Friday, August 29, 2008

I've Been Biden My Time

But it seems to me that McCain's veep pick has got to Palin comparison to Obama's.

I really just don't think Palin was a very good choice. I know she lives in Alaska and I know Alaska is a state, but it has the look of McCain going off to find someone from some sort of foreign, exotic place. He should have looked for someone from the heartland.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Travel Reviews

I hate when someone is writing something that is ostensibly some sort of report from some out-of-town event they are attending but then you read it and it turns out to mostly be complaints about air travel.

I understand that if you do not travel frequently then the fact that you have to wait in lines and take your shoes off and don't get enough to eat on the airplane seem like big deals, especially when a whole day went by and all you did was get pissed off in airports and you feel obligated to report on something since you did get time off work and everything.

But if you think about it, anybody who might actually be informed by this kind of griping is by definition someone who also does not travel by air very frequently. And by the same token, not likely to find said gripes very useful in their own lives.

You see this same kind of thing when dorky movies come out and get "reviewed" by nerds on the internet who have not been to the movies since Superman. Like the entire first half of the review is all this vitriol regarding how expensive movie tickets and popcorn are and then the second half is about how somebody's cell phone went off during the pod race, none of which are newsworthy or very upsetting to anyone who actually attends movies on a regular basis.

And then there's a postscript about Jar-Jar Binks, and nobody's learned anything.

Senator Biden on the Democratic Side

Did anything ever come of the Biden-Payne connection? That was well-publicized enough that I imagine the Obama campaign would have looked into it during the vetting process, but I'm just curious.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Good Old Days

Jesse Taylor finds Glenn Reynolds rhapsodizing about the good old days back in the 1950's, when kids respected their elders, women didn't have to work, everyone was white, and...high school students packed heat?

This does prompt the idea of a kind of Dirty Harry/Leave It To Beaver mash-up, where a wholesome youngster bucks the generous wisdom of his benevolent teachers and parents to take back his school from the light-hearted pranksters whose charming mischief has overtaken the community by whatever means necessary. Yes, it's Dirty Beaver.

Also, for my money, the classic portrayal of the wholesome but well-armed suburban American family has got to be the tourists who smuggle James Coburn out of DC in The President's Analyst.

An International Shame

I'm sure that baseball fans have heard that Olympic baseball is, with the completion of the Beijing Games, not again to return for the foreseeable future. This is a huge misstep, in my opinion, especially in the context of an Olympic Games which continues to include soccer, one of the dullest and most pointless team competitions in the world of sport.

In the US, soccer (which is known in countries such as Britain and the United Kingdom by the misnomer "football," and sometimes abbreviated to the less formal "footsie") is mostly considered a juvenile pursuit: it's what young children play before they are old enough to participate in regular sports such as baseball and (actual) football.

But to the uninitiated observer, the gameplay, which consists largely of grown men in collared shirts running around after a small white ball, more closely resembles an activity with which one might entertain a beloved family pet. (One does hope that soccer coaches at the international level are at least capable of generating encouragements for their players that rise above commands to "fetch," but who knows.)

At the Olympic level, soccer's major event is known as the World Cup, a sad overstatement for a game whose popularity doesn't extend far beyond the Irish foothills and a handful of third-world backwaters. The sport joins a long list of topics (including breakfast cereal, the works of Shakespeare, and Episcopalianism) afforded attention far exceeding that which they are due, by dint of their origins in the late British Empire and Her colonies. This competition has generated no major stars of more than regional acclaim, and certainly no international idols on the level of a George Foreman or a Muhammad Ali.

The Olympic Soccer World Cup is for all intensive purposes a meaningless bit of pageantry, a bone thrown to also-ran nations with an attitude that would be considered insulting condescension were it directed at a state with half a teaspoonful of self-respect. That the Olympics have continued to support this parody of decent sport, while jettisoning the intricate and beguiling subtleties that infuse the international game of baseball, only underscores the Olympic Games' continuing descent into irrelevance.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Free Market Principles

Kathy G posts on the Supreme Court's legalization of minimum price setting by manufacturers. I particularly enjoyed this bit—
Economists associated with Chicago school argued that price-fixing can promote the free market, since "minimum pricing strategies" would
prevent no-frills discounters from getting a "free ride" from marketing efforts of rival retailers that charged higher prices to spend more money on promotion
—said "free ride" sometimes going by the name "competition." Which, like any aspect of real free markets, is only desirable in the eyes of Chicago types when big corporations want it to be.


Atrios approves of enjoying a nice refreshing box of wine. I cannot cosign this strongly enough, and note that my own box of wine intake this summer has been somewhat lacking. Maybe I will pick up a box of wine sometime this week.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Switch Plates

Some of the light switch plates in our new apartment are messed up: cracked, or smudged with old paint, and then there's one dimmer switch we want to replace so we can use CFLs without flicker.

Obviously, my first instinct is to go with a classic:

That's for use with a standard toggle switch:

But our whole apartment uses those low-profile rocker switches, like this:

So I had the idea to make a big poster-sized adaptation of the David switch plate:

You'd have to find a switch far enough from the nearest door so there's enough room, but I think it would be a funny gag.

Friday, August 15, 2008


Amanda muses on McCain's criticism of Obama's being "too cool and popular." I'm in the midst of Rick Perlstein's excellent Nixonland, and McCain's approach here is exactly along the lines of Nixon's politics of resentment.

Nixon's motivating insight (or instinct) was that, by dint of the nature of popularity ("popular" only makes sense as a relative term; if everyone were equally popular than nobody would be), vastly more people have necessarily experienced feeling left out and looked down upon by the popular than have experienced actually being popular. And so rather than participating in a popularity contest that you are doomed to lose, you can instead attack the contest itself and get people to identify with your unpopularity.

I don't know if this can work for McCain, who I believe has always relied on genuine popularity, especially among the press. But it is far from unprecedented.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Classic Video Games

Mighty Ponygirl wonders whether old video games were really as difficult as people remember them. A couple years ago my brother Josh and I were playing old games in a Nintendo emulator and taking advantage of the load/save features to help with the tricky parts. Even with unlimited saves, nobody could get past the hotel in Ghosts 'n Goblins. It's sort of stupid how hard that game is.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


I hadn't thought before about the "donation levels" commonly specified with fundraising solicitations. One point is especially intriguing:
Scenario 1 An organization I have given $200 in the past sends me a solicitation letter. The letter requests gifts of $100, $250, $500 or "some other amount." Since in previous years I've given $200, I probably wouldn't decrease my gift to $100. But because they've asked for $250, I'd probably scrape up some extra money and give at that suggested level. Lesson: set your ask levels in a way that will encourage people to stretch their giving.
It is already pretty normal to get solicitation letters that are customized with your name. If there is indeed a psychological mechanism at work that would prompt people to give a little more than last time, but not a lot less, then it would be trivial to customize fundraising letters so that each donor gets recommended donations tailored to their own previous giving.

So f.f.'s letter would have the levels she gives in her example, but since I only gave $40 last time, my copy of the same fundraising letter would have levels of $25, $50, and $100.

Anyway, I'm sure this is already being done. I'll have to pay more attention in the future so I don't get's like when I learned to stop ordering the second most expensive entrée and the second cheapest wine when eating out.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

I Got Hitten and Ran

By a taxi, natch. Shortly after midnight last night, I was crossing Delancey on Bowery and a cab coming the other direction turned left into me and sent me over their hood. No injuries, thankfully.

A motorist and two pedestrians saw what happened and stopped to make sure I was okay. They confirmed the guy just hit me and took off.

I should have reported it, and I should have gotten contact info from the witnesses. I know and knew this, but I just wanted to get home and be done with it.

This morning I am a little sore, but nothing serious. My fork was not so lucky:

Bent fork

I haven't checked out the wheel and brake yet. Everything else looks okay.

I'm not zealous on the issue of helmets, but I'm glad I was wearing mine, as I smacked the right side of my head pretty hard on the street when I landed. Check out the crack it left in the foam:

Crack in helmet foam

I hadn't been in a crash with a car before, and I hadn't been in a crash that wasn't at least partially my fault before, so both aspects have shaken me up a little. Also, I know that it happens every day, but it is still depressing to me that a motorist could hit someone like that and keep driving. I don't know what else to say about that, it's just disappointing.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Battlestar GaWACKtica

Agh, what? This damn show isn't over? Boooooo. At least my brain gets a year to recover.

The Power of Naming

God let Adam name everything to give Man dominion over Creation.

There is a magic to naming.

The Greeks called it λογος: word, but also knowledge.

To name something is to control it.

Thus I find myself unable to source one of those little bolt thingies that goes in the bottom of the one half of a double door and latches into the floor to keep it from moving around when you use the other half. You know those things? What's that thing called?

Update: It's just a slide bolt. Some models specify that they are designed for vertical or horizontal mounting, others can be used either way.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


Oh wow, I didn't even realize what the tire gauge thing was all about: I thought Obama had said something like "we could save a lot of energy by keeping our tires properly inflated" out of nowhere, and thought he was being mocked by the McCain campaign for making the kind of weenie statement that Jimmy Carter did when he went on TV in a cardigan (that happened, right?).

But, via Majikthise, Obama's point was that everyone keeping their tires inflated wasn't a huge deal when it came to conservation, but that even so it would save as much energy as off-shore oil drilling would, and at much lesser cost, which showed just how stupid the pro-drilling argument was.

I think the correct Obama response to this has to just go further along this same path of ignoring everything that came before your opponent's most recent response: John McCain is giving out tire gauges because he has realized that keeping people's tires inflated will be twice as effective in reducing energy costs as the off-shore drilling he has been talking about.

Diagonal Brownstone

I was poking around on web forums and found a thread on the brownstone at 323 Prospect Place, which is notable because it's built at an oblique angle relative to the surrounding street grid. Someone in the thread linked to a LOST Magazine article on how it came to be built that way. So cool.

Update: Okay, looking at a regular map, this actually isn't that amazing. The mysterious "lost road" the building was built to line up with now goes by the name of Washington Avenue. So while most other buildings in the immediate vicinity of 323 are aligned to the street grid, there are actually a lot of others that are built square to the old Flatbush Turnpike. My apologies.

Weird Switches

Sarah and I spent some time at our new apartment this weekend, moving in some boxes and getting things ready for painting. At some point I realized that something weird was going on with the switches for three overhead lights in the kitchen, bathroom, and the hallway connecting them.

Here is a perfect scale rendering of that part of the apartment:

The lights are labeled A, B, and C; and the switches are W, X, Y, and Z.

Switch Z is actually behind the gas range, and requires slender fingers to operate. When I had first tried it out, it flipped the kitchen light, A, on and off, but then when I tried to turn that light on again later in the afternoon, it didn't appear to do anything.

After some experimentation, we realized that X, Y, and Z were each tied to a specific light, with switch W acting as a "master" switch that can kill them all. In logic terms,

A = W + Z,

B = W + Y, and

C = W + X.
I don't know why someone would set things up that way: either you keep W constantly in the on position and have to reach behind the stove every time you want to use the kitchen, or you keep Z constantly in the on position and have to turn on the kitchen light when you get up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Beside the Point

Via Game Set Watch, some d-hole in the internets lays out his case against the legality of Scrabolous. He obtusely sticks to the technical legal points while refusing to engage what would seem to me is the common sense argument that: copyright exists to encourage people to create stuff; nobody is going to be discouraged from making anything because Hasbro can't make enough money selling a centuries-old board game.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Respect Is A Deuce-Way Street

Via Tristero, an Andrew Sullivan reader on PZ Myers' Catholic-baiting:
If the Catholic church can get away with desecrating what others consider sacred (or, for those of us who have no concept of sacredness, at least special) - if they can call a loving union between two gay men or women an "abomination", if they can call the union into which I hope to enter someday a "perversion", then damn it, I reserve the right to desecrate what they consider sacred also. Respect is a two-way street - if they want my respect, they must give me theirs.
What this misses is that while only a small minority of Christians (some Catholic, others not) use words like "abomination" and "perversion" to describe gay relationships, the gleeful public desecration of the host is offensive to a vastly larger number of Catholics, for many of whom Catholicism is primarily an ethno-cultural identity.

Furthermore, the display of antipathy towards that symbolic ritual in particular evokes a long history of anti-Catholic demagoguery, typically perpetrated by the sorts of fire-breathing Protestant fundamentalists and bigots whose intellectual heirs today build their careers on the demonization of Muslims and, yes, gays.

Anyway, I guess I would say that people's beliefs don't necessarily deserve respect, but on the other hand being a jerk about it is kind of...jerky.

Fortune Cookie

Andrew and I got Chinese takeout at the bar the other day. Here was my fortune: