Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Ventura Highway in the Sunshine

Well, there's three hours I'll never see again. CA has a very different structure for handling traffic complaints from MA. First, you can do "traffic school" to get points off for violations. Second, you have to put money up front to get a trial. Third, everything car related (except insurance) just costs a lot more.

I drive fast. I get bored and my mind wanders if I don't, plus, if I can get somewhere in a half hour, why take 45 minutes? But I do this when I'm alert. I maintain good situational awareness of what's ahead and who is coming from behind. I try to position my car so that other people can pass me or merge. I don't drive in truck blind spots if I can help it. I keep options open for evasive maneuvers. I really good at knowing the most likely car to cut me off and how much time I'll likely have to cope with it. I like to think I'm a good driver, in other words.

I haven't had an at fault accident since the week after I got my license 20 years an 11 months ago and had the most embarrassing accident ever. (Only other accidents: I spun out at the bottom of a very steep hill in an ice storm and just stopped clear of everything with no one behind me; I was rear ended once while sitting at a light, the people behind me just misjudged the distance; and there was that weirdness recently with Janet McQueen backing into me in a parking lot while I honked furiously to get her attention and failed.) Yes, speed can exacerbate the damage of an accident but, within certain limits, speed doesn't cause accidents. (Variance in speed is a bigger issue than absolute speed in predicting accidents - setting speed limits too far below the design speed leads to more accidents for this reason.) So I nearly always keep my speed below a reasonable threshold.

I haven't had a ticket in something like 14 years. Until this year. My theory is that the economy pushed the ticketing threshold lower. Plus, the circumstances of that first ticket were such that I thought I was going to be run off the road, so I sped up to get out of the way of the crazy guy- who happened to be the cop running without lights. But hey, why bother fighting it when there's traffic school? I thought I had a decade or so before another ticket came along.

Anyhow, I was going a bit fast, but not too fast and not nearly as fast as the officer claimed - based on pacing me for 15 seconds from so far back as to be laughable. Even for the speed the ticket is at, I got mocked at the office for getting a ticket at "the standard cruising speed". So I'm challenging the ticket. It's pretty much my word against hers, so I'll probably have to pay it but that was not a reasonable ticket. My primary strategy is to hope my officer doesn't show up, which results in a ticket dismissal. Considering that 70% of the people in my courtroom who were there for a trial had theirs dismissed, I'm holding out hope. Especially now that I have my court date.

Yep. Yours truly will be in traffic court the Friday afternoon of 9/11. What do you think? Will my ticketing officer be participating in a remembrance ceremony, or feeling all self righteous and determined to show up and make the case?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

New Suz: Hot Pursuit

Another fun read! Oddly, Amazon hasn't pestered me about Hot Pursuit yet. Ever since I got my Barnes and Noble gift certs that kept me from my occasional Amazon purchase, they've been emailing me suggested novels with greater frequency. Probably they don't get that she's my favorite author because I tend to buy my books at booksignings. Yes, I'm a superfangrrl, but that's because I like Suzanne Brockmann's ability to tell a story.

Hot Pursuit is a little different and a little bit the same. It's a continuation of the Troubleshooter's series with the intertwined subplots told from different characters' points of view (POV). The subplots usually start off vastly removed from the main plot only to tangle in at the end of the book, but in this case, they all support he suspense plot pretty closely from the beginning.

I really enjoyed it. There was a lot of sex. Lots. Some romances, even some of Suz's are pretty stingy with it. Not this one. Clearly the author believes healthy adult relationships include sex. And we're getting to see characters demonstrate healthy adult relationships. (If Sam and Alyssa are too pukey-cute-perfect for you, skim the first two pages of Chapter 3.) Dan Gillman puts the moves on and makes it work in a manner that I thought rather accurately represented your average hot guy rather than your average romance hero, and good for him. While there are an overabundance of overbeautiful women, one of the main POV characters is just a normal woman, which can be a relief.

I read this book really fast - I tried to slow down to "savor" it and failed. The story kept going, I kept wanting to know what was going to happen and when and how. And right now! I did guess the baddy bad right off. Didn't matter. It was fun to catch up with Sam, Alyssa, Ash, Izzy!, Dan, Lopez, Vlachik, Savannah, Jules, and Robin and meet Maria and Jenn.

  • It was less fun to meet cop Mick - I found his encounter with Sam and Alyssa to be eerily close to the "Gate's-gate" altercation. (But is Mick Snape or Voldemort?) There is good reason to have characters who are not always good in all aspects of their being - they are more human.
  • Suz uses the word "absolutely" a lot. Always has done, but it really stood out for me in this book.
  • Creepy serial killer who likes teeth. A different integration made it not as creepy as serial killer from ITS, but I could do with fewer serial killers in my reading. Makes me reconsider my comfort with the little box of babyteeth I still own with contributions from me, my brother, and the cat.

Still and all, fun book with characters who lead by example how to try and live a balanced life and respect your friends and colleagues. Some will read that as "political" but I would prefer to live in a world with that respect and enjoy it. I hope you will too. Go buy it.

Birthers: kinda funny, kinda not

Considering that Obama was running against a legitimate American citizen who was not actually born in America, this whole "where was Obama born? he tain't Amar'kin" thing is funny. The fact that it gets news time on freaking CNN and other supposed News outlets is not. It was debunked BEFORE the election. Conspiracy theorists should be covered by the likes of the Weekly World News, not CNN. When actual evidence only changes the complaint, one needn't even bother. Even so, one aspect that I haven't seen published before, however, is this: regardless of documentation, think about how reasonable it would be from the POV of Obama's mom to travel to Kenya while heavily gravid in 1961. (To be fair, maybe other people have blogged about it, but it's hard to find.)

Remember when everyone thought Angelina Jolie was batshit crazy for flying to Africa to give birth for the first time? [I thought was actually kind of cool, considering her reason of wanting to "equalize" her kids' origins, and her monumental cash resources and UN connections.] And how absurd it was for Palin to fly from Dallas to Alaska within 24 hours of giving birth while claiming to be in labor? [Which is just confusing.]

Now imagine a pregnant teenager in 1961 who is 7 or 8 months pregnant, and she's planning to fly to 1961 Kenya for maternity care and delivery?????? Possible. Not credible. Not probable. Batshit crazy, in fact.

I can think of reasons to travel late in pregnancy:
- you believe you absolutely must have your child born in a certain country or state to gain certain lifelong benefits
- you have been detained somewhere apart from your family and want to be near your family for the birth and they cannot travel to you

Not so much this reason:
- your job has sent you round the world and you want to be home for the birth. Because in this case, my assumption is that someone willing to live and work abroad would also be willing to give birth abroad - for instance, see "Kumquat Cometh" in the sidebar, who was born in Italy to American and Irish parents

And not so much this reason:
- husband's parents live in foreign country and you might think maybe it's a good idea to meet them before you have... oh, never mind.

I've got a question for you moms out there:
- When you had your first baby, did you travel long distance (more than 4 hours) for the birth?
- Did you prefer to have your mother or your Mother-in-Law there? ("Neither one" is also a fair response!)
- Would you have spent over 24 hours in the air, traveling on 3 to 5 planes to get to the MIL you've never met if you were already living near your mom?
- Would you go to a foreign country late in pregnancy to meet your your in laws?
- Would you rather spend money to travel for the delivery or to get your nursery set up?

Consider once again that it was 1961. Remember air travel in 1961? (Neither do I, but I read a lot.) Regular people didn't travel by air often if at all, most certainly not dark skinned minorities and women. Obama's dad must have been hot stuff to justify flying him to America in the first place. It might be something a regular family expected to do once in their lifetime. (Businessmen took to it quite handily when prices dropped heading into the '50s.)

Today, when there are lots of flights leaving almost every day for every destination, it would take:
  • 3.5 hours from Hawaii to San Fran
  • 6.0 hours from San Fran to NYC
  • 5.0 hours from NYC to London (First transatlantic flight w/o refueling, 1957)
  • 9.5 hours from London to Kenya
That's 24 hours, just on the planes. That's 24 hours in a confined space filled with men smoking cigars. Delightful even when not pregnant, I'm sure. Even assuming planes went that fast. Pan Am took 11.5 hours from NYC to Paris with refueling. The flight today, with stops, is a minimum of 30 hours, and easily 46 hours.

Even assuming that 2 of those segments could be combined, that's 2-3 layovers. Back in the day, there might have been a day or a week between scheduled flights to exotic destinations. If you could *get* a flight to Kenya from London.
Sabena planes on Heathrow tarmac in 1960 So plan on at least one overnight in a foreign country.

Now think again about who is paying for this. It costs about $3000 round trip per person to do this today and from other cost estimates I've looked up on the interwebs, likely cost 4 times as much in 1961 relative to today's dollars. So think $12,000 in today's dollars - 25% of the median American income before taxes - for a pregnant college student to fly to somewhere where she doesn't speak the language, to give birth to her first child. Non-stewardess women traveling alone were rare and she wouldn't have gone without her husband. Assuming the airlines even let pregnant women fly. I also looked up 1960s incomes - about $6000/year per household and the tickets then were likely $1000 to $3000 for Kenya so my point holds. Still seeming even remotely viable to spend a year's after tax income to fly two people to Kenya? Who would have paid for it?

And would you still have gone during peak yellow fever season when the vaccination was required to return to the US and was not safe for pregnant women? Yeah, I thought not.

But as always, proof just makes the conspiracy theorists more rabid in their belief that there is somehow other proof being withheld. That being said, anyone who cast even the tiniest of aspersions on Anjelina for going to Africa or France to give birth cannot in any way give credence to this birther nonsense. For that matter, neither can anyone sensible in any way at all.

Monday, July 27, 2009

George Lopez, kinda funny, kinda not

This saturday, comedian George Lopez was performing at the Santa Barbara Bowl. I'd never been to the venue and thought it seemed like a good opportunity to check it out. I did my usual last minute strategy of buying the tickets from the box office on the day of, hoping that good tickets would be dumped back into the system. (I figured worst case scenario was an afternoon and dinner in SB. Not too shabby either way.) I got an excellent ticket - better than I'd originally wanted to pay for, but I jumped at the chance of an aisle seat. Turned out I also paid for not having to walk up another 40 to 100 steps - a bargain.

I should probably say up front that while I've enjoyed GL's standup, I'm not a fan of his show. I've tried to watch it a couple times. It has never held my attention long enough for me to get into it and I channel surf right past it. My assumption was that a live show allows more leeway for adult topics and other things that aren't getting past the FCC and could be worth trying out, and his commercials were funny, so I went.

After a couple of hours on the road to get there, which was over an hour longer than it takes without traffic, I finally got there in the late afternoon. For the SB Bowl, you can park on the street for free or at the High School for $7. Since I was there early, I parked on the street figuring I could walk to downtown for dinner in 20-30 minutes. Since it only really takes 10-15 at my pace, that was a great decision. However, that was 10 from the *car* not 10 from the *Bowl*, for those who might do like me and just use the public garages downtown. I didn't get to my original food plan as I was distracted by shopping for a new water-friendly shirt at the outfitters.

If you saw my twitter, you know I was liquored up pretty good at this place called elements which had a great happy hour until 6:30 with really original drinks and the best fish (yellowtail) sandwich ever. I staggered over to the show in a fine state of amusement. I drunk dialed 2 people and talked with some neighbors out drinking on the porch. It was fun.

The walk up to the bowl killed a lot of my buzz but not all of it. There's a pretty steep hike up to the lower seats and then again to the higher seats. High heels were ok on the way up, but I really felt for the ladies in stilettos on the way back - 4-5" heels normally were 2-3" up and 7" back... The heart was pounding and I was sweating, and he did the joke I expected about having a new shuttle to take people up who couldn't make the walk.

Anyhow, the place was packed. I staggered in midway through the opening act who was pretty funny, in a geeky way. He was a nerdly white guy - I felt he was trying a little too hard to advance his "latino cred" with the audience, but he's done this for a while so I guess it works for him. For some reason the joke I remember best is "My wife's a Martinez, which means she's related to roughly a third of Mexico" which affected things like birthday meal planning and his ability to live through talking to any other woman.

Then... we watched a commercial. It was reasonably entertaining being full of celebrities we like to see including Obama, but it was a commercial. A loooong commercial for his upcoming late night talk show and how great he is. Um, ok, but I kinda want $10 off my next show for having to sit through the infomercial.

Then came the prime comedy. I'm not sure I'd pay big bucks to see George Lopez again. I did laugh a lot, but on the whole, I was turned off by enough stuff that I'd rate the show 3 of 5 stars. Good enough if you like him particularly, but not good enough to spend a lot of money on it, and don't take people whose senses of humor you're unsure of. He tried to do a theme of "Hey we're great (fine), kids these days are pussies (ok if handled well) but we sure don't want 'em to be homos (not cool), I still hate Erik Estrada from one incident in 1977 (WTF? Get a life), Latinos can be chubby (funny) and take a bunch of menial jobs (could be funny, wasn't so much), I used to be poor (some funny, some not), live life while you're young (fuck you), and hey aren't we great (fine)".

The "Hey aren't we great" message didn't mesh with the "they can't deport us while they still need us to raise their kids and water their lawns and do all these other jobs with low status and crappy pay" jokes. That was more depressing than funny. Although he was mostly positive about a strong work ethic, he kept telling an audience of 4000 people paying an average of $60 a head how they "have no free time or extra money". Uh-huh.

And I suppose necessarily the idea of growing up Latino in America is mixed up with growing up both poor and Latino in America for him because he grew up both. Some of the humor came from the culture, some of the humor came from growing up poor, but the two were strangely conflated. This would have been fine, but he seemed to think that being poor somehow made one a better person but only if they were Latino. He should be old enough and experienced enough to sort this out. Maybe he was just overplaying to a vastly majority Latino audience, but the experiences that EVERYONE shares from not having enough are pretty universal so I think separating the experiences of being poor from being Latino could help reach a broader audience. Doesn't mean they can't be used in the same joke, just don't mistake being poor for being Latino or vice versa. This has the added benefit of not ascribing the state of being poor to the group of people you're trying to elevate and motivate.

Probably one of my favorite riffs was "stupid things the police are doing to catch Latinos": 1) tasers - "we all grew up with cords that didn't match the appliance like the red cord on the black lamp; shocking will not work on us." (funny, doesn't necessarily exclude others) 2) "Now they have something that shoots a bag of beans as a stunning mechanism. Um. It's beans. Aimed at Mexicans." He mimed getting hit, taking the beans for evaluation, and being sent back to get more for dinner. Got one of the biggest laughs and deserved it. Another big laugh was white people's weird food ideas like being vegan and how a Mexican cook will push food on you because if your belly doesn't stick out past your chi-chis, you haven't eaten enough. (Huge laugh, especially from the row of women with bellies out past their chi-chis in front of me.) Plus he kept talking about chi-chis which was entertaining too.

As to the grudge: Apparently EE didn't shake GL's hand at a public meet-n-greet when he was a teenager and he holds a grudge to this day. I don't know what any of the details were because he didn't say. But dude. Get over yourself. Be a better man. Shake hands with the brown kids and white kids and black (oh, I'm sorry, Dominican) kids so they never have to feel what you felt, but that little job of hate was extremely unattractive. Are you sure you're not Italian? They have a love for vendetta that you would be very comfortable with.

And he might want to reconsider the dumb-ass gay jokes, especially in Santa Barbara. Even in a Latino crowd the laughter was patchier for that. Seriously, "Don't name your kid Cody or he'll be gay" is funny? Totally lost me. Partly because who the fuck cares and partly because Cody is a perfectly normal cowboy name with a long cowboy tradition. Ragging on funky names is fine, but choose actual funky names, and rag on them for being something besides gay. He could have stripped out all the "gays are bad" references and only taken out about 2 minutes and not lost anything. It came off as old fashioned.

My biggest beef with the show was that he didn't build up Latinos by saying how great they were (aside from the work ethic and ability to craptacular jobs without whining), but by ragging on gays, blacks, and vegan white women. The vegan white woman is fair game because being vegan is a choice made by adults, but dude, the rest was just trying to say "see, we're not the lowest rank of the minorities" by reinforcing negative stereotypes of other marginalized minorities who are *born that way, you asshole*, which is just bullying behavior and not funny. At all. Trying so hard to paint Latinos as other rather than a great part of this melting pot didn't do your show any favors. Especially since I was sitting in a giant theater filled with successful Latinos who sure as shit aren't cutting anyone's lawn for slave wages, but are living (presumably) decent American lives while perhaps eating more beans and pork than some of their neighbors and having bigger family reunions. I suppose there's a fine line between "celebrating differences" and "reinforcing separationist ideas" and his show didn't fall on the right side of that line for me. I think it would only take some very slight tweaking to put it on the more inclusive side of that line.

I dug the fart jokes. They were part of his riff on growing older which for the most part I enjoyed. But the mixed message of "the youth of today are wussies" (could have got a LOT farther there instead of devolving to "gay names") along with the very clunky public service announcement delivery of "enjoy your youth", a message I've loathed since all those motivational speakers came to tell us that High School is the best time of our lives (fortunately not true), was just weird. You both revere and mock the youth? Ok, but do it better. That rah, rah youth message took away from the "growing old can be hilarious" message. Maybe if he tried harder to be funny and less hard to be a motivational speaker his routine would play better. And didn't overlap "youths suck" with "I wish I still was one".

The show as a whole just seemed a little too rough edged and bush league for a comedian of his stature and accomplishment. And for what I paid. I really think a couple of tweaks to the "themes" and it would have been a great show. As is, it was mediocre.

George, if you ever read this, try:
- "getting old is hilarious" not "your life is over when you age"
- "Latinos have great culture, but some of it is funny, or results in funny things"
- Try not to base your "Latinos are great ideas" on the theory that "other minorities suck more"
- keep the "we still have to worry about 'running while brown' and other police interaction jokes. FYI, the black guys are gonna get that too.
- food jokes are pretty universal, feel free to make fun of various choices but don't be a hater.
- stop with the Erik Estrada grudge. Be the better man and ask him on your show. Don't force an apology. Maybe get an explanation. Maybe you were super smelly that day and there was a prettier woman in line behind you. Maybe he was just an asshole. But give it up.
- what the fuck was with that commercial for your show? Half of that would have been totally fine and still a little much. Keep the Obama bit, but don't then go on to dis black people.
- really think about trying to reach a broader audience with the food and the growing up poor with grandma riffs. Separate poor from Latino as much as you can. Don't do such a great job of reinforcing stereotypes. (or if you do, use them for the cheap laugh up front and make the joke grow up through the show).
- Be motivational by NOT giving the dumb motivational messages, but by living the example and bringing the example into your comedy. If your joke is about how awesome it can be to be Latino despite all the other static on your life, the motivational message will come through.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

And I thought my place was small

We'll never need a vacuum cleaner! Take that Eureka!

Yep. Still alive. Got third place at trivia last night, but something about the new trivia moderator was extremely irritating, so it wasn't as much fun as usual.

Still and all, I had lunch outside with a friend, trivia night with $20 free dollars to spend on food and beer (at a place cheap enough for that to matter), and I got to talk with a friend from back east. All good things.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Islands in the Stream

The island trip was pretty good. We got a group rate since I went with a dozen other people from work. I took a high school friend, her oldest son, and her husband. They got in pretty late last night because her husband just flew in. We got the air mattress blown up for them, had some happy hour food and drinks to close down the Claim Jumper and got up hella early to hit the boat. The boat went out through the Santa Barbara Channel to Santa Cruz island. The guide on the boat said that about 1/3 of cataloged marine mammals are found in the channel at one time or another but there's a good chance of seeing something.

The boat ride was fairly smooth, but chilly. Thanks again to the scopalomine patch, there was no illness. We saw sea lions and dolphins both directions and the ones on the way back played with us a bit and showed off the baby dolphin! We did the first 3rd of the Nature Conservancy hike with good views with a naturalist guide who was able to tell us what berries were in the fox poop that was all along the trail. On the way back without the bigger group we saw more than a dozen lizards. And my friend did something I found hilarious but not fit for sharing in a google archived page. We joked about it all the way back down to the rocky beach.

My friend's son had brought a shovel to dig on the beach. However, the beach was mostly rocks, not sand. He was pretty disappointed not to be able to dig in the sand and the ranger gave him a good talking to about not digging up the island anywhere else. When we got back to the harbor, there's a good sand beach. He went at it like Mike Mulligan with his steam shovel for about an hour. It was hilarious how much this kid (age ten-ish) was enjoying digging a hole in the sand. After he dug a hole deep enough for him to sit in with barely his head showing, we went off to dinner.

The seafood restaurant was mobbed because there was some pirate festival going on in the harbor that we mostly missed. So we saw some people geared up like pirates of the Johnny Depp kind, not the Somali variety. We finally got seated and had a nice dinner that we plowed through. We're all pretty well done in from the sun and the surf after a nice low key but energetic day.


Due to the boy having phone issues and me needing more attention than I get from him, I'm trying the thing this weekend while it's free. I'm updating it on saturday night during prime date hours because I'm going to bed in a moment - had 4 hours of sleep last night after doing the kamikaze clean on the condo and waking up at 6am (6 AM!!!!) to go to Santa Cruz island. (It nearly killed me. I didn't realize how many piles of papers had accumulated for so long, and 6AM!!!!.) Anyhow, I only have 3 days to get this in so I hope someone replies in a way I can get to them before I have to pay.

But already, it's better than match. They have better categories for drinking/smoking and religion, and they do the sort for you instead of having you troll through thousands of things using your own dumb filters. They should have something about cat allergy but I digress. Anyway, I've responded postitively to 8 of the 10 potentials, and one is highly iffy, due to his having a cat and that being problematic for my breathing, but he also had the most fun intro and he scuba dives which washes away cat dander.

The thing that's killing me though? 20% of the guys have the same name as my brother.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Delusions of Grandeur

It's clear I haven't been having guests recently. Here's how I know: My place is a sty. I like for my friends to think I'm not a slob. As it turns out, I am rather a slob. I try to be a hygienic slob, but I suffer no illusions that the distinction is clear to outsiders. And some people consider dust unhygienic so there's that.

I get less slob like when I have places to put stuff. My root cause is indecision: I set stuff down and figure I'll decide later where it goes, then always have something better to do than decide where it goes unless guests are coming over. I assess the state of the place much differently when I know other people will see it. I got a year's worth of mineral build up off the sink last night. You could eat off the toilet. But I just realized the same can't be said of the kitchen floor, yet, based on the state of the swiffer remains, which prompted the blog update.

I have crap littered everywhere. I need the Clean Sweep team. Mostly, I need to set up new systems for where to put incoming books, financial papers, calendar/ schedule papers, hobby papers, magazines, and correspondence papers. Also I need places to put souveniers, new books, old books, outgoing books, the future gift stash, regularly used tools, and whatever the hell I had in my bag last weekend. When I have a place to put things, I actually put them there, and the space can stay clean, but when those spaces aren't well defined or are too small, chaos is not far behind.

Right now, it all appears to be on half the couch and all of the dining room table and part of the countertop, and part of the carpet. I need the dining table clear so I can pack it up and turn the dining room into the guest room. I need the sofa clear so one half can be used for seating while the other's a bed. And so I don't look like a slob.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


After hearing a segment of John McCain's speech on NPR this morning where he basically calls Democrats unAmerican for wanting to attach the Hate Crime bill to the military budget I'm more thankful than ever that Obama was elected. Obama's not moving on gay civil rights and seems to be a little confused on torture, but he isn't showing the complete and total lack of understanding of the human condition the way JMcC displayed in this speech. The irony and the hypocrisy shown in this display kind of make my mind melt.

JMcC's point was that adding a hate crime bill to the military budget would somehow reduce our national security. Convenient how he overlooked the fact that the biggest terror threat to Americans is hate motivated violence from their neighbors, something this bill addresses. I can understand the point of view that we shouldn't need to punish hate crimes as more than just crimes, but I disagree. The point of hate crimes is to terrorize groups of people by being exceptionally nasty to one. The reason the legislation is desireable is that even in this millenium, not only are Americans still violently attacked for being a low status minority (mostly directed at gays) or even being suspected of being gay, but there are still police forces and DA's who won't prosecute these cases at all. The hate crimes bill makes it less likely that these cases can be glossed over as "boys being boys". The hate crimes bill is not needed so much to go over the top in sentencing as it is to get the crimes punished AT ALL. Somewhat like affirmative action is (yes is, not yet was) necessary to establish a less unequal opportunity for minorities, this is something that addresses a lack. In a better world, we wouldn't need hate crimes law because hate crimes would be routinely prosecuted and punished, not glossed over. But in a truly better world, we wouldn't be resorting to hate crimes in the first place.

Truly, someone who doesn't see that domestic terrorism and living in fear of your neighbor is a far worse threat to the daily functioning of Americans than is the threat of someone halfway around the world bestirring themselves to come over here and wreaking some short term havoc. Doesn't mean the short term havoc is preferred, it just means it doesn't occur as often, and doesn't necessarily intrude toxicity on daily life as much as the domestic terrorism of hate crimes do. I'm so glad we escaped this guy.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Drunkard's Walk, update

I've been blundering through the rest of Drunkard's Walk, a book about randomness. If you flat out ignore the crappy first chapter and get over his tendency to find himself more amusing than he really is, it's a charming book that will help wrap your mind around the central tenets of probability and statistics. Considering the horror with which most people refer to probability and statistics you may be surprised to have me refer to it as charming. Certainly it lessens the angst to know it's a field primarily brought into being by gambling, astronomy and counting the dead.

Usually I don't much like reading about the accomplishments of dead white men, but this is entertaining. And relevant. It's kind of overwhelming to think about how much of our lives are dependent upon randomness, but since I rather got my degree in that, I've had time to get used to it. And I still haven't quite sorted it all out to my satisfaction.

For one thing, I've had classes in probability and statistics and innumerable classes and projects at work which require their regular use. Yet I'd always considered them as one idea with a two idea name. Now I can sort them out more cleanly. Probability is the prediction of outcomes based on known inputs. Statistics is the analysis of known outcomes to predict inputs. Clean, no? This book is helping despite the shaky start.

One of the primary things I do as a semiconductor process engineer is measure things and make decisions based on those measurements. I can tell you though, that most measurements have a lot more error involved than you'd think to the point where some days I wonder why I bother to measure at all. Turns out "bad" data can be more useful than no data. I can talk your ear off about reproducibility and reliability of measurement devices, called gauges by normal people and gages by the engineers who wrote the GR&R specs. I can explain to you why set of measurements that differ by 8 Angstroms are significant and not nonsense, but two other sets of measurements that differ by 50 microns (500,000A) cannot be called different. I can also explain how to get flatness readings of 3,5,8, and 15A from not only the same sample, but the same measurement of that sample. (How flat can you make it? How flat must I?) The more I measure things, the more I realize that measurements are somewhat random in and of themselves, and for the most part, are like money - people agree that they mean what we think they do, so they mean that. And this book is good at describing that, reassuring us that it's ok, and how randomness is actually a hard concept.

We use measurements all the time - how tall or heavy are you and how fast are you going? How many words per minute can you blog? How many unique readers are seeing my blog (and what's the chance they'll buy me a beer)? But measurements are actually pretty sketchy things. By using statistics you gain confidence that the mess of numbers your tool just threw at you actually mean something that you can use. It turns out that the path to this understanding was actually long and convoluted and didn't really even settle down in many ways until Einstein tossed in his lot with it back in 1905. So much of math and physical understanding we take for granted today - averages, standard deviations, bell curve distributions, were not always available, accepted, or useful. (Massive amounts of computer power doesn't hurt either, but without probability and statistics we probably wouldn't have massive amounts of computer power.) It's been quite the education to take and analyze thousands of measurements, know just how fragile they are, know how little we as a culture really understand measurement, and still be able get out of bed in the morning. I'm up to the really quite interesting chapter that overlaps a lot with my other recent readings on human behavior, thought, and decision making. It discusses where we see patterns in randomness even when patterns aren't there. It's a lot easier to see the lack of pattern when you have the tools and language to sort it all out.

On the whole, humans are biased to see patterns and faces from really skimpy evidence, and to generate biased data unknowingly. To tie into my last post, old white men keep pestering Sotomayor about bias. Of course she's biased; she's human. All people are biased and generate and perceive bias. But more than most people she seems to have a really good handle on it. On the other hand, those that are trying to call her out on it are doing so by insisting that acknowledging bias is a failure rather than discussing bias it in a way that isn't accusatory to figure out whether her bias would make the court healthier. Instead what they mean is "we're concerned you'll no longer be biased in favor of us" by calling her a racist in polite terms. To me this shows a decided lack of understanding that bias even exists. They sound more like the astronomers of the 1700s who saw measurement variability as a moral failing so instead of computing averages to get a sound number, would chose their "best" measurement and go with their gut. The lack of consciousness of bias shows the inquisitors to have absolutely no understanding of the amount of bias they've had on their side, nor the value in having different biases represented on a court that speaks for the law of the land of a melting-pot culture that we're rather proud of.

Whether we interpret the law, preferentially choose lots for experiments that have sequential or repeated digits in the lot number (that would be my quirk), think that sugar pill is helping with our arthritis, consult with a Ouiji board, or think we can beat the stock market, it's helpful to know when you're conning yourself by finding patterns that don't exist, ascribing meaning to patterns that have no meaning, or by knowing your existing biases and how to work with and around them. The author isn't quite as entertaining as he thinks he is, but he is much more entertaining than most while making me think I'm smarter after reading his stuff. So I do recommend the book, for any casual or advanced reader who wonders how we know what we do and how we're so sure we know what we don't. And my beer is wearing off so I'll stop and hit publish before I think the better of it.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Wise Latina

The Republican spin machine has an often effective tactic - find out your opponents strenghts and turn them into weaknesses. But seriously folks, anyone who says "summa cum laude" at Princeton back in the day when women weren't really embraced as students is somehow a negative when picking one of the 9 people who ultimately determine the rule of law in this land? Someone who makes that a negative is not someone I find credible.

Some pasty old white man was on TV mocking her for spending summers catching up on US cultural literacy, which is also willfully not getting the point. (Thankfully the Daily Show was on the case, showing that the only appropriate time for adults to read children's literature is when the country is under attack.) Having not grown up on the same children's stories, Sotomayor realized she wasn't getting some references and set about to learn them on her own time. Anyone who finds that somehow less-than should submit to me exactly what they did with every summer vacation from college, and how they wound up getting every job they were in until age 25 or so. If you worked for your father (or mother, aunt, uncle, grandparent, or cousin) I will immediately discard your opposition unless your relative was in a different country. I will give more credence to objectors who have traveled, studied, or lived abroad in a country whose native language is not English.

The "wise latina" reference was in a pretty large paragraph in a speech where she was asked to speak about gender roles in affecting out lives. You know what? Someone who grows up as part of a marginalized group - whether or not they're a minority - has different fundamental assumptions about how daily life is lived than do people who grow up in the domninant cultural group. Most distinctly, Gavin de Becker states this in The Gift of Fear (paraphrased):
    Men dating new women are most afraid the woman will laugh at them.
    Women dating new men are most afraid the man will kill them.
Think for a moment how that dichotomy informs the decisions you make about every day life. Where are you keys when you walk to your car? Where are the dangerous spots to avoid when walking alone? What is significant about the eyes, throat, and groin? Who is the person you relay information to about your date before you go out to meet someone new? If you can't answer these questions or wonder why I ask them, then I need you to sit out the next few rounds of staffing on the Supreme Court.

"Well, that's unfair to men." That's as may be. However for 200 years, it was unfair to women and minorities not to be represented on the bench. Not because the all white, all male justices were evil, weren't empathetic, or didn't care. But because there were and are women qualified for the position that never had a chance. And these people are interpreting laws that affect everyone. Women and minorities are going to have a different experience about how, exactly, the laws work in reality than a white man will. This experience allows insight to alternatives when the experienced person is reflective and lives an examined life, which adds value and richness to the understanding of the court. So yeah, I'm sorry. Old white men? You need to sit out a few rounds. You've got us outnumbered 7 to 1 to 1. Until we get some balance to represent the country a little more, you'll probably be off the short list. But that's no less fair then being the only ones on the short list for 200 years, even if that wasn't you, specifically, on the list.

And in case I didn't write about this before, "What about Harriet Myers?" you ask. She was a feint. She was never a serious contender. She was not a constitutional lawyer. Given the number of constitutional lawyers that do exist, there was no need to draw from a pool outside that number unless what you wanted to do was put up a female candidate for the express purpose of having your opposition knock her out for being not quite up to par so you can ram home your middle aged white guy (Roberts) who was your real pick all along, saying "well, *you* rejected the woman, not *me*" which is exactly why you picked a woman who wasn't an appropriate choice.

I have no idea if Sotomayor will vote for or against women's issues or the issues of people whose skin is less than translucent. I do think she's capable, hardworking, introspective, cares to do her job well, and has an astonisingly appropriate experience base. As near as I can tell, she's about the perfect choice. I wish her long life and good health, and you can ask me again in 10 years if I like her judgments. I suspect that there will be some I don't like, but on the whole I think her inputs will make our country stronger. Which is what this is all about anyway.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Sharing is Caring

You've been to see There, I fixed it!, right? Go look for the Handsfree Headset. Or the water heater. Can't type, crying with laughter.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Corporate Credit Fraud

Rant with indelicate language follows.

In reviewing my finances to see if I can honestly afford the karate (probably not), I took a look at my Bank of America credit statement covering most of the Alaska expenses. They charged me a $39 late fee and listed my payment as processed 2 days after the due date. Ahem. Wells Fargo processed the payment electronically 2 days BEFORE the due date with the warning that it might take 2 days to process it. (So it might have been queued up to send 4 days before. Funny how NetBank could always process it on the same day...)

I'm sorry, you lying, cheating fraudulent motherfuckers, but when we mailed our payments in, the payment day on record was the day it fucking arrived - and back when you couldn't legally assrape us as easily the postmark date was sometimes enough - not the day you deigned to bother to cash the check. But for you to just sit on my instantaneous electronic payment for 4 days and make me waste my lunch hour or work time to call back and correct it is goddamned fraud, pure and simple. Even if you do reverse it (and it's still not clear you took off the finance charge and the "late" tick mark on my permanent record), you were trying to cheat me as a matter of standard practice because chances are even if I notice the late charge buried in the middle of my regular purchases, you know I'm not going to hire a lawyer to get back an $8 finance charge.

Unfortunately for me, BoA has been buying up all my credit cards and my mortgages (and I'm pretty sure they hire guys with tire irons for enforcement). My two oldest cards that I've had for about 20 years now have been bought up by these fucknuts. They've also scaled back the credit limit I've had for the last 8 years. I've had a giant limit without abusing it, which is part of the reason they claimed for recinding it, "oh, you didn't need it". WTF? No, I never did "need" it as such, but the ratio of credit used vs. extended affects my credit rating and if you pull out $25K off the amount extended, it hurts my credit rating without actually having anything whatsoever to do with me or reflecting my ability to pay. If you're pulling it back, don't say it's because of something I've done or not done, just say the economy sucks and you have new criteria. Don't fucking tell me that I'm suddenly a bad credit risk now that I have (theoretical) collateral (yes, the condo's underwater), but earn almost 35% more than I did when I was granted the higher credit limit.

Bank of America - much like the Bush years, is not *my* America. I hate these cheating douchnozzles more than I can express. I've used credit cards for 20 years and for 18 of it, it was a positive experience. And last time I checked (pre-rescinding), my credit score was almost 800. I can't even comprehend what kind of fraudulent tricks they try on people with bad credit. Especially in the last 2 years when they can charge rates that used to be illegal as usury, etc. (Hah, hah, remember when 24% was a hard upper limit and they still made money hand over fist?) Now to dig up one of my other cards, see if there's still a credit card company who will work with me instead of against me. And if you're a credit lobbyist out there whining that giving me 45 days notice before jacking up my APR to 34.99% will make your company unsustainable, cry me a river, motherfucker, and get an honest fucking job instead.

Other shady practices (I think it was Chase that did this): offer a low balance transfer rate then make the first payment due before you send out the first statement. Later when you get fixed autopayments, double the minimum payment to $5 more than the autopayment amount and start charging late fees for not paying the minimum. That was real classy too. Now whenever I move a balance, I pester the crap out of the rep on the phone to get the exact payment information and set up the first payment for just over twice the minimum, two weeks after the transfer so I'm not waiting for them to send me information too late to use.

(On the other hand, if BoA canned your ass because your years at MBNA made you too "soft" to just say NO to all customer requests, and you've gone out and started a credit company with actual customer service that doesn't require extra lube or a strong gag reflex, send me an offer. I will gladly use your service. MBNA always treated me like they wanted my business.)

/rant, once again safe for mom to read.

I actively liked MBNA. I'm currently withholding any actual liking of credit companies through at least the rest of this year. After that we'll see. Credit companies I don't currently loathe: Discover, Amex, Citi, whoever offers the Target card, Sears, Home Depot. This makes it look like I have a ton of cards. I do. Every store I've ever breathed near has tried to give me a card regardless of my interest in it. However, I don't *use* a ton of cards. I have one for carrying a balance at an extremely low rate (0% from 2001-2007, about 4% now). I carry one card for purchases in person and one card for online purchases and these get paid off monthly or within a a couple of months when things are tight. The rest are backup or used for specific large buys like getting 10% off my fine countertop or free delivery of my refrigerator. The rest gather dust until I decide to rotate the "in use" ones to keep them active.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Fish or Cut Bait

The karate crack dealers have let me know that my cheapo month is up and to keep going costs a mere 10X as much. They run "specials" that run only for limited times so I have something like 3 days to cough up some dough.

Here's the thing. It's not that I'm a gung ho pro karate, OMG this will save me someday kind of gal. But I am someone who prefers to work out with other people and do guided exercises that I don't have to think up. So much the better if they get changed up every so often. I'm not getting that at the gym I haven't been going to. They do have some classes, but they only have one or two that I like and they aren't at times that I find either convenient or easy to get to. With the karate, they call to make sure I'm going to my weekly private lesson. There are 3 weeknight classes and for the most part I've made all 3 for a month. The time works for me. The location works for me. They mix up the lessons so different lessons focus on different aspects of blocking, punching, kicking, sparring, or grappling. (It is all some kind of fighting though, which I somehow still find weird.)

The studio is near a gold's gym, but dude, Duane "The Rock" has been known to work out there, as does my boss's boss. I'm not sure I want my potbelly on display there until I get it a bit more under control. I've not done a good job running my fitness by myself. I tried to work out with cabinet boy, but he started working out at 5am before work after I got him rev'd up about exercising. I don't really have a work out partner or a hiking partner or anything. It would help to have one. It could be that I need to pay a sensei to call me for now.

One reason for moving cross country was to add some variety to my life. I wasn't really seeking karate as such, but it might be a pretty good choice for right now. If I'm willing to spend about $200 a month, and kinda commit for 6 months. Which due to the stock price being up and me having some options to sell, I can pay for although I was rather planning to spend the money on some professional organizers to help dig me out of my place and set up some systems so I don't keep getting overrun with stuff. I'm not sure I can do both, but sitting on the couch watching cable isn't getting me fit or organized. If it were only $50 and I could sign up for, say, 3 or 4 months, I would just say yes.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

We're Weeners

A colleague asked me to join his trivia team at a local bar a couple weeks ago. We did ok with some really hard questions and came in second place. This week, we won first place! Whoo hoo! An extra $5 for next week's beer!

I got an invite to go sailing this weekend. I think if I can keep the panic at bay, now that I'm more certain of the sailboat's maneuverability this should be easier, then I might even stay awake for saturday night, unlike my experience last time when I came in and crashed.

A long time friend of mine called and she's "in town" meaning she's about 90 miles away at her parents' house, which is closer to me than her place in the midwest. The kicker? Her parents have cats. My breathing is finally starting to approach normalish and I might be set up with more cats. Ah well. Hopefully she'll be able to join me on a work trip to the islands instead.

Whole foods sells something called a "plumcot" or black velvet apricot. I picked some up thinking they felt odd for plums. Tasty.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Jiggety Jig

Made it back home after a week in Alaska. The last two plus hours of trying to make it back from LAX are the first hours I've spent in the dark in a week.

I'd flown into Anchorage and met up with a friend at the airport. We decided to hang out in Anchorage for a day and put up at the Copper Whale Inn (B&B) which had great breakfasts and decently appointed rooms with blackout curtains. Right at the corner of the property was a bike rental shop. We rented bikes and rode out along the coast. The bikes were the way to use the trail as the mosquitoes mostly waited until we stopped to attack. A walk would have been miserable. But walking through downtown was just fine. Everyone had flowers out in baskets, planters, window boxes - everywhere.

After a late lunch at Humpy's where we dined on snow crab and halibut sandwich with a great hummus plate and root beer on tap, I dragged my friend all over to get souveniers. We spoke to some friendly but wacky shop owners and stocked up on kitch including ulus. We didn't get the best selling t-shirt "Alaska: I can see Russia from my house" but were mightily tempted... Dinner was with a friend of a friend and involved more halibut and draft house brewed beer. I'm starting to wonder if Alaska has the most small breweries per person of any state because it seemed every place had their own.

Day two was spent mostly on the train. It was a really civilized way to travel. We could wander between cars, get sit down food or a snack, go up to the glass topped observation car, hang our head out from the vestibule, or lean our seats back and our footrests up. The ride from Anchorage takes 8 hours to Denali and 12 to Fairbanks. We were kinda done in by Denali and got all kinds of giggly during the last couple of hours. We didn't disturb many people though because those nearest us were deaf. I got to use some rudimentary sign language to translate announcements and chat a bit which I enjoyed while feeling inept. But we enjoyed each other's company and I think all of us cracked up when my friend and I were signing, "Look! More trees!" Alaska has 6 kinds of trees but, by my estimation, you can see 800,000 of them from the train. It was beautiful, but 12 hours of very similar beauty. Still glad we took the train ride.

Our friend and hostess picked us up at the Fairbanks station then took us back to her place and fed us Copper River salmon her husband had just caught. Delicious. They've built their own house, which is cool in and of itself, but they also have a really functional layout and good looking design which is extra bonus points. The house also accommodates their 3 dogs and 2 cats and their friends' dogs. The first floor is over a garage filled with winter outdoor gear and tools and other storage. The first floor has mostly concrete floors with radiant heat which I'm sure is lovely when it's cold, but we weren't cold the entire time we were up there. Our weather was fantastic, even overwarm.

Wait, cats you say? Well, yes. And I'm wicked allergic. They did actually manage to keep cats out of their guest room which I know because I could breathe better after spending the night there than I could when I entered. It took a while to work out the right combo of meds to keep the wheezing down but my breathing was compromised for the entire stay which made it hard to hike. So the hours and hours of hiking was whittled down to just a few and we did other things instead which were pretty excellent contingencies.

One "small town" moment came on Wednesday. We'd driven down just south of Denali National Park and overnighted in a cabin owned by the university (UAF). Our plan was to wake up, go out for a good breakfast, then hike up a mountain. Our plan was literally derailed when we packed up only to find that the only railroad crossing was being repaired and they wouldn't let us across until after noon. Keep in mind no one had yet had coffee or tea. We only let this throw us for a little while because it turns out that our hostess knew someone down there on our side of the tracks.

And not only did they give us some morning caffeine, they didn't have any one booked for a flightseeing tour, so we got to go! I slapped on a motion sickness patch and hoped that 40 minutes was enough to get some effect (some, not full protection), and us three and the pilot spent nearly an hour and a half flying over fault lines, glaciers, rivers, and right up near Mt. McKinley (Denali). Best plan B ever. The crossing was still closed when we returned (my first landing on a dirt airstrip), so we just did a local hike. We'd brought one of the dogs with us, who was thrilled to finally get out and run around. I got winded a LOT earlier than I would have expected, but all in all did ok. We even made it back in time for dinner with their neighbor, complemented by excellent scotch and the presence of 5 dogs, one of whom filched a biscuit.

Thursday our hostess had to work. If it had been routine fieldwork we could have gone with, but it was a special trip, so we stayed in town and drove over to downtown Fairbanks for a look. It's a pretty small town. There were some nice shops but I wasn't feeling aquisitive and just looked. My friend actually had to make use of the Wells Fargo where she received excellent customer service, far superior to her CA branch. My friend and I made dinner with some help from our host to cook the meat for our moose fajitas with lime margaritas.

Friday was a nice lazy day. After a breakfast of bacon, with eggs and bagels fried in bacon grease, we spent it motoring down the Tanana river after gassing up and getting some sunscreen. My other small town experience was running into our hostess's brother in the store! Also in the store, they sell sleeping bags at the registers for those last minute impulse needs. But back out on the river, we enjoyed the perfect weather, checked out the trees and some houses along the way, and finally stopped for some fishing. We fished long enough to lose several lures, but not long enough to catch anything even though we could see the fish jump. When we motored back up to the boat launch it was nearing 7pm but still bright daylight and other folks were just getting into the water. Dinner that night was at a local brew pub (see?) with some of their friends.

July 4th was a hoot. We got up a little late and headed over to the Esther parade. This is the parade Berkeley would have if it were 1/10th the size. Gay rights flags, anti-nuclear floats, 6 female grad students playing ukelales and signing, and a little kid with a remote control car chasing someone on a scooter tricked out with dinosaur bones (night at the museum inspired), and a pig wearing wings (Alaska Swine Flew) were some of the highlights. Tons of people stopped to chat and it was a crapshoot whether or not people recognized faces or dogs first. Afterward we followed the crowd to the community pot luck. We gave a donation and dug in. A local area forest fire made the air rather hazy and thick, but it kept the mosquitos at bay. A final diner with friends of theirs once again ran into 11pm without my noticing because it was still so light out.

This morning, I got up a skosh late but made it to the airport in time to make my plane. So starting at 8:20 Alaska time (9:20 PDT) I said goodbye to the dogs and was on the go. I got out of Alaska by way of Minneapolis. My dad is working at the airport as a gate agent, so he booked standby tickets for himself and my mom to get through security and come hang out with me for dinner, which was nice of them. The flight was way too full for them to even consider getting on and following me back though. We got into LAX with no problems. I had a window seat and got a great if hazy view of the grand canyon at dusk with a big band of rainbow color on the horizon. Getting home from LAX was a PITA. First, it took an HOUR from when we got to the gate to when we got our bags, then due to the place being mobbed, was another 40 minutes to get the shuttle to my car. Fortunately once at my car I was out in mere moments and made good time home, walking in right around 11:20.

And since then, I've killed an hour typing this and eating a snack. I need to shower the remaining cat dander off me and try to sleep well for work tomorrow. I've been wondering what it means that the only time I thought of work while on vacation was to think about how I wasn't thinking about it. It was great to have the whole week off and just bum around with friends and their friends in an unfamiliar landscape with lots and lots of daylight. I don't have time to upload pictures tonight, but if you hang in there, you too will eventually see many many trees.