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Matt McHugh
Matt McHugh.com - Blog - May 2004

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SUBJECT:
Memorial Day
DATE:
May-31-2004

Memorial Day. I usually don't give much thought to this holiday's raison d'Ítre--but I have this year. I've never served in the military (not really my thing... too conformist), though I have no objection to it in principle (easy for me to say now I'm too old and 4-F, and my son's only three). I absolutely believe in the importance of a well-prepared military, and that combat and even involvement in foreign wars are sometimes strategically necessary. (In case you're wondering my view on the current war: it ain't.)

When I think about people who gave their lives fighting in assorted wars, I always think "why?" Why did they go? Volunteer... draftee... career military? What was the purpose of the combat? Repel an invasion... support an ally... a political gambit? Was the military operation ultimately successful or not? I try to think about these things very clinically because, well, you have to.

Soldiers in war are chess pieces. You move them around and decide to sacrifice some to gain advantages, and hopefully, final victory. Politicians and generals must make those decisions with cold calculation, weighing many factors in order to arrive at the best possible call given the available information. Soldiers can't second-guess orders, their loyalty must be--literally--absolute. The government has a sacred obligation to make neither frivolous nor inept demands on that loyalty.

The best way to honor soldiers who die in war is to make good decisions for the ones still living.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Internet Connection Still Down
DATE:
May-30-2004

Still down. About four days now. Still don't know if it's Apple's or Comcast's fault, or--most likely--some combination in between. It's a vexing problem, in any case.

When it comes to phone tech support, I expect stupidity from Comcast but I have slightly higher expectations from Apple. This time around, however, they were both pretty useless, though the Apple call was more frustrating. When you ask the question "would it help if I re-install my system or upgrade to the latest version" and you get the answer "uh... maybe": that's useless, frustrating (though far from atypical) tech support. In my experience, almost any computer problem I've ever had can be solved in minutes by a knowledgeable individual.

The real challenge is finding that individual.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
New Grill, Old Gas
DATE:
May-29-2004

Set up my new gas grill today. I'm not exactly sure why I'm proud of that fact, but I am somehow. It's not like it was difficult or anything; I just followed the instructions, tightend a few wing-nuts ("no tools required"!), and screwed on a propane tank. I did actually use soapy water to check for leaks around all valves and seams, so I commend myself for my safety thoroughness.

The grilling was moderately successful. Overcooked the steak a bit; chicken was perfect. The previous grill I had (a 20-year old hand-me-down from a friend) burned so unevenly that it would char one spot on the meat and leave another spot raw. I tossed it when we moved, and dropped off a three-quarters-full tank to the local gas station just to get rid of it. (It had the old-style connector and would have been a pain to re-fit for a newer grill.)

When I bought the new tank, the guy at the hardware store asked if I had an old one to turn in. I told him I'd gotten rid of it months ago, and he told me (haven't attempted to verify yet) that there are some 1,000,000 (that's Million) unused propane tanks in this country. Apparently lots of people--like me--just ditch old ones when they get inconvenient.

I hate waste. I hate pollution. I hate the fact that morons all over this nation are so rich and indifferent that they simply discard things that are toxic because putting them to use would be a bit of a nuisance.

And I really hate the fact I'm often one of those morons.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Internet Connection Down
DATE:
May-28-2004

My Internet connection has been down for nearly two days. (How am I managing to post this, then? Through a tedious file-swapping process that makes me nostalgic for floppy disks.) I'm getting a "self-assigned" IP address where I should be getting a dynamically issued one via my ISP's DHCP server. Neither Apple nor Comcast's customer service were of any help (they each blamed the other), so I'm left trying to sort this one out on my own. Hardware problem? Line problem? Software problem? On my end or ISP's? Stay tuned...

You know the old "men won't ask for directions" stereotype? In the tech age, I find the same is true for calling customer service--and for largely the same reasons. You're lost. You need help. You ask someone who's supposed to be able to provide it, yet they invariably seem to know even less than you. You end up more annoyed and no further to your destination. And if, by some miracle, you actually get step-by-step information that helps you, you'll never be able to replicate that later since you didn't deduce it yourself.

And when it comes to tech support phone people, let's face it: if they actually understood the technology, they wouldn't be working in phone support. They're just reading from the manual. So, next time you call one, ask if you can talk to whomever wrote the manual--just to see what happens.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
American Idol
DATE:
May-27-2004

Wasn't someone supposed to win the third American Idol-thing tonight? I didn't watch it and my Internet connection is down, so I have no idea who won and no way of finding out.

Oh... wait a minute. That's right. I forgot:

I       ...       DON'T       ...       CARE

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Respecting the Faith of Others
DATE:
May-26-2004

There are some who might say I was a little harsh and disrespectful with my previous comments on Mary Baker Eddy's book. After all, I was fairly snide and dismissive of a work that is a cornerstone of the Christian Scientist faith, which has millions of adherents. Ought I not to have been more open-minded? Shouldn't we always strive to respect the faith of others?

In a word: no.

Just because some nimrod (or lots of them) believes in something does not make it innately valuable or even worthy of tolerance. People all over the world--and that includes where you live--believe in lots of stupid, delusional, and downright dangerous things. It's your job as a thinking human being to decide which beliefs have value and which don't. True, if you dismiss a belief system without fully understanding it, you're probably guilty of a certain amount of prejudice. But that's inevitable sometimes. Sometimes, you've got to make judgement calls to the best of your ability. Belief, by definition, is what takes over after the limits of knowledge and open-minded inquiry have been reached--though I'm often disturbed at how quickly proselytizing believers seem to reach those limits.

I believe the writings of Mary Baker Eddy are essentially the ramblings of someone drunk on a cocktail of Biblical literalism and intellectual frustration.

Feel free to respect that. Or not.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Gibberish in the Service of God
DATE:
May-25-2004

In the exhibit hall of a convention for medical librarians, I noticed several copies of a book entitled Science and Health laying on an untended table. When I looked closer, I saw the full title was Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures, and I realized this was a plant--copies of the book (stamped "Review Copy") had been left randomly all over the exhibit hall. I've seen this before: religious organizations trying to nudge their way into scientific or professional gatherings. I picked one up.

It's by Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910), who is the founder of the Christian Scientists. The cover proclaims "over 10 million copies sold" and states that it has been chosen by the Women's National Book Association as "one of 75 books by women whose words have changed the world." I have made no attempt to verify either claim, but I find them plausible enough. After all, the book's been around over 125 years and someone is still making enough money to justify continued printings and random plantings. It even has a CD-ROM and website: spirituality.com (Good domain. These guys were definitely on the ball in the 90's to snag it.)

So far, I've only read the preface and skimmed a few dozen pages. My initial impression is that it was written by a schizophrenic. It's full of self-referencing arguments that basically just restate this thesis (if I can be so presumptuous as to boil it down... mimicking the author's love of emphasis through capitalization): God is the Source of all Spiritual Truth, which is the only Reality, and the physical world--with disease and sin--is not Real; Christian Science is the process of coming to understand this. In my heretical opinion, that's a more coherent explanation of the author's core doctrine than anything I've seen in the book. I wonder if I can get freelance work on a new edition of Christian Science for Dummies.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Brooding II
DATE:
May-24-2004

Seventeen-year cicadas emerge from their long, underground hibernation for one purpose: to breed. They crawl up, shed their shells, sprout wings, buzz around, make that God-awful sci-fi movie sound to attract a mate, then die in a matter of days.

Not to go to overboard with the analogy, but isn't this what we do? Albeit on a longer timescale with a little more self-awareness and ability for cogitation, but basically we are born, grow, make God-awful noise of various sorts to attract a mate, then die. That is, in fact, the way of all things. We tell ourselves that we are unique in creation with a link to metaphysical immortality, but the physical cycle of our existence is pretty much on a par with the insect, once you strip away all the distraction of detail. Take a look at Manhattan from a distance sometime and compare it to a series of African termite mounds.

The similarities in architecture are eerie.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Brooding
DATE:
May-23-2004

I'm in Washington DC for a few days and, just walking a few blocks around my hotel, I caught a glimpse of the 17-year Cicada emergence. The big, noisy buggers were flying all around, banging into walls and falling to the ground where they flailed around helplessly. I have to say that they struck me as some of the dumbest creatures God has ever put on this earth. Like retarded flying turtles.

Now, I'm generally not a squeamish person, but I just don't like insects. Especially big, buzzy ones. I know they're harmless... but they're still icky. You'd think years of living in New York with its ubiquitous cochroaches (and they are impressive) would have cured me, but no. The six-legged things just creep me out. Now spiders, don't bother me anywhere near as much. Go figure.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Hotel Toothpaste
DATE:
May-22-2004

Why is it that hotels all put out certain bathroom toiletries but not others? The usual suspects are:

  • Soap (OK... I can see that)
  • Shampoo (again, pretty useful)
  • Conditioner (does anybody use this?)
  • Hand and body lotion. (If you're the type of person who lotions up--for any purpose--you probably have your own supply at all times)
  • Mouthwash (not a bad thing)
  • Foaming bath (women always take bubble baths on commercials, so maybe)

Frequently, one will find:

  • shoe shine kit/mit (this, I like)
  • sewing kit (actually used it once, when I split my pants before a meeting)
  • shower cap (other than as an emergency condom, I've never heard of anyone using this)
  • hair gel and/or comb (same deal, I think, as with the hand and body lotion)

Never once, ever, have I seen toothpaste or a toothbrush. In my experience, these are always the most forgotten items when traveling. I know you can call the front desk and they'll send them up--at least in hotels that don't have a number as part of their name--but that just adds a step. I want a little plastic baggie that has a small toothbrush and a three-day supply of toothpaste in ketchup-style packets. Is that so much to ask? Charge me $2 extra per diem for it, if you must. Or maybe cut out the lotion and foaming bath to make up the difference.

Seriously, don't you think it's a good idea?

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Naval Gazing
DATE:
May-21-2004

The U.S. Naval Academy has announced that the school's traditional fight song "Navy Blue & Gold" has been altered to remove two instances of the word "men" from the lyrics. The lines in question are:

Now college men from sea to sea may sing of colors true.
But who has better right than we to hoist a symbol hue:
For sailor men in battle fair since fighting days of old;
Have proved the sailor's right to wear the Navy Blue & Gold.

The new version removes the two "men"-'s and pluralizes "colleges" and "sailors" to keep the sense of the lines.

It's easy to grouse about such things as hollow "political correctness" but, frankly, I have no problem with this case. If such a minor change helps the morale of female cadets (reportedly 15% of the student body), then go for it. Those that might balk at the change as an assault on tradition would probably argue that it's such a minor thing that women shouldn't mind leaving it as is. Of course, if it's so minor, why do you resist changing it? Somebody's got to give. Why not let the Naval patriarchy bend a bit on this one.

There is one gender-slanted naval term I would strongly protest changing: seamen. What a loss if my kids never got to giggle at the phrase "look at all the seamen on deck!" or "when the ship docked for Fleet Week, the seaman came spilling onto the pier" etc. etc.

There are some traditions just too important to mess with.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
The Mostest Kind: Cut
DATE:
May-20-2004

Last month, I tossed down the gauntlet to challenge my readers (both of 'em!) to see if they could come up with the single word in the English language that has the "most definitions" -- that is, its dictionary entry has the longest list of variations in how it can be used and defined in different situations. This is a question someone put to me many years ago and I thought I'd long figured out the answer: run

However, it turns out that's not it. To research this, I went to OneLook Dictionary Search (have you bookmarked it yet? Why the hell not! It's an incredibly useful site!), and I ran searches for dozens of short, common verbs--the most likely to be used in many contexts. I counted the number of bullet-pointed "quick definitions" it came up with in the sidebar for each. Here's the main results:

stand = 24
go = 36
call = 42
hold = 45
make = 51
play = 52
run = 57

AND THE WINNER IS...

cut = 73

So who won the contest? Well, nobody (not even me)--but I have to give an honorable mention to Henning who, trapped in a Hoboken apartment for two weeks with only a DSL line, took his best cut at the contest and went for go. His choice placed respectably and, given that he's a native German-speaker, deserves some handicapping. As for a prize, well, I'm still thinking about that. I was going to have colored T-shirts with my site logo made up, but they're too expensive. Maybe I'll just do plain white ones. Folded neatly. And shrink-wrapped. Say, in sets of three.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
The Agony of Ice Cream
DATE:
May-19-2004

Let me put this forward: the worst physical pain you can experience--that does you no lasting harm--is the Ice Cream Headache (or Brain Freeze or Slurpee Seizure...whatever you like to call it). It occurs when you swallow something cold too quickly (the semi-fluid of ice cream/Slurpees make it very easy), which lowers the temperature of air you've breathed in. When this chilled air hits your sinuses or lungs, you can get stabbing pain in the head, chest, or both. I get it in both, so intense that I almost double over. It goes away in less than 10 seconds once your body warms up the air again, and you're perfectly fine. Typically, you go right ahead and have another spoonful.

Me and pain are old buddies. I regard the subtle, ever-changing gradations of pain in my aging body with a connoisseur's appreciation, contemplating each ache like the tannins of a fine wine--and pondering what they portend for tomorrow (never anything good). But the Ice Cream Headache is different. It's a spike of crippling agony that passes like a cloud across the sun, leaving you with a palpable sense of relief and renewal. If nothing makes you appreciate your health like sickness, the Ice Cream Headache is a gift of perspective, making the slow deterioration of age seem welcome by comparison. For this, if nothing else, custard and all it's kin are wonders of nature.

Or maybe I'm just trying to justify my craving for a frozen yogurt refill.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Something Not All White People Do
DATE:
May-18-2004

The website BlackPeopleLoveUs.com features two earnest-looking white yuppies--Sally and Johnny--gushing about their many African-American friends, with ample testimonials to Sally and Johnny's racially tuned-in hippness from real live black people ("Sally loves to touch my hair!" ... "Johnny calls me 'da man!'"). It's a pretty good satire of how people who think themselves above stereotypes are often cluelessly mired in them. Funnier still are some of the "is this supposed to be a joke?"-letters from indignant web surfers, though perhaps they can be forgiven a bit. The racial divide in America is so big, yet so nebulous, it's difficult to even joke about it. With all the baggage of modern social convention and cultural disparity, sometimes blacks and whites just don't know what to make of each other.

Case in point: a few years ago, my wife and I are driving and Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train" comes on the radio. We comment that his screeching voice sounds like a cat. In fact, with his wild eyes and shaggy hair, he kind of resembles one of our cats. We turn up the song and start screeching meows along with it, making the thumb-finger-pinky gesture and doing the headbanger head-bob... meowing furiously the whole time.

At a stoplight, a black woman calls to us from a neighboring car and asks for directions to Route 4. We turn down the song, tell her to turn left at the second light, and she thanks us and drives off--not for an instant betraying that she's witnessed anything odd. I remember wondering if she just figured that Ozzy-Cat impersonation was a common driving pass time among whites. I had the urge to catch up to her and explain that our heavy metal meowing should not be construed as representative of our race.

For the record: performing feline versions of Ozzy songs is not a typical behavior for white people. Singing "American Pie" at karaoke bars... well, that's a different story.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Me as a Kid
DATE:
May-17-2004

We moved recently (all right, so it's over two months ago, OK... recent in my book!) and I'm still organizing files in boxes. I came across old grade school photos of myself, along with boxes of school memorabilia.

I look at that kid and I can't remember being him. I remember what he experienced and thought, but that's with me--my brain--shrunk down to that smaller body. I can't reconstruct his thought processes, only filter my memories of them through my current consciousness. My childhood recollections are truly gone.

That's a fairly recent development. How recent? Since I had kids. I see the picture of myself as a daydreaming, mop-headed tyke and I can only grasp it by comparisons with my son as he is now, not me as I was then. I'm a grumpy old dad who yells all the time, not a fresh-minded child experimenting with the world. The stress of the parental role has eradicated my ability to recall what it was like to be a child... just when it might have been really useful, too.

-- mm

Picture of me as a kid (mouseover for my son!)


SUBJECT:
Big Stuff Rises
DATE:
May-16-2004

There's an interesting physical/mechanical (not sure what to call it) principle at work in any system where large and small particles interact in dynamic movement such that the small particles behave with properties of a fluid. When oscillated or vibrated with sufficient vigor over sufficient time, the large particles always rise to the top of the small particles.

Case in point: stick a golf ball deep into a jar of sand, shake it, and the golf ball jiggles up to the surface. This works on everything from the prize in the bottom of a cereal box to the tectonic plates of continents. The interesting thing is that, although there are theories and mathematical models, no one is quite sure why this is true. The smaller particles fall down more easily, creating silting layers? The inertia of larger particles tends to keep them more stable as the smaller ones shift beneath them? It's something of a scientific puzzle.

Me, I prefer to see it metaphorically: the big stuff rises. On the earth, in the mind, all across life in general. I don't mean this in a pop-psychological "don't sweat the small stuff" kind of way. I posit no spiritual value or moral lesson from the phenomenon, except to point out that nature, for good or ill, will eventually bring all big things to the surface. I suppose the only lesson to be learned is to keep an eye out for whatever might be coming up.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Cicadian Rhythm
DATE:
May-15-2004

It seems that 2004 is supposed to be a big "emergence" year for periodic cicadas. Periodic cicadas (genus Magicicada) are thumb-sized insects found in the northeast U.S. that lie dormant underground for periods of 13 to 17 years, then emerge--by the trillions (yes, with a "T")--over a few weeks in early spring. Early European settlers in America equated them with Biblical locust plagues, though they are not (locusts are grasshoppers).

Cicadas do not damage crops or trees on a massive scale, are harmless to humans, and are apparently quite nutritious. They play an important role in various natural systems, everything from helping to prune fruit trees to providing a major food source for dozens of predators. Their long dormancy/rapid emergence is one of most unusual cyclic patterns in the animal kingdom and provides a useful barometer for the ecological health of a region.

Still... I'm not sure I want to find a trillion of them in my backyard.

-- mm

Cicada Watch 2004 website hosted by the College of Mount St. Joseph


SUBJECT:
Love Rocks/Stinks/Hurts
DATE:
May-14-2004

Turns out that my one-year old baby, who screamed all night for three days straight, had an ear infection. Now I feel like a schmuck for wanting to toss her out of a window. Though, I'm still enjoying imagining how I'll embarrass her as a teenager by singing 80's songs.

Rather than strictly campy pop ditties, though--now I'm leaning more toward hair-band power ballads. A few good candidates: The Bangles' "Eternal Flame" ... Cheap Trick's "The Flame" ... anything by Richard Marx. The kind of crap that might show up on late night TV ad for a compliation album called "Love Rocks." (Note to self: check rights availability for the above. I think it would sell.) They have an emotional over-eagerness that's embarassing even when well-performed. Imagine a paunchy, bald 50-something who can't hit the notes reading the lyrics off a karaoke machine. Now imagine he's your Dad and it's your Sweet 16 party.

I think you get the point.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Final Frasier
DATE:
May-13-2004

I don't know. I mean, I like the show and all, but it's been on for 11 years. Okay, fine. Give it a rest. Whatever.

I find that my tolerance for being a somewhat regular watcher of a particular TV show is no more than 2 or 3 years max. After that, I've just gotten tired of it--no matter how good it is, no matter how talented the cast, no matter how hard they work to keep it original. It just runs its course, you know? Even long-running ones I still enjoy (The Simpsons, Law and Order) I can't watch regularly. I skip a few months, then catch it for a few weeks, etc. etc. Reruns happily facilitate this behavior, making it possible to discover an unseen gem years after a show has ended.

I enjoy that serendipitous quality a lot more than tuning in week after week for the same-old same-old.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Michael Berg from America
DATE:
May-12-2004

Michael Berg--the father of Nick Berg who was killed on video by Iraqis--has had his picture splashed all over the news. Collapsed on his lawn, in distress upon hearing what happened to his son, while reporters filmed every instant. That's a distasteful and obscene invasion, to be sure, but that's not what's caught my attention most.

Michael Berg, in a radio interview, has let the Bush administration have it with both barrels. No doubt his rage and grief are prompting him to vent, but what he's saying seems like some pretty clear-headed thinking. Apparently, his son had tried to get out of Iraq as the violence escalated, but was detained by Iraqi security forces and interviewed several times by the FBI to determine if he was a terrorist. While in said custody for 13 days, his family sued for his release, but the case was dismissed. Without that detention and delay, the father believes his son could have gotten out of the country safely.

Michael Berg leveled a sweeping charge at the Patriot Act, comparing it to communist witch hunts, and accused the Bush administration of using the threat of terrorists as carte blanche to disregard civil rights and due process--of acting, in essence, un-American. Again, that may be a lot of rage and grief talking, but he raises a valid point.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Nick Berg from Philadelphia
DATE:
May-11-2004

Nick Berg.

That's the name of the young man recently killed on video by Iraqis. He was a civilian. He was 26 years old, from West Chester, Pennsylvania--a small suburb of Philadelphia. Not too far from where I lived the first 21 years of my life.

I won't get into the political and moral complexities of the overall situation or the seething emotions this particular event stirs up in me. I just wanted to note the man's name, to make an effort to remember it, as a kind of personal countermeasure to the pointlessness of what he endured. I think all Americans, and indeed all people around the world, could benefit (if they so chose) from taking a minute to note what happened to Nick Berg before it sweeps by in the flow of history.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
End of an Amphitheater
DATE:
May-10-2004

A public school in my town is beginning a much-needed expansion. (It's interesting to have lived in one place long enough to see things that were on the ballot actually happening.) This is all good, save for one thing that bothers me. The construction has torn up most of the school grounds, including one very unusual feature: a semi-circular outdoor theater made of concrete steps surrounding a flat stage area--exactly like a ancient Greek amphitheater.

I loved this little amphitheater. I have fond memories of taking my son there when he was getting some walking confidence, holding his hand as we climbed up and down the stairs. It was set into a small natural hill, nicely shaded by tall trees and faced a little thicket of woods. I have no idea what the school used it for, but I imagined kids eating their lunches on it on warm days while a teacher read a story. I had fantasies of being a guest reader of such lunchtime stories when my kids went to that school.

I suppose now they'll have better classroom facilities and whatnot, though I still consider it a loss they won't have such a wonderful little echo of another age as part of their everyday world. Maybe I'll petition the mayor and town council for it to be rebuilt... see if I can get it on the ballot.

-- mm

Photo of the Delphi Amphitheater in Greece (from a humanities course website by Richard Kortum, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, East Tennessee State University).


SUBJECT:
Kill Me Now With A Vengeance
DATE:
May-09-2004

And again tonight... the baby screams her head off every time you attempt to set her down. I'm keeping my sanity thinking of how I'm going to torture her when she's a teenager.

Showing baby pictures to her prom date--that's old hat. Everybody does that. I need something more creative. I'm thinking of recording her crying, then whenever she's whining for more allowance or to stay out late or borrow the car, I'm just going to play the recording.

Actually, based on my observations, the most humiliating thing a parent can do to a teenager is to sing popular songs from the parent's era in front of their friends. I'm already working on some numbers. The B-52's "Rock Lobster" is an ideal one. I can play it on my 80's vintage Casio keyboard and do the vocals and sound effects ("There goes a stingray! [Ooh-AAH-ooh-AHH] There goes a manta ray [eee-eee-eee-eee]"). Or maybe some human beat box schtick. No, wait--I got it! Biz Markie's "Just a Friend." Sung to all her slumber party guests.

Yeah, ba-by, You
Got what I nee-eed
And you say he's just a friend
And you say he's just a friend
etc.

Oh, yes. That'll do nicely. Teach her to stop screaming at night for sure.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Kill Me Now II
DATE:
May-08-2004

She's at it again tonight!

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Kill Me Now
DATE:
May-07-2004

My one-year old daughter has been screaming her head off for two hours--pretty much from 11:30 pm to 1:30 am. She's been fed, changed, had teething stuff on her gums, given baby Advil, decongestant... everything short of whiskey. She'll relax when held, or if you stand next to her crib. The second you move toward the door, she starts. It's "separation anxiety," I'm told. My wife and I tried bringing her into our room, but she just thinks it's time to play.

People tell me that when my kids are grown, I'll look back in melancholy wonder at their babyhood and miss the feeling of having a tiny child in my arms, so small, so dependent. Cherish this time for it will pass all too swiftly, they admonish.

Interesting that none of those people have ever offered to babysit. Not one.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Farewell to Friends
DATE:
May-06-2004

No. I'm not doing it. I'm not writing about the last episode of Friends like it's some kind of cultural event worthy of attention. It's a friggin' sitcom. It's vapid, disposable entertainment. Celebrating its passing is like having a candlelight vigil at the demolition of a McDonald's. I don't care how much of your fond youth you spent digesting its mildly diverting pap. You should be embarrassed you consumed such predictable, video junk food at all.

Now, if Ross had actually flown off to Paris after Rachel, sacrificing a familiar existence in order to discover something which by long proximity had remained unrecognized, that would have been a compelling encapsulation of the quandary each of us must--

Ah, who am I kidding... I can't even fabricate depth out it. I just passed the hour deciding who I'd rather sleep with. My Monica phase of a few years ago is way done, and I find myself swinging back toward Phobe. But Rachel in that mini presented a most intriguing quandary. Most intriguing indeed.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Irradiating for Gourmets
DATE:
May-05-2004

The microwave in my workplace's kitchenette down the hall from my cubicle (hmm... from now on, I'm going to call it the "kitchicle") has a number of buttons on it. In addition to the standard Pause/Cancel, Start, Open, Power, and 0-9 keypad, there are a whole set of buttons named for foods and processes. Beverages. Sauces. Meat. Pasta. Vegetables. Reheat. Defrost. Cook. If you push one, the LED display prompts you to further refinements based on quantity or desired time or temperature.

The microwave I have at home--it looks the same, not sure of the model--has Power, a 0-9 keypad and a button that says One Minute (press multiple times for multiple minutes). That's it. It just gets me to wondering if there's the slightest difference in "heating quality" (cooking just seems too grandiose a word for it). Do all the subtleties of "Reheat Pasta + Sauce, 8 ounces, at 60% power for 1:45" actually produce anything to superior to winging it with the Minute button twice? The microwave is the sole thing that prevented starvation in my brief-but-fondly-recalled Bachelor Days. I resent attempts introduce persnickety options into a device of elegantly spartan utility.

I did have a microwave once with two specialized buttons I liked, though. Popcorn (a stroke of genius) and Plate of Food. One thing, though, about Plate of Food that bugged me: you had to push it, then hit Start. Why not just make it start automatically? Why put me through a whole extra step? Efficiency, people. Efficiency.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Ranting at Panther
DATE:
May-04-2004

The latest version of the Mac operating system, OS 10.3--nickname "Panther"--is really driving me nuts. I was just compelled to "upgrade" to it at work. I hate upgrades. Upgrades are simply conspiracies among software companies that force users to spend money at regular intervals. They invariably fix what ain't broke, and reconfigure the familiar into the confusing. I liken it to buying a new car where the windshield wiper switch is in the glove compartment. Some bright boy at the car company will happily enumerate reasons why this is a "better solution" than the old way, but that don't mean squat to you when it's raining and you can't find the damn thing.

Anyway, back to Panther. It's pretty to look at and has some mildly gee-whizy functions, but from a work-efficiency point of view, it's a disaster. It navigates networked file servers slower than anything I've ever seen. It wastes so much time in the browse mode creating pointless icons and previews that opening a file can set you to screaming. AND... selecting a file hitting Return will rename the file (or disk or server)! Macs have always done this, but there used to be a delay, i.e., you had to hold Return down. No more. Touch return, bump a key, and you've got to figure out what the freak you just renamed by accident. Seriously, it's ludicrous.

I've worked on Macs daily for over a decade, have bought three, and they're the only computer I would ever spend my own money on. That said, their latest OS is rife with graphically over-designed crap that looks pretty and makes it harder to use at every turn. I do actually need to work for a living, yet all this OS seems to wants me to do is point-and-click and oooh-and-aaahh at its nifty new aqua-and-cream/brush-metal/semi-transparent gewgaws. After the first 10 minutes, it gets really old. Maybe once I get used to it all, I think it's wonderful. Of course, by then, some ninnyhammer will make me upgrade again.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Staples Packing Overkill
DATE:
May-03-2004

I received a package today from Staples.com... some labels I ordered. My order was one pack of Avery Ink Jet Magnetic Business Cards, weighed maybe three ounces, about the total size and thickness of roughly 15 sheets of paper.

It came in a box that was 14 inches long by 10 inches high, and could have easily held 50 packets of the one set of labels I ordered. To fill up the space, there were two big air-puffed plastic packing pillows.

Now I understand that it's more efficient to use standard shipping boxes, but this was ridiculous. I guess, in point of fact, it's not much more wasteful than if the box were a just-fit, but it sure seems pointless. One good thing: it started off my Monday with a nice infusion of amused indignation, which is always a helpful attitude for dealing with the vagaries of the working week.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Monsteriffic Movies
DATE:
May-02-2004

So I just watched this preview/making of/promo for the new Van Helsing movie. (It annoys me that they make these hour-long specials to promote a film, then eventually slap it on the DVD as an "extra," but I digress....) I am always drawn to big, special-effecty fantasy-type action movies--though, I am usually disappointed by them--and this one seems right on target on that fascination/disillusion curve. However, since I haven't seen it and won't till it shows up on HBO in eight months, I'm just guessing.

One aspect of it, though, definitely seems to bear out a growing cinematic trend. Because CGI, and other, film effect technologies are so good, directors seem unable to resist the temptation to show the monsters in detail. Great winged fanged creatures that ripple with sinew and slime...and they do look pretty cool, even if they are very obvious effects. The thing that bugs me though is it robs the monsters of dread. The whole reason these vampire/werewolf/zombie/witch/ghost tales have survived for centuries is that people use their imaginations to supply the details, they personalize the scariness of the monsters with their own fears.

When you see some director's vision of a monster, rendered in vivid detail, it becomes more an object of study than fear. The old-school approach, where the monster was more hinted than shown, may have evolved for practical reasons (i.e., they just didn't have the technology to show it), but I still think it's the best storytelling approach. Your unseen nightmares are much more terrifying than any impressive animatronic. Of course, they don't play as well in the trailers.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
May Day
DATE:
May-01-2004

Ah, the first of May! It always amazes me how the weather seems to obey the calendar. A perfect warm day. A cool breezy night,filled with the hiss of dried cherry blossom petals swirling over the Jersey asphalt. (It sounds sarcastic, but it's actually quite beautiful.)

Something very primal about spring. It works a magic upon you no matter how cynical or worried you may be. I just hope that my kids won't think of "May Day" as exclusively devoted to anti-capitalism demonstrations.

-- mm




 





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