Monday, October 30, 2006

a little New Orleans tragedy (very little)

Okay, I'm not making this up. A guy got on the microphone during a recent event recent at the Artsgarden to solicit money for reconstruction in New Orleans. This isn't some Habitat-For-Humanity building project to provide housing for people who lost everything in the floods; this is to help replace the private gardens of some of the homes in some of New Orleans's nicest neighborhoods (homes which suffered little or no flood damage). He said, with no trace of irony, something like: "Katrina brought much tragedy to New Orleans. The loss of their beautiful gardens was a heart-rending trauma for some of our city's finest residents." I was going to say really snarky things about this guy and his cause, but I think it speaks for itself....

Sunday, October 29, 2006

More politics: both cynical AND evil!

I'm going to be evil and cynical for a minute. The cynical: I'm not really expecting Democrats to take control of either house of Congress. The Democrats have spent years proving that they're not as good at playing politics as Republicans. A major part of the problem is that their message is more complex and nuanced. It's easy to for Republicans to keep hammering at a fake issue (national security) and to parrot talking points. National security is pretty much a lock for Republicans, and almost all of the single-issue-voter issues are Republican strengths: abortion, gun control, gay marriage, the flag-burning amendment, and a host of others. You'll also notice that these are all very simple issues; it's easy to tell which of two candidates is more in your camp. The traditionally Democrat issues are amazingly complex. Insurance reform and health-care policy, for instance, are overwhelmingly complex issues, and only the most informed voters have even a rudimentary grasp of what's involved. It doesn't lend itself well to ten-second sound bites or a bulleted list of talking points. The average American was a C student in school; sticking to complex issues won't win any votes from the bottom half of the population.

The other problem Democrats face is that they don't entirely own their strongest weapons. They can't spend too much energy decrying the war, since almost every Democrat voted for it. A fair number of Democratic congressmen and senators supported all the major malfeasance of the last six years: prescription drugs, bankruptcy "reform", war funding, The Fence, suspicious nominees, the utter lack of campaign and lobby reform, etc. One of the Dems' most potent rhetorical weapons is corruption. It would be nice if they could spend just a few minutes talking about the enormous corruption created by the Republican-led Congress and the Bush administration. But there are plenty of corrupt Democrats, too; they can't hammer too hard on this issue. Of course, Republicans would if the roles were reversed. They have a history of not letting facts interfere with good rhetoric. So I'm fully expecting the Republicans to retain control of at least one house of Congress.

That's the cynical. Now for the evil. Part of me is hoping the Republicans retain control of both houses. If the Democrats gain control of one or both houses, they'll be convenient rhetorical scapegoats for much of the continuing boondoggle in Iraq as well as just about everything else that goes wrong for the next two years. A good number of people are finally waking up to some of the damage the Bush administration and its pet Congress have caused in the last six years. And a surprising number of people still aren't seeing it. Surely everyone in the bottom three quarters of the economy has noticed that things have not improved in the last four years. Yet Bush's popularity hasn't taken that much of a hit. Sure, it's taken a bit of a hit -- but a lot of people still support him, for some inexplicable reason. I'm assuming his continued support comes primarily from the aforementioned single-issue voters. But I'm hoping that the Republicans get two more years, that things get bad enough that the Republican voter base finally realizes that elections have to be about more than gay marriage and abortion. I'm hoping that these people finally notice that complex issues like energy policy and health care reform have a real impact on their daily lives. And that abortion really doesn't.

Some politics

I hate to say it, but I'm still undecided about the local House race. The incumbent Democrat, Julia Carson, is running against a local businessman, Eric Dickerson. I should mention that this isn't the same Eric Dickerson who was a hall-of-fame running back for the Indianapolis Colts, but a lot of people don't seem to know that. This Eric is a somewhat-shady car dealer; he just settled a lawsuit levelled by Fifth Third Bank claiming he defaulted on two million dollars worth of business loans for his Buick Dealership. And, I'm pretty sure he's the "don't hang up on me!" guy who was trying to organize a dream-interpretation workshop at the Artsgarden.

Dickerson has his problems, but at least I somewhat trust his integrity. Early in his campaign he was offered national RNC financial support -- all he had to do was sign a document pledging his vote to Dennis Hastert for Speaker of the House. And he refused to do it. That's a good sign that, Republican or not, he's not going to be the proverbial rubber stamp for the Bush administration. He recently started getting serious financial support from the RNC, but I can't find out what happened to change that. I'll assume that the national Republicans finally started recognizing his campaign as a serious threat to Julia Carson. Three months ago, he was barely registering in the polls; now he's within the margin of error of Julia.

One of the biggest issues this election has less to do with individual candidates, and more to do with which party controls Congress. With that in mind, the fact that Julia Carson is a Democrat is a major factor. But she's got absolutely everything else against her. I won't mention her shaky voting record in the House; my biggest concern is that I think there's a fair chance she's senile. I sat across the table from her at a black-tie event (not an Arts Council function, I should mention) last year, and I left with the impression that she was a complete blithering idiot. She could barely form coherent sentences. I've also collected a fair amount of hearsay that says she's pretty darn corrupt. An electrician on work release from prison told me that it's pretty common knowledge that you're better off not mentioning that you've got tradesman skills when you fill out your work-release paperwork, because if you do there's a pretty good chance that you'll spend your work release time as a handyman doing repair work on Julia's family's rental properties for minimum wage. And I've heard several people say that she has family members who get government heating assistance even though they don't actually need the help. These might just be urban myths of the prison population and the black community, but a lot of people are unhappy with Julia. And it's finally coming back to haunt her, now that the Republicans have an actual contender for her seat.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

That time of year

I'm getting my performance review this week at work. As part of the review process, I have to fill out a self-evaluation. It's less evil than the usual ones; I don't need to list my strengths and weaknesses, I don't have to rate myself on a bunch of axes. I just have to describe my accomplishments for the previous year and my goals for the coming year. I still don't think it's strictly necessary. I work in an office of three and a half people. If my boss needs a document to know what I did last year, I've got bigger problems. I suspect I was in a sarcastic mood when I filled out the evaluation. One of my accomplishments for the previous year was, "Keeping a good attitude through the recent benefits cut."

In a practical sense, the review doesn't matter; my pay raise is essentially the same no matter how I do on the review, and it's not big. I'm pretty convinced that I'm underpaid. I definitely do a lot of work, but that's part of the job. The problem is that I'm not paid proportionally well relative to other people in other industries, or even other people in my own industry. I have a huge vat of techie geek knowledge sloshing around in my head, and I use a lot of it on a regular basis. I'm responsible for rigging, lighting, audio, computer stuff, electrical work, and a whole host of other duties. And I get paid roughly the starting wage for box pushers in the stagehand's union. I know a lot of people with easier jobs, who aren't as good at them as I am at mine, who make a lot more money than I do. People are making noise about raising the minimum wage to something more reasonable. If they do, I think I'll need another raise. I'm good at what I do; I'd like to think my work is worth double the bare minimum wage.

And, some trivia. I know a lot of people in the stagehands' union, and they occasionally give me a hard time for not being a union shop. So I sat down with the call steward for the local and figured out how it would work if we became a union shop. Right now, our private events are staffed by an event manager (Mike or Michele) and an event tech (me or Chris). If we went union, we'd still need the same two Artsgarden people plus a crew of six union guys to do the same work. He said he could fudge that and get it down to four union guys some of the time (what are rules for, if you can't bend them to get your foot in the door at a new venue?) Here's how that breaks down. We usually set up a small stage for events; it takes about five minutes. This would be a job for two carpenters, paid a four-hour minimum. We set a podium on the stage; the carpenters could move it, but an audio guy would have to set the microphone (also a four-hour minimum). We could cheat and have the same guy who runs the sound board set the microphone. When we focus the light on the podium an electrician needs to be in the Genie lift, and a board operator needs to run the light board. The union steward said he would probably let us cheat and use the same operator for the light board and sound board if the show is simple enough, though normally they need to be two different guys. We usually need to set a projector for a PowerPoint show, but we could probably cheat again and have one of the carpenters do it instead of hiring a projectionist. So, that condenses to somewhere between four and six additional guys, each paid a four-hour minimum, to do work that's currently done very well by a staff of two in an hour's time. Extrapolate this concept out, and you can see one of the reasons the U.S. automakers are in serious financial trouble.

And, more trivia. I was talking with a recent art-school graduate about the business of doing art. She said that right before she graduated, faculty members told her that she could consider herself a successful artist if she made ten percent of her income from her art. Ten percent. That seems wrong for three reasons. First, I think it's a strange definition of success; ten percent isn't much. Secondly, it's awfully dependent on your day job. If the other 90% of your money comes from your part-time job at a record store, "success" will come a lot faster than if your day job is something like stockbroker or trial attorney. Lastly, it seems unfair; the ten percent maxim sounds like something you should tell incoming freshmen, instead of graduating seniors....

Friday, October 27, 2006

Halloween bread, accidentally

I tried a baking experiment today: I made Irish soda bread with all-organic ingredients. I should've waited until Halloween, because the bread has a creepy aspect. It looks like it's made with spiderwebs. When you break the bread, hundreds of tiny filaments separate between the pieces. It looks remarkably like a spider's web, or maybe like I threw 1/3 cup of fiberglass into the batter. It tastes fine, and you can't feel the spiderwebs when you eat it. But it's still a little unpleasant to look at. I've made it before with non-organic ingredients, and I didn't have the spiderweb problem. I think it might be the organic sugar, which was much coarser than usual granulated sugar; it must have somehow turned itself into cotton candy. For reference, here's the recipe:

3 cups organic unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon organic turbinado sugar
1 egg, organic, lightly beaten
2 cups organic buttermilk
1/4 cup organic butter, melted

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9X5 loaf pan.

Combine flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, and baking soda. Blend egg and buttermilk together, and add all at once to the dry ingredients. Mix until just moistened. Stir in butter. Pour into loaf pan.

Bake for 65-70 minutes. Cool on a wire rack; wrap in foil. The bread's flavor improves if you let it sit for a few hours before serving.

Not surprisingly, they don't make organic baking soda. In order to be considered an organic foodstuff, you probably need to be an organic compound. Heh heh, get it? Chemistry humor!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Hostile, Angry Colts Fans

For those who don't know, my wife is a die-hard Redskins fan. She scored a ticket in the end zone for Sunday's Colts/'skins game (thanks to Evan, my brother-in-law!), so she got to see her two favorite teams play each other from great seats. We had high hopes for the Redskins; a friend called from Las Vegas to tell us the best odds were on the Redskins winning by 40 points. They ended up losing, but it was a good game to watch.

For me, at least. I was watching from home, text messaging Laura whenever the Redskins did something cool. Laura was trapped in the stands with fifty thousand angry Colts fans. I'd like to believe they weren't all actively hostile and surly, but the ones around her definitely were. The big guy in front of Laura informed her that he wasn't originally planning on standing, but since he had a 'skins fan behind him he was going to do his best to block her view. And he meant it. The woman a few seats down cursed like a sailor and kept wishing debilitating injuries on Redskins players. These were specific people, but they reflected the general mood of the crowd. Laura had a genuinely awful time. She would've much preferred to see the game on TV, even with the poor reception from our homemade antenna, than have the experience she did Sunday. I suspect she would've probably preferred dental work. She's thinking this will be her last Colts game from the stands; after this, even if she's cheering the Colts, the evil fans will leave a bad taste.

I don't know why it surprised me, but it did. I had expected Colts fans to be generally good-natured: more "Go Blue! Woo hoo!", and less "I hope Clinton Portis [Redskins running back] gets his spine broken!". Laura spent most of the game sitting on her hands trying not to draw any attention to herself. When people get this vitriolic and hateful they're forgetting that it's just a game. And spending any time actively wishing harm on complete strangers is bad for you.

One second while I turn off my cheerful idealism. Ahh, there. Now that I think about it from a slightly more cynical viewpoint, a team needs this rabid level of fan support. You'd have to take the game pretty seriously in order to do what the league needs you to do: be willing to spend $100 on a jersey and $75 on a ticket. Professional sports franchises are businesses, supported entirely by the goodwill of people willing to shell out huge chunks of cash to support the team -- people willing to buy ridiculously overpriced licensed merchandise; people willing to buy expensive tickets to seats that give you a worse view of the actual game than you'd get sitting at home watching on television; people willing to patronize businesses that support your team; people willing to vote for a politician based solely on their support for spending $600 million dollars of public money to give a team owner a new stadium. If Indy's are any indication, local sports journalists tend to encourage this kind of hateful attitude. And merchandise backs it up. You can get pro football shirts that depict Calvin peeing on a Dallas Cowboys helmet, with the caption, "Dallas Sucks, T.O. Swallows".

I remember hearing people talk about all the positive benefits of sports when I was in school. I don't recall them talk about the importance of teaching children meaningless spite and anger....

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Yawn.

It's been a long couple of days. The Artsgarden hosted a music showcase for R&B and hip hop artists, and we ran pretty late. My Thursday was 1pm to 1 am, yesterday was 2pm to 2am, today 7am to 3pm. I got home last night, did dishes (waking up to a sink full of dirty dishes messes with my sense of order), and went to bed. I didn't realize how little sleep I got until I made coffee the next morning and found the dishes in the drying rack were still wet.

I should mention that the show was entertaining. Like every other music showcase in the history of time, some of the artists were good and some were less good. Out of twenty performers, I found two very noteworthy. Thursday's was Donny B. Lord, a Carribbean hip-hop artist with good style and a fun energy. Friday's big act was a band called (S)HE. I was a little fuzzy about how you pronounce the name; what do you do with the parenthesis? Turns out it's pronounced just like the pronoun. And they were great -- picture En Vogue with better songwriting, backed up by a classic-rock band. They're based in Philadelphia, and they were an awful lot of fun. The band had a hard-rock sound, their songwriting was creative and original, and the three singers had talented voices and nice moves. If you find yourself in Philly, check and see if they're performing. It'll be worth your time to catch the show.

my fake MySpace

Okay, I admit it. I signed up for a MySpace page. No, I'm not telling you where it is. That's because it's not a real page; it's under a random name, and I posted a photo of Mel Gibson (from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome) for my picture. I have enough trouble keeping in touch with my actual human friends that I don't need a social networking site to meet new virtual people. And I'm not particularly enamored with the MySpace movement anyway, even if it's spawned morbidly amusing spin-offs. In its most most regal imagining I think it might be a harbinger of the social structures of the future: a virtual meeting place, not limited by geography, wherein friends are defined by interests and personality, by shared spaces that aren't necessarily physical. Myspace could be that, but it's corrupted by a hot-or-not popularity contest. Anyone can instantly tell how popular you are -- that is, how many friends you have. It reminds me of junior high. It's cool to have the really popular people on your friends list; virtual celebrities are surrounded by hordes of virtual groupies. It's a bad sign when hot babes are getting photo spreads in Maxim Magazine because of their numbers (in the millions) of virtual friends.

Given all that, I started on MySpace because it's a professional asset. Every band in our recent music showcase had a MySpace page. Because I had so little advance paperwork from anyone, searching and hitting everyone's MySpace pages helped me prepare. And a fair amount of MySpace's useful content is for members only. The members-only concept irritates me. It's actually the reason I chose Blogger when I was looking for a place to start this weblog -- a lot of LiveJournal's useful functions are available for members only, and a good chunk of useful content is available only for paying members. It won't even let you perform searches unless you're a member.

My favorite thing ever said about Myspace came from Paul Graham. In an essay about tech startups he said, "a startup should abe able to explain in one or two sentences exactly what it does. It should not always tell this to users, however. For example, MySpace is basically a replacement mall for mallrats. But it was wiser for them, initially, to pretend that the site was about bands."

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Wizzle the hizzle?

I just listened to an older Ice Cube song with a bunch of words in izzle-speak. I'm pretty sure I understood what he was saying: "I don't give a fizzle, gotta do my bizzle" = "I don't give a f***, gotta do my business". But I don't think I really understand the slang grammar of the izzle. F'rinstance, I'm having a hardware problem on my desktop computer at work. Am I having a hizzle pizzle on my dizzle, or a hardwizzle problizzle on my desktizzle, or some combination thereof? I think the -izzle suffix exists to let you rhyme words that don't technically end in the same syllable, to balance out the meter of free verse, and to get away with saying things you otherwise can't say on the radio. But it does seem to have an actual grammar; that is, someone who knows the code can tell when someone's faking it.

I know talking about the whole "-izzle" thing is probably five years from hip, but that's okay; if I'm only five years away from cool, I'm proud of myself. And, now that I think about it, I don't think you can apply the izzle to computer tech support issues. Maybe there needs to be another variation that applies to nerd dialogue. I'm going to propose "-unction". And I'll further state that it applies to the last syllable in a word only. People might not like my made-up grammar, but I don't give a function, gotta do my bunction.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

fun spam

I get around 800 pieces of spam every day in my Yahoo inbox. I don't really use the account much; mostly I use it when I need to do business online. F'rinstance, I recently had to order a replacement part for our kitchen faucet. Price Pfister was sending me information to my Yahoo! account, but some of it got routed to my spam folder so I actually had to open my spam folder and look through it instead of just bulk-deleting everything in it. For the first time in a long time I had to pay attention to what was in my spam pile. And I can't help but notice that a fair amount of spam headers lend themselves to cheap one-liner comebacks. My personal favorite says, "Try Suzanne Somers for free!" I wonder if they ran this offer by Ms. Somers. Also today I got a "Dunkin Donuts $500 gift card free!" immediately followed by a "Bowflex free trial". That makes sense, if you think about it. And I keep getting messages whose subject lines say, "Christian Singles in your area are looking for you!" Jeez, haven't they heard of the statute of limitations? Another message said, "A cutting edge Gillette Fusion Razor is waiting for you". It's much preferable to the razors with no cutting edge.

I also get a lot of spam headers that end with the words, "on us!". Some of these carry meanings I'm sure they never thought about.
I enjoyed "Try Proactiv skin solution on us!" (apparently they need help with those hard-to-reach areas). And, "Get Tide detergent on us" sounds like a laundromat accident. But the absolute best has to be, "Try Trojan latex condoms on us!" Sorry, I don't lean that way. And they're probably not cute enough for my standards anyway.

Some of my spam comes post-dated. People usually sort their mail by date received, so if you send spam dated in the future it automatically appears on the top of the list. This has gotten so prevalent that the first third of my spam is dated in the future. My favorite was the one with the subject header something like, "Account notice: account 60 days past due. Pay online!", dated for the year 2030. I like the concept of prophetic spam. It's good to know I'll still have credit-card debt in 25 years.

I'm sure there's nothing original about making fun of spam. But it's fun to do.

Dance Kaleidoscope's Carmina Burana

Dance Kaleidoscope resurrected their signature piece this weekend at the Indiana Repertory Theatre. It's a beautiful piece of art. The choreography is varied and interesting. The choreography tells no single story; each section of the music has its own style, and each section could stand alone. The tone varies from graceful to stately to violent to almost silly throughout the performance. And the company has some very strong dancers.

The lighting was amazing, as always. Every time I get a chance to see Laura's work, I fall a little more in love with her. Every piece she lights is another tiny window into her soul, and there's some beautiful stuff in there.

I like the music, too. Everyone's heard that cool, dramatic two-minute chunk of Karl Orff's Carmina Burana that gets play in every fantasy movie in history. That section is called "O Fortuna", and it's not really much like the rest of the piece. But the entire piece is worth listening to. And the "O Fortuna" sections of DK's piece are among my favorites in this show. If you're anywhere near Indy, you need to check out Carmina this weekend; you'll be glad you did.
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An oops: I wrote this Friday night, and I just now realized I never posted it. Sorry, but the show's now over unless you're willing to drive to Lafayette, Indiana in two weeks.

Friday, October 13, 2006

ewwww.

Was looking for Halloween candy online (why not?), and happened across a tin of white chocolate maggots. I think these are firmly outside my comfort zone. They can't possibly taste good enough to justify digging into a big ol' pile of realistic-looking maggots. Sure, they're white chocolate. But I can get white chocolate in many forms that in no way resemble insect larvae. I even suspect I could find some white chocolate in my kitchen with little effort.

I was fine with the first foray into ostensibly disgusting candy: gummi worms. No problem. They can't be mistaken for actual worms, unless worms (gummi or real) come in more colors than I'm aware of. They're essentially just like gummi bears, but much larger. I even enjoyed gummi frogs, which again give much more gummi goodness per candy unit than bears. I draw the line at gummi roaches, though. One of my chief culinary goals is to never share a meal with roaches, and the thought of eating food that actively resembles nightmarish insects actively skeeves me out.

I also never understood the Harry Potter tie-in candies. Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans actually come in flavors like grass, vomit, and ear wax. Bleah. And they sell rather realistic cockroach clusters. I can understand the appeal for candy makers, because it's so easy to do; unpleasant jelly bellies and roach shapes are about the only Harry Potter candies you can actually make that aren't too far from what's in the book. Chocolate frogs are pale imitations (given that they don't jump), and nobody would really want a lot of the candy, like lollipops that burn holes in your tongue; this is the stuff of creepy urban legends. And I don't think modern candy technology is capable of making sherbet balls that let you levitate.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

D&D comedy

I heard something funny from our local butcher Jason, and I had to share. We always chat about gaming, books, comics, movies, and other geeky stuff (nerds of a feather, we are). While we were talking today, a customer came to the counter. Jason waved the assistant butcher over to serve them and said, "Once you're a ninth-level Meat Cutter, you attract henchmen."

If you don't think that's rip-roaring hilarious, you've never played Dungeons and Dragons.

Foley won't matter; and, Pacers fight

I was just listening to a radio commentator talking about the Mark Foley scandal, and predicting that it'll hurt Republicans this election cycle. I don't think I buy that; the only election that'll be directly affected by naughty text messages will be in Florida (Foley's state, for those not paying attention). If a voter has been paying attention to what's going on for the last two years and is still going to vote for his Republican incumbent, then a completely different Republican committing a crime won't matter.

I'm picturing the Indiana Pacers: we just had an incident in which four players were involved in an altercation outside a strip club. One of the players got in a fight and fired a handgun, and police found a bag of weed in another player's car afterwards. So we've got sex, drugs, and violence all in one incident. Is this going to turn many Pacers fans into Bulls fans? Doubtful. Similarly, Foley's personal trauma isn't going to turn anyone away from the GOP. It's a nice, juicy scandal, but in the end I don't see it changing anyone's vote.

A side note: none of the Pacers were arrested in the Club Rio Debacle. The guy who fired the handgun in the parking lot? Not arrested, and they're saying they probably won't file any charges. The guy with the bag of pot in his car? Not arrested; the police claim that they can't tell exactly who the pot belonged to, so they won't file any charges. And, the police say they're going to handle this investigation just like any other. I think it stretches plausibility to claim that if the actors in this drama were, say, welders instead of Pacers, they wouldn't have been arrested. I don't have much faith in the police anyway, and this doesn't help.

Monday, October 09, 2006

NaNoWriMo, again

I decided I'm going to take another stab at writing a short novel in a month. National Novel Writing Month is in its eighth year, and this'll be my third year trying it. I have high hopes that I'll actually make it this year, even though it's a highly busy time of year. I even have a vague idea of what story I want to tell this year. Which puts me way ahead of last year.

I think NaNoWriMo is a great project. And I think you should do it too. Sign up and give it a try!

Carpal Tunnel

Yet another sign I'm not really young anymore: I'm starting to show symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. It's not bad now, but I'm paying lots of attention to my hand position when I type. I wish I had huge piles o' cash; I'd love to try one of these cool DataHand toys. I noticed they're PS2 only, no USB version available yet. Or maybe one of the Ergo models. If I weren't opposed to learning curves, I'd get a cool one-handed keyboard. I wonder if you could train yourself to use one with each hand and double your speed. And, it's bluetooth; you can wander around while you type. As is, I'll probably end up getting a cheap ergo keyboard at Best Buy or something. And trying my best to hold my wrists up and straight while I type.

Last week I spent a while climbing around the Artsgarden's steel structure playing with lighting and pulling cable. I find it comical that doing seriously forearm-intensive climbing never gives me any problems, but using a mouse and keyboard is causing damage....

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Some Guys Pizza

One of my favorite places in town is Some Guys Pizza. Laura and I have been semi-regulars for years. It was where we ate after our wedding feast. And it's where I figured out that I'm turning into a lightweight; it was the first restaurant where Laura and I started splitting entrees. They serve really good lasagna, too, but they only serve it the first weekend of every month. So when the first weekend comes, we feel the pull of the Some Guys. By way of demonstrating what lightweights we are these days, we got carry-out lasagna on Friday. We got home and ate our salads (Some Guys also has excellent salads), and we both realized we were too full for the lasagna. So we reheated it and ate it for dinner last night at midnight. It was even good after a day in the fridge, which is impressive; pasta is usually pretty bad on the second day....

Friday, October 06, 2006

Laura and Smallville

Laura's become a fan of the teevee series Smallville. Actually, that doesn't really capture the depth of her infatuation with the show; describing Laura as a Smallville fan is akin to describing someone as a meth enthusiast or a crack fancier. Last night, for the first time since I've known her, we had to be home at a certain time so she could watch her show. That was strange.

I can understand why she likes it; the lead actor, Tom Welling, is genuinely charismatic and he plays an interesting character. The show is almost as witty as Buffy was, which is a rarity. And it tells a neat story. I think the main reason I'm not as involved in the show as Laura is that one of the main character relationships falls horribly flat, so much so that it irritates me to see it on screen. Clark Kent has long had a crush on Lana Lang, for absolutely no discernible reason, and it drives a lot of the story so far. In the first three seasons we see a lot of a love triangle between Clark, Lana, and Chloe, and it's a complete mystery why Clark keeps choosing Lana. Then again, I've only seen a few episodes; I might be missing the bigger picture.

One more thing about Smallville: it's got some great inside jokes for people familiar with the Superman comics. My favorite might've been when Clark Kent met the guy who will be Aquaman. They saved someone, then Aquaman says to Clark, "We should form the Junior Lifeguard's Association." Clark says, "I think the JLA will have to wait." Another moment of comedy comes when Clark's father, played by John Schneider, gets a visit from his brother, played by Tom Wopat. Tom arrives enthusiastically driving a Dodge Charger, heh. And in one scene, Tom hops into the passenger seat through the window. I was disappointed that they didn't shoot anything with dynamite arrows.

New Look!

I just upgraded to the Google-oriented Blogger Beta, so I'm in the process of playing with the look of this page. With luck, I'll manage to not delete everything.

It was a pretty painless switch, and Google has a bunch of good tools available. I'm seriously thinking that Google has a pretty good vision of the future. Spreadsheets, word processing, blogging, photos, and just about anything else you use your PC for, all online, all free. If the trend continues, it won't matter how fast and cool your computer is; the only thing that'll matter is the speed of your internet connection....

Thursday, October 05, 2006

More on the Mac

Now that I'm not really gaming anymore, we've only got two reasons to stay with PCs. One is that we're not affording the switch to Mac right now. When we change, we want to change all of our computers at once -- and that means our home desktop, Laura's work desktop, and her work laptop. Even if we went with the cheapest possible Mac option (that's two 17-inch iMacs and the cheapest MacBook), that's $3200 in new computers, not counting software. If we got what we'd like (two nice iMacs and the middle-of-the-line MacBook Pro), the number's a lot closer to $6500. And that's just not happening in the foreseeable future. The other reason is that we're both happy with our computers. I know where everything is on mine, and I know its workings inside and out -- literally, since I built it myself. I've been PC since I got my first IBM XT in 1989, and I'm highly familiar with the bizarre quirkiness of M$oftware. With the release of a new Microsoft OS, though, I'll have to slide a good distance down the learning curve when I upgrade (which won't be soon). If I'm going to learn a new OS, it might as well be one that's less buggy. And, I'd feel bad throwing money at a company that screws its users (even if they're pirates).

And Laura really likes her desktop at work. I built it for her, and it's very cool. Every time she sees the LED-lit cooling fans turn on, it makes her happy. But it's starting to get buggy; she's having problems with software crashing frequently, and it's getting slow and irritating. So I'm spending a few hours of my day off tomorrow wanging on her office computer with a big wrench (or the computer version thereof) until it works smoothly again. I'm suspecting if we were a Mac family I wouldn't have to do this. Is the added convenience of being mostly maintenance-free worth $6500? Not really. But if I had piles of cash, I'd definitely be spending some of it on going Mac.

My other Mac thought: I suspect that Mac is on the verge of gaining a huge chunk of market share. Here are the facts:
  • Macs now run PC software pretty darn well. Going Mac doesn't require any huge outlay of cash to replace your PC software with Mac versions; you can now just transfer your old PC files to your new Mac, and it's business as usual.
  • Mac hardware, at the low end, is not much more expensive than PC hardware. Mac Minis are $600, and they can use your old PC monitor.
  • Microsoft is going to do everything they can to encourage people to go Vista.
  • Windows Vista has some pretty serious hardware requirements; to go Vista, a lot of people are going to have to spend a pile of cash buying new computers or upgrading their old systems.
  • Microsoft OSs have a well-earned reputation for being intensely buggy for the first few years, and for being unnaturally susceptible to all sorts of virii and malware. Even businesses, which tend to change tech at glacial speed, are finally becoming nervous about the perils of PC.
  • Macs have cemented a place in the zeitgeist as the cool computer to be seen with. It's the Hot Blonde Chick/Well-Built Tall Guy of computers. All of the hip people are toting their MacBooks and MacBook Pros everywhere, and their excellent design is continuing to turn heads.
  • And, more important, a lot of hackers have already gone Mac. Where hackers go, mortals eventually follow.
Add all this up, and I'm seeing the release of Vista as an occasion for a lot of people to do the switch. Better, it'll hit a tipping point sooner than people expect; the main reason cited by businesses for staying with PCs is that it's the standard (by which they mean, "the biggest slab of market share"). I'm anticipating that once Mac hits the 15% mark, Microsoft loses the advantage of being the only standard. And once that's gone, the cumulative force of 12 years of people being pissed at their PCs will come back to make Microsoft miserable -- and Apple very, very happy.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

irritating rich people

Indianapolis-based insurer Conseco has been in a court battle for three years with its former CEO, Steve Hilbert. Before Conseco's bankruptcy, Hilbert borrowed something like $150 million dollars from the company to buy Conseco stock. When the company collapsed (Hilbert's fault, depending on who you ask), Conseco tried to collect the money Hilbert owed; Steve has managed to delay everything in court for three years and counting. Conseco claims that he now owes $155 million dollars in principal, and $135 million dollars in interest.

The most recent skirmish ended yesterday when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear Hilbert's appeal of a lower-court ruling. The ruling in question stated that Conseco could try to collect the money from Hilbert's wife Tomisue, because the court believed that he had given her huge piles of cash to shield it from his creditors.

My favorite part of this? Tomisue Hilbert's attorney played the sexism card. I quote: "Tomisue Hilbert does not owe Conseco a dime. Inherent in Conseco's claims against Mrs. Hilbert is that a wife brings no value to the marriage and is not entitled to any property of the marital estate. This is, of course, not true and contrary to law and the society we live in today." I want to make sure I understand the Hilberts' legal argument here. Steve made, essentially, 100% of the income of their marriage; she quit dancing topless when she started dating him. And, as his partner, half of the money is hers. But when he accrues around $280 million dollars in debt (by essentially making bad loans to himself), the debt is all his and not hers. I don't think they actually believe they'll get away with this, but it gives them a few more years of the high life while their lawyers fight the battle....

In case you're curious, Steve Hilbert met Tomisue (his sixth wife, btw) when she jumped out of a cake at his birthday party. I'm not kidding. Business Week tells the whole Conseco story in short form here.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

new neighbors, at work

The Artsgarden is attached to Circle Centre Mall, and our immediate neighbor in the mall is Cinnabon. We get a good discount, so for the first month or two I worked at the Artsgarden I was pretty much eating a Cinnabon daily. After a while, though, I got tired of the steady Cinnabon diet and instead started relying on Cinnabon for my daily coffee needs. I still have a roll occasionally, but I'm down to one or two a month. This would not have been the case when I was twenty; I could have easily eaten two Cinnabons daily for years on end. But in my 30s there's a real limit to how much sugary stuff I can eat and enjoy in a sitting. But the temptation is always there. When the air handlers cycle just right, the entire Artsgarden smells like Cinnabons. And it doesn't help that the bakery here makes absolutely the best 'bons anywhere.

Until recently, our other neighbor was the Great American Cookie Company, but they closed when the mall doubled their rent. There's been some question about what was to occupy the cookie company's space, but we now have a definite answer: Haagen-Dazs Ice Cream and a Nestle Toll House Cookie bakery. I foresee an upcoming bout of really unhealthy eating. I'm less worried about the cookies; it's entirely likely that I make better cookies than they do. But the ice cream. Oh, the sweet, sweet ice cream! I'll hear it talking to me all day, whispering my name when I'm trying to work. I'll interrupt performances shouting, "shut up, mint chocolate chip! I'll be there soon!" I'll bring new meaning to "having a pint on the way home". I really hope they don't offer us a discount.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Another Meeper

Our youngest inside kitty, Meeper (or Jayne, depending on our mood), has a twin brother. The new cat, temporarily named Mal or NeoMeeper, appeared on our porch this afternoon, and he looks so much like Jayne/Meeper that I started petting him before I noticed the difference. He hasn't been fixed yet, but he doesn't act like a feral cat. I suspect he might be someone's cat. We won't take him inside, since we've already got a 2-1 cat to human ratio, but he's free to mooch our cat food and wander home when he wants. He seems to like hanging around here, though, so we're suspecting he might stay.

He looks just a few months younger than our actual cat, and is different only in that he's slightly smaller and has a tiny white streak on his tummy. On the one hand, he seems nice and friendly, and we're always happy to have more personable cats around. On the other hand, now we need to get him fixed. Even at the low-cost spay/neuter clinic, it gets expensive if you have enough cats. But it's also a kind of investment; neutering a cat now keeps us from having to neuter a whole litter in a year.

I've noticed that black cats tend to be friendlier than other cats. All five black cats in the neighborhood are very social, at least with us. And most of the other cats are less friendly. I wonder if this is true in general. A quick google finds no mention of the phenomenon, but that's probably because I'm the first person in all history to have noticed the trend. :-)