Thursday, December 28, 2006

Under other circumstances I'd call this "funny because it's depressing" or "depressing because it's true" or some variation on that, but you know, it wasn't. Depressing, I mean. I do need to add and quite definitely to my sidebar at some point, though. I rediscover the latter every few months - damn, I love it. "An Open Letter of Apology to the State of Iceland" is right up there with the top five funniest things I've ever read.

Monday, December 18, 2006

I've decided to stop feeling guilty about not posting here. Fuck it. I write an average of 3,000 characters a day for work*; adding 2,000-character posts here on top of that** might be nice, and it might be good for me to cover topics different from at work, but it's 110 percent optional.

And, more in the vein of thinking aloud than anything else: there are a number of new links to the right. This kind of continues my trend of making this a personal homepage which happens to be in blog format. I have my timekillers and resources for my hobbies down the right, and I can search archives to see when something happened that I want to think about, and so on. Thoughts that I want to reach an audience are almost vestigial here. They'll still show up here and there, and the old ones are in the archives, but...

New-to-me links are on top, which is how it's been for a while but not forever. I have a policy of not deleting any links, sort of as a historical record of what I've found interesting or relevant. The exception is three blogs - one political and two personal - which had basically become exercises in self-flagellation for me. Everything else stays whether or not I still find it interesting, or even whether or not there is any new content to find interesting.

And I don't want to try to do this right now because I have quite a bit more stuff to get done tonight, but let me write down here just in case I forget that the next post will probably be some self-reflection, which has some slight chance of being more meaningful than my usual dithering. But regardless of whether I stick to my plan for the next post's meaningfulness or even topic - which is certainly not a given - it will probably quote most of a chapter from "So Long and Thanks for All the Fish."

Wow, what an enticing teaser.

* Assuming about five stories are published under my byline a week, and each one is about 3,000 characters long, that's 3,000 characters/day. But that's still a conservative estimate, considering that with my usual writing style I'll type up all my notes before crafting any story, meaning I tend to type a lot more than goes into a finished article. An easy but inefficient method, a habit to try to get out of... the kind of thing I'll address around, you know, some time around Groundhog Day, if not my summer vacation.

** The new text in the previous two posts - as in, not counting stuff blockquoted from elsewhere - was just a little over 2,000 in both cases. Which feels about right for me. There's no point in a fragmented "click the link" posting style, and long-winded posts, whether reflective (about me) or responsive (about news), just plain aren't fun most of the time. Of course, I seem to looove my digressions, which sure do their part to expand post lengths...

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

"Why Nerds are Unpopular" is several years old, but I just found out about it now via a comment in this thread at Pharyngula, so now is as good a time as any to talk about it. Besides, I figure if I haven't heard about it before now, it must be underexposed. It's a long lead-in, and not every single bit of it is new and revolutionary, but still... wow. The parts that really seem like an insight to me are the bits about "school as prison". Not just because you're required to go — that's no surprise to anyone; I remember reading Calvin and Hobbes strips with that image when I was only a couple years older than Calvin — but because of the insular, trivialized, artificial society once you're in.
In outline, it was the same at the schools I went to. The most important thing was to stay on the premises. While there, the authorities fed you, prevented overt violence, and made some effort to teach you something. But beyond that they didn't want to have too much to do with the kids. Like prison wardens, the teachers mostly left us to ourselves. And, like prisoners, the culture we created was barbaric.

Why is the real world more hospitable to nerds? It might seem that the answer is simply that it's populated by adults, who are too mature to pick on one another. But I don't think this is true. Adults in prison certainly pick on one another. And so, apparently, do society wives; in some parts of Manhattan, life for women sounds like a continuation of high school, with all the same petty intrigues.

I think the important thing about the real world is not that it's populated by adults, but that it's very large, and the things you do have real effects. That's what school, prison, and ladies-who-lunch all lack. The inhabitants of all those worlds are trapped in little bubbles where nothing they do can have more than a local effect. Naturally these societies degenerate into savagery. They have no function for their form to follow.

I liked another essay I found at that site too (appropriately enough, partly about essays), though I didn't have time to read much more; it's during work hours and all that. But besides the advice for people now suffering through high school, there was one other compelling thought in there.
The cause of this problem is the same as the cause of so many present ills: specialization. As jobs become more specialized, we have to train longer for them. Kids in pre-industrial times started working at about 14 at the latest; kids on farms, where most people lived, began far earlier. Now kids who go to college don't start working full-time till 21 or 22. With some degrees, like MDs and PhDs, you may not finish your training till 30.

Teenagers now are useless, except as cheap labor in industries like fast food, which evolved to exploit precisely this fact. In almost any other kind of work, they'd be a net loss. But they're also too young to be left unsupervised. Someone has to watch over them, and the most efficient way to do this is to collect them together in one place. Then a few adults can watch all of them.

I am always leery if not downright hostile towards predictions about how culture these days, or drugs or technology or media, will lead to imminent, drastic change. Any such prediction has a very high bar to clear, because they are predicting something that has very nearly never happened, especially not as a result of a relatively minor cause. Reactionary right-wing culture warriors are a good source of them, but I can think of two good rants about environmental doomsaying as well. (If anyone has any questions about that, ask me to elaborate before you make any assumptions, please.) Predictions are notoriously unreliable, and the way many people treat many predictions as accomplished fact is arrogance of one of the worst sorts.

Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, though, I would be much less surprised if there are imminent and sweeping changes caused by America's public school system, because, you know, according to "Why Nerds are Unpopular", it actually is something unprecedented for once.

Edited in a couple places just to fix up clumsy language.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Posted both because I feel obligated to post, and because I think this issue deserves more coverage. Gotta bump up the Google counts and all that.

This makes me want to download some Top 40 music illegally. I haven't downloaded music illegally or indeed at all in months*, and most Top 40 tunes aren't my thing, but just out of spite.

Just so we're clear, Microsoft is selling Zune players empty of any Universal-branded material, and UMG still demanded a cut. Why? Because these devices are just repositories for stolen music, and they all know it.


Aside from being childish and irrational on the part of the music companies, this is an upsetting precedent. What we have here is one large company (Microsoft) agreeing to presume the guilt of its customers, and change it's business practices because of that, all at the behest of other large companies. The idea that they're operating on a faulty premise, or that even if true their conclusion is bizarre, seems to have never entered the equation.

Well, maybe it's irrational in the sense of "the arguments backing it up are bad logical constructions," but it's not irrational on the part of the music companies at all. One company won a court battle (estimated cost: varies greatly, but a one-shot expense that's over with) and now it gets a cut of sales of someone else's product (estimated value: more than one dollar for every Zune sold ever, plus the creation or reinforcement of a precedent, which might be far more lucrative) for not actually producing anything of their own. Sounds like a great racket if you can pull it off. And caving on this doesn't really hurt Microsoft. They'll just raise the retail price a bit or take a little bit more out of a subcontractor, and it's not like they have a reputation for consumer-friendliness to waste. It makes perfect sense for them if they can get away with it. It's just a crying shame that they did.

Ezra Klein posts a lot about the idea that how we relate to (businesses like) Wal-Mart is the most important decision facing the country. Radley Balko posts a lot about law enforcement with too much power, or irresponsible use of the power they have, or a culture or set of leaders that give them that power. I don't mean to downplay important issues like that by posting about copyright law, but people fiddle with details in labor laws and degrees of protectionism in economic policy while certain oligarchs have become honest-to-god robber barons of their private domains with relatively little fanfare. This is not good.

* Tangent: technically I have, via music videos on YouTube. But in a practical sense, I haven't, because if there's any way to access those files on my hard drive I don't have a clue what it is, and certainly not easily. I'm surprised the language doesn't already make a distinction between downloads that by default become yours permanently, and things that are technically downloaded but might as well come from a library. Come on all you early adopters out there, somebody coin a term!
There are a number of half-finished posts in my blog that haven't appeared, and probably never will. I started writing them but decided I didn't need to air that particular bit of dirty laundry, or saved it to finish later but lost the train of thought that made the idea interesting, or let a timely event go for too long. This post I just found skimming through my logs, though, is none of the above. It's from a February event, but it leads into a more general question, so I updated and finished it.

David Irving, a British historian, was convicted to three years in prison for denying that the Holocaust happened. As Glenn Greenwald pointed out, this event should stand out in our minds even if for no other reason than the fact that it's on the short and shrinking list of topics that almost all Americans agree on. "Irving is a scumbag, but just saying something offensive shouldn't be illegal" - practically no one disagrees. Lots of people pointed out nuance and context and understand (but not agree with) laws against denying the Holocaust exist in Germany and neighboring countries, but if anyone said that America should have such laws, I didn't notice them.

But information provided by Kevin Drum's opinion on it made me wonder about something. Besides obvious and self-proclaimed bigotry, he's also either stupid or lying, according to Wikipedia. During the trial he recanted his previous defenses of Nazis - so did Irving just figure this out now after 20 years of a career as an apologist and lied about having done so earlier, or did he figure it out in 1991 as he claimed but continued to maintain his public stance instead of disavowing and making amends for it in the years since?

So what I wondered was, when exactly have loathsome beliefs or actions been held by well-intentioned people merely because of error or indoctrination or misdirected animus, rather than coming from people who were loathsome in the first place? You see it in fiction all the time, from Shakespeare's conception of Brutus and others whose names escape me right now, all the way up to Darth Vader. It's a wonderful plot device from the writer's point of view, a villain with complicated or even sympathetic motivations. Or a tragic figure who does something and feels guilty about it but the damage is already done. And I saw an example just this morning in the new NBC show Heroes (the way the plots go, I shouldn't make any assumptions unless we see the body or hear it straight from the horse's mouth, but whatever), where writers revealed a caring, protective side to Mr. Bennett and opened up the possibility that he's been an actual good guy all along, when the viewers have been led to believe he's an evil mastermind or mad scientist. Five minutes later, he forced a fix on a heroin addict who's desperately been trying to get the monkey off his back.

What's the real-world equivalent, though? When has someone on the road to hell actually had the good intentions the proverb gives them credit for? Good fiction often presents judgments of people as complicated, but how often is that actually the case?

It's impossible to prove that there is no such example — let's see here, first try to find a universal standard for evil beliefs, then check out everyone ever who ever held one of them, then see if any of them have been convicted of unrelated crimes, then see if they are nice people in their personal lives... And I could come up with a list of people like David Irving there, but it would probably say more about my partisan proclivities than anything else.

And for that matter, this isn't even a strong statement — in real life, hateful or self-deluded people tend to be dishonest or destructive in other ways as well? Stop the presses! But it reminded me of other things, so I wondered.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Quiet afternoon. Well, I can't call that unusual since there's little I need to do on most Wednesday and Friday afternoons, but today it seems more relaxed than most. Maybe because production is quieter than usual, for some reason. They aren't always boisterous and it doesn't bother me as much as some people even though they're just around the corner from my desk, but it would be impossible to not notice. Or maybe it was my work yesterday and today. I had my last story done by noon, which isn't too unusual, but I made it a point to have one story done last night instead of just leaving at 5 p.m. So today I didn't get done much earlier than usual, but it was better-paced, and therefore a more relaxed and less rushed morning. Edited because the original paragraph was so garbled in a couple places, you'd think I had written it at 2:30 a.m. instead of 2:30 p.m.

So all in all, I'm looking forward to either leaving early today. If I'm lucky, maybe even early enough for a nap. And I might follow this post with more detailed update on my life or deep thoughts on politics (non-deep thoughts: WOO HOO!) or something.

Aaargh, should have known better than to write that. It's right up there with "At least it's not raining," and "How could things get worse?" I was just told to go to the dedication of a new hospital wing. But on the plus side, at least I'm guaranteed to not get out too late this afternoon. The update will, as always, have to wait.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Sigh... the Magic tournament tonight was pretty depressing. I won one round, lost three, and didn't bother to stay for the fifth. Losing's never fun, obviously, but this tournament felt worse than the last few of this format, even though my win/loss record was pretty similar. It seems like this may be as good as my deck will get.

The types of decks other people come with don't help, either. I mean, I've come up with a quirky, original deck that evolved over the course of more than a year* and I go to a game night and half the people there are playing several-hundred-dollar decks based closely on the winning pros. So what happens? I get squished, of course.

The bright side is, I think I came away from tonight with quite a few good ideas, or at least, quite a few things to try. Is Compulsive Research just a "win more" card for me? Do I need more beatdown? More Leyline interaction? Better counterspells? More counterspells, or more ways to get rid of permanents?**

But if I make changes along those lines and they don't pan out in the next tournament or two, then I'll probably bow to the inevitable and put together a version of a net deck***, or just go to Constructed**** tournaments less often. Note that I came in sixth at a recent draft tournament out of 24, if I remember correctly, which was pretty damn cool. If every Constructed tournament is going to go like the past few have, then to hell with it, I can find better things to do with my time. The game is fun for its own sake of course, but the negatives have been adding up...

* Not to be dramatic. Except for tournaments I've only spent two hours or so working on it in as many months, but still, I have invested some creativity in it.

** I'm leaning towards "yes", "yes", "no", "maybe" and "permanent removal". As always, I'll have to wait and see. That's another annoying thing: I have few chances to play outside tournaments, so my playtesting is at the events themselves.

*** As in, based on a template found online, the way to see what the pros are doing.

**** That just means the format where people bring their own pre-made decks. As opposed to Limited, where you get a random bunch of cards at the event to make a deck from, or Draft, where everyone chooses their cards from the same pool of cards.

* Wow, that's a lot of parentheticals. This is a blog entry, not a dissertation. But, well, I don't know who reads this after updates became so spotty, so I shouldn't assume that it's my friends who play Magic: the Gathering.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

It's hard to say how much I agree with Radley Balko on, but that doesn't keep me from loving this post.
This has already been hashed out before. The tiny country of Antigua filed a WTO complaint against the U.S. last year, well before this latest law was passed. Antigua won its complaint in March. The Bush administration -- free trade champion through and through -- has chosen to simply ignore the ruling.

What's interesting is that under WTO rules, Antigua is then permitted to retaliate. And what's really interesting is just how the plucky little islanders might retaliate:

There's no appetite for slapping trade sanctions on US goods; that would hurt Antiguan companies and consumers far more than Americans. Instead, the country may refuse to enforce American patents and trademarks. This would make it possible for Antiguan-based companies to produce knock-offs of American intellectual property, like video and music recordings or computer software. Such a tactic would get the attention of major US firms like Microsoft Corp. and entertainment titan Time Warner Inc. It would also put tiny Antigua's trade war against the United States on front pages around the world.

All of this could well mean a mammoth clash of wills and special interests is in the offing, with Big Pharma, Hollywood, Big Software, and RIAA butting heads with the moral crusaders, eBay, and professional sports. And that, of course, would be terrific fun for the rest of us.

Yet more problems with copyright law, yet more examples of the Republican coalition self-destructing - what's not to love?
I think there's a spy among us...

Yes, I'm referring to a specific picture, and yes, I linked to that page intentionally rather than copying said picture here. They are all worth seeing, and I post enough pictures here as it is. Other choice examples: "Trashcat is not amused", "Dude... Wait, what?", "I made you a cookie... but I eated it," and "the voices are telling me to kill you." But "I think there's a spy among us" is easily the best picture + caption combination, no question.

In other events, I don't know if it's my imagination or a bad week or what, but it seems like a twice-weekly publishing schedule gets the worst of both worlds, in terms of writing and deadlines. (By "both worlds", I mean daily on the one hand and weekly or monthly or freelance with flexible deadlines on the other.) It sorta feels like I find out about all the problems, but too late to do anything about it. I finished an article, and I thought it was not great - there were a few blanks I would have filled in if I could have reached the souce - but presentable, so I filed it before I left last night. When I get in, my editor has looong comments and questions about it. Some of which I should have thought of myself, some of which I did think of but didn't address adequately. I wound up spending more than an hour on that this morning, and the more questions I asked, the less it looked like was there to write about in the first place. Like it's not newsworthy at all, or at least won't be newsworthy until January, but I'm only finding that out after I've put some time into working on it instead of something that actually was newsworthy...

... yeah, bad week, maybe I should even just call it a bad day. Ah well, it happens. And lest anyone fear the integrity of the free press (*snicker*), it certainly is or will be newsworthy, it might just be early.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Goodbye, Panda. I miss you.

He was 12 years old. That's not very old for a cat, but his littermate Coco died four or five years ago now, so I guess there was something about the family. He had to be coaxed or carried out of the cellar lately and he had had diabetes for a while, but that wasn't what killed him; at least, not the only thing. A week or two ago, my mother noticed that he was in pain and she took him to a vet down in Brandon, the only one she could find after hours. I think she said it turned out to be only a urinary tract infection or something. She got medicine and a treatment regimen for the next few days. The problem itself might have been minor, but for various reasons we didn't really think he'd last very long... we were right. Tuesday, mom called me as soon as she got home from work to say that he was dead. In fact, he had been dead for hours - he was stiff, his body holding open the door to the cellar, where the food and litterbox is.

He was a great guy. "A class act," as dad called him later that night. Unlike his nephew Felix or our adopted stray Gray (who we put to sleep almost a year ago), he wasn't friendly with strangers at all. But he followed me around whenever he could. And he had this cute high squeaky meow, which he used a lot, answering his name or just being friendly. If he was on a bed or some other place around waist height, he'd often try to hook me as I went by - "pay attention to me!", something like that - which I made a game of whenever I could.

There's a story I tell everyone about him. Unfortunately, he grew out of this and finally learned better, but it was the funniest thing in the world until he was four, maybe even six. All cats like high places, of course, and most cats like to have their bellies rubbed. But Panda, the poor guy, tried to mix the two together sometimes. So if I saw him sitting on the edge of a bed or the top of the stairs, I'd go up to him and make your typical "coochy-coochy-coo" noises, or maybe pet him on one side, and he'd roll over--
and the next thing you'd hear would be "meowthumpthumpthump" as he rolled down the stairs.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

I joined a high-end raiding guild a few weeks ago in World of Warcraft... and it might seem counterintuitive, but I've actually wound up playing less because of that. Heh, my dad would be caught between glee and suspicion on reading that sentence, but there it is. For one thing, I think I'm done grinding for reputation with the factions that need it, and I'm bad at some types of farming and uninterested in the rest. But more importantly, now that I have the option of raids on MC or ZG or Ony, I couldn't care less* about 5-man instances or battlegrounds. Whining idiots yelling at each other to play even more defensively for a few hours? A ninth attempt at a 45-minute Baron run? A UBRS run falling apart after killing the Beast when the tank gets disconnected? Pshhh.

But the raids require a several-hour chunk of time, relatively uninterrupted, unlike that other stuff. So after the third or fourth time I got invited by the rogue leader to join a raid, only to tell them that I would only be on for a few minutes, I began logging on for a few minutes less often. These days I log on for at least three hours or not at all... and I have five pieces of Nightslayer to show for it. :-)

* I couldn't care less on my rogue, at least, my oldest character who had done almost everything there was to do except for the end-game raids. My other level 60 character, a druid, still has quite a few 5-man instances in his future.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Wow, Monday was a pain... I got to work at the usual time to find the move in progress. All of us reporters, the news editor, and the editor-in-chief had been in the recently-renovated downstairs area for the past couple months while the newsroom was redone. What that means is that the walls no longer have cracks and the hallway to the production room is no longer only two feet wide, unlit and stuffed full of office supplies - woo hoo! :) Unfortunately, we're still using the Soviet-era desks. Friday afternoon and Monday morning were move-back days. The construction guys took care of the desks and similar heavy lifting, but there were still piles of books and stuff to tote up. So that was more work than the usual early Monday morning.

While moving, I remember that I was supposed to go somewhere a few days ago, but I went somewhere else instead. Ummm... whoops. Yeah, I got the story filed at the end of today by talking to people who were there and I think it was passable - but still, I went through most of Monday in quiet dread that someone would casually mention to my boss or my boss's boss that they missed seeing me, made all the worse by the fact that I had the chance to fess up with no repercussions at the story meeting, but didn't. I suck.

And when I got to work I found that my computer desktop looks a little different, but more importantly, my "story ideas" file is missing. My computer has been an ongoing problem. Our tech support guy has helped it at least twice now, but after both times it quickly reverted to freezing every hour or so. He seems to be out of ideas and I've found some workarounds, but here was yet another problem.

I left the office to drive to an interview... and the road was closed for construction. Fine, I took a detour and found my way to where I was going (on the second try). And after I get back to Middlebury, I decide to get into the spirit of the beauuutiful day by wearing my sunglasses (nonprescription) and leaving my regular glasses behind.

This gives me a headache for the rest of the day.

I don't know why. Most of the time Sometimes, glasses are optional for me: one eye is pretty weak but the other is fine, so I see out of the good eye at a distance, so the glasses only give me depth perception, which actually isn't that important. I often go without glasses on nights and weekends, and my sunglasses are not prescription. But for whatever reason - the brightness of the fluorescent lights? switching back and forth between near and far sight? the computer screen? - I had to take a break every five minutes yesterday.

So, all in all, the kind of Monday, you'd expect in a "Dilbert" strip. But on the bright side, the rest of the week seems (overall, relatively, knock on wood, argh I should know better) like it will go better.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Oh man, I saw that on a friend's page and I loved it.
Sniff. I feel so left out. Everyone has a strong opinion about Facebook's decision to add that news feed feature. The Forbes article was an AP story on the subject, which was front-page news in the Burlington Free Press. It's even being covered by an Addy Indy reporter, which is pretty unusual for national news. And I... well, don't care.

It doesn't enable stalkers, not in any meaningful sense of the word. It doesn't provide any information that can't be found other ways. And it doesn't solicit any new information either — not only is the compendious facebook database not being shared, it's not even growing (except for usual newcomers). Not that it's a boon to humanity either, of course; it makes keeping in touch with friends easier, but only slightly easier than facebook itself. You know the worst thing it does? It slightly elevates the risk of that "don't post drunk party pictures of yourself online" phenomenon we get warned about in half of all advice columns I see. That's it.

But 600,000 — repeat that number, we're talking about the equivalent of a petition for change to a voluntary service exclusive to a subset of America — joined a group protesting it in less than a week.

I'm not surprised at the inaccuracies in that AP article*, but the least I can do is try to correct it.
The backlash is over Facebook's decision this week to deliver automated, customized alerts known as News Feeds about a user's closest friends, classmates and colleagues.

Literally true, but misleading. The big words — "automated, customized alerts"! — make this sound like a CNN special report, when the news crawl at the bottom of the TV screen would be a much better analogy. The News Feed is the first thing you see when you log on, but speaking for myself at least, I'd normally be on that page for the five seconds between logging in and clicking on the link to wherever I'm going.
Users who log on might instantly find out that someone they know has joined a new social group, posted more photos or begun dating their best friend.

Again, literally true, but lacking context. Everything in that sentence after "find out" is old news. Worth mentioning in some form for people new to Facebook, but should have been treated as background. The only piece of news there is "instantly"... which is a change from "within minutes". The horrors!
"It's making it so much easier for people who want to do stalking to stalk," said Facebook user Igor Hiller, 17, a freshman at University of California, Santa Barbara. "Facebook users really think Facebook is becoming the Big Brother of the Internet recording every single move."

Stupidity by critics doesn't prove the opposite case, but it sure as hell doesn't help. "Big Brother"? The KGB was Big Brother. Echelon and TIA were like Big Brother. Domestic warrantless spying programs are sort of like Big Brother in some ways. Anyone who says that a mere change-tracking new feature of a voluntary, free service is like Big Brother must have slept through his freshman English seminar and not taken history at all.

So people care about this. Spurred by an honest-to-God protest outside their office, Facebook has already scaled back the News Feed. But why do people care so much? Maybe because they lack perspective, like Mr. Hiller. Say what you will about geeks like me, but no one protested outside Blizzard's office when they announced a dumb new profession like "Jewelcrafting" in the World of Warcraft. Maybe they don't really care in the first place. "The Largest Facebook Group Ever" has united 860,672 people as of 3:15 p.m., for no cause at all, so it can't have been that hard to get the protest group — to put it in a familiar metaphor, maybe the opposition is a mile wide and an inch deep.

My personal theory, though, is that the News Feed reminds people that using Facebook in the way and to the degree that many people do is, though not actually antisocial, a big deviation from normal social habits. A reminder they don't like. In the entirely unscientific sample of the News Feed I've seen, the people supporting it are (mostly) the ones who are geeks and proud of it, so to speak, and those who aren't, don't. Am I correct? Is it my own circle of friends? My misanthropic filters? Who knows, but that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

* Hey, reporting isn't an easy job, and it looks like most are either consequences of the medium or honest mistakes. I do wonder about this, though:
"Anytime you're confronted with new information about yourself in a public place, it's surprising," said Andrea Forte, 32, a Facebook user and Georgia Tech doctoral candidate who studies online communities. "My initial reaction was mild dismay."

And that's the end of the quote. Sooo... what was her reaction once she had a chance to think about it? The writer doesn't say. Wouldn't that be a whole lot more relevant than her gut reaction?

Monday, September 11, 2006

It seems everyone else is doing it, so what the hell... During the first semester of my freshman year, on Tuesday, my first class wasn't until 11:25 if not later. So on Sept. 11, 2001, I played computer games until around 10 a.m. When I wandered out of my room, I saw half a dozen people around a TV in the room of someone else on the hall. I stopped to rubberneck, and hey, that smoking tower on CNN looked familiar...

My first class that day was an English literature class focused in part on the literature of war (how appropriate). So soon after the attacks, class discussion was mostly uninformed speculation. Later that day a couple friends and I tried to go give blood, but the place we went was closed. As far as I can remember it was just the confusion of trying to put together a, you know, blood drive on less than a day's notice. There was one a week or so later, but I didn't go.

Some time that morning I talked to my mother, and the first words out of her mouth were "are you OK?" I found this a little annoying, because Rochester, N.Y. is even farther from New York City than Middlebury, Vt. The main topic of our talk was what, if anything, would happen to my cousin's wedding. It was scheduled for the coming Saturday, Sept. 15 — in Manhattan, since that was where he and his fiancé lived. (At least, I think it's where they lived. They're distant relatives, sort of my dad's step-cousin once removed, and I think the wedding was the first time I met the groom. But anyways.) Was the wedding still on? If it was, would we be able/expected to go? In the end, the wedding happened and we went, but the honeymoon was postponed a few months because both bride and groom were doctors of some kind.

So, not much of a story or a personal connection. People are saying accurately enough that this will be my generation's version of JFK being shot or Pearl Harbor being bombed, and they're probably right, but mostly just because America wants it that way. For 90 percent of individuals, it was meaningful to their own lives because they knew within a day that in 2006 or 2011 you would be asked "Where were you?"

But then, I think "9/11 changed everything" is one of the more destructive ideas in modern America. I'd change the writing or some sweeping summaries in these previous posts a bit, but overall, I think my earlier comments on the subject put it pretty well.

Friday, August 04, 2006

A week of vacation approaches. Cooool. Tonight and/or tomorrow morning I clean up my place at least a bit — some of the boxes can stay where they are, they have been for months and there's no reason they have to move right now, but some cleaning for the sake of the guests would be wise. Tomorrow afternoon, a family get-together. Sunday I'm probably visiting Jo, but who knows. Monday, maybe going up to Burlington at night (maybe or maybe not to spend the night), but just relaxing and having fun during the day. Tuesday, getting up at an ungodly hour and flying west to see Katye. Fun.

Work has been going well. I think one person or another at the paper has been out on vacation for the past month or more, so it's been an odd mix of having more work to do to cover the slack, but less supervision of it as the editor or publisher has been out himself.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Just to reassure people, I did not suddenly become narcissistic. Well, no more so than usual. What happened was, I logged on to for the first time in months by a very random route. And since my last login, the Cyrus Group invited me. I am the 392nd member, all of whom seem to have the same sense of humor about the name as I do.

As I read the comments on the wall, I'm laughing out loud at the number of people saying that they thought they were the only one, or at least that they have never met another. At least half or them are Persian, and quite a few of the rest are black. Which I mention because although there were a lot of fictional and inanimate and obscure Cyruses on the picture page where I found "Being Cyrus" below, I was surprised this guy didn't make the cut. Scroll down to his character's name in the 1995 movie "Smoke".

More thoughts:

As annoying as Billy Ray Cyrus is, I could have had it a lot worse than I did: I could have been related to the man (the group also includes some Cyruses for whom it is the last name. At least two of them claim to be his cousin, and that's not the kind of thing I would make up) or I could have been given the last name Cyrus, first name... William.

I'm not the first person who was called "Cyrus the Virus" long before the movie "Con Air" starred John Malkovich as a villain of that name. In fact, there's even a guy named Connor Cyrus - now that is a coincidence.

It feels weird to read a discussion like so many online, but this one says
Reply to Cyrus
Send Message
Reply to Cyrus
Send Message
Reply to Cyrus
Send Message

down the side.

Also, there is apparently a Cyrus Khan. He wins. Everything.
But can you blame me? After all, being Cyrus is tough. Everyone envies Cyrus.
I didn't do it, nobody saw me do it, you can't prove anything.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Friday was the official release date of Coldsnap, the latest expansion to Magic: the Gathering I went to the release tournament up in Burlington (of course). I didn't do great, but I could have been worse - I think I was 13th out of 22 or so.

But anyways, had fun, and I saw a lot of interesting stuff... my mind, it boggles.

For those friends of mine who don't play, or who did once but haven't in years, the company that makes these cards releases a block of three new sets every year, with common themes and play mechanics and a storyline linking them together and stuff. There's always the core set which changes very little and is very basic and general, and then there are expansion sets that... aren't. But it wasn't always that way. When I started playing, wow, more than 10 years ago probably, the pattern of blocks didn't exist yet. There were expansion sets, but except for one pair, they were unrelated to each other. And in a lot of ways, the production values were lower. Card uses and interactions were less well-planned than they are now and the art receives a lot more care today than When I Was Your Age (TM).

That trip down memory lane is because the Coldsnap set is meant to be the "lost set" of the Ice Age block. That's the exception I mentioned above, Ice Age and its sequel, Alliances. It's not a "real" block because there wasn't a third set and the themes were handled differently from what would become the norm. And at some point years later, the company decided to complete the block, publicized with stories about "finding" a detailed plan for a never-realized third set, and Coldsnap was the result. The same themes and storylines as its predecessors, and similar mechanics, but modern ways of putting it together.

So it's sort of funny that Magic has reached the point where the creators can indulge nostalgia, but the part that I was calling mind-boggling is just how they're doing that. Basically, there's a huge category of cards no one ever expects to see just because they're out of print which have come back. There's this weird rules thing going on where they didn't "officially" reprint iconic cards like Swords to Plowshares or low-key but ahead-of-their-time cards like Kjeldoran Pride, but still included copies in preconstructed decks. Plus new cards that echo old ones, like really fricking huge blue creatures that are almost impossible to use.

The point is... suddenly I wish my work schedule allowed me to go to the casual Magic nights on Monday, because it would be a lot of fun to dig into my collection for stuff like this, and I'm sure I'm not the only person who is thinking that way.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Posting from Algebars, the cyber café on Church Street in Burlington. This is not because there's a problem with my newfound Internet access at home. No, it's because the final, Newark-Burlington leg of my parent's flight home from their weeklong vacation has been postponed - from 8:20 p.m. to about 11:20 if they're lucky, or until tomorrow morning if they aren't lucky. As if the wait wasn't bad enough, apparently the airline has announced they would not be paying for hotel rooms if they do have to stay in Newark overnight. Ouch. Moral of the story: don't fly Continental.

And yet as bad as that is for my parents, it could be worse. Later tonight vs. tomorrow morning will depend on whether the plan flies out of where it is to get to Newark in the first place, which has already been delayed for about four hours, I think it was. During which time the travelers - well, "travelers" - are stuck sitting in the plane, on the runway, waiting for the windsock to come to a full and complete stop. Or something like that. For more than four hours already.

Tangential thought: all the Internet travel sites like or travelocity probably wind up helping the companies with crappy customer service. When you're buying your Christmas vacation tickets through a middleman, with three layovers to save money, will you really remember who screwed you over two years ago on the way to a class reunion in a completely different place? Well, I don't know, maybe someone else would. But four years ago now I was flying back from a visit to friends in Illinois, and like my parents right now, the flight into Burlington was cancelled, but in my case the airline did pay for a hotel room and a cab ride the next day. And I couldn't tell you which airline it was for the life of me.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Posting from my apartment. Which, yes, means I have Internet access here. So, as the kids say these days... w00t!

I'm afraid this may turn out to be too slow for games like World of Warcraft, because I only got the basic service. However, then again it might not, and either way I can worry about it later - I have "The Daily Show" clips to catch up on and stuff like that. :)

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Fricking hilarious.

Chester (Chuck) Smalkowski, a member of American Atheists living in Hardesty, Oklahoma, has been found Not Guilty on all counts by a twelve person jury in Guymon, Texas County, Oklahoma.
The Smalkowski case attracted national attention after Nicole Smalkowski was kicked off of the girls' basketball team after refusing to stand in a circle with her teammates on the gymnasium floor of the Hardesty public High School and recite the "Lord's Prayer." After school officials learned that she and her family were Atheists, lies were created about her as grounds to take her off of the team.
The night of the verdict, tornados of unusual violence descended on the panhandle of Oklahoma. The home of the Principal who had brought the false charges against Chuck Smalkowski was severely damaged.

This fact has no relationship whatsoever to the verdict.

The story itself is funny in a sick way — a happy ending that shouldn't have been needed, that sort of thing.* The thing I called hilarious was a comment to the blog post where I found out about it.

You know, you make "Monty Python's Life of Brian"; religious nuts everywhere go mad; nobody gets struck by lightning.

You make "The Last Temptation of Christ"; religious nuts everywhere go ballistic; nobody gets struck by lightning.

You code "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas"; moralists everywhere rupture arteries; nobody gets struck by lightning.

You write "The Blind Watchmaker" and drive the creationists to fury; you remain unstruck by lightning.

Your wardrobe malfunctions on live TV; suddenly you're a moral vacuum; nobody gets struck by lightning.

But you make "The Passion of the Christ", which the fundaligionists love - and THREE PEOPLE get struck by lightning.

You persecute atheists - and your house gets ripped apart by a tornado.

It's enough to make you believe a) that there's a god and b) he's on the atheists' side...

Just to toot my own horn, I noticed the passion of Thor at the time. I think the commenter at Pharyngula got the number of people struck by lightning wrong, but maybe he just meant "people got struck by lightning three times", or maybe a third person was hit after the article I read, I don't know.

Of course, there's no need to read too much into this. Unlike the other five controversial events the commenter mentioned, "The Passion of the Christ" was the only one for which its creators had to spend a whole lot of time on a hill, during stormy weather, with lots of metal objects, with one guy on a large pole for good measure. The fact that that crew got struck with lightning a lot probably has more to do with their sense of self-preservation than a divine message.

* DISCLAIMER: I couldn't find anything about this on Google News. I'm sure the story isn't totally fabricated, but my only experience with the American Atheist Magazine is an interview which struck me with just how bad it was. Not incorrect or offensive, just plain bad, boring, and focused on the least interesting facts about the interviewee. On a similar note, capitalizing words like "atheist" is akin to multiple exclamation marks. Technical writing skill does not correlate perfectly with reliability, even in a magazine, but it's worth mentioning.

Friday, June 23, 2006

When the cat's away, the mice will... sleep.

The editor, John M., took off yesterday for his summer vacation. And for some reason the guy who normally delivers the papers to stores wasn't around, so the publisher drove the route instead, which means he didn't make it to the office until after 2 p.m. So no one was actually "in charge" yesterday. And it seems today was the most relaxed deadline day I can remember. That's probably due to both the fact that more of the work is getting done outside the room where I spend my time, and the fact that more stories and stuff were saved up for the time they'd be shorthanded. Sooo... overall, relaxing.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

I was reading a discussion earlier about great TV shows, and I was almost surprised at how little I knew about them. I mean, I'm a twentysomething guy with a fair amount of disposable income (well, some), I'm supposed to be everyone's target demographic, right? But a dozen TV shows — Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Sopranos, stuff like that — were mentioned in a blog comment thread on what people liked, and I hadn't seen a complete episode of any one of them. It made me wonder, am I missing out on some really good stuff here?

During most of college there were quite a few shows I watched regularly. Angel, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Jake 2.0 (notice the blog title), X-Men Evolution, Alias, Futurama, Smallville and Stargate: SG-1, at one time or another depending on when I discovered them and stuff. As well as some shows I wasn't attached to but would enjoy when I got around to it, like Family Guy. But most of those have been cancelled and I lost interest in others. Smallville and Stargate: SG-1 are the only ones still on my "must watch" list, and they're both in reruns for the summer.

I dunno. It sounds dumb to be worrying basically that I'm not watching enough TV. But a more valid concern is broadening my horizons. I don't think I've finished reading a book this year, for example, except for the latest installment in series I've liked for a while.

... in fact, that's dumb to be worrying about too. There's a difference between not reading anything, and not reading as many fiction novels. And if I ever get to the point where one of my interests completely replaces the rest, that's bad. But until then, I have half a dozen hobbies and interests like politics and Magic: the Gathering and World of Warcraft. If it turns out I really am missing out on quality TV, I can always buy DVD box sets later.

All that being said, though, if anyone I know wants to rave about a specific TV show or something, now is a good time.

Wow. If that's not my longest and most meandering introduction to a simple request, it's close.
Posting from work, unfortunately. (Procrastination, sure, but if I'm going to do it, there are few better times than Tuesday morning, I guess.) I still don't have Internet access in the apartment. In fact, when I left this morning I didn't even have power — sometime yesterday afternoon the previous tenant called CVPS to close her account. I called yesterday to get power back on, and the customer service person said their technicians were busy fixing outages due to the storm. I said screw it, I didn't want to pay an extra fee to get my power on right away if even the fee might not do the trick.

So let's just say I was glad I knew where I had packed my flashlight, and I should get power back sometime today.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Was the last post the restart of regular posting activities? I don't know. There's a little more to post about in my daily life these days than there was, say, a month ago. And I expect there will be more than a little in a couple weeks, one way or another. Also, I should probably do more thinking of my own about politics and current events. I've had to do three Clippings columns so far - a column in the opinion section of the paper that rotates between writers - and for the last two I had to frantically search for a topic and found them only at the last minute, and if I did more stuff like this, it would probably be easier. So I hope to do more, but as I said at that post in February or whenever... if I don't get around to it, so be it.

I am putting this up, though, to say that I certainly won't be getting around to it over the weekend, because this is the move. If all goes to plan, all the furniture will be set up and all the basic necessities will be in place by tomorrow night at the latest, and I should have done most of the unpacking too, hopefully. However, Internet access falls under none of those categories. I'll have it as soon as possible - this is me, after all - but even if I were an organized person, it might depend on the whim of Adelphia Cable, for all I know.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

If I had the drive and technical skill to write articles like this, I wouldn't be news reporter (with, among other things, the farm beat) at a twice-weekly paper in Vermont. Not to sell myself short, of course — I'm just starting out, I've never tried something that ambitious in the first place, I do enjoy my current job, and I have written quite a few pieces I'm proud of. But I have agreed with the basic idea of that article for quite a while, and I've posted comments to the effect of it on other blogs here and there, and putting it this well is in another class entirely from the semi-rants you'd find from me or Digby or Tristero or random commenters.
Through all these laments there pulsates a sense of desperation: A conservative president and an even more conservative Congress must be repudiated to enable genuine conservatism to survive. Sure, the Bush administration has failed, all these voices proclaim. But that is because Bush and his Republican allies in Congress borrowed big government and foreign-policy idealism from the left. The ideas of Woodrow Wilson and John Maynard Keynes, from their point of view, have always been flawed. George W. Bush and Tom DeLay just prove it one more time.

Conservative dissidents seem to have done an admirable job of persuading each other of the truth of their claims. Of course, many of these dissidents extolled the president's conservative leadership when he was riding high in the polls. But the real flaw in their argument is akin to that of Trotskyites who, when confronted with the failures of communism in Cuba, China and the Soviet Union, would claim that real communism had never been tried. If leaders consistently depart in disastrous ways from their underlying political ideology, there comes a point where one has to stop just blaming the leaders and start questioning the ideology.

The collapse of the Bush presidency, in other words, is not just due to Bush's incompetence (although his administration has been incompetent beyond belief). Nor is it a response to the president's principled lack of intellectual curiosity and pitbull refusal to admit mistakes (although those character flaws are certainly real enough). And the orgy of bribery and special-interest dispensation in Congress is not the result of Tom DeLay's ruthlessness, as impressive a bully as he was. This conservative presidency and Congress imploded, not despite their conservatism, but because of it.
If government is necessary, bad government, at least for conservatives, is inevitable, and conservatives have been exceptionally good at showing just how bad it can be. Hence the truth revealed by the Bush years: Bad government--indeed, bloated, inefficient, corrupt, and unfair government--is the only kind of conservative government there is. Conservatives cannot govern well for the same reason that vegetarians cannot prepare a world-class boeuf bourguignon: If you believe that what you are called upon to do is wrong, you are not likely to do it very well.

It's not perfect. I wouldn't stand by some of the sweeping generalizations he makes.
Liberals, while enjoying the perquisites of office, also want to be in a position to use government to solve problems. But conservatives have different motives for wanting power. One is to prevent liberals from doing so; if government cannot be made to disappear, at least it can be prevented from doing any good. The other is to build a political machine in which business and the Republican Party can exchange mutual favors;

If I read a sweeping unsupported assertion like that written by someone I disagreed with, my fallback response would be sarcastic congratulation on their mind-reading powers.

But on the whole, this guy puts it very well. A theme of the past several years has been moderate right-wingers regretting their support for Bush. It's great, but sometimes it's frustrating as well because it seems so close, and yet so far away. Bush is a fuck-up, so many people say, but he's a fluke, a Benedict Arnold, a random accident, as unforeseeable as a bolt of lightning, so we'll just have to be more careful when we pick the next adherent to the same ideology. That's maddening because it's always seemed to me that Bush's style of governing is a predictable consequence of the "government is the problem" belief held by a plurality (if not a majority) of Americans.

Via Kevin Drum.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

One woman who works down the hall left for maternity leave like two weeks after I started working here, but she's been in twice to visit and show off her cute little girl. While she's elsewhere in the office, the baby gets taken in here.
EVERYONE: Awww, isn't she so cute?
Harriette: Look, she's smiling at all of us! Coochy coochy coo!
Me: Heh, it's a nice change. I remember when babies would take one look at me and start screaming.
Harriette: Oh, that reminds me, I met this really beautiful woman on my vacation, you should have seen her!

Now, how should I interpret that?

Oh, and how could I forget... I signed a lease. I have to get some pieces of furniture out of storage and buy some others, and probably a lot of smaller items too. The lease looks pretty good, and the place is nice. The money, well, getting out of my parent's house will be good for everyone. Only downside from my dad's point of view: he can't send a cat with me.

I went to Rochester last weekend. It was my fourth trip out there since graduating last May. But when I was in school there I never drove myself, except maybe to give my dad a break on a boring stretch of road or something. And I'm terrible at absorbing directions if I'm not actually driving, so the times I've gone by myself I was always fumbling with maps. In fact, of those eight trips (counting each part of a round trip separately), I don't think I've gone the same way twice in a row. Maybe not even at all. Construction detours, relying on mapquest directions which sent me to confusing or just inconvenient exits, getting off the last interstate on the way back too early because I always forget that a tiny town in upstate New York has like four interstate exits, ad-libbing the route back this weekend and I'm pretty sure I wound up on a road I've never taken before but it worked out fine...

Anyways, the reason I went was for the release tournament of Dissension, the latest M:tG set. Fun times. The crowd has grown — for Ravnica it was just me and Kenny, for Guildpact another guy came too, and this time there were six people wedged in the car.

The tournament was a mixed bag. On the one hand I only won one match out of the five. One close game I lost just because I forgot about something I could have done, and the good cards I could put in my deck were pretty evenly spread out among the colors, so I just used all five colors — way too many.

But on the other hand, I won a door prize. I think there were three different prizes, though I only remember my own and the one before it, a limited edition print of some artwork. It was pretty surprising; I was only listening to the announcement with one ear, so to speak, because I was trying to see the pairings for the next round, until I heard my name. I won a fat pack, they call it: six booster packs of cards, two boxes for holding cards with the artwork from popular cards on them, the paperback novel tie-in, and a couple more doodads. And after the tournament I bought a couple more packs. And in one of them was an Infernal Tutor — a shiny, foil Infernal Tutor, no less — which seems to be such a good card that Kenny expects it to become restricted to one per deck.

"Mixed bag"? What the hell am I talking about? I could have lost every game of every match, and with luck like that, it still would have been fun and worth doing. After I opened my pack but before Kenny had gone to buy some of his own, I had him rub my head for good luck.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Unfortunately, it seems I have to start thinking seriously about looking for an apartment again...

Background: the Friday after this I looked at a place in Bristol, and that same week I had called and left a message about another ad I saw, but didn't get a call back. The place I looked at was nice but the price was a little steep, so since it was the first place I looked at, I let it go - something more affordable and/or more ideal would come along eventually.

Since then, nothing's happened on the apartment front. I looked at the classifieds a few times, but didn't see anything good. Admittedly (unfortunately?), I was only looking for places in Bristol. It's the area I cover so it would be make night meetings and stuff a lot easier, not to mention how it would be good for me to get to know the place better, and it's closer to Burlington. (And farther-but-not-too-far from my parents in Middlebury, it must be said.) If I had been looking in the Middlebury area I probably would have found something, but since there's no urgency about this I figured I could hold out for something in the right location.

Nothing had happened until yesterday, that is. When Andy came back from his lunch break he asked me if I was looking for a place. His house also has two apartments that he rents, and he just was told that one of the tenants would be moving out.

I haven't seen it yet, but the place sounds nice. The price is a little bit steep for me — what's the rule, you shouldn't spend too much more than a quarter of your income on living space? — but for one thing it's no higher than anything else, and for another, well, I can probably afford it. No debt, no kids to feed, and I could be more frugal than I have. I should take a sandwich or leftovers to work four days a week and buy something one day a week instead of the reverse, for example. The location might not be Bristol, but it has a different strong point: it's walking distance to work. (The fact that half the women's hockey team at Middlebury College allegedly moved in next door has nothing to do with my decision, I swear!) :)

But... it's in Middlebury. Convenient, yes, and given prices these days and my income I might just have to choose between living in Middlebury or having a roommate (which wouldn't be a deal-breaker, but it's one more complication) or simply not moving out. But if distance to work is important, my parent's house is less than a mile away. I've only walked to work once so far, but I've thought about/talked about walking and biking in routinely during the summer. Is having a place of my own worth $550 a month at the very least? Because that's what I'd be paying for. Not getting closer to Burlington or becoming part of the Bristol community or exchanging short drives to the office for short drives to late nights or odd hours. A place in Middlebury has only two things going for it: whatever there is about the place itself like décor or a style of apartment more suited to a young single guy, and the fact that it's not living with my parents.

Now that I write that out, it sounds better than I thought. A place just around the corner and down the block from work, I happen to think my social life would be better without my parents figuratively looking over my shoulder constantly, games without guilt trips (it's not like they've had an effect on how much I play, just made living here more unpleasant), time with my family when I want to but able to get away when I don't...

I'm looking at the place later today. Tonight I'll update my checkbook and look at my cashflow and see how much I could cut. If it's as good as I think or better, I'll probably go for it.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Personal pet peeve: the idea that Columbus had this brilliant epiphany that the world just might be round. (Linked to that because the April 26 question mentioned that belief.)

When I was a kid I had some kind of National Geographic guide to the solar system. Interspersed with all artists' conceptions of life on Jupiter and the constellations fleshed out into the mythical characters on which they're based, there was quite a bit of science fact and history too. One of which was the revelation that not only did people have the shape of the world figured out by around 300 BC, but an Alexandrine librarian had made a good estimate of the size.

Yet as far as I can tell, nobody knows this simple and established fact. (And if you think about it, it's almost common sense: convincing a monarch that the size of the Earth is overestimated is one thing, but who would sponsor a guy crazy enough to say the world is a completely different shape?) Of course, the fact that people don't talk about this is mostly if not entirely because it's not as interesting a story as "Columbus showed them all the world was round!" For all I know the fact is central to classes on the history of mathematics, the Hellenistic era of Greece and other subjects I never formally studied, and it's not the default belief only because it's not as easy to use as an expression.

I don't even know why this annoys me. My pedantic side showing through, I guess.

Monday, April 24, 2006

A comment made only half-jokingly that I keep on hearing around the office is that every business in Middlebury is either a lawyer's office - I can't speak to that myself, but it's impossible to notice the second - or a restaurant. Well, in a discussion about a certain Chinese restaurant (one of two, and possibly three if someone's plans bear fruit), one of the Johns in the office pointed out this article. One specific part of it jumped out at me, and made me laugh.
The restaurant remained open until about 2 a.m. with no major problems. Next week will see some changes, such as the elimination of glass bottles, an additional bouncer and perhaps a wider offering of drinks at slightly steeper prices. There may also be a student DJ. The goal, however, stresses Davy, is not to make money on a Wednesday night or to turn May Garden into a bar. His main objective is to promote his restaurant and draw a bigger crowd from the College for the food side of the business. His hope is that Middlebury students will come in on a Wednesday night, have a good time and then return to the restaurant for meals and take-out.

If you think about it, if the first statement were true, they wouldn't need to make the plans mentioned in the second one, would they...

At first, my parents and some other people were even more excited about me getting this job than I was. There could be other reasons for this too, but being outright exuberant is just rarely in my nature. But I think seeing my stories get picked up by other news outlets feels as good as if not better than getting the job in the first place. I've gone to three or four meetings of the Bristol selectboard now, and one of the selectmen has been unofficially encouraging others to stop signing tobacco licenses, which would effectively ban the sale of cigarettes and stuff in Bristol. I wrote an article about it a couple weeks ago... and since then, the CBS affiliate and the Rutland Herald have also covered it, and an editorial in another paper referred to it in passing.

Never mind what I think of the issue itself; we're bragging here! :)

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Whew. I don't know if it's all office jobs, all newspaper jobs, or my own inexperience and other circumstances, but this job sure can be a lot of work. Driving all over the county to talk to people for stories, almost missing one meeting because the guy before it talked (rambled? ranted?) for almost an hour more than I planned, finding out when I call the office between one stop and the next that my editor expects a story tomorrow I thought I could put on the back burner, being informed when I get back to the office that I should go to a dinner event tonight... (it was fun, by the way, but the food wasn't that great.)

I'm going to put off more substantive posting yet again, as well as some self-improvement type tasks I wanted to do. First I'm going to play some games to unwind and stuff and then I'm going to do some work - probably just a little, but I really need to do some - before bed before work tomorrow. With a little luck (a lot of luck, a level of discipline that's slightly uncharacteristic but not outside the realm of possibility, and fair amount of coffee) tomorrow afternoon will be relaxing and/or free time... can't wait.
It's been a while since I've posted. No particular reason; I just haven't thought of and/or got around to it. Sort of regret it too, since there were things I wanted to write about. Oh well.

Things today are largely overall the same as the last time I posted: the paper is keeping me busy, I still need to learn some things about working there but overall I'm doing fine, the latest fun challenge in World of Warcraft (or beating my head against the wall depending on how you look at it) is getting the looong tier 1.5 upgrade quest chain...

Crap. Deep thoughts and an upgrade on my personal life will have to wait; I was writing this while reading something else and I just noticed that I have to go to work. (Going in late because I'm meeting with someone in Bristol to talk about a story, but it's 8:40 now and it's about 20 minutes to Bristol.) Figures. And there was something else I wanted to do during my unusual amount of free time this morning... Well, letthatbealessondontprocrastinate.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

When asked since leaving, I've always given wishy-washy answers about how I liked the foundation, or else praised the people and dodged everything else. It was partly truth and partly prudence - don't badmouth your boss, especially in a relatively close-knit community - but was also because I had forgotten just how much I disliked the writing until I had to do something similar at the Addison Independent. The story is about how a local school has cut its dropout rate to like a third of what it was five years ago. Newsworthy, certainly, but it's just been a lot easier to do it as a reporter.

Also, I've started looking for an apartment. The key word is "started", of course, I'm just at the stage of going over the ads in the newspapers. But by the time I find a place and move into it'll probably be May, a good year after I graduated. Getting out of my parent's house will be nice.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

So I got curious and checked out the trailer for X-Men 3, found here. My thoughts:

1. DAAAMN. I'm counting the days. You know those people who went to showings of "Star Wars: Episode I" or "Return of the King" at midnight of the day before the official opening of the movie? I think this movie will be my first time to be waiting in one of those lines.
2. It seems that Ian McKellen's Magneto in this movie will be more Gandalf-like than ever. But one is the hero and the other is the villain of their respective stories. Dissonant cognition abounds. Some day I expect to see an "Ian vs. Ian" short video online made up of clips of Gandalf's speeches spliced into clips of Magneto's speeches, sort of like that "Daily Show" thing where they played quotes of Bush in the 2000 campaign that were contradicted one after another by quotes from his first term.
3. In other casting news, NBC's Frasier Crane has become Hank McCoy, a blue furry acrobatic mutant. But the funny thing is, it fits. In the comics, Hank McCoy, a.k.a. the Beast, is verbose, pompous and pedantic, but has a heart of gold underneath it all - in other words, he's suspiciously like the character Kelsey Grammer played on sitcoms for something like 15 years. Whether Mystique and Nightcrawler, the two other blue-skinned characters, morph into McCoy's frigid and bitter ex-wife (not too much of a stretch for Mystique, actually) and his whiny, snobby brother remains to be seen.
4. Looks like they're screwing Cyclops over again. I can't say I'm surprised that the moviemakers are emphasizing Wolverine, the most popular X-Man in terms of sales figures, but Cyclops is the backbone of the team and it's sad that he seems to be just an afterthought.
5. Where's Nightcrawler? You know, one of the aforementioned blue guys, got the entire opening action sequence at the beginning of the last movie, an actor who deserves some credit just for putting up with blue full-body makeup... just curious.
6. Some of the battle scenes looked really, really epic. "Braveheart" with blue fur instead of woad. Could be just selective editing to generate hype, of course - after all, these are ads - but if not... cooool. In fact, not just cool, but I'm pretty sure it would be unprecedented.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

As I've said before, I don't much like personality tests. But if there's an overriding need and/or I'm in an unusually good mood when I take one, I get to wondering weird stuff about how exactly they're doing the testing.

If you mark no questions "never" or "always" on the first couple pages but by the end of the test you're doing it pretty regularly, does the test take that into account? When there are two very similar questions do they expect that the test-taker knows the subtle difference in meaning between the relevant terms, or are they looking for the subject's response to another variable, like place in the test or an emotional impact of the terms or something? If the test involves rating things on a scale which goes to "almost always" on one extreme but only goes to "occasionally" on the other (rather than "almost never"), did the test-makers do that intentionally?

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Whew. Well, yesterday was busy. I started the day with one story half-done and one story not started, and while as always there was a little bit that I could have done earlier it was mostly just because I hadn't been able to get in touch with the relevant people yet. So all in all, it's not a good way to start a deadline day.

I finally got all my stories done (there were a couple edits and/or more details needed on a couple other stories too) by 2:30 or so, so I wasn't too much over the noon deadline... but I gather that other people were behind schedule too, so I don't think I was the only cause of problems. And after all, I'm still pretty new there. I have a couple ideas on how I could improve my work style I'll ask about this morning.

Other than that... not a lot's going on. Went to Burlington on Sunday and hung out with Gretchen. I want to start going to game nights on Monday again, but there's always been something work-related. Three Mondays ago was my first day on the job and I didn't feel like going all the way up to Burlington that day, two Mondays ago I went to a town meeting, and this past Monday I went to a Bristol Elementary School board meeting.

Although maybe I should just start going to Friday Night Magic instead (a more serious event than the random game night, sanctioned by the DCI, tournament rules and everything). I didn't when I was at the foundation because I'd have to sneak out of work at least 15 minutes early to make registration and while I probably could have got away with it, I would have hated to explain that I was asking for time off, usually even leaving the place deserted, to play games. Now, however, leaving a little early on Friday evenings couldn't be easier. And in the past I might have felt guilty about skipping out on the weekly events my guild tries to organize that usually fall on Fridays, but lately my guild is kind of having trouble staying together, and as of last post I'm making an effort to cut back on World of Warcraft anyway.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Tonight, instead of getting to know some friends better and probably meeting new people, I chose to sit in a dark room, waste some money and play computer games.

Almost nothing's that simple, of course, so I shouldn't beat myself up like that. It's a problem of mine. To elaborate, I went up to Burlington earlier this evening, planning on going to Drinking Liberally as I do most Thursday nights. No one else showed up at the usual place, so I went to a nearby cyber café to check my e-mail and see if it had been cancelled. As it turns out, it had merely been moved to Nectar's, a club a couple blocks away. I couldn't decide right away if I wanted to join them at the new place or just turn around and go home - I was iffy about going up there tonight in the first place, and Nectar's was not the kind of place I felt like. But while I was at the cybercafé I logged on to Kinderkreig, my main character in World of Warcraft, planning to just do a little housekeeping-type stuff.

But some people were trying to get a group together to tackle Onyxia, an extremely tough boss. In similar situations I've refused to join in, but I had never even tried Onyxia before, and I was assured it would be quicker than I had expected, so I went for it.

Over two hours later, I finally left, job undone and clearly undoable by our group.

So instead of going to a social outing that I was ambivalent about to begin with, I tried to do something I had never done before. At least, that's the "glass half full, dammit, I don't care how light it feels!" interpretation. But when all is said and done, instead of getting to know some friends better and probably meeting new people, I chose to sit in a dark room, waste some money and play computer games.

My parents have complained about the time I spend playing computer games and occasionally I've wondered myself, but I've always believed that there was nothing wrong with games except for how they can become a procrastination tool. But if that were ever true, clearly it's not any more.

I need to get off my ass and... forget that, I just need to get off my ass. I have absolutely no excuse for spending every Friday and Saturday night online without fail, or for having a heap of receipts which are waiting for me to spend the mere 15 minutes it would take to balance my checkbook and avoid overdue bills, or for already procrastinating on a few things at this dream job, or for not even trying to develop a social life closer to home or more personal than weekly interest groups in Burlington, and on and on.

By almost any measure I'm better off than a year ago. And by every single measure I'm certainly better off than I was three years ago, as both Gretchen and Katye could agree with. But just "better" is not nearly fucking good enough, not by a long shot.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Going well at work. In tomorrow's paper I'll have four unattributed brief town meeting previews, an even briefer announcement that a local store is being closed, and a 700-word story about an informational meeting to discuss a work camp for minimum-security convicts in a nearby town.

I used to be regarded by myself and others as really cynical, and in at least some ways it's accurate, but clearly not entirely. Because a truly cynical person would not have been surprised or disappointed in the least by the levels of "not in my backyard" that were present at said meeting. I never expected it to be popular, but nor did I expect people to be mad at the selectmen of the town for just having an informational meeting. I mean, it was ridiculous. The first half-dozen people who spoke up talked about "druggies" and how it's convicts they're bringing to the town, not "upstanding people", and they were insinuating and stating outright some downright mean stuff about the selectmen who voted to have the meeting who, in a town like this, are figuratively if not literally their own neighbors.

There are good reasons to oppose something like this, obviously. But it was a good half-hour before anyone used any of them.

EDIT: Heh, just goes to show, there are (at least) two sides to every story. I wrote most of the first two paragraphs above during a little downtime at work yesterday. (Which will be much rarer here than it was at the foundation. If I even have the opportunity more than once a week I'll be very surprised.) Soon after that I ran into someone who works for the phone book publisher, which is in the same building and owned by the same guy as the newspaper. I had met her and we talked a little on Tuesday. Much to my chagrin, she pointed out to me that she had been one of the people at the meeting. In fact, she was the one afraid of "druggies" and I quoted her husband with a negative opinion of the camp. I didn't recognize her at the time, but as soon as she pointed it out to me it was obvious. She didn't say anything to me at the meeting just to give me a chance to do the job I was new to in some ways.

So right that minute I was worried that in addition to the obvious potential problem of bias in the article, I was working down the hall from someone who would be on the wrong side of it. Fortunately, she read the article and didn't have any problem with it. But while she was reading the article, she told me that at first everyone had thought the camp could only be located in a limited area, and the only unused land within that area was owned by one of the selectmen. In other words, the decision to have the meeting was made in part by the person who would profit the most if the camp were made. Suddenly, hostility towards at least one of the selectmen seemed reasonable.

Ideally I should have found out about that before writing the article, but oh well. It probably wouldn't, or at least shouldn't, have effected how the article would turn out, because it was never anything more than rumor and conjecture in the first place. And realistically, finding out about it would have been a stretch. But, well, cynicism wasn't as justified as it appeared. There might be a lesson in that.

Then again, maybe not.

Details about the rest of work, and some thoughts about my personal life, to follow tomorrow or Saturday hopefully. I'm posting from a cybercafe, so I don't want to waste too much time.

Friday, February 24, 2006

So Monday will be my first day at the Addison Independent, and this is my last day at the foundation. Well, I guess I should say "was". Because unless the first unexpected phone call of the day (really first? well, Friday of February vacation - entirely possible) is a request for some urgent assistance in the next half hour, there's nothing else to do here. There are times when I have felt guilty about blogging from work, but this will not be one of them.

And on that note, I might stop blogging. Well, I certainly won't close the account and delete the links, but I've updated pretty rarely these days as it is, and even some of that has been out of a sense of obligation. Maybe I'll stop, maybe I'll just change styles and topics, who knows.

But if you'll pardon the management mumbo-jumbo, it's time to re-evaluate my relationship with this. It's just that all the reasons I've done it don't seem to apply any more. (Which is not a bad thing in all cases.) If you look at my daily life, take out the parts that would be uninteresting to anyone but myself, and then take out the parts that I won't talk about in a semi-public forum because they're personal or someone else's business, there's very little left. And as far as the therapeutic benefit of writing one's thoughts out - thankfully, for a number of reasons, my mood has been much better lately than it was, say, two years ago, so I seem to need that much less. The first of those two facts is neutral and the second is a very good thing, but between the two, I have almost no reason to post about my private life.

It's harder to blog, too. Not too hard, obviously, or I wouldn't be able to keep up with the political blogs I read and comment on. But even though my schedule today is only somewhat busier than while in college (a full-time job, clubs in Burlington twice a week and friends occasionally versus classes, the CT and friends I spent a lot of time with), it is much more rigid. I could blog regularly iff I was willing to set aside a half-hour or hour at some point every day, like clockwork... yeah, that's going to happen.

Also, I need it less in the sense of writing practice. Clearly, I will not lack for that while working for a newspaper.

And in writing about politics, I noticed a pattern of saying "I agree with this guy" all too often. That, and the fact that I got bored with working myself into a lather about the scandal of the week. You know the common observation that politicians, pundits and celebrities are out-of-touch, liars, nuts, etc.? Well, the money and the power obviously plays a part, but I think a contributing factor is how they're expected to have an opinion on every damn thing. So much of politics is theater that if there's anything on which a Congresscritter can't expound at length and use to demonize someone or other, they'll get shoved aside in favor of someone who can. I'm not exactly complaining about this, you might as well complain about the tides, but it's not for me. So while I'll probably write and blog about politics when I have an opinion I haven't seen out there yet or when I have some unique expertise on the subject, it just isn't good for my blood pressure or my mood if I do this search after every article or editorial I read that mentions Bush.

So with all that in mind, maybe I'll keep going as I have, but I'll let myself post or not as I feel like it. Or maybe I'll change over to my interests other than politics - comic books, Magic cards, World of Warcraft, all that fun stuff. Or maybe humor - I could use more practice at that and it's been well received the few times I've tried it. I might start blogging about local politics. And of course, maybe my daily life will become worth blogging about again once I'm working at the Addison Independent.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Well, at least they're honest about it.

It's a brief post by John at Dymaxion World, a Canadian blogger (who looks interesting; I think I'll add him to my blogs on the side there), about the RIAA's latest "legal" "arguments". It refers to this recent brief on the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Web site.
As part of the on-going DMCA rule-making proceedings, the RIAA and other copyright industry associations submitted a filing that included this gem as part of their argument that space-shifting and format-shifting do not count as noninfringing uses, even when you are talking about making copies of your own CDs:

"Nor does the fact that permission to make a copy in particular circumstances is often or even routinely granted, necessarily establish that the copying is a fair use when the copyright owner withholds that authorization. In this regard, the statement attributed to counsel for copyright owners in the MGM v. Grokster case is simply a statement about authorization, not about fair use."

For those who may not remember, here's what Don Verrilli said to the Supreme Court last year:
"The record companies, my clients, have said, for some time now, and it's been on their website for some time now, that it's perfectly lawful to take a CD that you've purchased, upload it onto your computer, put it onto your iPod."

P.S.: The same filing also had this to say: "Similarly, creating a back-up copy of a music CD is not a non-infringing use...."

So not only are they claiming that it is illegal to copy legally purchased music to more conveniently use it, they said the opposite a year ago.

John gets right to the point about problems with this.
This is why the logic of "lost revenue = theft" is so pernicious. We basically bought the argument that the music companies had the right to sue to protect their business model, and now this is what it gets us.

Ethically he's right, but legally, as my admittedly amateur understanding goes, this is a real gray area. For all I know, the law is on the RIAA's side on this.

Anyone who played in their high school band probably saw the legal copyright notices saying "do not copy without permission" on the bottom of their music. Which was, of course, copied. (Can't check right now, but I think every book commercially marketed has a similar message, you just never notice it because it's not on every single page.) Unless I'm very mistaken, that's illegal; publishing companies turn a blind eye just because single-handedly outlawing band class would be bad press. Copyright is the right to copy, so if you don't have explicit permission from the copyright holder, you don't have a right to copy. Q.E.D.

I don't know, this is turning into a general "there are no winners here", instead of my usual "copyright lawyers are evil!" But even though it's easiest to think of the world that way, sometimes a broken or oppressive system creates its villians instead of the other way around.

Via a guest-blogger at Ezra Klein's, who had a very good take on this.
Remember, the customer is always right, until the moment businesses realize they can make more money not by providing a better product but by getting the courts to protect their rent-seeking behavior.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Warning: this is not safe for work.

I don't say that because it contains profanity, or is pornographic in any way. I say that because you will burst out laughing.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

I've been as amused by how Cheney shot his friend as anyone. It demands Top Ten lists (see the comments) and clearly I haven't been watching The Daily Show enough, because if I missed Jon Stewart's take on this, who knows what other gems I haven't seen.

Also, this guy has some pontificating and lengthy quotes about what the 18-hour delay in disclosure means. I don't disagree with him, and it could eventually become interesting, but it's not there yet to me.

I'm glad to see that even though Mr. Whittington had a heart attack caused by a piece of birdshot that made its way to his heart, he is in good condition. (And by the way, I love the last couple lines of that article.) I don't especially care about his welfare - that might sound heartless or even hateful, but realistically it's hard for me to care about the welfare of complete stranger whose idea of a good time is shooting fish in a barrel with Darth Cheney. But if this guy died as a direct result of getting shot by the vice-president, well, Cheney wouldn't get jail time even though that would be considered negligent homicide if done by a native of Bethel, but it would still look pretty damn bad.

And they shouldn't get off that easily. I'm glad Whittington survived mostly for the same reason I'm not too interested in the delay, deception and disorganization surrounding the shooting. Not because it's trivial in an absolute sense, but because it's trivial relative to other stuff Bush and Cheney have done. While of course accidentally shooting your friend is bad, accidents happen. And anyone surprised at an attempt to cover this up must have watched nothing but FOX and Newsmax for the past decade. If the average American thinks this is worse than the sheer stupidity or mammoth mendacity it would take to utter "greeted as liberators" or "last throes" on national television, then we deserve these guys.
Small fucking world.

I was catching up on some posts at Jesus' General. He linked to a contest at The Raw Story which he had entered. The first contestant listed on that page was based in Bethel, Vermont. A town which is home to 1,800 to 2,000 people, a greater number of cows if you believe the t-shirts for the tourists, and not one traffic light. It's where I grew up. (And if you think that the distance from Middlebury to Bethel doesn't justify surprise in the "small world" sense, Jesus' General lives in Washington. Geographical distance notwithstanding, finding this was indeed unlikely.)

One thing jumped out at me - a question from her FAQ.
Q. Can I come visit?
A. If I'm here, sure. Make sure you read the visit page to make sure you know what you're in for.

In the next question, she elaborates to say that an open invitation to strangers online might sound dumb but she's had success and pleasant encounters. But my first thought was just, "Sure, why not? It's not like anyone would ever find her out there!"

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

I got the job. It's what I avoided talking about here and here - I applied for a job with the local newspaper (a twice-weekly, family-owned paper, covers most of the county), and on Thursday and Friday I found out that I got the job.

So two weeks from yesterday will be my first day there. I'll be a reporter. My beat will be Middlebury and the four towns closest to it. (Just for reference, there are two other reporters for the news department, one focused on the region to the north of here and one on the region to the south.) It'll probably be a lot of work - I'm told I'll be expected to have five to 10 stories a week*. Most of it will probably be routine stuff like the most interesting or important proposal at a select board or school board meeting - which in turn means I'll be working later hours, and probably more flexible hours as well. It'll be annoying if this regularly cuts into Drinking Liberally or Monday night Magic, but, well, that's life - and it could very well open up other possibilities, so there's no point worrying about it. Also, the weekly pay is slightly less, but on the other hand it provides insurance, unlike right now where I've been buying it seperately. So my take-home pay will be a little bit more.

Maybe I should upgrade my iPod too, or find something else to use when I go to the gym. As it is, it freezes almost without fail after 20 to 25 minutes jogging. I guess it's just that the thing can only take so much bouncing around, but it gets me through almost all my usual running time and it's still much better than a CD player so I'm not complaining. It might also have to do with battery life - I've never put this to the test, especially since I don't use it too much outside the gym these days, but it seems like the battery icon wears down faster now than when it was new. But ANYways, I'm thinking about all that because I use it with an iTalk as a tape recorder, and I'd hate to have it die in the middle of an interview...

So, I will soon be writing for a newspaper. Cool.

*Ha! Writing "five" out but "10" as a number - good thing I'm still in the habit of AP style.