Sunday, November 30, 2003

Over and Out: It may be a bit longer than usual before my next update. (I know, I haven’t been all that prolific lately so what's the difference?) Lots going on, and I absolutely NEED to write some fiction. Make no mistake, you are not rid of me by a long shot.
It's Not Unusual: There are a lot of ways to amuse yourself for a couple of hours. Some people rent movies, some people play video games, I surf the web. Sometimes I Google subjects of interest, other times I just follow links to see where a hypertext path takes me. Sometimes I get paid off with wonderfully absurd stuff like this. It seems George Bush's brother Neil got in some hot water during his divorce proceedings. Please take a moment to appreciate this exchange:
The Bush divorce, completed in April, was prompted in part by Bush's relationship with another woman.

He admitted in the deposition that he previously had sex with several other women while on trips to Thailand and Hong Kong at least five years ago.

The women, he said, simply knocked on the door of his hotel room, entered and engaged in sex with him.

He said he did not know if they were prostitutes because they never asked for money and he did not pay them.

"Mr. Bush, you have to admit it's a pretty remarkable thing for a man just to go to a hotel room door and open it and have a woman standing there and have sex with her," Brown said.

"It was very unusual," Bush said.

In not knowing they were prostitutes, we see the fabled Bush acumen at work. But then, why look a gift quickie in the mouth. Don’t ya love the arid response, "It was very unusual"? You have to appreciate the ability to stay utterly restrained in the face laughable absurdity.

Excuse me while I check Expedia for flights to Bangkok.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

You Have Our Gwatitude: I noticed a couple of stellar individuals responded to my plea for reader reviews over at Amazon. Also, you should know you can search Google’s Froogle service for the best price.

Oddly, Amazon has Apple Pie on sale again for 9.98. Since I have recovered the rights from the publisher I can only assume that they had some in stock they are trying to rid themselves of. Whatever the case, if you want to buy you should do it now, it’s the best price I’ve seen.
They Ruint Everything: I’m still riding my recent favorite hobby horse -- how high tech is misused in the auto industry -- so I want to draw your attention to a recent comparison of luxury cars (70k +) over at Car and Driver. Apparently the most extreme case in point is the top of the line BMW. Here’s a quote from the summary:
…the latest luxo crop has become screen dependent, to the point of ruination in the 7-series BMW.

"It wouldn't be that bad if they changed a few things." That's from the staff's most ardent 745i defender. The majority of us think iDrive, as BMW calls its computer interface, needs a clean-sheet redesign.

BMW tried to take over control of HVAC, audio, chassis settings, trip info, navigation, etc., with a screen. You make your choices with a single knob that turns, toggles, and clicks; it's a mouse substitute. Worse yet, the company forced ordinary controls into some contortion of the knob thing; for example, you must select the part of the seat you want to adjust by pressing a button, then twist or toggle a knob to make it move. Okay, but what was wrong with the old way?

In fact, the 745i has buttons and rockers scattered about the dash that let you adjust HVAC and do very basic radio/CD changes without using iDrive. But they're so haphazard in their logic that they only add to the annoyance.

We've given iDrive 18 months to persuade us. It failed. Now the F is in ink. Fearless prediction: The 745i will take a beating on resale.

Here’s the entire article. Lucky I found this considering I was about to pick up one of those 7-series Beemers in charcoal grey. [This is where you do a spit take.]
Good Stories: I have been reading Pattern Recognition by William Gibson; an entry in a literary genre called cyber-punk -- wickedly fast paced prose with lots of internet culture/technical references. It’s a rather compelling mystery, a certain insightfulness, and lots of references to the world of the web that I suspect most people wouldn’t identify with, but I do since I spend an unwarranted amount of time in that world (that means I am either way cooler or way more geeky than you -- your call). I may review it in the fullness of time. For now let me recommend a trio of articles that I have found interesting.

First, from Wired, we have a well done story about savants, the Rain Man types who are horrible maladjusted but have ungodly skills in certain areas, usually math or music. They are also remarkably useful to neuroscientists.

Speaking of neuroscience, I happened on this old (1996-ish) Tom Wolfe article about the philosophical implications of neuroscience and the fatalistic world it seems portend. Wolfe puts it all in a thoughtful historical context that makes it more than a little scary, but still ultimately positive, I think.

Lastly, a beautiful article about a monumental 6-man football game in rural Montana. 6-man is played out in the smallest and remotest of high schools where the population doesn’t support full-sized teams. The story interlinks the football game with life in the dying, small farming community. Written with exceptional sensitivity – should get a sports writing award of some kind.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Following Up: A couple of follow ups to previous posts.

First, it's clear the folks at USA Today are loyal readers of a dam site as evidenced by this article verifying my comments about the inanity of the check engine light and subsequent discoveries, and my general disapprobation of auto industry for its obsession with high tech gadgetry:
Thanks to the latest electronics, cars can tell you the pressure in each tire, display stock quotes or give directions to the nearest Italian restaurant. But the complex computer systems required to do all that have broken down on hundreds, perhaps thousands, of luxury vehicles, wreaking havoc on the lives of their owners.

And most tellingly:

"Engine lights come on so easily, and many times they can only be reset by a dealer even if there is nothing wrong," says Dave Hurt, president of Certified Car Care, a company that sells extended warranties. "Diagnosis of problems is a lot more complicated these days because of the amount of electronics in a car."


Emission control systems that have been setting off "check engine" dashboard lights since the 1996 model year now have about 700 possible trouble codes. A problem as simple as a loose gas cap can prompt a warning light.

A dead battery can wipe out the trouble codes, making it impossible to perform state-ordered emissions testing on a car. The owner may have to drive the car for a few days to replenish the codes, then return for the test.

The principle lesson here (not worth pursuing at the moment) is that mechanical design skills and technological design skills are two completely different animals and high tech is not synonymous with design quality.

Second, from the realm of the surreal, last time out I linked to a story about a panic in Khartoum over fears of foreigners who could shrivel a fellow's manlihood (the previous linkapalooza, second from the end). Well it turns out – and this is the surreal part -- there is a syndrome for that. It's called Genital Retraction Syndrome (colloquially: shrinkage). I am anxiously awaiting on a 20/20 expose and a cautionary thriller from Michael Crichton. Select quotes:

The individual afflicted with genital retraction syndrome believes that his or her genitals (or in the case of women, breasts and/or genitals) are retracting into the body. Such a belief would be frightening enough, but local tradition adds the warning that such an occurrence is usually fatal. The majority of persons with GRS are male; cases are reported to occur in women, at least in the Malaysian version, but are much more rare. A typical episode will occur when a man goes to urinate in the cold or while emotionally upset (often due to guilt over masturbation or frequenting prostitutes, while concerned about his sexual performance, or after a fight with his wife) and observes that his penis is becoming smaller, a condition known medically as hyperinvolution. Remembering the dangers of a shrinking penis, the man grabs his genitals before they can retract into his body, and calls for help. If no one is around to help hold onto his penis, the individual may use mechanical devices to keep the penis from retracting, including cords, chopsticks, clamps, or small weights. Episodes of GRS may strike the same indvidual repeatedly, and epidemics of GRS have been noted, most famously the great koro epidemic in Singapore in 1967.

Who can forget the great koro epidemic of '67? The mind reels. Here's the full monty, such as it is. Fear not, there are no pictures.
Tyler Eight Seven One Oh Oh: It wasn't easy growing up in Southfield Michigan. Hard times were everywhere, and keeping food on the table was a struggle. When there was no meat, we ate fowl. When there was no fowl, we ate crawdad. And when there was no crawdad to be found, we ate sand. (As always, bonus points for naming the movie.) But anyone who grew up in the Detroit area 30 years ago will appreciate Detroit Memories. Note: to anyone else this will be pretty meaningless. The mention of Bob-Lo and The Ghoul elicits a smile, but apart from a momentary nostalgia, this is a chronicle of days past in a pretty dreary place.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

Linkapalooza: As promised, a whole lotta links, cleverly designed to undermine your productivity.
  • This measure was actually on the ballot in a city called Bolinas in Marin county (where else?). Reading it made me wax Seinfeldian, "What does that mean!? Can somebody tell me what that means!?" Please be aware that this measure is "advisory only". That's a relief.

  • Check out some of the Worst Album Covers Ever. I guess the secret is out about my alter ego Devastatin' Dave, the Turntable Slave.

  • According to CNN, a study of 3600+ blogs revealed 2/3 had not been updated for two months and 25% never had more than 1 entry. That makes me feel a lot better about my somewhat haphazard posting performance.

  • Do I seem particularly manly? Gender Genie analyzes your writing and attempts to determine your gender. Samples from Apple Pie and Business As Usual were judged male by factors of 1.04 to 1 and 1.12 to 1 respectively. This weblog, on the other hand, was judged to be male by a testosterone laden 2.71 to 1. meat.

  • I found this typical. A literary agency posted the sort of material they are looking for. Not surprisingly, male-oriented comic satire is not on their need-it list. Note what they think they can sell: Chick-lit (deliver us from Bridget Jones) and Romances (more sex, please) of various flavors. I could –- and one day may -– go on for many paragraphs about this, but instead, I'll just resign myself to obscurity and do some serious whining.

  • A very courageous article in Outside magazine following a man who went on a regime of chemical enhancements including everything from Human Growth Hormone to steroids for the sake of the story. Courageous in that it doesn't follow the convenient "drugs-are-bad-mmmkay" line. I can see the attraction for athletes; there is apparently a very real effect, and a very real let down once you stop. The anonymous doctor involved points out that there is not that much danger in mild doses, but the problem is that everyone goes overboard in the desire for more. This stuff has no attraction to me, with the exception of the HGH. I wouldn’t hesitate to go on a mild regime of that if it wasn't so expensive.

  • "Are you any relation to your brother Marv?" The dumbest sports quotes speak for themselves.

  • There are people I know –- who go by the name of The Pixie -- that harbor the mistaken belief that bears in the wild are just big ole friendly critters that want nothing more than to wander around stealing pic-i-nic baskets in Jellystone Park. Tell it to the hikers who encountered this monster. Oh wait, you can't; they've been EATEN. Somebody call Mr. Ranger, sir.

  • How can you not be fascinated by a true story that starts, "During September 2003, mass hysteria spread through Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, which was ultimately quelled by police intervention and statements made by the health minister. The panic was caused by rumors of foreigners roaming the city and shaking men's hands, making their penises disappear. The rumors were spread rapidly by text messages on cellular phones..." Would that my novels started so audaciously. The amazing thing is the juxtaposition of bizarre mystical superstition with the civilized modern logic of cell phone text messaging. What a world.

  • The Best Ebay Auction Ever! This was so good I actually saved a copy of the page for when it disappears from Ebay's database. This guy tried to sell his ex-wife's collection of beanie babies. He naively points out that he has no idea if they are real or not, but some folks just can’t let it go at that. You have to read this; put down that chick-lit romance and take five minutes. You will laugh out loud.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Bad Influence: I've published a new article over blogcritics about the Most Influential Movies Ever. Take a look. I've also got plenty of interesting links to throw at you but it'll take me until later in the week to get them in some semblance of order. I remain unreasonably busy. So sorry.
Engine Checked: So I contact Toyota about my check engine light being on and the first thing out of the woman's mouth was, "Is your gas cap on tight? The check engine light will come on when the gas cap is loose."

Toyota employs tens of thousands of people, many of whom have vast experience in the auto industry, but apparently not a single one of them grasps the obvious fact that the gas cap is NOT PART OF THE ENGINE!

The gas cap wasn't the problem for me, but to make things even more irrational, the light went off just a randomly as it went on. Throw me a bone, people.
A New Theory of Laundry: I have, in the past, been subject to no small amount of ridicule for my method of doing laundry. People tend to get all freaky if you don't separate whites from colors. Well, in reality, whenever I have seen people do this I have been confused. It's not actually pure whites they are separating from colors. The definition of "white" can vary to include white-ish, really-light-colors, and mostly-white-but-with-colorful-patterns. This, to me, exposes the arbitrary nature of laundry segregation and, frankly, puts the entire theory under suspicion.

We are told that whites, by whatever definition, must be washed in hot water, separately, or they will come out "dingy". I don't really understand why that is the case; I expect the chemistry behind it is debatable. But the fact of the matter is, the only clothes I have that are truly white are my underwear. Let me state for the record that the day I become concerned about the albedo of my underwear is the day you have my permission to call the Cuckoo's Nest and set me up next door to Jack Nicholson.

And let's not even start on fabric softener. The purpose of fabric softener is to remove static cling. Exactly what does that have to do with softness? Besides, fabric softener does this by covering your clothes with an extremely thin chemical film. If you think the greedy chemical companies aren't in bed with the military-industrial complex and using this thin chemical film to perform bio-weapon experiments on the unsuspecting population, then you haven't been reading the web closely enough.

No, my friends, as usual I am not bound by traditional thinking and conventional wisdom. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. I cannot blindly accept the standard precepts of laundry dogma. I must question. I must contradict. I must agitate (so to speak).

Here's what you do. First, wash everything in cold water. Any self-respecting laundry detergent is valid to use in any temperature of water (they all say "all-temperature" on the box, and cold is a temperature) so it makes no sense waste energy and money heating the water. You will be grateful the first time you decide to shower while the washing machine is going.

Second, separate clothes not by color, but by weight and texture. Jeans, corduroys, thick towels, etc. go in one load; shirts, shorts, socks, unmentionables in another. The reason for this is two-fold. 1) These two groups tend to have very different drying times. By grouping them together you don't have to constantly get up, open the dryer, and remove the dry stuff from the stuff that is still damp, thereby allowing you to remain slouched on the couch for that much longer. 2) I cannot imagine it is good for your thin cotton t-shirts to be commingled with you heavy denim pants. The constant tumbling of the light shirt against the coarse denim has got to be like rubbing it with sandpaper. This means your clothes will last longer. (For you guys, that means your girlfriend will have to let up on you about wearing torn and beat-up clothes all the time and stop trying to drag you to the Gap. You can thank me later.)

So there you have it; a soundly reasoned and flawlessly logical approach to laundry. I am not close-minded, though. I am willing to entertain conflicting theories, but they must be well thought out and argued on the basis of something other than what "everybody knows".

And no fair pointing out that I am a bachelor and therefore incapable of understanding.