Phone spam

Posted on September 17, 2007 by Steve

It was all planned out. I discovered who was pestering me with occasional no-message calls for months. I saved the number as "Spam" and resolved to let them have it next time: I would answer the phone with a ringing expletive, and simply repeat it in response to whatever they said.

Things never do go quite as planned, and I wasn't able to overcome my breeding when the moment came. This is how it played out.

"Please don't call me again."
"Please don't call me again."
"Please don't call me again."
"Were you dissatisfied with sumfin?"
"Please don't call me again."
"All right, bye!"

Far more courtesy than a marketing drone deserves, but at least I was able to maintain a flinty resolve and stick to my line. If I had busted out all pottymouth and she had played the manners card, no doubt I would have broken down, excused myself, and then stewed in a funk of self-loathing all day. Breeding.


Posted on September 14, 2007 by Steve

The term came from Weingarten, it refers to something that everyone but you seems to like. Here's my list:

professional sports
fruity desserts
Kurt Vonnegut

I used to count tomatoes and Bob Dylan, but I found that I only hate soggy old tomatoes, and a couple of Dylan tracks came up in the wget rotation and converted me. I've also outgrown immature aversions to coffee and cola.

Vonnegut might get another chance one day but I've hated two of his books already, and remain completely nonplussed as to what people see in him.

Bottled water: Part 1

Posted on September 11, 2007 by Steve

The owners of the San Pellegrino brand would have you believe that Leonardo da Vinci visited the Italian town of that name to taste its now-famous water. This sounded to me like the kind of gilt-by-association used by Molskine, claiming that Hemingway used their products -- an endorsement which turns out to be "not the absolute truth."

Hunting for evidence of the Leonardo - San Pellegrino connection involved the amusing process of registering at Italian-langugae e-Leo to peruse original manuscripts. I felt like a character in an Eco novel puzzling out the "Sfoglia i manoscritti." It was both fruitless and fascinating. But the internet had more to offer.

Searches for "bottled water" returned several blogs linking to an exposé in FastCompany magazine about the huge growth in the water market, mentioning Pellegrino but focusing on Fiji water. In fact, it's a well-researched and balanced article, but latter-day Malthusians can't be bothered to read the whole thing; the result is a lot of hand-wringing:

"What’s a conscientious gal to do? Confess on a blog? Will that wash away my carbon footprint?"

"I don't want to be the ranting environmental wacko ... how spoiled a nation we are ... I'm not saying we should completely ban bottled water...."

So what's the issue?

The key quote seems to be this:
"And in Fiji, a state-of-the-art factory spins out more than a million bottles a day of the hippest bottled water on the U.S. market today, while more than half the people in Fiji do not have safe, reliable drinking water. Which means it is easier for the typical American in Beverly Hills or Baltimore to get a drink of safe, pure, refreshing Fiji water than it is for most people in Fiji."

This irony must not stand! But people, relax a bit. How does the purchase in Baltimore of some Fijian water really affect the Fijians and their ability to get safe water? There are some clues in the article:

"The plant employs 200 islanders--set to increase to 250 this year--most with just a sixth- or eighth-grade education. Even the entry-level jobs pay twice the informal minimum wage."

"This spring, typhoid from contaminated drinking water swept one of Fiji's islands, sickening dozens of villagers and killing at least one. Fiji Water often quietly supplies emergency drinking water in such cases."

"The reality is, if Fiji Water weren't tapping its aquifer, the underground water would slide into the Pacific Ocean, somewhere just off the coast. But the corresponding reality is, someone else--the Fijian government, an NGO--could be tapping that supply and sending it through a pipe to villagers who need it. Fiji Water has, in fact, done just that, to some degree--20 water projects in the five nearby villages."

Seems crystal clear to me.

Software request

Posted on September 09, 2007 by Steve

It may be out there, but I can't find it.

Needed: a tool that lets you search the contents of RAM on your computer for phrases. Call it "RAMobjet" if you like (no charge for that).

Most of us take precautions now after having been burned in the past, but once in a while I still lose a large chunk of carefully composed text when an application crashes or a website locks me out. Knowing that my delicate text is almost surely still hovering in RAM somewhere but hopelessly out of reach makes the loss all the more poignant.

Oh wait. Here it is.

Crossword: Two Against One

Posted on September 06, 2007 by Steve

I gave the 8/31/2007 puzzle a shot and do concur that it is a challenge. After several days of work and no cheating, I've still got 20 empty squares. I accidentally saw the answer to 15D here and tried to forget it. Later I misremembered the answer as "FLOOR" which happened to agree with a crossing clue and threw me off for a while.

It seems Gordon is far from banning "obscure clues requiring rote memorization" however -- I've no idea what Frankie Avalon's hit was, or who costarred with Knight on '70s TV, or who sang the 1997 album "Drag." And I must be missing something obvious where "D O _ _ A T _ O G" gives "Ruthless."


Posted on September 04, 2007 by Steve

"Türkçe yazabilirmisin?" Ray sordu. "Evet, ama çok basit, çocuk gibi" cevap verdim. On sene Türkçe dinleyorum ve şuanda soyle boyle konuşabiliyorum.

Kolay bir kitap okulmaya çalistim, ama o bile zor geldi. Belki bir kaç yuz sozcuk orendim'dan sonra bir daha bakacaĝim.

We're made out of meat

Posted on September 03, 2007 by Steve

That simple truth, so well expressed in Terry Bisson's story, is plainly visible at the Bodies exhibit. There's a peculiar combination of horror and morbid fascination at seeing preserved dead people, but the anatomical specimens are too interesting to allow one to dwell on the macabre for long. I had a vague idea that the epiglottis is a flap of flesh that covers the trachea when you swallow, but until now didn't know quite where it is or how it works. I also found out that there's one bone which doesn't touch any other bone.

There are some oddities on display: a large teratoma in which visitors are encouraged to look for the hair, teeth, and developing eye tissue, and a variety of pathological organs showing the effects of cancer, cirrhosis, and stroke. A side path (made easily bypassable) had embryos and fetuses at various stages of development preserved in jars, about as creepy and unforgettable a sight as I have ever seen.

At the end there's an information desk where visitors are encouraged to handle a preserved brain and heart. They feel like rubber anatomy class models, and you have to remind yourself as you heft the cerebrum that it once had a name.

What kind of critter are you?

Posted on September 02, 2007 by Steve

Taxonomy has come a long way since Mr. Linnaeus first divided things up into Animal, Vegetable, and Mineral. I remember learning about the protista in high school and being a little disappointed that such a primitive life form could get equal billing with the entire animal kingdom.

Wikispecies is an attempt to provide a directory of the tree of life, and I thought it would be a fun challenge to start at the Animal Kingdom and try to navigate my way directly down through the classifications until I arrived at human beings. At each level, I picked the subcategory that sounded most promising, using the photos of example creatures as guides. I ran into trouble right away, and my path was far more meandering than I would have expected.

If you want a tough challenge of your knowledge of Latin and zoology, give it a try before looking at my wandering path below.

Lost history

Posted on September 01, 2007 by Steve

How many of the world's five greatest naval battles can you name? Answer: none*. I had never even heard of any of the battles, or even the locations in which they occurred.

History has always been my weakest subject, or at least the one that makes me regret my ignorance the most. I love a good story, but I've been conditioned to get my lessons in small, easily-digestible doses. History always seems to, well, drone.

When I heard about Ryszard Kapuściński's last book, I was inspired to locate and dust off an old paperback that had been resting undisturbed on my bookshelf for years. The 30-page introduction was wearying, so I skipped ahead to the start of the book. Within a few paragraphs, there was kidnapping, implied rape, and the makings of war! Even Dan Brown takes longer than that to get to the action. I don't know if Herodotus will be able to maintain the pace, but if it keeps up I might just make it through.

*Erudite readers are invited to show off their skills by posting any guesses before peeking.