31 December, 2008

The last day of 2008

Did anyone have a good year in 2008?

I am not sure. I really don't know. I have not heard anyone say "2008 was fantastic!", but how often do you hear people proclaim such things. Usually we call out years in their special 365.25 day buckets when we want to talk about how bad that interval was. I have heard people who are longing for the last days of this year to be bled away, giving birth to 2009 and the unknown.

2008 did suck for me. But 2008 was also spectacular as well.

In the span of one week, my mom died, and I joined the band. Those things happened in May of 2008. It feels almost vulgar to juxtapose those two things, because it may inadvertently convey some false notion of valuation. But the fact is, those were both huge events that occurred in my life, simultaneously. Both of these events were surrounded by anxiety and the expenditure of significant amounts of emotional and intellectual energy. And there's no way to balance those assets. You cannot take an Excel spreadsheet and put your music accomplishments in one column, and dead loved ones in another, and come up with some sort of macro that tells you whether you have a net positive for the year. It just doesn't work that way. And you cannot, or maybe I should say, you need not try to average emotions. Happy and sad can exist simultaneously. I am not sure if their existence occurs in parallel, like programs on two different TV stations, where you can tune in to either at any time, but never watch both simultaneously, or whether you add them like ingredients like food coloring, where blue happiness and red sadness combine to make purple wistfulness. I guess emotions aren't additive in any conventional way.

I have had both happy and sad in love as well. For so many reasons, and in so many ways. And I don't know how to add those either. It's interesting. I do not regret any of the sad that I have felt in these times. I only regret the sad I have caused, or perceive myself to have shaped. And I do not profess myself to be some magical powerful hand of a god, capable of inflicting harm or pain. But sometimes in just being ourselves -- whether it be that we are being "true" to ourselves, or whether it be that we are trying to hold up to some ideal of which we are ultimately incapable -- our choices and actions cause harm and pain and sorrow. And of that, I have regret.

I try to recognize the good, and there is certainly much. I learned many things about my capacities for many things. I realize that is so obtuse and vague, so as to serve as useless. But what I am trying to say is that I learned that I am capable of much more than I thought I was in this year. In many ways.

This year was painful. And we are now officially into the last day. But what is a year other than an arbitrarily bounded collection of days?

I am certain that when 2008 started, I had professed a desire that this year should bring for me more stability, and clarity. I could probably locate the blog where I wrote that, if I were to look. But that stability and clarity did not come in 2008. And it was not there in 2007. And it was not there in 2006. It has been 3 years of flux. There have been many great things, no doubt. Accomplishments, transitions, love, adventure, travel. I have had these things in those years. But I have also had a lot of pain. Is that just unavoidable? I realize that my life is simple compared to many people, and this is not a complaint. But must every year be traumatic?

I hesitate to ask 2009 to bring me peace, or stability, or clarity. Because I realize that a year brings nothing. The year is a collection of arbitrarily bounded days. And it ends because the calendar says it ends. There are other calendars for which the year continues to some other arbitrary end point. The peace, stability and clarity derive from inside me. And they must be sought and chosen every single moment. Not daily. Not monthly. Not yearly. And not beholden to external circumstances.

On the last day of 2008, I wish you all peace, stability, and clarity. By your own choosing.

29 December, 2008

Tutta Bella Monday

Stopping here for my first, last, and only meal of the day. Enroute to a recording session as observer. Shocked to find the restaurant absolutely packed, with a wait for tables. But no wait for a table for one.

Why so packed?

Children everywhere. Like a dining festival or something. Chicken Caesar salad is good here. Large, but pricey.

Why is pizza considered a novelty food here in Seattle?

-- Post From My iPhone


You know the saying...

If a butterfly flaps its wings in China, then it rains in Seattle. Of course, it is also true that if the butterfly sits on the sofa and watches reruns of "The Odd Couple", it also rains in Seattle, because it rains all the time here.

But the complexity of systems is something that is usually underestimated. There's a reason why it's usually geniuses and autistic people that are good at playing chess. Because they don't look at the board, and think "What would be the best thing for me to do right now?". They look at the board, and they look at every possibility that would result from every possible move that they could make, coupled with every possible move the other player could make in response. When you play chess against a computer, and you are choosing the difficulty level of the computer player, it is usually specified in the number of moves ahead that the computer will analyze to determine the best move. And you can imagine that for each additional notch on this scale, there could be an exponentially greater number of possibilities to consider.

And not surprisingly, chess is a lot like life. One thing that complicates the chess game of life is that emotions run perpendicular to logic. It is not so simple as to look at as many moves as possible, and then choose that move that brings about the best possible outcome. Because for each move, and often very significantly for the initial decision point, there can be extremely strong emotional consequences that might drive us to either not look any moves ahead, or potentially misjudge the implications of some consequential move patterns.

Further complicating the analogy is the fact that, unlike chess, the goal in life is often not to do what is best only for oneself, but to do what is best for several people, or even for larger things like a family, or a company, or a cause. So the analysis, and the emotions, and the weighing and balancing between self and others further increases the dimensionality of the process.

This is going to be one of those blogs where you probably thought I was heading somewhere with this argument, but that's all I've got.

27 December, 2008

Jodie Foster gets more hits than Britney Spears

Not sure what to make of it, but apparently there are more people looking for Jodie Foster than there are looking for Britney Spears. Okay. Lies, lies, lies, I realize. The more accurate statement would be that there are more people who are looking for Jodie Foster that elected to click on my blog than there were people looking for Britney Spears who clicked on my blog.

The even more accurate statement would be that I have nothing to say tonight.

26 December, 2008

20 miles per hour with chains does not make for efficient driving

The last week of driving around Seattle pretty much exclusively consisted of under 20 miles per hour, with chains on the front tires. Usually, this was in first or second gear. The result was that my gas mileage on the last fill was only 23.6 miles per gallon. Ouch. And to think, that was probably only about half the tank that was driven under those conditions, so I was probably making only about 15 mpg for the past week. I guess it makes sense.

The chains are a miracle in the sense that they enable you to drive when you otherwise could not. But they were not invincible. The first day I drove with them on I-90 and 40 miles per hour was obviously too fast, especially on roads that were not icy (side streets were bad, but highways were good). The result was a damaged chain, and highway panic. I kept driving with them like that for a week, until one of them fell off the car, and I finally threw it in the back.

Then, last night, my other chain broke in the same fashion. These chains are really meant for the snow/ice conditions only. Some other types can do okay on roads that are clear. I just could not bring myself to go through the tedious process of chaining up and unchaining, repeatedly.

So, it looks like next season, I will need a new set of chains. Maybe I should do some online shopping for them now, when it is not an urgent need.

More time in "The Office" than in *the office*

Due partly to the circumstances of extreme weather over the last 7 days, and partly due to a complete detour into the insomniac land of streaming Netflix, I have spent more hours watching "The Office" lately than I have spent at my actual physical workplace. In fact, the number of hours I have been in the physical workplace has been exactly zero. In contrast, the episodes of "The Office" that I have watched in the past week would probably amount to something in the ballpark of 14 hours.

While this is all incredibly riveting trivia, the more important point is that I seem to be slowly drifting out of phase with reality, and into some alternate universe, where Pam and Dwight are real people. I feel the emotions of their situations. I eagerly await whatever will occur next. Will Angela forgive Dwight? What will happen with Jim and Pam? Like an addiction, I keep pressing "Next" at the end of each episode, rather than doing the prudent thing, which would be to go up to the loft and go to sleep. I am avoiding sleep. 

It's a strange form of insomnia, this. I have never had difficulty falling asleep, and that has not changed now. But I have often had difficulty going to sleep. Is that even "insomnia"? Or is it something else? I don't know. Why do I not want to sleep? Perhaps it is the dreams. I sleep, and I have no ability to control the dreams that populate my unconscious. There is no press secretary for the recesses of the mind. Whatever voice wishes to speak steps forward and issues forth its myriad alerts, temptations, guilt-trips, metaphors -- you name it. I cannot control the sleep. And I do not particularly enjoy what it brings. I spend the day, with a little help from my friends, managing the message. Placing myself in a positive frame of reference. Trying to be "okay". And then I go to sleep. And magically, I awaken the next morning, shaken and uncertain, and once again in need of the same "reprogramming". 

This is nothing new. You've heard it before. I've said it before. 

The irony is that the less sleep I have, as a result of this sleep avoidance, the more bizarre the dreams become, and the more affected I feel in the waking hours, and the less receptive I am to efforts to balance the system. 

Scary thought is that in exactly one week, I will be in Boston. Three hours ahead. If I do not correct this time shift before then, I will be awake until sunrise. I do not want that. Something must be done soon to recalibrate.

But there are only 12 episodes of "The Office" left.

Unconditional love... real, or an oxymoron?

This is a serious topic for me.

I am not sure if it exists or not.

And it is something that can be called into question in many different situations. The notion that it might exist gives great comfort to those who believe they are the recipients of it. The fear that it cannot exist gives great concern to those who have never experienced it. The fear that it might exist gives discomfort to those who apparently are unable to demonstrate it.

So does it exist? Can it exist? What does it even mean?

Well, there is a Wikipedia entry for it, so perhaps that means it does exist.

But, there are Wikipedia entries for one or two other things, for which I have seen no evidence. So, Wikipedia does not really help us at all in this case.

That said, what do they actually say in this Wikipedia article? Well, they define unconditional love as "to love someone regardless of his actions or beliefs". (Interestingly, the fact that they say "his" makes me wonder if perhaps only a woman is capable of such a thing!)

In this article, they state there are two categories of unconditional love: familial, and romantic. Also, they characterize both of these categories. In the case of romantic love, they provide the example of a partner who is a victim of abuse, yet loves the victimizer unconditionally. I must wonder if there is some bias in the view of the author of the entry.

I rarely will quote entire sections of another body of material within my blog entries, but here is one case where I would like to do this. From the Wikipedia entry above, comes the following passage, under the heading of "Critical Views":

Some secular authors make a distinction between unconditional love and conditional love. In conditional love: love is 'earned' on the basis of conscious or unconscious conditions being met by the lover, whereas in unconditional love, love is 'given freely' to the loved one 'no matter what'. Conditional love requires some kind of finite exchange, whereas unconditional love is seen as infinite and measureless. Unconditional love should not be mistaken with unconditional dedication: unconditional dedication refers to an act of the will irrespective of feelings (e.g a person may consider they have a duty to stay with a person); unconditional love is an act of the feelings irrespective of will.

[...section skipped...]

Unconditional love of self is the concept of loving yourself regardless of external conditions. This includes not denying yourself/your feelings in favor of others. Ultimately in this action a person will have to move away from others who do not love them without condition or teach them to. This idea could be considered imperative to increasing the amount of love one feels. If a person is looking outside him or herself for love they may never find unconditional love or even enough love to be happy. Unconditional love of self is considered the foundation for unconditional love because of this. Once a person is able to love him or herself without condition they will be able to love others without condition. Some gurus/teachers would describe this as an overflow effect as if the person is overflowing with love or agape. Unconditional love of self is most often used in conjunction with self-acceptance as a way to bring the self to a place of well-being and self understanding.

For many people this is not very easy to understand, probably because people have used the term to demand more love from a person than possible for that person to give. And when the person in demand was unable to fulfill the expectations of the other they were accused of not loving without condition. This is a false definition that would actually be more synonymous with guilt or guilt-trip. It is difficult/impossible to define unconditional self love or unconditional love when people put expectations on it that can ultimately end up in disappointment.

So, there's a lot in there. They assert that loving oneself is a prerequisite for being able to unconditionally love another. But is it healthy to love another unconditionally? Well, it really depends, doesn't it? If the person you love unconditionally loves themself unconditionally, then one could posit that it would be a healthy state of being. Because one who loves themself unconditionally would, presumably, not engage in self-abusive behaviors. If one can assert that abusing others is a form of self-abuse (because of the natural guilt one must feel, at least at deep levels of consciousness), then love of self would need to preclude the abuse of self or others. Such an individual who lives in this state would be a ready and deserving recipient of unconditional love. This being because there would likely be no great risk to the giver of unconditional love of being harmed by the recipient.

But is that a utopian scenario? Do any of us love our selves truly unconditionally? And should we? How can we? And what does it mean "to love"? And what are "conditions"? There are so many questions here.

I would assert that to love oneself, one must conduct one's life in a way that meets a set of morals, or ethics, or values, or standards, or whatever you want to call them. If you elect to run through the streets stabbing people, it would be hard to imagine you could love yourself in this context. On a less absurd level, if you engage in behaviors that you are fully aware are causing harm, or may cause harm to others, or to yourself, then it seems to follow it would be difficult to love yourself. So it sounds, by my assertion, like there need to be certain conditions met in order to love oneself.

Also, if one were to consider my last paragraph reasonable (and I don't require that you do), then one might come to the conclusion that love overlaps significantly with "acceptance". Though, obviously, acceptance is a subset of what love is. Regardless, if acceptance is a fundamental component of love, then love must by definition be conditional. Because one can only accept that which is acceptable, therefore it must follow that one can only love that which is acceptable. In essence, to be acceptable means "to meet certain conditions".

So where are we?

Unconditional love. What does it mean? If love must include acceptance, it seems that unconditional love would need to include one or more of the following:

  • Acceptance without condition. This is an oxymoron, because that which is acceptable is, by definition, that which is "capable", "worthy", "meeting requirements", "pleasing", "satisfactory", "tolerable", i.e. meets certain conditions.

  • The conscious choice to ignore, overlook, or forgive (e.g. "accept") any failures to meet one's established set of values, ethics, morals, etc.

The problem here is that, while the first bulleted item is an oxymoron, the second bulleted item could be argued to be in violation of unconditional love of self (which would then, presumably, make it impossible to unconditionally love another). Because, if you choose to accept that which is fundamentally in opposition with core values, ethics, morals, beliefs, is this not to behave in a manner that is unacceptable (i.e. unworthy of love) with respect to self?

The last point I want to discuss relates to the subject of unconditional dedication versus unconditional love, as mentioned in the commentary from Wikipedia. The distinction between the two, as they state, is that dedication is about "action" whereas "love" is about feelings. And it may be here that all of this can be rectified. It may be possible to accept/love another without choosing to dedicate to them. A relationship with another requires both love/acceptance and dedication to the interaction with the other. The absence of either of these can result in either an unfulfilling, or broken relationship. And we can choose, or experience each of these phenomena in conjunction, or exclusive of the other.

I am still not sure where that leaves us. But it is certainly something worth a little thought.

24 December, 2008

Boundaries, over sharing, TMI, and of course, pizza

Last night, I went with a friend of mine (who shall remain nameless) to my favorite pizza place in this town (which shall remain nameless). We were greeted at our table by the server, who is a guy that I have seen there regularly for about 5 years now - ever since I started going there (who shall also remain nameless, though we did find out his name). One thing about this server, that I have noted, and even commented to others, is that he is very good-looking. It does not trouble me in any way to make this observation to you. He just has sort of the movie star kind of looks. A subset of the people who have gone to this place with me have noted that he is almost certainly gay... not that there's anything wrong with that (of course not).

We ordered a large cheese pizza, and a large Greek salad. Anticipation building, since I really, really love this place!

The conversation, for some reason, was related to the issue of "boundaries". I think the topic originated with respect to writing blogs, or online journals, and what exactly are the lines of what is acceptable, or what is too much to say. I have always tended to err on the side of over sharing. True in my face-to-face relationships, and also true in my web publications. As you know from previous blogs, I have even inadvertently deposited "Google-able" information about people here without meaning to do so. For example, there was the time that I was talking about my daily fist fights in elementary school with one friend (who is now a VP at a large financial institution). At one point in time, I started finding blog hits on that entry, which had been directed from Google searches on the individual's name. That's great, huh? Can you imagine if he was meeting with some new client, and they decide to joke around with him, and say "So, I hear you used to be quite the little fighter in grade school?" Ugh.

On this topic of boundaries, in an effort to illustrate that it is truly a continuum, and that I am not at the far end of the TMI scale, I referenced a previous brief girlfriend of mine from about a year ago (who shall remain nameless). This woman was probably the most over-the-top person I have ever met, and it almost seemed like she had an unavoidable compulsion to speak about her own private life, and that of anyone she knew, until she had successfully made everyone uncomfortable. I had been talking about how the first time she met Edna; she started talking to Edna about how she and some other boyfriend of hers first had sexual encounters. Yes. I kid you not. This was a fairly routine occurrence, and it got to the point that I needed to provide her with a detailed list of the specific topics that were off-limits at each social gathering. However, like a leaky boat, she always managed to find a boundary to violate. She would even tell service personnel about our private life, or just spurt out some completely embarrassing non sequitur. It was unavoidable. In no small part, this contributed to the timely dissolution of that relationship. Though, it was a very useful experience for me, and I learned a lot, because I think that in most of my previous relationships, I had always been the over sharer. Now I know how it feels to have privacy and boundaries disrespected, and I think it made me become more conscientious, in a way that a simple reprimand had never previously done.

So the waiter had partly overheard this conversation in his passing by. He'd also overheard me talking about my experience of meeting the big-mouthed ex's father. That encounter had made me understand it all. Within the first 15 minutes of meeting this (70 year old) man, he proclaims "I never wore condoms! I like to ride bareback!" Yes, the crab apple does not fall far from the tree.

So, our (presumed gay) server hears this, and he can't help but do a double-take, and come back to the table, and ask if he heard what he thought he had just heard. We decide that if he's going to engage in the conversation, there will be little harm in filling him in on what he had missed. What we did not realize was that somehow this would dramatically alter the dynamic of our interactions into a realm that I have never experienced with this server in 5 years of visiting the restaurant.

I had always thought of this guy as quiet, serious, brief, and a little bit moody. There would be times where he would be a little bit clever and make a wise joke that a server might make. But for the most part, he had always seemed standoffish.

Something that I had said, not sure if it was about condoms, or boundaries, caused him to open the floodgates! Before we even knew what was happening, he is suddenly telling us a story, and it goes something like this (I am sure I will be inaccurate, here, since it's tough to remember, given the sheer magnitude of the story):

Chapter 1 (delivered during the salad):

He tells us that he was dating this... girl (ellipsis included to indicate that he seemed to pause before saying "girl", in a manner that made one wonder if he performed a gender substitution). The girl was a friend of his, somehow. In fact, I think he said she was seeing someone else, but then started hooking up with him. On one occasion, they're all out somewhere, and she introduces him to the boyfriend, in a way that was extremely uncomfortable for him - violated his boundaries of privacy, I guess? And that it was weird and that they'd only had sex a few times (6, to be exact, according to him). End of Chapter 1.

We are laughing and discussing how bizarre it is that he felt the urge to share this tidbit with us. What about my story snippet caused him to want to open up and really tell us things you should not be telling a "customer"? Who knows... who... knows?

But wait, there's more.

Chapter 2 (delivered during the pizza):

He comes back to the table, at a time that one would expect to be the "How's everything? Can I bring you anything else" phase of the dining. But no! He smirks, and leans toward my friend, and says, "So... let me ask you something. I want to get a woman's perspective on this..."

Um... okay. This is unconventional, but we're all ears.

And then he launches into a level that you cannot possibly imagine a server would even be able to do, for sheer cause of not neglecting the other tables in his area. He proceeds to tell us a story that goes something like this:

"So, I've been seeing this girl. And we've had sex like only about 6 times. And one night, we're having sex, and all of a sudden, it gets too much for her, and she's like 'Stop! Stop!', so I stopped and I got my clothes on. And I leave. Then she calls me, and she apologizes, and says that she wants me to come back. But at that point, I am already home (I'm forgetting stuff here). So then, we have this plan to go on a camping trip together, and we decide that we will still go on the camping trip. As friends. Because clearly everything was too weird. But we already had the plans. So we go, and we're driving in the car, and (paraphrasing big-time) we get to the campsite, and she doesn't want to do anything but sit around and read her book in the tent. So I decide to go surfing, since we're camping on the beach. (At some point) we are taking a drive, and she wants to go find this park, and it is in the opposite direction of where we are going, and we end up driving for hours. And then we get into a big argument. (Cut forward again) And one night camping she starts telling me that she wants to be with me, but I don't have any condoms, so that isn't going to happen. So she gets upset, and then in the middle of the night, she elbows me to wake me up, and tell me I am snoring. I leave the tent. Then at dawn, even though our trip wasn't supposed to be over, we decide to cut it short and drive home, and don't speak to each other for 5 hours."

Okay, so I have butchered the story, and you cannot possibly imagine the enthusiasm, and detail that he provided. But you get the picture.

Then, he's asking us, "What should I do? Should I try to be friends with this girl?"
My friend asks, "How long ago did this happen?"

He says, "Four months"

Why is he relating this old story, so vividly? How bizarre.

We tell him that he cannot be friends, and that it sounds nutty, and that he should walk away.

He says, "You really think? No way I can be friends with her? Damn... what can I do? This whole thing was fucking nuts. And she was the first girl I have dated in about 3 years! My last girlfriend killed herself!"

Holy shit. Stop the press.

I just wanted some pizza.

Chapter 3 occurred during the end of the meal, and I think he realized he'd gone too far because he asked us if we were still enjoying our meal. So he had some sense of the line he crossed. And when we were leaving, a few more "sharing moments" occurred, and we decided to find out his name, because, if you are going to know that much about someone's personal life, you ought to know them by first name.

The interesting thing to me about this whole experience was not just the awkwardness or oddness of it. But why did it happen? What did we say or do that triggered him? It's a bit ironic because we were talking about over sharing, and this was for some reason a catalyst for him to do just that. We were trying to figure out (mostly out of curiosity) if he was actually gay? Was he doing the word substitutions throughout the entire story? The nature of the story, and the players, did not give strong evidence either way. We were trying to figure out if he was actually trying to cruise one of us, though not sure which of us it might be!

Another interesting thing is just how wrong impressions can be. When you have a business relationship with someone, e.g. server to customer, you know nothing about that person. The image that people project in a work environment may typically be so radically different from whom they really are. That is probably also true in the context of co-worker relationships, though there are probably far more opportunities for those barriers to be breached, and for you to gain insight into the person. But who they are with their friends, family, loved ones? Impossible to say.

So I guess I consider it something of a gift that life gives us, if we accidentally stumble into someone's usually private realms.

Seattle streets still snowy

Whenever anything happens in Seattle, other than rain, it seems that the entire fabric of our city's infrastructure unravels. Two years ago, there was a windstorm. Not a hurricane, mind you, but a windstorm. And many trees fell. And the result was that roads in some areas were closed for over a week, with trees blocking passage, and many people were without power for a large portion of that period. Also two years ago, there was an ice storm. That's a bit of a glorified name for it. There was a modest snowstorm, and then temperatures plunged into the teens for several days. And the city, as well as all neighboring towns, came to a screeching halt. Cars were abandoned in the middle of intersections. Vehicles were overturned on the median. It looked as if some giant weather monster had come along and had its merry way with things. 

And now, for the past 6 days, Western Washington has been the "victim" of storm, after storm, after storm. All in the form of snow. And these were legitimate snowstorms. Not just the usual dusting that causes the city to come to a halt, but the kind where action must be taken. Normally, we just shut down, and wait it out. But the severity, and duration of this series of events has demanded that the state at least try to do something about the snow.

It is not going well. 

And now we know why...

Today's Seattle Times had a front-page article that explained, apparently, where things went so horribly wrong. It turns out, the reason why the roads are not doing so well is that the road crews have been attempting to clear snow and ice using children's toys. I knew it seemed strange that the plow I saw the other night said "Tonka" on the back of it. But seriously, you cannot even begin to imagine, unless you live here, the condition of the roads. Interstate highways, fortunately, are fine. Not sure why they're different than the surface roads, but they are, and that's a damn good thing. Though the response time for that clearing process was arguably slower than one would expect. 

The city roads, even ones that are considered "main streets", are a disaster of frozen and packed surfaces with large ruts and gaps that occasionally show through to the pavement below. The rutting itself is such that it will literally toss vehicles back and forth on the road surface, and cause spontaneous fishtailing, even with chained tires. And, as the article above suggests, the situation has grown worse, not better, as the days have passed, largely due to the poor function (and possibly, poor operation) of the city's few snow plows.

Now we are on the cusp of yet another series of storms that could dump up to another half foot of snow in Seattle, this time on top of everything already there. And I cannot even begin to imagine what it will be like to navigate that.

23 December, 2008

Who's the bread maker in this house, anyway?

A couple of years ago is when I first encountered the wonderful thing of making my own bread at home. At that time, I was living with my fiancee, her daughter, and my Russian never-to-be-mother-in-law. How that came to be, and what the hell that even means, is an entirely different story for a separate blog. Through a bit of magic, I am going to hyperlink to the future, so you can have a place to click when I finally compose that blog.

Anyway, I wasn't sure what to get her for Christmas, though it seemed like something she might like would be to bake bread at home. I cannot recall if it was actually my idea, or maybe it was my fiancee. I really don't like using that word to describe her, because, in hindsight, I find it extremely hard to believe that the entire thing ever happened. But again, that's the story for another place, another time.

After doing a little bit of research, the one that we decided to get was made by a Japanese company called Zojirushi. And it looked like the picture below.

Quite adorable, isn't it? And for the low, low price of $189, it can be yours. It is one of the best rated home bread machines out there. And making bread was a lot of fun. With a few exceptions, it came out good most times. If you can follow instructions, and include the proper amount of each ingredient, there is little opportunity for disasater. And there is nothing more satisfying that having freshly baked bread, still hot, with butter. Very good, yes.

So, recently, I started thinking about this again. Not sure why. Might have been because of some recent Thanksgiving baking (of pie, not bread, but got my mind on the subject). And it just does not seem to make much sense to pay for bread in a store which is almost never as good as what you can make at home, when it costs no less than double the price of making it yourself. I was not really thrilled with the idea of spending $189 for it, so this time I decided to do a little more research, and found out there there was a competing model, made by Panasonic, had pretty much the same reviews. In some ways, it seems like it may even be better, but until I try it, I won't really know. The Panasonic is only $120, and it looks like this:

Ooh! Yes. Beautiful! 

So, it is coming in the mail sometime in the next week or so, and we'll see how it goes. If it works well, I will make my own bread, and I will start making pizza dough again, and things will generally become quite spectacular in this house. Maybe I can quit my day job as a blogger, and become a full time baker.

22 December, 2008

Four days of snow, and one plow sighting

I have been making various attempts at puttering about Seattle in the extreme snow disaster that we have incurred here during the last four days. This has been possible due to the fact that my car came into my possession with a set of chains that I have been using. And up until tonight, at midnight, on the start of Day 5 of the winter weather "event", I had not seen one single snow plow. Then, sure enough, tonight I finally saw one. A large SDOT (Seattle Department of Transportation) plow, on 23rd Avenue, near Aloha Street. It was pulled over to the side of the road, and the driver was out of the truck, trying to assist someone who had clearly managed to land their car in a snow pile, stuck, and unable to get back on the road. 

This snow plow was not doing a very good job, either, I might note. Even the plowed surface still seemed to have about an inch of compacted snow. This is potentially worse than untreated roads, when you figure that this smooth surface, though slight melting, and then subsequent chilling, will be turning into a perfect skating rink during the next 3 nights.

I have not seen any sand trucks, or salt trucks. And for the most part, all secondary roads in the city are virtually untreated. That's just the way they have to do things here in Seattle, because the city is not budgeted to handle weather disasters of this type. If the same storm had occurred in Boston, there probably would have been 1 "snow day" and then everything would have been fine. But here it's different.

In fairness, I should note that after the first day of snow, the interstate (I-90) was completely clear, and appeared to have been treated with something, either plowing, or sand. Though, tonight, I heard that I-5 was completely untreated and road conditions were abyssmal. 

Fortunately, this is not a regular thing. But one still has to wonder if spending a couple of million dollars on 50 or so more plows might not be a bad idea. Or maybe one does not have to wonder.

20 December, 2008

Express Lanes, Express Aisles, Express Buses

Express is a big deal in this country. Maybe it is a big deal in other countries as well. It does not seem to be a big deal in places like Belize, or Hawaii. And from what I can tell, it did not seem to be a big deal in Paris or Germany either, though their trains do seem to move a lot faster than ours.

But here, we are all about getting everything, and going everywhere, as fast as is humanly possible. And that is not always humanly possible. The primary reason for this is that there are now too many humans in most of the places that we are all trying to go. Hence, there has been the invention of the concept of "Express". What this always means is that if you obey or meet certain requirements or criteria, you can possibly get there faster. Although, a better way of stating it would be that if you meet certain criteria or requirements, you can be segregated from the rest of the cattle, and stand at least a reasonable chance of getting there faster.

If you put more people in your car, then you can drive in the express lane, because you are (possibly) carpooling, and trying to help the environment. Ironically, if you just happened to be a family that spewed out 5 children, you also get the privilege of riding in the express lane, because... um... well, I don't know why.

If you only have 10 items in your grocery cart, then you can go in a lane for people that only have 10 items. The idea is that you're just going in real quick to get a few things, and why should you wait behind the family that just drove all the way there in the express lanes, and is now running 400 items through the register at Costco.

If you want to go from Point A to Point B, and you're willing to walk to Point A, or drive your car to a parking lot at Point A, or you just happen to live directly in front of Point A, and you work at Point B, or don't mind walking to Point B on the other end, then there's an express bus you can take that won't stop every 75 feet, and hypothetically will get there faster than the other buses (though both the express bus and the regular bus both get to drive in the express lanes on the highway).

There are other forms, though more subtle, of "express" concepts. The drive-thru, for example. It is not clear to me if the drive-thru is truly an express avenue, or if its primary benefits are that you can a) buy take-out in your pajamas, b) not need to come into physical contact with any other human beings, c) not need to get out of your vehicle in the cold, rain, wind, etc. 

And one of the interesting things about Express Stuff is that it is not always faster than the non-express. How often have you seen a line of 10 or 12 people with their baskets in the 10 items or less aisle (which, I might note, should say "10 items or fewer", but who's minding grammar anymore, anyway), while there are only 1 or 2 people in the regular aisles? But it's express. It must be faster. Of course, there are a number of ways in which it can not be faster. One big one is when people decide "I have 14 items, but it is really close to 10 items, so I will just do this anyway... because I am in a hurry".


How often have we seen that one? Granted, it is rather arbitrary of a cutoff. 10 items. 9 items. 15 items. What difference does it make? And of course, the type of item matters. If you selected 6 tomatoes and 5 cucumbers, are you over the 10 item limit? Or do you only have 2 items? Does that depend whether you have placed them in plastic bags or not? All of this is very difficult. Maybe they should have a line judge, like they do in a tennis match, who sits in a high chair above the express aisle, and yells "OUT!!!" if you go over the line. There could be interesting ways of enforcing this. For example, how about if you are caught violating the express lane rules, the following penalties could be exacted: a) there would be a 20% surtax on your entire order, or b) your groceries will be taken away from you, and you will be banned from all supermarkets within a 10 mile radius for exactly 2 weeks. I think that either of those decrees would serve as a sufficient deterrent to express lane violations.

And how about the express lane violators on the highway? How often have you wanted to call the "HERO" hotline on one of these people. But... they are late! And they are in a hurry! They just need to get there! What difference does it make? At least do something creative like filling the empty seats in your car with blow-up dolls, or paying $100 to go to a custom shop and have them tint your windows almost completely black, so that we don't know that you're in there alone.

We are all in such a hurry. And there are too many of us. That's the problem. Instead of express lanes, maybe we should just have a mandatory euthanasia lottery every week. At the end of each week, the number of births recorded at all hospitals in the city will be calculated. And then double that number of "death tickets" will be randomly issued in the euthanasia lottery. This would guarantee a net decrease in population, and would create a fair amount of societal suspense as well. And eventually, after a few years or so, we could all get things done a lot more quickly.

18 December, 2008

New meteorological device being introduced in Seattle: The Window

After spending 47 years forecasting the weather from bunkers deep below the earth's surface, relying on technology such as sonar, underground rain collection devices, and rudimentary crystal divination, Seattle meteorologists were recently introduced to a new device that has been shown in other regions to be nearly 100% reliable in reporting of weather. This device, known as "a window", can be installed on the sides, or even the top, of any above-ground structure. The window is composed of silicon-based, or occasionally plastic composite that is transparent (meaning, it allows passage of light in the visible spectra of 400-700 nanometers). Directing one's gaze through this clear, thin pane will provide direct information about the immediate conditions in the area proximal to the window, while protecting the observer, largely, from the ill effects of the exterior conditions.

Seattle meteorologists have seen instant benefits of employing this new device. As a result, we have seen weather reporting accuracy skyrocket from 10% up to nearly 40% in the weeks since its first implementation. One difficulty that local scientists still face is learning to distinguish the presence or absence of precipitation according to whether or not there appear to be small objects in large quantities moving about (usually downward) in the air on the other side of the window device. There have still been a considerable number of cases of birds being mistakenly reported as rain. Several of the meteorologists will be attending a training session in Buffalo, NY, later this month.

"Hold" music designed specifically to incite murderous rage

Seriously. It is fortunate that I do not often need to be on hold for things on the telephone. Because each time I am, there is a gradual ramping of emotions toward violence. Why? Why must the music they choose be so incredibly aggravating? And repetetive? Why? I have had some conspiracy theories about this. For instance, one possibility is that they want to annoy you as much as possible so that you hang up and this reduces their call volume. I honestly doubt that, because if people do not get their problems solved, in the long run, one would have to assume it will have some negative impact on the company. Another possibility is that some completely out of touch moron selected tracks that they thought would be peaceful and relaxing. I would like to sit down for coffee with said individual and "school" them on the topic. But I don't think that is correct either. Another possibility is that someone in the company has an extremely untalented family member who likes to record smooth jazz on their Casio WK-101 keyboard, and they thought they were helping their relative "make it big". Another possibility is that the company just contracts the music out from some Muzak like company that "takes care of everything". In reality, this company is employed by devious individuals who would like to trigger chaos and destruction throughout corporate America. The list of possibilities goes on.

One thing I find odd is that the same annoying music is used by different, competing companies. The help line music for T-Mobile, for instance, is the same as the help line music for AT&T. That raises an entirely different possibility which is that these are actually the same company, or that they use the same help people located in some corral in El Paso, Texas, and fed nothing but Sanka and Captain Crunch.

So, there's the repeating music, and that's annoying.

Then, there's the intermittent (not sure if it is every 60 or every 300 second) message of the woman coming on the line and saying "All of our representatives are still assisting other callers. Please continue to hold. Your call will be answered in the order which it was received". This message is like being stabbed in the lung by an awl, each time it comes on the line. Why do we need to be told this? Did I have any doubt? If it were not for this message, would I have otherwise thought: "Our help line is not working anymore, or our agents have decided to play Scrabble instead of answering calls. Your calls are not answered in the order received. They are answered in alphabetical order by caller's middle name, between the hours of 8am and 2pm. Then we switch to answering in the reverse of the order received from 2pm to 5pm. Therefore, we suggest you do not stay on the line, but rather, you should hang up and redial repeatedly".

Seriously. I don't need them to have nice female computer voice tell me they haven't forgotten about me. Because I know that the reality is there are three people working at the help center. Lionel, Juan, and Tiffany. And they are working as fast as they possibly can to not assist the customers with their problem.

And I forgot one of my favorite things of all, so I must edit and add more to this happy blog! I just *love* when hold lines do one of the following two things:

  1. Explain to you how you could have your problem not be solved via their website, instead of having it not be solved via the telephone - the direct translation of this message is the following: "We have just laid off 75% of our support staff, and farmed the remaining 25% of the work out to Tuscaloosa Penitentiary. Therefore, you might want to try typing your question into a poorly designed webpage that will give you a FAQ that is completely irrelevant, and then have the kindness to include a 30 question survey, asking how satisfied you are with the answer provided.

  2. Make you listen to glorified commercials for the company, while you wait. There's nothing more inspiring than having the company who just sold you a defective product, or accidentally closed your account, or changed your service plan without notifying you, telling you about the special deals that they're offering right now!

Okay, now I think i am done for real.

17 December, 2008

Finally, Snow is rolling into the Seattle Metro Area

After much delay, and a whole bunch of hype, the awaited storm is finally making its way into the area, almost certain to dump many millimeters of snow across the region.

The latest images from Doppler radar of Seattle Metro are shown below.

In case you couldn't see the snow on this image, I have circled it in red. Fortunately, most commuters are off the roads, giving the road crews room to work. And while there was a bit of an early rush at the supermarkets on things like canned meats, flashlights, and Xanax, things are quiet across the area now.

State Trooper, Lt. Marcus McFroost, commented on how well people are handling this latest disaster: "Well, we knew that it was going to be bad, and it was just a question of when. People didn't panic. Those that did panic, few of them anyway, did go and refill their Xanax. As you can see, there was a bit of a delay, but now that the storm is in swing, it's a good thing that people made the right choice and just decided to stay home... as for accidents... well, we have had a couple of incidents tonight. Up in Everett, we had a woman in a Lincoln Navigator who saw a patch of dust on the road, and thought it was ice, and she stopped her car in the HOV lanes causing a backup... we had a couple of other minor issues with people experiencing panic on off-ramps and such... the usual... but this has gone much more smooth than we expected... than I expected, anyway. But the night is young. We're expecting some wind, and additional clouds as the night progresses. So I would still advise that though the worst might be upon us, don't let your guard down."

I will keep you updated if anything changes, and we may have another report from Lt. McFroost later on if there's anything new to report.

Seattle Paralyzed by Chance of Snow

That really sums it up, and it is truly priceless as a headline.

The headline will probably be replaced, eventually. But it's just amusing to me, especially coming from the East Coast. In Boston, the city becomes paralyzed when we get 16 inches of snow, and it turns to ice, and the 200 snow plows and 100 sanding trucks cannot keep up with the pace.

In Seattle, the city becomes paralyzed if some meteorologist who got their degree at Fife Community College misreads the radar printouts and says there is a "chance of snow", when in fact, there was just a chance that he spilled his green tea on the paper, staining it in what looked like a radar signature.

Today, Seattle schools were closed. Half of the transport buses to Microsoft were out of service. And people everywhere were planning for the pandemonium. But instead, I looked out my window to partly cloudy skies and some sunshine. The original forecast said that there would be some snow in the morning, and then more in the evening. Then they modified it to snow in the afternoon. Now they have modified it to snow at night. And there's only a 54% chance of that!

They originally said that arctic winds would be gusting from the north. But all day, including now, I see winds gusting from the south.

So, why are we paralyzed? Well, the answer is simple. Because every year, there is a storm of some sort. And every year, the city is woefully unprepared for it. And every year, the city does absolutely nothing to mitigate the impact. They do not sand roads. They do not plough roads. They just watch, as this hilly city turns into a skating rink of disaster. Of course, the good people of Western Washington are more than partly to blame. The reason being, when the roads start to get bad, people continue driving in their 4WD SUVs as if the roads are clear, and create dangerous situations, and accidents that trigger the traffic disasters.

So here we all sit. Apparently paralyzed. Waiting for one flake to fall.

Perhaps I should go to Safeway to buy candles and some canned goods, just in case.

Britney Spears Tour 2009

Okay. I lied. This is not a blog about Britney Spears. But I'm going to be depressed when I receive more hits for that title than I have for anything I have written since the time I posted the blog about Facebook being "broken". 

I wasn't sure what to write about this evening. There is a lot on my mind, but most of it I don't really think should go into a public blog. So, instead I will tell you about some dreams that I had the last couple of nights.

Last night. I dreamed that I was outside and there was a cat. From afar, it looked like it was a black cat, but it actually had interesting reddish brown markings that you could only see in certain lighting. I was very interested and excited about this cat. And it didn't stick around that long. It went off, and then there were other cats. One of them was white with black markings. There was another one that was white with different black markings. And they wandered by, but I wasn't interested in interacting with them at all. Then I saw the black one again, with the interesting markings. But I don't know. I don't even remember what I did. I don't know what the significance was. But they seemed like they were more than just cats. I suppose they probably represented females. But I don't know who, or why.

The night before, I had a dream that I was in a large house in the woods, with some other people. I do not remember who the other people were. There was some sort of storm, and there was some concern that the trees in the woods might start falling. And at one point, we looked out the window and saw that a tree had fallen. It did not fall into the house, but fell across the yard, and it was very large. More time passes, and the wind is getting stronger. For some reason, I go outside, and then I hear a crack noise, and a tree falls. Moments later, I hear another crack and another tree falls. And this seems to be some type of chain reaction, like a critical level had been reached. Many trees are cracking and falling. And some begin to hit the house. And I wake up.

I don't know what that one means either. I talked about it with a friend, and had some theories, but I really don't know what it means.

In case you were interested in knowing more about Britney Spears, and you actually read this far, I figured I should end with something to reward you for your time. So here it is.

It's not much, but I didn't want you to go away empty.

16 December, 2008

JFK, physics, and a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach

I ended up on the topic of JFK last night. But, because it was already 3am, I decided that it was not a good time to start writing about it. You might ask why I got onto JFK?

Well, it really is logical. I started with Devo. Found the John Hinckley connection. Watched some YouTube videos of the Reagan Assassination attempt. And linked from those videos, of course, were hundreds of videos of JFK's assassination. I've been fascinated with the conspiracy theories for many years. I saw the Oliver Stone movie, based on Jim Garrison's book. I have talked to many people through the years about the topic.

What I learned last night that was new to me was just how obsessed some people are with the topic. I thought that my interest was an obsession, but I have now downgraded it to "mild fascination". There are people out there who have done their own frame-by-frame analysis of the Zapruder video. There are people asserting everything imaginable. To name a few:
  • He was actually shot in the head by the driver of his own car
  • He was choking on the bullet that hit his throat (proving the shot came from the front?)
  • The only reason one of Oswald's shots missed is because tunnel vision through the rifle scope caused him to accidentally fire into a tree
  • The chief of the Secret Service called off the other agents who were supposed to be guarding the car as it made the final stretch of the motorcade route
  • The autopsy photographs either were faked, or the remains were modified
  • Jackie O jumped out of the back of the car to retrieve a large hunk of JFK's brain

The list goes on. And on. Some of the analyses seem careful, and compelling. Some of them draw correlations that have no justification whatsoever. One of the big assertions in virtually all conspiracy theories of the JFK assassination is this: the extremely large "explosive" bullet wound to JFK's head - the one that ascertained his death - appears to have caused his head to move violently backward and to the left. This, roughly speaking, should mean that the bullet was fired from JFK's front and right. But Oswald's location was behind and to the right (which should have made JFK's body move forward and left). The video is clear on this point of direction of head movement.

But. Maybe I don't understand the physics of what would happen if you shoot someone in the head. My intuition, and probably most people's intuition, would suggest that it would knock you away from the direction of the shooter. I did some Google searching online and found that there has been quite extensive research done to evaluate what happens. Their research suggests that there is absolutely not sufficient momentum from a rifle shot to throw the head back like the movie showed. They assert that the movie is more consistent with the shot coming from behind, as has always been asserted, and that the head going backward was a violent neuromuscular reaction to the shot.

After reading even more on the topic, pushing me to the wee hours of the morning once again, I am now more convinced than ever that there is a lot of "pro-conspiracy" data out there for which there is little support. One good resource that is probably "anti-conspiracy" but focuses on trying to assess the data that was available from reports and records, is this one. After reading all of this material, it seems more plausible to me that the "Magic Bullet Theory" was hype around misinterpretation of the data. And it also seems quite clear that the massive head wound to Kennedy was front/side, not rear. The front/side exit wound is not inconsistent with Oswald firing the shot.

I don't really want to go on and on about the details of the ballistics, and the videos, because that's been done elsewhere. And who am I to question the research? I know nothing about ballistics, or human response to bullet wounds. If I searched more, I would probably find literature by other experts asserting the exact opposite. I do not know. Disproving some of the conspiracy theories, of course, does not automatically imply that there was no conspiracy. But it is not such a slam-dunk case. Even if Oswald acted alone, it could have been an inside plot. Again, nobody knows.

But I do want to say a tiny bit about why it is that so many people care so much about something that happened so long ago. He's dead. We cannot resurrect him. So why?

The reason is that the question around the JFK assassination speaks to the very heart of what it means to have a democracy. To live in a free country. To trust the government at all. If Oswald did not act alone, then the degree to which various governmental agencies went to cover it up has to instill a deep cynicism in everything that occurs in our government, and everything that we are told by our government. Though this was 45 years ago, there seems to be little evidence to suggest that our government has become less corrupt, or less covert than it was then.

We have questions about the World Trade Center, and the fortuitousness of that event with respect to the neoconservative agenda being implemented. We have questions about weapons of mass destruction. We have questions about the Iran hostage crisis. We have questions about the Florida election in 2000. Each of those, in their own right, raise the hackles of many investigative-minded individuals. Taken together, they are reason for a lot of doubt and concern. But if we have, up front, that JFK's assassination was not as the Warren Commission has said, then what can we say about everything since?

And the beauty of conspiracy theories is that because the phrase "conspiracy theory" has almost become synonymous with the phrase "whacko delusion", there is a convenient marginalization that can be done regarding any challenge to the dogma that is fed to us from the top down.

Let's say, hypothetically, that a horrible act is perpetrated by our government. And they do deny it. How, ever, can such things come to light with those in power having the capability to squash any exploration of the matter, and marginalize all those involved?

Watching the JFK videos made me sad and sick. Not just because I think he was a great man, and that it was a horrible moment for our nation. Not just because the entire course of our country and the world may have been altered as a result of his loss. It saddens and sickens me because it makes me realize that to large extent, we are only democratic to a degree. Only as long as it is convenient, and things are working mostly in favor of the core objectives of certain powerful individuals and corporations. Because if things are not operating according to those principles, then things will happen whether "the people" want them or not. People die. Wars happen. Bailouts occur. Cover-ups occur.

Any illusion that our system is in place to protect the rights of the people is just that.

An illusion.

15 December, 2008

Poor woman shoots husband, gets free legal counsel

But if poor woman is party to a divorce, there may be nothing for her in our legal system.

Tell me where the logic is in this? I understand that our system of criminal law guarantees some type of legal representation, albeit potentially crappy and unmotivated. The idea being that a poor person should not have a higher chance of being found guilty simply because of their financial status. Of course, this is a farce, because a poor person remains far more likely to be convicted than a rich one, for a variety of reasons. Those would include quality of legal support, jurisdiction in which the trial occurs, racism, or other sociocultural biases. That said, the idea that legal support is guaranteed for all who commit crimes, no matter how heinous, is something that would at least in concept give our system the semblance of "civility".

So, then, the irony is that the same is not true for civil disputes.

If a poor person is party to a divorce, and they cannot afford representation, though their spouse can afford it, then so it goes. It is true that there exist a variety of so-called "channels" through which people can attempt to find legal counsel. These include neighborhood clinics, and directly through the county court system. However, there are a number of caveats. If you are poor, but not "poor enough", you do not qualify. And while I have insufficient data to determine what the county/state consider to be "poor enough", I do have anecdotal evidence to suggest that being unable to make ends meet is apparently not "poor enough". I do not know if the threshold is "homeless", or if the threshold is that you need to squeak loudly to get the wheel oiled.

It can at least be said that the process is not straightforward. And as you can imagine, if a person is working hard, and trying to make those ends meet, they may not have the time or energy to fight an uphill battle to identify and procure some type of legal support. While this may be counterintuitive, the reality is that the structure of the system seems to be a demoralizing one. Nobody wants to be "so poor" that they cannot afford something that they need. And the system is such that you need to demonstrate that.

If one could assume that the judicial system is completely fair, and takes keen interest in the outcomes of every single case, then perhaps legal representation is unnecessary. But that is obviously not the case. There are many factors, and many assets that need to be considered in a divorce. And an attorney is paid to evaluate these, and call to issue anything that is relevant to the outcome. The judge, who sees many cases in a day, may have no context for being aware of certain factors that should be considered. So when one party has representation, and one does not, it creates an imbalance.

I am not sure why it is that our system is not better configured to readily offer adequate and effective support to people who are in need, whether the cause be a civil one or a criminal one. There are certainly enough lawyers in the world. Perhaps if they were all willing to work for $100,000 a year, instead of $200,000 a year, then the causes of the average person would be better served.

But I forgot... most of our lawyers are busy working for corporations who are suing the government for imposing harsh regulations that they don't like.

14 December, 2008

What do Devo & Jodie Foster have in common?

Well, if we play the Kevin Bacon "6 Degrees of Separation" game, then of course, you could tie Devo to Jodie Foster just as easily as you could tie Newt Gingrich to Anna Nicole Smith, or Michael Jordan to Josef Stalin.

But for this one, we only need to play "1 Degree of Separation". The common link between Devo and Jodie Foster is John Hinckley. What do they have in common? Well, of course, we all know about John Hinckley because his obsession with Jodie Foster led this troubled man to make an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. The result of this action was that Hinckley has spent the rest of his life, since 1980, in psychiatric institutions.

At some point in time, Mark Mothersbaugh, singer and writer for the band Devo, came across some poetry that Hinckley had written about his love for Jodie Foster. Thinking that the poems were excellent, and "totally Devo" in their nature, he sought permission from Hinckley to use the lyrics in a new Devo song. And he was granted permission. The song went on to become "I Desire" and it appeared on the 5th Devo album, "Oh No! It's Devo". You can hear the song on YouTube here. The album actually gives song-writing credit to John Hinckley, and the record company was not particularly pleased with this at all. Fortunately for the record label, the song was not a hit, and they never needed to answer to the critics or face protests against using the lyrics of an assassin.

So, why am I even knowing these things?

Well, for some time now, I have been on another "Devo kick", listening to just about all of their material, and once again admiring how amazing of a band these guys were. Sadly, Devo, who were actually a highly cerebral band, with an entire backstory, as well as massive quantities of multimedia that supported and intermixed with their music, were never really taken more seriously by the mainstream than being a "quirky" band. The philosophy of Devo was that (in generalized terms), humankind was actually devolving because of the world that we have crafted for ourselves. Yet, they were most famous for the song "Whip It".

In addition to writing clever, bizarre, and disturbing lyrics, the band had many notable musical elements. They were among the pioneers of elaborate synthesizer use for both melodic, as well as more noise-like sounds. Their early records featured spectacular acoustic drumming by original drummer Alan Myers. Their songs often used atypical time signatures. And three different members of the band were prominently featured on lead vocals (though the majority of songs were sung by 2 of the members).

I will resist the urge to do a wholesale YouTube linking affair on here, because I trust you can locate things like their live performances, and early videos, if you wish to find them.

But... because I cannot resist, I'll just point you to a few jumping off points that I really think you should see.

  1. 1980 - Playing Gates of Steel live
  2. 1980 - Playing Uncontrollable Urge live
  3. 1977 - Video for Satisfaction (Stones cover)
  4. 1977 - Video for Come Back Jonee

Interestingly, the most recent video from local Seattle band, Brent Amaker and the Rodeo, has the band dressing up like Devo in part of the video. This is interesting because normally, Brent Amaker and the Rodeo are dressed like Devo dresses in the video above for Come Back Jonee. Clearly, the idea for this new video must have come from that place. The video was done by Seattle artists Black Daisy.

12 December, 2008

Does anything get better with each recurrence?

Last year I went to my first company Holiday Party at the Space Needle in Seattle. It was fun. There were a lot of people. There was a make-believe casino, with real games, and fake money. People drank a lot. People laughed. There was a DJ. People danced. The lights were dim. There were lots of photo opportunities. There was great food, roast beef, some free drinks. Apparently it was the most substantial party the group had done in several years. Maybe because they thought morale needed it? Or maybe because there was some extra money because things are going well? I don't know.

This year, much to our surprise, the company party was once again at the Space Needle. And this time, sadly, it was a moderate-sized disappointment. There were fewer people by about 75%. It did not even feel crowded. There was no fake casino. There was no roast beef. The crab cakes tasted fishy. There were dueling pianos, with two guys who both had bad voices, and did not accurately remember all of most of the songs, but played a shitload of Elton John, and Billy Joel, interspersed with even cheesier music by Steve Miller and Barry Manifold.

Downstairs (we had the whole Space Needle), there was "rock-a-raoke", which is when a band plays songs, and you can go up and sing them. Now, under the best of circumstances, you would probably expect (and you'd be right) that computer geek types are not going to be the good singers at such a thing. But that would be under the best of circumstances. Under these circumstances, even the band sucked royally. The drummer wasn't tight, the guitar player was too loud. They didn't even had a bass player, but had a cheesy crappy keyboard player, which is always a bad idea. And they had two female quasi-slutty backup singers that are supposed to "get tha pahtee stahted" and it was just horrible. I stayed in that room for a total of about 5 minutes, long enough to get an unrespectably small $8.50 shot of tequila. You'd think that at a company party, the drinks would at least be subsidized, rather than double the usual cost!

I realized that many of the people I thought were kind of cool are no longer in the group. And they were, therefore, not at the party. In fact, even of the people who are in the group, many did not attend. I was somewhat looking forward to introducing Denise to a lot of the people I have mentioned to her in the past. And sadly, I could not. Of the management from our group, at least 4 of them did not attend. A few of my closer friends in the group didn't make it either. That said, a few of them did make it, and that was nice to hang out and spend time.

I should not make it sound like it was a horrible time. It's just a bit of a letdown that the killer party last year didn't carry over to another killer one this year. And that made me wonder, does anything ever get better over time? Bands first albums are usually their best. Movies are always better than their sequels. A good dinner is usually better than the leftovers. The list goes on and on.

Maybe this is why there's a saying "Been there, done that".

Or maybe someone was just really annoying.

Something for today

That title isn't going to make this blog very popular on the Google searches, I suppose. And that's okay. This is the stream of unconsciousness. This is the moment before brief sleep. This is the end of the night, marking a day where I didn't have enough to say to justify a long rant.

But I am marking time here.

Things sometimes play off one another. Sometimes we don't know what the variables mean. They are not defined. And their values are inconstant, or not constant, or is there a difference. Sometimes A is unknown. But because B becomes known, suddenly A's value is changing. And we do not even necessarily know what A's value is, ever. But we become aware that it is changing. We are not independent. We are not standalone. We are responsive to, and affected by all things that cross our paths, either directly, or indirectly, or by all things whose paths we cross, much the same.

It is cold outside.

It may snow this weekend.

It is not Hawaii, though Hawaii is still there. And I am not. And maybe someone from Hawaii will read this because they found one of my other entries, and perhaps their A's will be affected by my B's. I really do not know.

It may not snow this weekend. But it will probably be cold.

10 December, 2008

The pen is mightier than the sword

Or in this case, the saying might be better stated as:

"The web is more powerful than the telephone"

I write this blog, almost daily, because I enjoy expressing myself. It is a place where I relate stories from the news that I think are interesting, amusing, or annoying. It is a place where I reveal (sometimes too many) things about myself, because I have a need to "share". It is a place where I try to sort things out, and think aloud about topics that are interesting to me. There is definitely an element (a strong one!) of enjoying having some type of audience. But part of it is also just doing something for myself, by writing.

Today was an occasion where, for the first time, my blog actually had an impact far more significant than I had even intended it to have. I'd written about my recent difficulties with travel planning, for the sole purpose of "getting it out of my system". It was an interesting story, and had caused me a lot of frustration, and writing about it was somewhat cathartic. The surprising end result, which you can read about in this blog entry, was that my blog was seen by someone who took an interest in the subject, and took action that ultimately led to the resolution of a problem that I had not been able to solve in 2 months of telephone communications.

I am somewhat at a loss as to how to assess this phenomenon on the whole. On one hand, I am extremely happy that this happened, and that the blog was noticed. But I am not sure what I think about the amount of time and effort that went into a previously fruitless resolution effort that I addressed through standard telephone communication. Everyone was nice, and helpful, but I was still "stuck" in the predicament. In no way do I doubt the knowledge, capability, or interest of those who helped me the past few days - everyone was sincerely interested in finding the right answer. But there was apparently more information out there that could help with the matter, which had not been unearthed until the blog had been noticed.

I will have more to say about the topic of airlines and air travel. But I want to end this topic here.

09 December, 2008

My winter vacation... OR... How the travel agency (first) fleeced me (and then made good!)

Addendum: This morning, I awoke to a comment on this blog in my inbox. The comment was from an employee in Marketing Communications, at STA Travel. Apparently, somehow they came across the blog posting, which I guess was not surprising, because if one had searched for STA Travel on Google Blog Search, my blog was number 5 on the first page of results. I had no idea this was the case, and was surprised enough, that I wondered if it was really a person from STA, or one of my friends joking around with me. As you can see, the comment stated that the president of the company was interested in speaking to me (this also sounded amazing).

As a result of that message, I decided to at least try to make contact with this individual, before going ahead and doing the inevitable rebooking, that needed to occur before 12:50pm today. While waiting to hear back from this person, I also decided to make one last call to STA customer support, to ask them about the phone call transcripts from my discussions with them, because I wanted to find out if perhaps they had missed something that I might be able to point out to them.

When I called, and spoke with Carlos, one of the supervisors, the first thing he said to me was that he sees a note on the account that the president of the company wants to speak with me! So, this was true. Very interesting. I asked him, in the meantime, what should I do about the flight rebooking/cancellation, since time was running out.

He put me on hold briefly, and then transferred me to another supervisor (also named Nick, different from the Nick who works in the emergency call center in the evening - I think I know the entire staff now!). Nick tells me immediately that there is some good news. The good news is, I will be receiving a full credit, minus a small penalty, and that I can reuse the credit for travel anywhere in the world, as long as it is with Northwest Airlines, and it is booked prior to August 2, 2009. So, this is essentially what my original thought had been about the terms.

It turns out, Nick said, that Northwest Airlines has some conflicting clauses in the terms of their non-refundable tickets. This caused all of the misunderstandings, and when they reviewed it further, realized that it could be handled as I had originally been told.

This ended much better than I expected, and ironically, it was not through direct efforts via telephone, but through the indirect approach of a blog sparking the attention of someone from a different branch of the organization.

Everyone at STA was very polite and attentive to my concerns during the past few days, and for that, I am very appreciative. I have not yet spoken to the president of the company. But if I were to speak with them now, I think I would be in a position to thank them for getting things right in the end. The only suggestion I might have, at this point, would be for them to improve the design of their telephone system, since it seems that there is an extremely high probability of dropping a call when a representative tries to return from placing someone on hold :)

What is the meaning of the word “non-refundable”?

I would tend to assume, in most situations, that it means “you cannot have a refund”. And if this were always the case, then I would not be in the situation I am in right now. Actually, that’s not really fair to say, because it is much more complicated. But it comes down to semantics.

In the airline industry, most tickets that the average consumer buys would fall into a category that would be classified as “non-refundable”. And my experience with this has been that if you are unable for any reason to travel on the dates for which you purchased your ticket, then you can cancel, but you will lose a portion of your credit as a penalty. And you typically need to use the remaining credit toward future travel with that airlines, within a certain period of time, or lose the value.

Recently, I had the opportunity to plan a trip to Bangkok, Thailand. The trip was planned with someone whom I was dating at the time. But there were 4 months between the time of booking, and the time of travel, and we both recognized that there was a non-negligible probability that we would not be together anymore when the date finally occurred. Nonetheless, we also recognized that there was a finite chance that we would be together, in which case, we would probably like to spend some of that time traveling together. She was already going with some other friends of hers, anyway. So, with some apprehension, I researched the travel plans. This was through a travel agency called STA Travel.

Being familiar with the way tickets usually work, I knew there would probably be some penalty if I needed to cancel the flight, and that I would not be able to receive a full refund (of course!) if that happened. So, when I contacted STA, I asked a number of questions (on multiple phone calls, to different representatives) regarding the terms of cancellation. Most specifically, I asked “If I cancel the flight, will I be able to use the credit from the cancelled ticket towards other travel, on different dates, to different destinations”, and the answer that I received was “Yes”. And that was good enough for me to feel confident booking the ticket. The penalty for cancellation was pretty steep ($285) but I was willing to take that risk, as compared to the overall ticket price, which was a whopping $1750.

The problem is, the information I was given was incorrect.

Subsequently, the relationship dissolved, and it became apparent that I would not be traveling to Bangkok at the scheduled time. When I called to make the cancellation, I was immediately told that I could NOT cancel the itinerary. All that I could do was change the dates of travel. But the ticket MUST be used to travel to Bangkok, and must be used within one year of the original travel date. But that I could rebook any time during that year.

This was very bad, because I was not sure that I wanted to go to Bangkok, especially without a travel partner. And it gets worse, because as bad as this is, it was still inaccurate information.

I was not happy with this info, since it conflicted with the info that I used to decide that I felt okay about making the purchase. So I called several more times, and spoke with different representatives. One representative told me that I should call the airline to try to change the ticket. So I spent much time talking to the airline, who told me that it was absolutely impossible for the airline to change it. Subsequently, I found out from STA that whoever told me to call the airline was flat-out wrong, and that they are sorry about that inconvenience.

Time passed, and I procrastinated the cancellation, figuring that as long as I cancelled before the travel date (which, incidentally, is now TOMORROW), I would be fine. Especially since I would have one year to rebook.

But wait, it gets better.

Today, I called a local branch STA office, and asked them about the cancellation, and they told me that I absolutely should be able to get a refund, minus the penalty. So new hope arose. And this started another round of phone calls to the main STA number, since the branch office could not handle a ticket issued through the central office. After 2 calls, which each included 30 minutes of hold time, plus accidental disconnection (BOTH times), I was told again, no, there is no refund, and I can only use the ticket to go to Thailand. I explained to them about the numerous telephone calls that I had made, and the care I took to confirm the key detail about terms of cancellation. They then got a supervisor involved, and began pulling telephone call histories, and listening to recorded calls.

In the end, they identified 2 calls made on the day of purchase. One was made at noon. And the other at 9pm, at which time the ticket was purchased. They said that the representative explained the terms of the ticket to me, and that I agreed that I understood the terms. They said that they are obligated to explain the terms, and that the customer must agree, and that I did agree. How could this be the case, if I feel certain that I asked the right questions?

I really don’t know. One possibility is that there was a misunderstanding about the meaning of the word “itinerary”. I may have asked if it was possible to change the itinerary, meaning “change the destination and the dates”. Whereas, to STA, a change in itinerary would mean “change the dates, but NOT the destination”. I don't think that's how the conversation went, and in fact, I recall talking to a male representative, whereas they say their call history shows it was a female representative. Another possibility, is that they did not hear the right phone call where this info was provided. Maybe I called from my work number? I really don't think so, because I am pretty sure I did this all from home. Another possibility is that they are lying, which I do doubt.

But they told me that with the telephone call transcript of the purchase, they have no other choice but to stick to the original ticket rules, and that means that I cannot make any change other than the dates.

But it gets worse.

When they told me that I could rebook at any time, they were wrong. I must actually rebook the new dates AT THE TIME OF CANCELLATION, which must be before the flight departs. This means I need to decide when I am going to Thailand between now and noon tomorrow, and rebook it.

And it gets still worse.

When they told me that I could travel up to a year from the date of the original travel, they were wrong. I must actually complete the travel by the date of the original PURCHASE. So that means I need to go to Thailand before August, rather than before next December. And since the entire summer is rainy season (which, in Thailand, is VERY rainy), I probably need to go by March or April.

The supervisor I spoke with today was actually quite nice, and as compensation, he said that he’d send me a $100 travel voucher for future STA travel. Yippee. And he also said he’d try to reduce the penalty from $285 to something less, but not clear how much.

I was slightly heartened by the fact that it looks like airfares to Thailand in March are about $500 less than my original purchase price. This is only of consequence, in the sense that perhaps it would provide leverage for getting the supervisor to reduce the penalty.

But, again, not so fast.

Turns out, STA does not have access to the same airfares that you and I have access to on the Northwest Airlines website. In fact, STA does not have access to airfares that even remotely resemble the ones available on the Northwest Airlines website. Rather than being $500 LESS than the price I paid, the ticket price STA quoted me was $100 MORE than the original ticket price.

So tell me. Why would anyone on earth book their travel through a travel agency, if their fares are WORSE than the airline, and the terms of their tickets are WORSE than the airlines?

I really don’t know. I really, really don’t know.

I cannot even begin to tell you how many telephone conversations this all involved - hours and hours. Numerous times where I was left on permahold, or where I was disconnected after long holds. For sure, I spoke with representatives named: Daisy, Bri, Doug, Ryan, Nick, and Manny. Supervisors were involved, named: Carlos and Mike. And there was also a branch office employee named Abra. And as you can see below, I have now received a comment from a Marketing Communications employee named Patrick Evans (I am assuming that was a legitimate communication, and not fake).

At this point, I am not only demoralized, but I am really just worn out, from trying to resolve the matter. I know what I said, and what I asked, and what I was told. And it seems that, short of hiring legal support (which my employer provides for free) and having them subpoena every single piece of phone and written history, there is probably no way that what I was told originally will come back into the light. And I just don't have the energy for that, especially because there is still risk that it will be unsuccessful.

But now, I am probably looking at spending close to $2100 to fly to Thailand, a place I wasn’t really sure I wanted to go, in March, at a time I wasn’t really planning on traveling, and without any travel partner.

So, I need to suck it up, and start working on that last matter, because that’s the only one over which I have any control. I’m going to find someone to go to Thailand with me.

Monkeys okay, peroxide not

Well, it seems fitting, if not amusing, that days after I was given the shakedown for trying to bring my peroxide-based contact lens solution onto a commercial aircraft, this story should appear in the news.

It seems that a 29 year old woman (named "Gypsy Lawson") successfully "smuggled" a rhesus monkey through security and customs at the Los Angeles International Airport after arriving on a flight from Thailand. Mind you, I want to make this clear. She brought the (sedated) monkey onto the airplane in Thailand. Flew across the ocean. Got off the plane in the United States. And made it through customs. The feat was accomplished by hiding it under her shirt and claiming she was pregnant. The only reason she got caught was because she subsequently was bragging about it to a clothing store clerk!

Well, the reassuring thing to know is that if the monkey had been wearing earrings, they would have definitely averted this type of thing occurring.

07 December, 2008

My experience with Kona Airport TSA

I almost thought this would be a trip with no adventures! Of course, by adventure, I mean "unintended" ones. Although we did almost run out of gas half way between Hilo and Honoka'a. That would have been a big adventure.

But, at the last moment, going through airport security, we got our adventure. Just as they did in Seattle, the TSA needed to test the liquids in my carry-on. Includes shaving lotion and contact lens solution. In Seattle, no problems. But in Kona there was a different finding. My contact lens solution tested positive for one of the chemicals they look for in explosives.

The result?

First, there was additional testing of the solution. Second, swipes from inside my bag. Next, they needed to examine all of the contents of my bag. In parallel with that, another TSA employee needed to do a full pat-down of me, followed by swiping my hands and analyzing that! Wow! I was a bit worried that sulphur traces from the volcano park may be detected, and then who knows what?!

I was envisioning being taken into a back room where a Homeland Security office would ask me to recite the pledge of allegiance, name the capitol of Indiana, and tell him what college Joe Namath attended!

All kidding aside, everyone who talked to me was extremely nice, polite, and apologetic. They asked what time our flight is, to make sure they did not delay us. And even though I met with three TSA staff, and two supervisors, everything turned out fine... Minus the lens solution (needed to check it, and that was not worth the effort).

And even better, I jokingly told them I would write a blog about it, and they asked for the URL! So I may have some readers from the Kona TSA!!

Well, mahalo for the friendliness. I guess that must be "the aloha spirit"!!

-- Post From My iPhone

Bloglet: Sunset on Kailua Bay

Time is running short on this stay in paradise. The Big Island was once again amazing, and I do not ever want to leave. And it is hard to say when I will be back, since there are so many places in the world to visit. Could I retire here? Would I be bored? Would I miss friends?

Watching the sunset now in front of the Kona Inn, as semi-feral cats search the beach for crabs. I don't like that vacations need to end. And being here makes me wish I had more money, or fewer material needs, or more of a free spirit, so that I could indulge in this magical life more often.

Things are obviously not bad, being Mick Feeble, but I just worry all the time if I will ever "have it easy". Or do I already? Or would I really want to? I don't know.

The waves are quietly rolling on the lava beach. People are dining in the open-air, tiki-torch filled restaurant. Everything is moving at a slow pace. But soon, we will once again be moving at mainland pace. And the chill of winter, wet and dark and gloomy, will blanket us for the next five months.

I would love to trade places with one of these cats.

-- Post From My iPhone

Bloglet: Sick from fruit

I cannot tell you how much fruit I have eaten in the last four days. It's unreal. Our host gives lots of fruit. Papaya (which I don't even really like!), grapefruit, fruit crisps, baked with oats, brown sugar, macadamia nuts, papaya, and pineapple, fruit juices. And Denise is not a huge fan of fruit, especially in the morning. So the fruit eating burden has been on me. This is because I am insane, and I did not want our host to think we are not eating what she gives us. So I have been inundated with fruit, day and night.

And it is starting to make me feel sick.

-- Post From My iPhone

06 December, 2008

Bloglet: Screw The Big Three

That's all I can say.

They're asking the government to save them from bankruptcy, while agreeing to the fewest concessions or constraints possible. And screw the current administration as well. They have pushed for the money to come from allotments that were previously set aside for making more fuel efficient cars. And now Nancy Pelosi has little choice but to capitulate, lest she be blamed for allowing these corporations to go under.

But I say it's time for the real world. These companies screwed the pooch for thirty years, while Japan and Germany made great cars. Not only have the big three not led in technology, they have actually contributed to a gradual decline in quality of foreign cars, by creating a market, based on "safety", of larger and less efficient vehicles. And who benefited from that? Let me think... Perhaps another major American industry? Petroleum.

Screw these guys. Let them go down in shame. Something will arise to fill the void. We are losing 500,000 jobs a month now as it is! The big three are just a drop in the bucket.

No more bailouts. The government is not here to save your shitty business model.

-- Post From My iPhone

Bloglet: iPhone keyboard almost unacceptable

As you can see from many of my posts, the typos abound. And that is taking into account the fact that a) I fix most of them, and b) the iPhone spell checker catches many of them.

There are two main complaints I have. First is that there is clearly some issue I have with missing the space bar and hitting the "b" key. This occurs constantly. I have made a conscious effort to avoid it and it still occurs (it actually just happened three times in that sentence but I fixed it). The second issue is that for standard email or some applications you cannot rotate to get the larger keyboard with better spacing.

The result is that I am slower and far less accurate than I was on my last phone, the HTC Shadow, which was not a touch screen. This is a big deal. But Apple has us by the balls by offering cooler features than anyone else. So we tolerate.

Maybe the typing thing is just me? But it is a real pain, and four months of use has not seen any significant learning curve improvement. I think I have plateaued.

-- Post From My iPhone