Archive for October, 2005

You see stuff everywhere (even Wendy’s™)

October 30, 2005 2 comments

This is a…

  1. Fractal algorithm in a supercomputer rendering predicted metal fatigue

  2. Scanning electron microscope image of microbial colony growing around a tiny imperfection in an IV needle
  3. Graphic representation of the spread of a meme among bloggers
  4. Pattern of delamination of the image layer and plexiglass front of a Coca-Cola sign

Answer is “d” – the Coke sign on the front of the cash register at Wendy’s. 

And while we’re on the subject of Wendy’s, they have changed their policy to coddle the weak-minded and lawsuit-happy.  Used to be, when I “Biggie-sized” a menu item, they’d give me a “Great Biggie” fries.  Now they don’t – they just give me a big drink, which in my case means a Diet Coke, and a regular-sized fries (which they call a “biggie”).

I only eat french fries once in a great while, and when I do, I want ‘em hot and plentiful.  What’s up with with suing a restaurant for generous portions of good food?

Categories: Geeky, observations

Grief and loss

October 28, 2005 5 comments

Warning: long post, and not a cheerful one

Campus bulletin boards are covered with many announcements – apartment for rent, car for sale, a recital.  All useful things, and important too, measured against their temporal setting.

The poster

Then this poster appeared: “Missing”.  Olamide Adeyooye was last seen in the video rental store, but someone abducted her after that.  She didn’t show up for her job, or for classes, as friends tried frantically to get the police to understand that she wasn’t just another unpredictable college student.

I work on campus, and learned of her disappearance on a bulletin board.  As a parent of three college students, I stared at the poster as the awful reality sank in. 

Several questions and intuitions came to mind as I read the facts on the poster:

  • She had an African name – was she a foreign student?  A child of immigrants?  In my experience these are often the hardest-working and most dependable students. 

  • Apparently taken while near her off-campus apartment in a tough neighborhood a few miles from campus
  • Her ‘96 Toyota with the broken passenger seat (she wasn’t rich) was missing – a carjacking?
  • Her friends were worried about her – the posters were everywhere.  Ergo: she has friends – but probably not a sorority.
  • Laboratory sciences major – a pretty serious goal
  • She was small; 110 lbs.  Could she fight back?
  • From a suburb of Chicago, ergo her family lived in America

It turned out she was indeed from a loving family as her stricken parents pled for anyone knowing her whereabouts to help.  Their accents, phrasing, and word choices suggested they had come here from Africa.

Welcome to America, I thought.  Land of opportunity.  As I stood looking at the poster, I imagined how her parents must feel, and what lay ahead for them.

To some extent, I didn’t have to imagine, because one of my children was missing for over two years.  As far as I currently know, he’s alive and doing OK, but that is one part indirect information, one part wishful thinking and one part guess.  He left of his own accord and for over two years we couldn’t find him.  It turned out he had changed his name and made it clear he did not wish to be contacted.

The land of pain

I spent hundreds of nights awake, sitting on the edge of the bed, trying to get past the hole in my chest and find a rationale, or at least my breath again.  I know about feeling like a hollow man; where is my son?  My wife and his brothers wrestle with his absence.  People ask us; “How is Joe doing?  I haven’t seen him for a long time”, and we try to answer.

I kept telling myself: he’s probably fine.  Over, and over. 

Much worse lies ahead for Olamide’s parents.  I’ve had only a glimpse of the land of pain where they will live from now on.  I simply cannot imagine how they will ever again have a day of peace.  They sent their beautiful, promising daughter to school, and were looking forward to her graduation in December.  Then a phone call, I suppose… and after an agonizing two weeks, her remains were identified from dental records in a burned-out chicken house two states away.

There are certain tasks a normal parent is simply not equipped for.  After a while they will struggle not to imagine her last day, her last moments.  Just to keep breathing they will try not to think of some demon out there, preying on the innocent.  They will try to stop obsessing over news reports of missing persons.  And they will fail.

Grief culture

Hallmark has a line of “sympathy” greeting cards, but our culture is pretty short of recognized ways of grieving and caring to support those who have lost loved ones.

I read once about a culture where the village will gather to hear a person tell about their loss or injury.  Everyone listens attentively, and in a few weeks they gather again, and then later a third time.  The evolution of grief is shared.  It seems like a very good idea, but we don’t have anything like that.

Funerals only cover one occasion of grief, and then everyone pretty much steps back.  We have counsellors and advisors but professional help is, well, professional rather than personal.  We live in a fragmented society where families are scattered and contentious, friendships often weak and superficial.

Religion has the answer for grief, if you can whistle loudly enough in the dark to keep believing in a benevolent afterlife. 

Olamide’s father, Abiodun Adeyooye, said; “We are depressed.  It’s a sad moment to hear about the death of my daughter.  If God said this is how it’s going to be, I thank God.”

At some point, he may think; “Thank you, God.  Thanks, God.  Hey, thanks a lot, God.  Thanks a WHOLE HELL OF A LOT, GOD!”  But if he does think that, he may not say so, for one cannot hate God, cannot deny God.  And then he will be more alone than ever.

No wonder antidepressants are a 10.9 billion-dollar industry.  It is considered impolite to express normal feelings, or even to draw obvious conclusions.

Attachment and grief

On Wednesday I decided to include an image of Olamide’s poster in this post, but didn’t have my camera with me.  On Thursday I took my camera to work with me, but the news had broken that she had been found and most of the posters had been taken down.  Many were replaced by a poster about a lost dog.

The Buddhists are right that desire is the cause of suffering, and attachment is one kind of desire. Grief is the outcome of broken attachment, and the intensity of grief is closely related to the strength of the attachment.  What attachment is stronger than a parent to their child?  Children do not realize; as the popular song says;

And You, of Tender Years
Can’t Know The Fears, That Your Elders Grew By
And So Please Help, Them With Your Youth
They Seek The Truth, Before They Can Die

Don’t You Ever Ask Them Why
If They Told You, You Would Cry
So Just Look At Them And Sigh
And Know They Love You.

Teach Your Parents Well
Their Children’s Hell
Will Slowly Go By
And Feed Them On Your Dreams
The One They Picks
The One You’ll Know By.

- Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: Teach Your Children


My father was a professor at Central Washington State where a student was abducted from campus and murdered.  He didn’t know the victim well and it still weighed on him for the remainder of his life.  Students – your professors may seem busy, even cynical.  And a few may not care but trust me; most do, more than they can say without sounding maudlin.  Even the administrators, the grounds keepers, and the secretaries do care, a lot.  You seem like our own children to us.

The college community is fragmented by its nature but it is a unique time of life and students (when the situation calls for it) do rise to the occasion.  Hundreds of students have put up posters, phoned in information, and met on campus to pray and share.

Ours is not a culture that encourages caring but people care anyway.  We just don’t have many ways to show it – again a lack of ritual and formal relationships places an enormous expressive burden on our community.  How to say how we really feel?  A horrible tragedy like this one breaks the cover, if only for a moment.

That is how we know that most people are good and decent, whatever their personalities and culture.  And it is the reason a crime like this one is truly a crime against the whole community.


At a press conference, just before breaking into tears, Olamide’s father said;

“The person who killed her will be brought to justice.  Whoever killed her, Olamide’s spirit will find him out and he will be brought to justice.” …
This is a sad moment, but I want justice to take place…”

In 2000, Illinois Governor George Ryan rightly placed a moratorium on the death penalty when it was found that many death-row inmates were innocent.  But on occasions when guilt can be certainly determined, a case such as this demands it.  The murderer is a total waste of valuable oxygen, and I say we don’t give him any more. 

Spare me any sophistry about “justice vs. vengeance” or how it is cruel and unusual punishment to execute a murderer.  A crime such as this is a permanent wound on hundreds of people, and can even destroy the lives of close survivors.

Notice Olamide’s father didn’t say; “I want deterrence to take place.”  It isn’t complicated.

I could go on…

I’ve written for hours, covering a scant 173 lines, trying to convey the mix of feelings and connections I make from this crime.  Now it’s your turn.  Keep your eyes open for weakening of the community thread and try to strengthen it in small, personal ways.  Look out for your neighbors, especially the young, just starting out in life.  Take care of your children the best of you can, and watch out for other people’s children too.  It is the kind of world we should live in, where if you cannot be there to protect your children, someone else may be.


  • UPDATE: I found indirect information about my son after writing the original text of this post, and three comments regarding him had been posted.  The editorial problem is: only a couple days have passed since the original post and it really should be changed.  But I want to preserve the context of the original three comments.  An imperfect solution was to edit those three paragraphs and post their original text here:

    To some extent, I didn’t have to imagine, because I have a missing child.  As far as I know, he’s alive and doing OK, but that is part wishful thinking and part guess.  He left of his own accord over two years ago and we can’t find him.

    I have spent hundreds of nights awake, sitting on the edge of the bed, trying to get past the hole in my chest and find a rationale, or at least my breath again.  I know about feeling like a hollow man; where is my son?  My wife and his brothers wrestle with his absence.  People ask us; “How is Joe doing?  I haven’t seen him for a long time”, and we try to answer.

    I keep telling myself: he’s probably fine.  Over, and over.

    Future updates to his situation, if any, will be posted here in the notes (and certainly in a whole new post) – the current text of this post will remain as it is.

  • For a rough analog of what happened with my oldest son, read Siddhartha, and note the part toward the end where his son leaves.  I think it was something like that, and the book helped me a lot.
  • The phrase “land of pain” is shamelessly stolen from a book about Alphonse Daudet entitled In The Land Of Pain by Julian Barnes. 
  • Olamide’s friends tried in vain for what seemed several days to convince the police that something was terribly wrong.  The police apparently felt it was normal for a college student to disappear leaving her cell phone on the couch, lights on, food in microwave.  The Chicago Tribune was referring to the case as a homicide before the police even issued a statement; “It appears certain that criminal activity has occurred” (when they found her personal effects in a dumpster).  To be fair to the police, it probably wouldn’t have made a difference, and they are in full-bore investigation mode now.
  • The comfort offered by organized religion is double-edged, because it includes the possibility your lost loved one is burning in hell.  Nice.
Categories: News

Atheist Revolution: Let’s Get Solution-Focused

October 28, 2005 2 comments

Religion offers solutions to deep human needs – meaning, comfort, justice, eternity.  The illusory nature of those promises is well-hidden by the culture that supports them. 

Vjack proposes a cooperative venture among freethinking bloggers to tackle the problem of deep human needs that religion pretends to meet:

… In this post, I call for the beginning of a shift toward a greater focus on solutions to the problems we have identified. We are right to continue addressing the problems until they are more widely acknowledged. However, religious belief endures through the ages in part because it satisfies human needs that are not easily met by the alternatives. Thus, I believe that increased attention to solutions is required to achieve real change …
- Atheist Revolution: Let’s Get Solution-Focused

This one is worth some thought, folks.  We’ve been letting religious charlatans run the show far too long.

Categories: Blogging, Geeky

Islamic Feminists

October 28, 2005 1 comment

You have to admire the courage to take on a seemingly impossible task -  BBC News: Islam feminists urge gender jihad.

Organiser Abdennur Prado Pavon says the struggle for gender equality in Islamic countries involves refuting chauvinist interpretations of Muslim teachings.

I wish them luck.  If it has been an uphill battle in our culture…


Categories: Issues, News

Joke at president’s expense

October 26, 2005 3 comments

Someone sent this to me and, in lieu of actual effort writing anything original, I thought I’d share it with you:

Bush, Einstein and Picasso at the Pearly Gates

Einstein dies and goes to heaven. At the Pearly Gates, Saint Peter tells him, “You look like Einstein, but you have NO idea the lengths that some people will go to sneak into Heaven. Can you prove who you really are?”

Einstein ponders for a few seconds and asks, “Could I have a blackboard and some chalk?”

Saint Peter snaps his fingers and a blackboard and chalk instantly appear. Einstein proceeds to describe with arcane mathematics and symbols his theory of relativity.

Saint Peter is suitably impressed. “You really ARE Einstein!” he says. “Welcome to heaven!”

The next to arrive is Picasso. Once again, Saint Peter asks for credentials.
Picasso asks, “Mind if I use that blackboard and chalk?”
Saint Peter says, “Go ahead.”

Picasso erases Einstein’s equations and sketches a truly stunning mural with just a few strokes of chalk.

Saint Peter claps. “Surely you are the great artist you claim to be!” he says. “Come on in!”

Then Saint Peter looks up and sees George W. Bush. Saint Peter scratches his head and says, “Einstein and Picasso both managed to prove their identity. How can you prove

George W. looks bewildered and says, “Who are Einstein and Picasso?”
Saint Peter sighs and says, “Come on in, George.”

Shucks, maybe I’m being unfair to our President.

Really serious post coming up on Friday evening.

Categories: Humor

Pombal for head of FEMA

October 23, 2005 4 comments

Here is why I’d like to see news media hire history majors instead of “Journalism” majors – it would give them perspective on current events:

Modern disaster relief traces back to Lisbon, Portugal in 1755, when that city was flattened by an estimated 8.7 earthquake and tsunami on All-Saints day.  Essentially still a medaeval city, Lisbon was so thoroughly destroyed that the king simply fled,  never again to live under a solid roof.  The monarchy never fully recovered from the disaster.

New Scientist magazine describes what happened next:

It was left to the king’s practical chief minister, the bewigged aristocrat Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo (later the marquis of Pombal) to take control. Reportedly, when the king asked, “What shall we do?” Pombal answered, “Bury the dead and feed the living.”

If Lisbon was the first modern disaster, Pombal was the first to implement modern disaster relief. Concerned about the spread of disease from decomposing bodies, he had the tens of thousands of corpses put on barges that were taken out to sea and sunk. He charged the army with delivering food to the city. To prevent looting and to keep people from fleeing into overcrowded areas, anyone entering or leaving the city required a pass. He gave judges the power to convict, sentence and hang looters on the spot. To prevent profiteering he fixed food prices, removed taxes on fish and took possession of all construction materials. Ships were not allowed to leave the harbour with goods that might be needed for the relief effort. Although the homeless population now lived in tents, Pombal made it illegal for landlords to evict their tenants, so that people could eventually return home. He also demanded that the clergy stop preaching that the “end of days” was near…

Pombal went on to direct the rebuilding of Lisbon:

With the immediate situation under control, Pombal quickly began developing a plan for rebuilding. Most of the city’s churches, the customs house, opera house and royal palace, along with all their worldly art and treasures, were gone. Pombal called in architects and engineers to provide him with plans for a new Lisbon … their suggestions ranged from abandoning the ruins and building the city elsewhere to rebuilding it the way it was or rebuilding it in the same place but on a grid of wide streets and open plazas. Pombal decided to combine the last two, making certain that all the buildings in the Baixa, the central and worst-hit part of the city, would be built to new specifications.

Pombal and his engineer, Manuel da Maia, mapped out wide streets, traffic planning, and design standards that actually reshaped the economy of Lisbon from a royal city to a mercantile one, strengthening the middle class.  He set up commercial districts in the space formerly occupied by the destroyed palace.

Most amazing were the structural standards Pombal required: Lisbon became not only the world’s first planned community, but the first earthquake-proof one as well.  Using cutting-edge science, the new buildings were far tougher than the ones they replaced.  The walls and streets were made to prevent the spread of fire and allow quick movement of emergency services.

I’m especially fascinated by Pombal’s telling the clergy to knock off that “End Of Days” stuff.  (Emphasis mine) In Portugal in the 1700’s, that took steel cahones.  It’s a clue to his personality and his pragmatism.

I doubt if Pombal was a nice man.  It is doubtful if our present political process could put someone like him in charge of FEMA.  But I can dream, can’t I?

Categories: Geeky, History

Not cat weather

October 23, 2005 1 comment

Oscar examines the weather from the relative safety of our back porch, and finds it not to his liking. 

(Just above freezing, rainy, windy…)

Categories: Geeky, Weather

A chance meeting on campus

October 22, 2005 1 comment

Photographed on campus this week, a chance conversation between two grasshoppers.  They held this meeting for over a minute, apparently unaware of the Brobdingnagian creature studying them through its gigantic digital eye…

Is there an entomologist in the house?  These two look quite different – one is dull tan, the other a translucent patterened green.  The tan one is larger, appears to be missing its left hind leg from some mishap, has squared-off wings, and a much sturdier thoracic shoulder plate (a term I just made up).  The green one has thicker antennae.

Critters like this are not only energy-efficient, they are code-efficient, performing quite complex actions out of very simple instruction sets.  Computer scientists and roboticists are studying insects as a model for autonomy that may be achieved long before we have conversational humanoid robots.  Such machines could explore space, harvest crops, clean pollution, or even build and maintain levees.

It is late in the season.  Perhaps these two are male and female, preparing to leave in the ground the fertilized eggs that will repeat this scene next year.  It is not clear which part of the process we may have happened upon, but they don’t appear to be smoking tiny little cigarettes and watching an insectoid Johnny Carson…

Categories: Geeky

Good thing I’m just doing this for fun…

October 21, 2005 3 comments

Pharyngula was worth over eight-hundred grand.  I bet PZ Meyers is buying chrome Dubs for his new Cadillac Escalade right now.  ;-)

Categories: Blogging, Geeky

“Fair & Balanced™”?  You report, Bill.  We’ll decide.

October 19, 2005 3 comments

Note to Bill O’Reilly (and the rest of Fox News): let others apply adjectives to you.  If you report and we decide, that means we get to decide if you are “Fair & Balanced™” or not.  You aren’t doing yourself any favors by repeating the phrase ten times an hour.

To help you understand how it works, imagine a comedian who prefaces each gag by telling you that he is funny, and that the joke he is about to tell, is also funny.  Comedians get a reputation for being funny by being funny, not by saying “I am funny.”

“Good evening, everybody!  Welcome to my show – I’m Bob, the Funny™ comedian, with the Funny™ jokes the elite mainstream comedians just won’t deliver.  Now here’s a Funny™ joke:  Hey, why did the chicken cross the road?  Anyone?  TO GET TO THE OTHER SIDE!!!  Haw Haw Haw!  Wasn’t that Funny™?!!  That’s just the kind of jokes you get with Bob, the Funny™ comedian…

I only know one case in recorded human history of a commentator’s self-description pulling any weight; The Best Web Page in the Universe.  But Bill; what works for Maddox does not necessarily work for you.

Categories: News