Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Spy in the Office

It is no secret that those very useful Search Engines have sophisticated programs to harvest what we type, to help target "audiences" for products. I don't have a fetish for privacy, and I don't buy much "stuff" these days. That analysis of my online activity shows that I'm a Classical music and travel lover, comfortably off, retired and married Episcopalian with an interest in environmental causes and our grandchildren, is fine by me. I don't visit porno sites, seek extramarital liaisons, or even do much online shopping: I'm not of great interest to marketers.

Lately, I've noticed some innovations that bring home how pervasive is this "eavesdropping" on my jottings. When I open email from certain sites, such as a church-related list-serv, a warning appears, to the effect that the purported sender may not be the actual sender. So far, after a couple of hundred of these warnings, every listed sender has been the real sender. Further, when I do receive spam (a rare occurrence), I can readily identify it. Most of this "malware" invasion comes from Canadian drugstores, anxious to undercut Kaiser's pharmacy, and trade illegally with mail..

I tolerate these intrusions for two reasons: in theory, they are for my protection but, more significantly, I can't prevent them and continue to use.such programs.

Much worse is another "helpful" new feature. Let's say I have sent a message to Tom, Dick, and Harry, and on some future date choose to send an email to Tom alone. On the screen will appear a message: "Consider sending this also to Dick and Harry."
Dognabit, if I had wanted to include them I would have done so! Do you take me as hopelessly incompetent, just because you know I'm an octogenarian, and thus may be suffering from the onset of some form of senile dementia? Couldn't I at least opt out of this pushy kibitzer's "suggestions"? Is there an app for that? Bah!

Oh, well! If I were more technically savvy, I could design a program that automatically generated a response that said (say) "Stay out of my emails, Nosey Parker". Alas, that would probably trigger an immediate reply, offering me 50% off the regular price of an online Anger Management class...

Edit! Edit!

I guess I may as well post another "gripe", to get them all out of my system. This relates to the courteous way to send a reply to an email.

The only sensible reason to send back previous messages is to leave just enough to assist the reader to understand one's response. Unfortunately, too many folk just hit the Reply button, and type away.

If there's just one message, it's not much of a problem, but I belong to several church-related groups, and often a topic is commented on by many different people--and, on many occasions, the thread will contain more than one message from the same source.

Last week, I received a message on a very long thread. There were five previous messages in the same thread, and they weren't all brief. I had to spend what seemed like two minutes scrolling, scrolling, to get to the first message so that I could delete the long string of peoples' opinions.

Hence my request to those who post: edit you response, please!

Monday, August 15, 2011


When I didn't have a computer, I sometimes passed the time by using a deck of cards, for what in the UK we called "Patience". In the US, we usually call solo games "Solitaire".

For some years now, I have been restricting myself to one hand of "Free Cell" a day, to control my addiction to the game. However, when I began playing this game a few years ago, I didn't really "get it". The version of it that I now play online, allows one to go back to start if one gets "stuck", or to go back a few steps if you see a better way out. With that, I brought my success average from somewhere around 50% up to about 98%. However, unless you restart at zero, the statistics continue to build up game after game. Recently, I worked up from that low level, as far as 90%. I recently achieved that level, including all those old sub-par games.

At that point, I decided to try to start all over. Unfortunately, there was some kind of problem with the system so that I found it hard to delete the last unsuccessful game. It kept appearing every time that I tried to restart from scratch. (Every time you have to abandon an incomplete game, that's one loss in the statistics.) Finally, I found that there were some controls that I could apply, so that I could start over at zero. At the time of writing, I am still at 100%, but that reflects only 26 successful games out of 26 tries!

I know that in due course I will come across insoluble deals, and I'm ready for that. I just never want to fall below 95% again!

Monday, August 8, 2011


I don't think I have ever met a cheese I didn't enjoy. I'm not fond of Norway's gjeitost, a sweetish brown cheese. (According to legend, the Norwegians managed to keep this foodstuff from German hands during WW2, by telling them it was laundry soap!) My other favorite Norwegian cheese is Jarlsberg, as long as it hasn't dried hard.

We buy almost all our cheese from The Cheeseboard, a North Berkeley institution that maintains a large selection--and also grants a generous discount to "senior citizens", which increases every decade. Barbara & I now receive 20% discount. (At 100, we are told "What you see is what you get". Fifteen years to go!)

The Cheeseboard was closed last week for a short vacation, and so I had to buy some of its outstanding pizza, needed for last Saturday, ahead of time, and freeze it. I am also addicted to their baguettes and English muffins, but this blog is about cheese.

There are several hundred cheeses from France alone. What follows are some of the great cheeses i have personally enjoyed, from several different countries. I haven't included grated cheeses: this is just about

I enjoy many English cheeses. Lately one of my favorites, the orange-colored Shropshire Blue, has been tasting especially good. I like it as an alternative to another all-time favorite, Stilton. Another favorite is Cotswold with Chives.

Californians love Brie, and I am fond of it when it is ripe, but I really prefer Camembert. Another favorite French cheese is Bleu d'Auvergne. I mustn't forget Boursin, Epoisses, Roquefort, or Tomme de Savoie.

From Germany comes Cambazola, from Switzerland Gruyère, Appenzell, and Emmenthal, from Italy Gorgonzola, and from Greece Feta.

Sharp Canadian Cheddar often beats all except artisanal English cheddar. Old Quebec is delicious, a nose ahead of Black Diamond to my taste. They are very similar to Vermont's Cabot.

And, yes, I do enjoy Wisconsin's version of Limburger....

There's a French saying that goes somewhat like this: a meal without cheese is like a woman with only one eye. (Well, it sounds better in French.)

Monday, August 1, 2011

Meeting John Stott

This great English evangelist died recently, and the papers have carried helpful obituaries. They list some online biographies, and I was delighted to read one that gave credit to The Rev E.J.H. Nash (known as "Bash" to all who knew him) for influencing John when he was a Cambridge undergraduate. This brought up some happy memories. I first knew them both, over 70 years ago.

In those days, "Bash" was the chief organizer of the "VPS Camps". These were under the auspices of the Children's Special Services Missions, which ran Evangelical activities at the seaside during the summer holidays (vacations).

"VPS" stood for "Varsity and Public Schools". They issued a short prospectus, which used the word "Christian" just once.
They promised recreation and supervision, designed to attract parents who could afford the relatively modest expense, and were content to part with their sons for a spell during the school vacations. (If there was an equivalent opportunity for girls, I have no idea!)

These "camps" were held at a minor public school (Clayesmore), located in the village of Iwerne Minster, in the county of Dorset. Boys were told to bring their bicycles, and take a train to a small station (Semley), a few miles north of Clayesmore. There they were met by one of the staff; luggage was put into a vehicle, and the boys cycled down to the school.

I was recruited for my first camp in the summer of 1940 by a wonderful teacher, Harold Elborne, known as "Jumbo" to the campers. "Mr. Elborne" was the "Maths Master" (teacher) at my excellent Prep School, Port Regis, which flourishes to this day. He also taught Scripture and Engineering. For many years, "Jumbo" was one of a few older members of Bash's staff, most of whom ( including John Stott) were undergraduates.

It was wartime, and in the summer we worked for about five hours a day as farm laborers, with a break for a packed lunch and a soft drink. (In the other vacations, we did "forestry", clearing brush, etc.) But the real purpose of the camp soon became clear: to indoctrinate us to become evangelical Christians. The efforts were unrelenting--but I still had a great time, and returned some ten times. I learned a lot about the bible and other aspects of the Christian life. I just didn't "buy" the fundamentalism of the evangelical wing of the Church of England.

John Stott was impressive, even then, clearly the most promising of Bash's young men.

His mother took him as a boy to All Souls, Langham Place, in the West End of London, and that remained the center of his church life, as curate, vicar, and emeritus, during the many years when he was traveling all over the world.