25 April 2007

beam me up snotty

During the mucous-flooded hours of the past few days, I've been obsessed by previous computers I owned. The word processing programs they had were one short step up from a typewriter, but that was exactly what I wanted. We downloaded and installed OpenOffice here, because a former colleague clued me in to the way other proprietary programs collected information and sent it back to the death star to be reviewed by unknown persons for unknown purposes. But that seems to be a bug-for-bug mimic of a badly designed interface. Every time we start a new document, someone has to go find the buried menu with the proper checkboxes (and it isn't with the rest of the preferences) and turn off all that "change my random keyboard-mashing into whatever you think is proper" stuff. I want something to begin instantly when I ask it to, and let me begin typing immediately, before I forget what I wanted to write. Someone is out there now, saying, "If you forget what you wanted to type that quickly, maybe it wasn't worth writing to begin with," and you know what? FUCK YOU. When I decide to use a machine I paid money for, the quality of what I do with it is nobody's business. I want what I want, not what some hand-picked, error-corrected end-user survey said everyone should want.

I read, with some sadness, that Fred Fish passed away a few days ago. Back in the day, I used to mail order 3.5 inch floppies from a catalog. Many of them were from Fred's collection. Those were days before the industry became a giant pissing contest for billionaires. I kind of miss that. I miss being able to understand exactly how the hardware worked, and how to make code directly access it all.

That's a trend--an unfortunate one. Back when I understood the API documents for my computer, I could also look at the engine of my car and piece together how it was supposed to work. It was still simple enough that a non-expert could figure out how the pieces interacted. The last car I had, on the other hand, had a cover over most of the engine to protect it from non-expert's eyes. When I took it in for service, the mechanic attached a cable from the engine to a PC and told me that I didn't really need new spark plug wires (of course, it wasn't wet that day). As a point of interest, the later "technologically improved" vehicle actually got worse mileage than my old '76 Corolla.

So when I hear talk of microprocessor-controlled toasters, I envision a nightmare scene. On a tiny LCD screen, an animated slice of toast would appear when the button to make toast was pressed.

"Hi! It looks like you're trying to make some toast. How can I help you?
  1. Begin toasting bread (current setting: black and completely charred)
  2. View additional settings options
  3. Learn about toast with MSN® food research guides®!"
So you choose 2, the same as every day, to set it back to normal toast, with no burnt parts. After asking, "Are you sure? You can't change this setting after the bread is inserted." the whole thing goes blank, then the user is prompted to unplug the toaster, wait 30 seconds, and plug it back in. This cycle would repeat until the user was faced with a decision between eating toast or being on time for work.

Enough, I suppose. I'll go off and hunt something with a crude stone tool now, and cook it over a newly-discovered fire. And this machine will ask me if I'm sure I want to turn it off, and I will suppress the urge to scream obscenities at it.

22 April 2007

That's when I reach for my revolver

I have an awful head cold this weekend. Dearest also felt under the weather yesterday. We were unable to determine whose students infected us with this plague. Then I recalled that we can buy pseudofed here, so now I am under the effects of cold medication and a Mission of Burma playlist.

Friday, I came home early, excusing myself from the office because of a sore throat. While I was in the back room changing, I heard a small voice at the computer desk. I thought she was speaking Chinese for a moment, then I recognized the phrase "fuck! fuck! fuck!" It seems that GTA3 is the new addiction in our home, and someone has a difficult time steering the cars.

I just now realized that I've been staring at the screen slack-jawed for 20 minutes. It's time for a nap and maybe more medicine.

21 April 2007

Lies, damn lies, and ballistics.

Shift happens. It may indicate a personal flaw, but I fall for interesting statistics all the time, although I consciously distrust them.

Albert Hoffman is still alive, and apparently in good health, at age 101. Happy Bicycle Day, everyone (belatedly, I know, but time zones confuse me).

12 April 2007

Hi Ho.

I just read that Kurt Vonnegut passed away. When I was still young and impressionable, an English teacher loaned me a copy of Slapstick (and at the same time, Even Cowgirls get the Blues by Tom Robbins). I was asked to discretely take the books home and only read them there, and then return them discretely when I had finished. That act probably furthered my education more than the rest of my time in public school combined.

08 April 2007

Like camping?

One of the first things I found in China was Metro. It's a little imported slice of the outside world, and the only source I've found for affordable coffee. Perhaps affordable isn't the exact word I want, but *$ et al charge a lot more. (115 kwai for 240 grams as opposed to 89 yuan for 1100 grams)

The other day, She Who Makes Life Worth Living called on the cell phone. Metro was out of Maxwell House, would I like her to buy "other brand" for 200?

I told her thanks, but that was too much for what might be an unacceptable substitute (I spent a few days on vacation once in a little town where every restaurant and hotel "proudly served" the same brand of coffee, and I tried a cup at each establishment, thinking the others probably did something wrong that caused the results to taste like sewage filtered through singed elastic, but sadly, the flavor was Paul De Lima's fault, not that of anyone in Corning).

Since very few places in this city sell ground coffee (or whole bean coffee) at all, and no others stock anything familiar, I opted to try some instant. Every convenience store, street corner vendor, and grocer sells a variety of instant coffee.

The flavor isn't quite the same, and I'm a little sad to see the coffee maker that cost a relatively large sum sitting idle, but I can live with it for a while.

Of course, sitting on a couch that I believe used to be the back seat of a car, drinking instant coffee made with water that was boiled in a tin can (the bowls are all in use with food just now), I fell into a flashback of "camping" when I was 13-17 years old. Mostly, I just wanted to be alone with my newly-discovered vices (cigarettes, paint thinner fumes, occasional liquor, and more rarely yet, pot) and a cup of coffee made over a small fire covered the evidence of my enthusiasms (the coffee for breath and the woodsmoke for clothing).

Roll the tape forward to now. I still don't dare get caught with cigarette smoke or alcohol on my breath. I'm still freezing cold, drinking coffee more for the warmth than the flavor or caffeine. I'm still a little pissed off Sunday afternoons, because it means the weekend is mostly over and I have to go back to school for a week, without really accomplishing much or enjoying much of the days off.

07 April 2007

Cum for me, my melancholy baby.

The power of art is that it lets us see, in someone else’s work, an idea that we dimly formed but lacked the skill to realise or convey, and in this way makes us feel less alone. - Alan Moore on Pornography
I ran across this quote this morning. The linked essay, while somewhat long, is a fascinating exploration of the history of erotica and its effects on society at large. What struck me as interesting is the early bit, when Mr. Moore tells of pre-Christian Europe, and the generally relaxed sexual attitudes of the inhabitants thereof. I started thinking that I'd heard something vaguely similar in recent days. I tried to recall conversations I've had with the few people I can speak to at such a level. This led me to realize that all discussion I have with native English speakers gravitates to risqué humor, fatalistic resignation over the performance of our students, or exchanges of shopping tips. Then I remembered that a few days ago, I read another fairly long essay by Barbara Ehrenreich entitled How we learned to stop having fun. Ms. Ehrenreich's first sentence states that Europe in the 17th century looks for all the world like the point when depression was invented.

So, my brain, adept as it is for completely fucking up anything involving numbers, globbed the two essays together, and came to the conclusion that Constantine doomed mankind to inexplicable melancholy by stigmatizing pornography and masturbation. But there's a few centuries in the middle of the two events I'm trying to link. The fact that I cannot bring myself to make an effort to look for the connection perfectly exemplifies why I shouldn't go to grad school.

05 April 2007

What did you learn at school today?

By all accounts, the students I face every day should be relatively homogeneous, at least as far as their ability to speak English is concerned. They all had the same courses taught by the same teachers. This week, some major topics various classes had trouble with were; the difference between the words "he" "she" "they" "it", why it's important to properly pronounce "dessert" and "desert", how to pronounce the letters V and B, and who was Friedrich Nietzsche and why did I laugh when the name was mentioned in a movie?

There are a few students who speak English more fluently than many of my classmates in College did. There are some that I can easily carry on a conversation with for an hour and not think at all about the fact that they aren't native speakers. There are a few who correct my grammar. There are too many that need help to ask to be excused so they can visit the W.C. (and why can't they hold it for 45 minutes? They're 21 years old. Bladder management should not be an issue in this decade of their lives)

The Love of my life, She eats bugs

She says each one has the nutrition of two large eggs.

I tell her that eggs do not wriggle, squirm, or otherwise act alive when I buy them. These things were rather energetic when she brought the sack of them home.

They are always on display in the markets, and I always give them wide berth. I wonder now if she actually intends to prepare them, or only use them to chase me out of the room.

01 April 2007

without a "box" joke

I was setting up to write about sci-fi web sites I read regularly, and somehow wound up at Pandora instead. I haven't tried to push it too far yet, but when I gave it the name Sigur Ros they started a stream that does, in fact, all match in style.

OK, I spoke too soon. After 5 tracks, the music stopped, and there's a box that says "It's taking longer than expected to figure out the perfect song to play next." They also mention, in tiny print at the bottom of the page, that they are only for U.S. listening, due to the DMCA.

Oh well. I suppose I can download stuff from bittorrent if the notion of background music becomes compelling enough.

While I'm near the topic, let me recommend Foobar2000 as a music player. It's small, efficient, and thus far, hasn't caused my firewall to freak out and warn me of mysterious attempts to contact the mother ship. In fact, the first time it tried to contact the internet was just now when I gave it the address of a stream to play. I notice this in contrast to the default player, which continually tries to contact the outside world in spite of my wishes.

I had a long bitch about word processors in this part, but deleted it. I'll say that, given the state of the art of word processing software, I've discovered a fondness for pen and paper, and lament that I let my typewriters out of my grasp.

fire blog with me

Back when the world was simpler and sepia-toned, I had to move from the city I lived in and loved to another place that I disliked. That was for financial reasons. What made the one place appealing and the other not was the presence of industry. The small town's only business was tourism, while the city was home to several large companies.

So, with heavy heart, I moved to the city, and found work. The job wasn't any fun at all, but it was the most money I had ever earned. I used a portion of my income to visit the small town every single chance I had.

A friend of mine was struggling to raise a baby alone on a limited income. The arrangement that we settled into was that I would buy some food, help with housework, and babysit some of the time, and I could stay there while I was in town. The chief benefit of the arrangement for my friend was that she could go to a house with a working television set and see Twin Peaks. My father had a betamax, and would tape the show for me. I stopped on my way back to the city and watched it with him.

I ran across an interview with David Lynch, and started thinking back to those days. It's difficult to comprehend that it was nearly 20 years ago now. The baby I used to take care of is now wearing a lot of the clothes I left behind when I moved away.

Watching the video, I kept thinking that Mr. Lynch should work with puppets at some point, given his constantly wriggling right hand.

I only read it for the articles.

I forget precisely how I came to the page, but I spent far too much time this weekend reading Modern Mechanix. The articles were mildly amusing, but the advertisements that runs along the sides of the page, particularly near the ends of articles that were continued in the far back pages, brought back a lot of memories. My father used to get occasional issues of Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Popular Electronics, etc. and leave them around the back room of the house, which was nominally the dining room, but served as a laboratory/workshop when meals were not in progress (or if he was in the middle of something at dinner time, we all ate on part of the table and looked at the collection of things piled beyond the food).

The advertisements in the back pages of such publications always fascinated me. I'm certain I would have been disappointed, had I sent actual money for "x-ray specs" and discovered that they did not, in fact, allow me to see through ladies' garments. But the notion that such things were out there, available to people who could afford $1.50 plus postage and handling, led my imagination to run.