Friday, May 29, 2009

Manual Labor

There's an essay about working with your hands in the New York Times. It's awesome. Not only does he extol the virtues of manual work, but he also makes a strong case about how our educational system is biased towards itself. All the educators went to university, and were taught by people who went to extra bonus university, and so the entire system is built around assuming that university is the best option for everyone all the time.

The fact is, there are a lot of people who don't need what college provides. They do need job training and skills. And our nation does need people who can read and write and do math well enough to not get cheated by credit card companies and car salesmen. But you don't need 4 years studying anthropology to do that.

I think that it's great that people who find studying anthropology inspiring can do that. But I think future plumbers are best served by a high school that equips them to be great plumbers, not prepares them well for the SAT.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

George Will hates Portland

Well, the New York Times may love Portland, but George Will hates us. We're too liberal by far for his taste. Just because we do stuff that encourages people to live sustainably by taking mass transit or bicycling places.

His lamentations would be more convincing if he had any facts straight. He scoffs at the idea of getting more than 0.01 percent of commutes to be made by bike, while in Portland we achieve 400 times that number. He reports a totally made-up claim that the government is going to take your light bulbs away.

I had in the past been impressed by the intelligence of George Will's writing. I'm sad to see him decline so far. (Although I gather he's made collossal factual errors in the past.)

Correction: OK, it turns out that the government is going to take your light bulbs away. At least, in 5 years, light bulbs will be required to achieve efficiency levels that will make incandescent bulbs illegal.

But I still disagree that our urban growth boundary is a bad thing. I've seen sprawl, and I don't see anything good about it. I much prefer a smaller yard and a shorter commute to living on half an acre and driving for 90 minutes to get to work.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Infomercial Tactics

Given all the many books about the psychology of selling that have hit in the last year, it's not too surprising to hear a brief story about the tactics used in infomercials. It is, however, still awesome.

It feels like it shouldn't be surprising. We know that if a price is preceded by a higher one it sounds lower than it is. We know that splitting it up into several payments makes it sound cheaper. We know that while $19.99 is almost the same as $20, it feels significantly less. And yet when I hear all the different methods catalogued at once, I feel like I'm under siege by an army with far superior weaponry and detailed intelligence about my armor's weaknesses.

I realize the 1st Amendment implications, but I do think banning advertising targeting children could be a good thing. It would destroy an entire industrial complex, but I dare anyone to show me a product sold by the Disney-Industrial complex that actually adds value to society.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Star Trek Villains

I did see Star Trek today. It was truly awesome. And not just because it's a new star trek movie. The writing is spectacular, the acting is skilled, the editing is superb. The story just FLOWS.

Except the villain is hollow. He seems really unexcited about destroying the universe or whatever. Which is a shame because if he were a fully developed character, the story would have even more points of resonance and awesome. There are limits to what you can do with horrible, wooden acting, I guess.

But that makes me realize that Star Trek has struggled (until now) to overcome its TV nature and have really dangerous villains who truly posed a danger to things around them. Great villains in stories are just as interesting as the hero. The Fugitive works very well because both hero and nemesis are strong characters, and the story is of their struggle against each other to achieve their own definition of justice. Day of the Jackal is a great struggle of two men against each other. Batman movies are good when the villain is truly imposing, and ridiculous when the villain is a joke.

So now a list of Star Trek movie villains:

1: A broken old space probe. Ugh. I watched that?
2: KHAN!!!! (Ricardo Montalban, Mr. Roarke from Fantasy Island.) Awesome.
3: Klingons (Christopher Lloyd, Doc Brown from Back to the Future. Well, not his fault the movie's stinky.)
4: Whales. Although this one's a comedy, so that kind of works.
5: God. Really? I know Shatner talked his way into directing, but you had to use THAT bad a script?
6: Klingons (Christopher Plummer, Captain Von Trapp.) God, I wish he had sung Edelweiss in Klingon.
7: Malcolm McDowell. Too bad they wasted time killing Kirk to turn the villain of Clockwork Orange into a ridiculous cartoon.
8: Borg Queen. Super awesome.
9: Super wrinkled Salieri. I'm sure I paid good money to see that, too.
10: A clone of Picard. Not played by Patrick Stewart. I don't know whose idea that was. Seems like if the whole concept is nature vs. nurture, they're biologically identical, and you write in a scifi loophole about accelerating age, why not just make him the same age? Then you could do all sorts of trading places identity theft stuff.
11: Romulan time traveler. Nice ship. Too bad you don't seem to really CARE about destroying the universe.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Neque Ego Haer Intellegere Possum

There's a column in the Times about Latin diplomas. It's slightly interesting, to me in part because my diploma's in Latin.

But the best part is the graphic at the top, which is my headline. It reads, (I'm told), "I don't understand this either."

I want that on a bumper sticker. Or T-shirt. Or something.

Edit: I'm told by an aunt that it should be Neque Ego Haec Intellegere Possum. See, I told you I didn't understand it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Don't Eat Poop

From E. Coli to salmonella to Mad Cow, if there's one thing we've learned about food safety, it's to not eat poop. Or things that are fed their own poop.

And yet food companies persist in feeding chickens cow poop and feeding cows chicken poop. And allowing poop to get in our food. But it's ok now - because chicken pot pies have new instructions for cooking times. Too bad that when you follow the instructions it doesn't fully cook the pot pie.

Super gross. I won't be buying any more pot pies until I forget about this story. Which could be a while.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Microsoft = Jerks

Microsoft released a security update a couple days ago. No big deal. Plugged some holes in Microsoft Office that hackers could use to do bad things.

Here's the problem. They only patched the Windows edition of Office. If you're using Office on a Mac, too bad. Good luck with that.

That's ice cold. It does let them run ads claiming that Windows is more secure than Mac. But it's still cold.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Future of Media

TV executives are just as clueless about our technological future as newspaper executives. That's the only way I can explain the panicked choice to pull episodes of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" from hulu. I appreciate that these corporations exist to make money. And that it could seem like people watching shows online means you're losing money. There's not a perfect solution, and TV and journalism are going to get much worse before someone is clever enough to come up with a way to make it better.

But it turns out that people who download "free" (stolen) music online are more likely to buy music than people that don't listen to as much. Sure, if you're a cable TV channel, your ideal is lots of people watching your show on TV, paying for having the channel and seeing ads which give you piles of cash. But if that's not happening for whatever reason, selling ads online for people to watch the show there does create real money. And the percentage of people who are going to go buy the DVD if they can't watch it easily online? Wee.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Seattle Police arrest man for taking photo

Disappointingly unsurprising. A man who took a photo of workers servicing an ATM was handcuffed and taken to jail for a few hours. Supreme dickishness. Read his blog post about the REI ATM photo incident to learn all about what happens if you refuse to show your ID to ATM workers.

If the insides of the ATM are so secret and important, maybe they shouldn't be working on it in public. Bring a portable curtain along or something when you need to do maintenance or fill it up with moneys. Stupid.

Friday, May 15, 2009


I saw some roadkill on my way home the other day that was very odd. It was a dead animal, lying in the side of the road, crushed and smashed.

Except it was a fish.

I've seen birds and mammals that were hit by cars, but I've never before seen a fish. It has been raining a lot here lately, but not that much.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

NY Times still <3 Portland

I guess the New York Times reporter who loves Portland so much is still in town, and going to be for a while. At least he's moved on from cool places to playing golf. Which is remarkably less elitist out here than in most places. But it's still golf.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Blocked iPhone apps

Apple is bringing the hammer down on iPhone apps. If you want to sell a game that lets you put your friends' faces in the center of a classical Jesus portrait, you're going to have to find another way to do it. (I wonder if there's already a webpage you could access with your iPhone that would do the job...)

I don't think anyone should make money off a baby shaking program, but I think when one company has total say over what is and isn't offensive, it's a problem. I suspect if I made a racing game where a Windows computer always goes faster than a Mac, I wouldn't be able to share it. And while all these ideas are bad ones, there's probably a great idea out there that Apple would rather we didn't see.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Google Books Settlement drawing more attention

More and more people are realizing that the proposed Google Books settlement could be bad news. Honestly, it's a mixed bag. There are some really good outcomes that could happen if Google digitizes all books ever. But the part of the settlement that gives Google the exclusive rights to any book that's unclaimed? That's really bad.

Luckily, the ALA and other awesome groups of freedom are taking action. Here's hoping they succeed in modifying the settlement to make it not suck, but still keep the good parts.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

New York <3 Portland

Apparently the most emailed article today from the New York Times is about how affordable Portland is. My first instinct as a native is to hang my head and sigh, "Oh, no." I'm just sure that droves of hipsters will flock to my fair city and revel in our authenticity. Reading the story, I feel like they don't realize that one of the reasons prices are lower here is because wages are lower, not to mention 2nd highest in the nation unemployment. So hordes of unemployed hipsters moving here will just make matters worse. In the short term, anyway.

Of course, the Times was agog about our restaurant scene a couple years back, and I didn't see a huge shift in population then. But I haven't been studying the demographics closely.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Suing YouTube

Some guy is suing YouTube for following the law. Congress in their infinite wisdom said that sites like youtube aren't breaking copyright if they have users post infringing content, unless the copyright owner asks them to take something down. Some Guy argues that Youtube is better positioned than he is to find his stuff on YouTube.

Some Guy may make a good point, but the law is pretty clear on this one. Seems like he should be complaining to Congress, not the courts.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Prophets of financial doom

One of the causes of our current financial catastrophe is banks who were speculating in the stock market, and in the insurance industry. This was made possible by the repeal of the Glass-Steagal act in 1999.

What's astonishing if you read the newspaper article about that 1999 law passing, is how right the doomsayers were. They predicted that by 2010, there'd be a massive financial collapse which would draw comparisons to the Great Depression.

It makes me feel strongly that we need more government regulation on all sorts of fronts, despite what the lunatic fringe that calls itself the Republican party might say.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Flu economic impact

I'm sure that staying home if you're sick with pandemic flu is the best thing to do, both in terms of the spread of illness, and in terms of macroeconomic impact. If the disease burns quickly through the population, then hospitals can be overwhelmed, and if it's actually deadly, a lot more people will die.

But the problem is, a lot of people don't have sick leave. At all. If they stay home they don't get paid. And they don't eat.

On a macro scale, there are lots of businesses that would be screwed if we had to quarantine entire cities. I'm sure that museums and theatres in Mexico City are financially slammed by this, as well as all the sporting industry in Texas that shut down for the next 2 weeks. It's worth it, I'm sure. But it's a difficult price to be paid, and I believe it's an area where the government can help - mandating some minimal sick leave for employees, and even providing some stimulus money for businesses hurt by quarantine.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Lincoln Emoticon

It's possible that Abraham Lincoln used an emoticon in one of his speeches. Although there's a great deal of discussion on the New York Times blog. Honestly, more discussion of the idea than I would have thought possible. As if it were ever possible to determine whether it is either a coincidence or historic antecedent.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Internet as a utility

Some local governments are trying to set up internet access as a utility. Not surprisingly, the companies that are making huge profits from selling internet access object strenuously.

I favor making internet access a public utility. At least in my city, there's minimal competition, making it nearly a monopoly. That's exactly when utility regulation should come into play - that coupled with the growing necessity of internet to participate at any significant level in our society.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Work policies

I just found out that my employer forbids me to link to their website from my personal website. Huh. Fascinating.

Friday, May 1, 2009

More Google Books problems

Google got sued for scanning books. They reached a settlement with the association of publishers, or NAMBLA. But it turns out there's a lot of problems with giving one organization, even one that's not "evil", the power to control all books online.

For example, Google has decided not to make available any "inappropriate" books. Who decides what's inappropriate? Google.

That could be ok, if others could have access to those books and make them available. But only Google is allowed to have access to out-of-print books. Specifically, the Internet Archive has been banned from participating in the agreement that Google has obtained from the publishers.

This is not a good thing. Google does have as its mission to make information accessible to all. But concentration of power in any one center is a bad, bad plan.