Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Is it an Atypical Result, or A Typical one?

While I visiting my family, I was allowed to indulge in a great luxury I don't have at my place: satellite TV. There's not much on, in case you're wondering. But I finally got to sit down and watch the Food Network.

For years, friends have been looking at me with sad eyes and shaking their heads when they find out I've never seen the Food Network. Many times, I sucked the wind out of people's cooking stories ("I made this just like I saw" or "I never would have thought to use garlic and strawberries together!") by admitting that I didn't know what shows they were talking about. A friend who was very active in the meal planning industry in greater Orlando once rattled of a list of chefs, many of whom had shows on the network. I'd never heard of any of them. I think she recommended I watch more TV.

In any case, I can see why people love it. I'm already hooked on the PBS cooking shows. When Ming Tsai makes a cocktail using crystallized ginger root, I'm off to the store. So a TV channel I can turn on and get new recipe ideas is really something amazing.

While watching, I realized several things:

1. Many dishes are Italian-based. Tomatoes, garlic, and onions seem to be everywhere.

2. Rachel Ray talks a lot with her hands. My brother watched a bit of a show with me while he was preparing to go out running. We both laughed at how much she moves her hands at the beginning of her show, before she has any ingredients. I thought maybe it came from doing so many cooking programs where she has to use her hands to prepare continuously while talking fast. My brother hinted that she looked like she was halfway to signing for her deaf-audience, or possibly directing planes to their appropriate gates on the tarmac.

3. I didn't see any shows on preparing serious fancy feasts. Everything was simple, or cheap, or easy. No multi-part shows on how to prepare a seven-course meal.

4. Based on the commercials, guys don't watch this network.

Speaking of commercials, I saw one that caught my eye for the NutriSystem diet. This is a program where the company ships food to you, freeze-dried and portioned, and you eat the healthy stuff in small portions and lose weight.

They had a pretty lady with large breasts talking about how she gained all this weight during her pregnancy, and NutriSystem helped her lose it. Despite the siren call of large breasts directed at me, an Average American Male, I was fascinated with the fine print at the bottom of the screen.


Usually I've seen commercials say "Results not typical" or something similar. All-caps and an oddly spaced font made it almost seem like it was saying "A TYPICAL RESULT". Tricky!

"Client has been remunerated" Holy vocab euphemism, Batman! Often shown as "compensated for their consideration" or "subject receives monetary compensation", it all boils down to "company pays lady for appearing in commercial". I suppose it looks better to be fancy. Next week, I'm going to demand that I receive a "fiduciary remuneration from the Exchequer", instead of my bland old "paycheck".

"Results not typical". What a great line! This is like watching an ad featuring a lottery winner, then saying "this doesn't usually happen". What do you suppose they consider the "typical" result is? Is it someone who only loses 5 pounds in 5 weeks? Is it someone who sticks to the meals for two days, then abandons the rest of the diet as "too much work"? I'm very curious.

I should say that I have a friend who has currently lost 45-some odd pounds using this system over the last few months. She complains that there's little variety. She complains that it's expensive. She complains that she can eat four of the little pizzas, but she's only SUPPOSED to eat one. But for all this complaining, she's losing weight.

Your results may vary.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Need a cool thought to hold onto during these hot days?

Severe Weather at an Antarctic Research Station.

Cover Your Eyes!

Online Dating

Courtesy of

My blog received this rating because of:
  • bomb (5x)
  • dead (2x)
  • prick (1x)
I don't disagree with the rating itself, but I believe their rating methodology is flawed.

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Great Warring Armies of My Personality

One of the great struggles of my life is shaping up. I started out typing THE great struggle, but an attack of humility and fear of the future (as well as a healthy dose of “don't be over dramatic”) let me downgrade it from the status of "pinnacle". This particular struggle is framed by the close sides of my skull. The roots of the struggle are mental, and they spread from that point out to other emotions, the physical world, interpersonal decisions, and a whole host of other "key to my whole life" areas.

This struggle is between the respect of other people's privacy and my own aspiration for knowledge.

I like knowing things. Contrary to what other people may attribute to me, this is not out of a need to feel important, nor a need to disparage people around me. I learn things because it makes me calm. It relaxes me to know how chlorophyll works. I am comforted by the explanation for why lightening strikes certain spots and not others. It is reassuring to understand and examine that which is real.

It also allows me to play to the strengths of my memory. I have an excellent memory, but it tends to accumulate like small scraps of paper. “My uncle has a fondness for automobiles.” “My sister feels that everyone around her doesn't appreciate the freedom of speech as she does.” These scraps of paper tend to accumulate (as scraps of paper do) into great hulking piles of completely unconnected information. By learning new things, it allows me to sift through the pile and find other related facts and figures, and then gather all the like pieces together, sticking them to the main idea like some sort of bizarre paper-mache figurine.

So most of my life is spent in search of knowledge. I treasure anything I can find that helps give me a different viewpoint on any subject. Some of it comes from my own experience, but other people are usually helpful, too. When people communicate why they feel certain ways, it helps me abandon my own perspective and assume another person's outlook. It is this reason why I find interest in a wide variety of books and websites. I don't have any hope of understanding why Fred Phelps says what he says on my own; his perspective, reasoning, and methods are completely foreign to me. Even sites in opposition to him don't always make me understand. It is only by visiting him in his “home court” that I begin to piece together the “why” and the “how” of Phelps. In his own writings, a place of safety from competing opinions or ideology, I can start to approach the method behind the ... well, you know.

This is all fine and dandy, but it gets a lot trickier with friends. Some friends are very open, telling their feelings and motivations to anyone. Other remain closed, intent on keeping to themselves. When I was going through grade school, I can remember how some people would talk about anything and anyone. Small groups of people would be spectacularly well-informed on the activities (or theorized activities) of the entire school. Other groups would be insular and secretive, passing only notes and not speaking openly. Some people may have written their deepest, darkest secrets somewhere, but they had only to keep the letter in the hands of their trustworthy friends and the information would not be released.

But now we live in the Information Age. The internet and the individualization of content have allowed every person with access to a computer the ability to place information onto the global stage. Much is made of the supposed anonymity of the internet, but the fact remains: there are few dark corners to hide in. When people put their thoughts and feelings online, they're contributing to the “global data pile”. Blogs, and the internet in general, give us the illusion of privacy. We start a brand new blog that no one on Earth knows about, and it lures us in to airing our darkest secrets. After all, nobody knows how to find it, right? It's private.

And that's the trap. The instant you publish something to the internet, it's no longer private. Sure, people may not know about it, but the information will sit quietly until someone stumbles on it (thanks to Google's massive web crawlers) or you link certain people to it (who then may pass on the link). The illusion of privacy makes it SEEM like no one will ever see the information, but it is only an illusion.

Last year, I unintentionally arrived at the “secret” blog of an acquaintance. She linked back to an entry of mine and I was able to follow the return trail to her blog. The blog was completely anonymous, with no mention made of name, place of residence, occupation, etc. It was a completely different side than she had ever presented to me. She had always seemed studious, withdrawn, and self-deprecating. Her uncovered blog showed entries about sex, malicious comments other teachers and friends, and photos of her in various states of undress. A serious disconnect between the two! I followed it for a while, more out of curiosity than titillation or actual interest in the thoughts of this acquaintance, before dismissing it as someone who needs to spend time either reconciling her personalities, or doing a better job of obscuring her wild side. To this day, she still remains unaware of my discovery. Her outward behavior has not changed, but who knows how many other people think of the nasty things she said when they see her asking for help on library research.

I have friends who have multiple blogs, concerning vastly different topics. Some of these topics may not be suitable for public conversation (such as those concerning alcohol addiction or spousal abuse). Shouldn't I be able to look at these blogs, even if I wasn't “invited”? After all, they're out there! Anyone with the link can visit them. Isn't that my philosophy, after all? I don't write anything that would be disastrous should it fall into the “wrong hands”.

Yet, when I invariably find these blogs the first time, I'm uncomfortable. It's not that I think the authors want total privacy. It's that these blogs are written for specific audiences and more often than not, I'm not a member of the target group. The metaphorical front doors of these houses might be unlocked and open, but that doesn't mean I'm going to feel comfortable walking in and sitting on the sofa. I'm simply not invited.

As a result, even though I'm interested to hear what people I know have to say about all manner of subjects, I stay away. I let my fairly conservative sense of “would people be comfortable if they knew I was reading this?” help me to make the proper decision. If I blogged about complicated personal issues and wanted the support and non-judgmental opinions and experiences of a group of friends without having to worry about poisonous concern or raised eyebrows of the general masses, I'd want people to respect that, too.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

OMG, U R 2 W1CK3D!

I went to the unneccesarily long Cardinals baseball game last night. I am tired. I'll write about the game later, but here's a silly story to tide you over until then.

Pair told not to name their son "4real" SOURCE

A couple from New Zealand, looking at the ultrasound of their child, realized he was on his way. They decided to name the child "4real", because they now understand the full implications of having a child.

The name is currently under review by authorities, as all unusual names are inspected on a case-by-case basis.

"For most of us, when we try to figure out what our names mean, we have to look it up in a babies book and ... there's no direct link between the meaning and the name," Pat Wheaton told TV One on Wednesday. "With this name, everyone knows what it means."

This is the proud father, talking about his prospective son. Even though most people would associate any name with a number in it as some sort of pre-teen internet code, the father seems adamant that "everybody" will know what the name means.

He's wrong. First, because of the typeface of the original story, I thought he was naming his son "Areal", like a corruption of the moon of Neptune. Because I'm not under the age of 18, I don't automatically recognize numbers when used in words. It's a phenomena I've noticed over the years: even though I pronounce "four" and "for" exactly the same, when I read "four" and say it out loud, my brain processes it as a number. This has caused endless amusement for one of my students, whose parent has a license plate with something like "2 GUD 4 U". Since I couldn't decipher these marginally-educated suburban hieroglyphics, I was pronounced "old".

But back to New Zealand. After scrutinizing the font, I realized it was actually a number "4" as the first character. But I still didn't understand, because my first thought was that New Zealand, being part of the football-happy part of the world (i.e., everything outside of the U.S.), I assumed they were fans of Real Madrid, possibly the most broadly popular football club. You know Real Madrid, right? Erstwhile home team of David Beckham? Of "Bend It Like Beckham" fame? Anyone? His Wikipedia entry is longer than Ghandi's? Married to "Posh Spice"? Anyone? Bueller?

As an aside, "Real" (pronounced "ree-AL") is the Spanish word for real or genuine. So why is the name of the American Soccer team for Utah called "Real Salt Lake"? Is it because they have a genuine salt lake? Maybe. Is it because of the overwhelming Hispanic (and therefore Spanish-speaking) population in Utah? With approximately 6% of the population registering as Hispanic, that would be INCREDIBLY generous of the team owners to cater to that minority. So I guess it's just because there's a really famous team somewhere else that has a "similar" name, and they might get accidental TV coverage from people who just tune in to watch "that one 'Real' team"?

Nope, it's probably just because people think that marketing a team name is such an exact science, that they feel people will watch simply because they've got a cool "foreign-sounding" name. Considering Kansas City's team was originally called the "Kansas City Wiz" (which sounds like something you do in the alley after too much Boulevard Beer), I don't think the marketers have their finger on the pulse of today.

Speaking of marketing, this New Zealand kid will one day have a fantastic career as a "legacy rapper". In 30 years, when the modern culture has fallen out of vogue and is experiencing a resurgence among the 40-50 year-olds, along will come this Kiwi gansta rapper, schooled in the lost arts by Ice-T, who has retired to become a white-haired guru up on the mountains of ... his private island in the Bahamas. At Master-O.G. T's knee (say that five times fast!), young 4real will lift coconuts while suspended upside down from a tar-paper shack, while running through an encyclopedic catalog of all the ways to curse the Police and the playa-haters.

But fear not, for this epic saga ends with him achieving inner peace when he discovers (in dramatic fashion), just exactly how hot something must be, before one drops it.

God-speed, 4real. You'll need it to survive high school.

Friday, June 15, 2007

What's ASL for "be vigitant, I beseech you"?

Last night I saw the St. Louis edition of Shakespeare in the Park. They're doing "Much Ado About Nothing", set in the 1890's in a frontier American town. It's a fine production, although it is a little strange to hear "the revelers are entering!" and then have "Turkey in the Straw" play while the cast has a hoe-down.

The main cast acquitted themselves well. Hero, appropriately sweet, had a cute "Kristin Chenoweth"-thing with her voice which allowed her to sound young. Benedick was a sort of gangly cowboy who reminded me (at least in movement) of some of the running and jumping of Woody from PIXAR's "Toy Story".

The production stayed away from most of the gags from Kenneth Branagh's film version, which it seemed like most of the audience had seen. Speaking of the audience, it was as diverse a group as a free Shakespeare performance can hope to attract. Fancy chairs up front for the Blue Hair crowd and lots of blanket and chair space in the back and the sides for the younger crowd. And young they were! At times, everywhere I looked was filled with people under 30. They can't all have been dragged there by vindictive parents.

There were a few of the itinerant Renaissance Fest crowd that made their appearance, proving that people will take any excuse to show up in costume in any place that won't COMPLETELY condemn the impulse. It's the same impulse that makes people show up to Ren-Fests dressed as pirates, ninja, and Louis XIV fops, I suppose. In reality, the festival starts to bear resemblance to an 11th-grade history student's term paper. A student who's failing and has a poor memory. Gandalf the Grey was a citizen of Florence, under the Medici, right?

I saw a couple of people in robes that I assumed were the ugly cousins of the costume community: nerds dressed up as Jedi, who also like to show up at public costume festivals, presumably to lord their Jedi-ness over everyone else. Turned out they were Buddhist monks, so it says something when I think "sci-fi fans" faster than I think "actual devotees of a large world religion".

The most entertaining aspect of the evening, aside from the pale and waif-ish suburban daughters covered in Henna, was the interpreters into American Sign Language. They sat off to the left of the stage, with their own spotlights and a crowd of the hearing-impaired at their feet. From the first words, they were off in a stream of complex gestures and finger articulations. It's hard for people to hear Shakespeare and turn it into modern English in their heads. After all, when a character says something about "death, in guerdon of her wrongs", people start looking for iron girders (spell check doesn't have "guerdon". So I can imagine it must be four times as difficult to try to sign at speed with the actors.

The modern performance practice of Shakespeare is to speak it at a fairly rapid clip, attempting to approximate familiarity with the words so that the line-readings seem fresh, not bearing the accumulated dust of four centuries of drama school interpretation. So the actors spoke fast. Very fast. And the translators moved fast. Very fast.

But I have to wonder, is Shakespeare more or less "true" when translated? When Shakespeare uses words like "thou", a modern audience understands what he means, but the words still feel stilted. We don't use "thou" except to highlight arcane concepts with rhetorical jest. But in American Sign Language (ASL), wouldn't "thou" just mean "you"? So, when the play is modified in this manner, does the sign interpretation get closer to the original experience of an audience understanding the play, as opposed to the word choice being a barrier to overcome in the spoken version?

I stopped here to search the Web. I came up with a fantastic article about the "ASL Shakespeare Project" [source], which debuted an ASL translation of "Twelfth Night" in 2000. This production had the signing actors on stage, in costume, with the lines being read aloud from offstage. The article talks about how the character of Malvolio, an uppity prick, used very expansive and elaborate gestures incorporating "excess" motion to create a sort of "accent" for the character. The gestures would read to the deaf as overdone and unnecessary, helping to create a sense of a character who is over-enamored of his own importance. Isn't that cool?

The translators at the St. Louis performance really got into it, though they didn't wear costumes or move around off of their stools. There were two signers, and I assumed that they were there to switch off when signing became too tiresome. Luckily, they have much more imagination than I did. The two translators put on a show of their own. They conversed with each other as the characters did on stage, allowing for fast interplay and interruption. They also "acted" with their faces and postures to help communicate tone and character identification. Watching them through binoculars, I was amazed at how differently the female interpreter acted when she was Hero as opposed to when she was Beatrice. Sometimes she was also Don Pedro (the authority figure) and her posture would change again. Watching the interplay between Beatrice (the female interpreter) and Benedick (the male) was sometimes more entertaining than the actors on stage.

I'm lucky the signers were out of my ordinary field of vision, because if I had been sitting near them, I'm sure I would have spent the majority of my time watching them, to the exclusion of the actors.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Pure 100% Carrot

I was eating lunch today and happened to look at the bag of carrots. In these days of incredible sculptors who can shape sweet marzipan candy into any shape imaginable, I was relieved to find that my carrots contained carrots, completely carrots, and nothing but the carrots.

Have your flan and eat it, too

You may or may not be familiar with the Basque separatists in Spain. Euskadi Ta Askatasuna is their name, though it's usually abbreviated to ETA. They're neo-Marxists rebels who wish independence for their province, but also seek a revolution in the surrounding countries. They advocate a "revolutionary tax" on businesses and wealthy individuals in their area of operation, and failure to pay is often met with assassinations, kidnappings, and bombings.

Last year, on March 26, ETA declared a permanent cease-fire from all attacks. In December, after three warning calls, ETA detonated a truck bomb in an airport garage. Two men sleeping in their cars were killed.

ETA released a statement showing "solidarity" with the collateral damage (i.e. the dead men), saying they "did not intend" for there to be any victims. They blamed the government for the deaths, asserting that it was the government's responsibility to see that the facility was evacuated, in the wake of their warnings. In spite of this, they asserted that the cease-fire was still in effect.

Today, ETA declared the permanent cease-fire over, saying that the Spanish government was persecuting the group, rather than negotiating.

Ok. We've got a terrorist group that regularly kills, extorts, and destroys. During the "cease-fire", they believe they can detonate a bomb and destroy a garage, yet somehow still be within the cease-fire? Does "cease" mean something other in Spanish that I'm not aware of? It appears that ETA believed the truce was just with regards to loss of life; property damage is still acceptable.

Except for those unfortunate men in the garage, sleeping in their cars. Is the government responsible for the deaths when ETA makes warning calls? Considering the "lack of government information" was not the direct cause of their deaths, I'd have to say no. In fact, it seems to me that the bomb is the most direct cause of death. Of course, I'm not a political revolutionary. Perhaps I'd see those two men as a small inconvenience on the way to the glorious revolution. The good of the many versus the good of the one (or the two, in this isolated case).

ETA wants to bomb and destroy things. And if the Spanish government doesn't let them do that, then they bomb something to teach the government a lesson. And when the government cracks down on the group after the bombing, ETA complains that the government isn't moving forward on the peace and negotiations, and terminates the cease-fire.

They just don't make a permanent cease-fire like they used to.

*** *** ***

Meanwhile, back in the U.S., Vermont is considering succeeding from the Union. SOURCE

The Second Vermont Republic movement wants to remove Vermont from the U.S., which it considers an "empire about to fall." A survey of rural Vermont indicated 13% support for the position. 300 people attended a "succession convention" in 2005, and another is planned soon.

One supporter conceives of the breakaway Vermont as "the Switzerland of North America". The secessionists feel that they are politically too far away from the rest of the U.S. to be reconciled. Increasing interest in the movement is attributed to the Iraq war and high gas prices. The group's website can be found at Be sure to stop in the website store and consider the purchase of a "Free Vermont" bumper sticker.

As someone in the article says concerning succession,
"It doesn't make economic sense, it doesn't make political sense, it doesn't make historical sense. Other than that, it's a good idea."

Monday, June 04, 2007

Should one device do everything?

Or should many devices do their own things at higher levels of proficiency?

This is the dichotomy of modern consumer electronics. Let's discuss it with the help of the current avatars. The Specific Design approach is exemplified by the original iPods. They play music. It is a box designed to store and replay recorded media. They play music well. The battery life is long. There is a robust and easy to use shopping model to allow people to effortlessly spend lots of money to stock their iPod with songs. You cannot use an iPod to order dinner. You cannot use it to tell you the weather. An iPod does not take pictures. It simply plays music.

The Jack-of-All approach is perhaps best exemplified by a modern cell phone. The cell phone is a personal organizer. The cell phone keeps addresses. The cell phone has GPS. The cell phone plays music. The cell phone has TV. The cell phone has internet browsing. The cell phone checks email. The cell phone plays games. The cell phone takes pictures. The cell phone takes movies. The cell phone opens Word documents. The cell phone sends text messages. The cell phone may also make calls.

The cell phone doesn't do any of these things extremely well. The screen is too small for a true GPS device. The camera is not powerful enough for detailed photos. The address book has less storage than a devoted device, because it has to share space with music and pictures and ring tones. The internet browser is on the same small screen. The phone may not have enough battery if it also gets used as a full-time music player.

A dedicated device will (hopefully) always perform better at a certain task. My recently purchased camera takes fantastic pictures. I purchased it expressly for that reason. It doesn't make coffee or tell me where the nearest Denny's is, but that's OK. I only need it to remember how to take pictures. That must be the philosophy I have as a consumer. I have an music player, and it plays music. I have an audio recorder, it makes excellent recordings. I have a phone, and it makes phone calls.

Of course, each dedicated device takes up space. And to carry around enough stand-alone devices to equal out what the single multi-purpose cell phone does, our pockets would overflow and our trousers would end up around our ankles. Hmm, maybe that's why kids always have their pants so low: they've got too many electronic devices!

This thought about multi- versus single-purpose devices got planted in my mind about a month ago, when I was out with a bunch of fellow musicians after a performance. One of the guys brought out his cell phone and showed a picture of himself and his son. It was cute, and everyone at the three tables said, "Awwww!" Then someone else showed a picture of their dog, and around and around it went, with everyone showing pictures on their phones that had been taken of dogs, girlfriends, children, cousins, etc.

Except for me. I was the only person at the table of eight whose phone doesn't have the ability to take pictures. Or store pictures. Or display in color. Or get text messages. I frowned, and people laughed. But I don't need any of that. I want my phone to make phone calls, tell me the date, and show me the time. That's it. And since I haven't lost my phone since I first bought it, I've still got the same phone. But the battery has 12 hours of talk time, and can go for two or three weeks without needing to recharge it.

I wrote this article because the Apple iPhone is coming. It does most of the things I listed above. It looks beautiful. The touch screen is very appealing. The colors are bright and shiny. It has exciting new ways to browse through your music collection. It's also $600. It also requires a brand new two-year contract with AT&T wireless. And who knows how much extra it costs to actually use the data transmitting features (texting, internet, etc.)

It's cool. The geek in me is excited, but I would never buy one. Even if it were given to me, and the service paid for, I still might end up being disappointed. It's too soon to make hard conclusions, but I'd be very concerned about how long my battery will last while browsing, rocking, and phoning all day long. I've been following the gadget industry for a while, and it's increasingly acceptable for devices to have enough battery power to last a day. A day? So, if I forget to plug my phone in one night, it becomes useless the next day? And not just the phone but also my email, maps, and music?

I'll stick with my silly INDIGLO phone, thanks.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Old Spice

As a person who loves verbal and visual illusions, as well as long comic speeches, I find this a fantastic commercial.

Pay close attention to either the words or the set design.

EDIT: For added fun, I just found a 30-second version. It's amazing how adaptable the set is, and how much faster Bruce Campbell can patter through the material. I think the longer one is a better and more enjoyable "experience", though.

Shopping at the Grocery

This afternoon, I went to the grocery to pick up food for the week. I have a very particular way I shop for food: I look for the little sale signs. My grocery has a "discount card", which is free to sign up for. If you have the card, a quick swipe unlocks the "sale" prices. If you don't have the card, you're stuck with the standard price.

I get my cart and wander the store looking at everything that has sale tags. I have very little brand loyalty. I am much more likely to be swayed by whatever is currently on discount. It usually works out well, because things tend to go on sale in sequence. If French's mustard isn't on sale, Plochman's is. If 83% lean beef isn't on sale, 93% is. If grape juice isn't on sale, orange juice is. And I always come away from the cereal isle with *some* kind of sale item.

It's even somewhat a joke in my family. When they come to visit and ask about the tasty jam or bread I've got, usually the first thing out of my mouth is "well, it was on sale."

Being firmly committed to getting as much out of my discount card as I can, I was surprised to be in the checkout lane behind someone who was the polar opposite of me. I unpacked my food onto the food-mover while watching all the stuff that was being scanned in ahead of me. Soda. Buns, both hot dog and hamburger. Juice packets. Vegetables. Soup. Chips. Cheese. On and on.

All told, it was $298 worth of food. Considering my monthly food budget is $300, I confess my eyebrows did raise slightly. Of course, I live by myself, whereas this woman was buying food for a family of 6. At least, I hope so. The $298 total was after the collective discount applied by her coupon card. Her discount came to $3.57. Not very much.

In contrast, I purchased $27 worth of food. My discount was $9.63, and I was frustrated because I ended up buying some store-baked bread that wasn't on sale (it tastes better, though). I was astounded that this other customer could accumulate so much food without getting more of a discount than a paltry three and a half dollars. In my opinion, you have to be actively TRYING in order to get such a low "score" in the sale game. I could probably accomplish it, but only if I went in with the expressed purpose of buying non-sale material. I don't think I'd be able to accomplish it through pure serendipity.

*** *** ***

On a completely different subject, I'm almost positive that the person ahead of me in the above example was a transsexual. She was tall, broad shouldered, and spoke with a low voice (for a woman). She was somewhat overweight, but most of her weight seemed to be above her beltline (as opposed to more hips and thighs, or breasts and upper arms). She also had hands that seemed more at home on a man than a woman, in size as well as clumsiness.

All this in itself may point to nothing. After all, we have many feminine men and masculine women in today's society. I did take care, however, to note the relative length of the ring finger compared to the index finger. It's not a certainty, but statistics show that men usually have longer ring fingers than women. Feel free to try this at home!

As I said, it's not a certainty, and the current gender identity of this patron is not really significant to me. If I had bumped into her, I still would have said "excuse me, ma'am."
I do wonder, though, considering my previous experience in the checkout lane: would the parents be more or offended by the orthodox Jews or the woman who used to be a man?

EDITORS NOTE: The picture for this entry is of Thanyarat Jirapatpakorn, the winner of the Miss Tiffany's Universe transsexual beauty pageant held in 2006 in Thailand.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Can we harness them for fuel?

My telephone rings every day. Not my cell phone, but my actual signal-from-the-wall telephone. Every day, companies call. They've called for as long as I've been living here. Close to three years, they've left messages.

Some of the calls are robotic. They have a machine who calls my number, and speaks to my machine. I feel bad for my answering machine, because it doesn't get to listen to interesting calls anymore. When I lived in Columbia and had no cell phone, I got messages from all kinds of people. Study group on Friday. Dinner on Saturday. The park on Sunday. Come swim at the pool on Monday. Now my machine only listens to people selling things.

Some of the robots who call are smart. They're patient enough to wait for the beep and then start talking. I don't know how they know. Some of the machines are dumb, and start talking as soon as the "virtual me" picks up the phone. This leaves me with a message that consists of "...aking the time to listen. Remember, rates are the lowest right now." No number, and no clue what they're talking about. Very effective. It's the phone equivalent of those blank SPAM emails I'm always receiving.

What I didn't expect was that most of the calls I receive are actual humans. And man, are they persistent! Since the second day I lived in this building, I've been getting phone calls for a particular satellite TV company. I live in a condo, so I can't just go putting a dish on the roof. I explained to the first guy who called, "Dave" that I couldn't have satellite. He said thanks. A week later, he left another message on my machine. Every two weeks or so from that point on, they call.

I must be shuffled to different "case workers". First it was Dave. Dave lasted for the better part of an entire year. Then one day, he was gone. It was now Jill. She called. Same script as Dave. "Oh, hi guys! Just wanted to let you know you've been selected for a free, complete in-house satellite TV system!" Very friendly, as though I might get confused that it was actually a friend calling to let me know about a great TV deal. A friend with an 800 number. And a lot of patience.

After Jill came Peter. After Peter came Craig. And finally, almost three years down the line, Craig has given way to Jim. They're not recordings, because the message is subtly different each time. I know because if I come back from vacation and there are two or three on my machine, I can listen to them back-to-back and compare. They've started offering TIVO and HD now, that's pretty cool.

I tried to save them the expense and time in the beginning, but they just didn't listen. So now I let them call, because I wish to support the careers of Jim and Craig and Peter. Not Jill, though. She sounded too much like a tease. Sure, she offered me the same thing as everyone else, but I could hear the loneliness in her voice. The vulnerability. But she disappeared without so much as a "bye". Heartless witch!

Anyway, I allow my machine to count towards the quota of made calls in a day. Perhaps someday I'll let them know that I really can't have a dish on my place, but that didn't seem to work the first time.

But they keep calling. For three years, I've been a no sale. They must just figure I'm a VERY crafty consumer. "Hmmm, I'm betting by year five, they'll knock two bucks off!" Strangely enough, everyone speaks very clearly. American accents abound. Why hasn't the "talking to brick wall" sales pitch department been outsourced to India? They could save the completely understandable people to do important customer service phone work, where sometimes an impenetrable accent can be a liability and a frustration.

While I was typing this, another message got left. This one's for the prize. Those calls have been coming since the first day, too. They're always calling to say that I've won a spectacular prize! They never say what it is, or what the company is, but they keep trying! Several different caller personalities have been on this one, too, over the years. But the players here are earnest. I can hear in their voices that I am crazy to not call back and accept the prize. Am I feeling ok, because I must be broken on the floor with delirium to have not responded. It is, as they say, a "limited time offer". Err... yeah. Limited. The offer's only good for like... TWO presidential terms, TOPS.

I don't know what the prize is, but I do know that you only have a year to claim the lottery, if you win. After that year, you're out of luck. And the lottery doesn't really try hard to find you. They'd rather NOT have to give the money away. In light of these facts, I can't imagine why this company (whatever they do) is so adamant that I accept whatever it is they've been offering (over and over again) for three years.

I'd be a fool not to, right?