The Rants, Raves, Gripes, and Prophecies of Paul R. Potts

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Wed, 17 Nov 2004 He Wasn't My Guy

More in re: "you're just mad that your guy lost." For the record: Kerry wasn't "my guy." At the last, I wasn't willing to vote for the lesser of two evils, going with the "anybody but Bush" theory. I wasn't able to vote for Kucinich, so I had to settle for Nader. Yes, Nader. To quote Doonesbury: "Flush!"

Of course, Michigan was not actually a swing state, so in practice my vote didn't matter. The electoral college saw to that. At least, my presidential vote. In the local races and ballot initiatives, I might actually have had some way. That's something lost in the debate over vote-counting; if it is possibly to conduct large-scale fraud with direct-read, e-voting machines, how much easier is it to tilt a state or city election?

Kerry lost my vote when he didn't take a fundamental stance against the war. He wanted to have it both ways. The Kerry I wanted to vote for was the young Kerry; that Kerry wasn't "nuanced" in protesting what was going on in Vietnam. Yes, we're still fighting Vietnam - believe it! We needed to get out, period.

That's pretty much what has to happen here. I admired Kerry's seriousness and calm demeanor in the debates, but he just wasn't a a true opposition candidate. His vague plan to internationalize the occupation is too little, too late. Applying "nuance" in Iraq will just drag it out and result in more death. Even a new president with, one might hope, increased international credibility, will not be able to convince other countries to sink with us in this swamp of our own creation.

No more good can grow from this poisoned seed. It is time to cut and run. We can't secure Iraq, and it is getting worse. We can't even provide sufficient security for NGOs to get in and help provide emergency food and medical care. Anyone seen as having any connections to the US will be targeted. The best we can do is fund regional Arab-state organizations to try to clean up our mess, pay reparations, and acknowledge that we never should have invaded. The whole catastrophe is prima facie evidence that we need to join the ICC ASAP. There is no room in the world for "Team America: World Police." There is no true impunity. You can't get away from the law of karma, and we've been dropping a hell of a lot of thousand-pound bombs.

Saddam is gone, and that's a good thing, but it is inarguable that the world is far more dangerous. Saddam was a defanged mad dog, a contained threat to no one but his own people, and thus no justification to violating Iraq's sovereignty. Countries just can't operate like this. We wouldn't tolerate it, and our motives are far from pure.

The entire history of Iraq is the history of ill-advised Western meddling. The solution is not more meddling, although there is truth to Powell's "you break it, you bought it" warning. We've bought it, but we can't fix it. Iraq is where those who didn't learn anything about Vietnam will have to learn those lessons this time around. Iraq is where the neocon's perverse idealism was tested against hard reality and lost. We don't need any more naked greed disguised as faith-based foreign policy. We need a short-term exit strategy and we need it to be implemented now. But we're not going to get it. Bush's cabinet purge is the triumph of rhetoric over reality.

Do you realize that we used napalm in Fallujah? Shall we talk about the purity of our arms? But it's OK; they were just dark-skinned Islamist terrorists. It isn't anything like what we did in Vietnam, right? Right?

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Wed, 10 Nov 2004 Election 2004

Well, the election came and went. Although I am very troubled by all the reports of voting anomalies, voter intimidation and disenfranchisement, and perhaps outright fraud, I don't believe that the election irregularities were sufficient to throw the key states. So, let me go on the record: I accept the results of the election. Bush won.

That said, when I mention election irregularities, I don't want to hear "oh, you're just mad because your guy didn't win." There's a lot of that flying around. It is maddening; it puts the election on the same footing as a football game, and just frames democrats as sore losers. There were serious irregularities. The most compelling evidence is the Berkeley study. Bev Harris and her team find mismanagement and suspicious behavior everywhere they look. Ballots left in boxes, lost, shredded, thrown in the trash. I could easily be convinced that the true intent of the voters was not expressed, but as of yet the evidence is suggestive and not conclusive.

Now, what it suggests is that every American of any political affiliation should be outraged. The people who treat our ballots like yesterday's newspaper should be fired or, better yet, prosecuted. Voter intimidation and disenfranchisement is not the same as trying to shout down your football team's opposing fans at a game. The sports metaphor is absolutely the wrong frame, to use Lakoff's word. Deliberate disenfranchisement or vote tampering is criminal.

I'm a technologist, and it amazes me that anyone even slightly familiar with computers would entrust an election to them, at least to any computer system as it is generally known. I believe that a properly auditable and simple e- voting system could be developed, but any responsible official using direct-read, untraceable "black-box" voting machines should be thrown out for gross negligence. These people aren't stupid; they want their dirty fingerprints on our elections to remain invisible.

But your vote is far too important to trust to the vagaries of technology, and I say that as someone who has been programming computers since 1977. In fact, I wrote an electronic voting system, to run a mock election at my high school. It ran on the Radio Shack TRS-80, and wrote individual votes out to casette tape. It didn't yield an auditable paper trail: there was no way for the individual voters to confirm that the computer recorded the vote that they intended. But at least the series of vote records could be run through again one-by-one for a recount; they existed as discrete records, so at least the procedure that counted them could be verified. Now, we don't even have that. We've got machines yielding negative counts, or counts of thousands of votes in a precinct with only a few hundred total voters.

I was just a kid, and wrote my program for fun. But even then I knew that each vote should be recorded separately and serially, to avoid problems with a crashing program or power outage, and to allow this kind of verification testing. The real election isn't a hobbysing project, so we should take it seriously. Read what Bruce Schneier has to say about e-voting; it's the most sensible thing I've read on the subject. Technologies are not panaceas: a paper receipt is not a panacea, and encryption and digital signatures are far from panaceas. But they are certainly a thousand times better than any unverifiable, falsifiable, unsigned and unauditable vote recording process.

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Tue, 02 Nov 2004 Veronica Ruth Potts

Veronica Ruth Potts was born at 6:23 a.m. on Friday, October 29th. As they say, "mother and baby are doing fine." And Dad is feeling great, too!

We were very fortunate: the delivery went very well. No long labor, no C-section. She was born with long fingernails and lots of hair.

The original plan had been to go into the hospital Thursday morning around 7 a.m., but they were full. Grace and I waited around all day, and bickered. We had all kinds of contingency plans involving her going into labor before then, but no plan for waiting around all day, and no food. We were understandably tense. Finally, at 6, we were asked to come in at 7 p.m. There was a little more waiting around after we arrived, but by 8:30 or so, we were in the room.

It was hurry-up-and-wait for the next couple of hours. First, they had a lot of trouble getting an IV inserted. This was not a surprise, since people often have trouble drawing blood from Grace, but it resulted in a lot of waiting around. Grace got a few extra holes before they found a nurse with more expertise, who finally got the IV going on her wrist. They got the intravenous oxytocin going at perhaps 10:30 p.m. on Friday. Grace began feeling mild contractions. We listened to Stevie Wonder and I wrote notes on my newly aquired Newton MessagePad 2100 (purchased on eBay), but that is another weblog entry for another time.

Nothing really changed until our obstetrician broke Grace's water with a little plastic lancet around midnight. He put in a probe so that he could monitor the strength of the contractions. We could watch them on both a strip chart and on a monitor. The monitor was a Windows machine running some kind of web application on Internet Explorer. It seemed to crash at one point and need restarting. Color me surprised. Not. I'm perpetually flummoxed as to why people would deploy any kind of critical software on such a platform. It isn't that I would use MacOS X or Linux or something else instead; I wouldn't even use an operating system at all, if I could help it. But that's also a weblog entry for another time.

They found meconium in the amniotic fluid, which is common in late babies; they warned us that the baby might not breathe right away, and they would bring in some people to do some extra suctioning-out and checking as quickly as possible. If you don't know what this means, here's a primer: basically, babies can poop in the amniotic fluid, and then inhale it. That means (possibly) tarry, sticky poop in the lungs, trachea, etc. It's not a good thing. Fortunately, Veronica doesn't seem to have inhaled any of this stuff.

Grace had strong contractions every two or three minutes until about 3 a.m., when they became increasingly painful. We were listening to Eric Clapton; Grace was wobbling around the room attempting to relieve the pain by moving around and rocking. She started to experience hallucinations and asked me to change the music from Eric Clapton to Van Morrison. Apparently she was seeing big spiders with legs growing out of their legs and other strange things, but at least she realized they were hallucinations. All this stopped immediately when they put in the epidural. The contractions continued for three more hours while Grace actually dozed off on the hospital bed. The doctor came and checked her. The baby's possition was good, but slightly rotated; he had her lie on her other side, propped up with a rolled-up blanked, to get the baby's position to shift.

Grace reached full dilation around 6 a.m. The last stage went very quickly: our obstetrician came back in, and said the baby would be out in ten minutes. He was only slightly exaggerating. The head was coming into view. You could see her hair, coated with waxy yellow gunk called vernix. She has a lot of hair!

They gave Grace a little bit of oxygen, to make sure the baby was getting as much oxygen as possible via the umbilical cord. The baby's heart rate looked low, but I'm not entirely sure the monitor could read the baby's heart accurately at that stage of delivery, when the head was crowning. In any case, they took the oxygen mask off almost immediately, since it was all over so quickly. I don't recall the precise timing, since I was not looking at the clock or counting, but I recall that roughly only a dozen hard pushes were needed, and took fewer than five minutes, all told. I supported Grace's neck while she pushed, and tried to help her count. It was at this point that I wished we had taken at least one or two of the childbirth classes, instead of going through most of the pregnancy assuming we would have a scheduled C-section.

The head popped out, and our doctor began suctioning out the baby's nose and mouth right away to make sure she didn't inhale any meconium that might be in there. One or two more pushes, and the rest of her popped out. No tearing, no episiotomy. The doctor offered to let me cut the umbilical cord, but I declined, in part because I was trying to help Grace keep her legs stable on the push-bar (the epidural results in somewhat numb and wobbly legs).

Our doctor told Grace "you were made for this," and he was right. We were really impressed by our obstetrician. He was extremely reassuring, confident, and quick, giving us all the needed information without making us fearful or panicked. It was his advice that led Grace to try a vaginal delivery, and it turns out to have been a great decision. What kind of a doctor would let her patient have surgery that wasn't at all necessary? Our other obstetrician, apparently. I'm still appalled.

After some more suctioning and checking, half of the extra staff disappeared; apparently they weren't needed. Veronica had a high APGAR score (one nurse told us the next day it was "nine point nine," although that didn't quite make sense to me, since I thought APGAR's categories were all measured 0, 1, or 2, and produced a round number... so now, I'm wondering where she lost the tenth of a point, but it doesn't really matter; it was obvious that little Vernonica was in great shape: pink, wiggly, and mad as hell. With any luck, it is only the first of athe high scores she'll get on standardized tests!)

Grace was doing extremely well, too. My chronology may be slightly confused at this point; I was a bit dazed. I spent the next few minutes bouncing back and forth between the warming table and Grace's bed. Our daughter was weighed and measured; they gave her a vitamin K injection in the thigh. (That made her really mad). She was quickly warmed up under the heat lamp, burrito-wrapped, and successfully latched on to Grace's breast fewer than ten minutes after birth.

At some point (memory fails on the exact order of things at this point) Grace began shivering, but a heated blanket from the warmer took care of that in short order.

The doctor took blood samples from the umbilical cord. I took a couple of pictures of the baby. Grace passed the placenta without difficulty, and as soon as the baby was nursing, she and the obstetrician started chatting about her years on the rowing team in college and his experience as a triathlete. Something about the push bar on the hospital bed reminded her of rowing, apparently. Yes, my wife was having a conversation about sports mere seconds after giving birth. This is in pretty stark contrast to her previous birth, where she had a C-section after twelve hours of labor; in a photo taken after that birth, she looks like she just had been beaten up. This time, she was chatty.

My overall impression of the whole thing was that it went so quickly and calmly. Conversations with other dads had led me to expect screaming, and body fluids squirting in all directions. I'd been prepped to expect a C- section, a blue baby, and an unconscious mom. None of that happened. I'm not generally very squeamish (I used to watch the surgery channel), and so the only thing I declined to observe was the epidural (they ask dads not to watch that anyway, after one passed out and suffered a concussion; something about a long needle going into the spine is a lot more unsettling than the birth itself). There wasn't any screaming. The only serious cries of pain occurred just before the epidural went in.

St. Joe's took great care of us. I have only minor complaints. Only a few hours after Veronica's birth, we had to put up with incredibly loud construction noise coming through the air vents; it sounded like someone was drilling holes through the walls of our room!

The older unit, where we were moved after the birth, was not nearly as nice as the rennovated delivery rooms, but we had been told this would be the case during our tour. In particular, the reclining chair/bed provided for a spouse or partner was really ancient and uncomfortable. I didn't really sleep much that night in the hospital, and of course I didn't sleep at all the first night, so I was pretty wiped out by Saturday afternoon, when we brought the baby home.

The bedside manner of the nurses varied; I did not like one of them. This only would have become an issue, I think, had we needed a lot of care. Most of the time was spent waiting and attempting to nap. Grace passed a blood clot "the size of a mouse," but that is also apparently common. We had far too many knocks on the door, from everyone from social workers to someone wanting to take a family picture. But overall, the environment was really supportive. I never expect to get any rest in a hospital.

I watched them bathe Veronica in the nursery and trim the umbilical cord stump (a bit unexpectedly) with a scalpel. Under the sponge, she turned bright pink as if she were sunburned. I also watched them administer the heel sticks to take blood tests. Embarassingly, I found myself watching the wrong baby, convinced that she was mine. Honestly, it is a good thing they label them and carefully match the armbands against the parents armband. Newborns really don't look that different! Her only really distinguishing characteristic seems to be her big toes. They are large and with a wide gap between the big toes and the rest of the toes, just like mine.

The first night home, we were expecting a quiet night with a few wakeups for feeding, but Veronica got really cranky and would not be consoled or suckle. After an hour or two of listening to her cry, we decided to give her a little water (less than half an ounce). Her little digestive system started gurgling and she felt immediately better, and promptly fell asleep. Our theory is that since she was late, the meconium in her digestive tract had gotten thicker and more like tar, and was painful to pass; the water helped to loosen it up. The next morning she had blown out a lot of it.

We were also a bit concerned the next night, because it seemed as if she had forgotten how to nurse. She would fuss and cry for twenty minutes before latching on. We had her first pediatric appointment the next morning, but by then she seemed to have gotten over this difficulty. She now latches on immediately and sucks well. I can say, with all honesty, our new daughter sucks!

It is now her 5th day of life outside the womb, and she is doing quite well. She is more alert every day. Grace's milk has come in and Veronica is feeding regularly. We have mild concern about her wet diaper count and her weight loss, but have had her to the pediatrician's office once already and will take her back on Thursday to check that she has not lost too much weight.

With newborns, it is hard to determine how much breast milk is going in, so you try to measure the input by the output. The general rule is that she is supposed to have a wet diaper count that matches how many days old she is: one the first day, two the second, and so on. This doesn't go on indefinitely, obviously, or I'd be expected to dampen over thirteen thousand diapers today. For day six and afterwards we're supposed to expect about a half-dozen wet diapers per day.

Veronica followed the schedule for the first few days, but had only two on day four. This is day five, and she's only had three. We're a bit concerned, and giving her as much milk as she can hold, and a little more supplemental water with a spoon, after okaying this with her pediatrician. She seems to be chowing down on the milk now, so I don't expect either the wet diapers or the weight loss to be a real issue, but we are keeping an eye on the situation and will check in with our pediatrician tomorrow in advance of her next scheduled appointment on Thursday.

We're co-sleeping, with the baby right in the bed. Various authorities warn against this, but it is working out very well. The baby is only waking us up a few times a night, and Grace can put her right on the breast without a lot of rearranging. I can't imagine how people manage with the baby in a crib in a separate room. Of course, she is a newborn, and different every day, but for the moment we're only suffering very mildly from interrupted sleep, not serious sleep deprivation.

I'm not going to turn this weblog into the Veronica Chronicles; I just wanted to tell the amazing story of her arrival. I'm amazed by how quickly she's become a regular part of the family, and I'm so grateful Grace did not have to have a debilitating surgical procedure, and is up and around, so that I can go into work and we can all do our jobs.

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Mon, 01 Nov 2004 Paper Mario: the Thousand Year Door (Amazon review)

I'm a 37-year-old husband and father; probably not the game's biggest target demographic, but more adults play these games than you may think!

I played (and completed) the excellent Paper Mario for the Nintendo 64 a few years ago, along with my young son. It was very close to a perfect game: visually spectacular, original, engaging, moderately challenging, and filled with goofy cut scenes. The episode-based play worked perfectly to keep both of us from getting bored or frustrated; it was impossible to go too far down a dead end, or "lose" the game.

I'm happy to say that this sequel is worthy of the original. There is again an elaborate plot and back-story; there are more engaging Mushroom Kingdom characters, and lots more great paper effects. The papery world can get peeled back like Post-It note, torn like a Kleenex, folded like origami, and spring out like the pictures in a pop-up book. The characters have more to say (sometimes more than you want them to say!) The game's designers paid a great deal of attention to user interface and playability, and it really shows.

The Paper Mario games are not terribly difficult. That's a good thing, especially if the game-players in your household are young or less experienced. If you're an adult and at all good at figuring out strategy-based battles, you may rarely lose a fight. This may make the game seem too easy, but there are still plenty of silly cut scenes, animations, mini-games, and side quests to keep you entertained.

This is also the kind of video game that is enjoyable to watch someone else play: the beautiful color palettes, animations, and secret objects are enough to occupy two peoples' attention, so try trading off with your kids and showing off your stylin' moves (and don't bogart that joystick!)

The original Paper Mario game had a few drawbacks. The large number of battles could occasionally become tedious. This game improves on the original in giving you an audience to distract you and cheer for you during fights. The menu of available moves, badges, and items is even more elaborate than in the original, so you can focus on clever strategies. In fact, you have to pay at least some attention to careful use of your party members and special attacks: some enemies are impervious to all standard attacks, and will require cleverness to beat, just as many of the worlds contain areas that will only open to you after you've gained additional special abilities.

One last comment: these games are short. I think I finished the first one in about twenty hours of play, and I did not rush. Twenty hours may sound like a lot, but not when compared to a game like Donkey Kong 64, which might take a player ten times longer. If you are a hardcore gamer, you might want to look elsewhere, but if you have a life outside of video games, and don't have a lot of free time to spare, this is the game for you. You might find yourself, like me, wishing at the end that there were more secrets to uncover and more silly mini-games to play. I have not finished this new Paper Mario, but I've found most of the stars, so it will probably not be long. I'm looking forward to what I expect will be a spectacular ending!

P.S.: Addendum to the above, added after posting the original.

I may be mis-remembering how long it took me to finish the original Paper Mario for the N64; it may have been more like 40 or 50 hours; still, compared to some of the more elaborate platformers, it was a relatively short game. In any event, this game is proving to a bit longer than that.

I've gotten past the thousand-year door, but decided to backtrack before confronting the final bosses so I could go rack up some additional levels, find all the shine sprites and boost my party members' levels to maximum, solve "troubles," and in general extend the playing experience. In other words, I'm not in a hurry for the game to be over.

I've also decided I won't want to finish the game until I've beaten... (chilling music)... the Pit of 100 Trials. The Pit is a sadistic device designed especially to appeal to compulsive perfectionists like me. It is basically a one-way sequence of battle rooms. To finish, you must win consecutive battles of increasing difficulty. Every tenth room contains a treasure and the opportunity to bail out and return to the start. There is occasionally the chance to skip ahead a few levels or buy some items, but for the most part you just have to slog through; there are no save blocks available along the way, and if you give up, you will have to start again from the beginning.

While you start out with low-level Goombas, by the time you reach the 80s you will be confronting black steel chain chomps and magical creatures who carry many special abilities and items. You'll find yourself and your partner paralyzed, confused, or frozen, and then attacked multiple times by creatures who can do ten or twenty points of damage with a single blow. By the time you reach the 90s, your foes will make the boss fights to date look easy. Also, you can't easily pump up your experience by bailing out and restarting the series; completing a battle you've already won will only give you a single star point.

This challenge is in here just for those who, like me, want the fights to be a little bit harder, requiring a little more careful strategy and planning. But taking on the Pit is entirely optional, so as not to ruin the fun of those who don't enjoy the tougher fights. Yesterday I gave out at level 93, but I will prevail!

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