Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween Deep Thought

This just occurred to me while walking around downtown today: we've crossed a line culturally where we can't be 100% sure if someone's wearing a costume. I walked by a young lady wearing spiderweb tights, combat boots, and a crushed-velvet dress, and I really couldn't tell if she was in costume, or if she usually dresses that way. And I passed an older woman wearing a bright-orange sweatshirt with jack-o' lantern markings. Her make-up was severe: harsh, high painted-on eyebrows, garish rouge and lipstick. And I couldn't tell if she was trying to match the jack-o' lantern face, or if she always did her makeup like that. A guy was dressed like early-80s Sid Vicious, and only the facial piercings marked it as a lifestyle choice, rather than Halloween fashion. Not counting the costume-shop employees (who weren't so much in costume as in uniform), I didn't pass by one person who was clearly, incontrovertibly in costume. Maybe half a dozen people were in the grey area, though....

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Watch me spel wurds rite

For the first time in 25 years, I participated in a spelling bee on Tuesday. It's sponsored by IndyReads, and it was a blast. We got to eat sub sandwiches and cookies while trying to remember how many n's are in "innocuous", while wearing goofy costumes. I had no intention of going, but Laura and Dance Kaleidoscope bought a table, and I was Laura's date. And I got conscripted for my superior English-Major Knowledge Of Words. Which is pretty funny, given that I couldn't remember how many n's are actually in "innocuous". But we did okay, and everyone had a blast, and Indy Reads raised both funds and awareness. Plus, Laura looks awfully cute in costume!

Cycling landmark: 1500 miles!

My bicycle computer just ticked over to 1500 miles on the ride home last night. That's 1500 miles since I changed the battery in late March/early April, and it only counts when I manually turn my bike computer on, which isn't all the time. And, the computer doesn't record when it's below 40 degrees or so. I'm guessing my actual mileage is well over 2000 miles. But, the official number is 1500, so I'm okay to stick with that. Cool!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

How to dress like Just Plain Folks

On the comedy side, I got a kick out of a recent report that the McCain/Palin campaign spent $150,000 on new clothes for Sarah Palin for the campaign trail. This includes $50k at Saks Fifth Avenue and another $75k at Neiman-Marcus. Yeah, she's just plain folks....

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Surprising police presence

I ran into a police officer friend downtown today. I don't usually see him in uniform downtown, so I asked him if he got reassigned to the downtown district. No, it turns out. They're doing special patrols for the FFA convention. Not for the FFA kids themselves; they might be the friendliest possible group of conventioneers any city has ever seen. They're patrolling for the con men and panhandlers who show up downtown to take advantage of the young, mostly-rural FFA members. The usual downtown residents and workers are immune to heart-rending sob stories, and we call the police about the actively aggressive panhandlers. But the bum crowd has figured out that they can bully money from the FFA kids pretty easily. So they're hanging around everywhere, telling their usual sad tales about "just needing a few bucks for a bus ticket home" or whatever, getting in people's faces, acting threatening, and taking some serious cash from the FFA students. Thankfully, IMPD's presence is calming it down a bit this year. Still, I'm seeing more of the panhandling-wino-American demographic than usual this week downtown.

As a group, I really do feel sympathy for the homeless. It's a diverse crowd, with some scary statistics (for example: the average age of a homeless person in Indiana is 9, according to a local homeless charity; the biggest demographic of homeless is the "homeless families" category). Unfortunately, homeless charities fight an uphill battle for recognition and awareness, because the face of their issue isn't one of the many homeless families or children. The face of their cause is the scary, violent, mean guy on the street corner, threatening passers-by and holding angry conversations with imaginary people. He's pitiable, but not sympathetic....

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

On Voting: The Undecided Voter

I'm a little fuzzy on the concept of the undecided voter. It's beyond my ability to picture someone who hasn't yet made up their mind about who they're voting for in the national races. This is an important election, and both candidates have been making their positions known for months now. The only way I can see someone not making up their mind is if they don't yet have adequate information. And, right now, the only way I can picture someone not having enough information about the candidates and their views is if they haven't bothered to find out. And anyone that apathetic probably isn't going to vote anyway, and the "undecided non-voter" demographic is utterly unimportant. So who are all of these undecided voters we keep hearing about?

Big and strong!

Two things:

First, I just found out I can deadlift 550#. Go, me!

Second, ouch. Advil now.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

I can't believe this is a real product...

The bicycle-mounted blender. So you can make smoothies while you ride. It's the universal model, which will attach to an exercise bike or a road bike. This seems a bit Bass-O-Matic to me, but it's apparently a real product for sale.

Related, the set of Doug Fleenor Design products built for comedy at trade shows. DMX is a lighting-control data standard, and Doug Fleenor made a bunch of DMX-activated widgets: the DMX shock collar, the DMX-activated under-console foot massager, the DMX-driven Etch-A-Sketch (the "DMX-a-Sketch"), and a DMX-switched coffee pot. This one was so popular, they started actually manufacturing them. Your lighting guy can now turn the coffee pot on via remote from the light board, so he'll have fresh-brewed coffee waiting for him when he goes on break. Personally, the one I wanted was the DMX under-desk foot massager. I've got extra money in my equipment budget this year; I wonder if I could justify one of these....

Bailout math

I found this graphical representation of the history of federal bailouts. I had never seen all these numbers together before. I did some easy math; from the founding of our country until this past February, the grand total of government bailouts (in today's dollars) was $347.2 billion, or $43.4 billion per bailout. In the last eight months, we've done another $1,096 billion in bailouts, for an average of $219.2 billion per bailout. And, these numbers are slightly skewed; if you factor out the whopper bailout from the savings-and-loan crashes in 1989, the pre-2008 average would only be $7.7 billion per bailout. Better, if you start counting with the Bear Stearns bailout in March, we've spent $137 billion a month on bailouts for the past eight months. This makes our spending in Iraq look cheap by comparison.

I'm fundamentally opposed to the bailouts, because they're fundamentally opposed to the whole concept of a free market. Freedom means freedom to fail, too. A relatively small number of people have made obscene amounts of money engaging in unwise financial shenanigans for the last few years, and thanks to President Bush's tax cuts, they've gotten to keep more of it than at any other time in history. So it's not unfair to expect these same people to eat their losses, since they enjoyed the fruits of their success.

And, I should mention that schadenfreude plays no part in my distaste for the bailout. Sure: speaking on behalf of the huge chunk of Americans with no money, I enjoy watching rich people take the occasional crotch shot. But I'm also painfully aware that the huge majority of the people who caused the current financial crisis aren't suffering. These people will never find themselves in a financial situation wherein their income drops as low as mine. Our government leaders who played their part in creating the crisis aren't losing their jobs, either; you'll notice they're the ones who are now in charge of fixing the problem. Those responsible managed to structure themselves such that they reaped most of the profits from their malfeasance, but the responsibility is spread among everyone who has a chunk of their 401k in the stock market. Now our government-funded bailouts are going to cost us all a trillion dollars, plus interest, and it's a fair bet that those responsible for the problem won't eat much of that debt. I'd like to see those who made the problem suffer from it, but I know it's not going to happen....

Saturday, October 18, 2008

These people can vote too.

Of the funny/scary: a contingent of scary Republicans are up in arms over Barack Obama at a recent campaign stop in Ohio, speaking in front of an Obama flag. It's a U.S. flag "warped with an Obama seal" -- claiming that he had the stars and stripes "painted over". They're not too bright -- the flag they're ranting about is the Ohio state flag. Check the link; it's simultaneously funny and scary.

It's easy to be loud, somewhat harder to be right.

Poorly marketing your EeePC

Laura and I just came from Target, where we spent too much money as usual. One thing we didn't buy: an Eee PC. They're now selling them at Target, and this is the first time I've seen one up close. But I really have no idea if I'd like one. I could look at them, but they screwed a plexiglas plate over the keyboard to, I don't know, keep people from spilling stuff on the non-functioning demo model or something. The two apparent problems with subnotebooks are the small displays and the small keyboards. By not letting people try the keyboard, they're probably hurting their sales quite a bit. We've temporarily got extra cash (our government rebate checks came Friday!), and I might have bought one if I liked it and thought I could type comfortably on it. But they went out of their way to render their non-functioning demo models an non-functional as possible, so I really have no idea if I can use the keyboard or not.

Any thoughts on subnotebooks? I keep looking at them, and I'd like something small and portable to write on. But I'm not sure how functional they are. For me, they tend towards the "nice toy I'll never actually buy" category. But I'd really like to try one out, and fast -- before we spend our tax rebate check on something silly like bills.

Dance Kaleidoscope: must see

I caught Dance Kaleidoscope's new show, Musica Latina, at the IRT last night. I'm highly recommending it. It's the first show in a while I'm going to see twice. The first piece is one I had seen before, but had somehow forgotten about. I'm not sure how I forgot; it's got some unforgettable moments in it. And the last piece, the "fire" section of DK's Four Elements show, is just a lot of fun to watch. If you're free and in Indy tonight or tomorrow, catch some good dancing downtown!

And, I don't want you to think I'm biased towards the show, just because my wife lit it. I'm plenty happy to slam a show if I don't like it. I just really liked this piece, and I think you should see it. Yes, you there -- you! See this show!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Cheap playlist trick

My iPod is packed with music and audiobooks. All the music is good, and sometimes it's nice to just hit the "random" button and see what I get. Problem is, I'm about 40% likely to get a podcast segment, an audiobook chapter, or some stand-up comedy. And I just figured out a way to get random music when I want it, but not worry about getting random spoken words. It's a simple trick: I made a playlist called "random", to which I copy all the contents of my other music playlists. When I want a random selection, I select that playlist and shuffle songs. Quick, easy, and a little embarrassing I didn't think of it sooner....

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

And, reducing your taxes

I just mentioned that anyone who uses any of the above campaign ads is trying to manipulate you to get your vote. This even applies to the "reduce your taxes" ad. This especially applies to the "reduce your taxes" ad, really. You elect people to handle the business of government, and that requires money. Anyone who tells you they can address the growing number of important issues (especially the national debt) while simultaneously telling you they can do it for less money is full of crap; they're just saying what they think you want to hear, so they can get your vote, land in office, and do what they think needs to be done. So don't vote for anyone based on how much money they promise to save you. Vote based on the "what they think needs to be done" part, because nobody will be able to reduce your taxes. We've got more debt as a nation than we can possibly pay off in my lifetime, and nobody's got a plan for dealing with this. Everyone's promising to do more with government for less money, and this just can't happen. So instead, focus on the other issues. Because this one is a dead end, existing only for campaign promises.

Actually, I've got a solution for the national debt. Facts: first, we've heard a lot in the news about how much of our debt is held by foreign governments that aren't necessarily friendly to us. Second, we've got a President who's proven over and over that he couldn't care less what the international community thinks of us. Third, said President is itching for a real legacy to leave behind; Iraq, Afghanistan, Gitmo, and the Patriot Act aren't going to win him many kudos in the history books. So, hey George W.: nationalize all of our foreign debt! Just write a nice letter saying, "sorry, China. I know we supposedly owe you three trillion dollars, but we're just not ever going to pay it. Deal with it." And, the best part is, George could do this. It's an "only Nixon could go to China" thing; only George could credibly send the rest of the world a big "screw you!", because he's been doing it for years anyway. Seriously-- this could work!

Our campaign platform: desperation!

I've caught a few political ads on television. Most of them, fair or not, are at least vaguely issue-oriented. An example: one of the popular local issues this year is a proposal to put a property tax cap into the state constitution. There are reasons why this is a bad idea, and reasons why it's a good idea. But the pro-cap side of the issue is easier to sound-bite, so we've seen a lot of attack ads that condense to, "my opponent is opposed to the property tax cap. Do you want to pay more taxes? If not, then vote for me!" These may not be fair; the reasons to oppose the tax cap are difficult to sound-bite. But it's at least a real issue on which reasonable people disagree.

Contrast this to an ad I've seen a few times for Linda Pence (in fact, the only Pence ad I've seen), a candidate for state attorney general. The entire ad is about how the candidate is opposed to child sexual predators. I haven't done any research, but I doubt her opponent is running on a pro-molester platform; I suspect these ads mean that the candidate's got no issues to run on and no actual platform to discuss, and she's a little desperate to get her name heard, and this is the best she could come up with.

I like the idea of picking a sure-fire issue for an ad. There's psychological value to tying your name to an issue people support. And it might be all it takes, in a race nobody's paying any attention to. If somebody standing in front of a voting machine is trying to remember things about the candidates, "I'm Linda Pence, and I want to put child molesters behind bars" isn't a bad mental tag to stick people with.

In this spirit, I've got a few other universal positions for Linda Pence to build ads around:
  • I'm Linda Pence, and I think corruption is bad!
  • Vote for Linda Pence, and she'll reduce your taxes!
  • Linda Pence for Attorney General. Because convicted murderers shouldn't be school guidance counselors.
  • Vote Linda Pence. Because everyone deserves good jobs at good wages.
  • Linda Pence. Integrity, service, honor.
Any time you see a candidate making any of the above claims in an ad, or any other claim that doesn't really have an opposing side, you should be aware that they're trying to manipulate you into voting for them in the absence of facts or plans....

Sunday, October 12, 2008

My Wife Rocks, reason #332,015

Actual conversation this morning, while I was cooking breakfast in the kitchen and Laura was reading the paper at the table:

Jeff: I'm adding cheese, salt, and pepper to the eggs; want anything else?
Laura: Maybe some thyme.
J: Hmm. I can never find the thyme.
L: Thyme is on your side, on the spice rack by the coffee maker.
J: Uh, the jars are unlabeled.
L: It's on the top shelf -- you know, it's high thyme.
J: In the spice grinder?
L: No, then the grinder would be a thyme machine. It's in the skinny ceramic jars.
J: Wow, both jars are full. It looks like we've got spare thyme.
L: It's from the herb garden; if you can't find thyme, you've got to make thyme.
J: So, it was free thyme?
L: But I planted too much, so it's overthyme.
J: ... Okay, we've got to stop this now.
L: Spoilsport.

Speed muffins

I posted my favorite muffin recipe last year. As much as I like the muffins, they take a little too long to make in a hurry. Not least is the fact that you've got to start with softened butter, which takes some time and doesn't really work in a microwave. They cross the line from "quick snack" to "baking project". After some experimentation, I've got the recipe down to an hour, from the time you decide you'd like some muffins to the time you're eating them. I've also cut the recipe in half, which is a more convenient size for a quick snack or breakfast. They're almost as good as the old recipe, and at least an hour quicker. And you can use a single-serving vanilla yogurt, instead of having to buy a quart of plain yogurt.

Improvised Combat-Expedient Blueberry Speed Muffins

5 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1 egg
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup plain or vanilla yogurt
1 cup fresh blueberries

Preheat oven to 375. Grease muffin pan. Beat together egg and melted butter. Combine dry ingredients; add to egg/butter mixture, mix well. Add yogurt, mix until smooth. Toss blueberries with a tablespoon of flour to coat; stir into batter. Divide batter between six or seven muffin cups (depending on how big you like your muffins). Bake 27-35 minutes; test for doneness with toothpick, or when the edges start browning. Let them cool 5 minutes before you try to take them out of the pan, or they'll crumble.

Check the old recipe linked above for variations, but remember this recipe is halved; you'll need to halve the add-ons too.

Enjoy!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Dvorak: one year of typing weird

As of today, it's been one year since I started using a Dvorak keyboard. It feels completely natural, and it's really a lot easier than typing on a standard keyboard. And the wrist pain that prompted the switch? Gone, totally. My wrist issues were bad for a while; I had even done research into surgical options. Switching to Dvorak has less down time (assuming it takes three weeks to get back to typing relatively quickly and error free) and much less trauma than the surgery. An hour of Typing Tutor every night for three weeks, and that was pretty much all it took. Another month to get back to my usual typing speed, and all was well.

Dvorak has also improved my typing speed. Shortly before I switched, I had occasion to find out exactly how fast I typed on a standard keyboard; I typed in an entire play script, so I could reformat it into something we could easily make notes on. I averaged around sixty words a minute on the long haul. And, I recently did a similar project transcribing a speech. I played it back at slow speed and typed in the entire speech in one stretch. I averaged almost seventy words per minute on the rough draft. Not bad, especially given that my previous speed came after twenty years of touch typing. And, did I mention the pain-free?

In retrospect, switching has been completely worth the trouble of the transition, and even worth the low-grade problems I have with my inability to use a standard keyboard. A lot of hardware is qwerty-based, and isn't switchable to Dvorak; the video titler at work and the external keyboard I plug into my lighting console are both standard, and I've had a few other occasional hardware issues. One of my two Palm Pilot keyboards is qwerty-only, and a lot of phone hardware isn't Dvorak-switchable. I've never been able to touch-type reg keys for software, so unless I'm at my work computer (the only keyboard I have on which I actually switched the keycaps) I need to revert back to qwerty to hunt-and-peck the passwords. And, when I sit down at a stranger's keyboard, I revert to two-finger typing, and I feel a little silly. But not as silly as I'd feel having to put on wrist splints to type.

Another oddity of the wrist pain: it comes back a bit if I spend enough time playing video games. I had a game binge last week, when I had some free time but not nearly enough mental energy to write, and after a few hours of Raven Shield and Unreal Tournament, I was feeling a bit twingey in both wrists. I'm really not considering this a bad thing; it's extra incentive to write instead of loafing by gaming.

Now that I'm a year in and completely at home with Dvorak, I briefly considered becoming bi-keyboardal (di-keyboardic? Polytypic?) and re-learning a standard keyboard. But I really don't see the need. I'm getting by fine now as a fully Dvorak typist. If I ever need to do a significant amount of typing on an unfamiliar keyboard, I can always change the keyboard layout temporarily. I've had to do this enough, I've gotten it down to a science. The catch (naturally) comes from Microsoft. On a Mac, you change the keyboard layout globally; on a PC, you need to change it for every application, and even occasionally for different text fields in the same application. This can be a problem not just for me, but for the next person to sit down at the computer, if I forget to change it all back. If I start typing Dvorak I'll immediately recognize if the keyboard is qwerty, but if a normal typist starts typing and getting strange characters, they experience Extreme Cognitive Dissonance....

Thursday, October 09, 2008

More long hours

While this week at work isn't as bad as the week before, it's still pretty time-intensive. We're finally replacing the broken glass in the Artsgarden, and it's taking a lot longer than expected. The original plan was to replace all three windows on Monday, but we figured out pretty quickly that it would take a day per window. Our contractor did the first window Monday morning and afternoon, and in the evening we had an event. Tuesday they replaced another window, we had a performance, and we also had a dinner. Wednesday, an all-day event. Today, the last window and a performance. Busy times. Tomorrow's schedule, just a performance, will practically seem like a day off. It'll be nice to be able to spend some time at my desk; I went two days without even checking e-mail this week....

I'm also picking up a pair of twelve-hour days on Sunday and Monday at the Indiana Repertory Theatre, under my principle of turning down no paid work. I'm recently feeling the crush of too much time working and not enough time to write, but I don't get that many calls for side jobs, so I'm taking the IRT gig. The Monday call is Dance Kaleidoscope's load-in, which means I'll be working with Laura. Or, at least in the same building as Laura. It's always fun doing a gig with my Cute Blonde Wife around; that's how we met, with me on a Genie lift focusing lights, and her walking around on stage directing me. So it's nice reliving a bit of those days by working together in a theater.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Heroes and Villains

I've been noticing that all stories we tell in English involve a Good Guy and a Bad Guy. Even anecdotes we tell about getting cut off in traffic have a hero and a villain. This bit of narrative convention is so ingrained into the way we perceive the world that we don't even notice it. We really can't conceive of a story with no Good Guy. We see books in which we debate which character was the actual hero. But buried in that question is the assumption that there has to be a hero. We even see movies in which nobody is truly heroic; Reservoir Dogs comes immediately to mind. But we've still got a protagonist, even if he's not a good guy. We've all heard that there are only four (or seven or thirty-six or twelve or some other positive integer) basic plots for stories. Many of these describe the setbacks which our hero faces: revenge, sacrifice, love thwarted. The remainder follow some kind of "versus" structure: man vs. nature, conflict with God, et cetera. They all work under the common unspoken assumption that the story has a hero in the first place.

Even more invisible is that we conceive of the world in terms of story. Every time we see conflict, we impose story structure on it. We're so stuck on the narrative convention of protagonist/antagonist, we impose it on every story we see, even where it doesn't apply. Picture this scene: a dog, chasing a cat, through a park, at twilight. Do you catch yourself assuming the dog's the villain (narrative convention: agressor=villain)? Or do you see a narrative in which the cat's the villain (narrative convention: hero=pursuer)? The scene is simple, a dog chasing a cat. Yet we instinctively impose the hero/villain dichotomy on the scene. Now, change the scene. Picture a pack of dogs chasing the cat. Does this shift or strengthen the perception of who's the hero (narrative convention: underdog=hero)? When the cat darts through a small hole in a fence and leaves his pursuers behind, our perception can shift again (narrative conventions: either the one that got away, or hero always escapes). Our prejudices can also determine who we perceive as the hero; are you a cat person, or a dog person? But in the end, it's just dogs chasing a cat. There's no inherent good guy or bad guy, just a moment of action. The story structure and narrative convention of hero/villain is something we impose on the action.

------------

This line of reasoning was inspired by an odd source: this lightsaber duel on YouTube. It's got no story, no antagonist, no protagonist. There are two characters, we meet them at the same time, and they fight, period. They both fight dirty at times, they're evenly matched, they seem equally surly. And yet everyone to whom I've shown this video refers to one combatant or the other as the good guy. And it's on pretty slim grounds, since there's really nothing substantive on which to base the judgment: some people think the guy in black is the bad guy, others think the guy with the goatee is the bad guy, still others think the guy with the glasses is the good guy. These are all pretty thin (but popular) characterization devices, but people can't just watch it as a fight. There has to be narrative structure, which means a hero. As in any fight with lethal weapons, it's a fight to the death. But by the time the fight ends, everyone has already made up their mind about who they see as the hero. And their prejudgment is universally stronger than the story convention that says The Good Guy Lives. Nobody has yet changed their minds after seeing who wins the fight; people will more willingly believe that the good guy dies at the end, than believe that they were wrong about who was the good guy....

Monday, October 06, 2008

The Luddite Weekend

Without doing it on purpose, I just had a Luddite Weekend. From the time I left work Friday until just a few minutes ago, I've had no internet access: no blogs, no webcomics, no Gmail. I'd like to say I spent the time being amazingly productive, getting stuff done around the house and around the yard, but nope -- didn't happen. I wasn't exactly slothful; Laura and I had a date on Saturday, and I spent Sunday with Laura at Wabash College where she's lighting a production of Nikolai Gogol's The Government Inspector. But I was never anywhere with a computer, internet access, and free time. I occasionally had two of the three, but never all three at once, so my weekend was completely computerless. And, this is the first chance I've had today to sit down at a computer. I spent twelve hours at work, but I spent all of it doing actual work of the moving things and running shows variety, and none of it answering e-mail and checking voice mail.

The date was great, by the way. We had dinner at Some Guys Pizza; they serve lasagna the first weekend of every month, and it's probably the best lasagna you can buy at a restaurant. Unless we've got some serious reason why we can't, we try to hit Some Guys for lasagna weekend every month. And, the show: Phoenix Theatre's production of David Mamet's November. It was a good production, and Chuck Goad was excellent as the President. It's an oddly political play. That is, I suspect that it mimics the political views of the viewer; I thought it was making fun of George a bit, but I could see a hardcore conservative thinking it was mocking Clinton. The run's been extended a week, so check it out if you get a chance.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Imitating Apple. And, TouchSmart!

I've been impressed with Apple's design sense; they create innovative products that are intuitively easy to use and aesthetically pleasing. And I've recently noticed another sign of innovative design: pale imitators. I just got a Dell catalog in the mail, and it contains a PC-based copy of a Mac Mini (the Studio Hybrid) and an iMac (the XPS One). Sony's got similar products, and I'm sure there are more I haven't seen. The funny thing is, these are all pale imitations; none are in any way superior to the Apple products from which they borrowed their design, other than the imitators come in more colors and have built-in media readers (a feature I'm still surprised that Apple omits).

Actually, I've seen one product that's an actual improvement over the Mac that influenced its design: the HP TouchSmart. It's got a major innovation: a touch screen! Cool! It's also got comparable price points to the iMac models, with bigger screens (iMacs are 20" and 24"; the TouchSmart screen is 22", with a 25.5" model available for pre-order). Based on the demo, it hardly looks like a Microsoft interface; it looks practical and fun and easy to learn, and Microsoft OSs tends to be none of the above. I'm honestly surprised to see clever designs from HP, but this looks like a fun toy. If I were designing the Home Of The Future, I'd put something like this on the wall in every room.

The Palin Scare

I've gotta say, I'm simultaneously a bit surprised by the amount of press and attention Sarah Palin's getting, and surprised she's not getting more. On the one hand, she's just the vice-presidential nomination; the election is between the candidates, not their sidekicks. On the other hand, I'm just assuming here that John McCain (the three-time cancer survivor) won't be alive in four years, whether or not he wins the election. We've never had a candidate in my memory who was less likely to survive his term in office. Palin's probably going to be president if the Republicans win the White House. So why aren't people more scared about her? I suspect, whatever your political leanings, the index cards at last night's debate might be a cause for alarm. It wasn't a debate on Palin's part; it was a talking-points-and-anecdotes speech, broken into 90-second chunks.

I've heard commentators today pointing (proudly or begrudgingly, depending on the commentor's leanings) to the fact that she sounded much more polished than they expected. This is surprising? She wasn't spontaneously responding to questions. She essentially started the "debate" by proclaiming that she wasn't planning on answering questions, as much as telling people what she thought they needed to hear. This translates directly as "sticking to well-rehearsed talking points, regardless of the question asked". And it's hard to not sound polished when you're using notes to stick to a rehearsed script; it's a mark of minimal competency, not mastery or expertise. I'm also noticing that the mental performance-review check-box people are marking for her performance is the "exceeds expectations" box. And the expectations were universally low, even among Republicans. This should be a cause for alarm, too: the fact that even her supporters were somewhat expecting a face-plant on her part....

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Good evil food!

I made a new cheap-lunch discovery today: Kraft makes microwaveable macaroni products! How did I not know about Easy Mac before now? On the minus side, it's high in sodium and comes in non-recyclable packaging. On the plus side, it cooks in four easy minutes and requires only a little water and a spoon. Also, it tastes exactly like the stovetop Kraft mac-n-cheese; I'll let you decide if that belongs in the plus or minus category. I found them on sale for a dollar each at the grocery; for a buck, it's not a bad lunch....

Overly Chilly

This morning was the first (but probably not the last) time this year that I was seriously underdressed for the bike ride to work. My threshold for turning the bike around, going back home, and adding layers is dependent on how late I'm running; this morning I was late enough that I was only a block away when I realized it was too cold for my thermal shirt and sweats, but I kept going. I didn't realize until I got to work that the temperature was 48 degrees. Add windchill (I bike fast), and it's close to frostbite temperature. Tomorrow I'm bundling up.

We're at that odd time of the year when it's significantly warmer on my ride to work than on my ride home. So unless I carry extra cycling clothes in addition to my work clothes, I can't be appropriately dressed for both halves of the commute. I'd rather be uncomfortably warm or cool one way than carry the extra baggage. It doesn't help that I'm improvising my outfits; I feel a bit of unhealthy envy when I see cycle commuters pedaling around in sleek, expensive cold-weather clothes that actually keep them warm and dry and happy. I end up going with the layering method, working under the assumption that a large-enough quantity of cheap, inappropriate clothing will functionally equal a small quantity of expensive clothing. It kept me warm enough last winter, though it's less fun than actually having the right tools for the job.

Cycling in the winter is less fun all around than cycling in the summer. In the summer, cycling everywhere makes me feel fit, healthy, active, environmentally aware. Winter cycling in my moderately tacky layers of heavy clothing makes me feel more like a clod who can't afford a car....