July 2007 minutiae

  • I don't mind American companies outsourcing their call centers to India. For all I know I probably have some cousins who are employed by them. But, c'mon, don't make these poor people answer the phone by saying, "Hi, I'm Randy."

  • Why are wedding dresses so sexy? Until recently I thought it was because of their intrinsic characteristics: that they tend to be daringly cut and shiny white and stuff. But it occurred to me that two wedding dresses in the same room cancel out each other's hotness. Why is that? Possibly because what makes a wedding dress hot in the first place is not its intrinsic characteristics after all but rather the way that it designates the wearer as "main character" in a way that is otherwise a function of narrative rather than of life.

    I have been advised that the premise that wedding dresses are really sexy may be a minority view.

  • I fucking hate DVDs. I just watched one that began with a long ad about how downloading movies is a crime. Hey, you know the great thing about pirated movies? It's not that they're free — it's that don't have fucking ads!

  • Interestingly, my preferences where DVDs are concerned are the opposite of my interactive fiction preferences. I am on record supporting IF that begins with a menu (read the notes, start a new session, load a save file, etc.). I hate DVD menus. When I put the disc in, I want the movie to start. The title menu pisses me off.

  • I clean my keyboard pretty regularly. This is less a matter of fastidiousness than a regular old nervous habit — I'll be trying to think, and look down at my keyboard, and absent-mindedly run the toothpick of my pocketknife between the keys. But apparently even I don't do it enough. Just now I was cleaning out some of the gunk and discovered some Crango fur up near the backspace key. Crango hasn't been within shedding distance of this computer since October 2005. Crango, Crango, there you are / Crazy little guy / Crango, Crango, there you are / Cat who fell from the sky

  • I really need to stop spending July 4th in the United States.

  • Shirley Temple is still alive. What must it be like to be walking around in the year 2007, probably attracting no more attention in public than any other elderly lady, knowing that back in the Roosevelt Administration you were the most famous person in the world?

  • One of the interesting things about the coming of the Internet age was the way audiovisual communication (television, telephone) gave ground to text (web, IM). Now the pendulum is swinging back: it seems like most of the links on the news sites now pull up video clips, and Youtube has taken over the world to such an extent that people are now blogging by sticking video cameras in front of their faces and speaking. But, man, this isn't really progress! Audiovisual communication has its strengths, sure, but it also has weaknesses, and one of the big ones is that it operates in real time. If you write an article, I can decide how much time I want to devote to it and then read it correspondingly fast or slow. But if you put it up as a podcast, then if that podcast lasts 44 minutes and 16 seconds, it's going to take me 44 minutes and 16 seconds to get through it. Which is almost certainly much much longer than it would have taken me to read the text version even if I were dawdling over it.

  • I don't care what you all say — Black Canary is a great superhero name.

  • I bought a (much too large) bag of mustard seeds, and since I didn't want them flying all over the place when I opened the bag, I poured them into a plastic container. Then I put the lid on. When I did so, a bunch of the seeds leapt upward. Then they sat there, clinging to the sides of the container, right near the top. When I moved my finger along the outside of the plastic, the seeds on the inside jumped out of the way.

  • I rarely recognize people who come up and talk to me as if I should know who they are. Some of this has to do with the asymmetry of teaching: when I'm in front of a classroom, everyone's looking at me, but I'm looking at 20 different people. But I've long assumed that I was ever so slightly face-blind.

    Then I took a test that had a section on facial recognition. The participant views ten faces and then has to look at fifty faces — some are repeats — and say which ones are among the ten and which ones aren't. When I took this test, I tried to compare the faces that came up to the ones I'd memorized, but except for about three of the faces I was never really sure. At times it felt like I was just selecting Yes or No randomly without even knowing which button I was pressing.

    I got 98%. I may not recognize faces, but apparently my spinal column does.

  • Recently I have found that I have lost the instinct protecting me from touching hot metal. I have to consciously remind myself that it would be a bad idea to change the oven rack with my bare hands after it's preheated, and when taking a pan off the burner I have to explicitly think "use the handle." Not sure what that's about. I've burned myself a couple of times but it hasn't been too bad.

  • I came home to find a ticket from DHL on my door — my new computer had arrived, but a signature was required for delivery and I hadn't been home. I wouldn't be home the next afternoon either, so I called the phone number that was printed in big bold type all over the ticket. The answering system had an option for "you won't be in tomorrow," and after I selected it, the message told me to enter my zip code. I did and was transferred to the local office's phone, which rang and rang. I let it ring for three or four minutes before giving up. Then I tried again and it was busy. Then I looked up the phone number online and called direct — still no answer. Back to the number on the ticket. No luck.

    I wanted my computer. I looked up where the package had been before being loaded onto the truck. Oakland. Google told me DHL's Oakland location was Hangar 9, North Field, Oakland International Airport. So I drove to Hangar 9. There was no place to park, but I saw a truck stopped near a fence so I parked in front of it. I found a little office and showed someone my ticket. He was a little nonplussed but said he could get my package out of the warehouse. A few minutes later I signed for it and left. As I started my car, right in front of me I saw the Goodyear Blimp coming in for a landing.

  • When I hear a song on the radio and decide to buy the album, often the song I know is not the best one. That's always a nice surprise. But this is not the case with Pandora (ie, pandora.com). It's the same story every time: hear a song on Pandora, buy the album, listen to it several times, and conclude that the song you heard on Pandora is definitely the best one, often the only good one. But this makes sense, I guess: Pandora isn't trying to match you up with bands or albums, merely songs. If the band in question had come up with a song you'd like more, Pandora would have picked that one.

  • Seen on a menu: Frash Mushrooms. I hope the "a" was the typo and not the "F".

  • I recently made a bunch of space-themed Windows backgrounds in Photoshop. When I went looking for photos of Venus online, I found that the vast majority of them were radar images of the surface rather than actual photos in visible light showing the clouds. Maybe Google just assumed based on my past history that I was looking for naked pictures. Still, it is weird to me that there is a generation that thinks Venus looks like Io.

  • In the thirteen-plus years I've been tutoring, I have heard literally hundreds of apologies from my students and their family members for their dogs' behavior. None of them has ever had to apologize for a cat.

  • I was at a student's house when the phone in the kitchen rang. Then the phone rang again. Then an authoritative male voice said, "Hello!" The phone rang again. The voice said "Hello!" again. The phone rang again. There was the beep of an answering machine. The phone rang again. There was another beep. The phone rang again. Then: "Awwwwk."

  • In Phoenix, two news helicopters covering a police chase crashed into each other and exploded. I went to the web site of a Phoenix TV station and watched a clip of its coverage. The anchors were trying to be somber as they spoke of the deaths of their fellow staff members but their funereal tone was somewhat undermined by the accompanying newscrawl's breathless report that ZSA ZSA GABOR'S HUSBAND FOUND NAKED IN CAR.

  • I sometimes go to arf.net and look at the cats they have available for adoption — sort of the same principle that gets me browsing rental listings on craigslist.org even though I'm not looking to move at the moment. One of them had such an prominent snout that I dubbed it Dogcat. Much to my chagrin, over the course of the past year or so most of the characters on Scary Go Round, Erin and Esther in particular, have succumbed to Dogcat effect. Their lower faces have swollen up unpleasantly since last September.

  • It occurred to me that the screen resolution I imprinted on as a kid — 320 x 200, CGA — was eight by five and therefore a truer forebear to my current eight by five screen (with six times the diagonal) than were all the four by three resolutions from VGA through UXGA that I used from the ages of fifteen to thirty.

  • On Shattuck Avenue a man asked me for change to get something to eat. in a fit of generosity, I offered him one of the items I had purchased at Gregoire, a very well regarded French takeout place on Cedar. He angrily turned me down and stormed away!

  • I used to have a great story. See, in the GRE manual I use in my job there is a word association exercise. The exercise presents a list of words whose definitions most students don't know. It then asks students to think of a phrase that includes the word. So, say the word is "cardinal." One phrase that includes that word is "cardinal directions." Those are the main directions, so "cardinal" must mean "main," at least in some contexts.

    Another word on the list is prodigal. Once, years ago, I asked a student what phrase this made her think of. She said, "Prodigal son." I asked, "And who was the prodigal son?" She thought for a moment and replied, "Jesus?"

    As I say, I used to have a great story. The reason this is no longer a great story is because it turns out that everybody guesses Jesus.

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