My first Kindle experience.

Today while on the bus, i had my first in-person experience with a Kindle.  An old guy with glasses was holding one about two inches from his face, and I leaned forward in my seat eagerly to see how he interacted with it.  Was it truly easy to navigate?  How did the weird screen impact his already damaged eyes?  As an old man, was all this newfangled goodness too much for him?

I have to get the obvious and disturbing portion of my observations out of the way first.  Within the first five seconds, he picked his nose.  And I’m not talking about a subtle scratching that starts on the outside and moves inwards, or even the quick pick.  I’m talking about the possibly brain-damaging deep in there picking that I could barely look away from.  i had to do a double, then a triple take.  Was he still picking?  Yep.  What about now?  Still digging around in there.  It was intense.

The man himself was obviously a little disturbed, even in his  reading habits.  Watching him turn pages, it was difficult to ascertain if he was a really fast reader or a really slow skimmer.  Perhaps the tech WAS too much for him.  Maybe he couldn’t navigate properly and was unable to find what he was looking for, buttoning through pages and pages of files on a never-ceasing quest.  Or maybe he just gets bored with text easily.

My only real observation of the Kindle itself had to do with the page changes.  There is an odd inversion of color before the page change, reversing the image of the old page.  Is this necessary, some sort of imaging reset for the paper?  Or is it a user choice, selected by this old man for some unknown reason?  I should probably read reviews or something to find out, but I guess I’ll wait until I’m desperate enough to get me one.  After all, it’s heavy carrying ten hardbacks around on vacation.

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Where it will do most good.

This past May, the polar bear became the first species listed as endangered due to climate change.  As the colder northern habitats shrink, in particular the sea ice that only freezes at very cold temperature and the bear uses to hunt seal and other animals, the chance of survival also shrinks.  But addressing this problem is a big issue.  How do you keep the world colder?  Would a cease-and-desist of all emissions have a strong enough effect at this point?  And what about those who don’t believe the current heating of the earth is a real trend or is cause by human activity?

I know the Bush administration has their own reservations about the climate change issue.  While I don’t personally agree with these reservations, I’m not particularly offended that Bush chooses to try and implement policy in line with these reservations.  part of the office of the President is to make decisions based on your own beliefs and ideas for the good of the nation.  However, I also believe in law as a restriction of government, not a restriction of people.

The proposed overhaul of the Endangered Species Act is such a restriction of government.  Its intent is to  prevent governmental scientists from using climate change as a determinant of the wildlife impact of various projects.  However, according to this article, the actual wording of the act restricts “federal agencies from assessing the emissions from projects that contribute to global warming and its effect on species and habitats”.  That’s not all about climate change – there are definitely cases where projects that contribute to global warming have emissions that directly harm wildlife in the vicinity.  In addition, the new rules change the way government agencies are supposed to collaborate with government scientists in general.  It’s about giving Interior Department direct control over its own wildlife impact analysis, rather than in collaboration with the US Fish and Wildlife Service.  That’s not a check-and-balance system: It’s not a restriction of
government at all, really.

While I can understand the increasing financial impact that collaboration is having on many of these projects, and how that impact is more of a burden due to recent US financial troubles, that doesn’t mean immediate financial gain should be our objective.  When money’s tight, the long term becomes even more important.  So let’s get back to the principles America was founded on – freedom and justice.

More Boss Awesome.

In the past, I’ve chronicled several instances of my boss and his awesome powers of boss-ness.  Today (a rainy, cloudy, miserable Monday of a day), he has, through several feats, proven his awesome once again.  Let’s look a the evidence, shall we?

First off, I was a little late this morning, mostly due to having a late Sunday night.  So, when I arrived at work, a little late, a little frazzled, looking sleep-deprived and quite likely with mussy hair, my boss knew exactly how to respond.  He exclaimed “Hey, you’re alive!”.  Thanks.  Glad to know I don’t look like total death.

Then there was the ongoing saga of his computer, which is more broke than homeless Abe Lincoln.  Dell has been here three times trying to replace the motherboard – all replacement parts are defunct.  Our poor IT department is secretly crying in darkened offices, trying to overcome the shame.  But my boss takes it all in stride, still smiles and jokes, and occasionally steals my computer from me so he can get actual work done.  Again, he had the perfect response to the situation.  When I told him there was a whole herd of Dell techs in his office trying to figure things out (much like a pack of monkeys.  A barrel of monkeys?), he asked if he should get out his stick and beat them.

Ok, probably some of that is not the most politically correct, but it makes my work life interesting.  And if my boss can’t at least keep me on my toes, what hope is there for the future job market?

Moving Day

For me, it’s never really been difficult to leave a place. People, yes. But the physical presence of a space, though moving and innately connected to my awareness, has never been something of a loss. I might have felt some sadness or remorse at the destruction of a place, knowing I can never go back, but that’s different. To leave a home or a school or meeting place is only a temporary goodbye. Even if you never return, the possibility of being in that space again remains.

This time it’s different. This move is rough, a little bit abrasive, and only too nostalgic. Perhaps a part of that is the sense of knowing in this case too I can never go back. The physical space of the apartment I just spent my last night in will never again be the same space for me. I may return to that geographic location, and it may seem very similar to a place i once lived. Ultimately however, there will be a sense of loss attached to it as well.

For that reason I would like to highlight some of my favorite tiny fragments of living in ‘the beautiful hill’ for the past year:

1) The Indian couple I pass every day on the way to work with their hair dyed the same color of vermilion. They are an older couple. I know they live not far from the bus stop, because I’ve seen them working in the garden there on the weekends, but every morning they walk back up a hill towards my apartment. She is always wearing a sari, and always takes the lead on the narrow sidewalk. I wonder if this is indicative of their relationship, or only of the husband’s slower heaving bulk. I know there is a story there, though I haven’t had time to thread it out. Yet.

2) My favorite staff people at the Dunkin’ Donuts on the corner. Ok, there have been several, especially as there is some staff turnover, but almost all of them are nice and smile. I remember the first time one of them called out my order before I could even speak. I suppose I’m a creature of habit. Still, it’s nice to think that there’s at least one place in the world where I could go in and order ‘the usual’ and they would actually know what I meant.

3) Ok, this one is a bit obvious, but I’m going to share it anyway. The stone wall all along one sidewalk. It’s an utterly ridiculous wall made up of a haphazard jumble of rocks with thick concrete for mortar.  It’s supposed to be a retaining wall similar to those old-country dry stone walls with no mortar, but without the need to rebuild the wall every year.  Unfortunately, since the original builder didn’t pick stones that actually fit together (instead I think he picked the most pointy-outy stones), the wall falls apart every year anyway.  Stones chunk out due to the pressure of earth and water building up behind them, and have to be concreted back in again.  I love the chinks that form in it, the slow dynamic process of the wall coming apart and being remade.  I love the succulents that cling to it with little root, sucking up water and twisting themselves into odd shapes and new blooms.

4) Being at the end of the bus line.  Ok, some people wouldn’t like this because it means more time on the bus, and can be very isolating when you’re coming home late at night.  But my bus is frequent, and I love being able to always step right onto it and get a seat.  I love knowing that back corner of the bus is going to be available, so that when I’m carrying my life in a bag, I have someplace protected to tuck that life.  I love sitting down and getting comfortable and knowing that I’m going to have enough time in that seat to really pull out my book, or even to get some typing done during NaNoWriMo.

5) Walking to the Watertown (Free Public) library.  The walk itself is nice, with about half of it occurring in planted and maintained green space.  Even on hot days, it’s not too bad, especially if you have some water.  I mean, it would be better if my personal library was infinitely large, but borrowing from someone else for free is a nice compromise.  Plus, so far the library seems to have more books that I want than any nearby branch except the Boston Central one, with is a bit of a pain to get to.  Not sure what I’m going to do now – the Somerville library just doesn’t cut it.  Plus, there’s that cool spooky old house (condemned) just off the back parking lot.  I guess that should be a separate thing, though.

6) That creepy old (condemned) house.

7) Homeless Abe Lincoln.  Seeing a homeless man is not usually a high point of my life, but when he is the spitting image of Abe Lincoln, you take note.  I mean, Honest Abe was not an attractive bloke, but he definitely had what qualifies as an ‘interesting’ face.  And seeing that same face with dirty, unkempt clothing below it is even more eye-catching.  Homeless Abe is one of those intriguing enigmas I have yet to solve.  Sure, he dresses like crap, but he has a slew to tech gadgets that could be redeemed for laundry fees, I’m sure – iPods, Blackberrys, and high-end cell phones among others.  And he must live somewhere near me (or else camps out in a local dumpster) because I’ve ridden with him to the end of the bus line several times.

I’m sure there are more tidbits I’m missing, but even though it’s Friday and my boss is out, I do need to do SOME work today.  So I’ll leave you with these 7 to ponder.

Mutt Williams and the search for Elvis.

George Lucas has gone on record recently as saying there will be no continuation of the Indiana Jones franchise without Harrison Ford.  Obviously, there’s no Indy without Dr. Jones, but I dislike the idea that we’ll have yet another ‘Indy’ movie only once Lucas comes up with another good idea.  Looking at the most recent ideas he’s come up with (and I’m talking about the “first” three Star Wars and the soon-to-be released Clone Wars animated mess), I’m not terribly impressed.  And additional talk about a future animated show and bringing the old moves to 3D are also not impressive.  They’re piddly ideas probably only good for squeezing out revenue.  Where’s that big sweeping vision (complete with hokeyness) Lucas used to be known for?

And what, exactly, is wrong with saying goodbye to one era of a franchise and moving on with the next?  What’s wrong with closing the book on Indy and saying hello to Mutt Williams, who’s young and cocky enough that his foolish mistakes would still be believable?  What’s wrong with embracing something new, invigorating, and fresh?  Let Indy have a role in a new series, yes, but allow a future great to grow.  That’s the story of life – the old die to make way for the young.

Armchair science.

With the advent of the popularity of science, a variety of amateurs set of into the field to ‘discover’.  Amateur archaeologists destroyed countless cultural sites and shipped relics and bones to home museums.  Amateur biologists drove certain species (dutifully observed and collected) to the verge of extinction.  Amateur medical professionals brought disease more than they cured it.  To combat such errors methods were refined, and as technology marched forward, new more advanced tools were found to take the place of more bumbling human agents.  But despite tremendous technological advances, the world remains reliant on individual error checking and observation.  The human mind is still the most potent weapon we possess to filter and analyze the unknown.

Take the example of Alice Kober and the decipherment of Linear B.  Sure, guesses were made about what the script might be, and that its form might be linked to inflection.  Sure, certain reoccurring sign patterns were noted.  But it took a keen human eye and hundreds of categorical notecards to discern the real patterns of the script.  Kober (a woman, mind you, well-trained but serving as the assistant to another archeologist) was the one who had the time and patience to hunt down and analyze these patterns, without the drama of fieldwork or the assistance of advanced modeling platforms. Here is armchair science as it’s supposed to be – a discerning mind applied to a problem or question, without the need for recognition or success – to investigate the question is enough.

Today astronomy has brought us another example of a ‘real’ armchair scientist int he form of one Hanny van Arkel.  As a part of the Galaxy Zoo project, she has been spending her time and brainpower pouring over old archived photographs of galaxies far, far away.  The purpose of the project was to allow for quick categorization of each galaxy as spiral, elliptical, or something else, and involved amateurs to free time up for the main researchers.  It is the human element to perception (currently better than computer analysis) that allowed van Arkel to pick out an anomaly, currently being called a ‘cosmic ghost’ for lack of a clearer understanding of what we’re looking at, in one of the photos just below a bright galaxy.  They think the ‘ghost’ is a hot cloud of gas illuminated by a long-dead quasar even further away, but more research is to be done in the area.

What does this say for all of us?  As my sister, Shelly, likes to say, ‘use your brain’.  We are, all of us, still able of contributing something to the collective understanding of the world.  The human mind (or brain, if you prefer) is a tremendously complex wonder with an amazing power to analyze, categorize, and intuit.  As such, we are each the best tool possible for making something great, if we but use that power to question for the question’s sake, rather than the answer’s.

Communal child-rearing

Recently, a friend and I were discussing having children.  I’ve always been a little on the fence about them.  I think about them to a certain extent the way I think about pets.  Sure, they’re nice to have around, but they’re expensive, messy, take up tons of time, and are a big responsibility.  For the moment, I prefer to play with other people’s and give them back when I get tired, regardless of whether or not I might one day want them.

At the same time, even though I enjoy children, I will never be one of those people who comes up to a child (or a pet, for that matter) and makes gurgly sounds and cute faces at them.  It’s demeaning and I find it offensive in others.  That doesn’t mean I won’t play with a child, or that I won’t enjoy doing so.  If I play, I’m going to really play though.  I’m going to take the games seriously (even though all of us are condescending occasionally, even to each other).  While I may impose some of my own rules for safety’s sake, for the most part I’m willing to let the kid determine what we do, and how.  I’m certainly not going to force myself on some innocent child if they are having a perfectly good time playing by themselves.  I don’t want to impose, I want to share.  Maybe a part of that comes from my own upbringing, from my value of alone-time in a five person household, and from my understanding of how to spend time with others from a young age.

With the slowing number of children being born into each household, I think all of us are aware of the only child syndrome. Those who grow up alone are often more spoiled, more selfish, more demanding, less socially adjusted, and generally less able to deal with the world around them. I am speaking in generalizations, and there are exceptions, but usually those exceptions are the result of interaction rather than deliberate character change. An only child who spends most of childhood with cousins, or with the neighborhood kids, or in an environment of many, is more likely to be well socialized than a stubborn adult who was raised alone but wants to better himself by will into something more socially attuned.

What does this all mean for my own life?  Well, if I’m going to have one, I might as well have two.  And if I’m going to have two, I’m still going to need to raise them in a real community.  Does that mean I end up living close to my sisters and their children?  Does that mean I end up in a large rambling house with friends, their spouses, and their children?  Does that mean I expect the community (whether neighborhoods, churches, or other organizations and groups) to have a strong role in the life of my children?  Of course it does.  The infant mind is designed to be expansive.  It’s designed to take everything in, to assimilate, and to eventually categorize and even choose.  Because of the design, to be fair to my child, I’m going to throw as much community experience as time permits.

My new pen pal.

Occasionally ordinary incidents of the day strike enough of a chord in me that I feel the need to record them.  To others, there may be nothing singular or striking about these events, but I still find they have worth.  I don’t pretend to know the meaning behind each, other than to prove the world of Stacey is a strange place.

Of late, I have been doing some online dating.  When I say ‘online dating’, I mean trolling the internet for people I might actually like.  Usually there are some emails exchanged, and some of them even result in live, real-world dates.  At the moment I am on match.com which has been highly rated by two people I trust, Mike and Gina.  However, I’ve had little success with it.  No one has emailed me out of the blue, and those who I’ve emailed have not responded.  I’ve also been looking at postings on Craigslist, which is where all the actual communication and dating has sprung from.

Even online, there’s no gentle way to let a person down.  Whether you’ve actually met them or not, the final ‘let’s be friends’ death-knell is difficult to give.  I myself have occasionally been prone to the ‘chicken’ method – never emailing or speaking to them again, no matter how many times they call/write.  I just hate to be mean to people, even when I don’t really like them.  I guess it’s because, despite the reasons and even a lack of interest in both parties, rejection stings.

I was pleasantly surprised then by a recent return email from a guy I’d told I would be willing to meet, but only as friends.  He said that he’d been talking to this other girl too where he had quite a bit of interest, so this kinda made the decision for him.  I don’t doubt that, but I do doubt his feelings in that regard were, as he said, ‘good’.  He did also say he didn’t really want to meet as friends, since he had trouble being friends with girls he like and wanting more.  Again, understandable and pretty much what I expected.  But then, he wanted to keep emailing anyway.

While I’m not opposed to the idea in principle (hey, I get bored at work – just look at how often I post in a single day), I don’t get it.  Is he trying to keep communication open in case I realize my mistake or things go horribly wrong for him and this other girl?  Is he really an identity thief on my trail?  Is he a Nightwatchman, a la Special Topics in Calamity Physics, looking to recruit?  Does he just really really like writing emails?  I’m not sure, but I think I find it intriguing enough to keep writing.  Why not?  if nothing else, it will shape up my form for the next online dating dive.

Beyond Privacy

Today I’ve been handling some of the incidentals of moving to (yet another) apartment.  Basically that translates to filling out countless forms just to change my address.  While the advent of the internet allows me to update most of my information ‘virtually’, that still means typing in the same new address over and over again.  While it does mean i now know my new zip code, still I’d rather not.  If I had my druthers (whoa, and the spell check on wordpress recognizes druthers as a word!), there would be only one form to update for all of the endless financial, governmental, and work-related groups I need to update on my new home address.

But there is no universal form, basically for reasons of privacy.  Your home address, just like your phone number and social security number, is meant to be private.  That’s why people can choose to be ‘unlisted’.  That’s why you have to update others as to your new address, rather than some widespread system (outside the post office) tracking the change.  In addition, each of these groups does not have the right to know you belong to any of the others.  So, it’s your prerogative to tell or not tell as you like.

I appreciate the privacy.  I don’t want every hobo on the street knowing where I live.  I don’t enjoy the idea of putting myself on endless lists of interest in certain products or at the mercy of various interest groups.  But I do like my convenience.  I like Amazon recommending new books or CDs to me.  I like the idea of being able to update every aspect of my life with one fell swoop.  And all of that is based on allowing others access to my private information.

How much is too much?  Where do I draw the line and say, “No, I’m not going to tell you what type of creamsicle I like best”?  When do I realize it’s too much to re-enter my music preferences each time I visit Pandora?  Is the internet really breaking down traditional barriers and ideas of privacy, or are we merely revealing information to a new community – international users and service providers, rather than those neighbors and friends in our immediate physical area?  Is any of it a good thing, and to what extent?

How YOU can save the world.

I’m a big-time supporter of B movies.  I also enjoy the occasional science fiction flick or novel.  Put them together, and you basically have the Sci Fi channel.  Any group that can put out a show like Firefly and still have room for preserving what’s good and gets tossed from the local networks.  But then, they go and organize something like this, and I’m completely flabbergasted.  Wait, what?  Science fiction still related to SCIENCE?  And with a moral outlook for actually making things BETTER?  I feel like I should be back in the 50s.  Or maybe at the Oven Mitt – oh wait, I am.

It is initiatives like this that redeem my faith in humanity.  So what if we happen to be a large corporation, an investment bank, or a small mom-and-pop retail store – we can still do great things.  The world should be a place filled with wonder and potential, not despair.  Even if we are disillusioned about many things, or battered by life, we all have a right to those occasional moments of hope and surprising and recognizable potential for our own future lives.

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