Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Small (very small) Achievement

I almost hesitate to mention this, because what with Shifter talking about running 5 or 6 miles at lunch it seems...well, unnewsworthy. But those of you who know me know that this is an achievement. I made it to the gym before work today and did a measley 3.1 miles on the treadmill.

Monday, April 27, 2009

A new relatioship with fat

I had a random thought about fat this morning. It's really weird that we all (including me) spend time worrying about fat. It's like we view fat as the enemy that must be destroyed, and the ultimate goal in life is to eradicate fat as we know it. Verily, the empire of fat shall fall, and the dawn of a new skinny era will begin. And all that.

But fat exists for a purpose, right? It's not like God, or Darwin, decided that we all needed an enemy within who should precede us (on our stomachs) and follow us around (on our butts) to keep us humble. Fat is the body's way of storing energy, right? So picture, if you will, the part of your brain that regulates metabolism as a kindly old auntie. You're pooped, out of energy. Auntie steps out soothingly "There there dear, I've got some nice fat stored up from that triple-whopper-cheese-n-barbeque burger you ate last Tuesday, we'll have you right as rain in no time." And if you're really tired, she might say "Good thing you had that strawberry milkshake last night, that fat'll do just the trick!" Conversely, when you go out and eat a lasagna (not a piece of lasagna, mind you, simply a lasagna) Auntie would be delighted "Oh, wonderful! We'll store that all in the fat cells, shall we! I'm sure this will come in handy later!" Yes, that's the way it should be. Good ol' auntie processing the fat, for the good of all, and us eating whatever the hell we want.

But for whatever reason (don't bother me with reality, now) we have this different relationship with fat. It is indeed the enemy. The beast. And so I guess the ideal would be that auntie has a differnet attitude. "Will you look at all this crap! Now I gotta go and make more fat to store all this stuff!" She's the worst sort of pack rat, never throwing anything away and then we have to haul all this crap around with us on our thighs. Yes, I suppose the ideal would be that when you're really pushing yourself physically there will be no fat there at all. Auntie might be a bit frantic at that "You've got no fat left to burn! The engines, cap'n, they canna go any faster!" (lapsing into Auntie crossed with Scotty there, or Auntie Scotty if you will). For some reason, we want Auntie Scotty to be freaked out and all out of fat all the time. And then, why then, we'll really truly be happy.

And as someone who is 30 pounds lighter than I was 5 years ago, and still just as tired, let me join many dieting Americans in saying "Yeah, right."

Skipping Spring

I don't know about other parts of the country, but in New England we seem to be skipping spring this year.  Last weekend I was still turning on the gas fireplace to take the chill off the downstairs part of my apartment, and this weekend I went upstairs and immediately opened a window because it was positively stifling.  Last weekend I was out wearing a fleece and sweats, and this weekend I was wearing a tank all by itself.
Don't get me wrong.  Tulips came up, trees bloomed.  I've never seen so many flowering trees in all my born days.  Every other tree on Long Island seems to have flowers--there are huge flowers that look like magnificent orchids, and teeny flowers that look like orange blossoms, and even little green flowers that look like little tufts of leaf.  It's excruciatingly beautiful, and it's hard to remind myself that Brooklyn was so much better.
But I really love spring and fall.  And after that winter is probably my favorite season.  Summer has got to be my least favorite.  It means that I have to go around wearing far too little clothing on my nearly-40-year-old body.  It's when I discover that I've totally failed to hit the gym.  It's when I acquire a permanent moist sheen over my face that doesn't disappear until...well, until fall.  It's when I'm tempted to go swimming...until I remember that a bathing suit is probably my all-time least-favorite article of clothing.
But who knows?  Maybe Long Island has some kind of summer that I'm better suited for.  After all the flowers it's been bringing me, day in, day out, I'm just about willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.
Who'd have thunk it?  Long Island is wearing me down.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Did I tell you that I cried today?

Just Kidding! This is officially not a Diary Post, I promise, but I did want to share a brief personal observation. A really cool thing in a person's life is when they realize that their spouse of 13 years still has the ability to surprise them.

Really cool.

That wasn't too diary like, was it?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

You keep using that word, I don't think it means what you think it means...

Well, as you've all no doubt heard, part of the Tax Day fun was a series of tea parties held around the country where people commemorated the Boston Tea Party in various ways. This was intended to be a protest about taxation. There are just, oh, a few things to say about this. First, it seems to put down the Boston Tea Party. I mean that was all about protesting taxation without representation, right? But now we have taxation with representation, right? That's, uh, kind of part of the point of the democracy, right? In fact, many of the people who are attending or sponsoring or hailing the tea parties are the representation. What does it mean when a congressman is protesting taxation without representation? Do you think they kind of forgot an important part of their job, there? Maybe they should go and represent instead of throwing tea parties? But I dunno, maybe I'm just a little off here.

What is more funny, and more definite, is that a lot of conservatives have been referring to the practice of the tea parties as "tea bagging" because the tea parties involve tea bags. Here is where our little Inigo quote from Princess Bride comes in handy. Turns out "tea bagging" doesn't mean with they think it means. I'm not sure how to explain this politely, but, uhm, it means, uhm, oral contact with someone's dangly naughty bits. Ahem. A more complete (but not pornographic) definition is here. So as conservative leaders are encouraging tea bagging, well, it has this hidden message. Knowing this, if you're up for a laugh, check out this video, which is again non-pornographic but quite amusing, if only to see the reporters, who clearly know what tea bagging means, try to talk about this with a straight face.

Why do I do this to myself?

Shifter here,

Lest someone accuse me of giving an overly positive picture of the whole running phenomenon, let me share a bit on today's run. This was 22 miles, the longest I do for pre-marathon training, and if all goes well it takes about 3 hours and 18 minutes (that would be totally on pace). I went out a bit too fast, but settled down to a 9 minute pace that I held pretty consistently up until about mile 19. Then, at exactly 19.6 miles, I was walking. It was quite odd, in that I didn't plan on walking. I had no intention of walking. I was running up this hill, thinking things like "2.4 miles to go" and then there I was, walking. Now I'm not a runner who walks on the long runs. Lots do, but I don't. So that means that when I start walking on a run, it's Bad News. Why? Because if I'm walking it means I'm running totally on empty (if you'll pardon the pun) and the remaining miles of the run, however many there are, will have to be run entirely on will power and masochism. 2.4 miles is a really long way when all you want to do is lay down on the side of the road and die. A really long way.

So I know you're all sitting in suspense, dear imaginary folk, so I'll tell you that I finished the 22 but ended up walking probably about .5 miles all told. My total time was not that bad, 3 hours 21 minutes. But by the time I limped up the drive way and collapsed on the lawn, I was not a happy camper. Everything hurt. Everything. Back, legs, feet, hips, butt, you name it, and it hurt. And I wasn't even injured! This is just the way 22 miles feels on a bad day! My wife came out to say hi and all I could say was "Why do I do this to myself?" and she said "I've been wondering that for a long time."

Of course there are just loads of reasons I do this to myself, and having a chance to think of blog posts is just one of them. But those reasons were not really on my mind at the moment. What a pain! The sick thing is that I'll be back out there on Monday going for a fast 7, and I'm really looking forward, truly, to the chance to do 26.2 miles on May 31. Weird, weird Shifter.

Friday, April 24, 2009

This American Life Livecast

Last night I attended the "This American Life" livecast, which is an annual event where the radio show is broadcast live to theaters all around the country.  I won't talk about all the details because it will air this weekend (or you can download the podcast on iTunes).  I was surprised, thrilled and (in a very, very limited way) disappointed.
The disappointment was minimal.  I was really looking forward to seeing David Rakoff, because I thoroughly enjoyed his hilarious comments on television in last year's live episode.  "Thoroughly enjoyed" is inadequate--I had to run my mp3 player back over and over to replay his description of one of the heroines of "My Super Sweet Sixteen."  But apparently David was relegated to a separate video, which I'll have to hunt down this weekend.
I was surprised because the tone was a wee bit darker than last year's episode.  I don't have a problem with dark.  One of the stories made me cry, and I don't have a problem with that, either.  Both "This American Life" and the Moth podcast dip into the sadder side of life occasionally--personally I never consider these stories dark.  Life isn't all fabulous, and most of the stories are about getting something good about something bad--even if sometimes the only good thing that you can get out of it is the fact that you tried to get something good out of something bad...if you see what I mean.  Anyway, I've come to accept that most people think of this as "dark," and there was a definite downbeat turn to this year's livecast.
It didn't make it any less thrilling for me, though.  The most moving story was Dan Savage's beautiful tribute to his mother, who passed away this year.  I really identified with Dan's feelings about growing up Catholic, and it was great to hear about his mother's negotiation of her faith, especially once she knew that Dan was gay.  Dan's story was sweet and wistful and powerful, and I really appreciated the opportunity to share it, even though there's something heartbreaking about watching someone's voice catch as he tries to talk about someone he misses so much.
The close second, for me, was Mike Birbiglia's narrative of the obsession he developed after being t-boned by a drunk driver.  The surprise of the story was well worth preserving--I'll just say that our theater lapsed into dead silence, followed by a collective gasp and a palpable sense of wonder.  This is the kind of story for which the phrase, "truth is stranger than fiction" was coined.  I'm telling you, it's not the kind of story people seem to want to sit down for these days, but it's the good kind.
If any of that sounds like your bag, you can get the podcast from iTunes, check the listings for your local public radio station for This American Life, or see it the theater again on May 7.

If You Want To Save Chuck, Buy Subway Monday

J.P. blogs at Time that Chuck viewers plan to eat at Subway en masse in an effort to save the show.
I've written before about how much I love Chuck.  I think it's a smart, funny show.  Is it going to change the world or make me rethink my positions on philosophy and religion?  No.  Are there TV programs that do that for me?  Yes.  But when I want to be entertained, Chuck is a great go-to show.  It's fun, it's weirdly innocent, and the characters are charming and hopeful and wonderfully affirming. 
I'm a little concerned that if it's renewed it will struggle a little next season.  Its concept is becoming labored, and you can see the writers trying to negotiate their way out of the box that made the show entertaining and trying to prove that it can be entertaining in a new and different space. 
I dearly wish that we lived in a world where writers had the opportunity to solve problems, rather than being told, "wow, that concept that made us green-light your show is now a hurdle, so we're gonna have to let you go."  A clever show like "Pushing Daisies" could totally have risen to the challenge of providing something that no one else on TV was giving us if they'd been given a chance to get over the inevitable hump that a witty concept presents its creators with around season two.  Writers do some truly awesome work when they're solving problems.  I understand that there's this vogue for shows that are (or at least look) planned to the nth detail from the word go, and I admit to being wholly seduced by this idea.  But I'm a fickle, fickle viewer, and I'm perfectly happy to be equally seduced by an innovative solution to a tricky problem.
I think Chuck has the potential to solve this problem where a show like Prison Break has failed.  I think J.P. has it right--I can find a better deli any day of the week and it would be awesome, but I'm willing to buy a sandwich on Monday on the off chance that it sends a message to the humans who have a real say about whether or not Chuck airs.
I'm not sure how much pull imaginary readers have as a demographic, but if any imaginary readers want to join me on Monday, I'd be happy to have you.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Caution! Hot water is extremely hot.

That very sign adorns most restrooms in the building where I work. "Caution: Hot water is extremely hot." I usually make fun of it. I speculate if perhaps they should add a bit more information. Caution, water is also wet! Cuation, wet water is damp! Caution, moving air is moving! Caution, trash is thrown away frequently! The list goes on and on. But today, well today I found that the sign is in the wrong polarity as well.

Let me explain. Today I went for a run at lunch. I do that about once a week when I can. I'd do it more if I got more actual lunches I didn't have to work through. Running at lunch is awesome - I can get in a 5 or 6 mile run without having to get up at 5 in the morning to do it. Instead of taking in all these calories at lunch I burn 800 or so. And sometimes the ability to spend 50 minutes running is all that forms the separation from promotion and prison (as in "he said one more stupid thing in that meeting and I had to kill him" prison). The problem, though, with running at lunch is that you sweat. My devoted imaginary readers, who have read lo these many moons, know that ol' Shifter has been gifted with the sweat glands of 4 adult men, and a baboon. Verily, when Shifter does sweat, droughts in the area become less severe. River levels rise. Shifter is not allowed to run in times of flood warnings. That is the sweating, huffing yeti that is Shifter. (I'm afraid my internet dating prospects may just have plumeted! Oh my!)

So the problem, dear imaginables, is that no one wants to go to a meeting just after lunch with a man who is sweating like 4 grown men and a baboon. They object for some reason. They wrinkle their noses. They move away. They wear rain coats. Never fear, though, Shifter has an answer! He happens to have a rest room right outside of his office that has ... wait for it ... a shower! Yes, that's right, part of the absolute bizarreness of Shifter's work situation is that while he can't park less than half a mile from his office, and he is not allowed to come in 10 minutes late EVER even if he stays 2 hours late every night, he has a shower next to his office. This is so bizarre, in fact, that it causes Shifter to lapse into the third person with very little notice. He'll try to stop that now.

So, I've got a shower next to my office, and I use it after the run. But having the sweat glands of 4 men, plus a baboon, I can take a nice cool shower and still be sweating for quite a while. I sweat 4 times (plus a baboon) as long, after all. So I take COLD showers. So today I put the water on as cold as it would go, cause I had a meeting right after my run and I needed to cool down. Logical, eh?

Well, thing is, there's different kinds of cold. There's cold like water out of the tap. Then there's cold like water out of the "chilled water" setting in your refrigerator. Then there's cold like right under the ice in the polar regions. And then ther'es Oh. My. God. Well I got into the shower today and, yup, Oh. My. God. That @#$er was COLD. Real cold! Intensely cold! Bizarro cold! My muscles were seizing up under the spray. It took 5 mintues to work up the strength to immerse my whole body in the frigid hail that was my shower. I was shivering. I could almost see my breath! (Well, not the last 2, but the rest is all true). I mean Damn. That was cold. But I'll tell you, I was not sweating when I went to my meeting. I think my sweat glands were still in frozen shock.

But that's not the point.

The point is they need a new sign in the restrooms where I work. "Caution, Cold water is Extermely Cold." Not many people will need it, but those frozen few will really need it.

I Would Pay For This

Just to be perfectly clear, this is Katy, not Shifter.  Shifter doesn't have any problems with math.  Shifter can do your statistics.  Shifter can program your computer.
I'd love to do statistics and program computers, but I need some serious math remediation.  Something like this would be ideal.  I'd pay for it--it wouldn't have to be free or anything.  But what I need is someone to explain the basics and explain them until I get them. 
It could be a while....

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Two of My Favorite Things

More a link than a post. Two of my favorite things are together again--Wired Magazine and Neil Gaiman. Scott Thill interviews Neil Gaiman about killing off Batman.

TV on the Radio

I've blogged about these guys before, raving about how fun it is to run to Wolf Like Me, but I just got a hold of their latest album (Dear Science, 2008) and I have to rave a bit more. These guys are really different, very catchy, and have some way cool lyrics. I get their songs stuck in my head for days, which is annoying as hell but a tribute to how much I like the songs. And I have to admit it's fun for an old guy like me to be finding new songs by new bands (thanks to my much younger brother and coworkers, of course).

As much as I like music, and as many songs I've tried to memorize over the years (lyrics only, mind you), I'm really clueless about music. So I was pleasantly surprised when I hard this on NPR describing how "masterful" and "blending" they are with "complex interchanges" between lyrics and music. All very cool, but I had no idea! So if you don't happen to have listened to them, and you're curious, check out the NPR story linked above for a little taste.

Living the Dream

I was reading the BBC News website today, and for whatever reason I was drawn to this article alleging a link between schizophrenia and gluten.  (What a bummer.  Gluten is so delicious--scientists need to stop finding things that suck about it.)  But what I found arresting was the photo of the team of scientists who are studying this link between schizophrenia and diabetes.
That's my dream, people.  Someday I want to be able to go to work and know that I am working with people who respect me because of the work I do, and not because I spend extra time every day trying to look like them.  Seriously, that's all I want.  My heroines are Abby on NCIS and Garcia on Criminal Minds.  It's not that I necessarily want purple hair or visible tattoos.  But I wish I worked someplace where it was possible to be so qualified that my boss would be willing to overlook them.
And look, it's not impossible.

Monday, April 20, 2009

My problem with "The Logic of Life"

I'm currently reading "The Logic of Life" by this economist, Tim Harford. I don't read a lot of nonfiction in my own time. I guess I tend to feel like if I'm not at work, I don't want to work at reading anything. I stick to sci fi/fantasy with the occasional book on computers or statistics if I'm feeling a lot of energy. But this book is not work, it's an easy read, and well written. And it's the first book I've ever read by an economist. What is interesting about it is that Harford is part of this "new breed" of economists who try to use economic principles to understand all human behavior, not just, well, economics. So he uses the idea of "rational people" to explain all sorts of irrational behavior. Such as prostitution, divorce, screwed up bosses, and teenage oral sex. Yup, he's wide ranging. He's not explaining all of that in terms of dollars and cents, it's not that kind of economics. Instead he's explaining it in terms of rational choices that maximize benefits and minimize losses. And he doesn't do a bad job at it - it makes you think!

As I type the premise it sounds either blatantly obvious or really silly, but as he writes it it is neither. Well written, as I said. My main problem with it is not so much the theories being put forth, which I find interesting, but some of the ways the theories are justified. What he, and some of the other economists he cites, seem to do is to look at large group behavior (say the behavior of teenage girls in a city, state, or country) and use that as proof or disproof of their theories. That may seem logical but it has a kind of post-hoc reasoning that sets my teeth on edge. The problem with post-hoc reasoning is that you take a look at an observed fact and then you say "ah, well, it's obviously because of X!" But it's typically possible to come up with a series of other, perhaps equally plausible, explanations, let's say theories A, B, and C. So now you don't know is observation Y due to X, or is it A, B, or C, or (most likley), is it a little bit of all of those?

I tend to view individual behavior as multiply determined, meaning that we can usually find a number of plausible and even real explanations for any single action. I'm writing this blog because I want to communicate, and because I want to achieve a goal of how many posts I write a month, and because I want to work out some of what bugs me about this book, and because I want to avoid working on this boring stuff I've got to do. All of those are true, so it's multiply determined. If that is true of an individual action, how much more multiply determined might a behavioral trend within a population be? And how many more plausible explanations, beyond or even in contradiction of X, can we come up with for the observations we make of that population? And given that, how can we really conclude that we've proven theory X from even a string of interesting observations from populations. Another problem with that line of reasoning is that it's easy to "cherry pick." You'll say "Let me tell you about the six different population trends I've found that prove theory X!" And all fit really well with the theory. But then you either don't know, or even worse know but fail to report, the 456 other observations that fail to confirm theory X. I'm taking this to an extreme here, but hopefully it illustrates the point.

The funny thing is that this problem with his reasoning doesn't necessarily invalidate all of the points that are made. I still agree or at least find myself interested in many of his assertions. It just annoys me! At first I was thinking that perhaps economics just has a different way of hypothesis testing than I've been trained in, and that's certainly plausible. At the same time, I'm having to remind myself that this is an economics book for a wide audience, a "pop economics" book, if you will. I know that books written in my field for popular consumption tend to dumb things down and oversimplify to an extent that I sometimes find appalling. So I won't generalize to all of economics based on one book, and I won't discount all of what I'm reading based on one line of evidence. But I'm still annoyed.

Media Monkey update

Well, I've been monkeying around with Media Monkey on and off for the past couple of weeks. Overall I'd say it's not bad. It's got an automatic fade in/out for songs that may bug some people but that I kind of like. The one criticism that I've got is that it's a bit clunky when you rip a CD. It doesn't do an automatic online check to get the album info, then offers to rip the tracks as unknown artist/unknown name, which is a pain in the ass. So then you have to cancel the rip process, tell it to go and grab the track info from the internet, and then do the ripping. But once you do that, you're good to go.

On the other hand, I've had fun listening ot David Bowie and TV on the Radio while working/playing the past few days. So that's all good. And it synchs just fine with the Sansa Clip, and free, so it's a keeper methinks. So for that vast portion of our vast imaginary audience that uses Sansa Clip MP3 players can interface with their computers in peace once more.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Have you noticed that...

Another random thought from my run this morning. As I was pulling up about mile 5 I was considering how most of us have watched our 401K's turn into 201K's in the course of about 4 months. And I was just noticing that nobody is saying that we should privatize social security through private investment accounts anymore. Is it just me, or was that a really, really, really bad idea.

Stink like the rest of us...

I was out for a run this morning which was really exciting. This is the first morning it's felt warm enough (i.e., above freezing) before work so that I could go out for my 7 miles instead of having to do it on a treadmill. It was awesome. As I was running though, I ran past this young lady running in the other direction. I waved and she waved and that was that but for the next several minutes, as I ran back along the way she had just come from, I could smell a perfumed, powdery smell. It took me a second to realize that I was smelling her perfume, or her deoderant, or whatever. And all I could think was "Jesus Christ, you're a runner! Just stink like the rest of us!"

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Happy Tax Day

Shifter here. Tax day is such a touchy subject that I need a disclaimer.

This post may piss some people off. If so, my apologies - I'm not trying to piss you off. I'm ranting a bit, but not to piss you off. Just ranting here. I've got a few facts here and there but this is mostly opinion, so take it for what it's worth. Also, I haven't discussed this with Katy, so if you hate it, it's all me, not her :o)

It seems appropriate, on this, the 15th of April, when Americans everywhere are paying taxes and complaining about it, to pause and reflect on those selfsame taxes. Americans simply love to complain about taxes. Have you noticed that? I mean if you want to get people going, talk about taxes. If you want to mobilize a voting block, talk about taxes. If you want to eat up hours of television or air time, talk about taxes. If you want to annoy the hell out of me ... you get the picture.

What bugs me about complaining about taxes is not that I think they should not be discussed. On the contrary. Taxes are a primary means of both facilitating the will of the government (by collecting resources that fund it) and of implementing that self same will (by preferentially helping or hindering segments of society through tax breaks or increased taxes). In a democracy, where presumably people have some direct influence on who is in the government, and consequently an indirect influence on what is taxed and how taxes are spent, taxes thus represent an expression of the will of the people. They are one of the main ways that we contribute to society as a whole. So of course, they should absolutely be discussed, scrutinized, analyzed, and periodically reformed as needed. We should study them and find if we approve or disapprove of how the government is expressing our will. I often don't approve, but that's not the point of this post.

What I object to, as you can already tell from my preceding sentences, is the idea that taxes represent some form of theft, from individuals, by the government. That idea seems ridiculous to me if you believe we live in a democracy. Oddly enough the same people who are the most shrill about how glorious American democracy is are also the most strident in their yelling about taxes. If democracy is as wonderful as you say, then aren't taxes an implementation of your will? If that's the case, what are you whining about? How else do you think a society will take care of itself, both on an internal and external front? Guess what part of government eats up the largest part of our tax dollars? It isn't welfare. It isn't social security. It's foreign affairs, including national defense. Yup, the armed forces. The same people who yell the loudest about taxes are also the people who yell the loudest about needing a strong armed forces. Isn't that a little inconsistent? Those same people also yell the loudest about cutting programs that are, for the most part, a relatively small part of the national budget. To me, paying taxes isn't being robbed - it's being responsible. Paying for services and caring for others. It's easy to hate the government, and mistrust it, but what corporation do you want to trust to police your streets, secure your borders, safeguard public health, (I'm having to stretch to type this next one) regulate your markets? I'm not saying the government does a great job for this, but I'm questioning the idea that we should expect it to be done for free, or that "private industry" could magically do it all better, cheaper, and more dependably. If Wallstreet has shown us nothing else, it's that the market does not always lead to the most reliable outcome.

The whole tax debate gets even more ridiculous. When I was in undergrad, back in the 1990s, the US had some of the lowest tax rates in the industrialized world. The lowest. And people complained. Since then a lot of things have changed. But that hasn't. In 2000 we continued to be in the lower end of the spectrum. Then, under Bush, we cut them. So guess what, we spend lots less on taxes than other countries. At the same time, we have the largest and most advanced military in the world. Which ain't cheap. So why are we all complaining?

I guess there are loads of answers to that - some of which are good and some that aren't. One reason is I think most of us are misinformed. People are really surprised when I suggest we have a low tax rate. They're just stunned. That's a bad reason. People also feel out of touch with the government, that they have no say in what is happening - that's unfortunate but it makes sense to me as a reason. And people are worried about spending a lot of money when the government doesn't have a lot. That's a great reason. The only problem with that in the context of a tax debate is that it just seems to me one responsible thing to do about that is to .... raise taxes.

Thanks for listening to the rant. I'll keep the politics down in the next few posts :o)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Good Day To Work Anywhere But Amazon

I deal with software glitches all day, and I gotta say, I'm a wee bit skeptical of Amazon's explanation of the de-ranking of gay and lesbian literature.  If you hadn't noticed that the world was atwitter with this news over the last two days, a good summary is available here.  And an alternate explanation is available here.  To me the alternate explanation sounds more plausible, but whatever--the rule with anything like this is to fix first and blame later, so it could be quite some time before the public gets a definitive answer, if ever.
The clear winner is twitter.  I'm still not on facebook despite a billion invitations to view friends' photos there, so it'll be a long, long time before I'm tweeting anyone.  But well-played, twitter.  Nicely done.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Bad split ... Bad runner .... but good time.

The first four words of the title have to be read as if addressing a naughty dog. Bad split, bad runner! Blogger won't let me italicize titles, or at least I haven't found out how yet.

20 mile run yesterday. I ran around a lake instead of my usual hilly course because I'm freaking tired of hills. When I went out I totally blew my first 2 miles, as in both were sub 8 pace and they should have been about 9 - went out way too fast. Which, thinking back on our earlier post about split times, we all know means not a good thing. I had the hardest time slowing down without big long hills to slow me down. So I knew right away even splits were out, unless I expected to have a few sub-8's in me around mile 20, which will NEVER happen. About mile 7 I decided to just push as hard as I could for the first 13 miles, build up a good cushion, so that if I died in the last 7 miles (which I expected to do) I'd still have an ok time. I did the first 13.1 miles in 1 hour 49 minutes, which is a very respectable time. So at that point I knew I could do 10 minute miles the rest of the run and still finish in under a 3 hour, which is the goal. And I did end up slowing down, but my final time was 2 hours 53 minutes, which is an average 8:37 pace, which is WAY better than I expected. That is I believe the fastest yet I've done a 20 mile run in.

What was interesting (to me, anyway) was that in the last 7 miles I felt like I was running really slow, because I was really tired, but I consistently kept coming in 9:30 or less. I'm taking that as a good sign - if 9:30 is like a really slow mile for me it bodes well for my ability to pull of 26.2 at a 9 minute pace. Especially if I can get the damn splits right.

XFCE - who knew?

Well, my brother called me yesterday to tell me that he loved me. Well, no, but he called me to tell me that I should use the XFCE desktop with my linux box instead of the Gnome desktop that is bundled with Ubuntu. So what does that mean? Well, as I understand it Linux is the actual operating system that interacts with the hardware and handles things like memory allocation and so forth. The desktop is a separate program that runs in the background and manages things like menus, icons, shortcuts, and other "environmental" variables. The fancier the desktop, the more resources are used, and the less resources available for things like, oh I don't know, the programs you want to run. Soooo, when I use XFCE, which is a "lightweight" (i.e., less resource intensive) desktop there is more processor capacity and memory availablef or applications and .... drum roll please ... I can play MOO on the linux box :o) And sure enough, my bro is right, and XFCE is less of a resource hog and so all is right with the linux box. I still may upgrade it, but more for the fun of it. And yes, this post is brought to you by linux. Linux is definitely turning into a Learning Experience for me. If you want to get confused, try reading some of the "non newbee" forums for linux. It's like martians speaking ancient greek underwater :o)

What is actually pretty impressive is that I am positive if I was running Windows this rig could NOT run MOO on Dosbox because Windows is very resource intensive. All that pretty stuff on Windows eats up a lot of capacity, and usually just leads to software conflicts anyway. So, go linux.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Linux box ... still chugging along after all these days....

Yup, the last two posts are brought to you by linux, the operating system so good it would be a crime to charge for it. I'm gonna learn this damn OS if it kills me. But in the mean time I'm finding some of the limits, not of linux, but of the box I've got it on. As I've said, I'm running this on a system that is, well, venerable. Ancestral, perhaps. Worthy of respect. Yes, I'm running this on your grandmother's computer. The good news is the Ubuntu Linux is NOT a system hog - it boots up faster on this Flintstone's engine than XP on my rocket powered monster (well, not really, but by comparison). And it is stable. And all that.


Modern applications still push the limits of a 1.0GB system with 512K SDRAM. Watching video on Hulu (Dr. Horrible of course- did you even need to ask?) can work as long as you don't try full size - full size ends up looking like stop motion claymation. Dosbox can run games from the 1980s but when you hit the 1990s they're pushing the system resources. Neither of these is what is considered a high end application these days, so I'm not even going to try anything really demanding. Again, this isn't linux's fault. Linux is like a life jacket keeping an 800 pound gorilla afloat in a sea of pudding - it can keep it up but just barely, and if I add too much weight she's going under. Windows, on the other hand, would be like a 75 pound weight tied to the same gorilla in the same sea. It would be very hard to get the gorilla to do anything in that situation other than gasp for air between pudding choked gurgles. No, I don't know why I said sea of pudding, it just fits, damnit.

So the question is, do I drop a bit more money to make my linux box more usable when I've got, well, a few other pc's in the house that can already do the job? ? My brain says one thing, and my heart says shut the hell up. But I should probably go now anyway - the gorilla is getting tired.

More on Doctor Horrible!

I know you've all been missing it - more raving and fun about DocHorr. Well, here's your fix for now. Sure, it's about 9 months out of date, but here is a link to the NPR story on Dr. Horrible himself!

Some interesting factoids and quotes:

"Working on the Web gave Whedon a new kind of creative freedom. He declines to disclose exactly how much the production cost, but says it's in the low six figures."

"This is not just fun video. This is what we've all been waiting for," says Saffo. "It's completely new. It's not a copy of what we did on TV, and it's not a copy of the things we've been doing on the Web so far ... It's a new kind of video experience. And who would have thunk that Doogie Howser can sing?"

The first, quote, above, struck me because I think Joss Whedon needs lots of creative freedom. I base this almost entirely on Firefly, because that was an awesome series, one of my favorites ever, that was cancelled halfway through the first season because the studio just didn't get it. I think obviously a sizeable fan base did get it, because DVD sales were terrific, but it was canned and that was that. So a medium where good ol' Joss can just run with it strikes me as a Good Thing.

So check out the NPR story - it's only 4 minutes long, and a quicker read if you're in a hurry. Happy Tuesday.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Media Monkey to the Rescue??

Well, I checked out Tweakhound's blog (recommended for people who want geek info on Windows), and found a recommendation for a freeware media player: Media Monkey. I downloaded it yesterday and so far I've been pleased. It loads in a reasonable amount of time, has a lot of features for organizing your library, and, most importantly, synchs with the Sansa clip in a reasonable fashion. There is a "Gold" (aka gimme money) version but the freeware version seems to have everything I need for now. If it ends up melting my cpu I'll let you know. As soon as I replace the cpu, that is.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

April Fools Joke Classics

For your April Fools joke this year we're doing our post on April 5. Take a look at the link above - it's a list of the top 100 April Fools jokes of all time. My favorite one was the one on Metric Time, #15, and you can actually hear the broadcast with the hoax (from Canada), here. Some other great ones are the spaghetti harvest and the purchase of the liberty bell by Taco Bell. As usual, I've stolen this post (well, the Metric time link, anyway), from Bill Harris's Dubious Quality blog. He gives good links :o)

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Sansa Clip MP3 + Me = :o(

I went out for a 20 mile run today (yay me) wearing my handy dandy Sansa 4MG Clip, a little Mp3 player that is cheap and generally quite good. Last night, in preparation, I set up a playlist that was 3 hours long because I was hoping to be running for 3 hours. I loaded it with heaps of Old Fashioned Goodness and New Fangled Coolness and was looking forward to listening as I ran. I got out, started running, and about 10 miles in (or an hour and a half) something annoying happened - my playlist restarted at the beginning. Sadly, I knew what that meant. Only half of the playlist had made it onto my MP3 player last night when I synched it. WTF? This same thing happened to me 2 weeks ago in my last 20 mile run, only then it was 1 hour into the run (so I heard the same set of songs 3 times before I was done).

Now this is probably because I'm using Songbird for my media player, which I generally like because it's freeware, it's not Microsoft, and it has a lot of functionality to it. But it is very newly developed and so glitches clearly remain (like not downloading songs right to my MP3 player). I would use Windows Media Player except that for some reason any time I hook my Sansa up to the USB port Media Player freezes. I've tried updating Media Player, updating the firmware on the Sansa, and numerous web searches. To no avail. So I went to Songbird and get this crap. It's not that I don't like the first hour (or hour and a half) of the playlists I put together - I like them a lot, or I wouldn't put the songs on. It's just that I like the songs that didn't make it onto the Clip just as much. In fact for today I had the songs set up in an order where the slower, so so songs were at the start and then the coolest songs, like TV on the Radio, were at the end (when you really really need good songs). So, well, poop.

I'll go find some other freeware players that can synch with MP3 players. I truly have no doubt that eventually the Songbird development team will get this right, but I want my MP3 (get it? Like MTV?? get it??). I'll let you guys know when I find a good alternative.

Master of Orion

Those of you who are eld, like me, will remember in the days of computing yore when computer games came on floppy disks, not CD or DVDs (or downloads). Those of you who are elder will remember cassette tapes and punch cards, but I'm not that eld.

Well, during the early days of computer gaming (not the early early days, when Space War was cutting edge), about the time of that the mighty 386 processors were ripping by at up to 50 mhz (well, the 386SX2 could do that as I recall), and after the introduction of the amazing SoundBlaster card (which really was revolutionary at the time) there was a game called Master of Orion. It was essentially a primitive version of Civilization, but set in space. You control an empire, beginning with one world, and then explore other planets, expand to those planets, exploit their resources, and then exterminate all the other empires. This was, as far as I know, the first of the 4X space games (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate). As you go along you allocate resources to things like producing ships (for colonization, to attack other empires, or to defend yourself from them), building new factories (which enhance the production of your world for everything else you do), researching new technologies (which allow you to colonize different types of worlds, terraform them, build more factories, and make better and better ships), or building defensive missile bases for your planets. You also, and this is the cool part, get to design your own ships using components that you have developed through your research. Those ships then rumble thee forth to the lands of the unbelieving scum on the other side (name that song, I dare you!). If it sounds pretty cool, it really is. If it sounds like lots of other games, it is, because it kind of started a whole genre.

When I got MOO (as it's affectionately called) I had an old 286 that could barely run it. When I upgraded to a 386 (my first upgrade ever) I was ecstatic to be able to play MOO at a decent processing speed. And play it I did. For many, many hours. More than I've ever played any other game (and that is saying a whole whole lot). This was one of the 2 or 3 games I can think of that I would play through the night on occasion (which was dumb, and really really geeky, but it was just that cool). MOO, for me, struck the perfect balance of challenge and possibility, strategy and tactics (very rudimentary tactics, which is good because I'm a very rudimentary tactician), complexity and ease of play.

So why am I blogging about it? Because it is, hands down, the number one Time Waster I've encountered. So much so that I still play it today! I run DosBox as an emulater and it works like a charm. One of my greatest disappointments with my linux box is that it lacks the processing power to play MOO at a good speed (DosBox is not all that tough on a modern system running at 2+ Ghz, and my Athlon dual core 6000+ doesn't even flinch, but my linux box is a dignified, classic, Athlon Thunderbird running at 1.0 Ghz), which means it struggles to run games that "high tech" in DosBox at a decent speed. If I had never touched MOO, and used all that time "productively," I'd probably have a second Master's degree or something. But then I would have missed out on wiping out all those alien races :o)

If you also have fond memories of MOO it's available online (here), as is DosBox (here). Check it out!

Computers, and linux, and love...

Warm touching moment alert...

Last night I was chatting with my wife and made the assertion that all I really need in life to be happy is a computer, her, and our kids (I forgot the running - shocker!). She said "Yeah, but don't you need a linux box?" "No," I said, "I can set up a dual boot if I have to." To which she replied, wittily, "That's because you're a big nerd." But she was smiling when she said it. "Well, hell, you're the one who married me!" She had no reply, but we were both smiling.

So why blog about that? Well, it involved computers, and linux, and a cool wife. How can you not blog about that???

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Lost in Thought

Okay, I'm behind on the current season of Lost.  I'm not sure what happened--something with my season pass got messed up, and I'm pretty much hoping I'll be able to catch up online, because abc.com is usually pretty good about that.
The philosophical bent of the show is one of the things I like about it, and the concept of utilitarian calculus is all the rage this season.  It's a concept that is creepily omnipresent in IT, and so it sits in the back of my mind as a sort of mental model for how decisions get made.  Any moral calculus that's simple enough to be useful makes logical errors eventually, so it's always fun to watch them in use in an IT environment and hope that the error doesn't happen today.
But this is the most creative moral calculus I've seen.  Enjoy.  (No really--look at the part about Ulysses.  How awesome is that?)

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

No Damn Poems

I had this wild urge to post a poem that I had written (several years back) in the blog. And then, well, common sense woke up and I realized that would be a Bad Idea. For several reasons. First, reading Other People's Poetry can often be an exercise in confusion/boredom/agony. Admit it, you've had that feeling. "Oh, err, a poem, uh, yes I'd love to read it." And quite often they're good, but the initial dread is still there. I'm glad people are that polite - I've inflicted my poetry on others several times, but I don't want to inflict suffering on an imaginary readership this large. Second, if I post a poem this will officially become a Diary Blog.

There are so many, many things wrong with that idea. How can two people co-write a Diary Blog? It could get pretty odd, don't you think? Dear diary, today I went on a date! No I didn't, I'm married! You see what I mean. Also, and I mean no offence to those with Diary Blogs, I just don't like them. I don't like hearing about every detail of people's lives. If I read a blog, I want it to be something that someone at least thought was tangentially related to something entertaining. I know, the linux box post was stretching it, but still! The thought of reading a blog with post headings like "Did I tell you I cried today?" kind of gives me the heebadabajeebies. *shudder* Yes, I know our audience is largely imaginary, but even my imagination is not so wild that I can picture our readers enjoying hearing about my breakfast, lunch, dinner, and random childhood memories. So consider yourself safe, dear readers, from Shifter's bad poetry. Sleep well in the comfort of that knowledge :o)

PS - for lunch it was soup and a bowl of beans. So there.

Coming to you live from a linux box!

Yup, that's it. Just wanted to announce that this is my first official post from my linux machine. Those of you who use linux will know that Firefox from linux is just like Firefox from Windows, so it's not all that much of a feat. But hey, it's coming from linux so it's just better! It's also being typed on a spiffy new LCD monitor that I got from NewEgg for $100. $100 is about right for a monitor for a low end box, and I was using a 14 inch CRT from, oh, about the year 2000. Which explains why no posts until now - I hated the monitor. So for now, sit back and feel the goodness!