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30 June, 2009

Did you know there are a lot of really cool cars out there?

Unfortunately, in the United States, you just can't buy them. There are entire manufacturers that are basically absent from the US: Renault, Fiat, Skoda, Alfa Romeo, Citroen, Opel, Peugeot, Seat. And then, among the car companies that do sell in the US, there are additional models from Honda, Toyota, Mazda, Mercedes, Audi, VW that are not available in the US. And, by and large, all of these cars are fuel efficient, smaller vehicles. Some of them are tiny cars, in the realm of the Yaris or Scion xD for size. But many of them are in the realm of the 3-dr Civic Hatchback that was so popular in the US (yet, oddly discontinued a few years ago). Almost every manufacturer makes a 3-dr hatchback available in Europe. Many of these are diesel. Some are not.

Why can you not buy these cars in the US? That's my first question. Another question is: Why are so many of the European manufacturers completely absent from the US? I don't know the answer to these questions, though I am sure I could do a simple Google (I mean Bing) search and find a ton of information.

I found this Popular Mechanics article on 10 small cars that can't be found in the US. That's good if you want to see some examples of the vehicles I am talking about. And then, this Forbes Magazine story talks about some reasons why these types of cars are not available. They state it has to do with a few main points: 1) Diesel engines (which some of these cars have) have not really caught on in the US (I would assert that is hogwash, and on contrary, the diesel engine has been dissuaded, rather than not catching on), 2) Emissions standards are tough for European manufacturers to meet, and 3) Americans prefer roomier cars over the small economical hatchbacks.

I want to focus on #3 because I do really believe that this comes down to supply and demand. And that there is not a demand for these cars. And I believe there's not a demand for them because we are being "trained" through marketing and advertising, to believe that we should want bigger, roomier, more powerful, "safer" cars. It's almost synonymous with America. Everything we do and are is of the guise of being bigger, safer, and more powerful. But do we need any of those things? And do they really make us safer? In Europe, I observed that maybe only 10-20% at most, of vehicles, were SUV or minivans. And it's not that Europeans don't have children. It's that they are making different choices, and those choices are available to them.

I could come up with all sorts of conspiracy theories as to why we are having big vehicles pushed on us. My top conspiracy theory is that the US oil industry wants cars to stay less efficient, because every gallon of gas you don't buy, is $2, or $3, or maybe someday (again) $4 of income that the oil industry doesn't earn. If fuel efficiency went from 22mpg average (for example) to 44mpg average (to keep the numbers round), then oil companies would get half as much income from the biggest gas-guzzling country on the planet. So, it kind of seems like there might be some collusion there, either directly between oil industry and auto industry, or via the dirty middleman that is the lobbying process around trade and importation.

These cars that I saw over there were great looking cars, too. Fuel efficient, and great looking. And that's the last thing that the US wants people to have available. They want you to feel like you've got a limp member, if you drive an economical car. The Honda Civic 3-dr hatchback was a perfectly economical, cool car, that was around for decades. So cool, in fact, that it became a popular target for being souped up by young people. So then, why did Honda eliminate that model and replace it with the shamefully gonad-poor Honda Fit? You do the math.

The other reason why all manufacturers (not just US ones, but of course Japanese and German as well) are pushing bigger vehicles here is because they can get a bigger profit margin on a bigger vehicle. It doesn't take twice as much metal to build an SUV. In fact, some SUVs are built on a similar chassis as a sedan in the same manufacturing line. But you can charge considerably more for the perceived, or potential utility of the vehicles. So if it was clear that this caught on with America, and there were no forces in place that prevented the success of bigger cars (which, in my opinion, is truly an example of industrial devolution), then of course these companies are going to sell those vehicles here. Deterrents could include things such as: 1) mandatory efficiency limits that are respectable, not a joke like they are today, 2) higher fuel taxes, or luxury penalties on gas-guzzling vehicles, to discourage people from being wasteful. In the US, on the contrary, there were ridiculous loopholes that allowed people to write off part of the price of their HUM-V, because it met the qualifications for "farming equipment" based on it's size and weight.

If you really want to be sick, look at this excerpt from Wikipedia. The US plans to have a mandatory 35mpg by the year TWO THOUSAND TWENTY. In contrast, the EU plans on mandating a 47mpg requirement by the year TWO THOUSAND TWELVE. That is sick and shameful. Basically, it's saying that within 10 years, the cars that the US makes need to be as efficient as the ones Japan was making 30 years ago.

And if you're not completely vomiting then go to this Wikipedia link that shows you the actual mpg for many of these European cars I was discussing. There are a huge number of them that average over 50mpg combined city+highway. They're all diesel.

There are a lot of ways the Europeans have got things right, and we don't. And this is one of them.

Stay tuned for more examples.

22 June, 2009

The Magic of Diet Mountain Dew

This has nothing to do with Salzburg, but I am also trying to fill in some of the topics that have been rattling around in my belfry for the past week or so, when I was too busy to write.

So, let me tell you about the magic of Diet Mountain Dew. It's really quite magical. It probably represents one of the few, truly guilt-free pleasures to be had in this life. It is very sweet. It has caffeine, plenty of it. It hydrates you (albeit, with the additional unnecessary large dose of sodium). And it is radioactive green in color. What could be better?

I was drinking a lot of caffeine for awhile, via coffee. And the thing about coffee, is that it can start to make you feel horrible. And it also, without a doubt, can have ill effects on one's teeth and breath. And to make the coffee truly a pleasurable experience, I need to add dairy of some sort, and sugar, of a large sort. And the artificial sweeteners for coffee just do not work.

Enter Diet Mountain Dew.

I realize that the same artificial sweeteners are in this, as in whatever artificial thing I would be putting in coffee, but for some reason, the overall chemical composition of Diet Mountain Dew is far more tolerant to a splash of Phenylalanine than any other beverage. Even Diet Coke, and Diet Pepsi pale in comparison.

So now, I have decided to enjoy the great guiltless pleasure of Diet Mountain Dew once or twice a day. There are a few downsides to this, potentially. First, there is the whole recycling thing. I am going through these aluminum cans. That's probably not so great. And also, so I have heard, Mountain Dew, presumably of any variety, has a potential to cause such things as kidney stones, perhaps due to the carbonate, if consumed in large enough quantities. I would rather be shot with a harpoon than have a kidney stone.

So maybe it's not so guilt-free after all.

Sigh.

JOSW Day 1: Seattle-to-Philadelphia

Breakfast at the airport consisted of a coffee from Dilletante, in the main terminal, and then a Jalapeno Sunrise breakfast bagel, or some such thing, from "The Great American Breakfast" or some such place, in my terminal. I also bought a berry scone at Dilletante so I would have something to eat later on the plane, and Artemis had given me a cashew nut energy bar, which I also saved for later.

The flight to Philadelphia, on an Airbus A320, departed on time. Flying on US Airways, I was again treated to the well-discussed Zone Boarding scheme. I will note that, in spite of the supposed efficiency improvements of this method, it doesn't really help when the attendant says "We would now like to welcome passengers in all zones to board at this time". Um... didn't you read my blog?

But I'm not here to tell you about the airlines, at least not today.

So, I have to say that an A320 is a reasonably comfortable plane, all things considered. I had a window seat, I believe it was 25A. Middle seat was a man about to celebrate his 50th birthday, which he was going to celebrate with his twin brother who was 5 minutes older than him, and their mother. He lives in Tacoma, but he used to live in Seattle until about 10 years ago. I knew all this because he was telling the story to the woman in the aisle seat. And when he got done telling her, he wanted to tell the same story to me. Yep. He was one of those types. I felt bad, because he asked me about my job and where I was from, and I answered him, but then I didn't ask him, because I already knew the answers! He probably assumed I was just being rude, so he proceeded to tell me anyway.

I am happy to report that there were no screaming babies on the plane. No smelly people. And I was not sitting near a "lavatory". To me, the word "lavatory" sounds like a place where you would do research on volcanic materials. What the hell is wrong with calling it a restroom? Or a toilet? I still don't understand why "bathroom" is a completely unacceptable word in public forums. To me, I think it's the nicest of all the words for the damn place.

I spent a good portion of the flight reading about two-thirds of Bukowski's "Ham on Rye". And I exerted massive effort to not fall asleep, because I was convinced that I could surely elude jet lag, if only I could hold off sleep until the start of the overseas leg of the flight. This turned out to be a) a bad idea, and b) complete nonsense.

We arrived in Philadelphia on time.

Journey to the Other Side of the World (JOSW) Day 0: Pre-Launch

The first of two trips to Europe was to commence at 8:40am on Friday the 19th, when my plane was to depart Sea-Tac International Airport enroute to Munich, via beautiful Philadelphia. But before any of that could happen, there were a few things that needed to occur first.

Turn back the clock 24 hours. Thursday, the 18th, should have been a day for packing, preparing, saying goodbye to a few people and, most of all, making sure to have enough rest for the big trip. Unfortunately, none of that was in the cards. It really sucks when you know, days in advance, that you will not have time to do all the things you need to do. By Thursday morning, not only was I resigned to the fact that I would probably need to stay up all night to be ready, but I was actually planning on it. In some way, I had convinced myself that staying up all night would help me with the potential jet lag issues. I am not sure if that was sound logic or not.

The primary reasons for this squeeze were as follows. First, Thursday I had a commitment to deliver two customer feedback reports to my team at work. These reports require poring over a thousand or so comments that users have sent, followed by tagging and categorizing them, analyzing the distribution of comment topics, and then writing a report so the team knows what the major issues are. This is simply a time-consuming task. And unfortunately for me, I had basically no time to do it before Thursday, due to wrapping up other reports and presentations, and then no time to do it while at work on Thursday, due to a day full of unavoidable meetings. Normally these reports would be due Monday morning, but my vacation led me to push the due dates forward.

In addition to the fact that I had no time to write these reports while at work, I then had no time to write these reports after work, because the band had a show that night! Immediately after work, I needed to drive to load gear for our show. The show had me tied up until at least midnight (possibly even later depending on whether I left early, or stayed to help carry the gear home).

So, what I was faced with was playing a show until midnight (I did leave early), then going home, packing, writing two reports, submitting them, cleaning my house (somewhat), showering, and being ready to go to the airport by 6:15am.

And I actually finished all these things barely under the wire, with my second report being completed at around 5:15am. Apparently that report was incoherent enough that my manager emailed me to note that they had to do a little "massaging" of the contents to make it publishable. I cannot even imagine what that means, but it is entirely possible that I was making charts of cornflake consumption in the aboriginal populations of Patagonia, instead of comment categories for our product feedback, given the state of delirium that I was in at that hour.

I barely had a chance to say goodbye to the cats, or to my house, which was still a veritable mess. But I was exactly on time for picking up my ride, Edna, with whom I immediately got into a classic feud over my failure to take the express lanes. Mil Millington comes to mind. Feel free to Google him... or Bing home... or Boink him... whatever you want, if you are not sure what I mean. Nevertheless, traffic notwithstanding, we made it to the airport on time. Pulling up to the airport, I saw a Honda Insight parking in front of us, which I immediately recognized to be the car of my friend Artemis (that's a pretty weak pseudonym, but it's the thought that counts, right?) being dropped off for her trip to Maui. How coincidental?

We met for a brief coffee in the terminal. Parted ways. And Day Zero of the trip came to an end.

15 June, 2009

The Bing Experiment: Europe Maps --> Round 1 goes to Google

I needed to know how far away a hotel in Munich was from the central train station (the Hauptbahnhof). So I put the addresses into both Bing and Google. And below is what happened:

Bing:


It could not identify the Munich station, and kept suggesting alternative nearby cities.

Google:


Google got it. First try. No finagling about.

14 June, 2009

The art of self-promotion

Let me start off by saying that I am not a black-belt in the art of self-promotion. In fact, I am a becoming a reluctant participant in said art. I would much rather be a part of a Utopian society, where everyone just does their "thing", whatever that is, and the "powers-that-be", whomever they may be, see these efforts for what they are, and evaluate accordingly.

But such is not the case. I could go on myriad tangents, talking about how a system will only be as fair or just as the most corrupt and unjust member of the system. And that may be true. But it does no good to belabor such points. There is no fruit to be had by lamenting this unfairness. And, I'm not sure if it's "ironic" or "obvious" that dwelling in the shortcomings of the system will almost certainly guarantee one's sinking to the bottom of said system.

So...

I left academia because I felt that shameless self-promotion was unregulated and, much to my chagrin, incredibly effective. It was in graduate school that I came to realize that people will believe you are as good as you say you are. And the corollary to that is that people will think you're pretty mediocre, if you're modest. I thought that by going to the corporate world, there would be some sort of leveling of the playing field and that, in a place where products must actually ship (instead of academia, where information just sort of floats back and forth, and is all subject to interpretation), things would have to be based on hard facts, not hype.

Wrong.

Perhaps it depends on the organization, and perhaps it depends on the timing, and the economic climate. But, by and large, the same tricks that worked in academia work in industry.

Actually, to be honest, I don't know if they work or not. But it seems like the people who are running up and down the halls, doing jumping-jacks and hopscotch, seem to garner more attention than those who don't.

And I finally decided, I need to start doing the self-promotion, even if it's only in my own, Mick Feeble way. This, in a nutshell (did I already say nutshell, I can't remember), goes as follows:
  1. I will not hesitate to explicitly ask my manager to promote the good work that I do. Instead of just hoping that she will do so, I will make a specific request.
  2. I will not be afraid to initiate discussions with managers around work that I feel has had an impact, or progress that I have made over a breadth of project areas.
  3. I will not be afraid to publicize ideas or accomplishments in a group forum, either via email or in a presentation to the team.
  4. I will not miss any opportunity to share techniques that have worked well for me, especially if they constitute "training", because this is good for everyone, not just myself.
  5. I will not be afraid to call attention, during the review process, to the intangibles that I have delivered to the group, as well as my material accomplishments.
That's going to be the Mick Feeble approach. On the flip side, what I will not do includes, but is not limited to, the following:
  1. I will not send 3 emails a day to the entire team, with some inane observation about the company, our products, or the general tech community, and call that "visibility".
  2. I will not synthesize an unnecessary or ill-formed project idea out of thin air, apply a fancy slogan, and then sell it as the the greatest invention, only to abandon it a week later.
  3. I will not use Facebook as a means of telling you when I am working, how hard I am working, how much I love my job, or how great my company's products are.
  4. I will not try to involve myself, albeit marginally, in every good idea that someone else has, just so I can tout myself as having been "part of the project".
There has to be a way to promote oneself without completely selling out. Though, I suspect, in writing that, I am demonstrating just how little I understand about the art of self-promotion.

The bottom line is this:

We are ultimately responsible for our own successes and failures.

And if we keep that in mind, then no matter what happens, we can, at least, feel that we are in control, through accepting that responsibility.

13 June, 2009

Shit, now I remember!

Cats... of course.

They're furry. They're soft. They sometimes give love. They sometimes provide entertainment. Even more rarely, true companionship. The save us from loneliness, boredom. Some say that they add years to your life.

But sometimes, I look at cats, and they make me realize, in a nutshell, what animals really do. Basically, animals eat, shit, fuck, sleep, and kill. That's honestly about it. That's the extent of animal behavior. Anything else is optional. And only a subset of those things are unavoidable. You can outlaw killing, or at least significantly decrease the likelihood of it. You can render the act of fucking to be functionally ineffective though, even still, most animals will engage in some gesture resembling it. So, that leaves us with eat, shit, and sleep.

And what do plants do?

I guess they don't sleep. So we've got that over the plants.

I'm sure glad I remembered what the cat blog was supposed to be about!

The beginning of senility

Sometimes I go for weeks without any "ideas" for blogs. I force a few out, but nothing comes naturally. Then I hit a spurt, where I have dozens of ideas literally spilling over. And when this occurs, I usually need to make notes for myself so that I remember what to write later, if I am not at a computer. I usually send myself a really brief email with the subject "Blog" and then body containing a word or two that describes the blog's topic.

Police... done
Oven cleaning... done
Blue Ribbon Entertainment... done

And then there's one that says:

Cats...

And I have no fucking clue what that was supposed to be about. I think I had an idea for a blog that related to cats. I really don't know. And I guess you'd understand since it's been days, right? Except it's been like 6 hours. And I have no idea what my blog topic was supposed to be. Is my brain really deteriorating that rapidly? Is my hippocampus no longer rich in the glutamatergic neurons that once sent out their arbors so proudly and freely? Do I need to go purchase some mental floss?

It's disappointing. I almost feel like I should make something up regarding cats, just to appease myself. But I really don't have anything to say about them. I must have had something good to say earlier though.

12 June, 2009

Mailman: Dumb? Or a twisted sense of humor?

My mailman often puts the wrong mail in the wrong boxes. Very often, my neighbor's mail, labeled with a B address designator, ends up in my box, with the A designator. And sometimes if it is junk mail I throw it away because I am not the fucking mailman, and I am not going to do his job correctly for him. If it's something remotely important, I give it to Mr. B. I am pretty sure the mailman is either a slacker, or really blind.

But today, I was given cause to think it may be something else.

I open my mailbox and there's a letter addressed to Mr. B. On the envelope are lots of graphics, and the sender is "Blue Ribbon Entertainment" which sounds really sketchy to me. And then, upon further perusal, I notice that the envelope also says "Sexual Content Inside" which I am presuming is some sort of warning that must go on such things. The presence of this letter in my box made me wonder if the mailman likes fucking with people.

It created an awkward situation, because I do not want to, in any way, personally deliver this letter to Mr. B. but I presume that he might be interested in receiving it. Fortunately, I discovered that it is possible to slide mail in through the side of the locking box, so that I was able to sneak the letter into its correct destination, sans embarrassment for anyone.

But it does make me think about a few things. Doesn't it?

The fact that I have been reading Charles Bukowski's "Post Office" definitely plays a role in my alternative hypothesis formulation.

Pull over when you see the flashing lights... um, why?

One thing that we learn when we are very young is that when you see the flashing lights of an ambulance, or fire engine, or police car, you must pull over to the side of the road and allow them to pass. And I understand the rationale for this rule. The reason is so that the emergency vehicle can get to its destination without obstruction.

Of course.

What I do not understand is when people are driving down a 12 lane highway, and there's a police car headed in the opposite direction, and there's water between the two directions of traffic, and people are still pulling over to the side of the road? Okay, I exaggerate a little bit. But seriously. I think that the spirit of this law has been lost, and what we now have is just insane panic frenzy of people swerving off the road, when the emergency vehicle is 80 meters away. This helps no one. It creates traffic, and it also creates risk for additional accidents.

Personally, if I am driving down the road, and I see a police car headed in the opposite direction with its lights on, and there are no other cars, I do NOTHING. I continue about my business. It is not like these emergency vehicles are made out of ferrous materials, and will magnetically pull all objects into their path if you do not veer away from them.

What really bothers me is that I feel like people pull off the road partly out of habit, but also because of some strange and asinine deference to "the law" which is not only unnecessary, but undeserved. It's like, "I will pull over out of honor and respect for this misfit asshole who probably beat people up when he was in high-school, and now is allowed to speed, carry a gun, and wear a cheesy polyester 'uniform' to his heart's content."

It's bad enough that the police often abuse their sirens and lights just so they can run red lights at a traffic-filled intersection. And it's also bad enough that whenever the police are "on a call" they seem to feel it's just fine to block traffic, needlessly, by stopping in the middle of the road, in the wrong direction, diagonally, or blocking on-ramps to highways. It's all about power. And it's all about the very notion that the law is, ironically, above the law.

So I draw the line at what is reasonable and necessary. I will make every effort to never obstruct an emergency vehicle from carrying out its duty. It would be nice, however, if some of these emergency vehicles would make a modicum of effort not to needlessly obstruct me from carrying out my duties.

I am apparently objectionable

At some point in time, I discovered the "objectionable content flag" on someone's blog. It was actually on the blog of an ex-girlfriend of mine. She had posted a variety of things that would likely be considered to be objectionable by a large percentage of the community. The objectionable content flag is something that appears across the top of the blog, in semi-hidden text. But it's there.

And now, it's there on my blog. I see it on Firefox. But I do not see it on IE or Google Chrome.

Someone flagged my blog as objectionable. I guess it is not surprising that if your blog is viewed by enough random people, it will be deemed objectionable by some reader. Especially if they're searching for blogs on a particular topic, and they come across one of my rants. Yes, sometimes I use profanity. Sometimes I say bad things about people. I have probably even mocked things like "God" on here. And that would undoubtedly be objectionable to a good chunk of the readers.

But I did not write about sex with animals. I did not write about abuse. I did not write about violence. I did not write about conspiracy to commit crime. I did not write words of hate against a certain religious or ethnic group.

I think that I did say that children and the elderly should not be allowed on airplanes. I suppose that might be objectionable to parents, children, grandparents, and a bunch of other people out there. But, I presume that people who are intelligent enough to click the buttons on their mouse are also intelligent enough to understand satire and sarcasm.

Apparently not. One of the beautiful things about freedom of speech is that, not only do I usually have the right to express myself, but you have the right to complain about it. Clicking the "Flag as objectionable" button is a form of free speech. Of course, it would be a more productive form of free speech to post a comment on my blog saying "I disagree with what you have said - could you please explain to me why you feel this, and understand that it upsets me". It's a good bet I would have discussed, explained, or even apologized, if I had been misunderstood.

Because, really, I mean nobody any harm.

But now, I'm flagged. I am not sure exactly what that will mean, if anything. Or how often the flags fly. I only presume it was done by someone who does not know me.

So, to those of you flaggers out there, I say this: "Feel free to post a comment, in addition to, or instead of flagging the blog. And think about the fact that a lot of what I write is not objectionable."

11 June, 2009

Protect and serve me... please

As a completely insane landlord of mine once said (about himself): "I'm a live and let live kind of guy". Of course, in his case, that meant that he wasn't going to fix anything that was wrong in the house, and he was going to verbally assault me if I suggested that anything needed to be repaired, such as drains that would not empty, or refrigerators that ceased to function.

But I finally decided, tonight, to call the police on my neighbors. The house next to me, in a short 18 months, has gone through either two or three series of renters, and it has been vacant for a time. The latest set of renters are three dopey vapid party girls who seem to be in their early twenties. They probably go to Seattle University, given the location. And it has gradually become the routine that there are parties on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturday nights. Occasionally Sundays. And they are loud. And stupid. With lots of drinking games. And it invariably spills out into the street and the yard. And their windows are all open, such that they might as well be in my living room.

And after a few of these events, I finally decided, the hell with it, I will call the police. I don't like "crying wolf" but part of the reason we pay taxes is so that the police can take care of our shit for us. And this is my shit tonight. Really, what bothers me is that the owner of the house continues to rent to shitty people instead of just selling the place. Eventually it will sell. And then I will, ironically, be sorry. Because undoubtedly, what will happen is that they will sell to a developer who will build something tall enough that I lose my view of Rainier. That's the way it goes.

I should wrap this up quickly, so I can go in the other room and watch the police do their thing. It's almost as much fun as watching television.

10 June, 2009

What ever happened to LIFO logic? Or... are Southwest Airlines and US Airways run by crazy people?

LIFO = Last In, First Out

It's an acronym describing the logic of a particular type of computer storage system. There were two basic designs that we learned in school: LIFO, and FIFO (you can figure that one out, right?)

The idea of each is as follows. Think of LIFO as a storage tube where you insert elements from only one end. Therefore, the first one in will be the last one out and vice-versa. Thus, to get at that last one, you would need to get all the other ones out. A FIFO "stack" is different. Think of that one as a storage tube that has openings at both ends. So things just progress through it. The first one in the tube at one end will be the first one out of the tube at the other end. You do not need to move all items to get at the last one (necessarily, presuming you can access both ends for both entry and exit).

The human digestive system is a good example of a FIFO stack. An airplane, you'd think, is a good example of a LIFO stack.

Until the airlines decided to change the way that works, of course, in their effort to screw up not only the things that are easy to screw up, but also those that seem impossible to screw up.

Throughout all of history, airplanes have boarded how? (all together now)

BY ROW NUMBER, FROM THE BACK OF THE PLANE, FORWARD

If you were seated at the back of the plane, you would be the first one to board. If you were seated at the front of the plane, you'd be last to board, but first to exit (i.e. LIFO).

Then at some point in time, they mucked this up in FOUR ways.

1. Those passengers needing assistance (anywhere on plane)
2. Those passengers traveling in first class (front of plane)
3. Those passengers traveling with small children (anywhere on plane)
4. Those passengers who belong to some asinine make-believe special club (who knows)

This, of course, is designed to show some type of respect or preference to certain demographics. But what it really does is demolish all semblance of an orderly boarding process. Because if you then begin your LIFO loading process AFTER this bullshit "preboarding", all you're doing is throwing more crap into a clogged toilet.

The logic is so ass-backwards that it is mind-boggling. But then, so is the idea of allowing private, for-profit organizations to compete with one another in the non-trivial process of rocketing large numbers of the populace through the sky, while keeping their costs as low as possible. But I digress.

The first class people usually board pretty quickly. This might be because these are people who travel a lot, and they don't futz around. And perhaps the Mickey Mouse flying club partners are also okay fast. It's the other two groups that cause the problem. Infants and fossils. These people should not be allowed on airplanes at all, never mind before the rest of us.

Of course, all of this has been going on for years. So why am I complaining now? Well, because none of this nonsense is the stuff that really makes me mad! What really makes me mad is that some airlines (Southwest and US Air, to name two) have decided to completely abandon the LIFO process, and switch to their own special, bizarre, inefficient methods of boarding.

US Airways uses the "Zone" method of boarding. People are given zone assignments: 1, 2, 3, 4. And you board by zone. Of course! Makes perfect sense! Not sure why we don't just go by row, but zone is okay. Zone 1 is the back quarter of the plane... Zone 2 is the next one... Zone 3 after that... and Zone 4 is the front of the plane.

Right?

Um... I'm so sorry. You've mistaken us for an airline that knows anything about anything about anything. Let me explain to you how it works. Zone 1 is a random smattering of seats throughout the aircraft. Zone 2 is... guess? A random smattering of seats throughout the aircraft. Zone 3? You got it. That's the idea. So when I call Zone 1, people will be trying to get to seats in all parts of the aircraft, and you can be sure that the first person to board in Zone 1 will just happen to be assigned to seat 4F, and they're going to adjust their adult diaper, try to fit their oversize bag in the bin above, and then take 11 minutes to pull out their Fishing magazine before sitting down, while the rest of the "smattering" that is Zone 1 waits in "The Jetway" to board the airplane.

This goes on forever. And then they have to include extremely complex rules, due to this smattering concept. "If you are traveling in a group, your entire group may board the plane when the lowest zone number is called". Yes, because if Mommy, Daddy, and Little Suzie bought tickets to Fort Lauderdale, it's entirely possible that, although they're seated together in seats 22A, B, and C, they'll have been designated in Zone 1, Zone 3, and Zone Twilight. Excellent plan. I really love it.

So how did Southwest Airlines top this one? It's a good one. I think they had to engage a team of creative directors to come up with their boarding plan. Here's what we do. Regardless of when you bought your ticket, you are assigned a boarding Letter/Number when you check in (presumably based on when you arrive at the airport). For example, A22. Or C35. When you arrive at the gate, there are numbered spots in the queue at the gate. When they call your LETTER, you all are supposed to line up, in sequential order, to board. So they call group A, and everyone with the letter A lines up.

And then they let you on the plane to go to your assigned seat? So? No big deal.

Um... no... there's just one catch.

What?

Um... don't laugh. I'm serious. There are no assigned seats. Yes. It's a mad free-for-all, of people trying to get windows. Trying to avoid windows. Trying to avoid the restrooms. Trying to avoid the wing. Trying to avoid the front of the plane. Trying to avoid the exit rows. Trying by all means to avoid middle seats. Trying to avoid sitting next to a really fat person, or a baby, or a dirty person. People trying to play out every paranoid fantasy of what could go wrong on the flight. Personally, I don't like to sit just behind the wing, because sometimes when an engine blows out, the person sitting right behind the wing is killed by shrapnel, even though the rest of the passengers are fine. That would be unfortunate.

So, you've got your Boeing 737s, because that's all that Southwest flies. They have no first class. In single-class configuration, the Boeing 737-800 holds 180 passengers. So that is not a trivial free-for-all. How this saves time is beyond me. And I love when they let all of group A board, and then pause a bit, and then do group B, then pause a bit, etc. You expect that they've waited for the group A people to find their seats. But you discover that after groups A, B, C, and D are allowed to "board", that what you really have is 180 people lined up in "The Jetway" waiting for the old guy with the adult diapers to find a few pillows to use for hemorrhoid cushions before beginning his fart-filled nap in Row 4.

Seriously. I could design a better airline boarding process than this. I think it would involve machine guns pointing down the aisles and evaporating anybody who remains in the aisle for more than 3 seconds per row of travel to their assigned seat. That would really help eliminate the need for several of the special categories. And it would also help save money on discounted fares, because the concept of a "frequent flyer" would pretty much cease to exist.

And I'm kidding.

07 June, 2009

I love warning signs

Seriously. Signs are so odd and patronizing. And usually more funny than useful. Take, for example, this sign on the side of a transformer cabinet in the parking lot of my gym:


I love when they have stupid pictures that anthropomorphize forces of nature. And then, they need to warn you against all things that could possibly happen. Shock. Burn. Death. What else? Could it cause brain damage? I don't know. Everything in our society is designed to protect businesses from being sued for really obvious things.

I also like the sign for not rocking the vending machine. Have you seen it?


So, here's what they're saying. If you put in your money, and you don't get your Milky Way, do not attempt to shake the machine to get the candy bar because, if you do, lightning will strike you and the machine will crush you. What is the origin of this metaphor of lightning bolts into one's head indicating "harm will come to you". Someone has a sick sense of humor, or no understanding of how vending machines operate. Maybe the lightning bolts symbolize regret?

I really don't know.

My last favorite that I will share with you:


Why does the sign for crossing the street show two women with purses and skirts? How fucking patronizing and sexist is that? It's like, if it were men, they'd get across the street quickly, so you don't need to slow down. But these women will probably just perish in the street like squirrels if you don't slow down for them. Bizarre.

06 June, 2009

Don't vote for Pedro

Tonight, I had the "fortune" of hanging out on the Kirkland waterfront, where the yuppies go to eat overpriced dinners. I went there with a few friends, because we'd just got done playing music. The place we went, if I recall correctly, was called The Wilde Rover. It is a pseudo-Irish pub with such traditional Irish cuisine as "Buffalo Mac & Cheese" - you know, the usual fare. And lots of really pretentious Irish text on placards all over the walls. And a bunch of plastic looking people.

When we arrived, there was a band setting up to play for the evening. The band was called Vote For Pedro. They were a bunch of late 20's looking frat-boy types. And they had gear that looked so new, it was almost certainly purchased for them by their parents after they graduated from UW with their degrees in business administration, and moved back to the Eastside to be closer to family. Naturally, I wanted to stick around long enough to verify that they sucked, since that always gives me a small amount of pleasure. I enjoy any opportunity to complain about bad cover bands. Bad original music is another story. To really enjoy a bad original band, they need to be extremely bad. Usually, bad original bands are just boring, or forgettable. But a bad cover band is one of the great joys. Because it does not take much for them to become laughable.

The highlights of Vote For Pedro are as follows. They have an extremely egotistical, pretentious, obnoxious, self-important "multi-instrumentalist" who was oh-so-clever with his commentary during their sound check, that I was almost unable to stick around long enough to really hate them as a band, instead of just hating him as an individual. He played saxophone, bass guitar, and keyboard. And seemed to have very specific needs regarding hearing himself on stage. What a spoiled fucking brat. I have played shows where I couldn't even hear my voice in my own head, and could only tell if I *might* be in key, based on the beat patterns of the reflections coming back at me from the wall at the opposite end of the room. But the little prince needed everything perfect. Oh, and he looked like a young Patrick Swayze, and I mean that in the worst possible way.

I wonder how many times I need to mention Seattle cover band Vote For Pedro before these clowns will find this blog when they or one of their frat-boy friends does a Google Search to see when the next time is that they're playing at the Rock Bottom Brewery in Bellevue Square?

So, after spending about 45 minutes setting up their shit, including a bizarre crash cymbal, that was hanging above the drummer's head, they finally came to the stage to play. I pretty much only wanted to hear enough to really hate them, and then I'd be ready to leave. I figured, two songs. Three, tops. Before starting, they apparently changed into their "uniforms" which consisted of three-quarter sleeved baseball shirts, that spell out "Vote", "For", and "Pedro" on the chests of the three front people. Splendid. And I know that the reason LPS (Little Patrick Swayze) is standing on stage right was so he would get to be "Pedro" instead of "Vote" because that's clearly the kind of guy he is. Actually, I cannot remember if stage right means my right, or their right, but I think you know what I mean.

The band opened up with Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Proud Mary". And they ruined it. Primary blame goes to the drummer for having no soul. These guys clearly don't like CCR, and have no respect for John Fogerty. They just seemed like a bunch of idiots faking it so they can get paid their $600 and go drink Coors Light on the docks.

Then they played some Joni Mitchell song that I forget. Then they played some song by that horrible band Everlast. Then we left. And I felt fully satisfied that yet another cover band sucks. I used to play in a cover band, and I don't think we sucked as badly as they did. We had some pride and respect for the music. We were not frat boys. We did not act cutesy while sound-checking. And we did not wear uniforms. And we didn't butcher CCR. Actually, we didn't play any CCR, though I would have loved to do it.

If you want to see a real cover band, go see The Pop Offs.

Maybe I should put a link here to Vote For Pedro's website. That could greatly increase the chances of them seeing my review, and also greatly increase the chances for a decent flame war.

Okay. Here goes. Click here for shitty cover band.

A few final thoughts.
  1. Pedro the bass player was, unfortunately, the most talented guy in the band, as much as I hate to admit it. The singer had a good voice, but didn't seem to get the songs.

  2. The Buffalo Mac & Cheese was actually very good.

  3. They're playing at the Rock Bottom in Bellevue on July 11th. I checked :)

04 June, 2009

Avoiding swine flu

It is generally assumed that the company where I work is populated by our world's best and brightest developers, business people, researchers, designers, etc. However, apparently, it is not assumed that these whiz-kids are familiar with the basic concepts of personal hygiene (though, if you look back at my previous blogs on people's bathroom habits here, perhaps that is a valid lack of confidence). Nonetheless, shortly after the whole swine flu "epidemic" hit the scenes, the following educational panels showed up on the wall outside of every restroom in every building:


What strikes me as odd about this is not the fact that they post a reminder to wash one's hands. But the fact that they felt the need to provide an instructional walk-through of the actual procedure for washing hands. As if, had they merely said "Wash your hands after using restroom to help prevent spreading germs", people might have done things like wash their wallet instead of their hands, or lick their hands clean, or possibly wash their hands in the toilet. And the level of detail is just bizarre. Do we have a particular concern, as humans, about removing dirt that is lodged between our thumb and forefinger? Oh, well perhaps if you are performing digital disimpaction of your own bowel in the restroom stall. But otherwise, really? Is it necessary to tell me these things?

The little blurb in the bottom right corner is also extremely helpful. I did not previously know when were the right times to wash my hands. Thank you. I knew that I should wash them after touching animal waste, which is something that I try to do every day. But I did not know that I should also wash them whenever they are dirty!


As a footnote, I will add that washing hands is not the #1 way to prevent giving a virus to others or yourself. The #1 way to avoid giving a virus to others or yourself is to kill yourself in the middle of the woods, far away from civilization, without telling anyone where you are going. The #2 way to avoid giving a virus to others or yourself is to not take a syringe filled with viral media and inject it into necks of all who pass you on the street.

03 June, 2009

Choosing your battles

Someone once told me that every opinion and belief that I hold tends to be extreme.

And this was a revelation to me. I guess I have always been aware that I am animated, and that I can definitely debate a point for quite sometime. But hearing that, and then thinking about it, I realized that there was quite a degree of self-absorption in my attitudes. I like to tell people that I have "amazing powers of subjectivity".

The consequence of this has been that I have not been very good at choosing my battles, so to speak. Because, with my attitude, every battle has had the appearance of being one that I could not afford to lose. I would be tenacious, persuasive, argumentative, persistent, passive-aggressive, dismissive, patronizing. Whatever it took. Hell, whatever it takes, because I cannot truly claim to be cured of this disease.

For example, in the studio, during the mixing process, there had been one point regarding some aspect of the mix of a song that I had been arguing for, and I was overruled. And it's a good bet that I was moody about it. And our fearless leader made a very appropriate remark to me. He said "You've fought for a lot of things on this CD, and you've pretty much won on every one of them". Again, that realization that I don't necessarily choose battles well. But it helped. His comment helped because there was a compliment buried somewhere inside of that remark.

To reassure myself a little bit, I guess it would be fair to say that my powers of analysis are not bad. Dissecting things is one of my better skills. And that is probably part of the reason why I argue so emphatically; because I am sure that I am right, if only people would hear my side. Well, first of all, I am not always right. But I don't often realize that in the heat of the moment. Second, even if I were right every time, which I am not, it does not exactly amount to "playing well with others" to constantly employ the philosophy of ruling by logic alone. And often when I step back, I realize that my capacity for logic can result in an abuse where I try to assert logic as the justification behind matters that are actually personal and emotional.

I could go on and on about this.

But the bottom line is that I need to learn to choose my battles.

Someone once asked me "Would you rather be right, or be happy?" And for a time, I had always thought I'd rather be right. In recent years, I have been convincing myself that I would rather be happy. But I think that a part of me is still subconsciously trying to be right.

Before Facebook friending all those people from high school...

For a long time, I had few Facebook friends. It was 12. Then it was 20. And it stayed around there for quite some time. It would actually be cool, now that I think about it, to be able to review one's friend add/remove chronology. Then I found more people, because Facebook became more popular. I think that had me up at around 60. Then the list crept up even further with work friends, whom I added with some caution, since Facebook is often a place where the personal is divulged inadvertently or unexpectedly. I was not thrilled with having 100 friends, and I am not someone who gets ego boost from my friend list size. But I was okay with it.

Then, I went through a bit of a "reaching out" explosion. It happened, I think, right around the time I was going through some serious feelings of aloneness. And I found a few friends from high school. And that led to finding a few more friends from high school. And so on. And so on. And it was kind of neat to see some of these people online, though it seemed that most of them did not have remotely similar lives to mine. They had husbands, wives, children. They mostly lived in Massachusetts still. All told, it brought my friend list up to about 180, if I am not mistaken. This included people who asked me to be their friend even though we actually despised one another in high school. Maybe despise is a strong word. We were in no way friendly, nor did we engage in any form of socialization. And they were now asking me to be their "friend".

On top of the whole high school thing, there were also a handful of ex-girlfriends that tumbled into the mix. And that, with very few exceptions, can never be a good thing. It turns out, people who annoyed the shit out of you 20 years ago will probably annoy the shit out of you now, in very similar ways (myself included, I imagine).

What was I doing with all these people on my friend list? And did I really want them there?

I could go and set all sorts of multi-tiered privacy settings so that Judy Lou can see only this and that, and Jeffy Joe can see only these other sections. But really. Do I want to bother creating an elaborate information corralling system for people whom I did perfectly well not hearing from for the last 22 years? Probably not.

My feelings of "aloneness" subsided, and I migrated into what I would like to characterize as a much better emotional and mental space. And one day, I was sitting and thinking about the fact that my grad school girlfriend was seeing all these status updates about my new love interest, and that seemed odd, unnecessary, and sort of stupid. And I deleted a few people from the friend list. And then I deleted a few more. And I kept going through the list and scanning it, and deleting, and scanning, and deleting. Until I had gone from about 183 to 100. I blew away 83 people. And I felt both relief and a bit of shame. It would have been much better to just never add them.

Over the weeks that followed I received a few communications:

"Hey asshole, why'd you go and defriend me?" (that one was actually a bit of a mistake, and I friended him right back again - though he does live in Scotland now, so it wasn't like I was seeing him around town!)

And a few people asked me if I did it by mistake. All told, maybe half a dozen people questioned me directly. I imagine that maybe another 20 or so noticed it, and didn't comment, but probably thought it to be odd. And then the rest might or might not ever notice, since I was not really on their radar anyway.

I also blew away most of the ex-girlfriends, with the exceptions of those who remain good friends. But it's just something that doesn't sit well with me. I could have left it alone, and it wouldn't have been an issue. Or much wiser would have been to never add them. I would have to say that it is unfortunately typical social behavior for me to overcommit and then escape.

But I guess my suggestion here is that you think hard about who you want on your friend list. Because there is definitely something more than just a mouse click and the shuffling of pixels, when it comes to adding and removing human beings from our lists.

That said, I am probably about to go over to Facebook and remove a few more...

02 June, 2009

Chaos Theory

A butterfly flaps its wings in China...

And the cats walk across a Casio WK-401 keyboard in Seattle, causing it to launch into "Demo Mode" at some arbitrary time between 9:30am and 8:05pm, playing entire compositions of every conceivable genre of music, which radiates from my open windows at a volume of around 75dB.

The neighbors must have been ready to pull out all of their hair.

I have left alarm clocks ringing all day long, by accident, in the past. And I think that is something that is clearly annoying, but at least people understand what has happened, and can direct a very specific form of anger at the culprit. But this was just odd. I come home and, somewhere on my street, I hear blaring smooth jazz music. Then I realize that "somewhere" is my bedroom. And I immediately knew what caused it, though I marveled at the randomness of it.

Cat #1 or Cat #2 must have walked across the keyboard to obtain access to the window seat (not uncommon). Cat #1 or Cat #2 must have, either on ascent or descent, stepped on the power button for the Casio WK-401 electronic keyboard (improbable, but not inconceivable - call it 1 in 50 odds). Then, Cat #1 or Cat #2 must have again walked across the Casio WK-401 at some point in time, and stepped on the "Demo" button (if equally probable, the composite probabilities would multiply to 1 in 50 x 50 = 1 in 2500).

It's so bizarre that I almost want to test the theory of whether my estimate of 1 in 50 is accurate. But I don't think I have enough data to do it. The 1 in 50 would have to represent the number of times that something will be depressed, out of the number of times that the cats walk across the keyboard. But it now occurs to me, the math is not so simple.

The first event MUST be the power button, or else the other key presses do nothing. Once the power is on, there could be several different buttons that would cause continual music to be emitted - there's the Demo button (which we observed today); but there are also various things like starting auto-accompaniment, or starting the drum beats. And then, I suppose there is the chance that Cat #1 or Cat #2 could subsequently step on another button that stops the music, or turns the power off. Of course, there, we are getting into the realm of "free will" questions - perhaps the cats wanted the music on?

The only way to do this scientifically would be to point the damn webcam at the keyboard all day long, and count the number of times the cats walk across it. And then see how often music is on when I get home. And even that would not do justice, because I cannot rule out the possibility of a cat laying down on the keyboard itself, which might greatly increase chances of something being depressed. Of course, the only things that were definitely depressed today were the neighbors.

(a final note: I am amused that I had the perfect tags for this blog available in my tag list)