Lunaya Pravda

01 February 2008

Moving Day

A couple of folks have nudged me because I've been silent lately. And there's a perfectly good reason--moving day. No, not me, just the blog.

I'm not thrilled with the look and layout, so look for things to change as I get used to the new digs and start creating something all my own. And this weekend will be dedicated to some reorganizing and general cleaning and fixing of links.

For now, I'll be leaving previous posts in both places, but I'm disabling comments here on Blogger and nothing new will appear here.

Here's the new digs.


19 December 2007

Bye-bye, bulbie

I wrote some months ago about the impending start of the phase-out of the incandescent bulb.

It's here. In addition to massive biofuels subsidies, ridiculous fuel efficiency standards for automobiles, and other steaming, wafting piles of scientific nonsense:

One portion of the bill sets new efficiency standards for appliances and will make the incandescent bulb -- invented two centuries ago and improved and commercialized by Edison in the 1880s -- virtually extinct by the middle of the next decade. The bill will phase out conventional incandescents, starting in 2012, with 100-watt bulbs, ultimately ceding the lighting market to more efficient compact fluorescent bulbs and light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

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Tourist... terrorist... let's call the whole thing off

Nobody's Business brings us, from the Chicago PD's own website, their newest flier outlining how to spot potential terrorists. Among the "suspicious" behaviors?

Physical Surveillance (note taking, binocular use, cameras, video, maps)

Glad they cleared that up. Now I can clear all those pesky tourists from around my office with a quick 911 phone call.

Presence of individuals who do not appear to belong in workplaces, business establishments, or near key facilities

So, the odd guy who managed to gain entry to our office and didn't know who he was looking for? Terrorist. Not to mention the homeless, the crack dealers, and other suspicious individuals who hang out downtown and don't belong to any business establishment--they're all terrorists, too.

Mapping out routes, playing out scenarios, monitoring key facilities, timing traffic lights

Gasp! I should be reporting myself! And all that public role playing I had planned for my future sex life is now off-limits, too. Damn.

Stockpiling suspicious materials or abandoning potential containers for explosives (e.g., vehicles, suitcases, etc)

I've been known to park my car and (horror!) walk away. So does everyone else I know who owns a vehicle. How would anyone know we're planning to return?

Van Bakel sums it up nicely:
If terrorists do their dirty work by spreading, well, terror, what should we call public servants who promote fear and unhinged suspicions by telling the public to report note takers, binoculars users, camera enthusiasts, map owners, and motorists who time traffic lights?

I'm so glad the Chicago PD has so simplified the definition of terrorist to include, well, pretty much everyone I see. Takes the guesswork out of it.

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06 December 2007

Puck you

The hockey weekend has now come and gone, and overall, it was worth the trip.

Saturday, I got up painfully early for my shuttle ride to the airport. This time I was prepared with small enough toiletries that I could comply with the 3-1-1 (3 oz bottles, 1 quart plastic bag, 1 person) nonsense imposed by the transportation security assholes.

The shuttle made one other stop, and off we went to the airport. Along the way, it started to snow--lightly, not really sticking. When I arrived at the airport, I queued up with the other lemmings to get "screened".

Lately I've found that they've added, deleted, and changed so many stipulations that I just don't know what to do with myself anymore, and it's frustrating because I'm usually so organized and together that I can just breeze right through the process. Remove my shoes or no? Liquids out or not? Coat on or off? The myriad of steps to do the security Hokey Pokey makes my head hurt.

When I flew to San Francisco, I forgot to take my house keys out of my pocket before walking through the metal detector--thankfully, nothing happened, and I didn't end up being felt up or getting an anal probe in a back room. This time through screening, I forgot to take out my plastic bag of toiletries and place them in a tray, and nearly forgot to take off my shoes. Fortunately, the screener running the x-ray machine cheerfully reminded me to take my liquids out of my suitcase (after my possessions had gone through, no less), and no one said anymore about it. On the way home, I nearly forgot to take off my shoes (I just LOVE having to partially undress at the airport), and again forgot to take my toiletries out of the suitcase. This time, the screeners reminded me of these things before me or my luggage went through the scanners. No harm done. But it's still all bullshit that doesn't make us any safer. Hell, it doesn't even accomplish its true goal, which is really to make me FEEL safer, not BE safer. *sigh*

We had a beautiful flight once we got past the gray sky blanketing most of the northwest. By the time the cloud layer broke, we were over central Oregon, and I was treated to a gorgeous view of a snow-covered Crater Lake and Mt. McLoughlin. We landed in Burbank without incident, the air surprisingly clean from the previous day's rain.

M. picked me up at curbside. I really do long for the days when family and friends could have meaningful reunions at the gate, instead of hurried greetings at curbside where the security thugs rush you along lest you conspicuously stop your vehicle for more than a few seconds. But off we went to Pasadena to buy our tickets for the Gamble House.

We had more than a few hours to kill after picking up our tour tickets, so we drove downtown and had coffee at a local shop. I was in dire need of a caffeinated pick-me-up after my 3AM awakening. The television in the shop kept updating a map of freeway traffic speeds throughout the metro area, which amused me. The coffee was good, the service was friendly, and we enjoyed a nice leisurely chat.

After that, we decided to waste a little more time by driving up to Mt. Wilson Observatory in the San Gabriel Mountains. As a Pacific Northwesterner, I'm always amused when I see signs saying we've entered the Angeles National Forest, and all I can see are sage, scrub, and cacti, and nothing that might even remotely qualify as a tree in any form that I'll acknowledge.

Along the twisty highway we went, with the temperature steadily dropping as we climbed. Being the geology geek that I am, I watched the road cuts far more than the actual scenery, except in the few spots where we could get glimpses of shining Los Angeles spreading in all its expansive glory far below.

As we approached the observatory, we discovered that access to the public had ceased for the season the day before, and we weren't able to see much of LA because of the chilling fog blanketing the mountains. The temperature--33 degrees--made me a little chilly, but M. was positively freezing. You just can't take LA natives anywhere cold without them looking miserable. We stopped and walked a little way up the trail towards Mt. Lowe, but neither of us was really dressed for a long hike in that climate, and after a quick look around, we headed back down.

The Gamble House was everything I expected it to be. Having been an avid fan of A&E's America's Castles, this is the only home they've ever featured that, were I wealthy enough, I'd enjoy owning. It is vastly different from those pretentious, nauseatingly gaudy Victorian and Renaissance homes popular with industrial giants such as the Vanderbilts during America's Guilded Age. (For you Firefly fans, Gamble House's exterior was shown as Simon and River Tam's childhood home in the episode "Safe".)

Built in 1908 for David and Mary Gamble (of Proctor & Gamble) and designed by architect brothers Charles and Henry Greene, it is a fascinating, gorgeous example of arts and crafts architecture. Seventeen different kinds of wood are found in the house, which features hand-carved wood inlays, and even small mahogany caps to cover metal joinery used in construction. Much of the house, however, uses no metal bolts or screws or nails of any kind, and, impressively enough, the house has needed little seismic retrofitting over the years. In fact, the most signifiant earthquake damage it has sustained over the past 99 years is a toppled chimney.

In the home's design, the architects incorporated several motifs that can be found throughout the house, such as the Gamble family crest: a rose and crane. Most of the rooms contain the original furniture, also designed by Greene and Greene specifically for Gamble House. Our docent also told us that David and Mary's son Cecil and his wife briefly considered selling the home in the 1940s, and had a buyer lined up, until his wife overheard the prospective owners discussing brightening the dark rooms by painting all the woodwork white!

After our tour, we headed back to M.'s place for a beer, stopped for dinner, and then braved the traffic into downtown LA. We were pretty fortunate to find a relatively cheap parking lot only a block from Staples Center. Once we found our seats, we purchased beers ($10.50 each!!!) and settled down to listen to the starting lineups. To my dismay (and more than a little cursing), Joe Sakic was a scratch for the Avs, and, to add insult to injury, they put Jose Theodore in the net. Theo isn't fit to play for Lucretia's Home for Wayward Fat Girls, much less a professional NHL team. I grumbled (silently) about this development all the way through the national anthem.

And my boys didn't get off to a great start, either. The Kings took the lead with two goals in the first period, and the Avs, despite one goal, were giving a lackluster performance on-ice.

But starting with the second period, they rebounded spectactularly, swarming the Kings 17 shots on goal, and they carried that momentum through the third, winning 5-2. I did my best not to gloat too much, and I gave M. a little friendly reminder that if he was a sore loser who made me sleep outside, he'd be sleeping outside in Washington on New Year's Eve. I think that got my point across in a teasing-but-serious way.

My only complaint lies with Theo, and to a degree, the Avs' defense. I couldn't believe the sheer number of shots that slid right through the crease in front of Theo and weren't capitalized on by the Kings. Theo is NOT a solid goalie, and I wish the Avs would dump him already. And if the D had been doing its job, the puck would never have entered the crease that much.

The next morning, I woke up with just enough time to shower and have M. take me to the airport for my flight back to Seattle. This time, I slept for much of the flight, once we flew over cloud cover (again, my inner geology geek had to look out the window until then). I arrived home to patches of snow, driving wind and rain, and an overwhelming relief to be out of the vast mess that is LA. But it was still worth the trip.


- Even the dumpiest apartments in LA have BMWs parked out front. It's clear where they spend their money, and what comes first on the list if they can't buy everything.

- LA is painfully, staggeringly image-conscious, which, to an outsider like me, is exhausting. I have neither the desire nor the inclination to play that game like LA residents play it.

- Driving around LA is an art, perfected over years. It's not just knowing how to drive, but where to drive, and which shortcuts to take, and which freeways are more likely to be empty at certain times of the day. Again, exhausting.

- Security in smaller airports is likely to be a little more relaxed. The screener barely looked at my ID before he stamped my boarding pass, and I swear he was about to nap at his post. But the airlines aren't anywhere near as organized when dealing with unscheduled events like flights that get canceled because of mechanical problems. When you're boarding, and it involves walking out onto the tarmac to board a 737, and the podium agents are reading off seat numbers and crossing things off a printed list by hand, you know you're in a small airport. Best be patient.


26 November 2007

Entering the world of music downloads

I recently purchased a 30GB Creative Zen personal music player for myself. Tired of shuffling CDs in and out of the car, trying to change them while driving (dangerous and not fun), and picking and choosing what to take to work, I decided that a player big enough to hold my entire CD collection which can be plugged into my car's auxiliary jack would be ideal, particularly for the long road trip I'm planning next summer.

Having resisted the purchase for some time, now I wish I'd done it sooner. This thing is awesome. I can take all my CDs with me in a piece of hardware the size of a deck of cards, create playlists that fit my moods, and it's not likely I'll fill this 30GB monster before it breaks or technology advances to the point I become tempted to buy a new one.

But I have one player-related complaint. While the hardware has evolved at break-neck speed, online music retail has not. iTunes still dominates the market, and with their draconian DRM attached to the vast majority of their offerings, I'm virtually shut out of getting anything useful from them, as you have to have iTunes or an iPod to USE their music, punishing those of us who have the audacity to buy a competitor's product.

And other online retailers have their own DRM, or they require memberships, or their bit rate is so low that I'd rather not bother with them. (I ripped all my music at 328 kbps--I want the quality to come through in the car's audio system.)

So it was with some hesitation that I began to research Amazon's new online music retail. And I was pleasantly surprised to discover their offerings--most anyway--come at 256 kbps, which is more than decent, and they don't sell anything with DRM attached. That means I, the buyer, can use those songs in any manner I see fit. I can burn them to CD, upload them to the Zen, or just keep them on my PC and play them with whatever software floats my boat.

Amazon's selection still lags behind iTunes; obviously there are some labels that aren't likely to negotiate DRM-free offerings with Amazon. And their purchasing interface isn't nearly so friendly, given that iTunes has had several years to perfect their one-click and shopping card methods for downloading music. For example, if you buy individual songs, you might very well see a bill for $0.89 on your VISA or debit card. But if you want to buy a whole CD, you have to download a special add-on that reads your shopping cart. It's clunky, but I don't doubt Amazon will move full-speed ahead if the market responds to their offerings.

But the 256 kbps bit rate music I downloaded sounded just fine in the car and on my PC, and I LOVE the complete absence of restrictions. Plus, much of their music is cheaper than iTunes ($0.89 per song versus $0.99).

I don't plan on buying a ton of music online--just songs here and there when I don't want the entire album--but so far, I'm impressed with them as an alternative to Apple's anti-freedom stance toward audiophiles. In a retail industry lacking in options, it's refreshing to see a company with that kind of resources wading in.

iTunes can go pound sand.

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10 November 2007

Out of touch

I know I've been largely silent on the blogging front, and you'd probably never notice the difference, but I'll be in San Francisco for the next few days, which gives me a justification for the silence, this time.

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06 November 2007

Thoughts on Pakistan

Generally I keep my musings much more local. It takes more than I have to get torqued over issues of foreign/international consquence. But I have a couple of thoughts on President Pervez Musharraf's imposition of emergency rule (read: imposition of dictatorship) and the suspension of law in Pakistan.

First, why can't our own leadership see that attempting to spread democracy in the middle east is a whac-a-mole game we'll never win? Just when we'd been patting ourselves on the back having Pakistan even marginally on our side, its governing leadership does an about-face and pops up as one more non-democratic society that, inevitably, someone in power in the US is going to insist we squash in the name of saving them from themselves. We'll waste even more lives and resources trying to fight the hydra of undemocratic thinking that is the middle east. Fuck pride - why can't they just admit that it's a lost cause and stop pissing away our military and our money by spreading them thinner and thinner over that sand pit?

Second, for those of us who've noticed Bush quietly move the chess pieces into place for exactly the same scenario, it's a struggle not to feel a bit alarmed as events unfolding so far away might later unfold here. (And please note, even if this doesn't come to pass under Bush, our next President will have exactly the same bloated powers, courtesy of the predecessor. That the powers might be wielded by The Other Party doesn't make me feel any warmer or fuzzier.)

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26 October 2007

So funny I forgot to laugh

Today's Dilbert is very, very Atlas Shrugged.

10 October 2007

Self-interest vs. Need

A situation has arisen with a member of a forum in which I participate that tickles the corners of my brain. This man, K, his girlfriend and their new baby were all set to move 1600 miles away to the currently unused home of his great aunt under a verbal agreement to rent the home from the aunt's children (his first cousins once removed, for those keeping track). They'd given notice with their current landlord, hired movers, and K's girlfriend had quit her job in anticipation of the relocation. About a week before the great departure, one of the aunt's sons pulled the rug out from under them by removing his consent to rent the home to them. Apparently this nosy relative had been reading things on K's blog and MySpace page that weren't to his liking.

Some things aren't sitting right with me. Pointing out that K has a new baby, and using that need as a justification for calling the nosy relative a douchebag bothers me. As much as I respect K, their need for a home, new baby and all, doesn't justify calling this man a douchebag for asserting his property rights in the situation. Need is no virtue to be called upon when attempting to win an battle over property. Need is not a checkmark on one side's favor.

Even now, a part of me still wants to cry out "But they have a baby!" But if I allow that part of me victory, even in this one instance, then I open the door to weighing the virtuousness of all needs. It's a struggle to silence that part of me crying out. We all have been taught for too long that self-sacrifice for our brother's need is as virtuous as his need itself. Sanding out that "conventional wisdom" etched into my moral code isn't so easy in practice.

(Incidentally, in the interests of disclosure, I'm rereading Atlas Shrugged. I'm at a point in the book where "need as virtue" is discussed at length, which may be why all the unstated references to K's need bother me. Take that however you may...)

K put his comments out there knowing consequences might one day follow him. Granted, he probably thought consequences would probably come from someone not so close to home. But the beauty of freedom of association is the right to avoid associating with someone for any reason--irksome blogs and MySpace pages included.

And yet, need aside, I can't get stop thinking this busybody relative is a douchebag anyway. Why?

Perhaps it's because, while the nosy relative is acting in his own self-interest, he's doing it for ridiculous reasons...his feelings. He's trying to scratch an itch by bringing moral indignation into the equation, something that has no place in any rational argument. A rational person would conclude that, so long as K pays the rent on time and doesn't destroy the property, his views are largely irrelevant. It's a business transaction in which feelings, hurt or otherwise, have no place, and only a douchebag would make his emotions the centerpiece of his financial decision-making.

Perhaps it's because the man entered into an agreement without researching the information that might actually concern him, and then, upon actually DOING the research, changed his mind. Were there a written contract in place, I'd be overjoyed to deliver to him the "tough shit" he so richly deserves.

The nosy relative is displaying classic traits of irrational douchebaggery, and I hope his horse loses this race.

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04 October 2007

To fly or not to fly?

A friend of mine has invited me down to L.A. for a Kings-Avalanche game in a couple months. Now the question is, do I accept and fly down there, or turn the opportunity down and wait for his visit up here for New Years Eve?

When the Tyrannical Scam Administration started confiscating toiletries, I concluded I'd flown my last, except in case of emergency or a rare work-related trip. Boxing myself in with a vow never to fly, ever again seemed unrealistic, but I thought I could stick to avoiding vacation flights. Somehow, my line in the sand was the threat of having my shampoo confiscated by uneducated goons unfit to scoop dog shit off the sidewalk.

And since then, I've adhered to it. Even when my grandmother passed away in Southern California, though it cost me two days of vacation, I drove down to my parents' place and rode with them the rest of the way.

So what now? If I am to be at all honest, I really do want to go. I haven't seen a hockey game since I left the Bay area, and before that, I watched the Avs bring Stanley home in 2001 in Denver, where, for a time, I had been on the wait list for season tickets. I miss it, and I hate the closest NHL team so much they aren't ever going to see a dime of my money, for tickets or anything else.

What say you? To fly, or not to fly? Do I stick to principle, or eat my vow and have a good time?

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