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A journal of sorts to record Jonathan Sturm's (and others') thoughts and observations on things worth thinking about. Feedback welcome, but be aware that unless you prominently say you want your communication kept private, I may publish it.
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Monday 10 March 2003
A public holiday with little to report other than that The Git is attempting to regain control of his errant pinched neck nerve by lying down a lot and reading. It appears to be working somewhat and the reading is fascinating, though you will have to be patient to hear the thoughts that this stimulated. The weather has been mild and drizzly for three days straight and as usual, there are feelings of cabin fever. The Git is missing the sun.
Bo Leuf writes about the suicide test for whether one is dreaming or not:
The mentioned test has further problems. Supposing an afterlife exists, then as "surviving" subject of the experiment you *really* have no way of knowing, right?
One imagines that God doesn't grant an afterlife for suicides. At least that's what the Pauline strand of the Christian faith would have us believe. Of course the followers of Jesus and his brother James, being Gnostics, claimed to have been able to determine whether one is dreaming or not. But that brings the problem back into the religious sphere, beyond the reach of mere philosophy. In any event, they concluded that what we call awake is dreaming and vice versa.
The great Taoist master Chuang Tzu once dreamt that he was a butterfly fluttering here and there. In the dream he had no awareness of his individuality as a person. He was only a butterfly. Suddenly, he awoke and found himself laying there, a person once again. But then he thought to himself, "Was I before a man who dreamt about being a butterfly, or am I now a butterfly who dreams about being a man?"
More Zen stories.
Thought for the day:
Not being able to govern events, I govern myself.
Michel de Montaigne
Randy Newman -- Little Criminals
Tuesday 11 March 2003
One of the main reasons The Git is attending university is to study the philosophy of science, a course that actually commences next year. The introductory philosophy course he is in has commenced with that of René Descartes, one of the 17th Century's greatest scientists. Mysteriously, his name has become associated with the Cartesian Diver, the combination of a weight and air confined in a bottle of water that sinks or rises depending on pressure exerted on the bottle -- traditionally with a cork inserted in the neck, or these days by using a PET bottle and squeezing it.
A Philosophical Toy is a rather lengthy explanation of how a teacher, Richard Frazier, uses the Cartesian Diver to teach scientific methodology to his young students. The Git is willing to bet that Richard Frazier's students are rather better at doing science than many so-called professional scientists. While The Git's formal scientific training took him as far as first year university, he cannot recall any of his teachers encouraging such an exciting approach to learning.
As a teacher, I am intrigued by the obscure beginnings of such a well-known object in classroom science. I have often wondered how many other classic demonstrations, experiments, and pieces of apparatus live on in schools as taken-for-granted rituals and relics of scientific knowledge. The nearly obsessive quest this year for the diver's origin has tempted me with digression into the many dilemmas of how best to promote children's learning of science. It is my students' best guess, however, as to why the toy was named for Descartes that suggests one route out of that quandary and that provides the focus of this article. Their answer, in a historically naive way, is a very good answer and may, after all, connect us with the very best of reasons for using philosophical toys in schools.
" The diver is named after a great philosopher because it makes us think." "Think about what?" "About explanations and evidence and about weight, pressure, movement and matter, water, gravity, floating and sinking, and forces and a vacuum."
The Theories of How the Cartesian diver Works
The Heaviness Theory: Squeezing the bottle forces water into the diver. More water makes the diver heavier and causes it to sink. Releasing the bottle allows the compressed air trapped in the diver to push the excess water out. The diver becomes light enough to float again.
The Air Theory: Air makes things float. When the air by volume of an object is reduced to a certain point, there's not enough air to hold the object up and the object sinks. The diver works because squeezing the bottle compresses the air to the point where it cannot hold up the diver. When the bottle is released, the air expands again to the point where it can hold the diver up.
The Pressure-Current Theory: Squeezing the bottle puts pressure on the water inside. The water tries to go up out of the mouth of the bottle. This can be seen when squeezing the bottle without a lid. When the lid is on, the water rebounds and carries the diver down. Releasing the bottle reverses this current.
The Pressure-Force Theory: Squeezing the bottle puts pressure on the water inside. Because the force of squeezing cannot move the water since it is enclosed, the force is transmitted to the diver and pushes it down. This transmitted force disappears when the squeezing stops and the diver returns to a floating position.
The Volume-Displacement Theory: Floating and sinking involves a relationship between the weight of an object and the weight of the water it displaces. For floaters, the weight of the floating object is equal to the weight of the water displaced. For sinkers, the weight of the sinking object is greater than the weight of the water displaced. The diver uses the pressure to cause different amounts of water to be displaced and thus change back and forth from being a floater to a sinker. The different amounts of displaced water seem to go in and out of the diver.
Depending on the year or the class, one theory or another may be most popular. Sometimes the explanations have nearly equal numbers of adherents. A few students want to combine the theories. A few think all the explanations are reasonable. Generally, the more standard the explanation (using density/constant mass/variable volume), the less likely it will be most popular. Most of the students offering explanations have already begun an investigation of buoyancy phenomena. Some may even have heard the story of Archimedes. The Heaviness Theory is typically very popular. In fact, five of the six "how-to" references mentioned earlier claim that adding water to the diver by squeezing makes it heavier. The FAST 1 Teacher's Guide (Pottenger and Young, 1992) treats the Heaviness Theory as a matter of definition. If water is included as a constituent part of the diver, then the Heaviness Theory is reasonable. The Pressure-Current Theory often precedes the Pressure-Force Theory. After testing students often abandon the Current theory, but the concept of pressure producing an effect does persist in some cases. Interestingly, the Pressure theories are often depicted with identical diagrams.
One of these demonstrations involves the introduction of a new factor, temperature, which produces a seemingly complicated effect. The buoyancy of an inverted test tube with the end left open is adjusted so that it just sinks in ice water. A small vial with a rigid, watertight cap is adjusted so that it barely floats. Water, lead shot, or sand can be used to adjust the buoyancy of the vial. The two objects, one floating and one sinking, are placed in the same container filled with ice water. The water is then warmed; at some point during the warming, the two objects will swap positions. The floater becomes a sinker and the sinker, a floater. With care, the initial buoyancies can be adjusted so that the test tube and vial shift places simultaneously. The variable buoyancy of a rigid, closed object soon brings back a cousin of the Pressure-Current Theories where the new effect is attributed to temperature. The Heaviness Theory claims the concept of heat as substance; some students think the vial gets heavier when heated. The fact that the two objects go in opposite directions under the same conditions definitely reinforces the idea that complacent understanding does not always last with scientific theory-making.
The other demonstration is puzzling precisely because a test tube in a bottle appears to reverse the behavior of the Cartesian diver An inverted test tube containing an amount of air insufficient to keep it floating is dropped into a 1.5 liter plastic soft drink bottle. The test tube should have enough air so that it remains vertical with mouth down on the bottom of the bottle. The sides of the bottle are then struck vigorously with a stick or the sides of the hands. The blows need to be sharp enough to propel the tube upward. Blows can be repeated with a frequency that keeps the tube suspended in the bottle. Some students see the blows as analogous to the squeezing of the Cartesian diver bottle but as producing an opposite effect; these students often argue from contraries. A sinking tube will rise when the bottle is struck; a floating tube will sink when the bottle is squeezed. I have seen several students encounter this event independently, but no one has ever tried to develop a complete explanation. The "drum" diver remains as an unincorporated anomaly in our knowledge of the Cartesian diver.
Students reach a level of tentative certainty in their knowledge of the Cartesian diver, unsettled with the idea that it may not be possible to find the book where the final truth is written but invigorated with the accomplishment of having thoroughly investigated a compelling physical system. Toy that it is, the Cartesian diver does live up to its Philosophical designation.
Thought for the day:
As children we all possess a natural uninhibited curiosity, a hunger for explanations, which seems to die slowly as we age -- suppressed, I suppose by the need not to appear ignorant.
Brian Eno -- Before and After Science
Wednesday 12 March 2003
The Git was beaten to the punch by Anonymous:
A WARMONGER EXPLAINS WAR TO A PEACENIK By Anonymous
PeaceNik: Why did you say we are we invading Iraq?
WarMonger: We are invading Iraq because it is in violation of security council resolution 1441. A country cannot be allowed to violate security council resolutions.
PN: But I thought many of our allies, including Israel, were in violation of more security council resolutions than Iraq.
WM: It's not just about UN resolutions. The main point is that Iraq could have weapons of mass destruction, and the first sign of a smoking gun could well be a mushroom cloud over NY.
PN: Mushroom cloud? But I thought the weapons inspectors said Iraq had no nuclear weapons.
WM: Yes, but biological and chemical weapons are the issue.
PN: But I thought Iraq did not have any long range missiles for attacking us or our allies with such weapons.
WM: The risk is not Iraq directly attacking us, but rather terrorists networks that Iraq could sell the weapons to.
PN: But coundn't virtually any country sell chemical or biological materials? We sold quite a bit to Iraq in the eighties ourselves, didn't we?
WM: That's ancient history. Look, Saddam Hussein is an evil man that has an undeniable track record of repressing his own people since the early eighties. He gasses his enemies. Everyone agrees that he is a power-hungry lunatic murderer.
PN: We sold chemical and biological materials to a power-hungry lunatic murderer?
WM: The issue is not what we sold, but rather what Saddam did. He is the one that launched a pre-emptive first strike on Kuwait.
PN: A pre-emptive first strike does sound bad. But didn't our ambassador to Iraq, April Gillespie, know about and green-light the invasion of Kuwait?
WM: Let's deal with the present, shall we? As of today, Iraq could sell its biological and chemical weapons to Al Quaida. Osama BinLaden himself released an audio tape calling on Iraqis to suicide-attack us, proving a partnership between the two.
PN: Osama Bin Laden? Wasn't the point of invading Afghanistan to kill him?
WM: Actually, it's not 100% certain that it's really Osama Bin Laden on the tapes. But the lesson from the tape is the same: there could easily be a partnership between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein unless we act.
PN: Is this the same audio tape where Osama Bin Laden labels Saddam a secular infidel?
WM: You're missing the point by just focusing on the tape. Powell presented a strong case against Iraq.
PN: He did?
WM: Yes, he showed satellite pictures of an Al Quaeda poison factory in Iraq.
PN: But didn't that turn out to be a harmless shack in the part of Iraq controlled by the Kurdish opposition?
WM: And a British intelligence report...
PN: Didn't that turn out to be copied from an out-of-date graduate student paper?
WM: And reports of mobile weapons labs...
PN: Weren't those just artistic renderings?
WM: And reports of Iraqis scuttling and hiding evidence from inspectors...
PN: Wasn't that evidence contradicted by the chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix?
WM: Yes, but there is plenty of other hard evidence that cannot be revealed because it would compromise our security.
PN: So there is no publicly available evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?
WM: The inspectors are not detectives, it's not their JOB to find evidence. You're missing the point.
PN: So what is the point?
WM: The main point is that we are invading Iraq because resolution 1441 threatened "severe consequences." If we do not act, the security council will become an irrelevant debating society.
PN: So the main point is to uphold the rulings of the security council?
WM: Absolutely. ...unless it rules against us.
PN: And what if it does rule against us?
WM: In that case, we must lead a coalition of the willing to invade Iraq.
PN: Coalition of the willing? Who's that?
WM: Britain, Turkey, Bulgaria, Spain, and Italy, for starters.
PN: I thought Turkey refused to help us unless we gave them tens of billions of dollars.
WM: Nevertheless, they may now be willing.
PN: I thought public opinion in all those countries was against war.
WM: Current public opinion is irrelevant. The majority expresses its will by electing leaders to make decisions.
PN: So it's the decisions of leaders elected by the majority that is important?
PN: But George Bush wasn't elected by voters. He was selected by the U.S. Supreme C...-
WM: I mean, we must support the decisions of our leaders, however they were elected, because they are acting in our best interest. This is about being a patriot. That's the bottom line.
PN: So if we do not support the decisions of the president, we are not patriotic?
WM: I never said that.
PN: So what are you saying? Why are we invading Iraq?
WM: As I said, because there is a chance that they have weapons of mass destruction that threaten us and our allies.
PN: But the inspectors have not been able to find any such weapons.
WM: Iraq is obviously hiding them.
PN: You know this? How?
WM: Because we know they had the weapons ten years ago, and they are still unaccounted for.
PN: The weapons we sold them, you mean?
PN: But I thought those biological and chemical weapons would degrade to an unusable state over ten years.
WM: But there is a chance that some have not degraded.
PN: So as long as there is even a small chance that such weapons exist, we must invade?
PN: But North Korea actually has large amounts of usable chemical, biological, AND nuclear weapons, AND long range missiles that can reach the west coast AND it has expelled nuclear weapons inspectors, AND threatened to turn America into a sea of fire.
WM: That's a diplomatic issue.
PN: So why are we invading Iraq instead of using diplomacy?
WM: Aren't you listening? We are invading Iraq because we cannot allow the inspections to drag on indefinitely. Iraq has been delaying, deceiving, and denying for over ten years, and inspections cost us tens of millions.
PN: But I thought war would cost us tens of billions.
WM: Yes, but this is not about money. This is about security.
PN: But wouldn't a pre-emptive war against Iraq ignite radical Muslim sentiments against us, and decrease our security?
WM: Possibly, but we must not allow the terrorists to change the way we live. Once we do that, the terrorists have already won.
PN: So what is the purpose of the Department of Homeland Security, color-coded terror alerts, and the Patriot Act? Don't these change the way we live?
WM: I thought you had questions about Iraq.
PN: I do. Why are we invading Iraq?
WM: For the last time, we are invading Iraq because the world has called on Saddam Hussein to disarm, and he has failed to do so. He must now face the consequences.
PN: So, likewise, if the world called on us to do something, such as find a peaceful solution, we would have an obligation to listen?
WM: By "world", I meant the United Nations.
PN: So, we have an obligation to listen to the United Nations?
WM: By "United Nations" I meant the Security Council.
PN: So, we have an an obligation to listen to the Security Council?
WM: I meant the majority of the Security Council.
PN: So, we have an obligation to listen to the majority of the Security Council?
WM: Well... there could be an unreasonable veto.
PN: In which case?
WM: In which case, we have an obligation to ignore the veto.
PN: And if the majority of the Security Council does not support us at all?
WM: Then we have an obligation to ignore the Security Council.
PN: That makes no sense.
WM: If you love Iraq so much, you should move there. Or maybe France, with the all the other cheese-eating surrender monkeys. It's time to boycott their wine and cheese, no doubt about that.
PN: I give up!
The Git is finding the workload of full-time university, house-husband and writer a little hard to manage, so he's dropping one of his university subjects.
Thought for the day:
I know war as few men now living know it, and nothing to me is more revolting. I have long advocated its complete abolition, as its very destructiveness on both friend and foe has rendered it useless as a means of settling international disputes.
Kevin Coyne -- Blame it on the Night
Thursday 13 March 2003
The Git has been busy preparing for tomorrow when he meets the plumber at the magistrates Court. The plumber wants to be paid. The Git wants his plumbing fixed before he pays the plumber.
14 March 2003
Dispute with Sten Koolhof
When Sten installed the taps in the plumbing system in my new home in January last year, he decided it "wasn't necessary to perform a pressure test" as he had performed one some weeks earlier by plugging all the outlets. Installing the laundry tap cracked the breech, requiring the removal and reinstallation of the bench in the laundry in order to effect a repair.
The shower tap had a leaky component and this caused water to seep under the freshly installed linoleum. The linoleum consequently bubbled up in places and needed replacement after the floor had been allowed to dry thoroughly for several weeks. In order to discover where the system was leaking, Sten cut a hole in the toilet wall to access the plumbing and discovered the leak at the shower tap fitting. He subsequently repaired the problem by removing the shower tap and removing the faulty part. The part was intended to eliminate problems caused by excessive cold water pressure, though quite how excessive cold water pressure could arise in a system that relies on gravity and a maximum head of 3 metres escapes me. The hole he had cut in the toilet wall had not been necessary.
On this occasion, he was extremely abusive and declared that my home was "just a f***ing bad-luck house".
In late January, I telephoned Sten to have him come and fix a problem we were having with loud banging noises from the plumbing between the wetback on the stove and the hot water cylinder. Also, he had not installed a cap on top of the stink pipe from the toilet, or a Decktite to seal between the stink pipe and the roof. As usual, he did not answer his telephone and I left a message. I called again in February with the same result. Eventually I managed to contact Sten while he was on the mainland and he said he would fix my problems when he returned.
On 31 May, Sten came and agreed the pipe from the stove to the wall sloped downwards, rather than upwards and agreed to change it so that there was an upward slope. This entailed cutting a hole in the wall. This change made the noise somewhat quieter, though Sten claimed it doesn't matter whether there's a slope on the pipe or not. He said he would come and fix it when he had time.
On 12 July, the wetback failed and Sten agreed to come the following day to disconnect the wetback so I could remove it and have it repaired. He said he would pay the cost of his previous errors, but said the reason for the wetback failure was not due to the constant banging in the pipes, but because the wetback is made of stainless steel. Therefore, he said he would not pay the cost of repairing it. On this occasion he was extremely abusive toward me and called me various impolite names.
After the wetback had been reinstalled, the noise was still present, so Sten came yet again to enlarge the hole in the wall and replace the three quarter inch pipe with one inch pipe, as I had been told by another plumber that this was standard for the purpose. Sten reluctantly and partially complied with my request and I noticed that the pipe in the wall had a sag in it where bubbles of air would be trapped. Sten apologised for his abusive name-calling on the previous occasion.
At this point in time, we still have a large hole in the kitchen wall, notches through most of the depth of two wall studs and a stove that is admittedly much quieter, but still problematic. Approximately half of the studs in the wall will need similar treatment in order to replace the pressure relief pipe with the correct size. Coincident with the pipe noises, the standpipe from the hot water cylinder sprays water on the roof also making loud noises. I had put a piece of polythene pipe from the top of the standpipe so that the water was ejected quietly onto the roof, but Sten said I had to remove it. I had arranged with Sten that he reimburse me for the repair costs I had incurred as a result of his actions, reducing the bill by a suitable amount to be finalised when my plumbing is fixed.
On 10 October 2002 I wrote:
Further to resolving our differences, I have been informed of the following:
- The use of one-inch pipe in the hot water circuit between the wetback and the stove and the pressure relief pipe is standard, not just me being difficult, the opinion of one plumber only, or the manufacturer of the stove not knowing what they are talking about.
- I am told most plumbers install undersize pipes to cut costs, but you may recall I informed you at the beginning that I wanted a system that worked properly, not just the lowest cost.
- You must be given the opportunity to rectify the system rather than me engaging another plumber.
- The problem of the water boiling in a system such as ours is apparently quite common. Had I not been advised by another "expert" to leave out the radiators until later, the problem of excess heat build-up could have been alleviated. The short-term solution is to provide a line to run excess hot water into the collection tank under the front of the house.
I am relieved to inform you that the problem of the hot water not being hot enough was resolved by another plumber who adjusted the tempering valve to its maximum setting.
At this point in time, the plumbing system still exhibits the following problems:
- Whenever the kitchen tap is turned off, water runs from the pressure relief onto the roof making an excessive noise. This occurs regardless of the temperature of the water in the hot water cylinder and regardless of the amount of water in the storage tank. It is particularly annoying at night.
- Whenever hot water is run into the bath, you can hear the sound of air bubbles in the pipes. Since this is not "pure" hot water, but a mixture of hot and cold, the bubbles must be from air entering the system, not steam bubbles. In any event, it would be unlikely that water in the cylinder would remain at boiling point for four days.
- Upon reaching a certain temperature, the pipes and stove emit loud banging noises and the sound of air bubbles passing through the pipes.
Sten has yet to finish replacing the 3/4 inch pipe with one inch, or solve any of the remaining difficulties I have been having. It is possible that rectifying the plumbing problems will not solve the issue of the banging from the stove, but until the correct size pipes are installed and air prevented from entering the system, that remains unknown. The manual for the Bosky suggests that we should experience a shortage of hot water using the grate setting we do, rather than experiencing an excessive amount.
Replacement of the pressure relief pipe will entail the removal of a considerable amount of the strength of many wall studs, at least temporarily. This is a cause for considerable anxiety as the house is in a wind-prone district.
I remain reluctant to pay for the work until it is satisfactorily completed. I note that Sten was promptly paid the two progress payments he requested during the course of constructing my new home.
Here's a picture of some of my fellow philosophers. Much more interesting than pictures of unfinished plumbing :-)
Thought for the day:
Being intelligent is not a felony, but most societies evaluate it as at least a misdemeanor.
Monty Python -- Matching Tie and Handkerchief
Friday 14 March 2003
Ever since the cessation of the Gulf War, the US and allies have continued bombing Iraq, and blockaded the importation of essential food and medicine, directly killing many people -- not just the workers at alleged munitions factories , but tens of thousands of women and children who are manifestly not involved in the production of "weapons of mass destruction". We are assured by our political leaders that these deaths are caused by Saddam Hussein. They assure us that the cure for the problem of Saddam Hussein is bombing Baghdad in a firestorm likely to rival, perhaps even exceed, that of Nuremberg in WW2. It is almost certain that Saddam Hussein will not be in Baghdad to witness the bombing and get killed.
The reason that Saddam Hussein is causing the bombs to fall on the Iraqis, we are told, is that he doesn't represent the popular will of the people. He is a brutal dictator. Polling in the US, UK and Australia indicates that the will of the people is that the war not be prosecuted.
Saddam Hussein is alleged to be refusing to disarm.
It's more than ten years now since Saddam Hussein made war on a neighbouring country .
These are the bare facts as far as I can ascertain them. They cannot be said to be completely incontrovertible, nothing is, but they are more than likely all true. There are many other facts, more difficult to verify, that are said to justify the coming war, but they cannot be said to contradict the known facts. Mostly we hear of what will happen if the war does not go ahead. This is speculation, not fact. From the known facts, we can make a number of logical deductions:
Albert Einstein: "I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."
 Maybe they are, maybe they aren't. The bombs are definitely real, though and the US air force does not deny the bombing.
 Since various sources quote different numbers, we can't be certain how many tens of thousands. There are too many witnesses to deny the deaths and their approximate magnitude.
 Kuwait and Iraq were originally part of the same country which may go some way towards explaining why US Ambassador April Gillespie said: "We have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts..." to Saddam Hussein when he told her that he intended to make war on Kuwait.
 This should give heart to Islamic Fundamentalists looking for justification for their activities, though I suspect they don't feel the need.
A Religious Initiative
It is the eleventh hour, and the world is poised on the edge of war. Church leaders have consistently warned of the unpredictable and potentially disastrous consequences of war: massive civilian casualties, a precedent for preemptive war, further destabilization of the Middle East, and the fueling of more terrorism.
Yet the failure to effectively disarm Saddam Hussein and his brutal regime could also have potentially catastrophic consequences. The potential nexus between weapons of mass destruction and terrorism is the leading security issue in the world today. This is the moral dilemma: a decision between the terrible nature of that threat and the terrible nature of war as a solution.
The world is desperate for a "third way" between war and ineffectual responses - an alternative to war as the way to defeat Saddam Hussein. If we are to find an effective response to Saddam instead of a full-scale military assault against Iraq, that "instead" must be strong enough to be a serious alternative to war.
In November 2002, the U.N. Security Council decided that Iraq was in "material breach" of previous resolutions but gave Iraq "a final chance to comply with its disarmament obligations." Since then, the threat of military force has been decisive in getting inspectors back into Iraq, putting pressure on Saddam finally to comply, and in building an international consensus for the disarmament of Iraq. The Security Council also "warned Iraq that it will face serious consequences as a result of its continued violations of its obligations" if it did not comply.
Yet those "serious consequences" need not be war against the people of Iraq. The consequences should mean further and more serious actions against Saddam Hussein and his regime, rather than a devastating attack on the people of Iraq.
On February 18, 2003, a delegation of U.S. church leaders, accompanied by colleagues from the United Kingdom and the worldwide Anglican Communion, met with Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Secretary of State for International Development, Clare Short, to discuss alternatives to war. The following elements of a "third way" -- an alternative to war -- were developed from those discussions and subsequent conversations among the U.S. delegation.
Thought for the day:
A people living under the perpetual menace of war and invasion is very easy to govern. It demands no social reforms. It does not haggle over expenditures for armaments and military equipment. It pays without discussion, it ruins itself, and that is an excellent thing for the syndicates of financiers and manufacturers for whom patriotic terrors are an abundant source of gain.
Bob Dylan -- The Times They Are A Changin'
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