Friday, October 31, 2008

Internet Pet Peeve of the Day

I understand why they exist, but word verification applications are a constant annoyance, and an example of a half-baked solution to an ongoing problem.

Anyone who has ever posted a comment to a blog or news article online within the last few years has had to deal with a word verification program. It usually consists of typing a series of letters or numbers depicted on the screen in graphical format rather than as regular text. This, as I understand it, is to deter spambots that used to flourish by blitzing comments. The spambots cannot read the images generated by the word verification system, so no spam can be deposited.

It's a simple solution, which is usually the best solution, but it is the details that sometimes let the system down. I have often found that the image generated by the word verification program is so distorted that I cannot read it. This is a mild annoyance when posting here (where it is a constant problem), but when I'm trying to buy concert tickets or something else of value that I may lose if I can't complete the transaction, it becomes a major problem.

Please, anti-spammers, don't throw the legitimate user baby out with the spammy bathwater. Give us a tool we can actually use!

Why Tuesday?

Among the many arcane rules of political life that have survived the decades without notice, why is election day the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November? It seems like a rather arbitrary selection.

It is not.

According to this Congressional Research Service Report, there are very specific reasons why that day was selected as election day:

Elections for all federal elected officials are held on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November in even-numbered years . . . ; presidential elections are held in every year divisible by four. Congress selected this day in 1845 (5 Stat. 721); previously, states held elections on different days between September and November, a practice that sometimes led to multiple voting across state lines, and other fraudulent practices.
By tradition, November was chosen because the harvest was in, and farmers were able to take the time needed to vote. Tuesday was selected because it gave a full day's travel between Sunday, which was widely observed as a strict day of rest, and election day. Travel was also easier throughout the north during November, before winter had set in.
The accommodation for travel time is apparently because most voting was conducted at the county seat, and horses could only take you so far each day.

So get your harvest in, people, and point your horse toward the county courthouse. There's electin' to do!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I Want My MTV!

Remember when MTV stood for "Music Television"? It has been many years since MTV actually featured music as a substantial portion of its programming, now preferring instead to broadcast a steady diet of reality shows exploiting teens striving to be a lot cooler and sexier than they really are.

Good news for those with a nostalgic longing for old Duran Duran videos, however -- the music is coming back. MTV is not changing its programming; instead, MTV has enabled online access to all of its videos. This may be a bit trivial in the grand scheme of things, but MTV is not without significance in pop culture history. There was a span of years in which exposure on MTV could absolutely create a career (see, Madonna) or give eternal life to one-hit-wonders that would never have been known otherwise (see, a-ha).

For those of a certain age, imagine yourself dropping your backpack at the front door, pouring a bowl of cereal and settling down in front of the Trinitron for an afternoon of mindless radio on TV until mom nags you to get started on your homework. In this small way, you can go home again ... to 1982.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Inevitability of the Useful Lifespan

It is axiomatic that appliances will blow a fuse or spring a leak the day after their warranties expire. A little known codicil to this truism (or at least one that was not known to me) is that the moving gods will punish the affront of a homebuyer discarding appliances that came with the house by causing the buyer's own appliances to spew their guts within a month of moving in.

We asked for the existing washer (relatively new, front loading) and dryer (older, but gas heated) to be removed in conjunction with the sale of our new house. The seller did not remove them, so we had to go to the extra effort of having them hauled away after we moved in to make room for our 12 year old matching washer and dryer set. Maybe we should have taken their stubborn determination to remain in the house as a sign.

Just before soccer games began this morning, our washer decided it no longer wanted to keep its water to itself. It wasn't an inlet or drain hose problem; the main tub overflow blew a seal of some kind, flooding the laundry room and adjacent bathroom.

It will be a busy week upcoming. Our friendly neighborhood Sears delivery man will be bringing a replacement washer tomorrow. A pantry will be coming sometime this week. Living room shutters will finally arrive on Wednesday. A breakfast table will be here Thursday. The guest room closet organizer was installed on Friday. In the span of about a week, most of the final pieces of the basic move-in improvements will be done. The broken washer was just the unexpected cherry on top.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Superior, Relatively Speaking

I flew again this week for the first time in a while, and the first time since the airlines began charging fees for just about everything. One phrase came to mind:

"Lower your standards!"

John Lovitz was about 15 years ahead of his time (a phrase that cannot often be uttered) when he created this catchphrase. There was a time when Southwest Airlines was a punchline itself, the place you went to be crammed into an aluminum tube like cattle, fed only with peanuts.

My, how times have changed.

With airlines now charging for every service they provide, all the way down to a simple cup of water, Southwest now looks pretty good. Look, peanuts! And they're free!

Friday, October 17, 2008

New Proof of Media Bias!

Big Media can no longer sanctimoniously claim it is not taking sides. The revealing gaffe was right out there for everyone to see.

Last night, in the sixth inning of the Tampa Bay Rays' 7-0 blowout of the Boston Red Sox in the fifth game of the American League Championship Series, when a win by the Rays would send them to the World Series, the announcers began thanking their audio engineers for a great season. The obvious implication is that the TBS crew believed it was working its last game.

To make things worse, in the top of the seventh inning, TBS sent its sideline reporter into the stands to talk to a high ranking executive of the Philadelphia Phillies, the National League representative in the World Series. The reporter and executive proceeded to congratulate the Rays on a terrific season and spoke of the Phillies' task in facing them in the next round.

It is so transparent. The TV guys know you do not assume a win in a big playoff game, as anyone who watched Dusty Baker present departing pitcher Russ Ortiz with the game ball in Game 6 of the 2002 World Series would know (on the verge of elimination, the Angels staged a miracle comeback in that game, then won the series in the next game against a shellshocked Giants squad).

What this all means is that -- no surprise -- the big media outlets want big-market Boston to win. The best way to accomplish that goal, obviously, is to poke the baseball gods in the eye, throw karma to the wind, proclaiming Tampa Bay the winner nine outs before the game was over. If I could have, I would have put money on the Red Sox to win that game the minute the guys in the truck received their on-air thanks.

Yeah, baseball. What did you think this was about?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Moving Day, Illustrated

We have all been through it. We all know the peculiar anxieties, stresses and exhaustions of moving a household. Luckily for you, you get to relive mine.

Unlike the Mayflower guys who moved us from SoCal to NorCal, who were exceptionally prompt and worked swiftly, our little crosstown movers arrived almost an hour late on the appointed day. The got everything moved, but in my view disassembled furniture more than was necessary. Where the Mayflower guys would wrap up a cabinet, for instance, these folks would take it apart first. That causes two problems: it takes longer to move out, and because there is more to reassemble, there is a greater likelihood that something will be put back together incorrectly. Or, as in our case, it will just take longer to put back together, a double time-whammy. Did I mention that they were paid by the time spent, not pounds moved? Smaller truck, too:

Nevertheless, they were careful and got everything moved without any drama. That was the one day all summer, of course, that threatened rain, and the sprinklers at the new house had turned the area by the front walk into a muddy bog, so I had to lay out a lot of plastic to protect the new, light-colored carpet.

The house was so orderly, once:

Not so much by that evening:

We left the other two thirds of our possessions in the garage, and have been working our way through boxes ever since.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Can't Leave Well Enough Alone

Here, finally, are some happy snaps from the last six weeks or so.

No sooner did we get the keys to the new house than we set about tearing it apart. We ripped out some cabinets and put in a doorway to connect the area we will use as the dining room with the front family room/kitchen:

Painting was the next task, which remains ongoing (before/after [or, more accurately, during]):

The week before the move, our storage unit was been delivered. Thanks to Dad, its contents now fill half of our garage.

Next up: the move (almost a month ago now).

Friday, October 10, 2008

Financial Bizarro World

You want a measure of how crazy the financial markets are right now?

With about 45 minutes to go in today's trading, General Motors, which makes cars, has a market cap of about $2.75 billion.

Hasbro, Inc., which makes toy cars, has a market cap of about $4.05 billion.

[Incidentally, I find that fact to be a reflection of GM's poor management and products more than a consequence of the current credit market shakedown, although the GMAC wing certainly is not helping the bottom line. It's still weird, though.]

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Nostalgia Days

My 20th high school reunion was this past weekend. I attended the 10th, which was predictably awkward and all too reminiscent of high school itself.

This one was far better. The reunion was planned by our own people, not an outside firm. For the last six months we have had a website that included not only the basic information but also a message board and a member section that allowed each classmate to post personal information, photos and any other information they wanted to share with the class. The sense of anticipation for the event was heightened immeasurably by seeing what people have been up to, with a new addition almost every day.

The early opportunity for contact gave rise to an expansion of the event. On Friday, a bunch of people met at a San Francisco bar owned by one of our classmates, while another group of people met at a wine bar in Fremont owned by another classmate. The reunion itself was Saturday night at a hotel. The food was simple (Mexican) but good, the pictures, music and atmosphere were fun, and the fellowship was pleasant. The vibe was much more relaxed than the 10 year; people seemed genuinely happy to see each other. I did not personally speak to many more people than I usually spoke to back in high school, but there was something enjoyable about seeing familiar faces across the room ... just like twenty years ago.

I did get a chance to speak to just about everybody I had hoped to see. I even discovered that one of my friends from back then had also gone to all the same elementary schools that I had (it was complicated because of a school closure and a split campus); we even had the same first and second grade teacher. He might be the only person in the world that shares that particular history.

Almost better than the reunion was the family picnic the next day at a park less than a mile from my old house. The weather was great, and there was both a playground and full soccer field with nets for the kids to play on. Kelly was the oldest kid there and spent much of her time playing soccer. We eventually got several other kids to join ours as a small game broke out.

After it was all over, I found myself unexpectedly nostalgic. Part of it comes from being back in the Bay Area, but a lot of it is an odd longing for those days. I hadn't thought about it much previously, but as I get farther away from that time of my life, I gain an appreciation for it. High school was not the best time of my life (college was the pinnacle of my school days), but I see now with greater clarity that it was still a good time. Maybe it would have been fun to go to a real party or two (let's see, I missed ... oh, all of them), but I now see that for all the constant activity and uncertainty about the future, there was still the freedom of childhood underlying everything. Maybe I would have enjoyed spending more time with the kids who went to all the games, but that fact is I knew most of them anyway and called many of them friends.

In this age, now that we have reconnected, it is far easier to stay connected. A Facebook group has been created, which has led me to a junior high alumni group, an elementary school alumni group, and a "You know you grew up in Sunnyvale if ..." group. I've now heard a bunch of names that I haven't even thought of in decades. It all helps me appreciate that I grew up in a nice area, with good people around me. I can always say there were other things I wish I had done, people I could have known better, places I could have gone, but there is no regret. I have never idealized my high school years, but I am happy to revisit them now, more content than I expected I would be, and more eager to see these people more as the years go on.