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I dreamed last night…

That my boss had one of my co-workers put to sleep. I was like, “look, if you’re not happy, isn’t it enough to fire her? Do you have to have her lethally injected?”

And he was like, “no, I really think this is for the best.”

March 7, 2007 — 8:15 am
Comments: 2

Eeee! My first celebrity endorsement

Many thanks to Pirate Ballerina for drawing attention to an humble weasel yesterday. PB is the blog for all things Ward Churchill (not fired yet!). Plus, related ethnic studies, fake indians and sock-puppetry. It’s been a favorite read of mine for some time.

Update: seeing Sissy in my logs reminded me that PB is my second celebrity endorsement. Sisu was the first. Good heavens — wouldn’t want to diss the furballs.

March 6, 2007 — 6:32 pm
Comments: 1

Damien Weasel, Cat Scientist (episode two, hydrology)


Damien is an ordinary gray stripey tom, but it’s interesting how much he shares with bengals. Bengals are a mix of some South American wild cat and ordinary gray stripeys…but I wonder how many of their famous weirdnesses they actually owe to the domestic side of their heritage? Damien’s fascination with water isn’t quite as powerful as a bengal’s, but I have to scrape him out of the sink to brush my teeth.

There’s a Norwegian guy on YouTube who’s filmed his bengals a lot. He caught them making peculiar chattering noises at birds out the window. Damien does this, too. I think of it as mimeenking — it sounds like he’s saying “mee…mee.” The “M” sound is rather hard for cats, as I learned when I caught my mother trying to teach the family cat to say “Mama.” It’s a noise Damien makes when he knows he can’t reach something interesting; like a fly buzzing around at ceiling level, or me, tapping on the window from outside. It’s a frustration sound.

— 8:06 am
Comments: 17

Engineer humor: no laughing matter

I like working with engineers — it’s that refreshing lack of nuance — but I don’t think I’d want to own one. In private life, Weasel is all about the gray areas.

I made a smartass remark in a meeting once about a ball valve (it had a drainage cock!) and was rewarded with a solemn exposition on the inner workings of valves. I thought the non-engineer across from me was going to ‘splode trying to hold it in.

It’s not that engineers have no sense of humor, but their humor has a certain… literalness about it. I used to joke that engineers are the reason we have to print “This Page Intentionally Left Blank” on the blank pages, or they’d be calling me up and complaining. Until the day an engineer said, “oh, engineers think that’s funny, too. Because once you print ‘This Page Intentionally Left Blank’ on it, it’s no longer blank.

See? Engineer humor.

A very senior engineer once told me engineers are the way they are because they spend five years learning how to do the calculations, at the end of which they are given a book with all the answers in. Fucking furious. You would be, too.

I was copying files to a CD in front of an engineer once, and he looked at this animated dialog box


and said, “I love to watch this. No matter how many files it copies, that piece of paper never misses the folder.”

I think he was kidding.

March 5, 2007 — 10:38 am
Comments: 5

Engineers are from Mars, Scientists are from Venus

I want to be very, very careful when I talk about work. I need my job. I really like the firm I work for — if we had a company song, I’d sing it. Without irony or sarcasm or anything. But it’s a stuffy old corporation; I’m pretty sure that ethics agreement I sign every year means they’d rather not be associated with someone who dresses up like a weasel and says “fuck” a lot. So, you know, discretion.

Broadly speaking, my employer is a Research and Engineering firm. Working there has given me an increased respect for engineers and a somewhat diminished respect for scientists. Engineers are what I always thought scientists were supposed to be: dealers in the empirical.

Science, it turns out, is a shockingly consensus activity. Less about mining those precious nuggets of truth, more about getting the other kids to notice you. I sometimes prepare models and illustrations to support scientific papers. We joke that an illustration goes through seven rounds of revisions as it moves down the hallway, and the last reviewer changes everything back to where it was in the first place. (Oh, how we laugh!)

Peer review = peer pressure. If you liked Junior High, you’ll love science.

Here’s how an engineer goes about it. He takes an aluminum rod and attaches weights to the center until the rod bends. He makes note of the weight. He does this five times, takes the average, and calls that The Weight At Which An Aluminum Rod Will Bend.

Here’s how a scientist does it. He looks at the literature on The Weight At Which An Iron Rod Will Bend and predicts how the aluminum rod will bend based on a comparison of the tensile strength of the two metals. He then passes it to Bob who is obsessed with meta-studies. Bob wrote a special program that sifts through piles of published material on metallurgy (regardless of source or quality) and spits out conclusions. He passes the result to John. John secretly thinks Bob is a maroon, and is delighted to point out that Bob’s program lumped metric and imperial units together and Bob’s contribution will have to be thrown out. So it goes to a research assistant whose job it is to make the imperial to metric conversions before it goes back through Bob’s data sifter. Then it goes to Bill, who points out that the original Weight At Which An Iron Rod Will Bend study was seriously flawed and recommends using The Weight At Which A Steel Rod Will Bend study as a starting point instead. Back to square one. Finally, it goes to the head of the department, who blows his top because “the last time we went on record with a precise numerical metal-bending prediction, we got our asses sued off,” and shit-cans the whole thing.

See, engineers have to make actual stuff. If an engineer makes a duff calculation, the bridge falls down and lots of people die. He might even get fired. When a scientist turns out to be wrong, it’s all part of the rich interplay of ideas that is woven into the very fabric of scientific investigation and shit. No scientist ever got famous dreaming up boring theories, so the temptation is to pull something big and interesting out of your ass and throw it against the wall. The career consequences of being wrong are minor.

I’m generalizing grossly, of course. And if I can generalize more grossly still, judging from snippets of conversation I hear walking through the company cafeteria, engineers lean rightward politically, scientists leftward.

I think of this whenever I read that “scientists say” something. Particularly when that something is big and interesting and looks like it was pulled out of an ass.

Get back to me when engineers start saying it.

— 7:53 am
Comments: 2

Friday, March 02


March 2, 2007 — 5:09 pm
Comments: 13

Big fat hypocrite


Can’t stand it. I know it’s been blogged to death, but every time I think of it, I get another painful flareup. The burning. The itching. I’ve got to get this out.

On Monday, the Tennessee Center for Policy Research published a press release revealing that Al Gore’s mansion in Belle Meade uses more electricity in a month than the average family uses in a year. And I keep coming back to that. Belle Meade.

Belle Meade.

The words Belle Meade give Nashvillians a little involuntary shiver of class envy. Like Beverly Hills or Manhattan. It’s a startle response. Shhhhh…be still. Very large money is passing nearby.

I grew up near his farm in Carthage, but somehow I never realized he had a mansion in Belle Meade. There are no mere houses in Belle Meade.

Belle Meade is where the Nashville money is. Not the tacky hayseed country music money — that’s way on the other side of town, in places like Hendersonville. Belle Meade is lawyer money. Newspaper money. Plantation money. Gentile money. Multi-generational inherited money. Old money.

It’s a whole separate, incorporated township inside Nashville, with a mayor and a town hall and a police force. Residents pay taxes to both cities. They can afford to. I’ve heard it said Belle Meade is the fifth richest per capita city in the US. A membership in the Belle Meade Country Club would set you back thirty grand in 1978. God knows what it is now.

Belle Meade is the huge, snoring carcass of the old Old South. The Battle of Nashville, the South’s last gasp on the Western front, was fought in the front yard of Belle Meade Plantation; there are still bullet holes in the famous white limestone columns.

All down Belle Meade Boulevard, becolumned and verandah’d antebellum piles snooze in the hot Tennessee sun. I have stood, a poor and distant relation, in the vasty vastness of a few of those gilt and marble caverns. I was a small, gray, disconsolate object in a mad sea of European rococo excess.

When one denizen of Belle Meade bought an automobile in 1935, it came with the negro to drive it.

Now, I have no objection to the wealthy, on principle. Even those who inherit wealth they had no hand in creating. I find it rather irritating that I’m not one of them, but I don’t advocate hunting them down like dogs or anything. In fact, I’d feel better about Al’s house if he’d inherited it; I could forgive him preserving a bit of extravagant family history in an extravagant way. But he apparently bought his manse in 2002, and added to it extensively since. Without making it conspicuously greener.

But, damn it chaps my ass to be preached a doctrine of personal austerity by some ex-beardyweirdy who, it turns out, lives like Scarlett Bloody O’Hara befo-ah the wo-ah. Does anybody really believe you’re walking the conservation walk when one of your three houses uses twenty times the amount of energy the average family consumes?

Carbon credits? Kiss my ass! Putting money into renewable energy research doesn’t somehow, magically wipe away a lifestyle of gross waste and profligacy. If you really believe the earth to be in imminent peril, wouldn’t you invest in greenliness AND live modestly? He can live how he likes — he can obviously afford it — but he can’t live like the Sun King and hector me to turn out the lights when not in use or we’re all gonna die.

I’m waaaaay over on the skeptical side of the Global Warming teeter-totter, and this level of pointless improvidence makes me feel a little sick. Shouldn’t the True Believers be fucking furious?

And if they’re not, what exactly are they true believers in?

— 11:42 am
Comments: 24

Curse of the Cat People

Not Cat People. You’ve probably heard of that one, mostly because of the 1982 (sort of) remake. Curse of the Cat People is a (sort of) sequel. It’s a movie I caught once, a thousand years ago on the Late, Late Movie and never forgot. Now, thanks to the Miracle of Amazon I own a copy. Boy, was I not disappointed.

This movie is beautiful to look at, particularly in this clean, silky DVD version. I’ve watched it three times (including the commentary version. I’m a little sorry about that. It explained some things about the plot that I think I liked better unexplained). It’s odd and sweet and really should have been released with a different title.

It’s the story of a dreamy, strange little girl. I mean, strange. None of the kids will play with her and her dad punishes her for playing alone. So she gets an imaginary friend, who turns out to be her dad’s dead first wife (the Cat People lady). Yes. This movie made me go “wait…what?” a lot.

One of the best films I’ve ever seen for capturing the scary, hallucinatory feel of childhood. It’s just too weird and messy to have attained “beloved classic” status. Commentary Guy said people who like this movie really, really like this movie. I guess that’s me. For less than ten bucks on Amazon’s Born Again, you can find out if it’s you.


March 1, 2007 — 6:45 pm
Comments: 4