December 31, 2010

Men In Black

One of my fav movies for a Saturday night. Reminds me of one of my all-time fav episodes of The X-Files. A fun mixture of humor and goofy sic-fi.
Coming in 2012, Men In Black III.

December 25, 2010

Flying the Trench

If you were a big fan of Microsoft Flight Simulator in the eighties and spent a lot of time flying something fast near the ground, weren't you really just diving into a trench on the Death Star, like hunting wamprats in Beggar's Canyon back home?

Christmas, Drinks, Merry Merry

The Internet has gone silent, or nearly so among the tech blogs and news sites I frequent. It's Christmas day around the world, and if it's your persuasion, Merry Christmas to you.

Keeping with the season, here are a three wise drinks to spread cheer before your holiday meal. Enjoy!

Hendricks Classic Martini

Two jiggers (3 oz.) Hendricks gin. Only Hendricks gin.
One-third cap-full Noilly Prat dry vermouth. I'm reading disturbing things about Noilly Prat, though, so if you're buying, give Donil dry vermouth a try.
Three (not two, not four) pitted green olives, plain or stuffed with feta or blue cheese.

Vermouth in shaker completely filled with ice. Gin on top. Shake until your fingers near frostbite. Pour contents over three olives, speared with an olive pick, into a proper, chilled cocktail glass. Imbibe. Repeat as necessary, keeping in mind that one martini is not enough, three is too much. This recipe is considered by some to be a "double."

Cuba Libre

One jigger Havana Club 7 dark rum. Accept no substitute, Uncle Sam be damned. Google is your friend.
One-quarter lime.
Six ounces Coca Cola, made with cane sugar if you can find it (Costco, from Mexico).

Squeeze the lime into a highball glass, then drop the rind in, too. Add cracked ice to half-fill the glass. Add the rum, top off with Coke. Think warm thoughts, or just go to the Caymans while you wait for Fidel's end.

Rum Sipper

Three fingers Ron Zacapa 23-year old Guatemalan rum.
One ice cube, two-inches by two by two. Buy a proper ice tray.

Drop the ice cube into a lowball glass. Add the rum. Sip. Repeat.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all, well, have a good evening.

December 23, 2010

Lesbians, Pay, Inequality. Lesbians Win!

From Boing Boing
Lesbians make more money than straight women (and nobody really knows why)
shhh...it's because they play the role of men. Or possess a male-like aggressiveness at work. Rachel Maddow much?

A more interesting analysis would be a break-down of the data between masculine vs. feminine lesbians. We'd get a better read on whether or not the data follows the same line as pay for men vs. women. My guess is, it would. We'd be left talking about gender roles abstracted from the actual sex of the worker. In other words, the idea of who we are, what we do and what we need from our employment vs. who, what and why we really are, exposing the last barrier to egalitarianism in the workplace.

December 22, 2010

Design, Marketing and the Retail Experience

Have you ever hefted an Apple product, just felt it lie in your hand or gauged the weight, shape and feel of it, and admired how it felt just right? That designed-in just-rightness is part of Apple's user experience, and lends itself to selling a boatload (or airplane-load) of devices every day. It also lends itself to selling those devices at a higher price than their direct competitors. But is product design the only key to Apple's success?

Take a look at the laptop market. Apple sells their wares at a significantly higher price, often double what you'd pay for a similar device from a commodity manufacturer. The difference is in the marketing, and the user experience, imparted by Apple. From the moment you open the box, an Apple product makes you feel like you're now part of something larger. You don't just own a laptop, you own a Mac laptop, and it does things in a somehow better way than any other brand. By the selective use of color, shape, typeface and tone, the packaging and documentation make you feel like you've opened a treasure. You're glad you spent that extra money from the moment you first use the device. And Apple holds your hand long after you pay for the device, making the device appear more capable than if you were left on your own with it. That's what the Mac and iPhone app stores are really all about, making your device appear better than competing products.

This managed user experience, and the premium charged for it, can lend itself to the retail experience everywhere else. By taking your customer by the hand the moment she walks in the door you can make your business a premium destination, a go-to place for them. And they'll happily pay you for the ride. This is how the little guy can compete and survive in a sea of big-box stores, or similar smaller businesses.

December 20, 2010

Cuba Libre

When I was a young hellion, and prone to carouse and sling back a drink or two with my ol' pal Kenning, we'd mix ourselves a rum and coke now and again. Enough so that I lost interest in the concoction by the time I moved away to begin my career.

Kelly and I spent five days in Grand Cayman this past fall, enjoying drinks by the pool all the while. Kelly had the itch for a rum and coke made with Cuban rum, a forbidden fruit here in the States, and we immediately enjoyed the drink properly called a Cuba Libre. One jigger dark Cuban rum, a squeeze of lime juice, topped off with coke, made with cane sugar if you can find it. The dark Cuban rum imparts a richness unfound in less dark, less rested rums.

If you can't get your hands on a good, dark Cuban rum (Havana Club 7), try Ron Zacapa 23-year old. Seems a shame to use a 23-year old rum in a mixed drink, but it's a nice diversion from sipping the otherwise refined flavor of Zacapa, neat, or over ice. Enjoy.

December 19, 2010

Seeing your halo

From Mike Brown (via Boing Boing):
Here's another experiment to try. Go outside on a bright sunny day and start watching your shadow. Walk along until you find a place where the shadow of your head is falling on grass. Focus on your head shadow while you continue to walk, letting the background grass blur in your vision. You will gradually notice that there is a diffuse glow around the shadow of your head. It won't be around any other part of your body, and you won't see the slightest hint around anyone else's head. Point out your halo to any else and they will see precisely the same thing: a halo around their own heads and nothing around yours.
He's writing about phenomena that happen when the moon is full and there are no shadows to be seen, but digresses to discuss your "halo" from a bright, sunny sky. You can see much the same from an airplane as you descend to land on a sunny day.

If you've ever seen the Earth's terminator pass your location and noticed the "lights-out" that occurs, this little trick of light will give you a kick.

Crass

The Washington Redskins used to be a premier NFL football team. Not so much anymore. But they've lost something more than the ability to win.

Donovan McNabb was, surprisingly, cut and traded to the Redskins by the Philadelphia Eagles earlier this year. So the Redskins had a new, capable, and by all accounts well-respected quarterback, finally. He was benched for the balance of the season this past week, and will be rotated to third-string status after today's game in Dallas. And now this, he's made to walk out to mid-field for the coin-toss. From the bench.

Maybe McNabb just doesn't have it anymore. Maybe Andy Reid and was wise to unload him when he did, and more, knew there was no danger in trading him to the Redskins, an NFC-East rival. Maybe it is time to evaluate the other two quarterbacks to see who will start next season. But does McNabb deserve to be embarrassed, too? There's just one word for this previously-premier team: crass.

Return Of The Spitting, Screaming Freak

Bill Cowher is looking for a job (via ESPN):
A source close to Cowher is adamant that the Miami Dolphins, Houston Texans and New York Giants are atop his wish list if any of those teams should make a coaching change after the 2010 season.
Cowher retired to North Carolina a season after his Super Bowl victory with the Pittsburgh Steelers, but since then has lost his wife to cancer and his daughters are off to college. My money is on the Texans.

Discrimination Falls For US Military

The US Senate has voted to end the 17-year policy of "don't ask, don't tell." This, coupled with a vote earlier in the week in the House of Representatives, will send the legislation to the president's desk. And that will end a policy of official discrimination against gays by the US military. This is nothing short of a civil rights movement for the modern era.
Conservatives failed to muster the votes to defeat the legislation. They lacked a coherent argument. In the words of a conservative icon from the earlier civil rights era (via MSNBC),
"As Barry Goldwater said, 'You don't have to be straight to shoot straight,"' said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., referring to the late GOP senator from Arizona.
About damn time.

December 18, 2010

Science Makes A Comeback

From the Washington Post:
President Obama's science and technology advisor issued a memo to federal science agencies Friday to guide them in making rules to ensure scientific integrity. The memo, which applies to executive branch departments and agencies such as the Department of Agriculture and the National Science Foundation, is "several steps in the right direction," said Al Teich, the director of science policy at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
This, in stark contrast to the science-in-the-service-of-politics of the Bush administration, marks a slow return to integrity for the United States government. It should have come two years ago.

December 17, 2010

Predator++

The MQ-9 Reaper, aka Predator-B. 14 hours endurance with a full munitions load, 42 hours with two external fuel tanks and a 1000-pound munitions load. Remotely-piloted from an in-theater ground station, but mostly via satellite from Creech AFB in Indian Springs, Nevada. Cheaper than a piloted attack aircraft, without the risk of life to a pilot.
If you can get past the moral question of risk-free remote-control killing, it's an excellent application of technology.

December 16, 2010

Adios, Larry

From MSNBC:

Then, at the end of June, King suddenly announced he was retiring from his show — a weeknight fixture at 9 p.m. Eastern since June 1, 1985. He told viewers, "It's time to hang up my nightly suspenders."
After Thursday's edition, King will indeed hang it up, suspenders and all.

About damn time.

Mike Jones, PO

In case you harbor the idea that all cops have a gun-slinger mentality, here's a look at Mike Jones, the retired cop who took down a gunman menacing the Panama City, FL school board. Humility goes a long way when explaining the violent end of a life.

Gin Martini

Gin martini, olives, up. The classic; clean, crisp, smooth. Make it better with Hendricks gin. Mmmmm.

Woodford Reserve

Woodford Reserve. It's Charlie Harper's bourbon. It should be yours, too. Use a bigger ice cube.

December 15, 2010

Think Pink

This guy (girl?) is part of a short post at Boing Boing. Follow the link for more pinkness.

Worthy Of Your Donation

It's the end of a year, and time to make those final charitable donations. Here's an organization worthy of your hard-earned money, the Harlem Children's Zone. Their web site says it all:
Doing whatever it takes to educate children and strengthen the community.
You can give to help reduce the effects of poverty. You can give to help educate a child, earning him or her a better future. I don't have to sell this, because this stuff sells itself. Go take a look, and give generously.

Primary Education In America

Robert X. Cringely has a great piece today about American primary education, excessive homework, and outcomes. His take-away, based on his son's (an America's) results, is that excessive homework does not lead to academic excellence. It's just a means of teaching to the test, an increasingly common practice since the introduction of standards-based education.

Interestingly, he points out that
German students have plenty of homework, too, and they go to school an average of 220 days per year to our 183. German kids go to school on Saturday.  That should prove the point, right? Because nobody is saying the Germans are falling behind. Heck, they are the economic powerhouse of Europe.
But wait a minute. School in Germany starts at 8AM and ends each day at noon. Even the high schools follow that schedule. German schools don’t serve lunch because the kids have all gone home, I suppose to do their homework. But if you get home at 12:30 there is plenty of time for homework, eh?
We like to amuse ourselves pointing out how much longer the school year runs in other countries, and how that leads to better test scores, but conveniently leave out how long the school-day runs there. In the German example, children receive less than 65% of an American student's time in the classroom each year. The time spent, though, is less exhausting, and therefore more conducive to learning, and leaves more free time for homework and, you know, playing. In other words, "more" does not necessarily equate to better scores.

Cringely also muses that the brightest always rise to the top, inventing and creating and pushing forward our culture, and the world's. But he drops the ball when he wonders how the intellectual middle-class* will achieve greatness in today's American educational system. The obvious answer is, they probably won't. But they rarely have.

Most people have moments of localized greatness, at home, at work, online. They gain some small bit of notoriety for one thing or another. But they don't rise to true greatness because they aren't in any sense "great." They are, as Cringely notes, intellectually middle-class. We cannot, and will not, all be great.

But here's the nub of it: we don't solve the problem of declining national test scores by piling on the homework, or lengthening the school-year. Previous generations of students had less homework and the same school-year, and they tested out higher than today's students. You solve the problem by being frank with the source of the problem: uninvolved parents. School is not a daycare where you put your child to absorb knowledge in a vacuum. School is the seed bed. Home is where learning is cultivated. That's a parent's job. That's what they signed up for when they got all googly-eyed about having a child in the first place. If your child fails at school, it's probably your fault.


* I take "intellectual middle-class" to be a designation of average, middle-of-the-road intellect, not an economic designation.

December 14, 2010

Loyalty...

...is a Labrador Retriever waiting for you on a 20-degree front porch.

Jesus, I Hate This Template

Ugly, ugly typeface. Dull layout. And this is called "Awesomeness?!?"

And this gives me reason to tout Artisteer. We're in the process of re-making our business website (Kelly Ann's Quilting) (maybe you see the old site, maybe you see the new one), and I'm using a tool recommended to me by our new web host, quiltropolis.com. In a nutshell Artisteer allows the designer (no matter how inexperienced) to lay out a beautiful, functional theme into which a web host's CMS will inject content. A designer can select an over-arching theme, complete with colors, fonts and layout, or drill down to tweak even the most minor of design elements. Achieving a tasteful result is nearly as effortless at either end of that spectrum.

The tool comes with a large select of icons, gradients, glares, textures and suggested pairings, and is available in two flavors: standard and home. The standard version is more tweakable and bears more display items, and allows for native creation of themed skins for more CMSs. I'll be using the standard version to create and tweak a theme for this blog.

And that's rant number one. Welcome to Bazinga.

The Doctor Is Not In The House

House ended today, when we gave up on the popular television series. What was once entertaining had become background noise, struggling to gain attention over web surfing, email and Facebook. It just wasn't a very good story, anymore.

Why do good stories head south? Do writers run out of ideas? Does every long story arc devolve into a soap opera, and a poor one at that? House began as a medical mystery but ended up as a romance, and once the relationship was consummated there was no longer any reason to watch. The "what-done-it" nature of the medical mystery had taken a back seat to the interplay of two characters, bound to re-tell the denouement of their sexual tension episode after episode, until the series is cancelled. Look for that to happen right after advertisers start looking elsewhere, as we did.

Next in line: Lie To Me. Lie to someone else...