Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Encyclopedia Kravitz

For the last two months I've been engaged in a little extracurricular surveillance. No, not window peeping or the Deja Vu. It all started when I was walking down the street and had to make my way around a very boisterous man. There is one thing about very boisterous people, you notice them. It appeared that he just got out of his car though I couldn't be certain. And then I took a look at his car. It had a handicapped parking do-hickey hanging from the rear-view mirror. Hmmm...this guy wasn't handicapped physically (his boisterousness was both in the auditory and physical senses) but I guess he could have been picking somebody up (one who presumably can handle this boisterousness).

In any case, this encounter made me look at the rest of the cars on the street - like if there were other people waiting to pick up handicapped people or something - I don't know. All I know is for whatever reason, I noticed that every single car behind that car had a handicapped placard. I also noticed that they were some pretty fine cars as well - Acura, Lexus etc. Not that I knew a lot about what cars handicapped people drive - but as a whole I wouldn't expect a random sample of these cars would end up in the higher end as these appeared to be.

And then I started walking around the block. In the two block radius around my building, the average amount of handicapped placard bearing cars was about 50%. And they had the similar demographic - newer, hipper, more expensive cars and SUV's. Again, my suspicion is that handicapped cars would skew in the direction of older and cheaper rather than in that direction.

So I chewed on this information for a while. What could account for this? Was there a hospital around? No. Was there a retirement community around? Not that I could tell. Was there a rehabilition center around? No. Not that I could tell. Was a company in the vicinity employing a large number of handicapped people, if so, hurrah and I'm glad that they are being paid very well to afford these cars. Also, like the dog that didn't bark at 3AM in the Sherlock Holmes' stories, how is it that in all my walks around work I never noticed any handicapped people in the numbers that the amount of these cars would indicate? I mean, since I assume that a handicapped person is a little, well, handicapped, then I would think it takes them longer to get into and out of their cars. Nope, haven't seen one yet. But later in the story, I will tell you that in fact, these drivers do take extra time getting out of their cars...

I filed this under the many things I wonder about but really didn't do much about it besides just keeping on noticing the weird preponderance whenever I was walking. And then a month ago, I noticed that the parking meters were always expired but they never had tickets. And then things started to click (yes, I'm slow). If having a handicapped placard means that you don't have to pay the parking meters and you get to park there all day - then maybe, just maybe, these aren't really handicapped people parking there. I went to the police station (just a block away) and asked the policeman on duty about the expired meters and all the cars I've noticed in the neighborhood. He said that is something done for handicapped people - they are exempt from parking meters. And he also had a little smirk on his face as we telling me this - like I'm not the only one to have noticed this. Or that I'm loony, I don't know.

So lately I've also been trying to notice people getting in and out of their cars. (This is the Gladys Kravitz/Encyclopedia Brown part of the story.) Up until today I haven't noticed anything more than the ludicrous cars that have been claiming to have handicapped drivers, a two seater red BMW, a gigantically huge Ford Yukon where one had to jump up about 4ft to get into the drivers seat, and the various Lexus', Mercedes', and other SUV's. Occassionally I would see, an older Lincoln or a sedan and think - okay, that I could believe. But today, I caught one!!!! At 8:45am I was walking down Howell St/Olive Way past 8th towards my coffee shop on Olive Way. There was an SUV with its door open and the driver standing/kneeling messing around inside. He was also looking around at everybody passing by (including me). The driver was a normal enough looking person - I didn't see any disabilities. The SUV was big - it also had a front towing hitch thingamajig. I couldn't stick around and see what he ended up doing because I had a 9am meeting, but I thought on the way back from getting my coffee that I would see if a handicapped placard ended up in that SUV where one wasn't before. And lo, there was. The man obviously waited until the sidewalk cleared before he put up the placard and left.

So I felt vindicated in my suspicions, but I really don't know what I can do. The police obviously don't care about - it is happening around their precinct house and it is so blatantly obvious that even I could notice it. I read newspaper stories of
college athletes doing a scam like this and I'm sure something like that has happened in this case. The likely scenario is that a morally-challenged cro-magnon finds out about how to do this scam and then informs his fellow morally challenged cro-magnons at work and then this grows and then we get 25-40 cars in a four block radius all getting daily free parking. Should I become a sidewalk vigilante with my new digital camera one day and try to get documentation? Would that interest the police? Or is there really an innocent explanation for all I've noticed and I'm imputing nefarious motives (which I am well aware I am prone to do) where there are none?

You are asking, why should I care? It doesn't affect me in any way since I ride my bike or take the bus to get to work. I don't drive so I shouldn't care less about who parks where. I guess it just really offends me that there are morally repugnant people out there that would do something like this. Grrr....

Addendum: I took a walk after writing the above and happened to see a parking enforcement officer. She got done writing a ticket and I talked to her. I told her about seeing a very able person with a handicapped placard in his truck and also that there a *lot* of these cars around. She interrupted me and said "And I bet he ran across the street too!". She added that she is very well aware of the situation around the area and that the State of Washington is considering what to do about the problem - namely why should handicapped people be guaranteed free parking on the street all day? That would cut down on the fraud right there. But I was gratified that she seemed as disgruntled as I was on the situation. Oh frabjous day!

Monday, March 29, 2004

All About You: Women Can Do It For Themselves...

As long as they don't organize...

From Salon, an article on Time publishing a women's magazine ("All You") to be sold in Wal-Mart. From the new editor

"All You will talk to women as they really are -- recognizing all they accomplish every single day -- instead of telling them they could do better," Price said. "We want to inspire, not patronize, our readers with affordable, down-to-earth ideas tested by real women just like them.
I wonder if they will include down-to-earth ideas tested by real women like Lucy Parsons, Emma Goldman, Mother Jones and Dolores Huerta?

Fussy customer. Make sure the tops slide off.

If you've ever wondered on the relationship between the artist and the art, take a look at the this fascinating article on Stanley Kubrick. One of the beauties of Kubrick's work is the exceptional internal consistency and attention to detail that all his movies had. You felt you were really immersed in that world. Well, that immersion didn't just happen accidentally. For a film on Napoleon that was never made he did so much research that he had a room in his mansion devoted just to books and papers on Napoleon - plus 25,000 notecards of facts. His assistant said: "If you want to know what Napoleon, or Josephine, or anyone within Napoleon's inner circle was doing on the afternoon of July 23 17-whatever, you go to that card and it'll tell you."

He also really didn't much care what YOU thought, what really mattered was what HE learned and could put up on the screen in movies where he controlled everything from the script to where the movies were playing. And of course he didn't suffer fools:

A 1975 telex, from a picture publicity man at Warner Bros called Mark Kauffman, regards publicity stills for Kubrick's sombre reworking of Thackeray's Barry Lyndon. It reads: "Received additional material. Is there any material with humour or zaniness that you could send?"

Kubrick replies, clearly through gritted teeth: "The style of the picture is reflected by the stills you have already received. The film is based on William Makepeace Thackeray's novel which, though it has irony and wit, could not be well described as zany."
One shouldn't lament the fact that he made so few movies, rather one should rejoice that with dealing with idiots like Mark Kauffman along with his obsessive nature that the masterpieces came out at all.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

A Thermodynamic Argument For Google's Continuing Success

Okay, this is going to be a big pile of hooey because I don't really know what I am talking about, but what else is new? I've been fascinated by how Google has done its search engine system. Their data center involves thousands if not tens of thousand of dedicated servers in order to almost instantaneously come back with results for queries from a world of users.

I've also thought about the most likely competitor, Microsoft, and how they could catch up. (I was reminded of this by this article). And looking at it from a "thermodynamic" viewpoint it seems like they cannot succeed. My assumption is that Google uses open source servers, probably running lean versions of unix or linux. These operating systems are well known for stability AND what it is more important, the very low maintenance needed for operating them in farms through scripting. Also, their kernel can be pretty small.

Microsoft would also have to use farms, but they would be hampered by running a version of a Microsoft server operating system. From my experience, the very high maintenance needed for these servers is from difficulty in globally scripting these machines. The MS kernel is a huge beast and a sizable fraction of the energy in these farms is going to go into keeping alive that kernel in memory - at the expense of computing power.

So from an energy viewpoint alone, it would seem that the energy involved in maintaining a MS server farm (from pure joules of electricity to the logistics of maintaining thousands of windows machines - and the linux/unix machines do not need GUI code resident in their memory) can be a magnitude greater than a linux/unix farm. And when we are talking about a business such as search engines - these considerations of energy could be the difference. In a server farm "war" where Google and MS escalate by building bigger and bigger farms - Google might seem to have an insurmountable energy advantage - it will cost less to build and house bigger farms. In any escalation, Google would always win. Of course, MS will have the humongously bigger pockets and they could Reaganize Google out of competition by outspending them - but it might be close! And also, MS could use their monopoly to force better economics from their hardware vendors at the expense of Google - kinda like the way US and the USSR used third-world countries in the cold war.

The other side of the coin is of course is that evolution teaches us that big, energy wasting dinosaurs lose out in the long run to smaller, energy conserving, and bigger brained mammals. So, I think it is more likely that a more sizably efficient technology or revolutionary algorithm will be the winner in the search engine wars - and MS history tells us that scenario is more likely to come from Google or a totally different third party in their garage. MS is not historically known for coming up with more efficient or revolutionary technologies/algorithms - look at Word...

Friday, March 26, 2004

Hey Kids, Let's Put on a Show!

Apparently, the one person who seems to read this blog is requesting that I blog a show that he, Alfalfa, Spanky, Andy Hardy, Betsy Booth and the seven little Foys are putting on. Actually, the show is really fun and is being done for a good cause. Well, the good cause being, ummm...it's fun. Anyway, here is the little link-a-dink: StockStock.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

We Have Always Been At War With Oceania

From the Washington Post

"If the Democratic policies had been pursued over the last two or three years, the kind of tax increases that both Kerry and [Sen. John] Edwards [D-N.C.] have talked about, we would not have had the kind of job growth we've had."

-- Vice President Cheney, in an MSNBC interview March 2, lending his perspective to the economy's loss of 2.2 million jobs over three years.
Look, the Washington Post again is being disingenuous by their little snark. Our people leading our country are thinking of the big picture. Our corporations are global deities and if we look at the where those deities have created jobs we see they have done it all around the world: China, India, Indonesia, etc. What matters most to America is corporate bottom lines. I mean corporations, their executives and their lobbyists write our legislation, they fund our campaigns, they guide our foreign policy, they run our Dept. of Interior, EPA, Labor, Agriculture, Defense; corporate welfare is our welfare - if they run into trouble, who would do these things? The American people? Is that any way to run a country? Please.

You see, the liberal media is again being quaint. They fail to realize that when Cheney says "We", they mistakenly include themselves and other Americans in that pronoun. When Cheney says "We", he never means to include the powerless. Those people have chosen a lifestyle choice to be powerless and should rightly be ignored. No, "We" means corporations and their offshore suppliers as a whole - it is really a holistic thing encompassing many countries. And when Cheney was CEO of Halliburton, was it ever in the best interests of Halliburton to think of people not even at the level to be laid off by Halliburton? So why should it matter now? And by "job growth", well, let's just say that is a euphemism for "profit growth of our campaign contributors and friends".

God, I hate it when these namby-pamby journalists can't get anything straight...

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Naivete and Its Discontents

Whoa. Just Whoa. I read the Letters to Salon about the midlist author article that I blogged about two days ago. From the overwhelming response of the letters it seems that other reactions to the article than mine are possible. Those reactions are mostly of the "Poor baby, your little writing thing isn't making you rich, there, there" before they slam her for expecting to make a decent living when hardly anybody now or anybody in history has ever done that purely from selling fiction, and that the very real success she has had so far surpasses that of other equally talented writers, so she should just quit her bitchin'.

Well, yes, I agree with those viewpoints also. And that's my problem. In certain areas I am too naive and in other areas I am way too cynical. For instance, I am incredibly bad at picking up certain direct insults or slights. Sometimes companions will have to say "You know, you just got incredibly dissed right there..." This happens to me regularly in the workplace. I believe that this blindness comes from not realizing that the person I am interacting with does not necessarily respect me. My blindspot is that once a person gets close enough to have a conversation or whatever, I expect anything they say will be civil and respectful and without malice - because I do the same. So since I put myself in that mode, when something insulting does happen, sometimes it just goes over my head. The cause of this is probably my own anxiety about being respectful and nice so I don't see clues. This does serve me well in some aspects because I don't lose any sleep over it, and the insulter does not get any satisfaction because of my cluelessness.

The flipside of this is that I overcompensate the naivete by reading ulterior motives, evil intentions, impoliteness and conspiracies in situations where I am not in immediate person-to-person contact. These are things like traffic situations, office politics, politics in general, strangers with dogs etc. In these cases, I always believe the absolute worst about them - whereas if I was talking to them, they would be in my "everybody is considerate when I'm interacting with them" blindspot. It's one among many reasons why I don't have many friends - since everyone starts out excluded from my naivete blindspot it is hard for them to get in...

So that is what happened with this article I think. The conversational tone of the author kinda fell into my blindspot since what she was describing made sense (i.e. this wouldn't happen with a transcript of Rush Limbaugh, I don't completely turn off my brain...) And then I missed out the stuff that the rest of the readers latched onto. Not that what she wrote isn't valid - I think it is still important to identify good books by authors who have not had Barnes and Noble marketing pushes and to use independent book stores to find them - but that she was a poor messenger due to her, by comparison, very successful career. I mean, it's like Bush invading Iraq for his oft-stated reasons - but wait a minute - his friends are going to mint money on this, the oil is the elephant in the room, and there's this thing about his dad. The ostensible reasons (WMD, Iraqi people suffering) are valid - but look at the tremendous baggage of the messenger that seem to overwhelm those reasons...

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Books Etc.

So as I did what wrote that I would do in yesterday's blog, I went to Fremont Place Books today. I went to the shop owner and said "I would like to buy some cheese." She replied, "Sorry, fresh out."

Okay, no I didn't say that and she didn't say that. I said something like "I'm on a quest. I read something in Salon yesterday about how this midlist author is having a hard time making it and one thing I can do is go to my local book store and ask about for recommendations. So here I am, and I so I was wondering if you can recommend little known or reviewed novels by not well known authors?" She was not non-plussed or hid it well if she was - one would say she was plussed if not fully plussed. I did think she knew what I was going on about because she did guide me to the right kind of books. The two I selected are "Sweetwater" by Roxana Robinson and "The Student Conductor" by Robert Ford. Note that I did not put Amazon links on them - that would be kinda, ummm, wrong in this context. I felt a teeny bit guilty on "The Student Conductor" because I remembered it from either a Staff Picks section or a New Fiction Award section at Barnes and Noble. But I assuaged my guilt by buying the other book that I totally hadn't heard of.

Now comes the hard part. Right now these books are 28th and 29th in line to be read of books that I own. In addition, I have 18 books either on reserve or on a list at the library. Just for kicks here are the books I own that I have waiting for me:

Robinson, Muriel Spark
The Company, A Novel of the CIA, Robert Littell
Independence Day, Richard Ford
I Married a Communist, Philip Roth
The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
Loitering with Intent, Muriel Spark
The Stones of Summer, Dow Mossman
Good Faith, Jane Smiley
I'm Not Scared, Niccolo Ammaniti
Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood
Foul Matter, Martha Grimes
Mortals, Norman Rush
The Meaning of Everything, Simon Winchester
Stories, Ray Bradbury
Vintage Didion, Joan Didion
Bangkok 8, John Burdett
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Mark Haddon
Without Conscience, Robert Hare
Paradise Lost, Milton
Republic, Plato
Ethics, Aristotle
Dubliners, James Joyce
Letters from a Stoic, Seneca
On The Good Life, Cicero
The Celts, Nora Chadwick

Yup, a little light reading ahead of me....Good thing I don't have a social life.

Monday, March 22, 2004

To Hell With The Stars

No, the title notwithstanding (I love that word by the way), this blog is not about astronomical theological pronouncements from Milton. No, it's about a pet peeve of mine that I know that I've written about before in my blogistory. Actually, there probably isn't a pet peeve that I haven't written about. Actually actually, there probably are many more pet peeves - a pet store of peeves - nay a zoo of peeves or even a grand national animal preserve of peeves dwelling within me I have not written about.

Ahem. Previous-written-about-status notwithstanding (yup, still luv that word), I deplore the winner-take-all nature of our society. Where we become passive consumers of global "entertainment" at the expense of neglecting our community's artists, where CEO's make 500 times the average salary of their employees, where cities have baseball teams of players making $25 million a year but a miniscule amount of the city's population do not even participate in any sports at all, and where I feel it is the most pernicious - the WalMart phenomenon where local communities had shopowners that lived in the community and the money, expertise and good will from those shopowners contributed to and benefited from the community are now out of business or struggling because a non-union, specially tax benefited, custom-zoned thanks to payoffs to the city council, ugly big box megastore with a humongous parking lot has opened outside of town.

Now I know the benefits of these situations. The global artists in many cases are extraordinarily talented, the CEO's in one or two cases out of thousands are extraordinarily talented, the sports players are extraordinarily talented, and it is much cheaper to buy toilet paper from WalMart than from your local drugstore or grocery store.

But I think the hidden costs are too high. When I see global artists charging $100 for a ticket, that money is not going to the local jazz group or baroque chamber groups who are extremely talented as well. Studies have shown that CEO's in most cases don't influence all over results that much - but we let them walk away with incredible pay packages because they have risen to the top of the star heap at the expense of raising the standard of living of the people doing work under them or in fact letting them keep their jobs. And of course, the cost of WalMart is having 10 percent of our workforce working in WalJobs that have no future, no union to ensure better pay and conditions, neutron-bombed Main Streets, and vast parking lots of unmitigated ugliness surrounding the most soulless shopping experience you will ever see. The next time you are standing in line at Costco, look at your fellow people illuminated in the harsh fluorescent light reflected from the bare concrete floor and standing amidst the cacophony of a huge impersonal warehouse designed for the pure financial benefit of the store's owners. Look at the people, do they look happy? Don't they look like they have just spent their life in the Department of Licensing waiting for their driver's license? They look like they should be euthanised. And all this because it is cheaper. No, for me, Costco is the most expensive place I ever visit even though I spend less.

Okay, what brought on this latest rant? I just read a piece in Salon about the travails of a midlist author. The anonymous writer seems like somebody who should be able to make a living at what she does from the facts that she presents (editor comments, reader comments, awards etc.) Her books seem to always grab an editor, agent or a publisher which is notoriously difficult. Her readers seem to be dedicated - but she just doesn't have enough of them - always in the low ten thousands. She doesn't make back her advances, which puts her in a negative feedback loop where the publishers won't market her, which leads to worse sales leading to not making back even the lower advance etc. She seems to be doing all the right things, but she is not getting anywhere and may stop writing.

You probably know where I put the blame - the winner-take-all star culture. Now, every author should not be guaranteed of everything that they want. But how do we foster growth of our culture if talented but not breakout or celebrity authors cannot make a living? Or to look at it another way - from the reader's perspective. I would love to be able to find quirky first novels or midcareer novels of somebody I hadn't heard of before or local authors if there was a way to find out about them. I subscribe to about 5 periodicals that carry book reviews. The overlap between them is about 100%. In other words, the same books are reviewed in all of them. It is nearly impossible for me to find out about the other 99% of the books out there that I would love to read. I have thought of subscribing to the Library Journal or Kirkus Reviews just so I can read blurbs about likely novels that will not receive any other press.

So isn't the point of the efficient marketplace that sellers can hook up with buyers that want what they have? I mean it works for commodities - hence the WalMarts. But the market does exist for the non-stars! When given a chance, the Salon midlist author sold respectably. And I really doubt the difference between Dan Brown's tax return (#7 on the NY Times list) and the midlist writer in Salon is in pure quality. No, it has more to with marketing budgets, product placement in Barnes and Noble, blah-blah-blah. I feel like starting a website of reviews for unpublicized, neglected books, because that is what I would like to see and one way to get what you want is do it yourself.

P.S. After writing the above, I read the companion story in Salon where she gives five steps on how to reverse the trend (and proved her worth of a writer by saying in one sentence what took me far too many words: "If you're outraged because you'd rather live in a world of farmer's markets and local bookstores than a world of Wal-Marts and Bland & Ignoble superstores, here are a few things you can do."). The main thing is to frequent your local independent bookstore. Which I will do. I am going to go to Fremont Place Books and ask them for a recommendation on a new, little publicized new novel. I'll blog what I come up with. And my violinist neighbor is performing this Wednesday, and I am going to put my local preachiness in practice.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Excerpt This, Buddy

I subscribe to the New Yorker magazine. I really enjoy reading it except for one thing. 95% of the time, the short story is an excerpt from a novel. They do not say that it is an excerpt or anything. They present it as a stand alone story. So what's the big whoop I hear you say, if it can stand alone as a story then read it as such. Ah, but what happens when next year you happen to read the novel from which the story was excerpted? What happens when you get the deja vu feeling that something seems kinda familiar? What happens when you read further and you realize that you have read it before and now the context is totally changed and it basically has ruined your experience of the novel? What happens is you mentally yell from the mental depths of your mental lungs "FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK YOU NEW YORKER!!!!!".

The New Yorker when I started reading it in the 80's had two to three short stories a week (and 52 issues a year). They were usually not excerpts - they were well-crafted short stories by short story writers. Now the New Yorker runs at most one "fiction" piece in one of its (45 or is it 44 or is it 36 issues a year) issues. The fiction piece is usually by a name writer who probably has a publishing deal with somebody that influences the deal or the New Yorker thinks it can only sell fiction by a name writer etc. Whatever the reason, it appears that the inclusion of the "fiction" is because of other reasons than that it was the best story submitted to the editors. I just want a self-contained, well written short story that doesn't RUIN THE READING OF A NOVEL LATER AND IF IT IS AN EXCERPT I WANT IT LABELLED SO!

Apparently the reviewer at The Stranger feels the same. Here is an excerpt:

The New Yorker prints excerpts from novels as short stories all the time. The problem with this particular excerpt is that it happened to be the very heart of the book. Lodged just before the middle, the chapter's all a flashback, culminating in Daisy's young death; it's the part of the book that glimmers opalescent and alive and quivering, animating to the best of its ability the rest. Elsewhere in the novel, Jerry Battle is pushing 60, but the death of his wife is what has informed all his other relationships, or lack thereof. If you've read the excerpt, it's deflating to anticipate it--and more so to reach it, reread it, and soldier on, realizing that it's the best part of the book.
Exactly! So until the New Yorker revamps its "fiction" policy, the following authors I have learned not to read in the New Yorker: Chang-rae Lee, Louise Erdrich, Jonathem Lethem, Jonathan Foer, John Irving, Zadie Smith, Alice Tyler, and et fucking cetera. I can't even depend on not recognizing the author because first novels are now being excerpted first as well. The Atlantic and Harpers both label their stories as excerpts, and I believe others do as well. Is it too much to ask to identify it as "This is an excerpt of a novel in progress", is it?

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Don't Mess Wid My Stereotypes!

Everyone lives in a huge, crass mini-mansion on the Sammamish Plateau with a three-car garage (for the other two family SUVs; the cleaning lady parks down the street). They're all NIMBY Republicans who couldn't care less about the environment, and they probably voted for Bush. A bland land of white-bread homogeneity, a soulless suburban cultural desert of false fronts and bad architecture that mask American Beauty-style family dysfunction. That's the way Seattleites tend to think of the Eastside.
Well, except that the last line should be rewritten as something like "This is a truth universally acknowledged." This came from the cover article in this week's Seattle Weekly. After this winning introduction the author attempts to deny the truths he just espoused. However, like all hypocrites, I will not have my stereotypes disabused. Is the Eastside still the home of Microsoft? Then it is still and will remain a soulless, suburban cultural desert of false fronts and bad architecture. My friend and I have a game to who can first say "Microsoft millionaire" when we see something in such godawful bad taste like a white Hummer, or a 10,000 square foot house of crass ugliness or an Expedition towing a cigarette boat. They may have oodles of money, but they will never have taste. At least that's what my protective shell o' stereotypes leads me to believe....

Peeling the Onion

The great thing about The Onion is that they get things so incredibly right in their humor – they almost never make a humor misstep. For instance, today’s issue on Cosmic Stan is spot-on in many levels. First off, every big campus has a Cosmic Stan lurking around. I know because I was one. Secondly, the lunatic things he does or says is so like stuff you have heard or expect to hear from these raving lunatics. And finally, and this is where The Onion becomes the standard bearer of American Humor, they get the physics stuff exactly right. For example, in our study for the Ph.D. comprehensive exams, we were in dread of having to do something with the Clausius-Clapeyron equation – and probably would have become a raving lunatic if asked.

I find that a litmus test of the quality of something that is for whatever reason including physics in their “thing”, is how coherent are the equations or statements being used. For instance, a low quality science fiction film will string together a series of random terms and hope to flamboozle the audience that some high-grade stuff was whizzing by. Something like “Phlogoston Phase Bi-modulation of the Vernium Density”. Or a commercial will have a blackboard of equations that have absolutely nothing to with each other - or even better yet, things that aren’t even equations, just a jumble of greek letters and numbers. But if somebody has taken the time to put something coherent together physics-wise, usually that means they have spent time to put quality in other aspects of what they are doing.

My all time best example of this was in the movie Contact. Jodie Foster drives a car up to the radio telescopes of the Very Large Array and starts up her computer while sitting on the hood of her car (oh...and the telescopes were in their maintenance configuration…). Now, simple electrodynamics states that this is a very bad idea if you want the highest quality data from your telescopes. The car’s alternator, starter, spark-plugs and the computer’s display and electronics are spewing out gobs of electromagnetic radiation at all frequencies – which are a gazillion times the intensities of the things the telescopes are observing.

Now the astuter of the people reading this know that the subsequent correlation of the data will take out this noise – but not all of it – so it will degrade the signals of the data that is left. And if we are talking about communication with another species, isn’t the highest quality data a teeny bit important? So this little bit of unrealistic behavior is just indicative of the pedestrian quality of the movie – getting this right would have meant that they would have also made other things better, and hence a better movie.

So hats off to the folks at Onion, may their pungent layers of allium humor forever amuse!

Monday, March 15, 2004

Rants in My Pants about Miscreants

I've always admired curmudgeons, being one in training (I've got the whininess down, but I don't have the "but gruffly lovable" thing going quite yet...). That's why I've always appreciated Andy Rooney's longevity at CBS and 60 minutes. He has said things that would have cast most people into the TV wasteland equivalent of Ulan Bator. I love his latest flap. Calling Mel Gibson a wacko on national TV takes serious cojones. Now, I don't necessarily think Mel is a wacko (his father though is a piece of work), but the evidence does suggest tendencies. A film in Aramaic for "authenticity" but inauthentic in not portraying the Romans as the main antagonists. Authentic in relying on the Gospels but inauthentic on not all of the Gospels (now THAT I would love to see in its absurd Rashomonity). And finally making it so violent ("Lethal Divinity") that any New Testament new agey nonsense of love and forgiveness is forgotten and lost in the Old Testament values of sacrifice (and we mean REAL sacrifice with death and pointed sticks) and vengeance.

And that is where this curmudgeon loses grumpy points. What most of the moral majority and fundamentalists and other wackos tend to forget about is that their Jesus doesn't quite resemble the Jesus I remember from the New Testament. This was a Jesus whose best friends were tax collectors and prostitutes. Who said "My kingdom is not of this world", who said "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone", who said "Render unto Caesar, that which is Caesar's", who cast out the pharisees from the temple (kinda like casting out Pat Robertson from the TV). Where does this Jesus fit in Bush's born again America?

What I'm getting at is that the Jesus who said things like this, is not a Jesus who really cares much about what is going on in this world - and he certainly does not condemn those who think and act differently than we do. What it seems like he does care about are things like love, forgiveness, charity etc. Where are these things in "The Passion of The Christ" besides the implication that "He so loved the world that he graphically died in 126 minutes of really nasty bloody icky unpleasantness"? Sorry, Mel, I know what death is, I face it every day I bicycle in the city from clueless SUV drivers who no doubt are "Christian". What the Jesus of the New Testament teaches me is the serenity and wisdom to forgive and love the miscreants fellow sinners, which is much more difficult than violence or ranting or fundamentalist pontificating.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Ah, What the Hell, Another Political Post

Hmmm...I don't know, but if your administration calls up reporters and commits a felony by outing an undercover CIA agent, or had Enron and Halliburton dictate policy I think "these guys are the most crooked, you know, lying group of people I've ever seen" may be a statement of fact rather than opinion.

Bush's supporters prefer that he is crooked and lying - because he is doing it for them with grand results. Well, not all of them, only the richest 1 to 5% of them. He's barnumed the rest by fear, selfishness, intolerance and bigotry.

But with Kerry (notwithstanding his recent comments) one gets the feeling that he (like Gore) will not do the horribly immoral things that the Bush team did in Florida during the election stealing. Bush played to win, while Gore took the high road. That is one reason why Dean had such a following I think, this was somebody who could give it and not just take it lying down. I'm becoming more encouraged by Kerry, but I don't think he has a chance against immoral thieves who will not stop at anything you can think of. Honor and doing the right thing might be what we say we want in Presidents, but they don't win elections.

Monday, March 08, 2004

To the Moon, Alice

"I know exactly where I want to lead this country," says George W. Bush in one of his new campaign ads.

To judge from the last 3 years, apparently he wants us to lead us into a country where 5% of the people are living high in a wonderful gated community with walls he is continuously trying to build to keep out the paltry concerns and lives of the other 95% and to protect against the very real scorched and polluted earth of the rest of America. In an earlier blog, I compared his administration to the Harding administration, but now I think it has crossed that milestone and is going towards the Idi Amin Dada part of the political "leadership" spectrum.

P.S. I know a Ralph Nader presidency is probably not what this country needs right now. But every time I think of good ol' Ralph, I think of what a incredible thing it would be to witness the meeting of him and Tom Delay after a Nader election, say in the White House. I don't know what Ralph would do, but Mr. Delay in my imagination would be frothing at the mouth with steam coming out of his ears with a vermilion complexion, and finally throwing himself down on the carpet and proceeding to gnaw at President Nader's ankles.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Blog Backwater

Apparently it is thought by some in the inner blogosphere that not having links in your own blog to other blogs you read is "not done". Ya sure, ya betcha. I can see the reasoning, but for some of these blogs that have these links it looks like they are eternally trying to be "cooler than thou" in their blog selections.

Since nobody reads this blog and anybody who does shouldn't be taking my advice on what blogs to read, so I won't muddy up my pristine and "just so" design by including blog links. Just consider that if you have ended up at this blog then you are in a backwater, with no way out except from the way you got in, and certainly none the wiser.

Monday, March 01, 2004

He Just Keeps Rollin'....

(sung to the tune of Ol' Man River)
Here we all search 'long the Amazon 'site
Here we all search while the computers play
Searchin' them pages from the dawn 'til sunset
Gettin' no rest 'til the judgment day

Jus' look up, jus' look down
You don't dare make that AI frown
Search the Subject, use quotes instead
Push that Search until you're dead

Let me go 'way from Microsoft IE
Let me go 'way from the searches redone
Show me that page called the "Page 1 of 1"
That's the ol' page that I long to see

Ol' Man River, that Ol' Man River
He don't say nothin', but he must know somethin'
He just keeps rollin', he keeps on rollin' along

He don't find authors and he don't find titles
And then what he does return are not vitals
But Ol' Man River, he just keeps rollin' along

You and me, we sweat and strain
Eyes all achin' and racked with pain
Find that phrase that unlocks the grail
At the pace of an electronic snail

I gets weary and sick of tryin'
I'm tired of living but I'm scared of dyin'
And Ol' Man River, he just keeps rollin' along
Ol' Man River...
So I'm using Ol' Man River Amazon to find the books of William Maxwell. I type in the words "William Maxwell" and I think I am clever when I tell it to limit the search to only Books. But, as in the paraphrased words of Dorothy Gale, "Why, I'm not clever at all". Sit down my friends and look at what I've found:
All Music Guide to Soul: The Definitive Guide to R&B and Soul
by Vladimir Bogdanov (Editor)
The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2004
by Editors of World Almanac
Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius
by Michael Michalko
Bedford Introduction to Literature: Reading, Thinking, Writing
by Michael Meyer
All Music Guide to Rock: The Definitive Guide to Rock, Pop, and Soul (3rd Edition)
by Vladimir Bogdanov
Set in Darkness : An Inspector Rebus Novel
by Ian Rankin
Everything You Should Know About Chelation Therapy
by Morton Walker, Hitendra Shah
Lyndon B. Johnson: Portrait of a President [ABRIDGED]
by Robert Dallek
The Cambridge Companion to Tennessee Williams
by Matthew C. Roudané
The Official NBA Basketball Encyclopedia (3rd Edition)
by Michael Jordan
If I knew nothing of William Maxwell, from these titles I would assume that he was a creative R&B musician/basketball star that wrote plays about chelation therapy in the Johnson Administration in the style of Tennessee Williams. Which he may have, I don't claim to know a lot about William Maxwell. But the William Maxwell I was interested in was the editor of the New Yorker for about 50 years and wrote several novels that I wanted information about.

So how hard could it be in Amazon's Brave New World to have the default search give Titles and then Authors that match the search? Instead we get random books that have absolutely nothing to do with the search terms. For a lark, I went through all 57 results and found that NONE of them had anything to do with William Maxwell. You can find them by doing an advanced search under author. But that seems stupid! Why is finding a book by author an Advanced Search and returning books that happen to have both "William" and "Maxwell" in their texts the default? IT MAKES NO SENSE!

But that Ol' Man River, he just keeps rollin', he keeps on rollin' along....

I'm A Loser, Baby, So Why Don't You Kill Me

I have never voted for somebody who ends up president in my twenty years of voting. I also am the kiss of death in other things. The Pittsburgh Pirates lost the playoffs in 1991 and 1992 because of me, and the Mariners have lost in the playoffs as well whenever I've watched them. I was forbidden to go to my college football or basketball games (well, as if I would anyway...) because of my well known loserdom. The interesting twist about last year's Red Sox was that I watched every inning of the last game until I channel surfed in the last extra inning. I just returned a split second after Aaron Boone's homerun. It was like the loser gods were playing me like a little kitten with a string - I didn't even get the catharsis of seeing the loss happen - I had to sit through several minutes of befuddlement (okay - a normal state in any case...) before I saw the replay of what happened, a first pitch homerun. (Yes, I was cheering for the Red Sox, rooting for the Yankees would be like cheering for Fastow in his Enron trials, and besides, would you EVER want to be on any side that had Steinbrenner on it?)

So that brings up my dilemma, do I not vote this year in the Presidential elections? Well, that is if there will be elections - there is a low but finite possibility that if the polls are not in Bush's favor and the October surprises do not work that something will come up to cancel the elections. There is so much money at stake for Bush's contributors that it would make good business sense to make the elections go away.

But if there are elections, do I vote for Bush to jinx him? Can I depend on my power? Can I count on twenty years of being a loser? Or would that just be the delicious irony - that Bush would win the State of Washington by one vote AND I was the reason for the next four years of lootocracy and random invasions.

Bewitched, bothered and bewildered am I.