Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Procrastination as Art

I have a giant tray of change near the front door. It lives there quietly accumulating coins, and every once in a while I dump it into a plastic bag and start trying to find a way to divest myself of it. One week I took 99 cents at a time to the bagel shop downstairs every day. I was feeling pretty good about it until I realized that a) the cashiers in the bagel shop dreaded my appearance, and b) the coins were not disappearing fast enough.

Another time, back in Arizona, I took the coins to a Coinstar machine which said it would give me an Amazon gift certificate without taking a percentage of my cash. But it lied--the machine was equipped to provide an Amazon gift certificate, but did not have any of the actual certificates (a feeble excuse, since there is no physical place to give Amazon the gift certificate and therefore all it needs to do is print the gift certificate code on, say, a strip of adding machine tape) so it gave me cash and took a fee for counting my change (which it wasn't supposed to do if you took the gift certificate). Oh, Coinstar machine, you traitor.

Lately, I've been considering something like this:

But that seems a little active. Really, when it comes right down to it, I'm pretty lazy. So I thought to myself, what if I got a larger receptacle for my change? And what if it were disguised in some way? Which is how I found this, and this, and this:

(Freakish and scary and unwelcome in my home, but still weirdly fascinating.)

Just in time, before threw good money after bad by purchasing an expensive bank or a pair of cargo pants and a belt, I discovered that the bank around the corner will sort my change and give me bills without taking a percentage. Whew! Still, that Tamagotchi thing looks like fun--I'm hoping Target will carry a cheap knock-off, because an $80 bank is sort of an oxymoron.

New Heights of Stupidity

The audio commentary is funny on several counts. Note that Mr. Cunningham appears to have been transported here from another planet, where heels are news. But note also the tact when he says that he got to Greenwich Village, and "there was a [slight hesitation] person, I think probably a [watch your brain do calculations at a million miles a second here to see what noun is coming] performance artist...." Nicely done, Bill. Well played.

But really, this is the sort of thing that New York is obsessed with. This just in, women wear heels no matter how stupid they look or how hard they are to walk in! Also, women suffer for fashion. Quick, alert the media! Oh, wait, you already did.

On the bright side, this is really what you get in New York. A thousand rare birds that could never survive in the wild all fluttering around in their special artificial environment being fabulous in whatever way takes their fancy. It gets wearing occasionally when the ways that take their fancy are so frequently gut-wrenchingly expensive (it's no accident that Carrie Bradshaw has shoes and no down payment--if Darren Star were into cinema verite, she would also have bunions), but it is sort of spectacular, nonetheless.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Speaking of Kevin Smith

Above is a link to an episode of "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" in which Kevin Smith knows way too much about what makes a turkey excited. It's from 2007, so if you were thinking that he already knew more than he should, you've probably already heard it. The Kevin Smith bit starts a little more than a third of the way into it.

Next Running Thought

First, a big "HIYA" to Katy who rejoins us here at T&S - Yay! I'd say Woot but I never really got the trick of doing that without feeling like an idiot down. When I do it it's a self-conscious "Woot" - kind of like a 50 year old talking about something being "da bomb" if you know what I mean.

Next, on to the running report! Brought to you by Linux, the best tasting operating system out there!

Yesterday was a 13.1 mile run, mostly because I just got back from vacation the day before and didn't feel like getting up at 4am for an earlier and longer run. It was warm, but it was MUGGY, which sucks. If you haven't run in lots of humidity, well, you're a very lucky person. I, in particular, do poorly in hot, humid conditions. Nobody does well in them, but some of us suffer more than others. I suffer most. I mean if everyone else loses half an hour on their time because it's just that hot and muggy, I'll lost an hour. If everyone else loses an hour, I'm probably lying dead in a ditch somewhere along the course. It's probably because I have the sweat glands of four normal men, and the body hair of five. And if that makes you think you don't want to give me a hug after a long run, you're right on track! But that's not what I was going to tell you about.

As I was running, I had another Deep Thought. And here it is! I was doing some self analysis, cause what else are you going to do when you're running for 2 hours by yourself, and I was thinking about how I tend to tell everyone how poorly I adhere to running wisdom. For example, my refusal to eat rutabagas and acorns, my preference for double flame thrower burgers, the fact that I stretch only after runs, and not for very long, and on and on and on. And I was trying to figure out why it is I do this. And my first thought was that it's kind of a safety net for my ego. It goes like this - let's say that I run a race and I do terribly, and 80 year old grandmothers are passing me and laughing all the way. I can always say "yeah, well if I was eating the acorns like you I could do that too!" So instead of just deciding that I suck I can say no, no, it's just that I'm not trying all the way. Another very real reason is that I'm lazy - some of the stuff you're supposed to do in training is hard and I just don't want to add 40 miles of biking to my weekly running routine. But as I ran, and sweated, and ran, another thought occurred to me. The real reason I don't do these things.


As an adolescent I always wanted to be an iconoclast, someone who did not go with the flow. Most of us did that, I'm sure. I had the pseudo-long hair, the heavy metal t shirts, and so on. I dabbled in this experience and that thing and even got "arrested" once, which was cool at the time. Long story.

Well, you would think that over time that streak would kind of die out. As I get older, you might expect that the heavy metal t shirts would be put in the closet, then a box, then the trash, and the hair would first be cut short and then fall out. And indeed, these things have happened. But, there's still some streak of wild and crazy guyness left in me. And here it is! I don't eat acorns! I won't touch a rutabaga, and I don't do ice baths! Woot! I'm sticking it to the man! I never bought a heart rate monitor and maybe I never will! I rock! Some days, in the summer, I run indoors even if it's not raining! Carpe Diem, baby. When I tell people I don't do these things, what I'm really saying is, "I have something to say! It's better to burn out than fade away!" You can just hear the Def Leppard riff int he background.

So if you see me on the way to the school parent's night with my 2 children in our minivan driving from our house in the suburbs after I get off work at my 9 to 5 job in my tie, just remember, I'm a loner, a rebel, and anywhere I roam, where I lay my head is home (yea yea).

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Of Heroes and Duds

I first became aware of A. O. Scott when Roger Ebert went into the hospital again for his cancer, and Roeper started shopping around for a new co-host. No offense to Roeper, but I think the best show would feature Scott and Kevin Smith. (I'm sorry. There's nothing wrong with Roeper, but I just never warmed to him. I miss Gene too much.) I loved Scott even though he seemed far too well-spoken to be a natural in front of a camera--as on-camera failings go, it's a hell of a lot better than any of mine--and I found him easy to listen to. I subscribe to his Tivocasts and read his reviews, and I really enjoy them.

This weekend finds a quick little ditty by Scott on the state of superheroes in film, and his assertion is that The Dark Knight represents a peak, to be followed by a decline, mostly because the genre has rules (that whole Good and Evil thang) that make the films a little samey.

I'm no comic book expert, but it seems to me that this represents an opening to look at some heroes who aren't household names. What of it, people? Are there no Dark Horse-type comics (or heroes even more off the beaten path) who could really give the genre a good shake-up? Don't you think the time is right for a "hero" who makes Batman look a little unambiguous and sunny? Someone who makes Hancock look like Annie doing her final chorus of "Tomorrow?"

Attack of the Dinglefrapps*

I know you're probably not a freelancer, but even if you're not, this is pretty sound (and extremely funny) advice for anyone trying to get their spending under control. Plus anyone who can write about budgeting and incorporate the sentence, "The future is here, and it has a Huge Unrealistic Goal squatting in the middle of it" deserves to be read.

*The word "budget" makes people uncomfortable, so in the great tradition of English speakers everywhere, Rogue Ink has decided that a budget shall be a dinglefrapp and that budgeting will be dinglefrapping. Dude, how could you not click that link immediately?

Why are you still here? You must click the link.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Is it still 1960?

On the advice of TV junkies I admire, I decided to Tivo the Season 1 marathon of Mad Men on AMC. It's definitely sharply written, and the art direction, like that on Friday Night Lights, is probably raising the bar--not only for television, but for film as well.

Traveling back to 1960 is disturbing, but I think the toughest thing for me was the shift in my perspective that happened around episode 5. For the first few episodes I was thinking 1960 was alien--it was like watching the moon landing or a travel program about somewhere else I've never been. "Look at that apron. Look at that alarm clock. Look at the women doing their hair so they can make dinner for their husbands."

But after a few episodes 1960 started to seem familiar in a very unsettling way. The more things change, the more they stay the same. These women live in a world of unrelenting chauvinism. There's not a single married couple that doesn't seem to feel like strangers at least part of the time. There are catty women who are twice as dangerous as the men who swagger around feeling entitled to whatever they want. Here and there a character struggles feebly to escape, but often the struggle fails before the third act. At first these things were as quaint as the kitchen curtains, but the more I watch, I can't help but wonder whether we've just driven these things a little further underground.

As Coward said, "Rocks are infinitely more dangerous when they are submerged, and the sluggish waves of false sentiment and hypocrisy have been washing over reality far too long already in the art of this country." Maybe our art is finally learning its lesson, even if our reality is changing less than we'd like to admit.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

I'm back!

I'm really, really tired and really not all that coherent, but I have a computer that will access the internet and that isn't supervised by the Almighty Layoff Gods who wander, snarling, around my office. Not that I'm planning to avail myself of that much tonight, but I just thought I'd say that I've missed the blog, and thanks to Shifter for keeping the light on for me while I had my prolonged luddite phase. I will post, soon. But first, sleep, for it has been a long and arduous day of fighting with Dell and the Worst Delivery Service Ever, Which Should Be Banned Forever From Residential Brooklyn (I speak, of course, of DHL). (I know DHL was only protecting me, but not for nothing, I'm a little tired of people and organizations deciding what's best for me. Thank God my upstairs neighbor is a hot little 30-something charmer, that's all I have to say.)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

I gotta get me one of these!

Snarfing this post from Dubious Quality (one of the only blogs I read regularly, yes I know that's weird). It's a story about an unbreakable umbrella. They advertise this for self defense - I'm just thinking it may be able to stand up to having 2 kids below age 8 without being destroyed.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Another running thought

Short run today, just 6.2 miles, so short thought.

A few years back I had this running calender where I logged my miles and it had these little inspirational quotes in it to keep me from giving up on running or sawing my own leg off, or any other running related psychotic break. Well one of my favorites was this one...

"The first 20 or 30 minutes are your gift for your body, and the next 20 or 30 minutes are your gift for yourself."

And it had an explanation which I will now provide.

The first 20 or 30 minutes are the most beneficial in terms of cardiovascular health. After 20 or 30 minutes you reach a point of diminishing returns in terms of the good you do for your cardio - I wouldn't say a point of NO returns, because I truly believe someone who can run 20 miles is more fit than someone who runs only 3, but certainly you get a much bigger bang for your buck for those first 3. Which means that...

The next 20 or 30 minutes aren't for health - they're for the joy of running. Your time for yourself, for achievement, or whatever.

Beautiful, really, and right on. And actually inspirational for me, in a small way, as few things are. Except for the part they left out of the quote.

"And the next 2.5 HOURS are ...."

They didn't include that part. How do we account for the 20, 22, 26 mile runs? Here are some possibilities.

"The next 2.5 HOURS are your punishment for all the evil you've done in your past lives."

"The next 2.5 hours are because you never were all that bright, were you?"

"The next 2.5 hours are because that grizzly bear STILL hasn't stopped chasing you"

"The next 2.5 hours are for Ugho, the God of Sweat"

That's all I could come up with on my 1 hour run today. I'll have more the next time I have to run 3.5 hours.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Only the Government can do this Part 2

Ok, so I just have to tell you what happened with my ticket. Those who don't know what I'm talking about, you imaginary New Readers, go and read the first post on this topic below.

Alright, so I waited 14 days, as instructed, to Pay My Fine. Verily, did I wait more! Even unto 20 days did I wait. And then didst I approach the Hungarian Websites of Fire once more, confident in my ability to give gobbeths of money unto The Man. But lo! Once I had gone through the Hungarian fire, I did discover that there was still No Trace of my crime, my fine, or my ability to pay it. It was as if the crime did not exist. At this point shall I abandon ye olde way of talking, for it does tire my tongue and annoy your eyes. So there I am, staring at the computer screen, trying to figure out how to Pay The Fine. And I give up - I decide to Phone It In. I know, dangerous, but what can you do.

So I do it. I Phone It In. And get a message machine telling me that they're sorry, their phone payment option is out of order for the next 14 days. Thank you for calling. Wow. 14 more days - that will put me after my traffic court date and into the Penalty Round where lo, there is an issuance of warrants! (it slipped out, forgiveth me). So in desperation I call the courthouse, hoping that I can speak to a living person and figure out what to do.

I talked with a human being first thing - good sign. I told her my dilemma and she said that their phone payment system is down for 14 days. I said, literally "yes, I got that." I asked her about my mysterious citation that does not appear on their records. She had me read the ticket number and told me that it does not appear on their records. I spoketh not. She then said that they hadn't entered them into the system yet but would in a few weeks. I asked if I need to pay before the court date. She said, in an alarmed voice, Yes! I didn't point out that the court date is before they will have it entered into their records. I did not say "so how is it that you have 3 options of payment, including online payment, phone payment, and mail and yet I only have one way to pay?" I didn't ask how many of my tax (and citation) dollars went to pay for phone and online payment options that exist only for the temporally gifted (those clever guys who can pay in the future and it ends up showing up in the past). I didn't ask her about the inherent weirdness of the situation. No, this is the government. It's not her fault. It's not even that surprising that she sees nothing wrong with the situation. It's just that... Well, I mean, it's just that ....!

I mailed it in.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A few thoughts on running

Today was a 20 mile run. It was an odd one but worthwhile. When I run long distances I get a lot of random thoughts. Some of which will be placed here in the cavernous space that is Thwackum and Square.

On Nutrition.
Runners always get weird about what they eat. You ever notice that? After the run, you have to eat two rutabegas, and before the run, one acorn. And the night before, a rabbit. Or stuff like that. I've had conversations with runners about what we eat the night before a race or a long run. Isnt' that weird? Only runners do that. So we're weird about it. And most runners are very health oriented - go figure. I'm not, but that's another story. You know what I eat? When I'm lucky, a double flamethrower burger and fries from Dairy Queen. Cone is optional. I've done that about 4 times over the years and in each run I've had plenty of energy, no digestive problems, and a good run. I've had healthy food the night before and had no energy, plenty of digestive problems, and crappy runs (yes, I got the double reference there). Believe me, there is nothing like mile 14 out of 18 when you all you can think is "When you're sitting in your Chevy and you're feeling kind of heavy, d.... [you know the words, sing along]". So for some reason my body deals well with junk food, and less well with healthy food. I am an unhealthy runner. Which works just fine. The whole reason I run is because I don't have the self control to regulate what I eat. The rutabegas go against the whole point of running! So Dairy Queen, here I come.

On gratitude.
I got up at 4am for the run today. It was very good weather, and there was a moderate amount of wind. Now wind is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it cools you down, which you need almost always. On the other, when you're running uphill and into the wind, it's not fun. But what I've decided, about 3 years ago, is that if you're going to be grateful for one part of the wind, you've gotta be grateful for it all. What I mean is that when it cools you off, be grateful, and when you're running up hill into it, be grateful - it's all the same thing so you take the whole package, and be thankful for the whole package. Being a weirdo, I will actually think "thank you" when I feel the wind hitting me. It's as close as I come to communing with nature. Which ain't all that close.

On sleep.
Did I mention the 4am thing?! I am so NOT a morning person. But 3 hours of running feels so much better when you're done about 7:30 in the morning than when you're done at noon, believe me. Well, thing is, I couldn't sleep last night and tossed and turned until about 1am. So I got to do that run on 3 hours of sleep. Which actually didn't feel bad at all. The rest of the day felt crappy - I'm dead tired! But the run itself rocked. Speaking of which, when the alarm went off at 4am I was about 75% convinced to sleep in and do a 14 mile run instead, just to take a break. And then I decided to go ahead and get up and try it, and shorten it if I needed to, and that was a Good Idea cause it rocked. There ya have it.

The next long run I'll try to have some thoughts that are actually interesting, so that you'll have something a bit more stimulating to read. But for now I'm tired, and this is what I thought, so whaddya want? A thesis?

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

On top down versus bottom up

No, that's NOT what this post is about - get your mind out of the gutter, you perverts! Oops, I said the soft part loud again :o)

So here's what I've been thinking about (partly because I've been living this, and partly because we're all living this). There are at least two ways for change to be processed or instigated. Or perhaps there are two ways I'm viewing change (perhaps there are infinitely many other ways to view it). One way is top down. It would go like this. Someone at the top says "This situation needs to change, here is my Master Plan for how it will change to address the goals I've set, now go to it and do it." And then with that direction, perhaps with a lot of modification, input, and so forth, change happens. Note that the Master Plan does not have to be enacted exactly as prescribed, that's not implicit in Top Down, but there is a Master Plan, there is a clear Architect (or perhaps architectural committee), and it is, to some extent, orchestrated. When I'm thinking politics I think of the New Deal as perhaps an expression of Top Down change. True, conditions had to be right from the ground up, but you got this guy in office, FDR, and he had these tons of ideas and plans, and he pushed as many of them through as he could, and he made change happen. It was a restructuring and it was deliberate. So that's the way things could happen.SEE CAVEATS BELOW

Then you have change from the bottom up. That's more incremental change driven by group psychology, group action. It's the kind of change that takes place all over the place, with no orchestration, and often without people even realizing it is happening. Think about how the country is currently dealing with the oil crisis. Lots of little stuff happening, here and there. People drive a bit less, they buy energy efficient cars a bit more, they bitch and moan A LOT. The government tries to incentivize this, prohibit that, restrict the other thing. But a lot of those changes appear, at least from a distance, to be disjointed, often ineffectual or token in nature. Change DOES occur, but without the Master Plan or the architect. I think of this kind of change and I think of the Invisible Hand and good ol' Adam Smith. Never mind that the Invisible Hand may be flicking us all off (invisibly), but it's there and it's at work.

Now in my own business life I've seen both kinds of change. We have a Central Office, which is national, which has been hysterically mandating change - very top down. I don't know if there's a Master Plan in place, or if it's just knee jerk paranoia driving it, but aside from that it fits all the other criteria. And then we have bottom up change, driven by the consumers, or the staff, or the interaction of the two. I have come to kind of loathe the top down approach because when someone in Washington decides to tell me how to do my job, even though they have good intentions, they often screw things up on several levels: 1) they assume I don't know how to do my job and they have to tell me (and my staff) how to do it. Sometimes they demonstrate that they clearly know how to do our jobs much less well than we do, and so we are mandated to do things that make no sense. 2) They have no idea (and no way of knowing, or accounting for) the individual circumstances in over 600 national sites that they are dictating to. So even if what they are mandating makes sense overall, it may not make any sense in each local setting. Again we end up with mandates that in our own locality make no sense. 3) (and this may be particular to my setting) what they are TRYING to do is ensure that we do our jobs well. But our jobs are not the kind that you can simply say "do what the manual says" and it ensures they are well done. They THINK that's the case but it just is not. So they end up coming up with more and more regulation that a) does NOT improve our work and b) actually stifles the work that we do need to do.

Wow, what a rambling complaint. But the thing is that I don't think that top down change is necessarily always a bad idea. I think there are some situations that require a degree of top down in order to be resolved. Again, I think of my impressions, based on my very loose education, about the New Deal. Top Down seemed to work then. It seemed outright necessary. It was a situation when sitting back waiting for local control to balance things out was utterly failing, and so you needed that approach. I'm not saying it was all good, or all successful, but it seemed necessary. And so I wonder if there aren't situation in our lives now, such as the oil crisis, the economy (to a lesser extent, perhaps), the mortgage crisis, that could benefit from Top Down leadership. Then I wonder a few more things. First, what would it take to actually have Top Down leadership in these situations. Second, what are the risks of Top Down change. I think that Top Down can be very risky (so can Bottom Up actually, but for different reasons perhaps). The risks are similar to what I face at work, and what we all may face nationally.


I believe that the present administration has attempted a Top Down leadership style and it seems to have failed. What I mean is that the present administration seems to have been very much into "do it this way because I said, I don't want to hear any other opinions, and screw the local complexities of the situation." For example, oh I don't know, "Who cares if they had nothing to do with 9/11 or any terrorism, we're invading anyway!" Screams top down to me. Now this may be instructive in a few ways. First, what does it take to be able to do Top Down. I'd say a national crisis helps a lot. 9/11 was such a crisis, and for a time Top Down was quite possible, and they really played it up. New Deal - same thing. Get people scared, poor, dying, what have you, and you can do Top Down. Also doesn't hurt to have majorities in both houses and the Supreme Court. Next, what happens if you have poor leadership in a Top Down situation? Things get bad. My own belief (just my opinion, but what else am I going to write here) is that things are worse now than 8 years ago. My own belief is that some (not all) of this is from poor leadership. Top Down.

So why would I, or anyone, want Top Down change? Well I think that, as I said, some situations may require it. Change, including political, economic, social revolutions, can occur bottom up, no doubt about it. But you can't always afford to wait. Sometimes powerful and good leadership can make things happen faster and perhaps much better. Perhaps if we had good leadership with some guts behind it years back we would not be so dependent on oil right now, for example . (Yes, you could argue that we had great leadership - just leadership that happened to own a lot of stock in oil companies. But that's a different post and one I know even less about). Perhaps if we have good leadership now we can get out of some of these things faster. Perhaps.

So then a lot of other questions: what are the characteristics of a good leader, able to instigate and promote top down change without screwing things up too much? What are the conditions necessary for such a leader to act? Another interesting idea is applying these concepts to change that happens in our own personal lives. What changes have you made, have I made, in your/my life that was top down, i.e., deliberate, orchestrated, goal driven, planful? What changes have we made that have just kind of happened - the accumulation of millions of tiny day to day choices, events, preferences, that have happened without us even realizing it? Are there pros/cons from the two on a personal level that match those on the macro level? Just wondering. More questions abound, but those are at the front of my mind.

Now, IF anyone was reading this, I'd invite them to let me know what they think of this. What ideas they have, and so forth. Normally I'd hesitate to put such a long and potentially political post in a blog when it's out of character, but I figure anyone who comes here is used to some change around (we added a separate author half way through for Chrissakes). And perhaps long and convoluted is better than silence? You be the judge :o)


1) I know very little about the New Deal, or any politics, from an academic sense. So anyone reading this with more sense of history may want to comment and point out some of my glaring errors.

2) As I write this I'm thinking that the whole top-down, bottom-up dichotomy is a construct, just as all ideas are, and may not necessarily be the most useful construct. There may be other ways to categorize change and change forces that could lead to more interesting or fruitful discussions. These are just the ones I'm thinking of at the moment.

Ok, thanks for the caveats, take me Back to the Top