Monday, 29 December 2008

Dear Diary...

Yes, I *am* feeling snarky today.

Why do you ask?

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In Passing

What say we forget the whole thing...

First it was the Islamic symbolism.

Now it’s eminent domain:

Relatives of those who died aboard United Airlines Flight 93 want the Bush Administration to seize the land needed for a memorial where the plane crashed in western Pennsylvania during the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The New American Way:  Commemorate heroism by stealing people’s stuff.

Via:  SayUncle

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In Passing

Mystery meat

Wall Street Journal oped:
“‘Stimulus’ Doesnt Have to Mean ‘Pork’ • How Obama can reform government while boosting the economy.” by Clifford Winston
Why no.
It could mean some of C.M.O.T. Dibbler’s “genuine pig-like product...”

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In Passing

But that would involve *logic*...

Wanna bet?

After all, you can’t concede that it’s OK for people to heat their homes with coal but then object to the use of an electric baseboard heater because the electricity is generated from burning coal. - ShopFloor

(Of course the self-consistent alternative is to not allow people to heat their homes at all.)

Via: IP

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Too old for this sh*t

Will Truman (via C.G. Hill):

Working at Southern Tech, I’m constantly amazed by the fact that our older faculty/staff can clearly and easily be separated into two degrees of capability: mediocre and nonexistent.

The Mediocre folks are capable enough of doing basic word processing tasks and working with one or two specialty statistics programs they’ve been using for at least a decade.  The Nonexistent folks are much worse; they routinely need help figuring out (I am not making this up) that they have accidentally pushed the Caps Lock key when typing.

As near as I can tell, the “Nonexistent”-skilled folks have one thing in common: all are over the age of 45, whether faculty or staff.  Watching them attempt to work on their own, I can only conclude that for some portion of the population, the ability to form new mental models and learn new tasks (or even new ways of doing old tasks) has been lost after this age...
Let us take a look at what is going on here: Truman’s first swipe is at the Mediocre, “... capable enough of doing basic word processing tasks and working with one or two specialty statistics programs they’ve been using for at least a decade.”  I sense the disdain of the uber-geek: “Basic word processing” (but nothing advanced!) and “ or two... programs they’ve been using for decades” (those old fogies!).  Then he takes on the Nonexistent, who can’t even negotiate the Caps Lock key!  (I wonder: How many of those folks are equipped with junk keyboards that provide no tactile feedback, and hide the “Caps” indicator on the other side of the room?)  And the horror!, should some Luser complain about the interface: mother, whose interaction with computers amounts to announcing that the way certain things are programmed to work is “dumb”, and proceeding to attempt to interact with the computer in the way she thinks it should have been programmed to react rather than altering her behavior to work with the system as designed.

IMHO, there are a cluster of issues here: I note the perennial problem of “engineers vs. everybody else” in interface design, the ever-more-frequent requirement of groking the designer’s thinking before one can learn a tool, and the difference between learning something for the sake of learning it, and learning something as a step on the way (or an obstacle in the way) to accomplishing some task.  All of these are worthy of discussion, but I’m going to confine this rant to the issue of “tech and the ‘mature’ user.”

From where I sit (well on the far side of 45), it’s my bet that many of these older folks simply don’t see that the technology which has been foisted upon them is particularly useful.  The prospect of negotiating the steep learning curve required to gain facility with some new gadget is seen as as a waste of time, especially if the utility of the gadget involved is viewed as dubious, or its useful life is seen as transitory.  This also leads to impatience with poorly-documented or non-intuitive systems.  “I can already word-process ‘just fine,’ ” they say. “Why waste my time adapting to Office 2007’s quirks, when I’ll just have to do it all over again in a year or two.”  (This kind of attitude becomes more common as one reaches a “certain age,” the value of “certain” varies with the circumstances, as well as with the person involved).  And if the answer is, “Because IT decreed it,” well, you’re setting yourself up for a lesson in passive resistance.

Within the last ten years, I personally have assimilated enough HTML, CSS, and javascript to be comfortable playing around with fairly complex web pages, gotten  familiar enough with the Gimp to do some pretty fair photo editing, begun learning MySQL, and (because I want to write an extention for Foobar2000) am getting acquainted with MS Visual Studio.  I don’t offer this list as some sort of geek credential, but to demonstrate that this old dog is still capable of learning new tricks– when he sees them as being worthwhile.

Because there is one point where I’ve run out of patience: My cell phone.


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Saturday, 27 December 2008

In Passing

Cats helping dogs

Not new, but still makes me smile.
A friend sent this one in an e-mail:

» An Eye on You

Cashew, my 14-year-old yellow Lab, is blind and deaf.  Her best friend is Libby, 7, her seeing-eye cat.  Libby steers Cashew away from obstacles and leads her to her food.  Every night she sleeps next to her.  The only time they are apart is when Cashew goes for a walk.  Without this cat, we know Cashew would be lost and very, very lonely indeed.  Amazing but true: this is one animal that knows what needs to be done and does it day in and day out for her friend.
- Terry Burns,
Middleburg, Pennsylvania
Like many web memes, this one has been kicking around for a while; at least 3 years, as it turns out. Since then:
MIDDLEBURG (October 29, 2008) -- A local cat has been getting a lot of attention lately.

Libby, owned by Terry and Deb Burns, is being honored by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals as Cat of the Year for her loyalty to the Burns' now-deceased dog, Cashew.

Cashew, a yellow Labrador/Shar Pei mix who died in 2005 at 14, gradually went blind and deaf due to old age...

The Burns and Libby will be honored Thursday during the ASPCA's annual Humane Awards Luncheon in New York City. - The Daily Item
So farewell, Cashew. Looks like you had a fine friend.

Elsewhere:  Scroll down for the story of Mancat.

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In Passing

Sublim(inal), simply sublim(inal)!

A little marketing in the old bookstore’s Romance Department...


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Happy six months, and popcorn chicken

Join the celebration at Brigid’s.

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Friday, 26 December 2008

In Passing

“Sit in the dark and eat a Mars bar”

Some Christmas advice I didn’t take:

SCIENTISTS have warned that Christmas lights are bad for the planet due to huge electricity waste and urged people to get energy efficient festive bulbs.

CSIRO [Commonwealth Scientific Research Organisation, Australia] researchers said householders should know that each bulb turned on in the name of Christmas will increase emissions of greenhouse gases.

Dr Glenn Platt, who leads research on energy demand, said Australia got 80 per cent of its electricity by burning coal which pumps harmful emissions into the atmosphere...

He said the nation’s electricity came from “centralised carbon intensive, coal-based power stations” which were responsible for emitting over one third of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.
and there should be No Feasting, Either:
MORE than 3 million tonnes of Christmas food will be dumped in landfills this month - where it will produce environmentally-damaging methane gas.

John Dee, founder of sustainable living group Do Something, said Australians spend $5 billion every year on food we buy but don't eat.

“And December is the worst month,” he said.

“What many Australians don't realise is that methane from Christmas food waste is 20 times more potent a greenhouse gas than the carbon emissions coming out of your car exhaust...

“People have no understanding of the damaging food waste is just from a climate change perspective.”

Comments “Simon from Sydney
So after you’ve turned your Christmas tree lights off, you can sit in the dark and eat a Mars bar instead.  Yep, we sure know how to enjoy ourselves Down Under!
...while wearing our environmentally-correct hair shirts.

Started with MaxedOutMama.

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In Passing

Making too much of a good thing

Jonah Goldberg:

It was during the oughts that Americans started drinking more bottled water than beer.  As Susan McWilliams of Pomona College observes, you can tell something about a society that chooses clever water over humble beer.  Bottled water is personal, inward-driven.  Beer is social, outward-driven.  Beer gets the party started.   Water is the thirst quencher of choice for the solitary fitness addict, marching to the beat of his or her own drummer, digitally remastered for the iPod.
Well... maybe.

I do drink more bottled water than I did during the ’90s, and certainly I drink more bottled water than beer, but not because I’ve suddenly turned all inward-driven and new-agey.[1]   No, it's mostly out of convenience.

Because I drink most of my bottled water at work.[2]

The arrival of bottled water added a welcome choice to the drinks selection.  Oh, there was always the inevitable coffee, but before bottled water the “cold” choices in my workplaces were usually limited to soft drinks (calorie-ful with high fructose corn syrup or Artificially Sweetened for Chemical Aftertaste), good ol’ lukewarm curdley milk out of the breakroom fridge, or the occasional Enormous Jug of Training Beverage.  That, or a drink from the infamous Water Fountain Of Doom down the hall:


Bottled water fits nicely in the community refrigerator, doesn’t go bad, and the half-liter bottles are a nice size for the desk.  When bottled water is available, I find myself drinking less: (1) coffee, especially during warmer weather and (2) soda, especially since the acquisition of thirty or so unwanted pounds.

As for social imbibition, beer remains my default choice.  If I consume less beer than before, well, it’s probably the combination of getting out less,[3] and drinking more Scotch.[4]

So I dunno. “Inward-driven” and “solitary” are the right sounds for making particular social commentary, but sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

(Goldberg pointed to by IP.)
[1]  at least, it’s my belief that it’s not the case.  Others may have other opinions, and YMMV.

[2]  ...a venue where beer-drinking is frowned upon. Usually.

[3]  “So get a life, why don’t ya.”  Yadda, yadda, shut up.

[4]  ...which I don’t believe reinforces what Goldberg is concerned about.

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