Sunday, February 28, 2010

Women and Cigarettes

The Wife asked me last night, did I think there would be any harm in her taking up cigarettes? It would be a 1950s fashion statement as well as a means to help lose weight.

I would love it if she did. I love the smell of secondhand smoke, the ritual of filling and emptying ashtrays, the sense of relaxation and comfort which we've lost in an age of smoking bans. I love the smell of tobacco on a woman's breath, hinting of earth and experience and daring. It's not enough to turn me on to any old floozy at the bar, but the smell of tobacco smoke on a woman makes me perk up my nose and turn my head and follow like Peppy Le Pew on the trail of a civet cat.

So, no, I didn't think there'd be that much harm. Folks who start smoking in their teens tend to develop lung cancer well into their sixties. That means it takes the disease over forty years to get started, if it's going to get started, and then another decade or so to finish you off. "I think if you started smoking in earnest now," I told her, "It might kill you when you're 100 years old."

The real reason she probably won't begin smoking in any significant way is the cost. The taxes on tobacco at this point are astronomical and criminal; the only justification for them would be a fully funded state provided health care system. Unless the state is picking up the tab for my consequences, I don't see how it has the right to collect a fee on my vices.

It seems to me the dishonest cigarette companies ruined smoking for everyone. They committed so many crimes: pumping additives into cigarettes to make smokers crave them all the time, insisting that there were absolutely no risks to smoking at all, and marketing to folks who really were too young to make an informed decision about smoking. They could have been content to sell a moderate quantity of cigarettes to a nation of moderate smokers, honestly explaining that the use of their product carried some risks but that, just as drinking and lovemaking carry significant risks, the pleasures to be had in their moderate and thoughtful indulgence lead many to conclude that those risks are acceptable.

Instead, they out-and-out claimed that smoking was perfectly healthy. They kept this up in the face of so much evidence to the contrary, and made such asses of themselves, that tobacco became the one target that any politician could go after if he wanted to boost his own image. You might not know anything about your candidate, but by golly, if they're against big tobacco, they can't be all bad, now can they?

So now you can't smoke a cigar in a restaurant, or unwind at a bar with a cigar and a cocktail. So now instead of growing up with a generation of elegant, relaxed smoking dames, I get to watch a bunch of wound-up hussies twirling gum around their fingers and chewing like cattle. So now the taxes are such that you can't get a pack of smokes for under $8.00, cigars are out of reach for many, and pipe tobacco will soon be as expensive to obtain as marijuana.

The world really needs to relax and have a nice smoke. Light up a cigar on your morning commute and see just how much road rage you can muster up at the fellow who cuts you off. Stand outside with your fellow exiles during a lunch break and swap gossip and news. (It's been shown that smokers advance more quickly in firms and corporations due to the networking they do during their smoke-breaks.) Clean, pack, and light a pipe before you begin that argument with your spouse and see if you don't spend a little more time listening to each other and less time arguing.

Anyway, I'm all for this new development. I think it'll increase our domestic happiness and make the house feel even more like a comfortable home. I just hope she won't have to take up a part time job to support even the moderate use of cigarettes.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Is Happiness the Death of Word Count?

As The Wife gets happier she finds she has more to say. Bully for fans of her blog and website, who get to hear about all the great dinners she's making and the pretty clothes she's sewing. Bully for me too, since I get to eat the food and look at the loveliness.

But I find that as I get happier, I have less to say. Perhaps I've just grown up as too much of a whiner, and as I run out of things to complain about, I fall into silence. Instead of writing anything, I eat my supper and practice the piano.

Is this a male versus female dynamic? Women are happy to chatter along when everything is running smoothly, comfortable to gossip and find ways to make them run even more smoothly, with the men more likely to settle down with a cigar and call enough, enough?

So much of writing is complaining, when you think about it. Fiction writing is driven by conflict, and all conflict starts with a complaint of some kind. Historic writing examines problems, injustices, and the sacrifices people made fighting them. Even science writing is a story of battle against the unknown, and the frustration of misunderstanding.

If it weren't for dwelling on the negative, I don't suppose written culture would amount to much more than volumes and volumes of "Five O'clock and All's Well!"

Too bad for me, as I find it harder and harder to get worked up about things. On the down side, I don't get a hell of a lot of words down. On the upside, well, there's the whole happiness thing.

How about the lot of you readers? Do you find yourselves more prolific in an up or a down spirit?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The License of Everyday Objects

It's amazing how we can extract money from people, keep them working beyond the point where previous generations would just give up, go home and toss the ball around with the kid.  "It's not so bad.  You've got a credit card.  Go charge that flat screen TV and that Playstation.  It's something to take your mind off the dehumanizing box stores you spend 80 hours a week in." 

Then we escape for hundreds of hours every month into World of Warcraft.  At $15 a month, that's a bargain! 

Why are we shopping at Wal-Mart for our toys when we could be checking out books at the library, taking walks with our children, teaching each other how to cook?  You don't need a Playstation to decode a book for you, nor a flat screen TV to display it on.  The brain is enough, provided it's been properly grown and seasoned. 

And the toys we pay for--we don't even have the satisfaction of "owning" them.  They are licensed vehicles for providing us with licensed content.  Don't want to click "accept" on that EULA?  Well then you've just gone and wasted a couple hundred dollars on that PC, haven't you?  (God help you if you financed it and agreed to pay interest on the thing.)  These devices connect us up, collect our data, process it for re-cycling and then sell it to marketers who use the very same toys to sell us more toys.  It's dazzling!  It's brilliant!  It's a freak-show!

There's been a lot of talk about the information economy over the past twenty years, but unfortunately it's all a lie.  I say unfortunately because we've bet so much of our country's future on this information economy. 

We used to be a rich country, the sort of country that imported raw materials and exported finished products.  Now we've decided to let China do the making, lowering tariffs and trade barriers so we can get our DVD players and digital cameras for next to nothing, from a land where child labor comes cheap. 

All we wanted in exchange was for them to buy our culture.  We were tired of making things.  (All that sweat and talent and expensive grown up labor.)  Better to make music and movies.  Spread our message of democracy and high-octane pulse-pounding action to the world!  DVDs are so easy to make, any kid with a computer can do it.  So we asked China to protect our intellectual property.  "Please China, you're so big and handsome.  We'll buy all your stuff from you.  You buy all our movies from us.  Just promise us you won't let your peasants make bootleg copies and sell them on the sidewalk, OK?  Because that would mean we've lowered our trade barriers for nothing.  Ok?  Promise?"

The lie of the information economy is that people pay for content.  Most of us pay for form.  We pay for the heft and the smell and the texture of the leather bound book.  We pay for the newspaper to carry and rattle around on the subway.  We'll pay for the CD with the shiny case and the liner notes. 

And we'll pay for us an mp3 player or an e-reader too, because it's shiny and new and something to hold in our hands and show off to our friends.  But for the books and music that they stack, thousands upon thousands, within their circuits?  Are you kidding me?  We'd never be able to load our Amazon Kindles up with 1500 books if we had to pay for them all!

Then we look around our homes and wonder: What the hell do we need all that old stuff for?  A shelf full of CDs, scratched and dingy with age.  What a menace!  Newspaper - an ecological disaster!  Shelves and shelves of books - if I ever have to move house again the next tenant can have them all.  My back hurts.  Honestly, the producers of all this stuff should be paying me for storing it here for so long!

So now it's all about the license, with these companies.  They've panicked.  All this content, it's just digital information now, and they've realized that the information economy is a lie.  Information is just ones and zeroes, and the world's full of cheap computers that do nothing better than duplicating ones and zeroes.  They want to give form to their content again, but we've decided we're finished with stuff.  So they have nothing to sell.

So they make you click "I Accept" before using a piece of software.  As if paying for it wasn't enough?  And did you read that agreement before you clicked?  Because we're all criminals now.  That song you listened to over a streaming music service?  Your computer had to download it and copy it several times before it could ever transmit the signal to your speakers.  And yet if you downloaded it over bittorrent instead, the RIAA could fine you $22,500 for that same song, and call you a thief!  They claim this is to protect their artists.  But music is so terrifying now I'm not sure I'll ever listen to another song.

I love things that exist in and of themselves.  I'll pay nothing to watch Evgeny Kissen play Prokofiev on Youtube, but I'd pay $100 a ticket to have him strike the keys of a piano in the same room as me.  Speaking of which, I paid a great deal for my piano, but if someone offered to sell me the blueprints to it I would probably turn them down. 

Once you start thinking in terms of license agreements, it's amazing how rich and wonderful the physical world starts to feel in comparison.  Spend a day in World of Warcraft (I have not done this in quite some time) and consider that every hut, stone, and tree is some corporation's intellectual property.  The entire world waits to be revoked at the whim of a patent attorney. 

Ah, but my typewriter, my piano, my library, my bottle of scotch.  If anyone comes for those I have at least the dignity of a chance to fight them off with my gun and my bullets.  (Confession: I have no gun or bullets.)  And I can use them on my own terms, at my own pace, until they're all worn out and used up.

The existence of physical things form their own agreements.  That's why you don't have to click or sign before you use them.  You have the rights to read that leather bound book, or lend it, or sell it, or use it as a booster seat for your kid, for as long as it holds together.  After that you can take the loose pages and heat your house with them, or stuff them into the walls for insulation, for all the author and publisher care.  The laws of decay and entropy enforce their own license.

And when we pay for them, for the most part, we know just what we're getting. 

Monday, February 22, 2010

Short Walk Through Long History

Pulled ourselves away from the computers and went for a walk down town.  Parked near the library, walked past shops and churches, through a residential neighborhood, down past the grist mill.  Walked around the town hall, which is under construction/renovation.  Circumnavigated the old cemetery, and marvelled at the hand-carved tombstones from the 1700s.  Many of them are illegible now, and some have subsided so that the turf covers the last line or two of inscription.  Some sort of preservation project must be going on.  There's little blue fragments of painters' tape with numbers marking many of the stones.  Is it more respectful to replace them or let them crumble, I wonder?  Interesting to consider that even our tombstones don't last that long, in the big scheme of things. 

So we may not be around long, but at least in this town we can walk around a lot of neat old things within a mile and a half.
Picked up a free Schwinn bicycle on the side of the road.  Looks like it just needs some lubrication and a couple of inner tubes.  Talked The Wife out of a second bike, a ten speed, which was going to need new gearshift cables and brake pads.  It was free as well, but we'll let someone else have that project. 
Now I'm ready for a nap.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Daniel Suarez Provides Fun Reading About The Techpocalypse

If you want a doomsday scenario highlighting everything that's wrong with this decade and how it could get worse, you really can't have any more fun than with Daniel Suarez's Daemon.  It's got the whole generation-gap thing going for it; the disconnect between the folks who grew up with online role playing games and the folks who played Pong or didn't play anything at all; the fusion between virtual worlds and real; the emergent properties and behaviors of distributed networks; the implications of distributed computing as it leads to distributed manufacture and distributed murder.  

A wealthy computer game programmer, dying of cancer, writes software that is activated by the news of his death.  The software goes out into the internet, establishes corporations, infects the computer networks of other corporations to levy extortion, recruits disaffected computer gamers and prison inmates, and then establishes a world-wide "darknet" to exert control over just about everything.  A lot of good folks try to stop it and a lot of those good folks die, but a lot of bad folks try to stop it too, and by the end it's not so clear who the bad guys are.

This is definitely gee-whiz boy book stuff.  There were parts near the beginning where the snob in me didn't want to go on, but the rest of me was having too much fun, so I ignored it.  There's wild car wrecks and ridiculous violence and stuff that seems laughably absurd because it's just a little plausable.  The book reads like Science Fiction, but then creeps you out as you realize that all the technology in the book exists right now. 

The sequel, Freedom (TM), gets even better.  (I like the ironic (TM).)  It's got the relentless pace of the first novel but it touches on some pretty "big idea" territory without slowing down.  Don't want to give away too much, but we might want to reconsider our reliance on private milatary contractors, data mining, and corn. 

Yes, corn.  It's time to take the corn down a peg. 

This may seem an odd choice of book for a such a retro community.  But trust me, if you have enough fun with it to read into the sequel, you might be pleasantly surprised about the sort of community that emerges, after all.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Missing William Buckley

I used to be a Republican.  I guess at heart I'm still a conservative, but somewhere along the way they moved my party.  I got to vote for Dole, at least, and McCain in that primary, back before the "Straight Talk Express" morphed itself into some sort of shambling, bitter death-march.

Seriously, what happened to you guys?  Republicans used to be smart.  Look at William Buckley.

Novelist, editor, columnist, publisher, sailor, and snappy dresser.  I could talk to this guy all day, given the opportunity.  Would I agree with everything he said?  Of course not!  But we could have a wonderful conversation and look good doing it.  I certainly wouldn't be embarrassed to be seen with him in public.

R.I.P., alas, so it goes.

Who do we have to explain the finer points of conservative politics and world affairs from the right side of the spectrum today?
A doughboy and a clown, who shouts over anyone who disagrees with him (when he can't just hang up) and who uses snark, insult, and derision to build ideological walls around his party while appealing to the base prejudice and smug ignorance of his audience.  

I dunno, maybe you like the guy?  If so, how about sharing something in the comments that he's said that you find particularly truthful, virtuous, or inspiring.  

Here's something Buckley said about the neoconservatives: "I think those I know, which is most of them, are bright, informed and idealistic, but that they simply overrate the reach of U.S. power and influence." 
That seems charitable and fair to me.  I wonder what he'd think if he turned on Fox News today?  Or picked up a new copy of his once-intellectual National Review

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Happy Valentine's Day to a very special lady and her little dog too.


I won't argue that it makes sense for everyone to get married young.  Ladies, I've known a few young men and most of those guys are bastards.  

But, if you are lucky enough to find the right one and you do marry young--well, that just leaves lots of time for getting old together.  And that's lovely.


I seek out silences.  I flatter myself that I am the last of my generation who can tolerate them.  I may blog, but I will never tweet.  I rarely receive email.  My cell phone almost never rings--to the point that I am sometimes in trouble at work for forgetting to switch it off when the exception occurs. 

I love music, but I listen to very little.  Driving in silence gives my mind room to wander over spaces it might not otherwise find.  I listen to music in two very distinct ways: with full attention, giving it all the respect it deserves; or with complete disregard, using it as its own kind of silence, masking some more distracting noise, like a conversation at the next table, or a television rattling away.

There are times for the iPods and earbuds.  Riding the subway listening to Phillip Glass, for example, or listening to Bach while you navigate Beacon Hill on foot.  Airplane rides.  Board meetings, perhaps, after the first hour.  At the gym, if you're unfortunate enough to be paying for your exercise.  But I'll never understand the kids who need tunes the second they punch out for a lunch break.  I need some peace and quiet to sit and enjoy my lunch, and perhaps have a conversation with the people around me.

Maybe that's just because I usually have a better lunch packed than they do.

This is all long way round to saying I found a lovely silence this afternoon.  There's a couple inches of crusty snow left from the storm earlier this week, but it's been plowed away from the trail along the canal, leaving pure uninterrupted blanket along each side, even down the rocks to the high-tide line.  Snow is plastered on the north side of every tree and power pole, and clings in intermittent chunks to the power-lines.  The sky is a constant silver gray to match the soft pewter of the water.  A single duck floats along the surface at a magical pace, it's motion the only indication of the violent current beneath the surface.  You can feel the threat of ice in the air, but it's an idle threat, no wind behind it, clear and cold enough to make you thankful for your scarf and gloves.  The traffic on the bridge blends into a steady rumble, a sort of whistle to match the wind the world never knew until 100 years ago.  Louder is the coast guard vessel that comes along, labouring steadily against the current, not quite cutting through the waters but agitating them nonetheless, laborously heaving gentle swells out in its wake. 

I wonder--every time a wave reflects against a surface it is much diminished but still there.  The wake strikes the rocks and heads back to the other side.  Before they make it all the way they are too small to see, lost in the swirl of the current and the silent swell of the tide.  Water is quick to erase evidence of passage, much quicker than the snow that still holds the footprints I made on the way here.  But really, can the waters ever be the same as before that boat laboured through, or that duck?  Boats passed here on cold evenings in 1956, evenings that no doubt held silences very similar to this one, and though their passage is long forgotten, the world was forever changed with every one.

There's really no soundtrack that can improve a walk like this, though the jogger chuffing past with the blue spandex and the clip-on eyepod seems to disagree.

Let him have it, then, because this one is all mine

Saturday, February 13, 2010

British Baby Boomer Hand Wringing

Frances Beckett's article over at the New Statesman has an interesting take on the damage the Baby Boomers have done to Britain.  The fact that it's written by a baby boomer lends it a bit more weight (I would submit) although I certainly don't expect all the readers of my humble blog or The Wife's website to agree with it all.

Still, as an American who has watched many of the benefits my mother has enjoyed eroding just as I came of an age to appreciate them, it's interesting to get some perspective on how things are going down on the other side of the pond, where the Atlee government took the Beveridge Report to heart and set about eliminating want, ignorance, disease, squalor and idleness.  (A shame about the last one.  There are days when I'm a great fan of idleness.)  Strange to consider that I could have been born to a country where education and health care were provided without question.
The idea that one might have to pay for education, at any level, seemed to us primitive and backward-looking. In the Thirties, my grandmother used to save pennies in a tin in her kitchen, fearfully guarding against the day when one of her children might require medical attention. In the week that the National Health Service was inaugurated in 1948, GPs' surgeries were overwhelmed with patients whose painful and often life-threatening conditions had never been treated or even shown to a doctor. When we baby boomers were ill, we expected, as a right, the best treatment available. Paying for it never occurred to us.
According to Beckett, the reason this is all falling apart now is because that education did not prepare them for the freedom they were growing into.  Rather than receiving the training they needed to keep this wonderful world moving forward, they were forced to memorise stodgy lists of dates and lineages of kings who died long enough ago to have veritably no impact on their lives.  So when they emerged into the sex-drugs-rock n' roll 60s, their stodgy education seemed a grand lie.  Life was so much easier than that, so much more fun.
What did we do with this extraordinary inheritance that had eluded our ancestors, and that an earlier generation had worked and fought to give us?
We trashed it.
We trashed it because we did not value it. We trashed it because we knew no history, so we thought our new freedoms were the natural order of things. It was as though we decided that the freedom and lack of worry that we had inherited was too good for our children, and we pulled up the ladder we had climbed.
So--what you going to do about it, buddy?  Wring your hands and say, "It wasn't supposed to be this way?" while you lie in a state-funded hospital bed that they'll decommission as soon as you're gone?

This is the sort of thing the Apron Revolution is working to undo.  If we can recapture the optimism and determination of the boomers' parents, and keep it wedded to the discipline, gratitude, and common sense that was lost in the intervening years, maybe we'll have a chance.   Otherwise, what?

Unfortunately we have a lot of debts to pay in the mean-time.  Maybe not as many as the British, who got to have that century of health care and education that passed us by.  Then again, we've had a few more foreign wars to pay for, too.  Can we take Iraq back to the store for a full refund?  If not, I'd be happy to exchange it for education or health care. 

Failing that, I guess we'll just have to tighten our belts and go back to work.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Another Old Computer; Hanging On To Old Things

Where does this connection with old machines come from?  If something still works, I cannot let it go.  It's a neurosis.  Anything I buy, I'm wedded to for life.  If it breaks down to the point that I have to throw it out, the procedure involves full funerary rites and a day or more of mourning.

So we go to the dump, where there's inevitably some machine with some life left, a scrap of utility just begging for use and attention. 

I'm an animist: I infuse unfeeling things with human motives and assume they desire for my attention.  In a world full of people, this isn't a healthy inclination. 

But PEOPLE made the THINGS, though, and it's in their honor that I want to preserve them.

* * *

I'm determined to keep this old Sony laptop going, despite the fact that I have two newer machines, one much faster, one much smaller, all already configured the way I like them.  You'd think I was using the opportunity to diddle around with an old computer as an excuse to avoid getting real work done. 

I'd agree with you, if I wasn't already working a full-time job. 

I bought this Sony back in 2001 (according to the diary entry I wrote the day I got it home) and on it have written hundreds of emails and blog entries and the greater half of two different novels (both of which are waiting to be finished).  The machine's a bit bulky by today's standards, and there's a drone and a chirp to the fan I'd forgotten about.  But the noise is reassuring rather than distracting, and the bulk actually makes it fairly comfortable to work on.  It has feet that fold down to elevate the back.  Why doesn't my Mac have those? I'd trade one core of its CPU for a more comfortable typing angle.  And the screen, though a little low-resolution, is almost as tall as it is wide.  I'd forgotten how much more comfortable that is than widescreen.  I'm convinced widescreen is just a conspiracy by manufacturers to make us all purchase new TVs, so that in a few years they can remind us how much we really preferred the older square displays, and then sell us another one.

Back to the Sony: A couple of years ago the hard drive went on it.
It was cradled way in the heart of this beast, and I took out over a dozen screws before I found the two that let me in, but there's nothing you can't get to without a jeweler's screwdriver and some patience.  A replacement hard drive cost me less than $20 (including shipping) and doubled my capacity.

Doubling the system memory cost me about the same.  This is where the machine is maxxed out, at 256 MB.  But it now runs Xubuntu (Ubuntu's lightweight cousin) without complaint.  It can handle Youtube, DVDs, mp3s, and mpegs.  The addition of a nine dollar wireless card made it convenient to use around the house.  So now it does just about everything that I need a computer to do. 

If I could just clone myself, I could actually use all these old computers.

What it won't do is play a video in one window while performing web searches in another and scanning rss feeds to blogs in a third.  It will do all those things, just not simultaneously and well.  I still need to think for half a second about the next thing I want to do before I click on something.  So it's effective as an attention-focusing machine.  It's a nice, intermediate step between the typewriters and the MacBook.  And now I want to spend all of my time with it.

Yeah, it's a bit creaky, but we're all about creaky here in this 300 year old stronghold (cottage) we call home. 

* * *

There are people who drive cars and people who love cars.  The latter will obsess about them all day and spend every spare minute under the hood, checking their compression ratios, upgrading their spark plugs, and popping in shiny bits of hardware that might make a quarter-second difference in their accelleration - and not always for the good! 

These people don't even need particularly nice cars.  I'm no gearhead, but I love that I can open the hood of my Honda Civic and see just about every part in there.  That engine looks like something I could disconnect and replace, if I wanted to.  It's certainly not too big for one strong man to lift alone.  The Civic is a cheap car, and because of this, and despite this, there are legions of kids who soup them up and race them and use them for all kinds of things they were never designed to do.  Looking under that hood, I see the opportunity for hours and hours of happy, amateur fun. 

Any simple, modular system compels you to learn about it.  It feels like a moral imperative, to me: once you've paid for something, you should explore its every use, set out across the possibility space unlocked by its structure and function, and discover the marvelous little surprises that others may have missed. I don't know how I got this way.  Maybe it was all the hand-me-downs I got as a child: the 1950s Minolta camera in 1984, the 1970s Olympia typewriter in 1988, the original 1980 IBM PC in 1993.  The lesson was: something new's just going to break anyway.  Get something old, and if it's lasted this long, it'll last even longer.  Find a way to take this old thing and have some fun with it. 

So now I can't stop messing around with Linux.  This nine year old computer runs so much better than when it was new, just with the introduction of a couple of cheap parts and a different pattern of ones and zeroes written on the hard drive.  This seems miraculous.  It feels like Sony ripped me off when I bought it, and now I'm ripping them off by not buying another.

* * *

The Wife has found a similar pleasure in cooking. 

We're sold so many prepackaged goods that we suffer sensory overload walking into the grocery store.  There's so much premade stuff to choose from that folks are almost thankful for the advertising that tells us them to buy.  But by limiting her purchases to cheap, basic ingredients, she's been able to prepare meals that are surprising, delightful, and delicious.  We'll be out of time before she discovers every last thing she can do with butter, flour, sugar, and eggs.  (If Monsanto doesn't use patent law to make cooking your own food illegal before that.) 

Look at this flour.  Just look at it!  Same as it was 3000 years ago, and you can use it to bake a cake no one thought of before.

* * *

The Wife and I have opposing but complimentary approaches to computers and cooking. 

I could care less about how things work in the kitchen, so long as the end result keeps me from getting hungry.  Fortunately she has discovered great joy in the complex chemistry of meats, wheats, and beets, so I'm not required except in the capacity of taste-tester.  "What's wrong with the thing that makes the water hot?" I might ask her.

"The kettle?  It's right on the stove."

"No, the microwave."

Turns out it was unplugged.

On the computer, she doesn't give a damn what operating system or even application she's using, so long as it gets her words and pictures up in the order she chooses.  I'll look at a program like Photoshop and think, "This can do *anything* with pictures.  Let's go through a dozen tutorials and learn what they are."  She's too busy for tutorials, because she's actually building things with her tools.  She might ask, "Winston!  What's the thing I'm supposed to click on to make the thing happen? The picture thing?" 

I might tell her, "It's the red thing, got a 'P' on it."  And I'll know if I was right if they house stays quiet.  (We have a sort of intercom system in this house.  It's called: "A small house.")

Or this conversation:

"How do I set up the tables in my website so the side part doesn't move while the other side goes up and down?"

"You mean frames?  You want to build a website with frames?"

"I don't care what they're called.  I just don't want this part to go up and down!"

Her desktop gets so cluttered with shortcuts and files and links that it makes my obsessive little heart bleed.  But where I'd spend a day tidying up, running antivirus software, and defragmenting the hard drive, she'll install a forum and open an Amazon store. 

That tells you something about who has the better priorities, I guess.

Monday, February 8, 2010

A question for the typosphere and other retrotech enthusiasts:

How can the same company which made this sexy little race-car of a machine


go ahead and produce a clunky camel like this?

I've got one of the first, though it's in the more common blue that Cormac McCarthy used until recently.  When a local seller went on eBay to sell one of the latter, still in box, for $100, and then re-listed it for $50 when there were no bidders, I was sorely tempted to drive by his operation and pay some cash for it.  Manual typewriters are not typically a thing you have the opportunity to buy new in box.  And there's nothing like a nice solid desktop machine for smooth typing.

But the more I looked at the picture, the more I knew it could never be.  There's no harmony between the keys and the body, and the keys themselves look like ungrateful, chunky lozenges.  I knew that, once the thrill of unpacking it was over, I'd be stuck with a just another boat anchor to store in the shed.

Besides, I have too many of the damn things already. 

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Nuts To The Ball Bowl - Let's Play

Tomorrow's the Super Bowl day.  Or is it the World Series day?  No wait, it is the Super Bowl. 

Good grief.  What am I going to have to talk about around the water cooler on Monday?

I can't think of any "holidays" I could Bah-Humbug more strongly than these sports holidays.  And there's no field of inquiry in the wide world in which I'll revel in my ignorance and indifference, except sports.  Talk about a perfect storm of manufactured controversy, financial excess, and marketing exploitation - only talk about it over there and far away from me, becase I really don't want to hear about sports.

You know what's admirable?  Dedication, hard work, talent, practice, perseverance, and competition.  You know what's fun?  Getting together with a bunch of your friends and playing a game. 

So if you love football so much, how about getting out with a bunch of your friends and playing some of it, instead of buying an oversized jersey and sitting on your fat ass watching it on TV.  Put your kids on the team, if you have any.  Put your wife on the team, if she's sporty (or if she just wants to).  Invite the neighbors over.  Maybe one of them will bring a picnic lunch.

Hey, now it's starting to sound like fun.  Can I come over and play?

(Football's the one with the pointy ball, right?)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Don't Wear Your Pajamas to the Grocery Store

A branch of the Tesco grocery chain in Wales, UK, has felt it necessary to ban the wearing of pyjamas to their stores. 

I'm all for this, although I think "don't wear your pyjamas to the grocery store" is one of those things that should go without saying.  I don't want the government telling me what to wear, but I'll support a private business turning away customers who can't be bothered to throw on pants and a shirt before they leave the house.

I'm a huge pyjama fan, by the way.  I'll keep mine on all day, if I've got the day off and don't need to leave the house.  But what makes them seem so comfortable is the fact that I don't have to go out and do chores in them.  Pyjama time = relaxing time.

I've worked in a place where attendance at weekly meetings was mandatory.  This meant that some folks who attended the meetings wouldn't be scheduled to work a shift directly after, and so to compensate us for making the extra trip in, the regular dress code was relaxed.  I always dressed in my usual business casual for these meetings.  I might put on sneakers rather than dress shoes, if I was going to fit in some errands after.  But otherwise, a button down shirt and a sweater is as comfortable as a sweatshirt, if you ask me, and I've never enjoyed the feel of jeans.  I'll wear jeans when I'm working on the house, doing carpentry, or hauling sheet-rock around.  That's when you need the ruggedness of denim.  (Denim time = hard labour time.)

One of my co-workers chose to flaunt the fact that she could "dress down" by coming to the meeting in her pyjamas.  That was her prerogative, I guess.  But it's hard to think of someone as a professional when they're sitting there in pink flannel with a teddy bear motif.  It certainly didn't make it any easier to stay focused and awake at an early morning meeting.  It put one more in the mood for cuddling than collaboration. 

But if  you're not with the people nor in the place you do your cuddling, why go around pushing those psychological buttons?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Bug And Snow

There's just enough snow on the ground to brighten things up around here.  Perfect!
Here's an odd wonder: there's a ladybug crawling up and down my window mullion.  I wonder if she hatched in the spell of warm weather we had last week. 
She is kind of a dusty, dun coloured thing, isn't she?  Is this what winter-hatched ladybugs look like, these days?  Or is this some other kind of beetle, entirely?  Let's go in for a closer look.
Update: snow melting now, ladybug or beetle gone too.  Window mullions still need to be stripped, puttied, and painted.  This is going to be a busy Spring. 

Maybe the bug knew that and decided to wake up early.