Sunday, August 30, 2009

Biting the hand that feeds... again

Sometimes I get so frustrated with computers that I want to go back in time and prevent their successful invention in the same way that some people want to go back in time and stop Hitler.

I am not exaggerating for effect. Alas.

And yes, I am not oblivious to the likelihood that in order to travel through time would involve calculations that only computers could provide, and thus to go back and make it so they never could be developed to the point where they could be used for manipulation of time would in itself create a paradox. And yes, I am certain that even if one did travel back and prevent computers from being invented as they were in the timeline we know, all that would do is make it so someone else ended up inventing them. I know.

I didn't just fall off the proverbial hackneyed science fiction turnip truck.

Computers were destined to dominate modern life but still suck. I get it. (And the fact that somehow my computer refrained from sucking long enough to allow me to type this does not let it off the hook.)

Thus we can take some solace in knowing that they'll never actually rise up and overthrow humanity; they'd have to stop sucking consistently, and then we'd know what they were planning, and could stop it.

And if we didn't in time, well, then there's always that time-travel option.

Wait. Wasn't I ranting about something?

Digressing calms me down. Probably because it doesn't require a computer.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

God and dog have the same letters

Each morning on my walk to the train station I pass a Methodist church.  Running around it, between the sidewalk and the building, is a strip of green grass, maybe four feet wide.  On more than one occasion I have spotted (not because I was seeking it out but because it was obvious at a glance) a pile of dog excrement that had been deposited on that grass.  (At least, I presume its origin is canine; that's about the only species that I prefer to believe would do this.)

While it very well could be stray dogs perpetrating this, I suspect the dogs in question did have human companions.  As such, I do sometimes wonder whether the act of allowing one's dog to crap on the small lawn is mere inconsideration or some form of protest.  Might it be one person in particular who has a beef with the church and is encouraging his animal to do its business at that location intentionally?

Clearly the perpetrator is unconcerned with any ramifications from the One whose house it is.  Of course, from a WWJD standpoint, it seems like He might say:  "If thine neighbor's dog defiles your lawn, allow the animal to raise the other cheek."

(Oh yeah.  I went there.  Jesus would find that amusing.  That's my belief.)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Convenience: a specious generalization and a specific rumination, joined by the caprices of my mind

Convenience is the problem.

When humans had to run after giraffes in a hunt or wander around all day gathering nuts and berries we had motivation; there was no option other than an active lifestyle (applying modern terms).  I doubt humans stood in place performing exercises in order to stay in shape.  They may have practiced the techniques used while hunting, but that wasn't because they felt they needed to lose a few pounds.

Now our food is brought to us from industrial farms on trucks and we only need make occasional trips to the supermarket, with the only exertion involving lifting the bags from the cart to the car, and then from the car in to the kitchen.  Heck, we can even place an order and have food brought to us without even having to leave and lift bags in and out of the car.  It's entirely possible to make a living with a sedentary lifestyle.  Heck, to make a living with a physically active lifestyle tends to indicate one makes less than some of those with the aforementioned sedentary kind.

And yet, somehow contemporary humans live much longer than our prehistoric ancestors, in large part to the work performed by those leading the less-active lives and the advances with science and medicine.

That, and we don't tend to be attacked by wild animals as much.


Convenience is the solution.

Back when I had a CD Walkman my method of listening to it while riding the train was as follows:  At the beginning of the trek I'd attach the headphones, start it playing whatever disc I had in it, then put it in a small case and set that down in a pocket of the bag down below the seat, by my feet.  The cord of the headphones was long enough to stretch from my ears to near the floor (at least when I was seated), but occasionally it would catch on something or I'd turn my head too far and either my head would be pulled back or the cord would come out (and I'd need to go and re-attach it).  If the volume of a song was too loud I'd have to reach down, pull the case from the bag, pull the device from the case, and adjust the sound.  If later songs were then too low… well, you get the idea.  If the train operator made an announcement and I needed to stop the disc, same deal (generally I could only remove the headphones quickly enough to hear).  If the disc playing reached the end, again it involved going down in to the bag.  And if the batteries on the player died, it involved taking everything out—including the CD itself, as the battery compartment was underneath there.

Now I have an iPod Nano that I keep in my shirt pocket.  If I need to change the volume I can swipe the wheel through the fabric without even taking it out.  If I need to pause, that too can be done through the shirt.  And there's always more songs than I can listen to in a commute.

I like that.

And I admit:  It's convenient.

I'm not saying iPods are perfect or anything, but generally I am pleased with the aforementioned aspects of their operation, especially relative to the corresponding functionality with portable CD players.

Bravo, technology. In this one particular instance.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


One morning last week, as I walked to the office, I passed a car parked by the curb with someone inside. The motor was running. I couldn't tell what the occupant was doing, but the car did not move the entire it was in sight.

The reason this is at all noteworthy: On the side was the logo "AQMD." That is, it was a company car for the Air Quality Management District, sitting there, spewing pollution.

Just something I idly noticed.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Pushing it out: Feeling better by feeling worse

Something that years of being involved with the implementation of new software on the computers of hundreds of people in the organization where I work has suggested is this:  Unless the new thing is flawless, is without any issues, is in every possible way better than what they had before, then people will want to keep what they had before.  No matter how problem-ridden the previous application had been, people will complain about the new application that replaced it, even if the new one has marked improvements and fewer problems.  In short, people take comfort in the imperfection with which they are familiar; it is to what they are accustomed, and with what they can deal, even if dealing with it required extra work.

The other thing that the long view of experience has shown me:  After the change has been implemented and time passes and people get used to the new stuff—and accept it for what it is and not complain about what it is not—there will come a time where that itself needs to be replaced again; a new version comes out, or the company that made the old one goes out of business, or outside circumstances change sufficiently that the process of change must occur again to accommodate the way the larger situation has developed.  And when that time comes where that second thing that replaced the first thing is to be replaced by a third thing, the people who complained about the second thing back when it was new will be its staunchest defenders; much as they despised the second thing when it replaced the first, after having no choice but to give it a chance and then getting used to it, they will then complain the loudest about having the second thing taken away when the third thing replaces it.

The other lesson:  These complainers may be the most vocal, but ultimately they are a minority; the majority just want something to get the job done, and will just roll with the changes as long as they don't actively interfere with getting the job done.  Those who are inclined to complain will complain; it's what they do.  That's not saying their complaints are completely invalid, or should be dismissed out of hand, but they should not be considered as representing the majority.


What made me think about the above was not a particular incident at the office but seeing the way the debate regarding the proposed changes to the health care system, and the way that those protesting vociferously get the most attention in the media.

It sort of strikes me as something we've heard before, and, years from now, when the universal health care bill that gets passed will be amended or revised to account for changing times, will be something we'll hear again.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Hawaii in photos

In case you haven't checked out the photo site recently (and after I posted essentially nothing in June or July who could blame you?), I wanted to take a moment to alert readers who may want a break from all this text that a number of new posts have appeared over there recently. And what did they feature?

Hawaii!  (click on the link to see the entire series). Or to be more accurate: Hawai'i! The Big Island, to be specific. (That's where the wife and I went on our honeymoon, and believe it or not, there were some photos taken that could be shared with the general public. Or at least with you.)

There were a few shots of green sea turtles, like this one:

And a series of posts from our trek through the middle of the island along what's known as Saddle Road, starting from the western part.

And then detouring up the Mauna Kea Road, through the clouds...

Then up to the area around the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Center.

Where they had a telescope set up, pointing at the sun.

More to come...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Per-since-tence of Memory: The "50 Concerts" meme

The Facebook note in which I was tagged included this opening text:
"OK, here are the rules. Test your memory and your love of live music by listing 50 artists or bands (or as many as you can remember) you've seen in concert. List the first 50 acts that come into your head. An act you saw at a festival and opening acts count, but only if you can't think of 50 other artists. Oh, and list the first concert you ever saw (you can remember that, can’t you)?"

To which I must reply: I'm amazed I can think of any concerts I went to (many of which were around 20 years ago), off the top of my head, but recalling which one was first would require consulting records, which the rules forbid, so pardon the hell out of me for being old.

While I'm following that "first ones that come to mind" rule, I twisted those rules to list some concerts with multiple artists; the title was "50 Concerts," not "50 Bands You Saw In Concert." Frankly, the people who start these memes really need to put a bit more effort into naming them, in my humble opinion.

Anyway, that said, here's what I came up with in a little over 10 minutes of concentrated effort one night this past week while riding the train home, in absolutely no particular order:

Afghan Whigs
Screaming Trees
Soul Asylum
Red Hot Chili Peppers
The Replacements
Paul Westerberg
Old 97's
Rhett Miller
Alice In Chains
Lilith Fair
(really; yeah, I went with a woman; no, I wasn't the only male)
Gin Blossoms
Luka Bloom
Deacon Blue
Edie Brickell & New Bohemians
Beat Farmers
Mojo Nixon & Skip Roper
The White Stripes
Tori Amos
New Model Army
The Waterboys
Love Battery
Robyn Hitchcock (solo and with the Egyptians)
Jimmy Buffett
Buddy Guy
Long Beach Blues Festival
Neil Diamond
Neil Young
The Monkees
Weird Al Yankovic
The Kinks
The Who
The Jazz Butcher
Love & Rockets
The Godfathers
Feist / Spoon
The Smithereens
The Dickies
Dinosaur Jr.
The Damned
Al Green
Sonic Youth
U2 / Public Enemy / Sugarcubes
Oingo Boingo

p.s. Yes, that's 52.


Now that I've delineated a list of artists I saw play live for a Facebook meme about that, I think a distinction needs to be drawn between going to a concert and happening upon a band. Going to a concert implies intent; you were going to the venue with the express purpose of experiencing the artist's live show. That's different from going to a bar or coffee house or restaurant or record store and there happening to be a live band playing; the point of your venture was to drink or eat or hang out, and the music was coincidental. If your story is "Yeah, we went to this bar and so-and-so was playing, and it was a great show," then you didn't see a concert. If you went to the bar because you wanted to hear music performed but had no idea who would be playing, you didn't see a concert. At least not for what could be included in this list.

That's the restrictions I placed on myself, whether it was necessarily required or not. The only "rules" noted implied one not to take too long composing the list. I'm not sure whether that was supposed to make it a test of one's memory, or whether there was some kind of psychological conclusion one could draw from which concerts one remembered, or if the person who came up with the idea knew that establishing a time limit might make it more likely people would participate; it wouldn't seem too daunting a task. People will squander tremendous amounts of time online, but asking them to devote more than 15 minutes of concerted effort toward such a task conceivably could elicit an I-don't-have-time-for-that reaction.

The point of the memes (to the extent I can discern one) is to interactive participation, presumably trying to draw in those who don't otherwise bother by expressly soliciting their input (that is, by "tagging" them, so they get a notice). As to what one is to gain from looking at a mere list of artists' concerts a friend attended, but without indications of where the concerts were, or how many times the friend may have seen the given artist, or which shows were good or not-so-good, or hearing any stories about the shows, I'm not sure. Maybe the list is intended as a first step. I suppose it could be more a matter of supplying the raw data and allowing others to react to it as they will. In comments left or other notes those details could come out.

Me, I learned my lesson about trying to get people to participate in a way that would be seen by a bunch of others—others who come from disparate parts of my social life.


Years ago I used to send out occasional emails to pretty much everyone in my address book (obviously before the days of even Friendster). I'd only do it a limited number of times a year (and, for the inexplicably curious, or those wishing to go down Memory Lane, those messages are archived here; check out everything listed from 2000, 2001, 2002, or 2003). Generally, if I sent a message to 100 people I'd get well over half of them to reply back with at least a hello. (That's way better than any blahg post or Facebook status update has ever gotten.)

Then one time I sent out a message where I asked people to just hit Reply and type the first thing that came to mind for one minute. No stopping to think, just typing (even if gibberish) and then hit Send.

However, I threw in: "If you're feeling daring, hit Reply To All." (Yes, I had all the recipients in the To line.) And some people did just that.

Suffice it to say, the first thing that came to mind was… not exactly for public consumption, especially when some of my older relatives were in the mix.

That was the last time I sent out a message where I didn't BCC all the recipients.


Facebook sometimes seems like having all your friends and family in the To line.

I suppose people tend to grasp the more public nature of what they may post on another's wall with that forum, rather than blithely clicking one button on an email—especially when essentially dared to do so—but nonetheless I don't solicit that sort of thing in the time I spend logged in to the site.

And I sure as hell wouldn't tag anybody. As previously noted, that is, quite literally, asking for it.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Married men

One of the best aspects of having the wedding out of the way is not merely being free from all the planning and decision-making and preparing. That is all marvelous, of course, but those were an unavoidable situation in regard to executing the nuptial event. No, the benefit I have in mind pertains to being married, and how that puts an end to the incessant jokes one must endure from already-married men when one is on the verge of taking the proverbial plunge.

At work, at social outings, and even at family gatherings of my (at the time still pending) in-laws, the men would make quips about how it wasn't too late to get out. That would be followed by the ubiquitous anecdotes about how after the first year the sex would become sparse, and then the warnings about how all my money would be gone.

Yeah. Ha-ha.

It's not that I failed to grasp they were kidding around (well, mostly so), but there did come a point where I struggled with feigning amusement. I know that individually they were only making the joke once, but cumulatively they passed the point where the novelty had worn off long before they (individually) stopped making the joke. They (individually) seemed to overlook that likelihood (that I'd heard the joke already way too much). Presumably they'd gone through this hazing (of sorts) back when they were engaged, and now was their turn to partake in the other side.

As the groom to be I had to grin and bear it, because it was meant in a good spirited way; to get annoyed would make me that asshole who had no sense of humor.

And that, they would argue, I shouldn't be until after I got married.


Whenever I find myself talking with someone who is preparing for marriage, the only thing I intend to say is this: It has its ups and downs, but if you're with the right person it is completely worth it.

That may or may not make the person feel better, and may not even apply to his situation, but at least it won't be the same old attempt at humor that he has put up with presumably since he popped the question.

Of course, with my luck that sort of sentiment will be what he has heard too much of.

I'll understand the strained smile.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Yes you can

Feeling sorry for one's self is the DIY way of taking charge of pity.

Anything can be spun to seem empowering.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Peace of mind

Another post on the same subject as the last one...

I don't tend to put classical music on the iPod. It's not as though I lack tracks from that genre; I'm not an aficionado, but the collection includes hundreds (between the movements of symphonies, fanfares, tone poems, etc., that I accumulated largely during my music appreciation classes). And it's not that I no longer care for the pieces, as though I somehow grew out of a phase. Nothing like that.

It's due to cheap headphones.

I don't mean the headphones I use to listen to the music on my device; I mean the crappy ones that others nearby use to listen to the music on their devices at volumes those headphones cannot come close to handling.

Riding the train as my commute (as I've done for nearly a decade now), I know that there will be a lot of noises that could be encountered while in the car, and most of them I do not wish to hear. Sitting through half of cell phone conversations is bad enough, but those don't tend to last too long. What's particularly bad are those instances where someone gets on and the sound of their music bleeds from their headphones so much that even from ten feet away I can hear it.

The best recourse I have found is to drown it with the music in my own headphones. I don't have to blare my volume to overwhelm it, because my music is coming from a much closer distance (it's in my ears), but the music playing needs to have a full sound; it requires an inherent "loudness." While some classical music has "loud" portions (the 1812 Overture comes to mind as an obvious example), that's not what suffices. It needs something with drums—and I don't mean timpani, or the occasional snare hit. That loudness needs to fill most of the time the song is playing. Sadly, something with the dynamics of classical pieces doesn't tend to cut it, because the softer portions open the door for the sound from the nitwit with the crappy headphones to seep in. Although there are "soft" songs from all genres (jazz, country, rock), when that external sound seeps in over a classical piece it conflicts so much worse than songs from those other ones (not that it sounds good by any stretch of the imagination with those).

And as ridiculous and pathetic as it is to admit, that has pushed the classical pieces off what gets loaded on the device.

I have been tempted, at times, to carry a cache of decent headphones with me—the ones that I use were only $15 at Best Buy, and they handle a good range of sound without letting any slip out—to hand out in such instances, but I have refrained. The inconsiderate don't appreciate considerate gestures.

Especially when it's meant to be considerate to the rest of us more than to them.


Talk to them? Yeah, right. They have the volume turned up that loud because they don't want to be bothered by others who might point out their inconsideration to them. It's not an accident.

They have no consideration for their own hearing; the rest of us haven't a chance of being acknowledged.


I know my headphones are not leaking sound, by the way. When I take them out of my ears I cannot hear anything coming from them. Unless someone has superhuman hearing, they cannot hear anything when they're up against my ears. And in such a scenario, I suspect my music bothers the superhuman less than the nitwit with the crappy headphones.

I imagine.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

500 Days of Some Loud Song

In the movie (500) Days of Summer (I prefer to spell the title with the parentheses that are on the ads, even if that's not necessary), the two characters, Tom and Summer, first bond over a shared moment in an elevator. (It's right at the beginning of this trailer, if you wish to have a look.) They are riding together as they leave the office for the day, with him listening to music through headphones. And I mean headphones in the literal sense; they weren't little iPod earbuds but the kind that go over the entire ear with a connecting bar running over the top of the head. They appear to be fairly high quality.

Summer hears the music of the Smiths ("There Is a Light That Never Goes Out") bleeding through from the headphones while they're on Tom's head, and she notes out loud her love for the group. When he detects her speaking he takes the headphones off and lets them hang around his neck so he can hear her. (See official photo below.) She sings along with the line in the song playing, then compliments him on his good taste in music, and they start talking.
500 days of summer
It's the necessary moment to spur the rest of the story. In the context of the scene it's fine. However, reflecting back, I am slightly troubled by a particular detail.

If you are listening to music through headphones and the person standing three feet away can hear what is playing, it means one of two things: either they're crappy headphones or the volume is up way too high. However, in the scene, as I noted, they didn't look like crappy headphones. That would seem to leave only one alternative explanation for how Summer could hear the tune, but when Tom removes them from his ears the sound emanating from them is not at an ear-splitting level.

Obviously, in the context of the scene, it's necessary that the music not drown out their conversation; him being near deaf doesn't advance the plot. Also, if the volume is so high he cannot hear anything else he doesn't detect her saying anything, and he doesn't remove them to initiate the actual bonding. Thus, the volume couldn't have been excessive.

So we're back to crappy headphones. Certainly it's tricky to say whether they're really of any quality just by looking at them, and they do not completely envelop the ear, so some bleeding of sound could be feasible, but his character seems the type who would have gotten a decent set. Just my impression, but that's what colors my viewing.

In any case, whether it's poor sound mixing or inconsistent character development, one thing is not up for debate: Whether the volume's too loud or the headphones too crappy, it's inconsiderate to play music and make others around have to hear it, too. Even if they love the song playing.

Give a hoot. Get some good headphones.

You're not going to meet Summer anyway. She's just a character in a movie.


What's the point? As always, you should take from this a renewed appreciation that your brain doesn't operate as mine (unfortunately) does.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Pigs in a brain-klet

Last Saturday we headed down the 405 to visit the Orange County Fair. We last went in 2007, just after I got my new camera. That day I was still figuring out what to make of adjusting the aperture and exposure, taking many shots. This time, with two years of shooting (and a slightly greater understanding of how to work the camera—slightly), and having never really finished processing those original shots (this post on the photo site was as much as I got to sharing), I wasn't so inspired; pretty much the fair looked the same, so I found myself thinking I could just as well spend time working on the pics taken last time as I could work on new ones I might take this time.

"Al's Brain" was a worthwhile attraction, featuring a 3-D movie starring Weird Al Yankovic. It was a comedic take on a scientific exploration of the brain which aspired to tell the audience "everything there is to know about the brain"—that could be fit into about nine minutes. Being free with fair admission, it certainly proved an entertaining use of those nine minutes, although even with a catchy polka-rock song by Weird Al and his band I find that I don't remember learning anything.

The 32-ounce beer I'd had just before the presentation may have affected that.

And of course there was no photography allowed inside the exhibit, so I didn't have to worry about that. (There was an impressive sand sculpture outside promoting the show, and of that I snapped a few shots. See one to the left.)


After leaving the movie something caught my attention that filled me with an undue amount of excitement.

It was the sign on the side of the information booth. That did make me point my camera and take a shot (which can be seen at the right).

In a list of recommendations, such as wearing comfortable shoes (which clearly was ignored by the women we saw wearing high heels) and applying sun screen, was this: "Drink a lot of water."

Prudent advice, certainly, but my excitement did not stem from being a fan of hydration.

One of the photos from the 2007 outing that I did process and post was used in this post. That shot was of the list of recommendations on the side of the information booth, focused on that same suggestion regarding drinking water. However, two years ago that line read: "Drink alot of water."

Seeing this year's sign I immediately knew: At some point in the intervening period someone involved with the preparation of signage at the fair realized that "alot" is not correct (or someone prudently ran a spell check) and split it into two words.

I'm not saying that I think my post had any influence on the situation. I am merely something of a fan of people paying attention (and, by extrapolation, of people actually using that brain that Weird Al sang about), whether I had anything to do with it or not.

So, hooray.


A short while later we went into one of the large tented areas which was devoted to pigs (with the theme "Think Pig"). Pigs in movies, pigs in sand sculptures, "hogs" as a nickname for large motorcycles, and of course, pigs as livestock. Along one wall ran a mural-length timeline of the history of pigs. All right, more educational opportunities.

I took some photos, but not of what one would expect.

Not even a quarter of the way down was a note about how the man who would become our country's first president imported hogs 16 years before colonies declared independence.
Well, at least the picture above above it looked like the father of our country. The text, however, identified the hog importer as "Goerge Washington," so who knows?

While that seemed egregious, another 20 feet down the wall there was another "Goerge" mentioned (part of a radio duo with Gracie Allen), which sounds like George Burns, but in this alternate pig reality his last name is the same as Gracie's, so his first name could be spelled the same way as that hog importer. (We're overlooking the use of quotation marks here.)

There was consistency the writer of the text had going. I had to concede that.

Perhaps too much pork causes some mild dyslexia. However, look closely at the text preceding the name of Gracie's husband and you'll spot that Spam was a "sponser."

That wasn't the end of the photo-taking.

A note about 1922 indicated "insullin" was extracted from a pig, but perhaps that's what insulin is called in this pig-iverse with Goerge Washington. But a note about a 1976 Swine Flu scare stated that only "six doccumented [sic] cases" appeared.

There was no way I could spin that to be other than just sloppy proofreading.

Later it occurred to me: Perhaps the motivation simply was to see if they could get some poor sap who can't help but notice such details—who has the unfortunate tendency of using that thing inside his skull about which Weird Al sang (in 3-D, no less)—to talk about it on his site. Let's face it: There's little chance that a history of pigs without typographical errors would prove post-worthy.

And if so, I fell right for it.

There's no such thing as bad publicity, or something.

Oh, I should mention that I did snap a quick one of an actual pig, sleeping in a pen, but that was more of an afterthought, so I wouldn't feel guilty about taking nothing but pictures of typos.

When the writer part of the brain kicks in, the photographer part slouches off. Perhaps if we'd gone back to watch "Al's Brain" again I might figure out why my brain does that.


And from the I-am-not-making-this-up department: Within sight of the pig exhibit was this sign:
Well, at least it proved inspiring to the photographer in me (and all the words in "chocolate covered bacon" were spelled correctly).