Sunday, 31 July, 2005

MMA Summer Camp Graduation

I drove to Harlingen on Friday morning to attend the Summer Camp graduation at the Marine Military Academy.  I wouldn't normally drive down for Summer Camp, but my old friend and former roommate Tim Herndon was there because his neighbors' boy had attended.  That's Tim (LtCol Timothy A. Herndon, USMC) on the left.  Click the picture for a larger view.  Tim graduated from MMA in 1979 and went to the U.S. Naval Academy.  He became a Marine officer, was assigned to helicopters, and now is the Commanding Officer of a helicopter training squadron.  I hadn't seen Tim since 1981 when he came to the Air Force Academy during the Air Force-Navy game.

The guy on the right is Craig Matteson, who is on the Board of Trustees and has made the ride to the school with me the last two years.  Craig also graduated in 1979.  He went to the Merchant Marine Academy, spent four years running ships for the Marine Corps, and then went into business.  Craig is a successful businessman in the Chicago area.

We spent the weekend reliving old times and catching up.  We also spent a lot of time talking to parents of the summer campers, recounting our experiences at the school and telling them how the things we learned at the school have influenced our lives.  Tim says it straight out:  "I am where I am today because of the things I learned at the Marine Military Academy."  I can't think of a better endorsement for the school.

All of the parents I talked with were impressed with the school and with the way that the summer camp had affected their boys.  They said that their boys looked healthier, walked straighter, spoke more clearly, were more confident, and treated others with more respect.  After talking with the boys and their parents, I would strongly recommend the summer camp for any teenage boy.  I especially recommend it if the boy will be attending the school for the academic year.

Monday, 25 July, 2005

Denver's Pit Bull Ban

I've been stewing on this one for a while, hoping that something would happen to bring people to their senses.  That doesn't appear likely at this point.

The city and county of Denver, Colorado has banned pit bulls, and they're not shy about enforcing the ban.  One could call them overzealous.  And they're not stopping at the three breeds (American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, and Staffordshire Bull Terrier), but rather they've been impounding any dog that looks even remotely like a pit bull.  Since May, police and animal control have impounded almost 400 dogs and destroyed over 260 of them.  Neither the dog's behavior nor the conditions under which it is kept (securely fenced, for example) are taken into account.  If it looks like a pit bull, it has to go.

In 1989, the Denver City Council passed a resolution banning pit bulls.  This was mostly in response to two separate attacks:  a 3 year old boy who was killed in 1986, and a 70 year old man who was mauled in 1989.  I don't know what happened in the interim, but in 2004 the Colorado legislature passed and the governor signed a law prohibiting breed-specific bans.  But the Denver City Council sued and won, and in May started enforcing the ban with a vengeance.  The Christian Science Monitor's article Denver's pit bull ban roils owners has more details.

Some people have gone so far, as columnist Bill Johnson points out, to suggest that the ban is at least in part racially targeted.  "They aren't killing dogs from Cherry Creek [a particularly affluent section of Denver]."  The CSM article addresses this charge, too, and also includes a quote from a Denver official who denies it.

There's no doubt in my mind that a pit bull can be a dangerous dog.  I've seen the results of Charlie attacking a fawn in the back yard.  I've also seen a Malamute eat a cat, a poodle attack a 'possum, and the results of a Cocker Spaniel biting a child's face.  The number of attacks by Dalmatians went up alarmingly when the breed became more popular.  People have been killed by Rottweilers, Labrador Retrievers, St. Bernards, Dobermans, and just about every other large breed you can think of.  Dogs can be dangerous.  There's simply no good evidence that any particular breed is significantly more likely to attack.

Not that logic or evidence ever stopped a City Council or other governing body from enforcing a law that makes the constituents think that they're "doing something about the problem."  Just look at the government's studies of commercial aviation safety sometime and then tell me if our "increased security" has made airline travel any safer.

Microsoft seriously upgraded the Windows command line interface with Windows 2000.  Most users didn't notice, of course, because they never see the command line.  GUI is fine for most user tasks.  Those of us who actually use the command line mostly didn't notice because we'd been so thoroughly disgusted by the barely-functional Windows command line for so long and had our own ways of getting around its limitations.

For example, file and directory name completion has been available since at least Windows 2000.  Somebody at Microsoft, though, decided not to enable it by default.  But if you set the right environment variables, you can use the Tab key for command completion in much the same way as you can with the Linux command line.  Enter "cmd /?" at the Windows command line and scroll down a couple of pages to see how it's done.  Note that you can run a command shell and explicitly turn the feature on as described in Use File and Directory Name Completion in Command Prompt, or you can set the registry variables to enable the feature by default.  See Automatic DOS Completion in 2K for details.  It appears that command line completion is on by default in Windows XP and Windows 2003 Server.

Something else that I didn't know until recently is that they finally upgraded the DELETE command so that I can delete multiple files with a single command.  For example, prior to Windows 2000 if I wanted to delete two files I would have to issue two commands:

del file1
del file2

I never used NT 4, so I can't say when they changed this, but in Windows 2000 I can type a single command:

del file1 file2

It's been a long time since I sat down and explored the Windows command line.  The lesson to be learned here (yet again) is that you have to actively look for new and different things.  These and other enhancements have existed in Windows for at least five years, but since the command line acts just like it has for the last 25 years I didn't even think to check out the new functionality.  I guess it's time to give the Windows command line another look.

Sunday, 17 July, 2005

Women's Adventure Race

Today was the annual Women's Adventure Race, a multi-event race designed with beginners in mind.  A very large number of the racers are first-time participants who have never been especially athletic or competed in a race before.  Once again, I and other members of the Williamson County Amateur Radio Club provided emergency communications on the course.

The race is surprisingly well organized, and geared to making the event fun for the participants.  Certainly there are women who are there to compete, but most are there to finish.  It's hard to express the emotion that I feel when I see these women accomplishing something that a few months ago they never thought they could even attempt.  I was positioned at the most difficult hill on the course, encouraging the ladies as they rode or pushed their bicycles to the top.  I got almost 100 pictures and a whole lot more smiles and thanks for my assistance.

The race benefits the Young Survival Coalition, an organization dedicated to the concerns and issues that are unique to young women who have breast cancer.  Although I've been fortunate not to be directly affected by breast cancer, many friends have been.  I'm happy to do my small part in helping to find a cure and to assist women who are affected.

Thursday, 14 July, 2005

Found Dog Day

Today is Found Dog Day--the third anniversary of the day that Charlie showed up in the yard and turned our lives upside down.  On June 2 I posted some pictures of how Charlie looked when he appeared.  I wouldn't do him the indignity of posting a picture of how he looks today after last week's skunk encounter.  But here's how he looked last month.  The scar under his left eye is from trying to dive through a steel fence to get at another dog.  That's one reason we're back in training with him.

(Click for larger view)

Saturday, 09 July, 2005

Tour de France 2005

It's Tour de France time again.  This year, perhaps because I've been busy with other things, I've been somewhat disinterested in following the race like I have in the past.  I am, however, still interested in the results.

The Tour started last Saturday, July 2, with the prologue time trial.  Lance Armstrong placed second, two seconds behind David Zabriskie.  Apparently, Armstrong was a bit disappointed by this showing.  Some say that he wanted to lead through the entire race.

Armstrong remained in second place overall until the stage four team time trial, in which his Discovery Channel team beat Zabriskie's CSC team by two seconds.  Armstrong got the lead because Zabriskie crashed shortly before the finish and ended up coming in well behind his team's main group.  In any case, Zabriskie probably could not have won the Tour.  In fact, today he finished 51 minutes behind the stage winner--less than a minute ahead of the elimination cutoff time.

Today's finish was so close that it was almost impossible to determine which of the two leaders won the stage.  Even with the photo finish equipment the naked eye could not see which tire crossed the line first.  Apparently there is some kind of electronic timing equipment installed on each bike, too.  That equipment said that the difference was 0.0002 seconds.  If you figure they were moving at 30 MPH when they crossed the line, the winning margin was about one tenth of an inch.

For daily coverage on the Web, check out the official Tour de France site.  I discovered today that has a live audio feed that works only with Internet Explorer on Windows.  I could not get it to work with Firefox.  I also don't know yet if it's in English, as I didn't discover the feed until after the stage finish.

The next two weeks should prove interesting.  After today's stage there are some who question the strength of Armstrong's team and their ability to help him defend his title.  I think we'll find out on Tuesday with the first mountaintop finish.

Wednesday, 06 July, 2005

Charlie is having a tough time

Charlie is having a tough week.  He's been exhibiting some disturbing aggressive behavior lately, especially around other dogs and when meeting people.  On the advice of a friend who had similar problems with her dog, we took Charlie to a "canine behavior specialist."  No, not the doggie shrink, but rather a trainer who specializes in curbing aggressive behavior.  He gave us some reading material that explains canine pack behavior, and some suggestions for changing the way that we treat Charlie:  mostly exerting our role as leader of the pack.  Those techniques have proven surprisingly effective almost immediately.  We will have a few private lessons with the trainer, and then a group class where we should be able to eliminate the dog-aggressive behavior.

These changes have confused the dog, of course, but he's been calmer and seems to be happier.  It's hard to tell with dogs.

As if the behavior modification wasn't bad enough, last night Charlie managed to get a skunk.  Or, more correctly, he got skunked.  I didn't find a skunk carcass in the yard this morning, so I think the skunk got away unharmed.  Not so with Charlie.  He got sprayed full in the face.  It took a couple hours to get the worst of the smell out of him and today we took him to the vet for a thorough cleaning and a shot to alleviate some of the reaction.  The poor dog's snout is raw where he rubbed it on the grass trying to get rid of the skunk spray.

I hope that encounter has taught him not to chase after things that he sees out in the yard.  At minimum, I hope he's learned not to attack the black kitty with the white stripe.

Tuesday, 05 July, 2005

James B. Stockdale, R.I.P

I learned late today that Vice Admiral James Bond Stockdale, Medal of Honor Winner, former prisoner of war, and vice presidential candidate passed away.  Probably best remembered for his less than stellar performance in the 1992 vice presidential debates, most people don't realize how many men credit him with getting them through their time in North Vietnamese POW camps.  Admiral Stockdale probably wasn't a very good politician, as he wasn't cut out to be a public figure.  He was a great Naval officer, though, and an honest to God hero in the eyes of many men.

I read an article by Admiral Stockdale when I was a senior at the Marine Military Academy.  In it, he recounted his seven-plus year experience as a prisoner of war in Vietnam and how he survived by embracing the teachings of Epictetus, the Greek Stoic philosopher.  I carted that article around for years, re-reading it from time to time when I'd run across it among my things.  My copy of the article is long gone, but the simple lesson that it taught remains:  accept with good humor those things that you cannot change, and take full responsibility for those things in your life that you can control.  I know that's a rather simplistic view of the Stoic philosophy, but it's worked for me in the 25 years since I first learned of Stoicism.  A few minutes with Google revealed the name of the article:  "The World of Epictetus," written by James B. Stockdale in the April 1978 issue of The Atlantic.  I wonder if I can get a reprint or a back issue.

Whether or not you embrace Stoicism, you should read what Admiral Stockdale has to say about it as the model philosophy for military officers.  A good starting place would be his two lectures to the Marine Amphibious Warfare School:  The Stoic Warrior's Triad (PDF), and Master of My Fate.

Note 2006/06/04: Originially I had linked a U.S. Naval Academy site that was offering PDFs or a free printed booklet, but USNA has removed or restricted those pages.

Sunday, 03 July, 2005

Fawns: devils of the meadow

I look through my Web stats periodically to see who is linking to my site.  Mostly it's the same handful of sites providing links to my Random Notes page or to one of the articles that I've posted here.  But way down at the bottom of the links list I run across links to pictures that I've posted on the site.  I like to follow those links to see how the pictures are being used.  By far the funniest I've run across is Fawns: devils of the meadow:

While everyone knows that the adults of the family are nasty, vicious, violent brutes, many people are under the mistaken impression that this only begins to manifest as the animal reaches adulthood. This is not, in fact, so. Deer are quite simply born bad. Their lust for blood reaches a fever pitch within hours of birth, and what they lack in strength and size, they more than make up for with sheer animal cunning.

This "photo documentary" is simply hilarious.  The second picture on that page comes from this entry on my site.