Friday, October 29, 2010

Miscellanea

In the spirit of this campaign season, I'm going to talk about a bunch of random things that have nothing to do with the topic at hand.

I keep getting notices that someone or other is now following me on Twitter.  Really?  Why?  Someone I've never met nor heard of wants to see the random bursts of nonsense that I infrequently tweet?  I have enough trouble following the people I actually know or organizations I actually care about.  Twitter is like buying 800 TVs and having every channel playing at the same time.  Sure, you don't miss anything, but you miss everything.

Why do all the airline ads focus on service, and how caring for their passengers is the top priority?  Everyone knows this is complete crap.  They're really just throwing tubes of human cargo through the air like flying Pringles cans.  Enjoy your flight?  Ha!  Like I'm really going to enjoy six hours wedged between two sumo wrestlers, drinking flat soda and eating stale pretzels while watching the umpteenth rerun of "The Back-up Plan."  I don't think so.

And speaking of campaigns, the theme of this season seems to be "Rational politics don't work.  Let's try stupidity."  Really.  We had eight years of plutocracy under the Bush folks, followed by two years of chaocracy brought to you by the Democrats.  Now, in reaction, the country seems to be getting solidly behind dumbassocracy.

In Massachusetts, there's a ballot question about rolling back sales tax not to the previous 5%, but to 3%.  The 3% is obviously a number someone pulled out of his rear end.  (I take the liberty of using the masculine form, since only a man could be that stupid.)  The argument put forth for this rollback is that government is spending too much.  Get it?  We cut taxes as a way to reduce government spending.  That's like deciding that you're spending too much money on DVDs, and asking your employer for a pay cut to solve the problem.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Procrastination

Um ... I'll get back to you.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Seven Billion

Various estimates of world population put it pretty close to seven billion.  Give or take a few hundred million.  What the heck does that mean?

Ever go to a sports event in a large stadium?  Fifty thousand people is a reasonable estimate for the the capacity of a good size stadium.  Not counting cheerleaders.  (Actually, going by the Wikipedia List of American Football Stadiums By Capacity, the average is probably higher, but fifty thousand is a nice easy number to work with.)  The larger stadiums seem to hold close to 100,000 fans.  So, for argument's sake, let's say fifty to a hundred thousand (plus the cheerleaders.)

So two stadiums (or one big one) hold 100,000 people.  Picture the lines at those bathrooms!  And that's only 100,000.

So ten times that ... ten or twenty stadiums ... is about a million people.  Ten to twenty football stadiums full of chest-painted, big-foam-finger-wearing, beer-swilling fans ... a million people!

Now take those ten or twenty stadiums, and multiply by 300.  Three to six thousand football stadiums.  That's a lot of football stadiums.  That's like having a football stadium every 25 to 35 miles all across and up and down the entire United States.  Think about it.  Anywhere in the U.S., you're never more than about 20 minutes from a football stadium  And that would be just about enough stadiums to hold every man, woman and child in the U.S.  Three hundred million people.  All watching football.

Now three times that number, 9 to 18 thousand stadiums, that would be about a billion people.

And the world has almost seven times that many!

So is it possible, just possible, that all those people driving cars and flying jets, using TVs and computers, chopping down trees, eating food, burping, cheerleading, etc. just might have some impact on the world's climate?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

New Apple Products

The success of the iPad has spurred Apple to introduce a new line of oversized products, including:
the big MacBook ...

the big iPhone, and ...

the big iPod Shuffle.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Human-unkind

I love humankind.  I really do.  Except on airplanes.

On airplanes, dozens or hundreds of us are packed into rows of seats like corn on the cob, and then instructed to "enjoy" our flight.  I think I have a very different concept of enjoyment.

Now I'm not a small person, but I don't overflow the airplane seat like some people I know.  Who sat next to me.  On a recent long Delta flight.  You know who you are.

So I spent many hours with my upper body listing to port at a 72 degree angle.  That meant I was encroaching on the space of the petite woman on the other side of me, who slept in the most contorted positions imaginable for most of the flight.  It also means I still stand like a hockey stick.

Both seatmates seemed unable to endure the arctic blasts of the plane's circulation, so they covered themselves head to toe during take-off with the blankets provided. It was like traveling between Sulley and Mike Wazowski clad in fire engine red burkas.

Meanwhile, the man in front of me decided to recline his seat back as far as possible, so I could stare at his scalp during what amusingly passes for the in-flight meal.  And if that weren't enough, he decided to raise his arms and stretch during all the climactic moments of what amusingly passes for the in-flight movie.

Between the overflowing burkas and the recumbent stretcher, I felt like that first dollop from a new tube of toothpaste.  Ok, it wasn't like being trapped in an underground mine for three months, but they're out now, and I'll have to get on a plane again.

So no, air travel does not make me feel philanthropic.  Nor does rush hour traffic.  Or restaurant waiting areas.  Or any waiting areas. Or the beach. Or ...

Friday, October 15, 2010

Ad Hokum

The local airport has "free" WiFi ... free, that is, if you agree to watch a sponsor's ad.  You get a list of sponsors, and you can choose whose ad to watch.

We all know Google's billions are primarily advertising revenue.  Is this the model of the future?  Maybe we can eliminate lots of payments simply by agreeing to watch ads.  Those folks in Tennessee whose house burned down because they failed to pay the annual fire department fee?  Suppose they could simply have agreed to watch a Geico ad in exchange for fire fighting service?  Okay, that's a bit cruel, but some insurance ad.  As long as it wasn't an infomercial, some of their property and pets might have been saved.

Could this model be extended to cover police, sanitation and other services?

Isn't this really the best answer for health care?  The more serious your condition, the longer you're likely to be laid up.  And while you're taking up a hospital bed, you can be watching all the latest Nasonex or Cialis ads.  (Of course, sponsors might not want to cover terminal patients.)

Ultimately, if you can pay for everything by watching ads, then even the goods and services that are advertised will be paid for by watching other ads.  Hmmm.  This has possibilities.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Downsizing

Yeah, we had to downsize to a home cubicle.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Social Network

I lose my geek bona fides if I don’t respond in some fashion to The Social Network, the new movie that claims to be about the origins of Facebook. I say claims because the movie really follows a typical  manipulative Hollywood plot: nerd loses girl, nerd starts $25 billion company to get even, nerd … well, I won’t spill too much, since obviously the ancient origins of Facebook are shrouded in mystery.

On the official site for the movie, the tag line is: A story about the founders of the social-networking website, Facebook. Not The story, as in what actually happened. Just A story. I think that about says it all.

You might think watching a bunch of brainiacs type at computers for two hours could get tedious, but this is broken up by thrilling action sequences of lawyers talking in conference rooms.  And yet, I have a number of problems with the film. Specifically,
  1. The flashback approach is interesting, but considering that in the present we jump back and forth between two different lawsuits, the plot gets a bit scrambled. In one suit, founders Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin are co-defendants, in the other, Saverin is suing Zuckerberg.  Maybe a flashback blocker would help.
  2. Although this movie is inspired by and devoted to nerd-dom, it can’t resist nerd-bashing. In one montage, campus parties abound with unbridled hedonism, while Zuckerberg and his cohorts sit hunched over their computers. The nerd idea of a good time, as shown later, is a hacking competition performed while the contestants drink shots.
  3. I don’t know what former Harvard president Larry Summers is like in real life, but I somehow doubt he’s really Groucho Marx reincarnated (especially since Marx was alive when Summers was born).
  4. Despite his fascination with making Web sites to facilitate relationships and coupling, Zuckerberg himself seems asexual. In fact, he seems completely emotionless  about everything. He just shuffles along while others hurl money at him. A slight trace of a grin after a hasty  sexual encounter is his only hint of libido, and that was apparently brought on by no less an aphrodisiac than a lecture by Bill Gates.
Just as the movie dodges any probing of Zuckerberg's personality or lack thereof, it also begs the central question: Why Facebook? Sean Parker, creator of Napster, is shown taking credit for single-handedly bringing down music industry giants like Tower Records, ignoring the influence of Apple's iTunes or the MP3 format in general.  But outside Hollywood, causes and effects are rarely that simple. Why did Facebook so completely eclipse earlier sites like Friendster and MySpace?  Perhaps the answers are too complex for a glib screenplay.  Maybe we have to resort to the anachronism of reading the book.  
    Though the movie feels like Revenge of the Nerds for grown-ups  (okay, Revenge of the Nerds for anyone), ultimately, it is a morality play, preaching that success leads to sex, drugs, and home repair. Heck, for a few billion dollars, I’ll take that chance.

    Friday, October 8, 2010

    Microbe?

    I was going to write about the secret of happiness, but the recent revelations about a possible merger between Microsoft and Adobe come first.

    The New York Times reported on a secret meeting between the CEOs of Microsoft and Adobe to discuss how to contain Apple’s growing dominance in mobile devices. Reportedly, a merger between the two giants was one of the options considered.

    Now the really interesting thing about this is that neither Microsoft nor Adobe has any credible mobile device. This would be like Häagen-Dazs and Fruit-of-the-Loom teaming up to take on Toyota.  Apart from Java Chip underwear, what have they got?  Sure, Microsoft has been trying to upset Adobe’s Flash supremacy with Silverlight, but that’s just Microsoft being Microsoft. Actually, Adobe attempted to do the same thing to Macromedia before they relented and took the “If you can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em” route.

    Microsoft has made several unsuccessful forays into the mobile device operating system game, the latest one being on the market for less time than the product announcement took. It seems that having smart phones run the same OS as desktop computers may not be as appealing as having smart phones that are useful.

    As for Adobe, their presence in the mobile market is currently limited to having a few apps that run on various iThings. Adobe has re-invented itself more times than … well, than Apple. First they were the printer software company. Then they were the graphic arts and photo-retouching software company. Then they were the other document company (Xerox being the document company.) Then they were the rich internet applications company. Now they’re the rich internet applications and other documents company.

    Wouldn’t Microsoft be better off marrying Google? At least Google has Android, the principal rival to Apple’s mobile software. Of course, a Microsoft/Google merger would be like a love affair between Glenn Beck and Nancy Pelosi.

    And if Adobe’s going to sell out to some other giant, maybe they should consider Google. At least they’re both in the Internet applications arena. And after all, what are mobile devices but Internet browsers? Even phone calls these days are done over the Internet.

    Anyway, what are they going to call this Microsoft Adobe hybrid? Microbe?

    About that secret of happiness thing? Relax.

    Wednesday, October 6, 2010

    Monday, October 4, 2010

    Telemarketers

    A point I neglected to make in my post on Telecommuting is that you get to appreciate how many telemarketers flagrantly flout (Like that? Notice I didn’t say “flaunt”.) the Do Not Call lists. Since I put up that cubicle in my living room, I’ve taken dozens of calls from everyone from cat walkers to refinancing operations who can turn my years of equity into abject poverty while I remain on the line.

    But the worst offenders must be chimney sweeps. Maybe it’s a seasonal thing, but I think there must be roving bands of top hat or derby-clad Cockney blokes wandering all over town. Every call starts with “We’re in your neighborhood …”

    Now I’m as fond of those loveable lads from Mary Poppins as anyone, but one of the reasons I switched from oil to gas was to stop worrying about the constant clean-up of soot, and focus my dwindling attention on the more important things in life, like gas main explosions.

    And speaking of gas main explosions, the other type of telemarketing call I get with great frequency is solicitations to switch my telephone, TV and Internet service from one overpriced company to another. I wouldn’t mind this so much, but half the calls I get are from the company I just switched to. Evidently their high-speed, state-of-the-art, all-encompassing technology has not yet clued in to the fact that we’re already customers.

    Friday, October 1, 2010

    Education and Entertainment

    Entertainment is education. Unfortunately, the converse is not always true. That’s why made-up words like edutainment are redundant. It’s like saying infodata or buggy software.

    So what makes something entertaining? Usually it’s a story … something with characters the audience cares about facing some conflict. So how can we apply this to teaching something like, for example, the Pythagorean Theorem?

    Pythagoras (from the Greek Pythagoras meaning “a guy whose name is Pythagoras”) had this theorem, which is like a theory but in math. His theorem said that the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides.

    Digging further, we find that in math, a square is something multiplied by itself. Of course, all literature from the Bible on down tells us you can’t multiply by yourself. It takes two to be fruitful. (So when one angle says of another, “Hey, that’s acute angle. We’d be so right together,” it’s not just being complementary.)

    Suppose the sides of a triangle are streets in the heart of a town, and Mr. Pythagoras wants to build a store on one of these streets. Stretch the imagination even further to suppose that each block in this town is a perfect square. This picture sums it up.



    So, if Pythagoras wants the biggest possible store, does he build on East-West Street, or on North-South Street, or on Hypotenuse Street? Pythagoras came up with his famous theorem that the block on Hypotenuse St. is the size of the other two blocks put together.

    But then he said "Screw it!" and decided to build right on the triangle in the middle! He gets more walk-in traffic, and he has three sides facing main streets to put up windows and show off his stuff. If he needs more room, he’ll just build up. Besides, a triangular building will get some interest.

    But then Amazon put him out of business.