Tuesday, December 30, 2008

I just added this button on the right:

Save Handmade Toys

So what's it about? We all, I'm sure, remember the problems with toxic toys imported from China. There was a lot of pressure on Congress to do something, and the something they chose to do was to pass a law requiring vigorous testing of all products sold for children. Which sounds great until you think of the millions of cottage makers out there making toys (or furniture) in their garages, basements, and sewing rooms. As more than one person has put it, the people hurt the most by this law will be the people who have already earned our trust.

Put another way, once this law is passed, and all these boutique manufacturers are put out of business, your only choice will be to buy toys from companies big enough that they can afford the expensive testing. And if you don't trust the testing, you're sort of screwed. But why wouldn't you trust the testing? I mean, look how well it's worked for the beef industry, right?

I'd call it a coincidence, but I'm old enough now to have seen this happen again and again. Big business screws up --> Congress threatens regulation --> Big business hires lobbyists --> lobbyists make sure that new regulations are harder on small businesses than big ones.

So, anyway, click the link and see what you can do about it. I'm particularly jazzed about voting for it on Change.gov. How cool is it that our new president has a site where we the people can tell him what ideas we think are most important?

Monday, December 29, 2008

To Catch a Thief - Spoiler Alert!

Christie and I watched this classic Hitchcock movie recently, and I thought it was well made, but I couldn't escape the feeling that the ending was supposed to be a twist ending, like, "Hey, this badass jewel thief is actually a girl! Bet you didn't see that coming!" But yes, yes I did. From the first moment she appeared on screen.

Select text to see the spoiler.

Charging a Razr phone from your PC

If you've got a Razr phone, and find yourself stuck at work with no charger, but your phone is dying, you charge it off your PC. All you need is a USB cable, and these drivers.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Mara (age 3.5): Let's play pirates!

Me: How do we do that? Do we say Arrrr! a lot?

Mara: Yeah! And pretend we have patches on!

Me: And parrots?

Mara: Yeah! And funky pants!

Paging Alanis Morissette

When the automation you set up so you won't have to come into the office on your day off fails because goddam lotus notes pops up an "Out of Office" reminder in the middle of the macro and brings it all to a screeching halt, that, unlike a black fly in your chardonnay, actually is ironic.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Year in Review - 2008

I'd love to write up some kind of family newsletter, but the kidlet had the flu this weekend (high fevers, middle of the night ER visit, the whole works) and I've got it now. Besides, it's sort of like a bomb went off in our lives back in June, and we're still finding pieces. It was a good bomb, but a bomb nevertheless. If I did write such a newsletter, it'd only be for the last 6 months. Of course, the first six months of 2008 were basically spent prepping for the Coming of She Who Was Foretold (By Ultrasound), so that's probably pretty appropriate.

I guess I'll let the pics tell the tale:

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

It's easy to forget that Santa Claus has his origins in northern European wildman myths, so it's cool to see this family tree from the Fortean Times that lays it all out. I'd like to see Enkidu on there, and might actually more of a scholarly approach than the humorous one on here, but the artist is drawing for an audience that already knows the lineage somewhat, whereas most people don't.
I was on the verge of installing Ubuntu on my laptop the other day, but stoppped short when it came to partitioning. Because my laptop is a Lenovo, there's a recovery sector on the hard drive, and preserving it while installing Linux is, by all accounts, a hassle. I checked everything I could online, and all accounts are that almost everything works almost correctly, but there are one or two things that still need a little tweaking, like getting the speakers to work.

Which brought me, mentally, to how I actually use my home laptop, and while I do a ton of web 'work', I also need to be able to run Microsoft Office for at least one theoretical consulting project that might materialize in the next month or so. Mostly, though, I use it to watch TV and movies, and I either download those off the Tivo or watch them via Netflix streaming video, and neither of those work in Linux yet, and my understanding is that WINE doesn't deal with Tivo-to-Go perfectly yet.

Basically, I was thinking of changing to Linux because of the hassles associated with Vista, but it's turned out that Linux would most likely be just as big a hassle, so I'm not switching.

In other news: look, bad cakes!

Friday, December 19, 2008

I had a nice experience with CapitalOne today. They called me the other day to let me know that my payment was 18 days late (!), and would I like to make a payment now, over the phone? In general, I make it a point to not give information about my bank account to people who call me on the phone, but this woman had all kinds of information that only CapitalOne would have. Of course, making a payment over the phone would have required me to have my checkbook with me, which I didn't, so I made an electronic payment via my bank while I was on the phone, and the customer service rep made a note in the file that the payment should be there by the end of the week. She also said that if it turned out that I'd never received the November bill, I should let them know, and they could send me a copy.

Since then, I've been calling their automated thingamajigger to see if the payment had come in, so I could make sure I was covered. This morning a person answered the phone instead of the usual robot. She confirmed that they'd received the payment, and I told her that I'd looked for the bill, and couldn't find any evidence that I'd received it. I was pretty straight with her, though, that it might have simply been misplaced, and told her that there was no need to send me a copy, as I had other records of what was on it.

With no prompting from me at all, she told me that she "hated to see a late fee on there" as I was such a good customer, and that she'd be removing it.

I realize it's pretty rare for people to write "I just had the best experience with my credit card company!", especially in this credit market, but I did, and I wanted to give them the props they deserve. No Hassle, indeed.
For no reason at all, I give you Former Iowa Governor (and soon to be Ag Secretary) Tom Vilsack, dressed as the crocodile from Peter Pan.

Being a parent, in a nutshell,

is realizing that the money you'd sort of mentally set aside for a Tivo HD sometime after the new year will instead be going for new car seats for a kid who's growing like a weed.
So Obama's picked Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration. Rick Warren's a Christian whose teachings are more based on the Pharisees than on Christ, and a conservative who thinks that government needs to be more involved in limiting access to marriage and controlling women's medical decisions. Gay right proponents and feminists are pissed off, as is that particular group of evangelicals who think Obama is the antichrist, or a secret muslim, or a baby-killer.

I'm a member of the first group, and could care less about the second. So how do I feel? I couldn't care less about this, either. Some of it is probably post-election politics fatigue. And this really is nothing but politics. Nobody thinks Warren is going to use this opportunity to rail against gay married baby killers. Nor is there any suggestion that Warren will be in a position to influence policy. The groups on the left are upset that Obama is 'legitimizing' Warren, and on the right, that Warren is legitimizing Obama.

In other words, this is about feelings, not policy, which probably explains why I could give a rat's ass.

So who gains and who loses? Both of them lose a bit of cred with people who will not be going to the opposition, while not really gaining any cred with the other side. Obama loses a bit more, as the group that's upset with him is both larger and more mainstream, but I doubt it will do him any lasting damage. And the people upset with Warren over this are the evangelical equivalent of indie music snobs who have probably long since dismissed him as a sell out. In terms of purely negative, Obama loses more than Warren.

On the positive side, Warren gets to maintain his image as a political insider, even as the country shifts away from his more extreme views (his views on poverty are much more Christ-based), and gets to be seen, by those of us who pay no more attention to evangelical Christianity than we have to, as mainstream. Obama gains reinforcement of his core message in two ways: Rick Warren is considered by many to be "America's Preacher". Most of those who would call him that didn't vote for Obama, but having him give the invocation drives home to those people that Obama is going to be president of the entire country, not just the 52% that voted for him. After the wedge-driving of the last 8 years, that's a welcome message to me. The second bit of Obama's core message this reinforces is that you don't have to agree with him on everything to be an ally. That bodes well for his legislative agenda.

Any party that insists on ideological purity is hamstringing itself, and we're looking at some huge challenges just in the next year that are going to require the political will of significantly more than 52% of the populace to get them done. Reforming health care is crucial to our economy, and Obama will need to have people on his side that, like Warren, consider abortion to be a silent holocaust and someone else's gay marriage to be an assault on their religious freedom. If this helps, I'm cool with that.

Update: Yglesias with the other hand.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Why I give money to strangers

Reading this bit of holiday schmaltz on Snopes reminded me of an old story that a quick search of the archives tells me I've never told here.

My first year out of college, I was living in Kirksville with my then-fiance, Carrie. I had spent the summer working for the Scouts, and Carrie had been working, too, but we needed to move into a new apartment because her place fell out from underneath us, and I'd been living in a tent for the last 3 months. If I remember correctly, I had a job already, pushing grease at McDonald's, but wouldn't get my first check for a couple of weeks, while her landlord was holding on to her damage deposit for as long as he legally could. We were, in a word, broke.

How broke, exactly?

Completely. Bupkis.

And the cupboard was damn near bare.

Luckily, I remembered that the boxes from my old apartment contained a little plastic container into which I'd thrown my excess change on and off during my last year of college. It had been gathering dust in my parent's basement over the summer, but I dug the box out of the closet, found the container, and dumped it out on the floor. It added up to $4.17.

Thank god we had gas in the car, because that got us to Wal-mart, where we bought as much rice, dried beans, flour, etc. that we could, while I kept a running total in my head, taking my best guess at the tax. My best guess was a bit off, though, as everything rang up to $4.23. I knew we were six cents short, but I counted out the change anyway, hoping I was remembering wrong. I wasn't, so I started looking at our pile of groceries, wondering which item to keep back. It wasn't an easy choice, but the line was piling up behind us, and my face was getting redder by the moment.

The woman next in line smiled and handed me a dime.

I've never been as grateful for anything as I was for that dime, but what I'm most grateful for now, through the distance, was the smile, as if there was nothing more natural than paying for your groceries with a box full of change, wondering which meal you could afford to miss because you were six cents short.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

My wife is more interesting than I am

Me: Did you know they made a Hallmark movie about Jeff's brother?

Christie: Wow, that's the second person I've know who's had a movie made about their family.

Me: Who was the first?

Christie: Remember when I dated that guy whose mom had hired a hitman to kill that woman so her daughter could be a cheerleader?

Me: Oh, right. Well, you've certainly got the gamut there. It's not exactly A to Z, but it's definitely A and Z.
NASA administrator Mike Griffin sounds like a real prize.
If I were going to get Billie a Christmas present, I'd get him this. Of course, if I were going to get Billie a Christmas present, then I'd have to shop for Emily, Theron, Dionne, and probably a whole bunch of other people as well. So, sorry, dude, no prezzie for you. But you oughta click that link, because I think you'll think it's cool.
I had a seriously depressing thought the other day:

I was watching an old Numb3rs episode (love streaming Netflix, BTW), and the plot revolved around a Holocaust survivor. The two brothers that the show revolves around happen to be Jewish, and they were wrestling a bit with the idea of the Holocaust. It clearly wasn't something that existed more as history to them than as a personal connection, until they ran up against this particular case, which led them to investigate their family history a bit as well.

I started thinking about the ways in which the Holocaust acts as a historical singularity for Jews all over the world, in that it triggered a huge diaspora from Europe, and those who didn't emigrate were almost entirely wiped out. For many Jewish families, their history basically stops at WWII because there is no one left to tell the stories, and all the records were destroyed or falsified. Almost anyone who has studied their own family history will have run across these dead ends, but in the Holocaust, we have a giant curtain drawn across the history of an entire people, and the further we get from it, the less likely it becomes that this curtain will ever be opened (we're facing the same problem as we research the history of Christie's grandfather's WWII service).

The poignancy of watching the younger generation (on the show) dealing with this loss of history got me to wondering if there are other examples of this. My mind immediately went to the Iraq war because of it's duration, and because I'm always wondering what effect it's going to have on our country in the long run. And there is an analogy to be made there, but I was looking at it from the wrong side. There has indeed been massive death and a huge diaspora from Iraq, and I have a feeling that future Iraqis researching the history of their families will run into a huge curtain, labeled, "And then the Americans came."
The Readius is a pocket eBook Reader, made smaller by the use of a rollable screen. It looks extremely cool, but I'll consider it vaporware until it launches.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

We so could have used this when we were all in the throes of colic: Itzbeen Baby Care Timer. I was looking back over our pictures since the kid was born, and three out of four pictures from her first three months are of her sleeping on someone who is also sleeping.

Bonus points for the product having a name that tells you exactly what it does.

Fun with search logs

Someone found this blog by searching for "amish filled donuts", which does not sound very tasty. Even ignoring the cannibalism, I'd still say they sound worse than the beef curry filled donut that Tony accidentally ate in Japan.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Parenting Insight # 324

I was not the easiest teenager to live with. More than once, I've wondered why my parents still talk to me, let alone give every impression of enjoying my company. I think I figured it out, though, now that I'm a parent.

Once you've watched someone struggle with learning that you can't have their thumb and their pacifier in their mouth at the same time, and rooted for them to finally figure it out, I'd imagine it's pretty easy to forgive them for taking a long time to learn the harder things, like being graceful in admitting fault, and basic politeness to those closest to you.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

A note to publishers of cut-rate Christmas music albums: If you're going to cut "bring us some figgy pudding" from We Wish You a Merry Christmas, please also cut the line "we won't go until we get some". When you don't, it's just creepy.

Another Old Picture

Can you tell we got a scanner recently? This one's of Theron and Emily, roughly a thousand years ago.
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Friday, December 05, 2008

A local woodworkers group is bringing Marc Adams to Columbia to teach classes on basic router use and joinery.

Ryan Tarpley

That old picture I put up the other day had a few people in it that might bear some introducing to those of you who haven't known me for 20 years. I'll start with Ryan (second from the right). Ryan Tarpley and I went to high school together, knew each other slightly freshman year, really didn't like each other sophomore year, and were fast friends by graduation, and stayed that way until he died at age 25 from glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. The story of how we went from being sort of enemies to strong friends is one of my favorite stories ever, and a good explanation of why I still miss Ryan, almost 13 years after his death.

At the end of our sophomore year, Ryan was dating Heather, whom I wanted to date (isn't high school wonderful?). I managed to make that switch happen over the following summer, and Ryan moved on to dating other folks. So here it is, junior year, and I'm dating Heather, and now Ryan is dating Amy Young (Amy, if you're out there, drop me a line; I'd love to know how you're doing). Amy was one of those sweet girls that everyone loves, while Ryan was equal parts brash and crass, and we had all sort of cast him as the villian in our little debate club dramas, so there was a lot of confusion on all of our parts as to what the attraction was.

One Saturday afternoon, there's a group of us hanging out on the debate bus between rounds talking about the evils of Ryan, and trying to come up with ways to break up Amy and Ryan. That group, as near as I can recall, including Amy's brother (Bryan), Amy's ex (Ben), Ryan's ex (Heather), Heather's boyfriend (me), and Theron, who had no vested interest. Not long into the conversation, Bob came onto the bus, sat on a pile of coats in a nearby seat, and joined in half-heartedly (he wasn't quite as dedicated a Ryan-basher as the rest of us).

I don't really remember the specifics of the conversation. It was just standard high school stuff. But it ended up meaning a lot to Ryan, because his stereo was under that pile of coats that Bob sat on, and Bob's ass pressed the record button. The next time Ryan went to listen to the Doors, he was treated to ten minutes of drunk Jim Morrison, and 35 minutes of us railing on him.

I only know this because Ryan told me about it years later. He listened to that tape over and over again, and paid particular attention to the things we said we didn't like about him. If he thought our criticisms were valid, he set out to change. If they weren't, he made it his goal to change our minds. He resolved to become friends with every single person on that tape, and he was, until the day he died.
Our Christmas shopping is now done.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Winter, 2008

It is not a remotely original insight
to say that all this looking forward,
to next week, the next check, the next
next thing accelerates us like a skydiver
going head first, arms at his sides.

But I suppose it's better than trying to
claw back up through the air, wishing
for last year, the year before, for what's
lost, or never really had, and what is
now, anyway, but the point where one
meets the other, and the wind whips past?

So I sit and watch the gate blow back
and forth, see where the neighbor's
Christmas light falls across our family bed,
watch my daughter's chest rise and fall,
see my wife frown in her sleep, and even as
I sit, that now slips away, and I'm already
missing it, looking forward to the next.

Old pictures

Mary's often wondered out loud what I looked like with long hair. Here's the answer, plus a blast from the past for some of the old friends who read the blog.

Patrick, remember this beard?