Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Iranians and their (successful) Gradeschool-Level Chess Strategy

I learned how to play chess when I was pretty young, like maybe 9 years old and I was pretty good. My strategy was pretty simple: Kill all, or most of my opponent's pieces and then worry about how to get him into check. My tactic was equally simple: Create situations where I endangered two pieces at once, then the opponent could only protect one or the other. Or get my opponent into check, where the only way out was to sacrifice a piece.

Iran is doing a similar kind of thing to the United States now. Their regime is unpopular with its citizens and is likely to suffer (if by comparison only) if right next door in Iraq, a secular democracy takes hold and begins to flourish. They therefore have been doing what they can to hinder our efforts there--supplying weapons, funding and training to insurgents operating in Iraq. If we directly attack Iran, their people are likely to "rally around the flag" and support the theocrats, which is bad for us and good for the Iranian regime. If we don't attack Iran, they have no reason to cease their mischief in Iraq.

Do I have any solution to this conundrum? No. But some ideas to mull-over...

How about a covert attack on their nuclear facilities at Natanz? There is a lot of risk, in that everyone will know we were behind it, but if we were careful there would be no proof. A second idea would be to create gasoline shortages in Iran. Iran is an exporter of oil, but imports gasoline. They sell gasoline at below market rates in Iran, so the stuff they purchase from abroad costs more to buy than they sell it for. If we were to sabotage their refineries, then it would cost their government to replace the gas from imports, or they could ration, or raise prices--whatever they do, we cause pain to the Iranian theocrats.

One way or the other we need to send a signal that there is a price to be paid for their mischief.

Taking the camera for a morning jog...

Inspired by another photo-jogger, I too decided to bring a camera along for the ride.

What is this?

They (I say "they" because I don't really know who) are building a bike path where an old abandoned rail line goes.

Power lines with a pond, birds and reflectors.

There are two blackbirds in flight in this picture. I am not sure they are taxinomically "black birds" but they look black.

Spring in Full Swing

On Thursday of this week they are still gathering strength...

Saturday, in full bloom.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Making Pizza in China

I had an earlier post showing a couple of Chinese-style dishes that my wife and I threw together. It got me thinking about feasibility: We can cook this way because the ingredients are readily available to us. Could someone in China just as easily make dishes that we have here in The United States?

Pizza: For this, I need high gluten wheat flour (I like this) Yeast, mozzarella cheese, pepperoni and herbs like oregano. Oh yes, also I would need an oven--do typical Chinese homes have an oven? I don't know. All the Chinese food I ever had was either steamed, fried or sauteed.

Or how about tacos? Can you get corn tortillas there? What about sour cream, cheddar cheese, avocados, hot peppers and Tabasco?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Remedial Math

I help my fifth-grader with her homework, which is sometimes Math. So far, I have always been able to help her, but it is providing a review of things I haven't thought about since I was a student.

Yesterday she had a problem of: A boy delivers 98 newspapers per week, how many does he deliver per year? Oh yes, solve the problem without multiplying. It took me a while, but here is how you do it: Divide 98 by 1/52. Dividing by the reciprocal of a number is the functional equivalent of multiplying by the number.

Parenting and critical-mass

Megan McArdle noted something the other day that I think most parents have noticed: Kids are much more sheltered now than we when we were kids. There are a lot of reasons for this, but I think that most of the effect is due to there just being fewer kids now.

The impression I got from my parents, as well as from the parents of friends, was that they just had children because that is 'what you did': People would think you were weird (or had some kind of medical problem) if you had no children and really, even if a couple had only one child, they would be considered pretty eccentric. Nowadays, one or two seems fine, any amount greater than three and it is pretty unusual and plenty of people choose not to have any. Given this change in expectations, it is only reasonable to expect that parents value their children more highly now than in the past. There are fewer of them and they were wanted, rather than just expected.

That is one piece of it: Since there were lots of kids around, they could find friends close-by. With dozens of kids roaming the neighborhood it would seem strange and odd to be the one family that kept your kids confined to the back yard. Nowadays, why should the kids leave the yard? Their nearest friend lives 2 or 3 miles away.

There was a kind of network effect going when I was a kid: Let us say I started out willing to wander 1/3 mile from home and other kids start out the same. This allows me to meet and befriend Bob, who lives 1/2 mile from me. We each play together in our respective homes and yards. Now we are used to venturing 1/2 mile from home. I will then feel okay about going 1/2 mile past Bob's house with Bob and he will feel fine about coming with me 1/2 mile past my house. Our range is now an ellipse one and a half miles long and one mile wide. This is just a start, because we befriend Larry, who lives 1/2 mile from me in the opposite direction of Bob's house...

Maybe there is a business opportunity here. It is common for there to be some housing developments which are orientated toward older people. Such communities often have bylaws that ban children from living there. Why not a planned community which required every residence to have (or plan to have) at least two children? It would allow kids to live in a place full of other kids to play with and it would allow parents to not have to constantly drive their children to "play dates" all the time.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Where my cars got their miles...

I drove up to NH today to help give a presentation. I got there a few minutes early, so I reclined my seat, opened the sunroof and relaxed a bit. This put me into a reflective mood and I began to consider that I have really only owned two cars in my life.

The first was a Toyota Tercel purchased new in 1983. I was in college at the time and I always lived close enough to walk to classes. Between bouts of schooling and afterwards, all the jobs I had were walking distance from where I lived. Pretty much all the miles on the Tercel were long trips or local errand-running. I commuted for about two months on a temporary job I had when I lived in Billerica and the job was in Newton. And then in 1997, we moved to the suburbs when my wife was pregnant with our first daughter. I used the Tercel to commute but soon got busted for not having an inspection sticker. It would have cost thousands of dollars to fix the myriad of problems this poor car had and it didn't seem worth it given the age (14 years) and mileage (144 thousand miles).

That year I selected a BMW 318Ti and junked the Tercel. This car has almost only been used for my daily commute into work. Most of the long trips have been in either my wife's car (which is larger) or in our SUV--which we pretty much only use for trips or big hauling jobs. The BMW still runs great, but at 102K it still has a long ways to go before matching the Tercel's utility.

ADDED: I found pictures of these two cars and scanned them...

I always seem to end up with a blue hatchback.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Two Great Tastes...

I was getting home from work late, so the kids ate early and when I got home my wife and I each made one dish:

She made the cashew chicken.

and I made the bbq pork lomein.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Will perform tricks in exchange for treats that aren't very good

I don't know if all dogs are like this, but Meenah is much more willing to eat when she earns a treat. Sometimes she only picks at her breakfast, but I can take a piece of her kibble right out of the bowl and have her 'earn it' by doing a trick. Then she gobbles it right up.

Similarly, she will do tricks for food that I didn't even know dogs like. She is quite willing to work for steamed peas or raw bits of carrot! I kind of feel sorry for her--we would give her nicer rewards if we had to. I kind of feel like a sweatshop owner paying-out less than minimum-wage to illegal aliens.


Now that Meenah can run around the yard on her own, she is finding things: I just saw her playing with a stainless steel scrubbing pad. It must have fallen into the yard from the deck where we grill.

A dog's sense of smell will always find something like that pretty quickly. Spaniels are flushing dogs and she has done what she was bred for; she flushed out the missing pad.

All Fenced-In

Our backyard was fenced-in since the time we moved here. The sides and back are wire fence and the front side is blocked by the house and picket fencing.

The problem has been that Meenah is so small that she can squeeze between the pickets of the fencing. This weekend had enough of 'okay' weather to staple wire fencing to the picket fence. It has had the side-benefit of strengthening the wooden fence. I do not know the provenance of the wooden fence, since it was here when we moved in, but it is old and rickety. The wire has made it much stiffer. We haven't fully tested the integrity of the fencing, but we put her on one side and called her to us--she couldn't get to us. She seems disinclined to dig either, so it is a relief that I won't have to line the fence bottom with boulders.

An added note on tools used. All I needed tool-wise were wire cutters and a staple gun. Not sure why this is the case, but the staples come in packs of 1,250. I have had this tool for years and used it for many different jobs--so I have different sized staples for different jobs. In no case, except for this job, have I made a noticeable dent in a box of staples. The around 100' of fencing used about 2/3 of the box! Plus, I got better at stapling as I went, so I want to go back through and do more stapling to the parts I did earliest.