Sunday, February 27, 2005

Novel Writing Redux

Last November's NaNoWriMo was so much fun, I'm doing it again, and who has time to wait for November to come around again? A few of us are planning to do our own Novel Writing Month in March. Tuesday, we start binge-drafting novels, and everyone is welcomed to join us in an effort to prod each other into finally getting that novel out of our heads and onto a drive. NaNoWriMo sets a universal goal of 50,000 words in 30 days. 50,000 words seems like a lot, but my 50,003 worked out to only 83 pages, which is slim pickings for a novel. Honestly, once you really get into creating characters and a compelling conflict, 50K is not that much. For March, I'm shooting for between 50,000 and 60,000 words, giving me a nice round goal of 2,000 words per day. Goals will probably vary.

If there is interest, I'll set up a team blog where everyone can post their goals and progress. Email if you want in on the team blogging for Novel Progress.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Gateway Saga, Part II

Dante wrote that the gateway of hell read, "Abandon hope, ye who enter here." I think he was on musical hold with customer service at the time with someone who did not understand that if his pens were out being repaired, he could not make his living. Hence why he put it on the Gateway.

To recap, Elie sent the laptop, a vital tool in his business, in to the service department for a simple warranty repair a month ago. Gateway sent it back to where we lived two forwarding addresses before where we lived when we bought the laptop. The people who received the package in error returned it to Gateway, who has no idea where the laptop currently is located. Customer Service gave us every impression that a missing laptop report would be filed, they would make one last-ditch attempt at finding the computer, and if that failed, they would be shipping out a replacement ASAP to make it good. Yes, I hear you laughing from here. We all know where this is going. Turns out no one filed the paperwork to report the laptop missing. Now the soonest a replacement might possibly be sent out would be Thursday. Not that it matters. We have no intention of keeping whatever they send us back. We're passing this trouble off to a guy who is willing to buy the new laptop, even knowing how we came by it.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel. His name is Eric and he works for the CompUSA in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This guy is what customer service should be. Elie had reached the limits of how long he could effectively do his job without a laptop, so we crossed state lines to find an open store where we could get a Mac G4. Eric responded admirably to my strategy of looking like a little confused puppy in the general vicinity of the merchandise I want to buy, and he set us up with the new laptop and all the necessary software, plus throwing in a home networking router (free with rebates). He probably would have ordered us a pizza if he thought it would make us buy more. We're reserving ultimate judgment to see if Elie's business program will run on Virtual PC, but if it doesn't Eric has made sure we can return the whole bundle even though the return policy clearly states we cannot return opened software. We watched him put that paperwork in.

Live humans, 1. Phones, 0.

Watch Them Move Now...

I try to save being cynical for after I finished my morning coffee. Reuters is making that a little difficult today with this article.

Seems Bank of America lost computer tapes with credit card account records--including social security numbers--of 1.2 million government employees. Actually, BofA and the Senate Rules Committee suspect that a baggage handler stole the data tapes as they were being shipped by plane to a storage facility. Among the account holders whose information is potentially compromised are about 900,000 Department of Defense workers and dozens of senators, as well as other government employees. Reading just that part of the article, my inner cynic said, "Yeah. Let's see them move real quickly now on identity theft and airport baggage security now that their personal info has gone missing," while other inner parts of me were saying, "C'mon. At least finish your Cheerios before you start thinking that poorly of people." For the record, I tried to listen to the non-cynical parts. Then I came to the following two excerpts:

Quoted from Senator Charles Schumer, D-NY: "Whether it is identity theft, terrorism or other theft, in this new and complicated world baggage handlers should have background checks and more care should be taken for who is hired for these increasingly sensitive positions."


"Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said he hoped the fact that Senate information was among the lost data would spur Congress to pay attention to a 'rapid erosion of privacy rights' due to faulty data security."

Apparently, my inner cynic called this one. Sorry, Senator Leahy, but I hoped that the fact that faulty data security and sticky-fingered baggage handlers are affecting a lot of people BESIDES Senators would spur congress to pay attention to a rapid erosion of privacy rights. We should not have to wait until something happens directly to our congresspeople for them to see that there is a problem.

Here's to hoping that the day gets better, faith-in-humanity-wise.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Ahh, the Sweet Smell of Irony...

First, some background: about a month ago, Elie's laptop stopped emitting sound. Given that Elie uses his laptop for presenting DVDs to clients in their homes, sound is a rather important function. We shipped it off to Gateway for the warranty repair. Then we waited. And waited. When he called to check this week on where in the world his laptop was, Gateway cheerily notified us that they shipped it out to us on February 7. Odd, we thought, that he has not received it yet, particularly since, according to the DHL tracking, it was delivered on February 8.

Apparently, yes, it was delivered--to the leasing office of apartment we lived at three years ago. Wait, it gets better. The leasing office returned the package to the sender the day before we figured out what had happened. Now, Gateway can't figure out where the laptop is. They are making it good, in their own way, but the best is yet to come.

Today, I got a call from a perky Gateway customer satisfaction pollster, asking us how we're liking our Gateway laptop. "Well," I told him, "except that your service department seems to have misplaced it..."

From Figure of Speech to Reality

Man Bites Dog. Literally. A man in Scotland bit his guide dog.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

WeddingPalooza Hooey

Salon has an article up about this contest in which 10 lucky couples with children will be chosen to get a free wedding in New York. It is supposedly a move to encourage two-parent households among otherwise-committed African-American couples Race, socioeconomics, and the contest mastermind's ulterior motives aside (she happens to be releasing a book on marriage), this is just another example of something I've believed since before I got married: a lot of people of all social and racial groups who get married don't care about being married. Rather, they want a wedding. The marriage is incidental.

"We can't afford to get married" is a cop out of the highest degree. I got married in Omaha, Nebraska, where a couple can be legally wed for $40 ($15 for the license and $25 for the judge to perform the ceremony). Certainly, there are outside economic factors that sometimes make being married a liability--we waited nearly 3 years to get married in part because we would lose our health insurance--but that is another issue entirely. If having a free wedding is all it takes to get a couple married, they have personal or couple issues that a wedding will not fix, and it does them no service to feed their illusion that all they need for a happy life is a wad of taffeta and a rented tuxedo.

As for the supposed "Stigma of a city hall wedding," again a Steaming Crock of Crap. Hate to break it to people, but no one gives a rat's butt where you got married. Few people will know or remember where the wedding was, and people won't stigmatize based on something they can't readily figure out. Legally speaking (leaving aside certain religion's requirements for a recognized marriage), civil ceremonies leave you no less married. Like so many prejudices, the bias against civil ceremonies is largely propagated by people who have never seen one. We had a lovely ceremony in Courtroom 27, and it was an actual ceremony, not a legal proceeding. The judge gave a talk on the importance of marriage and told a touching story about the Aztecs before we took the standard vows that you would take for any marriage. The court staff assured me we were allowed to bring whomever we wanted to attend the ceremony, and we had our immediate family there. We could have had more than the 12 people there, but we wanted to keep it small. The ceremony was, of course, stripped of a lot of the frou-frou of weddingpaloozas. The choreographed musical procession was pretty much out of the question, and we didn't have time--or inclination--to put out pew bows or huge floral arrangements or candelabras. The proceedings were focused not on how pretty the room was, but on our marriage.

I've said before and I will say it again: we could go a long way in improving marriage if we downplayed the wedding. Ban the butt-bows and dyed-to-match shoes, and you'll find people treating the act of getting married for what it is: a lifelong commitment, not an excuse for a party.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

About Freakin' Time

Finally, a news story about how bad some other country's students are in a subject. A survey of Japanese high schoolers found that 24% could not find North Korea and more than 40% could not find Iraq. That doesn't excuse the sad state of American secondary education, since the Japanses students probably still did better than American kids would do on a test of Geography of Countries Whose Invasions or Diplomacy We Are Not Leading (I think we're down to Lichtenstein), but still. When most of the news out of the field of education is about how our high schools are turning out mobs of illiterate, drooling morons, isn't it nice to hear that the other countries aren't perfect?

Monday, February 21, 2005

Not enlightening or uplifting, just good for a laugh

Cartoon Network's Adult Swim has the funniest new show on Sundays at 11:30 p.m. Robot Chicken is hilarious stop-motion animation with off the shelf action figures and toys. Click here for a video clip of a beanie baby panda biting the head off a Geraldo Rivera-esque action figure. Did I mention that this is not for the small fry? Cartoon Network doesn't call it "Adult Swim" for nothing. Robot Chicken is a bit of twisted humor, much like a 16-car pileup on the freeway leaves a little dent in car #7. Let's just say the opening credits for Robot Chicken have a roadkill chicken being revived by a mad scientist who turns it into a cyborg hen and forcing it to watch TV.

Too bad they didn't post the clip of Captain Kirk getting an appendage slammed in the turbolift door. I laugh just thinking about that. Seriously. Watch the show. Without the kids.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Can Someone Say "Lawsuit"?

At Media Play tonight, we bore witness to a harried mother trying to drag her son--I'll guess he was about 6 or 7 years old--away from the playing with the PlayStation 2. After the mom peeled her kid away from the game demo, I happened to glance down at the game that was in the console. They were demoing NanoBreaker by Konami. I cannot speak to the content of NanoBreaker, as I have not personally played it; however, the story is apparently that you are a cyborg fighter trying to slay the nanomachines that harvest human blood. The game is rated M (Mature), a rating roughly analogous to an R rating for a movie. In the words of the ESRB, "content may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older." Content descriptors for NanoBreaker indicate that the M rating is for blood and gore and violence. If the screenshots with that link are any indication, they're not just blowing smoke.

Now, I am all for letting video game developers (and movie producers, etc.) create products with as much blood, gore and violence as they deem necessary. Game developers will put out games they think they can sell, and there are people who enjoy a good polygon hack-and-slash. People are free to not purchase those games that they find objectionable. However, on purely a practical level, stores are getting sued for selling M-rated games to 16-year-olds. Wouldn't someone think that having an M-rated game playing in the demo consoles where any unsupervised 5-year-old can pony up to the controller might just be a bad idea?

Friday, February 18, 2005


Jerry Beck says the best thing I've heard yet about Loonatics, the forthcoming project out of Warner Brothers cartoon studios with characters that appear to be some sort of manga spawn of Bugs, Taz, Daffy, Wile E. Coyote, Roadrunner, and Lola. Warning: he says it with some grown-up language, but we are all grown ups here. He has a point: the more we object to Loonatics--one blog even implied the new show would be a war crime under the Geneva Conventions--the more we encourage WB to keep milking the creative genius of dead animators instead of creating a set of characters for our generation.

On a personal level, I find it at least irritating when studios take established properties and "remake" them by creating what is essentially an entirely new property that is at best loosely related to the original, with the name of the old one. Oftentimes, they don't even give us that. For all they know, the new property would succeed on its own merit and find an audience, but that is risky. Slapping the name of an established property on the project guarantees press and an audience, at least until we realize one has been put over on us, but by then we realize the new property is pretty good and we keep watching or reading. Being tricked into watching makes me resent a perfectly good story.

Related: when the studios "re-imagine" a property and try to convince us they didn't. Harris did it with Vampirella, my bar-none favorite horror magazine from the '60s and '70s, where she was an alien vampire/magician's assistant. They created Vampi, which they try to bill as a "completely separate character" from Vampirella, even though they admit Vampi and Vampirella have "the same general abilities and motives." They forgot logo in that list, but apparently giving one character a more futuristic costume and gadgets and shaving 10 years off the age makes it a "completely separate character."

Reader Poll

We're gearing up for the move, and I'm making an inventory of things we will be moving ourselves and not letting the movers anywhere near. On the list are things we will need immediately upon arrival, like a roll of TP and the cats' litter boxes. Also on the list are our absolutely irreplaceable items. Felix* tops that list, of course. Here is where the reader poll comes in. How bad is it, really, that I just noticed that I seem to have put the sketchbook on the list of irreplaceables and left off the wedding album? Current contents of the sketchbook include original art from Sergio Aragones, Monty Moore, Joe Corroney, Frank Cho, Jeff Smith (no relation, Becca), Mike Deodato, Jr. (whose official site is in Portuguese, so good luck with that link), and a lot of people you've probably never heard of, assuming you have heard of any of those. The wedding album, on the other hand, contains the snapshots of us getting married at the Douglas County Courthouse, and somewhere, we have the negatives.

*- for those of you who may have just joined Penguin Perspectives, Felix is our dearly departed cat.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Something to Chew On

So the National Hockey League has cancelled the 2005 hockey season. This did not keep Electronic Arts from releasing NHL 2005, which in all fairness was released well in advance of the season cancellation. However, a video game capitalizing on a nonexistant sports season is not the most irony-laden part of this whole situation. The NHL is so good at licensing ancillary products that the actual playing of a season of professional hockey has become unnecessary. G4, the tech/video game cable channel, is playing through the now-defunct 2005 hockey season on the EA game. Fans can follow their team through the virtual season. The only difference is instead of actual hockey players and ice, we have gamers on Playstation 2s.

I don't know squat about hockey, but it appears that the hypothetical Pittsburgh Penguins are not doing well at all. At least that's how I am interpreting a 17-31 record with 5 ties.

Slow News Day?

Actual headline: New York's Celebrity Bird Couple is Seen Mating
The news: Birds of prey have sex

Who would have thought hawks would do something so outrageous as mating, and during mating season, no less.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Art, Schmart

A guy actually put orange drapes up in Central Park. There is even a live Central Park Curtain Cam, I guess for those of us who can't get there to see them in person. I'm not sure anything more needs to be said here.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Phishing Trip

I just got my first phishing email. You would think with three email addresses, I would have been pegged before now, but I've gotten lucky. This particular phish was requesting that I confirm my account details for my Washington Mutual account, or else they would have no choice but to suspend my account. In addition to the helpful hints Washington Mutual provides on its website to help its customers avoid being taken by the phishers, there were several tipoffs that this email was a blatant scam.

1. "Washington Mutual" was contacting me by email about my account.
2. They threatened to close my account if I failed ot respond to one email.
3. No legitimate bank makes you confirm your personal account details on a non-secure website. I'm not sure any make you confirm your account details online at all. What is with this "confirming" thing, anyway?
4. The web address text they used for the link, which appeared to be a legitimate Washington Mutual website, was not the address you would get to if you clicked on the link, which was on some random alphanumeric domain.

and most telling of all:
5. I do not have an account at Washington Mutual.

Stupid Telemarketer Tricks

We're on the Do Not Call list, but that doesn't apply when I have a "business relationship" with the telemarketer, which means I get periodic rashes of phone calls from my credit card companies wanting to sign me up for this that and the other. They are very persistent and even when I don't answer the phone, the ringing breaks my train of thought. I finally decided today that the only way to get 888-872-2629 to quit calling me four times a day was to answer the phone and blow them off. The person on the other end--who could not have been calling from a center in Bangladesh because her English grammar wasn't that good--wanted to let me know of "a few benefits that the company is offering cardholders now that were not available when you got the card, and we just need to confirm your address and the spelling of your name." How stupid do they think I am? They know my name and address. The credit card company sends me a bill every month and reports my every sneeze to the credit bureaus. You don't just loan people money without some idea of where to look for them to get it back

Monday, February 14, 2005

Survey Sez...

Here's the results of a survey that might interest those of you who doubt people's sincerity when they say they prize a sense of humor in a mate. You know who you are.

A Lot of Generalizations

Elie and I don't celebrate Valentine's Day, which may surprise some people who know us. As one of my coworkers said today, "You don't celebrate Valentine's Day? Well you've only been married a few years [4 1/2 for the record--JH]. Check back with me in another 15." Elie and I are not that type of morally superior couples you find who have the attitude "well, maybe you need Valentine's Day to show your love, but we don't need a special day," or more nicely "every day is Valentine's Day for us." Those people annoy me. Elie and I are generally considered to be the most romantic couple that our friends know, and even we have our off days--sometimes up to off weeks. No one is as happy and blissfully in love every minute of every day as those couples try to make it seem.

I really am not one of those "Bah Humbug" anti-Valentine's Day people. I don't think Valentine's Day should be banned; I don't think it is any more of a Hallmark Holiday than birthdays, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Thanksgiving, or Christmas; I don't think it is a great conspiracy of the florists and candymakers (particularly since the festival predates both); I especially don't think that non-coupled people should feel like they're missing something on Valentine's Day, any more than Gentiles should feel like they're missing something on Sukkot. I actually think it is great that couples celebrate Valentine's Day, not just because it is a day to remind people to appreciate their loved ones. Well, actually I find it more amusing. We tart the day up with cupids and cards and notions of romance and love, but at the core, it is the one day a year where the whoring is right out there in the open. The whole concept of the day is really a tit-for-tat (pardon the unintentional crass pun). Guy gives girl chocolates, flowers, nice dinner out, and/or sparkly things, and if girl decides the presents are good enough, she gives him what he wants. On any other day of the year between strangers, that would be a misdemeanor.

I'm not meaning that as a negative thing. The fact is, Valentine's Day just compresses the fundamental dynamic of human relationships until you can actually see it happening in a 24-hour period with a tangible exchange. One of the fundamental principles that keeps society going is that we give others what they want in order to get what we want. I think society would be better off if we had more holidays that, even tacitly, acknowledged that that is what people do. We would be even better off if we did not have to hide it behind all the cutsey hearts, but that's not likely.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Study Findings

Finally, a scientific study that explains why I can't swing, musically speaking. Unfortunately, it does not explain my complete and utter lack of rhythmic ability. That's another study.

Saturday, February 12, 2005


Over at the Selective Service's website, Elie found perhaps one of the most bizarre Frequently Asked Questions ever. Second from the bottom of the list: "How does the Military Selective Service Act apply to individuals who have had a sex change?" I have to wonder just how frequently that question is asked. In case you were wondering, whatever one's current gender, if one was born male, one must register with Selective Service. Apparently there is an exemption one can file in the event one is called up while female.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Did we learn nothing from Prohibition?

North Dakota is trying to legislate out something called Power Hour drinking, in which incredibly stupid people turning 21 hit the bars at midnight and try to down 21 shots before the bars close at 1 a.m. North Dakota's strategy: make it illegal for bars to serve alcohol to anyone until 8 a.m. on their 21st birthday. Now, as stupid as trying to down 21 shots in an hour is, the legislature's proposed solution is only slightly less moronic, and then only because passing the law, in and of itself, will probably not kill any of the legislators.

Why this will not work:
As it is now, the stupid 21-year-olds try to down 21 shots in the first hour that it is legal for them to drink. At the moment in North Dakota, the soonest they can do that is midnight on their birthdays. If the proposed solution goes through, the soonest 21-year-olds can drink would be 8 a.m. on their birthdays. Is anyone in the North Dakota legislature really naive enough to think that their solution will do anything besides move the practice to 8 o'clock in the morning? Face it. There is a certain segment of the population that finds the concept of getting falling-down drunk appealing, and will attempt to do this in public as soon as legally possible. Changing the time that it is legally possible will not alter this. For the record, in the interest of full, I spent my 21st birthday perfectly sober and moving between apartments, and I do not understand the appeal of being drunk. I have been drunk once, when I was 18, fully supervised by my then-brother-in-law, just to see what it was like. To save any of you the trouble, it feels like having the flu and salmonella poisoning at the same time.

A much better solution to the 21-year-old Power Hour Drinking Problem:
Instead of basing the ability to get falling-down drunk on the time of day of date of birth, try curbing the amount of alcohol any person can legally consume in a bar in a given hour. Sure the 21-year-olds are the vanguard of the stupid drinkers, but excessive drinkers come in all ages. Downing 21 shots in an hour requires, by my count, roughly one shot every three minutes. Bartenders have GOT to notice someone drinking that fast. Now, to limit the amount of alcohol a person can consume in a bar in an hour, one must balance the rights of the bar owner to do business against the public safety concerns involved in the sort of binge drinking we're trying to eliminate. 21 shots in an hour is obviously excessive and in most realistic scenarios at least unhealthy if not outright fatal. Where to draw the line, then? Ten shots in an hour is enough to get the average person more than drunk, and limiting a person to 10 in an hour would require 21-year-olds to stagger to at least 3 bars in an hour while still averaging a shot every 3 minutes. This level of bar-hopping is probably not outside the realm of the possible, but it would make 21 shots in an hour a whole lot more difficult, and give a chance for the intoxication from the first 4 or 5 shots to show up by the time the idiots find a bar to get the 21st one at. Limiting to 9 in an hour would even make that 21st shot less of a holy grail, since they would have to find a bar to serve the last 4 shots, rather than the last 1.

See? Much more elegant solution that does not rely in infantilizing a very narrow swatch of the people who probably could use some infantilization. If the problem group is the intersection of 21-year-olds and binge drinkers, doesn't it make more sense to target binge drinkers than 21-year-olds? After all, being 21 years of age in and of itself is not a public health hazard; binge drinking is.

More on the Last Link

In his entry on the Name Voyager site, ME says he didn't particularly notice trends linked to the infamy of celebs, though he did not discount the possibility. I, too, did not find any trends related to celebrities--the precipitous decline of Bruno actually slowed somewhat in the 30s, in spite of Bruno Hauptmann. However, there was an interesting correlation with non-human pop culture icons. Kermit drops completely off the map in the 70s, when The Muppet Show debuted. Bambi actually started to register on the top 1000 baby names in the 40s, after Disney released Bambi in 1942.

Name Game

This link (thanks, ME), goes a long way in explaining why I've never met anyone else my age with my name--unlike my high school biology classmates, a full 20% of whom were named Russell. On the rare occasion where I have met another Janet, she has tended to be around 15-30 years older. That link is a fun little java application that lets you peek into the history of a name's popularity. According to their charts, my parents gave me my name right about the time its popularity was not just waning, but plummetting, down about 90% from its peak in the 40s.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005


Somehow, I doubt that "hotcaramelchoco" really has [IMPORTANT] News About My Mortgage Application. Call it a hunch, particularly since I have no recollection of the email this is ostensibly a reply to. Even if he/she did have important news about my mortgage application, which is being taken care of totally offline, I question why Hotcaramelchoco is sending this important information in bulk. Just how stupid do the spammers think I am?

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Acronym Acrimony

The government has an aversion to spelling things out--not just in the sense of being transparent about operations, but typographically. The feds love their acronyms. They used to stick to whatever letters happened to go with the words, so we got things like the WPA and some slight confusion over whether DoE is the Department of Energy or the Department of Education (the latter is ED in official contexts). Sometimes the name of the program created some unintentional humor when it spelled out something that could be pronounced, like WAC or COD (Common Origination and Disbursement, an administrative feature of the federal student aid programs). I imagine this is why the Department of Homeland Security is not abbreviated with the lowercase o like many of the other cabinet-level departments--otherwise the DHS would be the DoHS, and Simpson jokes would abound.

We've been at this government thing for 216 years now, and all I can figure is the government is running out of permutations of the 26-letter alphabet in the 2-4 letter range, as there are only just under a half million of those and they would have had to hold it down to about 6 acronyms a day. The acronyms seem to be going longer now, so the acronym-makers have to make them pronounceable or the long string of letters starts to get unwieldy. I submit as evidence the non-government NCBTMB. Lately, though, the government seems to be going further and, rather than making pronounceable but nonsensical acronyms, they're making them standard English words. Sometimes long words. As much as I dislike the USA PATRIOT Act and the syntax that brought us that particular acronym, my hat is off to whoever came up with the phrase Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism. I'm pretty sure the legislators had some help coming up with that one.

This brings me to my point--you didn't think this was just a random rambling on government's propensity to abbreviate, did you? I am plotting out my next novel, to be drafted in March. L. Sprague de Camp's great advice in writing speculative fiction was to only change one major thing (makes it easier on the reader), so I am writing what I hope will become a series of novels that spring from making one basic change to society and following the logical consequences into the future. The change I am focusing on for this book, which was actually alluded to in the last one, is that the government eliminates unemployment and welfare programs and uses those funds to encourage job creation in the private sector by subsidizing part of a worker's salary in positions that the private sector creates, making it cheaper to create jobs. So my quandary is that I am trying to come up with a snappy government-type acronym for the program. So far, the best I can come up with is the National Employment Expansion Drive Jointly Operated to Benefit Society (NEED JOBS). I'm not particularly fond of that, even though it was three days' work coming up with it. Anyone have any thoughts on improving the acronym?

Monday, February 07, 2005

What a Difference a Dyson Makes

It's not every day that a vacuum cleaner completely changes the way I look at my home. Then again, yesterday was not every day.

After 8 apartments, the old Hoover Dimension finally died. Perhaps we should have waited a decent interval for mourning a vacuum that had crossed the country twice, but we went right out and replaced it with the Dyson DC-07 Animal, billed as "The most powerful upright for pet hair." That's a big selling point for someone with 2 longhaired cats and nigh on 2 1/2 feet of her own hair (also a shorthaired cat and shorthaired husband, who do not contribute much to the overall interior furriness). I forgot how beige my carpet is until I set the Dyson on it. I vacuumed regularly with the Hoover, but one pass with the Dyson and the carpet actually changed color with the layer of grey and black cat fur gone. This vacuum sucked up six, count 'em SIX vacuumfuls of hair, fur, and carpet dust off just the living room and bedroom floors. Not only that, but by the time we were done, the brush was absolutely packed with my hair--which you may recall was the Roomba's undoing earlier--and this thing never stopped sucking up the dirt and fur.

My carpet looks new. I had to clean the rest of the apartment because all the clutter that was OK with grungy carpets now makes the place look messy and is just wrong with nice clean carpets. I can't be certain, but I think the Dyson may be turning me into a clean freak. Check back on that one.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Another Headline I Couldn't Make Up

From Reuters: Pope Suspected of Lip Syncing. Actually, that isn't the headline they use, but they do insinuate that John Paul II pulled an Ashlee Simpson.

American Pie

Come to think about it, Don McLean seems strangely prophetic. If you haven't listened to the full 8-minute cut of "American Pie" lately, somewhere around verse 3, the song muses "When the players tried to take the field, the marching band refused to yield. Do you recall what was revealed the day the music died?" I think we all now recall that what was revealed was a mammary gland, though halftime music arguably died long before that.

This op-ed from the CSM has an elegant solution for Superbowl-wardrobe-malfunction-phobia: give halftime back to the marching band. It could work. The few marching bands I've seen are all more musically adept and have better choreography than anyone in the last few Halftime Extravaganzas.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Halftime Show

Reuters reports Paul McCartney has promised not to expose his breasts at the Superbowl halftime show tomorrow. Really.

In other news, turns out Bat Spit may have more uses than being my generic name for any backwater town. A trial of a drug derived from vampire bat spit shows promise for restoring blood flow to the brain after a stroke. So you have a better chance of surviving, but you'll never be able to eat garlic bread again.

More Stupid Food Labels

Since the tale of the worst box of doughnuts in recorded history interests no one, here is another installment in the Stupid Food Labels. From Ann O., off the back of the Cheez-it box.

"Anatomy of a Cheez-it: texture edge) No slip grip: helps you grab more in every handful. (hole) Air Intake: Improves aerodynamics during periods of rapid cheez-it consumption. Surface dynamics: Bumpy, crispy, crunchy, utterly satisfying." and down in small print, "These qualities make cheez-its fun but do not suggest any serious product performance claims."
Performance claims? This is a cheese cracker, not a turbocharged V-8. Who has performance expectations from a lump of refined carbohydrates and dehydrated cheese? I expect that it taste vaguely of artifical cheese and absorb soup broth.

It's a banner day for cheese-related stupidity. I also noticed this boldface warning on my 8-ounce brick of marble cheddar cheese: "Contains milk." Now, I've taken the Tillamook Cheese Factory tour and have a nodding acquaintance with how cheese is made. Cheese pretty much is milk. If cheese does not contain milk, it is not cheese. That is why the cheese is in the dairy case. Anyone who does not realize that cheese contains milk deserves whatever bloated, lactose intolerant reaction they get. I must admit, though, this is a step up for stupid food labels. At least now they are certain my cheese contains milk. My wheat germ still only may contain wheat.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Everyone on the Road Is an Idiot...

...and we have the research to prove it. A study from the University of Utah shows that 18-25 year olds on cell phones and 65-74 year olds not on the phone are 18% slower in braking (slower than what is not mentioned in the article). Norwegian researchers have found that dyslexics had 30% slower reaction times when driving than non-dyslexics in a small study. And the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that 1.5 million people were arrested for drunk or drugged driving in 2002, which works out to 1 in every 130 licensed drivers.

So it's official. You aren't imagining things. No one on the road knows how to drive.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Two Notes on the State of the Union

1. To whoever was sitting behind and to the First Lady's left: Fishnet pantyhose are acceptable attire if you are going to a costume party or are renting out your body. For a Presidential address before a joint session of Congress, particularly if the seating arrangement assures maximum TV exposure of you from the knee down, go for solid hose in a nice neutral tone.

2. To the President: when you begin by addressing "fellow citizens," please remember that includes people in their 20s, even if none of us are in the room at the time. Those big cameras pointed at you are piping the address straight into our TiVos, and no matter what you may hear, some of us do pay attention. More of us would probably pay attention if you at least pretended to talk to us. Try addressing me directly, not talking to my parents about the need to fix Social Security so it will be around for my generation. My parents are not paying into my IRA; I am. I thought I was at least a decade beyond having to feel like someone is saying "Shush! The grownups are talking." What he actually said was

I recognize that 2018 and 2042 may seem like a long way off. But those dates are not so distant, as any parent will tell you. If you have a 5-year-old, you're already concerned about how you'll pay for college tuition 13 years down the road. If you've got children in their 20s, as some of us do, the idea of Social Security collapsing before they retire does not seem like a small matter. And it should not be a small matter to the United States Congress

Let me say that those dates aren't so distant, as anyone in their 20s planning a stable retirement will tell you. In 2018, I'll be 40, and in 2042, I'll be 64. I'm old enough to be concerned about my own retirement, thank you, and would like to at least nominally be included in the discussion. I find it very patronizing to listen to the President talking about the obligation to the children and grandchildren when I'm probably younger than a lot of their children. I graduated from the kiddie table a long time ago. I'd like to be able to sit with the grownups and talk about things that impact me personally.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Survey Sez...

Word from the Groundhog is six more weeks of this winter stuff. I'm holding him to that. I want all this snow and ice and associated ick gone by March 17. Here's the official proclamation out of Punxsutawney from the Father of all Marmota (man, he is one busy groundhog!).

I'm not sure I want to know what the deal is with the young women in bikinis, or the half naked guy standing on Gobbler's Knob (site of the groundhog reading) behind the guy in formalwear with the really big pocketwatch. When did Pennsylvania in early February become the pregame show for Spring Break in Ft. Lauderdale? Also, when did real news start bumping Punxsutawney Phil off the news pages? I actually had to go to today to find this. You'd think the President was making a speech, or the Pope was in the hospital, or some would-be democracy just held its first elections or something.