Words of wisdom

Friday, December 24, 2010

Whoever invented button-fly jeans should be shot!

Um ... not sure what else to say, since the title sort of covers it.

Last Summer I ordered a pair of these from Amazon.com.  I unfortunately can't blame Amazon since I neglected to bother with their fine print, and I had just plain forgotten that 501s have a button-fly.  So I got them, wore them, and immediately regretted buying them.  But didn't feel like returning them.  I do think they show off my butt real good though.

Problem is ... normally taking a pee, as a guy, is simple.  Walk up, unzip, do my business, and rezip.  However having a button-fly brings that effort to an entirely new level.  No longer can I simply just unzip when I wear these things.  I have to wrangle and wriggle around so they I can unbutton 5---yes 5--- buttons on my crotch.  And if I really have to pee, well, it's just that much worse.  Then, and only then, will my god-foresaken pants allow me to relieve myself.  And then afterward I have to reverse that, buttoning all 5 back up.

Oh what a pain it can be to be a guy!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Is Christmas green?

It sure as hell is red and green, but it sure as hell isn't green.  But let me begin with an "I don't do Xmas" disclaimer.  But oughtn't that be obvious? (and is that the correct usage of the word oughtn't?) (and isn't oughtn't a wordicle?)  Yeah, we're Jewish and we don't even do that.  So we sure as hell don't do Xmas.  And this time of year (say ... mid-October through the New Year) is irritating as hell, because everyone continuously tries to cram the red and green crap down my throat, over and over again, 24 hours a day, in pretty much the same way that we just cannot escape the ridiculous political garbage come every election season (on TV, on the radio, on sight-nauseating billboards along every road ... vote for this person ... no, vote for that person ...).  But anyway ...

So for whatever reason this morning, as I was sitting down doing my daily "business", the thought of whether or not Xmas is green popped into my head.  And I immediately said to myself, "No."

Why?  Isn't it immediately apparent?  Think of what people do during the holiday season every year:

Monday, November 15, 2010

Finally someone else gets it ...

Well, almost.  Let me explain:

In yesterday's Wall Street Journal a guy named Matt Ridley wrote an article titled "Who to Blame for Natural Disasters".  Ultimately he basically says that if prosperity, the big key word in his article, were to spread throughout the entire world, as it has not yet done, most people who currently die from natural disasters would instead end up alive.  Says he:
In short, prosperity buys survival. (The shocking thing about Hurricane Katrina was not that it killed so many people but that it did so in such a prosperous country.) ...
... Suppose world per-capita income were to octuple in the next 90 years, as it did, roughly, in the last 90. So long as countries like Haiti get their share of this prosperity, we can expect most of the world to become as nearly disaster-proof as the rich West is today: through building standards, warning systems, health and emergency services, and technology.
This, he says, is borne out by the actual statistics of wealth and technology over the last almost-century.  But this is not what I am interested in ... that in which I am interested??  Whatever ...

I am interested much more in his opening paragraph:

Friday, October 15, 2010

Disney vs. Holiday Inn

A few weeks ago we went to Disney World.  It wasn't our first time.  And our room (suite) was huge, as it always is, this time with 2 bedrooms and 3 full bathrooms.

A couple of weeks ago we went to Hersheypark.  Fun time.  As Hersheypark is a couple-hour drive from home, we decided to spend the night at a local hotel.  I booked us a nice room at a local Holiday Inn.  They gave us a non-smoking room with a king bed.  We had brought the kid's sleeping bags so they would sleep on the floor.

I got the key from the front desk and we all grabbed our luggage and went to the room.  I opened the door and we walked in.  Li'l D, my son of 6 years, walked in, took a quick look around, and said
"One room?"
I chuckled, realizing that my kids need to get out more ...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Disney World vs. Hersheypark

Living on the east coast, we have access to both the largest of the Disney properties, a place known as Disney World, and Hersheypark.  For those not in the know, Hersheypark is a relatively huge amusement park located in Hershey, Pennsylvania, that is owned by the Hershey company, the one that makes all of the chocolate.  We went to Hersheypark a couple of weekends ago for the day.  Unfortunately for us, it was a bit more anticlimactic than it might otherwise have been, as we had just a week before spent the week at Disney World.  Bottom line is that it just don't get better than Disney World.  Everything from the customer experience to the atmosphere to the ambiance (note to self: look up that word ...) to the customer service (remember my recent post).

My daughter's second theme song

The other day Li'l A, 4 years old, was playing around in our family room when my wife and I suddenly heard
Mamma Mia
Here I go again ...
I asked "Where did you hear that song?"  Li'l A responded "My friend at school!" (she has a lot of friends at school).  I ran out of the room and came back a minute later.  My wife, smirking, said "You have that song on CD, don't you?"  "Of course I do" said I.  It is the last song on CD #3 of my ABBA's Greatest Hits collection, purchased somewhere in downtown London in the very early 1990s.  And, yes, I admit that.

I put the CD in the player in our kitchen and told Li'l A to stop and listen.  When the chorus came around, she had a huge smile on her face. And we've been singing that song ever since.

Another plus: I have a second theme song for my daughter.  Here is my blog for the first.

For those who are pop culture-inept, here's the video:

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Disney comes through again!

We are Disney freaks.  We'd had a few very successful and enjoyable trips to Disney World, both with and without kids.  We had bought some Disney stock (DIS).  I had bought some Marvel Entertainment (MVL) stock a long time ago and last year Disney decided to buy the whole company, giving me a nice ten-fold increase on my original investment.  We now own a bigger buttload (relative term ...) of Disney stock.  We have some friends who are even more avid Disney freaks than we are, and at their urging/hounding/incessant suggestions, we joined the Disney Vacation Club, just like them.  It ain't cheap, but we get top notch somewhat pre-paid vacations in incredible lodgings and second-to-none customer service for the next 50 years.

We just went to WDW last week for our second annual family trip.  We stayed at Kidani Village at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge.  Our two bedroom suite had three full bathrooms.  When we opened the curtains and went out on our deck we saw (mostly) a very nice replica of African wilderness.  Between our room view and those of the surrounding hallways and such, we saw zebras, giraffes, wildebeest, warthogs, okapi (looks like a Dr. Seuss rendition of a combination of a donkey, horse and zebra), nyala (look sort of like striped deer), storks, cranes, vultures, and numerous other birds.  It was wonderful.

Why don't we care about our pants?

It's raining today.  Raining hard.  We're s'posed to get ... I don't know ... several feet of rain in just a few hours.  OK, a few inches anyway.  So I came to work this morning and had grabbed only my keys, wallet, phone, and umbrella.  Parked the car.  Made sure to stow away my keys and wallet in my pockets, leaving both hands free (unusual, since I usually carry lunch, a book or two, and who-knows-what-else), grabbed my umbrella, got out of the car and locked it.  Began walking toward my building, rain coming down fast and from everywhere (mostly above).  And then a thought came to me that I have thunk (a wordicle!) quite a bit about:
I'm doing my damndest to cover my topside--head, shirt, arms--but evidently, aside from doing my best to dodge puddles, I don't care how wet my pants get from the rain.
Why is that?

Monday, September 13, 2010

"I don't get what you're saying"

OK, so it's been a while.  But my son, Li'l D, said something to me the other day that was just so mature, it stopped me in my tracks.

Li'l D is six.  OK ... six and a half.  He and I were playing with his marble game, one of those (very high quality and therefore pretty expensive) marble run sets where you set up lots of tall sculptures with tracks and holes and whirligigs and such, and then drop lots of marbles down the chute and watch them go.  It was fun.  He had built a large one on his own in the basement, and then I came over and for an hour he and I made bunches of improvements, many of which necessitated some very intricate and precise movements as we shifted pieces around, carefully working together so as to not wreck the entire thing by making it plummet to earth.  After we were done with the bulk of the rebuild, and after 5-10 minutes of him dumping hundreds upon hundreds of marbles down the chute (which is pretty loud---try dropping hundreds of glass marbles onto a piece of 3/4" thick plywood and see how long you last ...), I was studying the few pieces we had left and realized that we could indeed use them all with two more minor mods.  So I stopped the cacophony of marbles and said to him, "If we move this one over here and then shift these pieces to there and then place those on top of this and then ..."  It was then that he said, very plainly and simply:
"Daddy, I don't get what you are saying."
Very subtle, but for a six year old, I think this is absolutely amazing.  He literally stopped me in my tracks.  I sat there for a few seconds collecting myself.  I then told him that that was an incredibly grown-up thing he did.  Rather than just sit there and hear what I was saying and pretend to understand, he really wanted to fully follow what I was saying, know the details of the plan and be part of it.  He had to admit to himself (though this wasn't a conscious decision) that he didn't understand what I was saying and that he'd have to tell me so.  I was incredibly proud of him.  And I told him so several times afterward.  I also continued explaining my plan, but in a much slower and simpler manner.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Books: "The Sydeian Coalition"

Steampunk book number two complete.  The first one I read, The Difference Engine, is considered to be a steampunk classic and I could really see why.

This one?  Not so much ...

The Sydeian Coalition is ... fun.  It did hold my interest.  But most of the time I got the feeling that I was reading a novel that was due as a term paper by some eleventh grader.  No ... an eighth grader.  Grammar, punctuation, spelling, proper word usage, etc., etc., all were pretty much thrown out the window in this one.  However, there may be one small saving grace here in that maybe, just maybe, that was all done intentionally.  Y'see, this book was written in the form of diary or journal extracts by the two fictional (I assume ...) main characters.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Kids are good for your brain

I am just beginning to realize this.  Our kids keep my wife and me mentally hopping.  Our son Li'l D, in particular, asks us tons of questions, being the studious, intuitive and knowledge-seeking-type.  Today?  We were discussing ... oh I don't know what ... and I guess I said something along the lines of something being relative to something else ... who knows.  Li'l D immediately asked:
What does 'relative' mean?
I quickly thrust back with:
It's when you compare something to something else.
Not having enough, Li'l D parried my verbal comeback with:
What does 'compare' mean?
"Holy crap!" I thought to myself.  After a while, meaning a few years of questioning and interrogation like this, you begin to think quite quickly on your proverbial feet.  So, gathering up all of my mental weaponry, and as we were in the car heading to dinner, I looked ahead and said:
See the blue truck and brown van in front of us?  Which one is taller?
Li'l D:
The blue truck.
Dad:
Right.  So you compared the two, and the blue one is tall relative to the brown one.
He seemed relatively satisfied with that explanation, compared with previous sessions.

My words don't do true justice to this, but afterward, during dinner, it really got me to thinking that our kids really do keep us on our mental toes.  Maybe that is the answer to Oldtimers' Disease ... having kids around to keep you constantly thinking.

Monday, April 12, 2010

My Anti-Katie Couric rant

So back in December 2009 I wrote a rather long-ish rant about a bunch of various things, and in there somewhere I mentioned that I needed to write my Anti-Katie Couric rant.  So here goes ...

A few years ago I was listening to the radio, minding my own business, when Katie Couric really, REALLY pissed me off.

OK, to back up just a couple of minutes for some perspective ...

Monday, April 5, 2010

There is not enough time - Part 2

So my wife (finally) read my post on not having enough time to do the "me" things that I'd like to do.  She then came to me as I was playing my current favorite computer game, Age of Empires 3, a huge time waster for myself and, unfortunately, for my son as well, since he loves to watch every time I play.  And she said
"So you do't have enough time, huh?"
My initial thought was very simply
"Uh oh."
But then, shortly thereafter, it occurred to me that playing this game and another, BZFlag, that I have been playing for a number of years now, are actually items that are part of this same list but don't need to be on this list.  Evidently my list, and my post, were mis-named.  The post should have been titled
There is not enough energy
Energy?  Mental energy.  So many of the things I listed, like reading and learning about different fields of study (the mathy stuff), reading novels, studying our investments, even messing around with LEGO in the way that I'd like to do it (that is, building engineering marvels), all take a good deal of mental energy and, more important, an attention span.  I just don't have the latter right now.  That makes it difficult to dive into anything that requires it for more than literally just a few minutes, and therefore I, for the most part, don't.  Even reading a good novel means that you have to pay attention to what you are reading and remember all of it for your next reading sit-down.  Ain't happening.

The games, on the other hand, for whatever reason, require almost none of this.  They are pure brainless entertainment, the keyword being brainless.  Any idiot (well, most idiots ...) can play them, and anyone with a decent ability to ... think ... can play them pretty well.

So that, in a nutshell, I think, is my answer to my wife's unfortunately-very-valid question.

Now my brain hurts again ...

Friday, April 2, 2010

Don't you want me baby?



And then there is my daughter's theme song.  Imagine a 3 year old girl, adorable as can be, roaming around the house singing "Don't you want me baby?"  This one, like my son's various theme songs, will remind me of my daughter forever.

Life is a highway



I will always remember this song, forever and ever.  I think it's sort of my son's theme song (different, however, from the theme song that I mentioned here).  If you've ever seen the Pixar movie "Cars", then this song will surely sound familiar.  Growing up, my son (he's now all of six) loved this movie.  We abused the DVD dozens and dozens of times in the DVD player, watching it ... dozens and dozens of times.  We often hear the song during dinner, as the local pop station plays it every so often.  And next time I take a road trip, a good road trip, on the big ol' Harley, I most likely will be thinking about, if not listening to, this song.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Books: "SuperFreakonomics"

A spoiler right up front: Newborns in Uganda a few years ago, when born in the month of May, were 20% more likely to have visual, hearing or learning disabilities than those born in other months.  Huh?  Oh yeah, and the same thing tended to happen in Michigan.  HUH???  Oh yeah, and this pattern shifted to the month of April over the following couple of years.  HUH??????  Hint: It's all about Ramadan ...

"SuperFreakonomics" is an excellent book.  It is the successful successor to "Freakonomics".  I read the latter a couple of years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it.  In this one they both added more nuggets of statistical wisdom and they did a fabulous job of synopsizing both books into a single thought:
People respond to incentives in very different ways.
I won't expound on that; read the book.

I will say that I read this in just over a weekend.  It was fun, interesting, intriguing, compelling, and many other words that critics love to say.  Definitely worth your time.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

There is not enough time

There really isn't.  There are so many things I really, really want to do.  But having a family and a full-time job means very simply that many ... most of the things that I would love to spend some personal time on ... I can't.

Like sit down for hours a day and 'invent' things with LEGO.  Some people seem to have that kind of time (not a slam, because I am sure he has a real full-time job and kids, but I just don't know how people like http://tinkernology.blogspot.com/ find the time, yet he does some absolutely amazing stuff).

Like spend much more time cooking, playing in the kitchen and out on our deck with our BBQ grill, learning and designing new cuisine ... I just re-read that and now see how funny the word "cuisine" sounds coming from me ... But I do love to cook.  Nothing too out-of-the-ordinary; I think the most unique food I have ever cooked myself was plantains.  I love watching Good Eats with Alton Brown and Primal Grill (formerly "Barbecue University") with Steven Raichlen.  I have several of each of their books and am very eager to try more of their recipes.  It is just plain fun to tinker with food, play with flavors and spices, design new rubs and marinades for the meats and veggies that we eat.  But pasta and various simple forms of chicken inevitably rule the day.  They are quick and easy ... as is the Chinese delivery guy ...

Monday, March 15, 2010

I saw a good deed the other day

So the wife and I were in New York City for the weekend, and oh what a wonderful weekend it was to travel to NYC.  We enjoyed at least 6 inches of rain per hour, or so it seemed, and the cabs looked like they would have done better as boats in the newly-transformed Manhattan "Canal District".  But on Saturday, for lunch I believe, we headed to the deli next door to our hotel to eat.  We ended up sitting at a small bar along the window, so we had a beautiful view of the back of some smoker's head, the ambiance of seeing New York City scaffolding on the building across the narrow street, and the pleasant smell of disinfectant, since the deli guy had just mopped our area a minute before we sat down.  Mmmm yummy!!! ...

Regardless, as we sat and ate I saw what I think was a good deed.  It was surprising, and nice.  I saw a mid-late-twenty-something guy walking on the sidewalk just outside the deli in front of us.  We'll call him Guy A.  Guy A was carrying, and using, an umbrella, because it was raining (didn't I just mention that??).  About 20 feet further I saw another guy, Guy B, run to his car which was parked at the curb and try to open the door.  He was umbrellaless (is that a word????  NOW IT IS!!!!).  His car door didn't open.  This resulted in Guy B frowning and smirking, since he was getting more wet by the second, and fumbling in his pockets for his car keys.  Right at this time Guy A, Mr. Umbrella, was passing by him, saw this and walked over to him and held his umbrella over Guy B to help keep him dry.  Guy B looked back, said "Thank you" or something equivalent (I assume --- I couldn't hear what he said, and Guy A remained there, implying to me that Guy B did not, in fact, say "Screw you!!!") and reached into his car for a few seconds.  Guy A remained holding his umbrella over Guy B.  Guy B, several seconds later, got out, closed his car door, put his arm around Guy A and they both walked on, out of my line of vision.

I am not sure that this was a pure act of unwarranted kindness.  It was an act of kindness, as
  1. Guy A did try to keep Guy B as dry as he could;
  2. Guy A didn't immediately go to Guy B; he saw him, but then did a sort of pump-fake as he took a step further and then changed his mind and went back to Guy B to help --- he conciously thought for a second about what he was about to do, and it was obviously unexpected.
But I don't know if Guy A knew Guy B beforehand or not.  I don't think so.  And it makes this unusual (for me) story all that much nicer to remember.

After that, I kept thinking of the phrase "Pay It Forward" ...

Friday, March 5, 2010

"Panspermia"? Really???

So I found this article a while ago: Professor: We have a 'moral obligation' to seed universe with life.  The idea is that we should send some earth-bound organisms into space in hopes that they will someday reach other planets and populate them with earth-like thingies.  I disagree with this, and I think it's stupid, but that is not the point of this post.  (Of course it isn't ...)


I had never heard of panspermia.  However when I first read the article, and when I first saw the word but before they really expressed the definition, I was under the impression that to spread human life throughout the universe they'd have to ... you know ... do like the word itself sounds and send some ... you know ... mens' wiggly things up into space in some kind of ... you know ... repository which would somehow keep them alive for ... you know ... a very long time until they got to somewhere that they could ... you know ... do their human spreading thing.

But I was wrong.  Doesn't matter though, becase some dumbass (hopefully not our Gubment) is going to spend buzzillions of dollars to rig up an environmentally-proper repository for the organisms, shoot it into outer space and then die happy because their Earth-originated germs will populate the universe.  How ridiculously stupid ...

Books: "The Difference Engine"

Began this post weeks ago, and finally getting to finish it ...

"The Difference Engine" is my first steampunk book.  So to answer the obvious first question: "What the hell is steampunk?!?!?!" you can go here or here or here or here or here (these last two I happened upon a while ago -- people posting some fun-ish steampunky stuff).  But to keep you from having to read and read and read, the bottom line is that steampunk is one of these 'alternate reality' fictional (obviously) genres in which a gentleman named Charles Babbage, back in the 1800s in England, completed his project.  Ya' see, in real life Mr. Babbage was working on an "Analytical Engine", the world's first computer.  This was in the early-mid-1800s.  Keeping in mind that timeframe, this was before Tommy Edison and bunches of others invented electricity (yes, I know, nobody 'invented' electricity ...).  So Mr. Babbage used steam to power his machine.  In reality, he ran out of time, money and willpower (I guess the latter couldn't be powered by steam) and he never finished his Analytical Engine, and the world is as it is today.  In this alternate reality, however, he does finish, and so bunches of things change:
  1. Computers, and just about everything else, are run by steam rather than by electricity like they are now.  Technology evolves just a bit differently as everything is initially steam powered and since the computer was invented a century earlier in these stories than it was in reality, the order of technological events and revelations around the world changes too.
  2. Since this was in England, England became even more of a world powerhouse than it became in reality.  With the world's only computers at the time and the only expertise to make more, they would easily outmaneuver everyone else in just about everything: economics, military, technology, etc.
  3. The rest of the world evolved very differently in the ensuing ~150 years.  In the book for this post, America and North America as a whole as we know them in reality evolved into about a half dozen territories, some American, others Mexican, some British, and, of course, the Republic of Texas (which'll make some people happy).

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Spring and Fall Olympics?

So we've got Winter and Summer Olympics.  And we all know that each includes sports that entail lots of cold weather and warm weather clothing and paraphernalia, respectively.  You know, activities that make you think of those seasons (mostly).

In the Winter Olympics we have lots of skiing, both bumpy and jumpy.  We have ice skating and speed skating, both long distances and very short.  We have luge and skeleton and possibly other body part-sounding sports.  We have bobsleds and ice hockey.  Oh yeah, and we have curling.

In the Summer we have gymnastics, lots and lots of gymnastics.  And we have various -athlons (pent- and dec- that I know of, keeping in mind that tri- isn't part of the Olympics (or is it?)).  Lots of traditional jumping activities (high and long and triple and probably others) and pole vaulting and chucking stuff (hammers and javelins and shotputs and disc ... um, disci (??? what is the plural of discus?), among others).  And lots of running, from short dashes to long marathons.  Swimming?  We've got swimming, singles and teams.  Diving?  Uh huh.  Water polo?  Yup.  "All-American" sports like baseball and volleyball and basketball?  Yeah (for now).  Synchronized swimming.  Martial arts.  Wrestling and rowing and badminton and weightlifting and ping pong and sailing and lots and lots of others.  And I hear tell that chess may become an Olympic "sport".

So that covers half of our year.  But what about the other half, the pseudo-warm and pseudo-cool seasons of Spring and Fall?  Since we want to include sports that evoke memories of those seasons, I propose the following, at least as a start:

Spring Olympic Events:
  • Yard saling
  • House cleaning
  • House painting
  • Spring Break planning
  • "What the hell to do with the kids during the upcoming Summer" planning
  • "Oy it's already getting hot out and it isn't even Summer yet" bitching
  • Planting
  • Mowing
  • Picnicking (does that really have a 'k' in it?)
  • Sneezing and wheezing
Fall Olympic Events:
  • Leaf blowing
  • Gutter cleaning
  • Wood chopping
  • Fireplace cleaning
  • Heavy coat buying
  • "Oy it's already getting cold out and it isn't even Winter yet" bitching
  • Getting a flu shot
  • Getting another damned flu shot depending on what pain in the ass new flu strain is popular this year
Of course, this also begs the question of why other sports haven't made it to the current two seasonal Olympic events.  There are a few extras in this post from some very mysterious but absolutely hilarious person who is evidently an ardent Flash Gordon fan in New York (I particularly love the "freestyle insult hurling").

Friday, February 12, 2010

They all just "go dumb"

In my last post I explained, briefly, how we Maryland folk are not supposed to get a lot of snow at one time.  There is evidently a biological reason for this: the more snow there is on the ground, the worse Maryland drivers drive.  As my family and I were walking through our neighborhood today, trying to once again get out of our house for just a short time, we saw more of our neighbors doing stupid things.  I won't go into details (at least we did have some comic relief watching these people), but as we watched my wife, somewhat astonished, said that when the snow comes they all just "go dumb".  It is true.  We saw the "going dumb" over and over again.

And unfortunately it is in their genes, so it won't ever stop.

Monday, February 8, 2010

It's not supposed to be like this!

We are in Maryland.  We are supposed to get just a little bit of snow at a time.














This is what we first saw when we opened our garage, a good foot and a half of snow covering ... everything.  And we still had 6 inches of snow yet to fall.

This was after just a few minutes of shoveling, the beginning of about 8 hours of work to clear our driveway.

My body hurts from shoveling.  It's not supposed to be like this!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Unintended consequences

I'm going to post these as I come across them.  Mostly they are people's otherwise good intentions and sometimes, surprisingly, well implemented as well.  But you can never second-guess the American citizenry.

[early December 2009]
Da Gubment in our area did a smart thing: they put large overhead signs on the main interstates telling drivers about accidents up ahead, road closings, construction, anything that may impact people's drives to wherever they may be going, also advising them to take alternate routes or to not travel during certain hours.  The unintended consequence that da Gubment did not anticipate: the sheer stupidity of the drivers, in that they feel compelled to slow down from the mandated 65 mph speed limit to, oh, say, 30 mph so they can read the damned sign.  Note that this is not necessary --- da Gubment strategically placed these signs so that drivers could see them and read them for at least 30 seconds as they drive up to and under them.  They put some thought into a good idea.  Hunh ... But as it turns out, the signs which are intended to speed up people's travels end doing just the opposite.  An unintended consequence of an otherwise good and well implemented idea (well, except for the citizen stupidity factor).

[early December 2009]
In my blog on the useless penny and the just-plain-dumb paper dollar, I mentioned a Wall Street Journal article titled "Miles for Nothing: How the Government Helped Frequent Fliers Make a Mint".  I also mentioned at the time that the article subject was irrelevant, but interesting.  I am now recanting, but just for this blog.  The subject was how the U.S. Mint was doling out rolls of newly-minted collectable coins with free shipping.  Nice for the coin hobbyists.  What they didn't foresee was the unintended consequence: Some really creative people used this to up, for free, their frequent flier miles.  They ordered the coins, say $10,000 worth of them, and paid exactly $10,000 (remember the free shipping) on their favorite frequent flier credit card.  When the coins arrived they immediately drove them to the bank, deposited them and then wrote a check back to their credit card company to pay it off.  All for free, and they received 10,000 frequent flier miles because they used their frequent flier credit card.  I LOVE THAT!!!  I am a credit card perks freak (just ask my wife).  Unfortunately they did this on da Gubment's dime and to the dismay of the true hobbyists.  It was a nice gesture on the part of the Mint, however I disagree with da Gubment paying for something like this to help promote a hobby.  If you have a hobby, fine.  But expect to pay for it.  The article said that some of these people were so organized that they had the UPS guy put the boxes of coins from their UPS truck right into their own car trunks so they could take them immediately to the bank for depositing.  I don't know how much $10,000 in coins weighs ... The Mint put and end to this "freebie" as soon as they found out about the ruse.  Again, unfortunate for the true hobbyists, but ... oh well ...

[added 29 January 2010]
A few years ago, back in the mid-aughts, New York City mandated that if fast food joints were going to put the calorie and fat and other counts on their big menus, the ones up on the walls behind the counters, then they had to do so in the same sized letters in which the food entries were shown.  So the fast food joints decided to take off the calorie and other counts altogether, since they took up way too much room on the menus.  That is an unintended consquence.  But not to anyone who might have thought this through at least a little bit from the beginning.

[added 31 January 2010]
I saw an article in one of last week's Wall Street Journals.  What was of interest, however, wasn't the title, but the sub-title:
Lawyers Set Aim at Toyota
Claims for Lower Vehicle Values, Rather Than Injuries, Expected to Dominate
Notice that sub-title.  I actually read it several times when I first saw it to make sure that I got it right.  This is saying that an unintended consequence of the Toyota accelerator problems is that people's vehicle values may go down and therefore they plan to sue about this issue.  So this issue hits two sets of people.  First, the more obvious, Toyota would of course get hit by lots of lawsuits simply because of our litigious society.  That is absolutely expected.  Wrong, but expected.  If people have valid injury claims then fine, sue.  But people are going to sue because the values of their cars are (or may be ... who knows) going down?  That brings us to the second set of people being hit by this issue: litigious idiots.  Very few people wander into a Toyota dealership with the intent of purchasing a new Toyota as a collector's item.  Therefore the majority of people (can we just go ahead and say all of them?) buy Toyotas to drive around town for ten years, and resale value is waaay down on their priority list.  They don't purchase them so that their resale value will enable them to ... I don't know ... do whatever their resale value may allow them to do.  When you purchase a car you go in wanting something reliable, comfortable, something that fits you just right, and is made with quality in mind.  Where in that list is resale value?  This goes directly to that entitlement feeling that oh so many Americans feel about everything that they have, own and do.  It is wrong.  It is idiotic.  We happen to own a Prius.  We happen to be proud owners of our Prius (as proud as a Prius owner can be, anyway).  We haven't had any issues with it whatsoever aside from normal maintenance.  When we next bring it to our service guy we'll ask him to take a look at the accelerator equipment to be sure that nothing in the mechanism is sticking.  I have already made sure that our car mats are the originals and are in the correct places and do not obstruct the gas pedal.  I have also carefully experimented with the car, trying various very-slow-speed experiments by braking, shifting into neutral while accelerating, etc.  It is easy, and there is nothing out of the ordinary about stopping our car.  And our resale value may just go down a bit.  But who gives a shit?  Oh yeah, the litigious idiots do.  I really hope that gets chucked out of the courts quickly.

[added 10 February 2010]
Washington D.C. tried in January (law passed last July) to do away with disposable plastic shopping bags.  The city imposed a 5 cent-per-bag charge.  Per a Wall Street Journal article, the charge "applies to anything sold at any store that sells food".  Problem is: "deciding what constitutes a food store is easier said than done".  Some book stores, for instance, sell chewing gum or mints.  These are food, and therefore if a customer comes in to buy a bunch of books and wants a bag, they get taxed.  An "adult toy store" sells edible ... adult stuff.  This too is food.  So people coming in for a vibrator or furry handcuffs, who usually would like a plain paper bag to hide their newly purchased ... adult stuff also get charged.  Once again a Gubment tries to do the right thing (which I am not so sure is "right" this time, but that's a different discussion) and screws itself in the butt.  Writing laws is difficult, to say the least.  You have to make sure that you take into account the entire universe of things that can go wrong with your new law, from the innocent bystanders (i.e. the above-mentioned book stores, adult toy stores and many, many others) to those that intentionally will try to run around the law's outskirts.  Not easy, but this one was just done ... stupidly.  Any store that sells any food will have to tax any customer for these bags who buys anything.  Think about that ... Yes, this is an unintended consequence, but only in the "didn't really think it through" category ...

[added 25 July 2010]
San Diego messed up.  The Wall Street Journal article titled Floatopia's Last Hurrah in San Diego? City Banned Beach Drinking, Now Moves Against Rubber Rafts(http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703954804575380652536796866.html) says that the city council passed a law a while back, which the residents then made permanent, making illegal drinking any alcoholic beverages "on the beach".  Problem is:
"The ban defines 'beach' as 'the sand or land area bordering the water of an ocean or bay.' The wording inadvertently created a drinkers' haven in the water."
So everyone got out their floaties and drank just a few feet from the beach, in the water.  And as the article says:
"San Diego's float parties are a case study in the law of unintended consequences."
Perfect.  Why is it so hard to think these things through?  Yeah, people are generally stupid, however when it comes to their own entitlements (Americans anyway ...), enjoyments and the like, they suddenly and amazingly get very bright.  This one is no different.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Gunshots and thunder

One of the most absolutely amazing things I have ever seen or heard was a huge chunk of ice.  Let me explain ...

Long long ago in a land far far away ... OK, back in 1998 on the east coast of the USA my buddy Jeff and I left for the trip of a lifetime (for us ... for others, perhaps the trip of a lifetime is a hike up Mt. Everest, or a ride into the stratosphere as some rich folk are now able to afford ... for me, this was cool enough).  We drove from Right Coast USA, across the top to Left Coast USA, and then up through downtown Canada, into Alaska USA, all the way to the top of Alaska USA, and then back home to Right Coast USA via lower Canada.  12,000 miles in 33 days.  It was a schlep.  I won't go into trip details, but it was awesome to say the least.  And I'll never do it again --- I hate driving.

But one of our many side trips involved a glacier cruise.  We were staying the night in ... I don't know, somewhere in southern-ish Alaska.  And we decide to do a somewhat touristy thing and take a glacier cruise.  As it turned out, it was fantastic (the wildlife and the glacier) and horrible (my stomach never has gotten along very well with boats).

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Books: "The Bourne Identity"

Wow!  Just plain WOW!!!  First, for anyone who's been hiding under a rock for the past few years, or for the past almost 30 years, "The Bourne Identity" is a best-seller and probably has been for quite a while, as well as a pretty good (though very different from the book) movie in 2002 (a fine Matt Damon vehicle).  This story was written in either 1980 or 1984 (or even 2010), depending on whether you want to trust my printed version of the book or Google Books (or Amazon --- I guess there's a new printing just out).
The plot is quite ... complex.  Suffice it to say that Robert Ludlum is a pretty damned good writer, in my opinion.  He begins with a mystery, continues into a conundrum, leads you into an action-packed thriller, all the while leaving you with a constant sense of cliffhangerness (another wordicle!!!) and whodunitivity (again!) and at the end makes it all look like a charade.  Holy crap!

Jason Bourne, a.k.a. D--- well, I won't spoil it --- is a spy's spy.  Expert in everything covert, a "chameleon" who can change his look at will.  Knows all of the ins and outs of international intrigue.

The plot twists and turns, but actually does it very well.  Many books overdo this as they try to keep the reader's attention.  Not so here.  Mr Ludlum does very well at adding a whole lot of unknowns throughout the book, but does a very good job of keeping the complexities entertaining yet to a minimum for the reader.

Without diving into the plot itself, which you can get by reading the book (what an idea!) or by reading the many, many spoilers on-line, suffice it to say that if you are a spy-loving intrigue-admiring kind of book lover, then this is absolutely for you.  As soon as I get the chance, I'll begin The Bourne Supremacy.  I've already seen the movie, and it is evidently completely utterly totally different than the book.  Oh well ...

As complex as this book is, I don't fully understand why the movie was made to be so incredibly different.  Perhaps to really do the entire original plot justice they realized that they'd need about 20 hours of movie time, and most people don't want to sit in a theater for that long.  Most people ... and I could be wrong ...

This bookwas, by the way, the subject of another short blog of mine.  Yes, it was a book ...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The guy who saw my wife's naughty bits

My Dad-in-law retired (sort of) last week.  So his office compatriots threw him a small retirement (sort of) party.  It was hosted at one of their houses.  We went in and met a few people.  One of the men looked slightly familiar to us.  My wife turned to me and whispered "Isn't that the doc who delivered Li'l D?"  I looked at him and said "Mmm hmm, I think so."  So she asked if he was an OB, or GYN, or whichever of those female doctor-types that delivers babies.  He said "Yes, I used to, but I am now retired."  Smiles and pleasantries and all through the rest of the evening.

My wife's sister was there also, and this same doctor also delivered her first daughter.

But knowing that there was another man there who had seen my wife's naughty bits, let alone my sister-in-law's naughty bits, even professionally (which could itself go several ways, but this was as a doctor, not as a "John") was kinda strange.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The math of toilets

So I took a pee today.  Interesting huh?

I was at a urinal at work.  Our facilities folks occasionally attempt to do some "green" experiments.  One of these types of experiments involves trying out different types of urinals that use less, or no, water.  The little explanatory card above my urinal today told me that it only uses a pint of water per flush.  I don't know how much water a regular urinal uses per flush, but it can't be much more than that, and I must look this up on the Web for the rest of this post.  I'll be right back ...

Hmmm ...

Huummmm ...

Hmmmmmmm ...

OK.  I am back.  And evidently I was wrong.  Looks like the newer urinals tend to use a gallon and a half of water for each flush, down from two and a half gallons in the older urinals.  That is one helluva lot more water than it appears is running down that hole.  But anyway ...

The urinal next to mine was waterless.  Yes, waterless.  That means that you pee, and then just walk away.  I have used it.  I have peed in that urinal and then walked away.  No noise.  No liquids slurshing around the bottom.  Nothing.  But the strange thing was the information posted on the card above my neighboring waterless urinal: it said that that urinal, all alone, all by itself, could save 40,000 gallons of water each year.  As I was peeing I was running some numbers quickly through my head (I am ambidextrous like that).  And these numbers went like this (but with a lot more detail and less rounding here):
40,000 gallons per year / 1 gallon per flush (I thought I was overestimating) = 40,000 flushes
40,000 flushes / 365 days per year = 110 flushes per day
But this assumes that dudes are peeing at work every day of every week, and I am sure that, although some dudes pee at work on, say weekends and holidays, most of them are peeing at home or at a ballgame or at Home Depot instead on those days.  So let's assume 200 workdays per year:
40,000 flushes / 200 work days per year = 200 flushes per day
Now let's assume a 12 hour day, because although I tend to get in to work to pee on the very early side, many other dudes get in to work to pee on the much later side, even into the early and mid-evenings.  So:
200 flushes per day / 12 hours = 16.666 flushes per hour
or a flush every 3.6 minutes.
Here's my problem with this: Dudes are not peeing in that urinal every three and a half minutes.  It's just not happening.  There are a lot of people in my building, thousands of them, and lots of them are dudes, however the bathrooms are just not used that often or regularly.  I cannot prove it.  You'll just have to trust me on this important issue.  So, to me, this is false urinal advertising.

Important?  No.  Not at all.  Not even remotely.  Why the hell are you still reading this?

Interestingly, in my urinal web search just now I came upon the same claim: that a waterless urinal can indeed save up to 40,000 gallons per year.  So perhaps in other locations that do have much more regular dude-use of the urinals this is true.  But not where I work.  Trust me.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Big bucks from old investments

I am making BIG BUCKS from some old stock investments.  See my latest in my investing blog: Big Winstar bucks

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

“That was a book?”

I got my hair cut the other day.  I got there early and happened to bring the book that I am reading, “The Bourne Identity”.  The young chick at the front desk saw my book and said “I didn’t know that was a book!!!”

Maybe it’s a generational thing?  At least she knew it was a movie …