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Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

The Power of a Well-Chosen Word

October 17th, 2014

Riding to work today, I noticed a white pickup truck with a construction company’s logo emblazoned on the tailgate. The tag line: “We exist to build great things.”

They could have just said, “We build great things”, but by using the word “exist” they redefined the word “we”. No longer is the slogan simply about the construction company, it’s about humanity. Humankind exists to build… and hey, look at that! We’re builders! They’re not simply slapping an extra bedroom on your house, they are helping you achieve humanity’s highest aspirations. Pretty sweet.

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Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

Son of Spam

October 14th, 2014
Sometimes it's nice to have a second crack at an idea. I hope Ms. Shaw agrees.

A week has passed since my last episode, for which I am profoundly sorry. Happily, young Ms. Shaw from the previous episode (I picture her as a college student with the unenviable job of combing through responses to emails that robots send out with her name attached) wrote a follow-up letter (well, a robot did, anyway) which inspired me to compose another response.

This time I actually sent it to the poor benighted young lady, to give her a little smile, a brief ray of sunshine as she toils in her corner of the sub-basement of a decaying building, her only sources of light her flickering computer screen and a feeble incandescent swinging naked from a wire, while water drips from a large pipe that runs horizontally through the middle of her “space”. The only thing that breaks up the monotony of her job are visits from her cigar-smoking, foul-mouthed ogre of a boss.

I’m pretty sure, if you read between the lines of the original message, that all that is in there. And more. But this isn’t about poor Katie, who really just needs to earn enough money to pay for her mother’s new kidney before she’s out of there for the bright lights of Hollywood. This is about me. Here’s what she will be reading when she comes in to the office tomorrow (at 6am, after the early shift at Dunkin Donuts, with just enough time to study for her Quantum Electrodynamics exam):

Dear Ms. Shaw,

Indeed I do remember your previous email. I get messages like this from time to time, but yours struck a particular chord with me. I think it was the phrase “professionally written in line with your site’s theme and voice.” An intriguing dialectic, that.

First, this thing you call “theme”. The theme of Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas is much like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster; while there may be a few crackpots who believe a theme exists, the more level-headed among us realize their ravings are just a cry for attention. We smile and nod and move on, trying not to encourage them, but we remain mildly worried what they might do if we too readily dismiss their silliness or roll our eyes once too often.

Second, your humorous use of “professional” and “my … voice” in the same sentence did indeed give me a little laugh. Trust me, Katie (may I call you Katie?) there’s nothing professional about MR&HBI. On a good day I might achieve “whimsical” or more often “snarky”, but professional is right out. The site’s been active for over ten years, is approaching a million words of content, yet “professional” remains a distant dream, my Xanadu, if you will; glimpsed in a fevered vision only to shatter on the jagged shore of reality.

My metaphors aren’t very tight, either.

Ironically, despite all that I have just said, cher Katie, you have already provided me with content for Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas. You see, I was tickled enough by your first request that I devoted a small episode to it, including another, briefer hypothetical response that contains no references to opiate-addled Romantic poets. So I guess I owe you one.

Yours in Perpetuity,
Jerry Seeger

Note: for veracity I left in the improper semicolon.

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Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

Fun With Spam

October 7th, 2014

I get messages like this on a regular basis, so I thought I’d share one with y’all, followed by my (unsent) response:

From: Katie Shaw
Subject: Guest editorial on muddledramblings.com

Hello,

We are interested in working with you and producing editorial content for your site, muddledramblings.com.

The content will be professionally written in line with your site’s theme and voice. If you are interested in exclusive content for your site, please let me know.

I appreciate your consideration and look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,
Katie Shaw
Marketing Assistant

Dear Ms. Shaw,

Thank you for your kind offer, but I’m afraid I’m a bit confused. Professionally written in line with my site’s theme and voice? That’s inherently contradictory! Even if you could identify Muddled Ramblings’ theme (I sure as hell can’t), I assure you there’s nothing remotely resembling professionalism going on here.

TOTALLY Sincerely,
Jerry Seeger
Editor in Chief, Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas

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Observations Observations

The Squirrel of Darkness

October 1st, 2014

I pass through a cemetery on my morning commute, and I’ve come to know many of the residents. There is, for instance, a family of red squirrels that live in an ancient tree that shades a primarily Japanese section of the graveyard. It is a tradition in many Asian cultures to honor the departed by leaving offerings, including citrus fruits and other items of food.

The squirrels play a vital role as agents for the spirits, gathering and appreciating the offerings. It is not theft; the squirrel is a proxy for things that can be felt but not seen, things that cannot eat but gain their nourishment through their furry surrogates.

Sometimes the squirrels make a mess of things, knocking over the cup that holds the burned-out incense sticks, scattering flowers and decorations. Spirits can be mischievous; it is the duty of their agents to express that in the physical world.

I said it was a family of red squirrels, but that is not strictly true. There is one among them with fur as black as the heart of a killer on a moonless night.

The dark spirits need their sustenance as well.

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Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

Sound and Fury

September 22nd, 2014
... accomplishing (almost) nothing.

I ride home in the evenings via Homestead Road, which intersects with Wolfe. Currently, construction on Wolfe causes traffic to back up approaching the intersection, and drivers pull into the bike lane and stop, long before the intersection, even though it gains them nothing. Others pull out from parking lots without looking my way, push their noses into the bike lane, and stop, even though it gains them nothing.

Then of course there are the people who pull into intersections before there’s space for them on the other side, to block both cars and bikes when the light changes. Unfortunately, they do gain from their obnoxious behavior.

If I had a giant, super-loud air horn on my bike, it wouldn’t improve the situation in any way. It might even make things worse. But I’d feel better.

bikehorn

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Get-Poor-Quick Schemes Get-Poor-Quick Schemes

Regular Guy Sports Network

September 19th, 2014

Sports broadcasting is changing, and the fan is the winner. Now let’s give the fan even more control.

Consider this article by Bill Barnwell at Grantland.com. You don’t have to read the whole article, but there are two key messages: television will not be the best way to consume sports in the near future, and Barnwell is willing to pay $20,000 to not hear the announcers.

That second tidbit was presented as a little bit of humor at the end of his article, but he’s missed the greater opportunity: not only can we happily marginalize the network announcers, we can choose commentators more to our liking. Enter the Regular Guy Sports Network.

There’s not much sadder than the partially-clothed American male sinking ever-further into his sofa cushions as he watches sports on his television. Alone. Or maybe there’s a group of people with no charismatic nucleus. Or just some guy who can’t stand the voice of Bob Costas. What if, with with a few button-presses, our Costas-hater is able to surround himself with a crew of wise-cracking pals? They love the home team as much as he does, they rip on the calls that go against them, they say inappropriate things about the opposing star player. They shred Costas. It’s pretty clear they’re drunk, and talking around Cheetos. Just like real friends would be.

With digital media, it’s a free market. It’s a way for aspiring comedians and articulate fanatics to get an audience. I tune in to the game, but I choose the regular guys that will be in my living room with me. My pals.

When I first thought of Regular Guy Sports Network, it was a digitally-enabled extension of current network broadcasts. Now I wonder, “who needs those guys?” The technology is there, all I need is a directory service to hook me up with my new sports buddies, and a way to keep their words in synch with what I’m watching. Easy peasy.

So come on, RGSN, make it happen!

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Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

Keeping up with the Spandex Crowd

September 18th, 2014

I crossed the 2k line on Monday, a day I was feeling especially frisky. The second thousand miles on my bike went by quickly. Added to my vocabulary: “Monday legs” when I’m fresh and rested, and “Friday legs” when I’m worn down. This leads to laments like “It’s only Tuesday and I already have Thursday legs.”

Monday I even managed to keep up with Chunky Bald Guy for a fair distance. The first time I ever saw Chunky Bald Guy he was waiting at a traffic light. Despite his narrow tires and spandex shorts, his sausage legs made me think that perhaps I should move in front of him at the light. I did not, and good thing: When the light changed and he started to pedal his calves blasted into superhero-style muscle definition with an audible “BLAM!” He quickly left me behind.

Time has passed, I’ve gotten stronger, and on Monday I was hanging in there, trailing Chunky Bald Guy. Then Gray-Bearded Black Guy passed me easily, the way he always does. GBBG pulled up even with CBG, and it was on. Soon they were a pair of tiny dots, disappearing over the horizon.

So, while I might be able to keep up with one member of the Spandex Crowd, there’s no way I can keep up with two.

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Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

Fixing the Economy

September 11th, 2014

I noticed as I was riding the other day that gas prices have fallen quite a bit lately. I had no idea that my consumption represented such a critical inflection point on the gasoline demand curve, or I would have started riding sooner.

You’re welcome, America.

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Observations Observations

Note to Pillsbury:

August 29th, 2014

It’s time to revive Space Food Sticks.

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Photography Photography

Old Glass

August 25th, 2014
My lens lust turns to the good ol' days.

Some nights, when sleep seems like a bad idea, I drift through ebay looking at old camera lenses, mostly for educational purposes. There was a time in the 1970′s, for instance, where computerized lens design and super-high-tech coatings for the glass became common. Many very good lenses were created, only to be quickly outmoded by the autofocus revolution.

When Canon embraced autofocus, they took the opportunity to redesign their mount, making the hole bigger and farther from the film/sensor. This provided tangible benefits for super-high-performance lenses, but it meant that none of the pre-autofocus lenses were compatible with the new cameras at all.

With a few exceptions that don’t apply to everyday photographers, you can’t shoot old Canon glass on a new Canon body.

Nikon, meanwhile, kept the geometry of its older cameras so that old lenses would still work. Funny thing, though. According to the sources I read late last night, they way Nikon does light metering when one of those old lenses is attached really isn’t very good.

The sweet spot: Old Nikon lenses on a modern Canon body. The adapter costs only a few bucks and you can get a great lens for a song (though it’s a costlier song now that people are catching on). Apparently Tim Burton shot a whole movie (one even I had heard of) that way, with a variety of older Nikon lenses on Canon 1Ds. That has to make the brand snobs squirm a bit.

That Nikkor 50mm f1.2 AiS.C is looking pretty nice right now. Someday…

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Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

Friday Pondering

August 22nd, 2014
Don't be stupid is one of my fitness mantras. But I don't even know what stupid is.

Extended exercise when your muscles are quite fatigued from the four previous days of extended exercise is…

  1. the shortest route to improved endurance.
  2. a great way to force your body to burn fat.
  3. stupid.
  4. all of the above.
  5. something else.

Thoughts?

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Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

Open Letter to the Jerks at Adobe

August 18th, 2014
Just because you CAN disrupt my work to force advertising down my throat, doesn't mean you SHOULD.

Dear Adobe:

First, if you would let me file a bug report without first getting an “Adobe ID”, I would have chosen the quieter route. But you don’t.

While I find it amusing that I periodically get alerts that say, (more or less) “Hey! Guess what? You DON’T need an update!” which is, I admit, a surprising bit of news these days, today I got the message that indeed I needed to update Flash. I take these notices seriously because Flash is notorious for security issues, and I don’t want a gaping hole torn in my Web security. So I went through the update process.

Now, before I updated I had several browser windows open. Some to reference materials, some to sites I’m building and maintaining, some to communications and tracking tools, and so forth. You get the idea. I’ve come to trust that when I shut down my browser it will remember the previous state when it starts back up, reconstructing my workspace.

Unless, that is, I run the Flash Player installer. In THAT case, after the install my browser relaunches, but instead of my workspace, I get advertising for Adobe. And that’s all I get. Needless to say, when you just cost me a difficult-to-estimate amount of time getting things back the way they were (some tabs open for days or weeks, not practically recoverable from history), that is not the time to be splashing your logo in my face.

So stop doing that. There was a time I was a big fan of Flash, but now I look forward to the day I don’t need it at all. And that day is coming soon.

P.S. You’re a big company that presumably reviews your public-facing copy. Someone over there needs to learn the difference between “setup” and “set up”.

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Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

The Riddle of the Man who Passed Me Twice

August 16th, 2014
A challenge met.

It is not uncommon for me to be passed by faster cyclists on my way to and from work. I try to make it easier for them, moving over to the right as far as I am comfortable. Often I will toss a “good morning!” or “afternoon!” at their receding backs.

Good mornings are more frequent than good afternoons, actually. Not sure why that is. Maybe I’m fresher. Maybe it’s the cooler temperatures in the morning. Maybe I’m just an asshole after 2 p.m.

Anyway, this story happens in the afternoon. I was rolling down Park street, which is a very pleasant part of my homeward ride, and doing pretty well. You know, for me. A rider passed me easily, an I noticed that he had some sort of fin attached to his helmet, like the dorsal fin of a long fish, presumably as decoration. He was past me before I could summon the breath for a greeting.

Because I have a Y-chromosome, and because Y-chromosomes are demonstrated to have a negative effect on intelligence in competitive situations — even situations that aren’t actually even remotely competitive — I started pedaling a little bit harder, to keep the guy in view and maybe catch a moral victory if he got stopped by an unlucky traffic light. Thus I knew as I rounded the bend in the road to head due east that he and I were still on the same track. After that, however, I lost sight of him.

I went under the tracks, took a right, and followed Bird street over the freeway. Not my favorite bit of riding, as there are ramps on and off, flanked by side streets, that make the whole situation bike-unfriendly. I’ve never had a close encounter along there, but there really are people coming at me from every direction.

The overpass safely negotiated for another day, I continued south on Bird. That’s when the guy passed me again. This time, he gave me the four-finger hand-still-on-handlebar wave as he went by. “Hey,” he said. To an outside observer, that might be all that happened. But he really said much more.

He wanted me to recognize him. He wanted me to remember that he had already passed me. I know a better way, he told me. Not a faster way, obviously, but a safer one.

“Thank you, mysterious stranger!” I called to him as he sped away. “I will solve the riddle!”

OK, actually I didn’t say that. I wheezed “Good afternoon”, trying to disguise how winded I was. By the time I got home, however, my brain was fizzing. I would solve the riddle of the man who passed me twice.

Just as in the days of Blackbeard, when one is searching for something of great worth, nothing beats a good map. I pulled the Goog up onto my screen and pored over the maps, based on my recollection of where I’d last seen the mysterious man after he had passed me the first time.

The maps let me down. I zoomed in closer and closer, but all there was was a jumble of ramps for the freeway interchange just to the east. Not a bike path, not a foot path, nada. Had the man who passed me twice merely paused on his trip, then followed the same course I had? Had I merely imagined the weight of significance in his “Hey”?

Impossible!

The next day was a Saturday, so rather than ride to work I rode to the awesome neighborhood bike shop to give them more of my money (this time for gloves — holy crap who knew what a difference they would make?). Before I left I checked out ye olde mappe to see if I could find a more scenic way home.

And there it was. The very northernmost part of Los Gatos Creek Trail, running along the railroad tracks as they passed under the freeway. The trail flirts with surface roads, making it hard to spot, but the real reason I hadn’t found it in my previous searches was that I’d assumed I’d seen the man who passed me twice after he’s passed that turnoff. But at that time I hadn’t known how significant that one data point would be.

Monday: homeward bound. A right turn before diving under the tracks, a spin through an industrial area, then onto the trail, tricky to spot if you don’t know where to look. A winding path, crossing a few streets (mostly quiet dead-ends), and blissfully under the freeway.

I had solved the riddle.

Another day will come, a day when the man who passed me twice passes me for a third time. Only this time, it will be on that hidden path, and when he says “hey”, he will really be saying “congratulations.” I’ll probably just wheeze “Good afternoon” again, and spoil the moment.

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Get-Poor-Quick Schemes Get-Poor-Quick Schemes

Money for Nothin’ and Watts for Free

August 15th, 2014
Suddenly those sprawling parking lots are looking more attractive...

Think about your average solar collector. Even if you have no idea how the dang things work, you know that:

  • They are flat
  • They are black
  • They don’t work in the shade.

What else fits that description? With a few exceptions on the shade angle, the world has a lot of asphalt baking in the sun. A lot. Anyone who’s gone barefoot in the summer knows how hot a street can get. With that much surface area, you would only have to convert a tiny fraction of the solar flux into useable energy to make a huge difference.

So, come on, science (or maybe this is one for the engineers), give us a way to turn all those square miles of asphalt into cheap, low-efficiency solar collectors.

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Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

An Esoteric Physics Question

August 13th, 2014
I'm leaning 'yes'. Except now I'm leaning 'no'. Wait...

So we’ve all heard of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, even if most of us are pretty vague on what it actually is. It’s a twist of quantum mechanics that says that you can’t know exactly both the location and the momentum of any object. The more certain you are of the momentum of a particle, the more the particle is smeared in a blur of probability.

A very cool side effect: Let’s say you have a cup of chicken soup, and you cool it way down. Colder, colder, colder… until your soup is almost to absolute zero. Absolute zero is when all the soup particles have zero momentum – they’re at a dead stop.

That’s exactly zero.

Do you know where your absolute-zero chicken soup is? No, you do not. It is quite literally everywhere.

Let’s back up a bit. As you get close to absolute zero, the soup particles start to smear out and blend with each other, until the entire cup of chicken soup behaves (in some ways) as a single, wacky chicken soup particle. I was trying to remember the name for this state of matter, but ‘wacky particle when supercooled chicken soup particles’ waveforms merge’ didn’t come up with anything useful. Maybe I should have tried Bing.

Anyway, here’s my question for the physics geeks among you. If you take a very small cup of chicken soup, and cool it down until it’s starting to smear out, then (somehow) cool it down some more really fast, so that suddenly the soup is spread over a volume the size of our solar system (it’s not a linear smear, more of a bell curve), is that change bound by the speed of light?