Monday, June 29, 2009

Sanford and Fun

So Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina [hereafter referred to as SC] has burdened himself with the trappings of adultery. In a bizarre sequence of events, he vanished from family and statehouse, with even his own security detail not knowing where he went. Then his staff said he was hiking the Appalachians. Then he was interviewed stepping of a plane from Argentina, calling his change of locations "exotic". Then he called a press conference that afternoon and admitted to an affair with a woman from Argentina.

It's been a busy couple of weeks for this sort of behavior. You may recall that Nevada Senator John Ensign recently admitted to an affair with one of his campaign workers. And while that incident did have a neat little "husband of the scarlet woman [allegedly!] trying to blackmail a senator" angle, this latest fling has an international appeal. We've got a fair amount of religion in the current Sanford scandal, too. And tasty, tasty hypocrisy.

Mark Sanford is a devout Episcopalian, invoking the Bible many times in his apologetic statements in the wake of his indiscretions. He opposed SC's faith-based license plates, writing: "it is my personal view that the largest proclamation of one's faith ought to be in how one lives his life." See, it's these sorts of quotes that just make political researchers' days.

While he was a senator in the 90's, he voted for the impeachment of President Clinton, calling the whole business "reprehensible". Since Sanford has a mistress of his own now, we can be charitable and retroactively interpret his comments in light of the actual engendering impeachment: lying. Or maybe not, since the governor also lied quite a lot about his whole affair. So, maybe he was REALLY talking about lying under oath, thereby committing a crime. Further proof that people who are going to eventually enter the glass domicile market should be verrrrrry careful practicing their throwing arms.

Despite calls for resignation from his own party, Sanford has indicated that he will stay on through the remaining months of his term to serve the people. Isn't it fun to have so much in common with Bill Clinton? Just to pile on an additional level of weird, it turns out that adultery is illegal in South Carolina, though all of Sanford's actions seem to have occurred in Argentina, so there is no jurisdiction to prosecute.

Finally, Sanford's decision to remain as governor is probably apt. After all, he has the support of the people. Well, it's not so much that he has their support... as much as his mistress (and even his wife) has the people's contempt. See, it's the woman who's the bad guy: she should have known better, she's a prostitute, she's a terrorist spy, his wife isn't supportive. Those are some of the opinions collected by a blogger at The Nation.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Are gays the new jews?

Gays in entertainment? This is the first I've heard about it!

--- --- ---

Incidentally, the "Top Gun" star coming out isn't that one I know you were thinking of: that one with all the rumors. No, this is Kelly McGillis.

When is a celebrity not a celebrity?

News broke earlier today that Billy Mays, who I only know as "that guy who sells Oxyclean who looks a little like that guy from 'Home Improvement'", died. Apparently, Mays sold other products in infomercial form and even starred in a reality series on television.

Normally, I wouldn't blog about such a death. He seems to have been a good person, so it's a tragedy that he died, but his death alone wouldn't be enough to provoke the pen of someone wholly unconnected with his life and family. I bring up his death primarily in relation to the rule of 3.

For whatever reason, there's a widespread myth that deaths of celebrities tend to occur in threes. I've heard about this for more than a decade. Whenever two famous people die in close proximity, I have often heard friends discuss who might be the unfortunate conclusion to the trilogy.

In this case, the juxtaposed deaths of Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, and Ed McMahon provided the background for an argument. The argument was whether or not Billy Mays counts as a celebrity, in light of three people of higher renown having died already. Was he "celeb" enough to violate the law of three?

It's all ridiculous. For whatever reason, we as a species REALLY like threes. Triune gods, three wishes in fairy tales, three branches of government: you name it, we can find threes in it. Know what else we're REALLY good at, with our highly-evolved mamalian brains? Finding perceived patterns in randomness.

And the problem of "scale" of celebrities is also nonsense. I have no doubt if Farrah Fawcett were still alive, nobody would quibble about the stardom of Billy Mays. They'd consider the set of three finished.

Come to that, there are renowned heads of state who die with less fanfare that Michael Jackson. In his heyday, he was probably the most famous man in the world, with the possible exception of the Pope. And the pontiff didn't have 13 hit singles!

A quick look at Wikipedia's compiled list of notable deaths for 2009 should put to rest any perception of groupings of deaths.

But it won't.

Increase (Doctor Andy Speaks) version level by 0.1

I did a bit of code spelunking yesterday. The web log templates that Blogger offers are provided with updates here and there, so I like to go browsing in case something new has been added. From among the code that had changed since my last peek, I selected two new "widgets"- small utilities built into the website to increase functionality.

First, I incorporated an additional search box in the right-hand column. There's always been the basic one provided in the "Blogger Navigation Bar". That's the black strip that runs across the top of the page. It's hardwired into every Blogger blog. The new search, helpfully labeled "Search this blog" offers some additional functionality. When a search is begun, the results will helpfully appear in the column of blog entries, meaning the currently viewed page will not be lost.

The search results also have their own Close box, which will return the page to ordinary viewing. Additionally, it seems to be able to search in other sites that I've linked to and in the pages of my friend's blogs (under "Other Points of View").

Related to the "Other Points of View", I cleaned up the list of my friends' currently-active blogs. The previous list (which actually vanished somewhere along the line) contained some long-outdated links, as well as links to people who'd actually ended their blogs. The current list contains blogs which have posted an entry within the last twelve calendar months. If I've missed anyone, just let me know.

The second code alteration is the addition of what Blogger refers to as "Reaction" buttons. These buttons allow the reader quick feedback on a particular entry. I've included four moods, which may or may not be obvious. There are the standard agree and disagree buttons, which can be used to indicate support or abhorrence of whatever the entry is about.

The two remaining buttons may not be so obvious. "Shrug?" is intended to be equivalent to "don't know" or "not sure" or "what in the world is the author thinking?" I put a little thought into the punctuation of each reaction, hoping that would provide a further clue. Finally, "Meh" has become a popular utterance indicating a lack of interest or apathy. It is a complete opposite to the 19th century compliment of having "fixed opinions", i.e. a thought-out stance on any issue. "Meh" indicates a total lack of opinion.

I'm not a fan of "meh" in conversation, but I've included it here because I consider it perfectly designed for instant feedback. Appropriately, that's the same reason I consider it useless and frustrating when used in answers. One friend uses it close to 50% of the time when responding to questions on opinions or values. If I could properly convey how much this frustrates me in conversation, I would be hailed with a Pulitzer Prize and acclaimed as a true communicator.

The reactions are intended to be quick, painless, and fun. My hope is that they'll provide me (and other readers) with a bit of feedback on what you (the reader) thinks about whatever it is I'm blathering on about. They are not scientific; one's vote is switchable as long as one hasn't left the page. Return visits seem to allow for more selections. Unlike written comments, I receive no notification of these choices. Delving into the archive and randomly "shrugging" at posts probably won't be noticed until someone happens to visit the page again. In contrast, I receive email notification for each written comment added to any entry on the site. So if you truly wish to make your feelings known to me, comments are still the way to go.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The world is not yet ready for my whining genius!

Apologies to those of you with RSS readers, who followed a link to the previous posted entry, which turned out to be an error page. For the regular viewers, I did post an entry last night. Between the time I posted it (11:00pm or so) and the time I decided to take it down (1:00am or so), I thought about whether or not the entry should stay live.

Regular readers should be aware that this (the taking-down of previously published entries) is not a behavior I particularly care for. In fact, I've only ever taken down one or two entries, and even those were replaced by entries talking about me taking them down. It is my view that part of the contract with the reader is that publishing is a one-way affair; things don't disappear again. Perhaps it has something to do with my academic background, though I've never considered them together; it would be disastrous if scholarly works "unpublished" if the author decided to change their mind.

This removed entry concerned my application for the so-called secret job. It was secret only to spare embarrassment for the company and the current office-holder. That employee was under-performing to a degree that necessitated their replacement, a course that must be navigated carefully. The removed entry was not some angry tirade against the business or the ill-fated former employee: that's not a blog I'm interested in writing. It was a simple list of some of the more frustrating aspects of my application process.

I decided to bring it down because the posibility exists of such an entry poisoning the well. I have no indication that people from the company in question read this blog in my application process, but that can't be ascertained for the immediate future. Instead, I decided to moth-ball the entry for a while. It will return after a suitable amount of distance has opened after the events of the interview. There are some funny aspects to the story, as well as some frustrating ones, and they will all be released sometime.

In the meantime, you unlucky readers are stuck with this post. It's not exactly "content-rich", is it? If I were adept at making fart jokes, one would definitely be inserted here to attempt to salvage the entry.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Do musicians have professional ethics?

If there's a Hippocratic Oath for musicians, I haven't been asked to recite it by my peers. Perhaps it only comes into play when I actually become a "doctor". We'll see.

Regardless of whether or not we musicians have professional ethics, I as an individual do. Which is why I can't discuss what I was preparing for lately. At least, I can't talk about it yet: there's a statute of limitations on this "secret" that runs out the moment I receive news of a successful or unsuccessful conclusion. It's the waiting that's difficult.

So, in lieu of THAT entry, I'll write just a short bit talking about my trip to the opera today. Today's opera at the Opera Theater of St. Louis was John Corigliano's opera called "Ghosts of Versailles". Originally premiered in 1991, this is the revised revised version, adapted by the composer specifically for small houses and orchestras.

It was a fantastic performance. It's not a standard opera, by any means. At one point, the audience was watching the opera "Ghosts of Versailles", whose characters are watching an opera composed by Beaumarchais, whose characters are watching a musical performance by a Turkish entertainer. That's a lot of levels of meta-opera to cut through.

It made sense, though, and told a good story. The simplistic scenery was also put to excellent use, and had a slight connection (in projections of video footage) with the OTSL's production of "Nixon in China" from a few years back. I really enjoyed the allusions to Rossini and Mozart, as well as the "ghostly" parts of the score utilizing more modern compositional devices.

One of the more impressive opera experiences I've had the privilege of attending in my life.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Opera in St. Louis

I'm in St. Louis for the closest thing I have to an annual ritual: experiencing opera at the Opera Theater of St. Louis. Members of the St. Louis Symphony hang out in the pit as one of their pre-approved summer activities, and the quality of the vocalists is excellent.

Today was La Boheme by Puccini. Like all productions from the Opera Theater, this was translated into English. I'm sure that annoys the purists, but opera in the vernacular is much more accessible to a wider audience, which means that it was very well attended. Not even as many gray-hairs as previous years. Sure, they're still the vast majority of the patrons, but there's a few that have dyed to jet black or carrot red.

Radolfo looked like George Clooney, but wasn't as good as projecting as Marcello, so some of their duets were compromised. I could have used more attitude from Musetta and Mimi reminded me of Vanessa Williams circa 2006. On the whole, very pleasant. They really cooked along and got done inside of 2.5 hours. Boheme isn't exactly epic on length, but with even with two intermissions...

Next week, "Salome" by Strauss and "Ghosts of Versailles" by John Corigliano. Should be fun.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Tehran's Election Aftermath

I've been sitting at my computer most of the afternoon, riveted to the screen. I have at least seven windows open, all tracking independent news sites, Twitter feeds, YouTube and Facebook videos, and contraband BBC coverage. All of it is covering the reaction to the announcement that Ahmadinejad has been reelected president of Iran. For the past two days, there's been thousands of people roaming the streets in Iranian cities and armed guards and secret police beating people left and right.

Unlike other serious news events that I grew up learning about in the past tense, this is unfolding around me. Every time I refresh the pages, there's more video. More fires, more wounds, more shouting. It makes everything feel like it's happening just past my fingertips, even though it's thousands of miles away.

It's the 21st-century equivalent of reading Anne Frank's diary to read repeated messages from a guy who locked himself in his house and reports about riot police storming down the streets beating people while voices cry out for help.

As immersive as this information is, I think people (myself included) have to be careful about aggrandizing the events. Is this a country-wide revolution? No. Is this even a significant minority of the population, or just a few people in one place? I can't say. The major news networks have some stories, but they're very hands-off and detached. Is that because they don't want to fan people over some minor incidents? Or is it because Iran confiscated NBC's equipment, disrupted most internet and cell phone sites and traffic into and out of Tehran, and kicked the BBC out?

As an armchair watcher, I have no idea.

All I can say is that hearing reports of men and women standing on their roofs at 2 and 4 AM local time and shouting "Marg bar diktator" ("Down with the dictator") and Allahu Ahkbar ("God is great") such as previously happened in the 1979 revolution, is sobering.

Hearing the actual videos is even more so.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Do you moonlight as a pimp, maestro?

One of the nice things about social networking sites is the ability to "keep tabs" on friends that you might not otherwise talk to on a regular basis. Where the acquaintance may have withered in the regular course of time, instead we stay somewhat aware of what the other person is doing through the occasional photo, comment, or story that filters through the network. It's nice.

And it's through this modern development that I know a bit about a friend I left in Chicago. I haven't had a single meeting with him since I left Chicago in June of 2000, but through little comments here and there, we've kept in touch over the years. Enough to know he's seemingly happy and successful at life.

He also keeps interesting company. [You should say this with as much eyebrow raising as can be mustered.] One of Facebook's little features is something called "Highlights", which keeps a small running column down the right side of the home page. In this column are random snippets of what your collected assortment of Facebook Friends are doing. For example, if a friend clicks somewhere to indicate that they like Jimmy John's Sub Shop sandwiches, a little picture of picture of the logo will appear in the highlights and underneath, it will say "Bob likes Jimmy John's". It's not just commercial things: if someone comments on a picture or makes a statement, you'll randomly get a notification of that, too.

There would seem to be no rhyme or reason to what information stays or never makes it to the highlight section. It's roughly chronological, but some events vanish and some events appear threaded into the "past" end. Tis a puzzlement.

But this puzzle leads to another. My friend from Chicago commented on a picture of a woman I don't know. Thanks to the magic of the Facebook Arbitrary Privacy standards, I can now see that picture and read the comment, even though I've never met her and have no actual connection between us. I can't access the information in her profile (her birthday, her job listings, her address), I can see the rest of the photos in that particular album. I don't think this is the way it's supposed to work, but I'm not the one running the multi-million dollar company.

The first time this happened, his comment was on a picture of a woman who had the smallest of garments preventing her from being topless. When I saw that little thumbnail picture to the side of my page, I was VERY surprised. Yet fear not, she is not being exploited: it turns out she's a burlesque dancer and she only wears that whenever they don't have "casual Fridays" at work.

This was about six months ago. When I lived in Chicago, he was the sort of person who gave the impression he'd never even been NEAR a woman, so I chuckled to myself and thought "good for him" for meeting a fancy dancer.

Since that time, however, I've seen month upon month of comments on pictures of other burlesque dancers, gothic models, bikini girls, and fitness models. So I'm starting to wonder what sort of crowds he actually runs with in Chicago. Especially since many of them don't seem to live in Chicago. I can't imagine ALL of these people would go around giving their Facebook name as a preferred method of contact.

*** *** ***

The picture that received a comment today was of a "fitness model". I put fitness model in quotes because it seems like it's a descriptive metaphor for something else [wink, wink], but nobody seems to have any idea what that "else" is. When pressed, everyone seems to agree that its a model who is affiliated with fitness equipment or clothing. So... there? Huh.

Anyway, I've included a version of the photo, modified so as to conceal the woman's identity (and to embarrass myself). As you can see, this fetching woman is modeling the latest in fitness attire: a semi-transparent frilly pink bra and panties set. It's what everyone is going jogging in, I guess. She's kneeling on a bed and wearing three-inch Lucite high heels. Also for jogging. After you get good at running in athletic shoes, you can switch to heels to boost the difficulty.

I assume to understand why models like to wear heels and/or stand on their toes. One, it makes them taller, and taller equates with sexy somehow (most models are tall). Tall also helps contribute to the illusion of long legs, which implies thin by virtue of an optical illusion. [As an aside, it made me happy to bold the word "thin" in that sentence. Typeface nerd!]

Two, it partially flexes some of the muscles in the legs, tightening up the skin and making legs appear more toned and (you guessed it) thin, because muscularity implies thin (in the distorted belief that muscles and fat are somehow mutually exclusive).

Three, the heels themselves are somehow sexy. I'll grant that high heels look sexy with evening dresses, modern clubbing for the fashonistas, or during certain kinds of dancing, but I find them utterly ridiculous with swimwear, for example. Any woman I know is probably wearing flip-flops or river shoes with a swimsuit, or is plain-old barefoot. As such, my brain registers only first-impression derision seeing models at the pool with heels on.

And I guess that's my problem with the above picture (over and above the absolutely HIDEOUS face on that model). My logical brain says that she shouldn't be wearing shoes in bed, because she'll track dirt in (my mom's reason for not allowing me to wear shoes to bed) or because she can't possibly use the heels to look taller or more muscular. It's possible the shot was part of a set that had her standing up at some point, but given the amount of care that goes into shooting each and every shot set-up at a photo shoot, I can't imagine that detail would have been overlooked. Unless it's like high school yearbook photos where you pay by the outfit. If she had taken off the shoes, maybe she'd be charged for a different outfit. Thrifty thinkin', fitness model!

So the answer is probably point three (heels are sexy) in this case. I don't see it, but there's got to be a reason why they're in the shot. I have to assume that some people think that having heels on "classes up the joint". I think it just looks silly.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

How fun, my very own sex spam!

So, in the entry from yesterday titled "I think I just got rejected by a computer!", I put up a very real email I'd received that may-or-may-not be a dismissal letter. Instead of leaving in the name of the very real company that sent the letter, I replaced it with a hopefully unbelievable stand in, involving a theoretical company that makes inflatable humanoid simulacra of a prurient nature.

Lo and behold, today I had a comment on that entry. Was it one of my friends, giving a valuable or hilarious opinion on the subject? No. Was it a new reader, taking that opportunity to comment on a subject that mattered to them, personally? Yes, but...

If you were to follow the link back to that entry, you'll see the comment came from "Carl". Clicking on Carl's name to learn more about him leads to an unavailable profile page. So Carl values his privacy. You may also notice that Carl has almost flawless English. He's also very rational, if somewhat assertive: I agree that a salacious "action" figure may be a solution for "solitaire" persons. I didn't follow the link, fearful of all the strange computer-eating things that wait on the other end of strange links, but judging by the address alone, it went to a site that sold said "libidinous user aids". As advertised.

Carl is from Colombia, which I determined with the help of my visit counter. He arrived on my website about a half-hour prior to his comment, no doubt attracted by the use of a certain term which I am scrupulously avoiding in this entry. After thirty minutes, he returned and posted his comment, checking once to make sure that it had posted correctly and to make sure that he had gotten his argument across, no doubt. Wouldn't do to be misunderstood.

Since it won't do to have people (aside of me!) promoting things for their own gain on this website, I removed him. But have no fear, Carl! Thanks to my screen-grabs, the ... essence of your contribution to the conversation has been preserved. Your valid point of view will not go unrecognized or un-debated.

For indeed, who among us can say that we have never felt like a synthetic love-sapien? That's all Carl's trying to say, really.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I dreamt of Ireland...

Last night, I had a dream I was in Ireland. It's not the first such dream and I certainly hope it won't be the last. The Irish dreams come when I'm stressed out and fractured. They make a welcome change from the much more common dreams of violence, frustration, and longing that manifest when I am in the stressed state.

If I could somehow dream the dream more often, I'd be even more relaxed and unfocused than I usually am. It's a welcome change from rising from a dream already fatigued with a day's worth of activity freshly remembered.

Dreams of far away places are uncommon for me. I'm always surprised when I wake up remembering JUST being someplace else. If I think about it during the dream, it even surprises me in situ. A sort of thought like "What am I doing in Ireland? I have to do laundry tomorrow!" is typical.

In the dream, I was sitting in a pub with a woman, close to a fire. I don't remember ever actually looking at the woman, so I can't describe her. We were having conversation: the sort of conversation one has on a really good date, where each topic leads into another without pause and each of the participants is excited to talk or listen.

And I was content. That's basically the only information I remember. I don't remember the woman, I don't remember the conversation, I don't remember the reasons why I ended up in the pub. I think it was raining, because I sat in the chair watching the fire and being thankful for the warmth.

Maybe it's my brain's way of giving me something for all my troubles: "Here, you've been a good boy. I'll let you have a fantasy." I have been in pubs in Ireland, but never ones with a fire. And not with a chatty woman.

Dreams are commonly believed to be allegorical: the fire hydrant is your dad, the alligator is your wife, etc. My dreams are almost never that abstract and even my allegorical dreams are blunt: here's the girl I like and she's holding an hourglass!

So while this dream may be all about penises and sex and unresolved issues, I just don't think so. I do feel a sense of longing towards that situation, but probably just because its comfortable and cozy. I tend to gravitate towards those situations in life, too.

I think I just got rejected by a computer!

While I was writing the previous entry, an email arrived from one of the companies I've applied for in the last few days.

SUBJECT: Job Status Update

Dear Andrew,

You recently applied for a position with Inflatable Sex Dolls-R-Us. At this time, we are moving our selection process forward with those candidates whose backgrounds and skills are most closely related to our needs.

We appreciate your interest in employment opportunities with Sex Dolls-R-Us and wish you success in your career endeavors.

Sincerely, Human Resources

I guess I can assume this is a computerized rejection letter. It's not particularly definitive, though, and that will end up making me more angry if time shows that this is a brush-off note. Other companies have sent letters that leave no doubt whatsoever. "At this time, we've decided to chose a candidate with skills more aligned to our current focus" or something like that.

This letter is kind of a non-letter. "Be aware that things are happening. If you are one of the people who things are happening to, then further things may happen, in addition to the things that happened hereunto."

It seems to me like the computer is treating me like a very thick friend.

Computer: Ahem! Everyone who signed up for kickball, please pay attention.
Andy: Ooo, that's me.
C: We value your interest in playing kickball.
A: Umm, thanks?
C: Hopefully, you will do well at playing kickball in the future.
A: But... what about the present?
C: In the present, we are following the standards established for "good" kickball players.
A: Does that include me?
C: We are selecting players who match our standards to move forward in the picking process.
A: Like me, right? Otherwise, wouldn't you just say I wasn't needed?
C: [fixes Andy with an intense digital stare, speaking very slowly] Here. Are. Some. Other. Teams. Needing. Players.
A: Thanks. I think I got it.
C: We appreciate that you thought you could get in. It happens to many humans.

If this is a rejection letter, they need to rework it. If this is a "hang tight" letter, they REALLY need to rework it.

[sigh] I knew I should have bought a box of digital cookies for that computer.

Tech fun

One of the things that didn't make the transition from my old computer to this new netbook is Microsoft Office. It's not impossible for me to load Office on this computer, but since Office comes on a CD-ROM and this computer has no CD-ROM drive, you must admit that the process would be more difficult than normal.

To remedy that, the computer comes installed with StarOffice, which is a re-branded version of the OpenOffice platform. That's all fine, except that it wasn't concomitant with the latest version of OpenOffice. I probably wouldn't have noticed, except that the latest version supports the "new" Word files of 2007, which is essential. During the period when I was using Word on my previous computer, that's the only thing I saved. So, I chucked out StarOffice and replaced it with it's more capable sibling.

I lost Microsoft Outlook in the switch, so I replaced that with Mozilla's Thunderbird. I had been using Thunderbird for a long time prior to trying out Outlook last year, so it's no big switch to revert back. Thunderbird works great for fetching emails from the UMKC server, but there's one part of Outlook that I miss: the calendar. It worked really well and was very easy to deal with.

Yesterday, I tackled the problem of calendars. I've got online calendar software available from both Yahoo and Google, as well as a desktop client from Mozilla: Sunbird. None of them are totally what I'm looking for, in terms of features or usability, but they ARE all free. So...

I was able to do something with the calendar programs that felt like another small computing milestone for me. Since Google Calendar and Sunbird both use the same open standard for their files, they can easily talk back and forth to one another. I've managed to get my desktop Sunbird calendar linked with the Google one.

This provides several exciting benefits things to think about:
- Changes made from either my netbook OR Google's site are instantly changed in the other location. This is referred to as syncing, a term I may use here and there.
- The calendar file doesn't actually exist on my netbook. The program simply pulls the data from Google and feeds it back if I make changes. So if I use my netbook without a Wi-Fi signal, then no calendar.
- Sunbird is technically still a beta pre-release product. It's version 0.9, so it's very close to a "release", but there's still some things that don't work quite as efficiently as I'd like. For example, a function that may allow me to keep a working copy offline on my netbook is marked EXPERIMENTAL, which causes me no small doubts.

It may be that this cobbled-together solution is no long term friend. We shall see. For now, since the only places I tend to take my netbook are places that have Wi-Fi (home, school, library), it's not a problem. I can't access my calendar on the road, but that would almost certainly end up with my car in a ditch; perhaps it can be considered a safety feature.

Looking into the future, the purchase of a cell phone which can have it's internet access "tethered" to the phone would solve this problem. Another thing to think about when shopping for a replacement phone.

Speaking of phones, I applied for a job from a store that sells phones. There was a long and tedious survey of how suitable I am for a sales position, full of lots of questions regarding how I treat customers. "Would you step over your own grandmother to get a sale?" and "How many times would you continue to offer your client a service or item after they've said 'I'm not interested'? - Zero, One, Two, Three, Four, Five, or As Many As Required Until I Get The Sale."

Don't worry, grandma: I don't think I'm cut out to be a salesman, by their definitions.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Safari, sogoodi - but notformi

I downloaded the freshly announced Safari internet browser yesterday. Version 4.0 was deployed after the World Wide Developer Conference in California, Apple Computing's yearly platform for talking about software development. It also tends to be about hardware development, with announcing refreshed laptop lines and the now-expected yearly iPhone update.

Speaking of iPhones, I was not surprised that the slogan for this iteration is "The fastest and most powerful iPhone yet". It's duh-marketing gone mad, especially for a company that's so known for periodic refreshes of their equipment that all iPods are referred to by their generation number (4th gen iPod, 2nd gen iPod Touch, etc.) It would be shocking and immediately news-worthy should they have released something that "wasn't quite as fast or powerful" as what they're already offering.

There is a some good tech in this new iPhone 3G S. The cellular data connection supports the bandwidth upgrade that's being gradually introduced by AT&T infrastructure. There's an upgraded camera that supports taking bursts of video. The processor is assumed to be faster (Apple released no details), so all phone functions should work better. On the whole, most of what's new and shiny were released with the concurrent iPhone software update to version 3.0, which is available to all generations of iPhone and Touch. As a nod to this, Apple will continue to sell last year's iPhone alongside the new ones.

One point they hammered home in the presentation was the speed of the iPhone. This speed was partially due to the latest version of Apple's browser, Safari (mentioned above), which has a faster Java engine among its many improvements. Java is a programming language that's used on just about every website nowadays, so any significant improvement is going to be apparent in daily use.

Safari is offered as a free download for Windows computers and is claimed to be two or three times faster than my current browser of choice, Mozilla's Firefox ver. 3.0. "Sounds good to me!" I thought, and downloaded it to try it out.

It does seem faster for loading pages and a snappy web browser can make all the difference. Waiting around for your browser to do even the simplest tasks can get FANTASTICALLY old in mere moments. Before my parents updated their computer, the 4+ year old laptop would load and navigate so slowly, my mom would bring a book with her to the computer.

But even though the browser steams along, I'm not going to switch to it. In fact, I've already uninstalled it. On my computer, which I freely admit is an underpowered machine, there were noticeable moments of non-interactiveness while using Safari; moments when the browser just seemed to "hang" and resist any input. The mouse still moved (since that's part of the larger operating system) but the browser would not respond to clicks or scrolling and would interrupt video playback and other continuous operations.

I wish to emphasize that my current netbook is no processing powerhouse. Even in Firefox, streamed video content doesn't run completely smooth and it sometimes takes a little while for the processor to think through whatever I want it to do. But even in Firefox, I don't notice the behaviors I see in Safari. Apple's broswer does have some minimum requirements, but even this computer is well in excess of them. Maybe it has something to do with Apple's dislike of netbooks? In October, CEO Steve Jobs famously said "We don't know how to make a $500 computer that's not a piece of junk, and our DNA will not let us ship that".

Apple's suggestion was that the netbook functions were all achievable by the iPhone. That's largely true: a netbook is basically designed to experience content (webpages, video, audio), not to do the heavy lifting of creating that content (Photoshop, audio encoding, DVD writing). An iPhone has similar "consumer" ideals.

The iPhones will hopefully run Safari 4.0 with much more vigor than my netbook, which illustrates one of Apple's strengths: optimization. By the numbers, my netbook has quite a bit more computing power than an iPhone, so the iPhone must be doing "more with less". But the netbook is also made up of all different manufacturer's parts and runs an operating system that was created years before my entire computer class (netbooks) were developed. Nothing about this is optimized for specifically my computer. That's one of the strengths of Windows: adaptability.

True, it's basically an Apples to oranges comparison. My netbook has no capacity to receive phone calls. My netbook doesn't require me to pay $70/month to AT&T. My netbook does not fit into my pocket and have an easy-to-use touchscreen. My netbook can run more than one program at once.

It probably sounds like I'm an Apple-hater, but I'm truly not. If I could afford an iPhone, I'm sure I'd make great use of it. It's certainly light-years more advanced and capable than MY phone. Mac OS has its flaws, sure, but so does Windows. And Linux. If I hadn't already accumulated the knowledge of a computer science degree from working on Windows computers for 18 years, I'd probably hate their convoluted methods too.

The most important thing about computers is that you end up comfortable, productive, and safe with all that you use it for. For me, that currently means waiting for the next browser.

Friday, June 05, 2009

The ghosts never bothered MY family...

On or about 1985, when I was still fairly young, my family moved from the only house I'd ever known to the next suburb over. There were three kids in our family now, and the old house was starting to feel small. Or so my parents told me: being just seven, I didn't really have much of a grasp on life and the way things worked.

Some time within the first couple of years after we moved, the couple who bought our old house got in touch with my parents. They were asking for some information about my family's time in the house; specifically, had we ever noticed the ghost?

Ghost, what ghost? That was my mom's reaction. Apparently, the new family had suffered repeated and unexplained phenomena in various rooms of the house. Their key rings would move around without reason. Doors would creak and shut in unoccupied rooms of the house. Upstairs footsteps could be heard when all occupants were downstairs. As far as I recall, there was no "Ghostbusters"-level haunting going on. No people getting slimed. No legless librarians.

If I remember correctly, the family called my parents to ask if anyone had died there. This mysterious ghost had them quite concerned. My mom explained that there had never been anything remotely supernatural about the house or its occupants. If the ghost lived (?) there while my family did, it kept very much to itself, or went completely unnoticed with all the other background noise and pick up/put down behavior of three boys.

Eventually, the "occurrences" had so completely unnerved the occupants that they called on their priest to bless the house. I believe that marked the end, inasmuch as they never called back. Should this last as a historical record beyond my and my family's lifetimes, I'd also like to state that the current family home in St. Louis has no ghostly behavior. Neither does my current residence in Kansas City.

*** *** ***

I thought about this strangeness (which occurred more than 20 years ago) recently because the house next to my parents is currently on the market. The wife and husband who lived there had finally gotten too old to properly manage, so they moved into an assisted-living community.

One of the prospective buyers that visited ruled the house out because of "bad fung shui". Apparently, houses near railroad tracks have poor fung shui, due to vibrations from the trains and rails being "pierced into the earth". Our neighborhood railroad tracks don't actually enter the earth at any point, sitting as they do on ties that are nestled into gravel. But I'm not a fung shui expert, so perhaps it's a more metaphorical piercing.

Living near train tracks is certainly not for everyone. The trains do come by at all hours of the day and night. Guests to our house remark on this, but any longer-term occupants find (as the family did) that eventually you largely tune them out. To this day, I almost never notice when a train is rumbling past, despite the passing of something like 37 each day.

It enabled me to largely ignore the EL trains in Chicago, living (as I did for three years) in a building right next to the tracks. Others complained while I remained largely unaware. Here in Kansas City, I have no regular trains to pay attention to OR ignore.

I do hear one occasionally in the spring and fall, when I have my windows open. Late in the evening, I'll hear the whistle nearby. The tracks are about two or three miles from here, but I can always tell when the train is going by.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Not as young as yesterday

Tonight, I feel old. This "old" is relative, I should point out: it only concerns how old I felt BEFORE compared to how old I feel TONIGHT. Knowing me, it should chance again very soon, most likely returning to feeling "young" again.

We get distracted by the rhythmic repetitions of our own everyday lives. So much so that we don't notice the days passing unless we're paying attention. Some people pay attention like misers, balefully checking off each set of hours as they slip through the fingers. Others (like me) pay almost no attention until jolted back to a realization of the passage of time.

Such a jolt has been building for several weeks (or even longer) and it has finally crashed down on my shoulders. It makes me stoop just a little bit more. Makes my forehead frown just that much more. Makes my sighs just that much longer.

I feel old. This revelation brings me no pleasure. There is no wisdom gained, as is often the case when one reflects on the passage of time. No. In this case, the rubber band of the Past has simply sprung back to shape. And here I sit. Thinking.

Tonight I started the procedure for getting back into contact with an old friend from high school. I haven't talked with her for at least 10 years, so I was curious to see what had been happening. No pictures, so I have nothing to compare to my decade-old fading memory. Lots of people talking about engagement and weddings on her wall, so I bet she's getting married. Anyone I know? Nope.

Breast cancer.

What? There it is: going through breast cancer. And suddenly, I felt old. I'm not sure why, exactly: her cancer doesn't directly effect me. All the same, I let the air out of my lungs in a long push while I tried to call to mind all the memories I have of her. Was I hoping to make some sort of sense of it by collecting grossly outdated facts and remembrances? I can't say.

When I think about what happened to old friends from high school, cancer never comes to mind. She's almost exactly one month older than I am, and I don't consider myself "susceptible" to cancer. Realistically, I know it's possible. Even a specific type like breast cancer could strike people even younger than us. Hell, *I* could get breast cancer. In some ways, I'd be braced against a revelation that she had died in a car wreck. Or even that she had committed suicide. I've had people from my high school class die in those ways before, so I have a little bit of shifty ground to stand on. But cancer?

And despite her apparent successful management of the disease and preparations for the wedding, I'm the one who feels old and harried. All the smiling faces remind me of opportunities missed, of time wasted, of choices made for distance. The swirling memories lace together and form a heavy cloak that presses down on me. And as it chafes against my neck, it causes irritation: irritation that manifests as a bizarre sense of entitlement. "Why should they be happy when I'm not?"

And on and on I grumble through the night, until even I don't want to listen to me any more. For some reason, I'm confident this cloud won't last; this does not mark a change from the personality status quo. It's just a side-tour to wallow in self-pity.

Which makes it terrible and shameful, since it started out as concern for a friend with cancer.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Faded pictures

I've always enjoyed looking at pictures of my friends from when they were younger. The acquaintances with the majority of my friends have been formed since high school, so I don't have an opportunity to see what they looked like when they were younger.

That's one of my guilty pleasures about Facebook. I love plunging through the collections of photos that people accrue, reveling in the possibility that someone in the past will post pictures of the "times gone by".

I know people would get a kick out of my old photos. Being skinny, beardless, and with considerably more hair makes even me take a double glance whenever I happen to stumble across one. And anyone who likes seeing Doctor Andy taken down a peg would love the ones with the large-lens tortoise shell glasses.

This is on my mind tonight because someone added a photo from years ago of someone I once dated. Actually, we never "dated"; we had a pre-date. A pre-date is what occurs when two friends end up "trying out" the idea of seeing each other one-on-one. It's designed to figure out whether or not you're just friends, or if there's actually some workable chemistry. This was a person I had known for at least two years, but we'd recently been interacting more in party situations. Before I knew it, it was time for a pre-date.

In our case, the pre-date was a disaster. The meeting itself was fine, but insomuch as it was a "date", there was little chemistry involved. Shake hands and return to your corners. I consider that a bit of a shame, because somewhere behind all the bullshit, I think there was somebody who was really interested in being loved. However, I'm no longer in the archeology department, and she's making baby steps towards trust, so "no harm, no foul". She wasn't what I need and I wasn't what she needs.

Everybody tends to spend phases of their life burdened down with their own baggage of the past. Healthy people can sort through it quicker, unhealthy tend to stay under the pile for a while. I spent most of my post-child life having unhealthy non-relationships in my head, so I spent quite a while at the carousel.

This particular woman had long been basting in self-pity, which made it terribly hard to like her. She's smart. She's pretty. She's athletic. She's artistic. She's got a good sense of humor. But she's also sullen. She's moody. She's defeatist. She's bitter. She's not tasting life.

It's fatiguing to talk with her. She unknowingly drags people down to her smog-filled level, and says (in effect) "See? What's so great about life?" And while late-80's L.A. is fun for a visit, living there is unhealthy.

So seeing a picture of her from the dawning days of her undergrad is arresting. She's smiling, which is something that only comes with irony or sarcasm now. She's got her hair away from her face, making her look somehow more open and approachable. But that picture is also her from before everything goes downhill. Men treat her badly, parents get divorced, parent commits suicide. That woman (in the photograph) has hardships ahead of her that she doesn't realize.

If anyone has, she's earned the right to be sullen. Knowing the story gives me the perspective and understand to accept who she is. The problem is that other guys may not ever get that chance. They may not bother to date (or pre-date) someone who seems so dissatisfied with her own life. They're going to want the girl in the photo.

The good news is that the girl in the photo isn't gone forever. She'll be waiting when the woman looking in the mirror is ready.

How can Nigerian banks possibly have this much money?

I received a letter from the FBI today! It caused me a bit of alarm to see that name hulking in my inbox. Of course, it's not actually from the FBI. It's from internet scammers. Aware that the scheme with the Nigerian prince offering you money has been totally played out and overexposed, they've switched to a new scheme that has more of the trappings of the trusted U.S. government. After all, you ignore communications from the FBI at your own peril!

The new method has a completely different angle, in an effort to stay FRESH and CURRENT. Instead of the old method of a prince saying he's sent money, this brand new email says that the FBI says that a prince has sent the FBI money FOR me. I know, it's like a COMPLETELY different plan of attack, but I think you'll see the similarities in the minutiae.

This email is a big wordy feast of things that guarantee no sensible person would fall for it. The email is addressed from ANTI-TERRORIST AND MONETARY CRIMES DIVISION (FBI). The FBI has no such division, as each of those is big enough to have one (or several) divisions devoted to them.

The return address is I know lots of people love Gmail, but I promise you that no government office uses a free, ad-supported webmail service for their communications..

The body of the email launches into a confusing description of the route the money took to get the UK, where it's waiting to be claimed. Apparently, the money was sent in such a way that the foreign branch of a bank operated by the FBI (huh?) had to pay money to get the money. So, my Nigerian funds were sent C.O.D. to the UK, and the FBI was kind enough to "cash out" my money for me. I *knew* my taxes were good for something!

The email is rife with acronyms:

FBI = Federal Bureau of Investigation
CBN = Central Bank of Nigera
DIST = Diplomatic Immunity Seal of Transfer
SDTA = Secured Deposit Transfer Account
CHR = Criminal History Record
CJIS = Criminal Justice Information Services

I can only assume this is to make things sound more official. There are also a few misspellings here and there, which don't really make it sound more official. Also, there are random words capitalized in the middle of sentences, which is another strange sign. Plus, the TO: field is empty; my address is not listed.

But the crowning jewel are these two paragraphs. They are comprised of 1) the Stick and 2) the Carrot.

This Condition Is Valid until 19th of JUNE, 2009 after we shall take actions on canceling the payment and then charge you for illegally moving funds out of Nigeria.

Guarantee: funds will be released on confirmation of the document.

So, if I don't move fast, not only do I lose the money, but I get criminally charged for moving the money out of Nigeria! But I shouldn't worry, because as long as my bank information is confirmed, the funds will be released and everyone forgets everything. What illegally moved funds? Who cares, have a nice vacation!