber-home of Catholic Dads has moved to

The site is bustling with new activity and has a revised look and feel, including new sections like Resources, Family Life, Parenting, Reviews, Faith & Spirituality, and more.

So check it out and get encouraged by fellow Catholic Dads; make sure you add it to your favorite feed reader, Facebook, StumbleUpon, Twitter, Technorati, or whatever.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Almost Time For Football

After last week's disappointing pre-season performance it was, well, less disappointing to watch the Redskins lose this week. The Redskins only lost to the Patriots by a field goal. Since only the first half counts in pre-season (that's when the starters play), Jason Campbell and team battled the Patriots to a 17-all tie at the half -- that's progress.

Cooley broke the stagnation by catching a pass and running down the sideline for over 70 yards. Now that's excitement. I finally got a good look at the guy whose running style is described as a "broken beer truck" -- how apt! That lumbering thunder-wagon has got great hands and is a potent weapon, whether blocking or recieving. Lumber on!

Thrill Of Recognition

I had the opportunity to visit the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C. at lunchtime. I've never been there before, so I wasn't sure what to expect. They have a pretty decent bookshop, opportunities to hear speakers and go to confession, and a full blown chapel.

I stepped inside the chapel to check it out, and there was a tabernacle! I felt a thrill of recognition sweep through me, and I just spent a minute with our Lord in wordless prayer. Totally made my day!

While I was in the shop, I heard Mass starting; the sign outside the door also proclaimed Eucharistic adoration from 1-4 pm. Awesome!

Still Life With Cameraphone: Hitchhiker

Readers of this blog are aware that I've been exercising the old cameraphone lately, as I move about Washington. Sometimes, you are able to catch the most unexpected things.

Driving to the Metro this morning I was startled and amused by something I saw at the red light: a hitchhiker had grabbed a ride on the car in front of me unbeknownst to the driver. It was really too far for the cameraphone to get clearly, but right there circled in green is a praying mantis on the trunk.

Hey, buddy, the slug line is one block over. Does this mean this guy gets to use the HOV lanes?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Real People, Real Care

The whole health care debate is so raucous that it leaves a bad taste in your mouth. No matter what side you come down on, we can all agree that there is much to dislike. Which is all the more reason to slow down and look at things afresh.

The role of government in this case should not be to take over our responsibilities to take care of ourselves, our families, and one another, but rather to enable the atmosphere, the laws, and incentives that can make that happen. Too many times, people just want the government to "take care of things" for them. This does not engender proper respect for persons, personal accountability, and love for neighbor. What is does promote is a culture of dependency, entitlement, and hostility over higher taxes when the inevitable waste and corruption set in.

Every third Thursday or so, Martha's Table comes to designated spots in Washington DC downtown and feeds the hungry. The Martha's Table mission statement reads:
Martha’s Table’s mission is to help at-risk children, youth, families and individuals in our community improve their lives by providing educational programs, food, clothing, and enrichment opportunities.
Martha's table has a dozen permanent staff and a whole host of people volunteering to feed, clothe, and teach those in need. These are people who are putting their faith in action; these are the kind of programs and ministries that transform people's lives. I can't even think of a government program that was actually transformative on a personal level.

The best part is there are thousands of groups and organizations like Martha's Table that take care of people in their own communities. There is no one-size-fits-all. That is the beauty of it -- it meets the actual needs of actual people and there are real people doing it.

There is no government mandated program for which you get to fill out bureaucratic forms, no rammed down your throat entitlement. The role of good government is to incentivize the private sector into providing more options, make it easier to give and make a difference, through laws and tax credits, not to dictate what the options are. That way we become better citizens and better people by helping one another instead of waiting for "the government" to do it.

Unfortunately, the government is good at taking great ideas and ruining them. That's why they shouldn't be allowed to run anything much beyond the national defense.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Return Of The Magic Pillars

The magic pillars are coming back!

Oh, yes, there will be music.

RIP Ted Kennedy

Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) died today.

Now is not the time for politics, but the time for prayer.

May God have Mercy on his soul.

Color Me Skeptical Of Town Hall Meetings

There's been a lot of press about the brouhaha that was the town hall meeting held in Reston, VA on Tuesday by Virginia Congressman Jim Moran (D) and Howard Dean, former Democratic Party Chairman and presidential candidate.

Things got ugly with chanting, cheering, and jeering from both sides.

Passions are hot, with the apparent maturity level of these things resembling a high school locker room. Accusations of administration plants, astroturfing, lies, fabrications, and thuggery abound from the right and left.

This is what gets my skepticism going though -- all of the pictures I've been able to find of the town hall meeting where signs are displayed have the same thing in common: those in favor of the current health care reform all have pre-printed professional signs that say "Reform Now"/"Thank you", while those against have home-made cardboard signs with varying slogans.

So if accusations are going to be made of astroturfing, paid protesters, and big money organizing, the evidence tends to be pretty one-sided. (There is even evidence of town hall organizers handing out hand-letters signs in favor of the health care reform to make it seem like it wasn't all astroturfed).

Now I do think the actual constituents are probably pretty evenly split on the issue in the 8th district, since Fairfax County is a left-leaning county, but offering them "homemade" signs? Pathetic.

On the other side, there are multiple reports of activist Randall Terry getting thown out of the meeting. I have no use or patience for the man. There is enough real anger over the issue without his histrionics.

Now if this was a "local" town hall meeting for Moran's constituents in the 8th District, why in the world was Howard Dean invited?

Color me skeptical.

Newspapers Pound For Pound

Time: Any day of the week
Place: Vienna Metro, VA
Subject: Title Round For Commuter Newspapers

Stand out in front of the Vienna Metro station during rush hour and you will always see two competing free newspaper hawkers: The Washington Post Express and the Washington Examiner. (Occasionally you can get The Epoch Times if you care for inside China news.)

One is liberal, the other conservative. Both papers are funded solely by advertising.

The Express averages 30 pages during the week and 40 pages for the "Weekend" edition. Most of the Express' articles are reprints from the AP with a smattering of Post articles. From what I can see, it is also read by more people at Vienna. Average number of advertising pages in the middle: 10. Average daily circulation: 183,916.

The Examiner averages 45 pages during the week and about 55 pages for the "Weekend" edition. The Examiner also includes reprints from the AP, but also four pages of commentary. The Examiner is physically 1/7 taller than Express and has a lock on distribution at McPherson Square near the White House. Average number of advertising pages in the middle: 14. Average daily circulation: 93,000.

Since newspapers live and die by advertising, I'd say the Examiner is doing better than Express. I've noticed the thickness of the Express has been shrinking in the last few months.

However, since the Washington Post is a behemoth and enjoys pride of place in Washington, DC, the Express is still widely read and forms the basis of a wide swath of DC commuters' daily news and views. Judged by circulation, the Express is nearly double that of the Examiner.

You get to draw your own conclusions.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Doubts On Healthcare Reform Growing

Always beware the dire proclamation that action is required immediately and without reflection -- especially when that action is political in nature.

The nominally 60 vote fillibuster-proof Democrat controlled Senate and majority controlled House have put together no less than 3 competing health care reform bills that vary wildly and run on to 1,000 pages or more and they still can't get a health care reform bill done. That's because the liberal wing demands a public option - which is not optional - to compete with private insurance, the Blue Dogs demand fiscal responsibility, and the conservatives are staunchly opposed to a single payer system.

Looks like there are more cracks than bricks. Congress is a deliberative body -- it's supposed to be slow so that all sides are heard and the best consensus can be made before actually making law. Some elitists, nevertheless, are determined to cram "reform" down our throats any way they can, including brazen suspension of the rules and demonizing any opposition.

According to the spokesman for Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader:
"The White House and the Senate Democratic leadership still prefer a bipartisan bill. However, patience is not unlimited, and we are determined to get something done this year by any legislative means necessary." (emphasis added)
However, the backlash is beginning to gain momentum. Star Parker writes in her column:

[Scripps] Health sharing ministries is one particularly beautiful example of how faithful Americans take care of themselves when allowed to be free. But there are many others.

In thousands of homeless shelters around the country, charitable Americans provide complete health care for the homeless. There are 5000 crisis pregnancy centers, financed privately by charitable Americans that provide free care for pregnant women.

Many creative ideas have been put forth on how American health care delivery can be dramatically improved if markets are allowed to work. John Mackey, chairman of Whole Foods, listed eight in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed.

In another Wall Street Journal column, a University of Chicago Business School professor explained how forward purchases of insurance could deal with the problem of pre-existing conditions.

But, Barack Obama and congressional Democrats have slammed the door on all this. They only want to hear about more government. Not less.

The problem isn't that dissenting Americans are immoral. It's that Democrat leadership has a problem with individual freedom.

Even independant Sen. Joe Lieberman, who caucuses with the Democrats, has expressed doubts about the wisdom of rushing through such an important piece of legislation.
"And I'm afraid we've got to think about putting a lot of that off until the economy is out of recession. There's no reason we have to do it all now."
It is a fallacy to declare in this case that any action is better than none at all. When you are playing with one sixth of the nation's economy and more importantly with people's lives, it's better to go slow and get it right than to botch it by rushing and forcing it on everyone in the name of the public interest.

Impressions In The City

Today the Metro broke down -- again. Oh, it wasn't my train, but it didn't matter: late is late. This is getting tiring, wondering what the "next thing" is going to be with this system.

Nevertheless, I got off a stop early and hoofed it to my destination. This caused me to pass right by the headquarters of the AFL-CIO.

As I passed by, I couldn't help thinking about the nation's largest federation of trade unions. When you think Union, you think AFL-CIO -- right along with the Teamsters and Jimmy Hoffa. I'm sure the rumors of racketeering and intimidation are greatly exaggerated. They can't all be thugs.

As I passed by the loading/garage entrance there were a number of burly crew-cut men standing around "supervising". The whole atmosphere had a very don't-enter-here sort of look about it. They have their own credit union ATM built into the exterior of the building (members only). A sign proclaimed they were "rebuilding America". It was just an impression, but a strong one.

Just because they were standing around watching the passers by, every one of them four feet wide in the chest, with sleeves rolled up and ready for action, and just because they represent organized labor with a bunch of overhyped stories about people buried in cement or broken kneecaps for voting against the party line doesn't mean that they are automatically big bad thugs. That's stereotyping, right?

I'm sure they're very nice thugs.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival #19

This week on Sunday Snippets, WBN says: Eat, Drink, and be Merry.

Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival is a weekly opportunity to share your best posts with the wider Catholic blogging community. To participate, create a post highlighting posts that would be of interest to Catholics and link to the host blog at Go to the host blog and leave a comment giving a link to your post.

Your Facebook, My Data

Besides being a slightly against-the-grain, anti-popular, paranoid by trade person, there is another reason that I refuse to use Facebook: nothing you put there has any expectation of privacy. Whatsoever.

Even if you have restricted who can "Friend" you and look at your pictures, all it takes is one of those friends to give away everything you've ever done and said without even being aware of it.
[Slashdot] "Back in June, the American Civil Liberties Union published an article describing Facebook's complete lack of meaningful security on your and your friends' information. The article went virtually unnoticed.

Now, a developer has written a Facebook 'Quiz' based on the original article that graphically illustrates all the information a Facebook app can get its grubby little hands on by recursively sweeping through your friends list, pulling all their info and posts, and showing it to you.

What's more, apps can get at your information even if you never run the app yourself. Facebook apps run with the access privileges of the user running it, so anything your friend can see, the app they're running can see, too.
Now, lots of people are OK with this kind of thing. They say, "I don't post anything I don't want other people to see." Others just don't realize what's happening under the hood.

But it's this part that weirds me out: "recursively sweeping through your friends list, pulling all their info and posts". That is just a little too Orwellian for my taste. Now I've been in the business long enough to know there is no such thing as true privacy on the Net, but does it have to be broadcast by default?
[ACLU] By default, Facebook’s privacy settings let applications access information on your profile even if you have restricted access to a specific network or friend group (as application privacy settings are separate from profile privacy settings). In addition, Facebook’s default settings allow applications run by your friends to pull information from your profile.
Is that really a sane default? It took us 20 years to beat Microsoft into submission over shipping their software with security settings enabled. Sun Microsystems finally followed suit. Everybody wants the "just works by default" option because it reduces support costs and allows for easy adoption. The problem is, that's crazy insecure. It's just not necessary to have access to all that data just to make a little widget, poll, or app.

The bottom line is, this policy has the company and developers' best interests at heart, not the users. Anybody with the bling-bling app-of-the-day can recursively get your and all your friends' information with a click of the mouse. (Elf bowling anyone?)

With all the skeevy types out there, I just won't be "friending" you any time soon. Sorry. See you in Meatspace.

Cooking The Unexpected

Anyone who's eaten at my house knows that I never make the same dish twice.

This is mostly due to the fact that I don't use a recipe; everything I make is "something similar" to something we've had before. Mrs. Nod puts the daily meat and potatoes (or chicken and rice) on the table, but weekends are largely free-form -- which is where I come in.

I view eating as a culinary adventure. I get my food know-how from my Mom and a spirit of experimentation from my Dad. The best egg omelette Dad ever made was, in fact, gray in color, due to some leftover 3-bean salad. Sounds gross, but tasted great.

I don't usually plan what I'm going to cook, I just stare into the refrigerator and cabinets until I feel inspired. It's a creative art form that you can eat.

Very often this works to my advantage when feeding the Nodlings. Presenting food in a novel way gets them to try stuff they might complain about otherwise. One day I wokked some chicken and fed them from the pan with chopsticks like little birds. (They'll eat almost anything if I let them use the "cheater" chopsticks, which is made with a folded piece of paper wedged between the sticks with a rubber band.)

Something that works well with the toddlers is "lap" feeding. No, not sitting on a lap -- running them. They run circles around the table laughing and giggling. Every time they complete a lap, you stick some food their mouths.

On Friday, I cut the top off of an orange bell pepper and drank water out of it like a cup. The Nodlings thought that was the best thing ever and wanted their own pepper cup; most other days I can't beg them to drink water.

Today, I used those orange peppers as taco shells. Here's a picture of pepper shell chicken tacos, complete with cucumbers, lettuce, red pepper, tomatoes, and cheese. They scarfed it all down because they thought it was cool to eat out of a stuffed pepper.

The good part is these shells don't break.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Still Life With Cameraphone: Renovation

To me it looks like the place got bombed.

I guess they'd call it renovation.

Not sure if the style of the building counts as a row house, townhouse, or just crap house. It's like a row house since it's just like the building on the left, but then it has dormers on the roof that look like an afterthought.

These are just fascinating things you can capture with an underpowered camera phone while walking around. The city is an amazing place. I can't wait to leave.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Homebrew: Dunkelweizen Gets A Name

Making beer is as much about taste as it is about sustenance. Beer, properly made without fillers, is like drinking a loaf of bread. It is the yield of the grain, the staff of life. What can be more basic than wheat beer?

On this edition of Me and the Homebrews, WBN chronicles the making of a Dunkelweizen, or dark wheat, beer.


Something about beer makes you think of monks and the middle ages or dark ages -- or just dark wheat beer, aka Dunkelweizen. After 1 week past Brew Day, the wort looks, er, well, it looks rather unpalatable, kind of like something that backed up a drain pipe. It's probably the cloudy milk chocolate color that does it.

But experience tells us that current appearances aside, the end result will belie the looks (i.e., it'll be yummy).

Since I was thinking about beer and dark ages and Catholics, those poor "benighted" souls, and since all the Homebrews are either Knights of Columbus or related to Knights, I thought that might make a great name for this batch of homebrew: Beknighted Dunkel.


I took Wynken and Blynken with me for our first "family" bike ride (vs. a 1-on-1 bike ride).

It was just a short jaunt down the path through the woods to the REC center and back. The kids are starting to get a little more confident on their bikes, learning how to control their speed and steering. There was only one minor spill, but nobody got hurt. (Must use brakes!)

I'm trying to teach them basic safety, rules of the road, how to handle gravel and turns, and biking courtesy -- and just how to enjoy it. I think they're warming up to it -- it's fun!

Nod-girl wants in on the action (only she doesn't know how to ride yet!); maybe I'll take her on her scooter.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Sometimes I wonder if I have any practical skills at all.

I mean, when the Big One hits, and we're all reduced to a post apocalyptic Mad Max state, what will I do?

I don't know carpentry, husbandry, electricity, mechanical engineering, physics, chemistry, medicine, hunting, fishing, or gathering.

I do know computers and computer security. But Life Without Electricity would be a real hardship for most of us, I'll wager.

I do know a little bit of gardening, but as a sideline, not for subsistence.

Fortunately, I have a marketable skill for which I do get paid; I can support my family; I can even help out the neighbors with their everyday computer woes.

I don't have to worry about catastrophes (any more than anybody else). Other than prudential planning and prayer, there is literally nothing I can do to affect that.

I guess that feels good. I guess that I'm in the right place at the right time, less by happy accident than by the providence of God.

Yeah, I guess God knows what he's doing. Yahweh Jireh. God provides.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Kill The Wabbit -- er, Groundhog

Or in my case, Kill the Groundhog.

Normally, I am a very peace-loving guy. But there are a few things that will make me go from 0 to 60 in about 3 seconds. One is anybody trying to hurt my kids. Another is wanton destruction of something I put my own blood, sweat, and tears into -- literally.

Anyone who knows how I feel about my garden, knows that over the last 10 years, I have lost all sympathy for the furry menace known as the groundhog. These oversized rodents have been pilfering and razing my precious vegetable plot every year despite hundreds of dollars and scores of hours trying to prevent it in a humane and natural way, including humane traps, fences, repellents, and scare tactics. The deer and the rabbits I tolerate and am largely successful in keeping them away. But the groundhog I hate.

Now I have nothing but rage for the varmints. Recently, after wiping out my peas, beans, and lettuce -- did you know those suckers can climb trees and fences? -- I caught a young adult groundhog idling by my trellis. I grabbed my pitchfork -- yes, really, a pitchfork -- and chased tubby down over a half acre. I winged him with the flat by launching it like a spear, and if I'd been half a shade faster and more callous, I'd have stabbed him through. You PETA-types can take a flying leap; this is man vs wild.

Neighbors have tried trapping and releasing them, but the problem is they never take them far enough away to make a difference. Duh, they just walk home in a few days or hours. Next humane trap volunteer is getting swimming lessons -- with the cage.

Now that I've vented my spleen, take a look at this Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd clip of "Kill the Wabbit". I've got to go find some other windmills to tilt.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival #18

This week on Sunday Snippets, WBN asks: what do you do in your off hours? For us it's Hobby Time.

Even Catholics play from time to time ...

Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival is a weekly opportunity to share your best posts with the wider Catholic blogging community. To participate, create a post highlighting posts that would be of interest to Catholics and link to the host blog at Go to the host blog and leave a comment giving a link to your post.

Can A Bicycle Have Bling?

If a bike could have bling, then Blynken would definitely be in love with it. The girl loves things that sparkle, things that have ribbons, and things that are pink.

Well, that's what her new bicycle looks like: Peppermint Swirl. It's got pom poms on the handle, white wall tires with a blue stripe and a plastic carry-all on the handlebars.Of course she fell immediately in love with it as: "exactly what I wanted". Sure, OK, right. What made it good for me was that it was actually on sale, so I saved a few dollars on it. I'm looking at the frame, the height, fit, and brakes; she's looking at the color, the accessories, and paint job.

Sigh. That's why girls have Dads. So we can look at the boring but necessary stuff while they just enjoy the thing for what it is. And I suppose that's how it should be at her age.

She actually really enjoys riding a bike, so I didn't mind getting her a new one that fit, so she didn't have to ride the 14" tots bike. I took both Wynken and Blynken on a bike ride by turns today, and they both used that bike since it was the only working kids bike. Since then, Blynken got a new bike, I bought a new tire for Wynken's bike, and now Nod-girl wants to learn how to ride, so I've got to dig up the training wheels.

I'll make 'em a bike riding family yet.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Hacking The Pump?

Ever wonder how a gas pump works? They are fascinating pieces of technology that we all but take for granted. They mechanics are cool, but ultimately not that complicated. These days the "important" parts are done by computer. (The important part being paying for it.)
[HSW] As the gasoline travels upward into the dispenser, it passes through a flow control valve that regulates the gasoline's flow speed. It does this via a plastic diaphragm that gets squeezed more and more tightly into the pipe as the flow of gas increases, always leaving just enough room for the proper amount of gasoline to get through.

This pipe also contains the flow meter, which is a cast iron or aluminum chamber containing a series of gears or a simple rotor that ticks off units of gas as they pass through. Information about the gas flow is passed on to a computer located in the dispenser, which displays the metered amount of gas in tenths of a gallon.

In the 1970s, glowing LCDs in the form of seven-segment displays began to appear. (The segments in the display could be illuminated by computer to form various numerals and occasionally letters of the alphabet.)

These relatively simple user interfaces are gradually being replaced by full-fledged computer video displays, many running variations on operating systems like Microsoft Windows. These displays can offer information, display the amount of gas being sold and even run advertisements and carry on simple conversations with amused customers.
I actually find these computer / video displays really annoying. I just want to pump gas and leave. I don't want the news, the weather, or a car wash. Since I know a thing or two about computer [in]security, I'm always a bit skeptical about computerizing everything.

So imagine my somewhat amused surprise when I pulled in to fill up at the local gas shack and I see this:
If you look closely you can see this is a Windows computer. The task bar is the lighter bar at the bottom of the screen, the system tray is in the right hand corner, and there are 3 applications/windows open. There is a popup window in the middle of the screen with the classic "Do this / Cancel" combination. I wonder what it says?

If you squint hard (or click for larger image) at my still life with cell phone picture, you can make out the message "An updated version of LogMeIn has been downloaded and is ready for install. Click Update to install the new version now."

Remote access and desktop control to the gas pump? Interesting. Foolish, but interesting. Have these people never heard of EvilGrade, "a toolkit for exploiting products which perform online updates in an insecure fashion"?

Fake updates, plus remote desktop access to the gas pump. Wow. I'll bet nobody ever thought of hacking the pump before now.

It's not that far-fetched. Now I don't know if this computer is controlling the pump, or just the annoy-ware video, but it doesn't matter. I know you're sleeping better at night knowing that Micro$oft products may be controlling the gas pumps and your credit card number. I mean, what could go wrong?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

What Is 230?

Two days ago coming out of the Metro, there was a lady handing out free green T-shirts.

"What is it?", I asked. "It's a new environmentally friendly product coming out tomorrow. Plus, it's a free T-shirt; just take it." Here's the logo:

On the back is a URL: On Monday, the URL resolved to a page linking to discussions on Twitter and Facebook with people guessing what it was. Viral marketing, I get it. Today it resolves to the new GM Chevy Volt 2010.

They are bragging about a possible 230 MPG from one gallon of gasoline. The trick is that the battery will give you up to 40 miles before the internal combustion engine kicks in (as long as you plug it in every day).
[GM] Under the new methodology being developed, EPA weights plug-in electric vehicles as traveling more city miles than highway miles on only electricity. The EPA methodology uses kilowatt hours per 100 miles traveled to define the electrical efficiency of plug-ins. Applying EPA's methodology, GM expects the Volt to consume as little as 25 kilowatt hours per 100 miles in city driving. At the U.S. average cost of electricity (approximately 11 cents per kWh), a typical Volt driver would pay about $2.75 for electricity to travel 100 miles, or less than 3 cents per mile.
That sounds great, right? Look at the fabulous mileage and cheap fuel; and so green, too. Except the price of the car is about $40K.

The uber-popular Prius is only about $21K. Even the Honda Accord, possibly the most popular commuter car ever, averages about $20K. That leaves a delta of about $20K to make up.

If we assume a $3 per gallon cost of gas on a 15 gallon tank for our (now clunker) Honda that only gets 30 MPG, this yields a weekly cost of $45. Multiply by 52 weeks in a year = $2,340. Therefore it would take approximately 8.5 years to recoup the cost of buying the super-efficient electric Volt. I'm thinking you might be looking at a trade-in by then, or at least significant repairs as other parts wear out.

No sale.

The government has spent billions and billions (trillions?) on bailouts for the auto industry, cash for clunkers, bank bailouts, and so-called stimulus plans -- and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Still Life With Cameraphone: Flora

More still life with camera phone in the nation's capital.

This is one of the oddities of the city -- not much in the way of natural beauty.

I walk by this square all the time. One day, there is nothing but bare dirt, the next day there are flowers in full bloom. A week later, bare dirt; three days after that, more flowers.

The city is full of contradictions. Just sit back and enjoy the show.

Still Life With Cameraphone: Skyline

Another picture from my travels without a proper camera.

This is what a DC microcosm looks like in summer: troubled skies brooding over eclectic architecture. Kind of a metaphor for the nation's capital, don't you think?

Still Life With Cameraphone

The picture quality is terrible since it came from my phone camera, but it was a target of opportunity. People are forever doing fruit bowls as still life, so I figured it was "ripe" for a picture - pardon the pun. Plus, I have produce envy. ;-)

This is my real fruit bowl, not a strategically arranged grouping. On top are some ripe bananas astride two yellow squash from my garden. Also from my garden are the three green items in the lower left: green pepper, okra, and a zebra heirloom tomato. Mixed in are an assortment of apples, peaches, and Roma tomatoes, also from the garden.

Looks good enough to eat -- wait, I did!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Overheard In My House

"Please don't make any plans. God just laughs at them."

Feather Or Not

There was an accident involving toddlers and unmentionable body fluids which ended up in the couch pillows being washed.

I just walked into the laundry room and there are feathers everywhere.

It looks like those late night comedy sketches where they pretend to shoot a bird from the sky and then throw double handfuls of feathers on the guy from just offstage. That's my laundry room right now.

I'm still looking for the duck.

Cognitive Dissonance

Lest I rehash an old squabble, cognitive dissonance is described as: an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously [Wikipedia], and "a mismatch or conflict between ideas, cognitive dissonance, in Leon Festinger's term" and "incongruity, a prominent theory of the evolution of laughter from Jim Holt".

Each day, I read highlights from two papers on the train: one liberal, one conservative. This time it made me laugh.

First, after walking out on a comedy show in the UK in which her act bombed, uber-liberal comedienne, Geneane Garofolo:
[IHTM] during an interview on the BBC ... said, “Mostly the media in the States is much more to the right. I mean there is almost no liberal outlet for news commentary and editorializing.”
That might be the funniest thing she's ever said.

I followed that up with a politics piece by conservative columnist Byron York who wrote:
[Washington Examiner] Although a few Republican reporters have joined GOP administrations, this is mostly a Democratic problem, given the left-leaning sympathies of most journalists.
This was almost a throwaway line, not the main thrust of the article.

Reading the two of these quotes together in the space of 5 minutes made me laugh out loud on the train. There is no way these two are on the same planet together. And yet, there they were, both on the train with me (so to speak).

Cognitive dissonance ensued. Tension mounted in a split second. There had to be a dynamic resolution to the inner conflict. So, I laughed.

I'm still laughing.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Yeas And Nays

First, I have to give props to President Clinton for successfully obtaining the release of the two American reporters detained by North Korea earlier this week. Only someone of Clinton's stature could have pulled this off with a megalomaniac dictator like Kim Jung Il.

Although Kim will try to use this face to face meeting with a (former) American president to legitimize his Communist rule, the picture is worth a thousand words. To take a hugely emotive person like Bill Clinton and have him deadpan in that group photo with Kim Jung Il is a monumental feat. Props, Bill. Nothing says: I'm-only-doing-this-because-I have-to like that dead fish expression in the photo.

Next, I have to give a Blynken Raspberry to Al Gore, who allowed his reporters to violate the North Korean border, get arrested, and make their rescue necessary to the irreparable damage of the reputation and standing of the United States.

Go back to your global-warming-climate-change-carbon-credit bunker and stop embarassing us. Nobody believes that you and Bill are still buddies, much less that you ever were. Politics is about pragmatism and you sold out a long time ago.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Homebrew Chapter 2: Dark Wheat

Making beer is as much about taste as it is about sustenance. Beer, properly made without fillers, is like drinking a loaf of bread. It is the yield of the grain, the staff of life. What can be more basic than wheat beer?

On this edition of Me and the Homebrews, WBN chronicles the making of a Dunkelweizen, or dark wheat, beer.

Like the name implies, this beer is simple: malted wheat, malted barley, hops, water, and yeast. Nothing else.
The Argentina Cascade hops were very different from the Czech Saaz and German Spalt hops that we used last time for the Belgian Dubbel. These hops were lighter and more citrus-y in aroma.

We had a better setup this time for both brewing and cooling the wort. We brought it up off the grass and up to table height by using a pair of sawhorses and plywood. Being on the deck meant a more comfortable beer watch with the benefit of chairs close to the house.

It was still a hot August day, which meant that we needed extra help from an ice bath and our trusty wort chiller. The last 10 degrees took an agonizing 20 minutes. We had to get from 212 degrees to 68 degrees F. It still took the better part of an hour; last time I thought it only took us 40 minutes, but we didn't have the benefit of the shade this time.

One really interesting effect occured when we brought the cooled wort into the cooler basement. The fermentation lock showed that we had negative pressure in the carboy as the wort continued to cool which almost drew the lock water all the way into the beer (oh no!). However, as the temperature stabilized, and the yeast began to do its work, we now have positive pressure in the carboy, and the fermentation lock is happily bubbling away.

Five weeks to beer!

Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival #17

This week on Sunday Snippets, WBN presents: Singing, Acting, Movies. Check it out!

Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival is a weekly opportunity to share your best posts with the wider Catholic blogging community. To participate, create a post highlighting posts that would be of interest to Catholics and link to the host blog at Go to the host blog and leave a comment giving a link to your post.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Stan Lee's Time Jumper

Stan Lee keeps on pushing the digital comic art boundaries, determined to make it work. Maybe he figures Disney won't run out on him like his former business partners. Nah, they just have better lawyers.

Still, looks interesting. This Time Jumper episode is free on iTunes this week: Free Ride.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Happiness Is

Having two toddlers on your lap who laugh and clap when you sing "This Old Man" and "Itsy Bitsy Spider".

Seriously, where else are you going to get more accolades for doing so little?

According To The Merits

Forget the stereotypes and caricatures: most people are complex. So are Presidents, both present and former. Consider deeds.

Consider President George W. Bush. On the one hand, a leader with a heavy hand on the military solution, e.g., the Iraq war, and someone who seriously considered using our military against our own population (vis., the Lackawanna Six).
[Washington Examiner OpEd] But if you're inclined to thank God for small favors, there's this at least: Obama hasn't yet proposed turning the U.S. military against American citizens. Last week, the New York Times revealed that the Bush administration seriously considered doing just that [in violation of] the Fourth Amendment [and] the Posse Comitatus Act, the longstanding federal statute that restricts the use of standing armies to keep the peace at home.

[Washington Examiner OpEd] Those warnings were renewed earlier this month when it was reported that the Pentagon plans by 2011 to station 20,000 active-duty troops within the country to respond to large-scale catastrophes or terrorist attacks. Specially trained to handle chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or high-yield explosive attacks, this force has been in planning stages for several years.

On the surface, creation of such a military unit might appear as a welcome development that will improve efficiency, order, and humanitarian aid in an emergency. But why couldn’t National Guard units be trained to provide the same capability, especially since guardsmen have a long and distinguished history of responding to domestic emergencies and disasters?
On the other hand, there is George Bush the sincere Christian and humanitarian, who may singlehandedly be responsible for saving a million lives in Africa from AIDS.

[NCR] What if a president, on his own initiative, under no demands from staff or from supporters or opponents, set out to spend an unprecedented amount of money on AIDS in Africa, literally billions of dollars, at a time when the nation could not afford it, citing his faith as a primary motivation and, ultimately, saved more than a million lives?

Wouldn’t the story be front-page news, especially in top, liberal newspapers? Wouldn’t it lead on CNN, MSNBC and the “CBS Evening News”? Might statues be erected to the man in the nation’s more “progressive” cities?

What if the president was George W. Bush?

I pose these uncomfortable questions for two reasons: 1) President Bush did precisely that regarding the African AIDS tragedy; and 2) a study claims that Bush’s remarkable action has indeed saved many precious lives.

It all began in January 2003, during the State of the Union. In a completely unexpected announcement, Bush asked Congress for $15 billion for AIDS in Africa — drugs, treatment and prevention.

Bush then shocked the press by pointing to an unusual personal motivation, citing the parable of the Good Samaritan: “[T]his cause is rooted in the simplest of moral duties,” he told journalists. “When we see this kind of preventable suffering … we must act. When we see the wounded traveler on the road to Jericho, we will not, America will not, pass to the other side of the road.”

What to think?

Hopefully, that each one of us is more complex than any given action or stereotype. We can talk and debate on a man's actions, which we can see and experience and weigh the merits of according to our predilections, but only God can judge the motivation and movements of a man's heart.

More tortuous than all else is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can understand it?
I, the LORD, alone probe the mind and test the heart, To reward everyone according to his ways, according to the merit of his deeds. —Jeremiah 17:9-10

Clunker In The Trunk

Lots of people tried to rush out and get some free money this weekend: up to $4500 worth to be precise.

Congress passed an auto-subsidy bill with (only!) $1 billion behind it. The Cash For Clunkers bill was supposed to get older polluting cars off the road and stimulate flat-lined auto sales during the recession: green all the way around, so to speak.

It was too much and too little all at the same time. It was too little because the program will only replace around .1 percent of cars on the road - a statistical blip. The program ran out of money almost immediately as the gold rush was announced. Now Congress is under big pressure to throw another $2 billion at it -- and they'll get it. Nobody likes to be the killjoy that stopped the gravy train. Whee! Free Money!

Only it's not free, it came out of our pockets to begin with: specifically, whoever did NOT go out and buy a car helped subsidize those who did. They're called taxes. It's too much, because a) they already need more money, and b) there is a better way to spend (or not spend!) a billion dollars, or two, or three during a global recession.

Although the bill was "instantly popular", there are a few naysayers. One of the unrealized drawbacks of the Clunker program is that the old car must be destroyed, not just broken up for parts. Uh oh. The availability of used cars and replacement parts just went down which hurts small businesses and repair shops as well as lower income families.

Overall the program won't be a big impact on the environment, and with a limited war chest it won't be a big impact on the flagging American auto industry either. In the final analysis, I think it pretty irresponsible thing to do when we've got a trillion dollar deficit.

Bread and circuses.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Tats And All That

Something I've always been simultaneously attracted and repulsed by is tattoos. This ancient form of body marking has waxed and waned in popularity in various times and cultures and with varying meanings.

Ancient peoples may have used tattoos as part of their religious ceremonies. I knew a girl in college who had a simple line cross tattooed in the crease of her ring finger as a memorial of a pilgrimage. Modern people seem to indulge in it as a form of expression or art. Apparently, it can be addictive; once you get one, you're twice as likely to get a second. (There's no science behind that statistic, just anecdotal evidence.)

Once reserved in popular thought for sailors and street gangs, tattoos are popping up in all kinds of places. Increasingly, women are doing it. A lot of people are secretive about it: "I have a tattoo, but in a place I'm not going to show it to you". Other people are like a walking billboard with bright colors and words writ large in the most obvious places.

They come in all sizes, shapes, and colors: cute, obscure, lewd, private, bright, dull, faded, poignant, etc. They are as varied as the people who get them.

My thing is I just can't think of anything I'd want on my body permanently. The longer I live, the more I realize that what I thought was cool or meaningful 10 years ago just doesn't have the same appeal now. What happens when you get old/fat/skinny/wrinkled/married/divorced/other?

Someone told me today they had seen a rise in tattoo removal creams. Buyer's remorse?

Me, I think I'll stay with the lick 'em and stick 'em kind.

Step Up

Sometimes life is just something that happens to you; other times you find yourself in the thick of it.

It's easy to be on cruise control, dealing with your own set of day to day problems without much of a look around.

The ones who are out there making it happen have a fire in their belly, a raison d'etre. Usually, they have been affected personally by something, which shakes them out of their lethargy and into action.

As the saying goes: If not you, then who? If not now, then when?

Sometimes it's you that's being called to step out of your comfort zone. Mostly it's easy to miss that call or casually side-slip the responsibility. I've found that the personal touch is the only one that works. Instead of "Can anyone help with this?", it's better to say, "Hey, Joe, I need your help with this."

No one does anything about cancer until you (or a loved one) get it. No one gives much thought about Down Syndrome kids until you have one. No one tries to change the system until it fails them. Occasionally, people are inspired by the action of others which is the point.

It's not that people don't care on some level, it's just that they're not personally invested. Until it touches your life it's somehow remote, unreal even. It takes somebody to come look you in the eye and ask: "Hey, I need you to care about this, what do you say?"

So do something today - even if it's a small thing - that will help make something better for someone else. And yes, I mean you.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Catholic Underground

More music from Catholic Underground and Spirit Juice Studios.

Pope: Recording Star?

This seems to be a trend with the New Media: the Pope's gotta sing.

First it started with JPII's Abba Pater, which turned out surprisingly good and was received well. Since nothing succeeds like success, some thought a follow up was in order.

[SMH] Pope Benedict has agreed to a deal with a record company to release a CD of him singing in the Vatican.

The album will feature the pontiff singing litanies and chants in honour of the Virgin Mary, as well as reciting prayers in Latin, Italian, Portuguese, French and German.

The recordings were made in St Peter’s Basilica and the Pope was accompanied by the choir of the Philharmonic Academy of Rome.

Tracks will be blended with modern classical recordings by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and released as a CD on November 30 by Universal’s Geffen label.

Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival #16

This week on the Sunday Snippets, WBN is: absorbed.
A month of frenetic activity culminates in spiritual renewal and some creative fun.

Vote for me as the best video at
See all the videos at

Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival is a weekly opportunity to share your best posts with the wider Catholic blogging community. To participate, create a post highlighting posts that would be of interest to Catholics and link to the host blog at Go to the host blog and leave a comment giving a link to your post.

How I Prefer My Veggies

When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. So the saying goes.

When life hands you zucchini, however ...


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