Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Significance and Art

People in art school spend a lot of time discussing what defines Art. I recently spent some time listening to an artist describe the difference between Fine Art and Commercial Art. In a nutshell, Fine Art is wholly born from the artist's soul and creativity, whereas Commercial Art is in some way dictated by someone other than the artist: a teacher who sets the medium, an employer who sets the subject matter, a contest which limits the style. Commercial Art can be good, but only Fine Art is true art -- an experience that springs from the artist's raw creative power. I'm somewhat cynical about any definition that's so self-aggrandizing for the person doing the defining, but it's an interesting idea: what defines Art is invisible in the work itself. You don't know whether a work is Fine Art or Commercial Art until you talk to the artist. You can't even tell by context; if an artist paints a work of Fine Art which is then purchased for an ad campaign, it's still Fine Art. It's all about the artist's intention, not the work itself.

I've noticed that you also can't tell a work of art's significance by looking at the art. We've got a photograph on display in the Artsgarden of a stone doorway, through which you can see the ocean. It's a nicely-composed photograph, and it's visually appealing, if a bit plain. Unless you read the artist's comments accompanying the photograph. It's of the "Door of No Return" in Senegal, the doorway through which slaves were loaded onto ships bound for the Americas. Behind the photographer stands the marketplace where slaves were auctioned by lot, after which they were led through the Door to the ships that would take them (those that survived the journey) to North America. Voila, instant significance. I'm also thinking of the Mona Lisa. It's one of the most famous, most revered works of art in the world. It's highly significant, but you can't tell by looking at it; it's just a portrait. It looks like a painting of some Renaissance nobleman's daughter, like any of a thousand others hanging in museums around the world. The Mona Lisa inexplicably means more than any of its fellows, for reasons nobody can quite explain to me. It seems to be circular: it's cool because everyone says it's so cool. Every explanation I've ever heard reeks of confirmation bias. There are even conspiracy theories about the Mona Lisa: hidden messages! Maybe it's a guy! Maybe it's da Vinci's self-portrait! I have no idea what accounts for all the hoopla, but it's definitely not the work itself. If I could think of a way to do it, I'd like to take an interesting, complex work of Renaissance art -- maybe Brueghel's "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus"-- and imbue it with the Mona Lisa's coolness. I'd like to see if it also attracts conspiracy theories and lunatic hoopla.

The other experiment I'd like to try: take a well-made student film and tag it with Stephen Spielberg's name, and take a Spielberg picture (minus the effects budget) and have a film student shop it at film festivals. I'd like to see how much critical acclaim the student film gets, and if the actual Spielberg film gets any notice at all. This would be interesting, largely because Stephen Spielberg actually is a good director; he's not Christo, surviving on coolness and name recognition. Spielberg is actually the master of a craft in which there are somewhat abstract but real metrics for measuring skill. But, because so much of a filmmaker's craft are tied to name recognition, it'd be interesting to see if the work of an acknowledged expert can make any headway in the indie-film circuit.

A similar experiment has already been done. In case you haven't heard, the Washington Post arranged for Joshua Bell, recent winner of the Avery Fisher prize as America's greatest classical musician, to play at a subway stop in Washington, DC. Bell walked up, opened his case on the floor, threw some change in it, and played for almost an hour. And almost nobody took notice. The Post article is careful to say that this experiment -- the fact that nobody paid attention to one of the world's finest musicians playing some of the most beautiful music ever written on one of the finest violins in existence -- isn't a sign that Americans have no class or taste. Rather, they discuss at some length that art is part of its context; they feel that it's entirely natural for people who would pay $100 to see Joshua Bell perform at Carnegie Hall, to walk past him in a subway stop without noticing the music. And they may be right. But I'd be interested to see the same experiment performed in reverse: take a good street musician and put him on stage at Carnegie, backed up by the usual star-performer marketing campaign. Tout him as "a master of Americana" or something. And see if a musican who's normally passed by in a crowd can command a standing ovation at $100 a ticket.

I suspect he'd do fairly well. That is, given the right context, I suspect the quality of the art is almost irrelevant. In the Kunstmuseum in Basel (Switzerland), I saw a $40,000 piece of art by a well-known modern artist. It consisted of a 3X5 canvas painted black. It was a glossy black, but the entire work of art was just a black square of canvas in a plain frame. I'm somewhat immune to context, so I wondered if it wasn't some kind of joke. I've created very similar works of art on a fairly regular basis, most recently this past weekend, though I doubt my "Metallic Bronze Hallway" (2007, latex paint on plaster) will earn me much critical acclaim from anyone but my wife. She was impressed by this recent work, and she's not the kind of critic who blindly approves of all my efforts. I know my "Bronze Droplets" (2007, latex paint on oak flooring) was met with a moderate amount of critical disapproval; maybe I should be pushing for a larger audience who can better appreciate the subtlety and significance of this particular work.

UPDATE: I just learned that Laura expressed extreme disapproval of another of my recent works: "Dust and Grime" (2007, plaster dust on staircase). She apparently disliked it so much she destroyed it with a mop....

Friday, May 25, 2007

the Non-Vacation

It looks like Laura and I will be going to Virginia for a chunk of June. It's a working vacation, with much emphasis on the working. She's designing and opening a show, then hanging a rep plot in the theater. I'm playing the role of Tech Guy and Backstage Denizen. We're a good team for this kind of thing. But we'll definitely be busy. it'll take two days to drive out and two more days to drive back, and while we're there we've got a lot to do.

We've also got a lot to do before we leave, mostly getting the house ready for the Geezer Party. We still need to paint the hall and upstairs, and we've got much cleaning and fixing of stuff to do after the painting's done. I've made great strides with the home repair recently; I've fixed the front storm door (broken since early December) and the back storm door (which hasn't been closing correctly for a long time), and I'm getting lots of little projects done. Once I finish the painting, I'm down to a manageable to-do list -- defined as "no immediate projects hanging over my head". Just siding, woodwork, more siding, roofing, digging up the big rose bush in the back, gutter repair, floor-joist repair, installing an attic vent fan, fixing the furnace, and possibly chain-sawing a hole in the back of the house to add a greenhouse window. Which, really, is a pretty short homeowner list. I'll be tackling the projects in order of affordability, meaning I've got built-in breaks between projects while we save up for the next home-repair adventure.

Given all that, my short-term prospects for finding time to write are pretty slim. I'm seriously starting to lose faith and hit the Why Bother point. But I'm still a little too busy to pick up that part-time Borders job just yet.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

A Toy I Want!

In the interest of completely geeking out and completing my gargoyle rig*, I'm extremely psyched about the Myvue personal media viewer. It's essentially a pair of sunglasses with a built-in video screen and headphones. So far they're only available for video iPods, but a universal model is on the way. I like the idea of being able to distract myself from the wildly interesting world around me not only with audio, but also with video. Soon it'll be possible to completely ignore the real world, overlaying it with content of my choosing!

I know this is old tech -- practically ancient, given that its debut review (so packed with glowing adjectives, it reads like a paid review) appeared a year ago this month. But it now comes with a cool wrinkle that appeals to me: a perscription lens clip-on! The disadvantage is that you still need to carry your glasses, for when you take the Myvue off. But at least you can see around the screens without bumping into things while you walk.

One slight problem: I don't actually own any type of portable media player. So the first thing I need is a video iPod. I'm not spending the money on one of those; I just don't see myself using one, ever. But if I did have one, it'd be nice to have the video headset to go with it. Plus: gargoyle! I'd have to see if I could split the video input between the iPod, my internet-enabled phone (which I don't own either), and my GPS (which I also don't own). And, while I'm daydreaming, interface it with my Crowbar Satellite personal orbital enemy-annihilation railgun.

And, minor technology-related pet peeve: the use of the word rock by hardware reviewers, as a verb meaning "to employ" or "to utilize". It seems I can't read a review at, say, PocketPC Thoughts or Experience Mobility without seeing it: "this device rocks a 400mhz processor...", "the latest phone rocks bluetooth and GPS...", etc. Gaaah!

* Sci-fi people: if you haven't read Snow Crash, you should.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Part-Time Job

I got a job offer earlier in the week from the manager at Borders Books downtown. I wasn't actually looking for a job, but they were setting up in the Artsgarden for a book signing and I was my usual extremely helpful literate self, and they offered me a part-time job. It's a tempting offer; I'd get to pet and talk to all the pretty books for hours at a time. Two evenings a week, plus one weekend day. I've already got parking downtown (and a bike), I'd get a 33% discount on books, and I'd love to have the extra income to pay off bills.

But I decided I'm not doing it, at least for a few weeks. One of the reasons I've resisted getting a regular part-time job is that it wouldn't leave me much time for writing, which I'd like to do more of. Problem is, I haven't been doing much writing. So I'm giving myself a few weeks to see if I can actually get serious about the fiction. If I can get in the habit of writing regularly and well, and if I have a sense that I can eventually do it well enough to publish, I'll stick with it and start taking it more seriously. If I can't get myself into good writing habits in the next six or eight weeks, I'll dive into the part-time job with a clean conscience. And I'll give up on worrying about writing, at which point I'll need to do some serious looking at what I want to do when I grow up.

How will you know what happens? If I'm writing in mid-July about starting work at Borders, that'll be the sign.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

totally trivial observation

I just now realized why I don't generally order potato bread: it looks moldy. Even when it's fresh, it's covered in little white spots. Blech. It's probably fine, but if a potato bagel had mold growing on it, how would you know?

The secret to reading

I finished three books in the past two days (that is, finished one, and started and finished two more). In addition, I also did an enormous amount of yard and garden work, fixed the front door, and did more plaster work and masking upstairs. I feel extremely productive. And, I figured out the secret to having lots of time to read. I noticed that for the last two days, I didn't turn on my computer. I can waste truly amazing amounts of time online. A lot of it doesn't feel like loafing, either. I read interesting news articles, write e-mail, and educate myself. But it does sink a lot of time.

The books were good, too. I read Sara Gran's Dope, and I really enjoyed it. It wasn't a perky, happy book -- there aren't enough letters in the word noir to fully express the noirness of this novel -- but the story was very well told, and we develop a lot of sympathy for our viewpoint character, Joe. It's a snapshot of New York City in the early 50s, seen from the junkie's point of view. After reading her extremely creepy first book, a demonic-possession story (or not) called Come Closer, I was curious to read more, and I wasn't disappointed. I also started and finished The Last Colony, the last book in Scalzi's sci-fi trilogy that began with Old Man's War. I really liked the entire book, except for the last sentence. I can't say why it irritated me so much, but I would've been a lot happier had the book ended two words earlier. I don't want this to distract from the fact that the story was excellent, and a fitting end for the Old Man's War trilogy. I recommend all three books. The third book was Neil Gaiman's short story collection Fragile Things. As a rule, short story collections are hit-or-miss; even in the best collections, the hit ratio is maybe fifty percent. Neil Gaiman writes some truly excellent stories, and some that are less good, but they're all entertaining reads. Even the worst of his stories are still pretty good and highly imaginative. This collection is interspersed with poetry, including my favorites, "The Day The Saucers Came" and "Inventing Aladdin". The story "A Study in Emerald" might be my favorite in the book. It's a Sherlock Holmes story that doesn't star Sherlock Holmes, written for an anthology described as "Arthur Conan Doyle meets H.P. Lovecraft". All three books are worthwhile reads.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Masking Cat

In preparation for painting the upstairs hallway and stairs, I spent a while today masking all the woodwork. Different painters have different ideas about how you should apply masking tape; one theory is that you're happier using one continuous piece of tape, folding it into corners, while other painters use lots of short pieces of tape. I'm a long taper, mostly because it supports the Type A part of my personality. But I just discovered one of the disadvantages. I finished the upstairs hall and went downstairs to make lunch. Just as I was finishing my omelet, I heard a lot of frantic crinkling sounds from the second floor. I wandered up and found Emmett the cat wrapped up in most of the tape I had just finished. She apparently started at the end near the baseboard and engaged in an epic battle with the blue tape monster. I didn't think to get a picture, which is a shame. It was cute enough that it balanced out my irritation with having to start over with the masking....

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Staying upwind, and bike helmets

In an essay in late '05, Paul Graham gives advice to high school students. He recommends, if you're not sure what you want to be doing eventually, do something now that'll position yourself for the most options in the future. That is, Stay Upwind:
Flying a glider is a good metaphor here. Because a glider doesn't have an engine, you can't fly into the wind without losing a lot of altitude. If you let yourself get far downwind of good places to land, your options narrow uncomfortably. As a rule you want to stay upwind.
It occurred to me that this is also the best way to navigate traffic on a bike. It's tempting to take the easiest path at any given decision gate. But it's a lot smarter to take the path that will give you the most 5 D's (that's Dodge, Duck, Dip, Dive, and Dodge) options down the road. I've had a few close calls on the bike, but I haven't had any actual problems yet. I tend to take the upwind approach, and I operate under the assumption that all drivers are insane and want me dead, and would be happiest if they could make it look like an accident. It helps me foresee potential problems and avoid them.

I always wear a helmet. Contrary to popular belief, they won't necessarily keep you alive, but they will reduce your likelihood of non-fatal head injuries. The Bike Helmet Safety Institute has a pile of statistics available, a lot of which don't really say anything meaningful. Do helmets keep you alive? Yes, but not by much. They say that 85% of cyclists killed aren't wearing helmets. But they also say that only 75% of cyclists, at most, wear their helmets. If you assume that the cyclists who are conscientious enough to wear helmets are slightly less likely to get in accidents overall, the chances of a helmet keeping you alive when you would've otherwise died is almost nil. On the other hand, one in eight cycle injuries is a head injury; that's around 67,000 head injuries. And they say that between 45% and 88% of head injuries ( I note that this is an awfully wide range) could be prevented by a helmet. I've got a vested interest in keeping my brain functioning as well as it can, so the helmet stays on.

The BHSI has another unnerving statistic: cyclists have a wreck, on average, every 4500 miles. That's a total statistic; it includes eight-year-olds and adult bike commuters and tri-athletes. This kind of statistic doesn't have any predictive value, but it does help to make cyclists nervous....

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Bike Path

I keep experimenting with different routes for the bike ride to and from work. I've noticed that the best travel path depends heavily on the time of day; a good route at 7pm isn't the same as a good route during rush hour. This isn't a deep insight, but it adds a layer of complexity to the task of choosing a route. And, because I'm on a bike, I'm not necessarily interested in the shortest path. I already know what that is (Massachusetts Avenue), but it's packed with poorly-timed stoplights and hordes of inattentive drivers. I'm fine with going a mile out of my way, if it means a more scenic or safer or easier or more interesting route; an extra five minutes on the bike is fine with me. Given that, I've got a lot of options for how to get around, and I'm having fun trying different routes.

So far, one of the real winners on the trip downtown is Brookside Parkway/Tenth Street/Fort Wayne Avenue/North Street/Meridian/Monument Circle. I'll have to play with little variations on the route, but so far it might be my favorite downtown trip. The first half of the trip has light traffic, Meridian Street takes me past the parks and monuments, and the trip around the Circle is nice. Also of note, the worst possible trip home is Mass Ave to Tenth Street, then Tenth all the way to Lasalle. That three miles of Tenth is not only a bit dangerous, it's also a bit depressing; it travels through a pretty crappy neighborhood or two. And, as a general observation, bad neighborhoods tend to have worse drivers in them -- or at least roads that make avoiding bad drivers more of a challenge.

A few random thoughts

Thought #1: I just finished making the pile of CDs for tomorrow's event. A hundred CDs, CD labels, and jewel case inserts, and I'm highly impressed with the fact that I didn't screw anything up in the process; I didn't have to redo any of the printing, and I never stuck the label to the wrong side of a CD. I don't know what it says about my self-image that I'm surprised by the fact that I can do simple repetitive tasks without error.

Thought #2: I like getting new tools. Even silly, non-technical tools. I was extremely happy with my new paper cutter, especially after using to make a blue bazillion cuts for my CD case inserts.

Thought #3: One of the nice things about working at the Artsgarden: my boss is very good about not overworking any of us. There are necessary exceptions, but as a rule Mike tries to keep us to around 40 hours and/or five days per week. This is important for the tech guy; we do something like 400 performances, exhibits, and events in a year, and we don't have many completely dark days. If we didn't actively work to keep our schedules normal, it'd be pretty easy to work seven days a week, or 60 hours a week. I'm mentioning this because I just found out that I've worked so much this week, I'm getting Monday off! Yeeha! This means I get to do some wild, exciting painting!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Quote of the day

From Brian Unger's Unger Report on NPR, talking about George Tenet's book:
"When it came to stopping dubious WMD claims, Tenet made phone calls. When it came to pushing his book, Tenet flew on airplanes, marched on the airwaves, put on makeup, and raised a ruckus. That's putting your money where your mouth should've been."

A Vista Anti-Endorsement

Before Laura left for Virginia last month, we ran to Fry's to pick up a wi-fi card for her aging laptop. While we were there, we also looked at new laptops. Hers has a small hard drive, not much RAM (by modern standards), and a dead battery, and she travels with it a lot. And a new work laptop would be tax-deductible, which roughly equates to getting it for 25% off. We found two we liked that fit nicely in our meager price range, but the salesman talked us out of buying. We mentioned that she needed it up and running by the next day, and he said there was no chance we could completely configure a Vista machine to do what we needed in 24 hours. We'd need a new printer (there are no Vista drivers for Laura's old portable printer), and none of her expensive, specialized software will run on Vista either. Vectorworks doesn't have a Vista version yet, and neither does LightWright. When a Vista version appears, we'll have to pay for an upgrade license for the software. The salesman said he'd be happy to sell us a Vista laptop, but given the time constraints and our incompatibility issues, it'd be nothing but frustrating in the short term. We appreciated his honesty.

I think we just hit the point where it'd be easier to go Mac and buy a copy of Parallels to run our XP software than it would be to buy a Vista machine. I would've considered it, but Going Mac is going to be a big expense, and we need to do some decision-making before we dive into that. Macs are great, but they ain't cheap. By the time you add enough RAM to run Parallels, you're looking at almost $1500 for a MacBook.

And I really do think we're moving to a point where platform matters less than connectivity. I'm using Google Docs for word processing, Gmail for e-mail, and even Snipshot for photo editing. Unless companies that make platforms put specific roadblocks in the way, the software you're running and even the hardware you're running it on are going to be less important than your perpetual access to bandwidth. I suspect this is going to kick M$oft in the ass, for all the obvious reasons. And I suspect it'll also bite Apple; if platform doesn't matter, why buy a $3000 laptop? The real beneficiaries of the shift are going to be companies that offer mobile broadband and devices that make it easy to use. Now, if only I had some money to invest....

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The official Jeep haircut

I've been thinking again about getting a haircut. My needs are simple: something that's easy to take care of. My first thought was to shave my head. It's easy to maintain, and it no longer carries an automatic neo-nazi political affiliation. Now it connotes that you're middle-aged and hiding the fact that you're balding. But Laura vetoed the skinhead look. She also nixed the idea of a more military haircut. I don't know that I like the look, but it has the advantages of ease of maintenance and the fact that I can cut my hair myself. I was about to say that if it were hard to maintain, the military wouldn't require it, but dozens of counterexamples sprang immediately to mind.

In the search for a new hairstyle, I'm looking for something that I can cut myself (because I'm cheap), and something that requires no styling products (because I'm cheap and lazy). I'm utterly unconcerned about fashion; I would have to get bad emo hair to be less stylish than the pony tail. I like the hippie hair, but I'm fully aware that, on the fashion scale, it falls somewhere between parachute pants and Nehru jackets.

I want to mention that I'm happy with my current lack-of-hairstyle in general. But every time I hop in the Jeep with the top down, I want a haircut. Laura's not getting rid of the Jeep, and I really dislike the sensation of my hair lashing me in the face and eyes. Normally I wear a do-rag in the Jeep, even though it looks pretty dorky. This morning I had the do-rag, but I hadn't pulled my hair back yet, so the effect was the same. I know lots of people with long hair ride in Jeeps, and most of them aren't skeeved by the hair-whapping. I might be in pet-peeve territory here. Maybe I should refer to Laura's universal advice and just Get Over It. That, or get a haircut.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Possible sexual harassment?

I just thought y'all might find this amusing. I sent Laura a somewhat risque text message while she was in Virginia last week, possibly inquiring as to her state of undress. Unfortunately, because of a finger-twitch while selecting the message recipient, I accidentally sent the message to directory assistance. I'm hoping they don't have text-messaging capability, otherwise I might be in trouble. I haven't heard anything from them yet. I was halfway expecting to get a message back from some bored, witty directory assistance person saying something funny....

Big Project, not enough time.

Next week the Artsgarden is hosting a luncheon for the Indiana chapter of Meeting Planners International. It's an organization of people who (you guessed it) plan meetings and events. It's traditional when you host one of these that you give away something. Usually it's something cute and small with some sort of witty slogan attached: bath salts ("de-stress with the planning experts") or stress balls ("your stress-free venue for meetings and events"), that kind of thing. We decided, because I opened my big fat mouth and suggested it, to give away a CD of live recordings from Artsgarden performances, with contact info for all the bands in the CD jacket. These are meeting planners, who have more occasion to hire bands than most people; we figure we're doing everyone a service by connecting good bands and the people who hire them.

Problem is, this is a lot of work on the production end. I knew this in advance, but what I didn't connect until today is that I actually have to have the CD master finished by this Friday. We're producing the CDs ourselves, and it'll take us a long time to make 175 copies on our iMacs, print the CD jackets and labels, and put them all together. I figure if we don't start Monday morning, we won't get it done in time. Problem is, I don't know what songs we're using yet. I've got almost two hundred hours of music to listen to. I can do triage and cut the listening list by quite a bit, and I don't have to listen to entire songs to decide if I want them on the CD. Still, I've essentially got two work days, minus everything else I need to be doing, to compile 70 minutes of music from my library of live recordings and do all the sound-guy tweaking necessary to make them sound good together. I honestly don't know if it's possible....

I've also got to confirm that all the artists I choose actually want to be on the CD. It's mostly a formality; I can't imagine an artist telling me he doesn't want me to distribute a promotional track to a few hundred professionals who hire musicians. Also, they all sign a performance contract that says, in part, that we can record the show and use it for any promotional purpose we choose. But if an artist doesn't want to be on the disc, I won't put them there. Just because I can, doesn't mean I should.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Basic Instructions, and translating

I found a really funny online comic strip, and I wanted to share it with y'all. Basic Instructions has been around for a few months, and I just discovered it a few days ago. It's intensely funny; the author is a stand-up comedian, and he writes some amusing stuff. Two of my favorites are How To Wash A Cat, and How To Fake A Smile (this is a problem I have, too). Highly recommended.

I also had a funny moment this morning at the Au Bon Pain on Monument Circle. It's my new favorite place to grab a bite downtown, and I probably catch a bite there two or three times a week. They do a yummy breakfast (including oatmeal on the soup bar) and snacks, and a good lunch too. Most of the staff is great, and they've got a good selection of soups and pastries and sandwiches, all reasonably priced (for a downtown eatery), and they've got killer beef stew, chicken stew, and mac-n-cheese.

They've also got strange policies involving sandwiches. If you want a sandwich, you don't go to the counter and say, "I'd like a sandwich". That would make too much sense. Instead, you have to fill out a little sandwich form, full of poorly-arranged check boxes indicating what kind of sandwich you want. To further complicate the system, they've got three different forms: one for breakfast sandwiches, one for their pre-selected sandwich combinations (say, the "Santa Fe on wheat"), and one for custom sandwiches. There's also nothing to indicate that you need to fill out a form to get a sandwich. I was in line behind a trio of Frenchmen who spoke very good English, but not the bizzare restaurantese spoken by the counter staff at Au Bon Pain (which, you'll notice, is a French name). The first guy said, "I'd like a croissant (pointing at the croissants) with Swiss cheese", in very good English. The counter girl looked at him dumbly; apparently she can't function without the appropriate slip of paper. He assumed the problem was that she didn't understand what he was saying, so he repeated himself. She said, "the sandwiches are over there," and pointed. This seemed like an absolute non-sequitur to the guy. She was clearly pointing at a little stack of papers and pencils, whereas he clearly wanted a croissant. So she gruffly explained that he had to fill out a form to get a croissant with Swiss. This was clearly an alien concept for him, as it was for me -- I had never seen the sandwich requisition forms before. So he found the correct form, and managed to locate "croissant" and "Swiss"; the whole time, she's staring at him in a vaguely hostile fashion, and the line is stacking up behind him. The three French guys eventually managed to get through the line, though it probably took ten minutes for me to get my mac-n-cheese.

She was perfectly polite to me; her rudeness to the French guys might be a remnant of the "freedom fries" mentality. I'm tempted to go back and check to see if they make people without French accents fill out paperwork to get a croissant with cheese.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Don't squeeze sign the Charmin!

Today's oddity: I bought toilet paper -- excuse me, bathroom tissue -- at the grocery yesterday. I didn't notice until I was putting it away this morning that someone had signed my 12-pack of Charmin:
How strange is that? I did a quick Google and couldn't find out who Susan Dowd is, or why she's associated with Charmin or the bear. I think it's cool, though; it adds a bit of the surreal to my day.

Down one kitten

Our huge pile of new kittens is down by one. The all-black one (possibly Salem was the father) got trapped under the edge of the box in which they're sleeping and died there. Awww. It was very cute, even deceased....

No pictures of the ex-kitten; that seems somehow inappropriate and wrong. But here are the survivors:
And, I've got a longer video of the kittens up now. They're extremely cute. Want one?

Friday, May 04, 2007

Online ads evolve

I'm used to sidebar ads. Advertisers don't want to hear this, but I don't notice them at all. They just blend into the background. The only ones I notice are the actively irritating ones with sound; I notice them exactly enough to make a mental note to never, ever purchase a product advertised in such an annoying way. There's a particularly heinous ad that looks like a side-scrolling shockwave minigame in which you control a little car with engine problems (to judge by the revving sounds it makes constantly), sponsored by an auto insurance company. Every time I see this ad, I think to myself: "Hunh. State Farm might have its problems, but at least they don't run annoying, noisy shockwave ads!"

So, given that I generally don't notice ads at all, I was genuinely surprised when an ad jumped out at me on Wired this morning. I don't even remember what the ad was for; it might have been a video-based ad for Blu-Ray. What was surprising was that the ad stayed with me as I surfed around Wired's site. The little movie played (with the sound defaulted to OFF, thankfully!), and as I navigated to a different page the ad didn't even lose its place in the movie. It's not too complicated, from a web-design perspective, to build a site that facilitates this. But I had never seen it before. It was a nice design touch, and it made me notice the ad.

Of course, it's good that it wasn't an evil ad with sound. Aside from the personal annoyingness of loud sidebar or popup ads, they also render a page less work-safe. Nobody's coworkers want to hear that annoying mosquito drone or the car engine revving.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Bachelor food, finally!

Tonight I experienced serious bachelor food for the first time since Laura's been gone. I had a frozen pizza on Monday, but that doesn't count; for one thing, it was a high-quality Pizzeria Uno pizza. For another thing, I had it with a friend. Tonight's dinner involved actual cooking. It consisted of Kraft mac and cheese, two cans of tuna, a cup of frozen peas, some pepper, and half a cup of spaghetti sauce, all mixed together. It's not really unhealthy, either. If I figure it as two servings, each serving provides around 30 grams of protein, seven hundred calories, two servings of grain, two servings of vegetables, a serving of dairy (from the butter and milk; I don't think the virulently orange cheese powder counts), and a full day's supply of wild bachelorness.

Cute kittens

Because I'm a bit o' the nerd, I shot some video of the new kittens. They're extremely cute:


I noticed that mine are probably the shortest kitten videos on YouTube. I didn't watch any of the others, so I don't know if they contain more action: some dialogue, maybe, or a tiny kitty car chase. But, really, they're mostly just sitting there in a pile. If you want to see more of it, loop the video and watch it over again a few times; it'll be just like a longer video in every significant way.

A disturbing thing about YouTube: my profile page says, in big bold letters, "You have no Friends." I really needed to hear that today.

Book of the Week: Founders At Work

I'm in the middle of reading Jessica Livingston's Founders At Work. It's a series of interviews the author conducted with the founders of successful tech startups: companies like PayPal, Hotmail, Apple, and Flickr. She asks good questions about the process of starting a company and growing it, and she gets interesting, thoughtful answers from the founders. The intro is written by Paul Graham, and can be found here; it's worth the read, all by itself. I'm technically oriented, though not a computer programmer, and I was immensely fascinated by some of the stories. I'm also impressed with what almost every startup has in common: what they eventually became known for is not what they set out to do. Also, there's less mystique than I was expecting. Without exception, these people who have been hailed as the best and brightest are, pretty much, just ordinary guys (though obviously smarter than average). Also, a lot of my familiarity with these companies has come from my experiences with them once they became well-known entities. I had no idea how much competition they had in their earlier days. Even though I don't have the skills to found a tech startup, I found the book oddly inspirational.

Like a lot of inspirational books, I think I'll find this book to be highly re-readable. I've got a library copy now, but I suspect I'll be buying a print copy when finances allow. It might be a while; I'm currently saving my book money for Scalzi's book signing in Kokomo on June 30. I might make it a birthday present to myself.

Russian composer

I'm working the Indianapolis Flute Choir's performance today. One of their pieces is a beautiful (though simple) etude by Moussorgsky, a Russian composer I was vaguely familiar with. Quite often, we only hear classical composers referred to by their last names. Today, for the first time, I heard the composer's first name. I found myself being unaccountably amused by the fact that I was listening to the works of Modest Moussorgsky. I had to think for a minute to connect why I found his name funny. Ahh, that's why. I wonder if there's a connection.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

More. Cats. Gaaah!

Two of our cats apparently went into simultaneous labor. I think the first one was born around quarter after eight this morning. I saw them in the side yard when I was leaving for work. Topper and Cooper were huddled together, and a few feet away was a kitten. I assumed at the time that they just had one kitten, but apparently that was just the first. Here's the whole pile, which I saw after work. I took two very short videos: one of the kittens nursing, one of the kittens by themselves. It's highly cute, and a little bothersome. We're approaching Critical Cat Mass in the neighborhood, and I don't think we can handle too many more cats.

Cooper and Topper chose the side yard as their birthing berth. They're still there with their kittens at the moment; this seems unwise. For one thing, we've got dogs in the neighborhood. Even the friendlier dogs aren't likely to react well to a pile of kittens. I suspect some of the other cats might not like it either. For another thing, it's supposed to rain tonight. I was considering grabbing the cats and putting them in the box in the garage, but I'm nervous about touching them. I suspect Cooper and Topper can move them when they feel the need. And, since they gave birth together, they might even get smart and have one do the guarding while the other does the moving.

So, anybody want a kitten? They're cute; I've got a few more pix (of fairly bad quality) up at my Flickr page....