Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Bottom-up loss of autonomy

I used to think that electric toothbrushes were just another sign of laziness; after all, how much energy is it to move the brush yourself ? However, after Christina convinced me to get over my initial bias and try using a Sonicare, I became a convert. Intuitively, it does seem like having something whirring around in your mouth at semi-relativistic speeds will probably get your teeth cleaner than a purely manual process. In addition, Sonicare toothbrushes, quite apart from sparing you the muscular exertion of having to actually move your hand, also shoulder the burden of telling you when to switch mouth quadrants and when to stop brushing, by dint of beeping at the appropriate recommended-by-9-out-of-10-dentists times.

Sometimes, though, all this automation can backfire. While brushing my teeth this weekend, I caught myself thinking "Hmm, it sure seems like I've been brushing for a long time, how come it's still going ?" ... and then realized that I was using a good ol' non-electric toothbrush and, oh horror of horrors, was entirely on my own when it came to deciding when to stop brushing -- no benign machine overlord was going to guide my actions. [I'm happy to report that after only a few moments of confusion at the immense responsibility thus bestowed upon me, I was actually able to stop brushing.]

Maybe this is how the rise of the machines begins -- not with Skynet, but with a humble toothbrush and a loss of our ability to do the simplest things.

[Aside: as further proof that, no matter how ridiculous an idea is, somebody will have done it: I thought to myself "I wonder whether you can overclock your toothbrush ?", consulted the oracle and, lo and behold, here is an instructional video on exactly that.]

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

We're bringing in reinforcements

... or, more specifically, -a- reinforcement: Christina is pregnant.

We're very excited about it and looking forward to all the things we've been told about [with some Schadenfreude =)] by our friends with kids -- sleep deprivation, thinking that baby talk is an acceptable form of communication, being able to have entire conversations revolving around the activity of the baby's digestive and excretory systems etc. Actually, no, we're not really excited about those bits but it seems like there's no way to get around them, so we'll just have to grin and bear them as the price of getting our very own little person who we will mold into, like, the best person, ever. [Really. Trust us. We're professionals, we know what we're doing.]

More details, provided by the person doing the heavy lifting right now [ie Christina] here.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Football fan for a day

Generally, I don't care about the Superbowl, other than hoping that it generates some cool commercials. This time, however, it's different -- the Seattle Seahawks are going to the Superbowl, for the first time. Come February 5th, I may have to adopt the time-honored tradition of laying in a large supply of junk food and a bunch of [candy-ass] beer and settling down on the couch to actually watch a full-length football game.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Truth in advertising

The subway cars here are plastered full of ads from colleges and job training programs that promise to help you get those skills you need to make your dreams come true, fulfill your potential etc -- basically, they all promise to make the world your oyster. In general, I'm all for inspirational messages but the wide-eyed wonder of it all gets a little tiring after a while.

Today, I finally saw an ad that [sort of] tells it like it is -- its tagline was "With the right tools in the right environment, almost anything is possible." [emphasis mine], which reminded me of my favorite motivational poster.

Unfortunately, I suspect that, unless a "Crazy People"-like situation unfolds in the advertising business, whoever approved that ad isn't going to make it very far in the business.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Best bookstore name ever.


Sunday, January 15, 2006

Sometimes, you just gotta violate those rights a little bit

Last year was a pretty bloody one for Boston: the homicide rate was the highest it's been in 10 years [and a lot of those homicides happened in an area we were initially thinking about living, but that's a whole different story ...] and police identified suspects in only about 20% of them, a 10-year low. Part of the problem with solving these crimes is apparently an increase in witness intimidation, such as gang members wearing T-shirts that say "Stop Snitching", a move that led Boston's mayor Tom Menino to consider banning the sale of these T-shirts in Boston, a notion that aroused the ire of the local civil liberties union, which is understandable.

I didn't really pay much attention to the dust-up about these T-shirts until I saw somebody wearing one yesterday. That's when it really struck me that wearing a shirt like this, especially given the current atmosphere in Boston, is like hanging a sign around your neck that says "Attention law-enforcement officers: I'm probably involved in something shady you'd like to know about". If I were a police officer,
I'd make myself a T-shirt that said "Start Talking" and devote an inordinately large share of my attention to anybody wearing a "Stop Snitching" shirt, outraged claims about "profiling" and civil rights violations be damned.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Feel-good company slogans

Generally, company slogans are designed to inspire trust and make you think that they will share your pain if something goes wrong. The folks at Godfather Racing seem to be aiming for something different; their slogan is "If we lose, you die !". Granted, their target market demographics are skewed towards people who think that "If you're not crashing, you're not riding fast enough !" is actually good advice, but even so, the risk asymmetry in that particular motto should give pause to the most gung-ho racer when deciding whether to buy something from them. Then again, maybe they should be commended for brutal honesty ...

[And, as a minor nit, what's with the machine gun logo ? Were they thinking "What's that movie with the swarthy, Italian-looking guy going crazy with a machine gun and yelling about his 'leetle friend' ? That was 'The Godfather', right ?" Wrong.]

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Random funny stuff

Newly discovered today: The Chronic Of Narnia.

And my favorite video from last year: The Old Negro Space Program.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Useless, yet strangely deity-like, knowledge

Over 80,000 digits of pi have been memorized. When will people start to memorize genomes ? For example, the genome of bacteriophage T7 is only 40,000 bases long, so it should be possible to memorize the complete genomic sequence of T7 [unless memorizing sequences of only 4 distinct letters is way harder than memorizing sequences of the numbers 0-9].

Useless ? You bet. But it'd be pretty cool to be able to say that you personally, if only in an exceedingly abstract sense, know everything there is to know about another living creature [assuming you'll grant that a virus is alive, something that is debatable].

Monday, January 02, 2006

In search of something Spreadably Delicious (TM)

Something insidious is happening, if not across America, at least around me: quietly, stealthily, without public outcry, Nutella, that truly Spreadably Delicious (tm) paste, is disappearing from the aisles of the grocery stores I frequent.

It started in Trader Joe's: available one week, gone the next. Replaced by a home-grown version, "Trader Joe's Hokey Alternative To Nutella" [or something along those lines], an entirely insufficient substitute. [I tried it. I know.] A decision probably driven by some misguided attempt to enhance the Trader Joe's brand, or cut costs, or some other such corporate decision made without thought for its effects on the man on the street [like me].

Nutella was also available in the co-op grocery down the street from us, albeit at a higher price than from Trader Joe's, and hence we'd avoided buying it there. But, driven by necessity, I attempted to fill the gaping hole left in my breakfast by going to the co-op. This, too, ended in despair: no more Nutella. In its stead, a noisome potion made by Loacker, Johnny-come-latelys attempting to crowd in on the turf so ably filled by Nutella for the last 60+ years.

Driven beyond the endurance of any reasonable man, I invoked the awesome, other-worldly powers of the Nutella Locator to find a store close to us rumored to be trading in the embargoed good.

Today, we visited that store. True, there was a sticker on a shelf that said "Nutella". But, like an empty tooth socket, it too was achingly unfilled. Mockingly empty. And, as if to rub it in, a jar of another pretender to the throne, the Milky Way spread, right next to it. In a last-ditch effort, I asked one of the store employees whether they had any more of it in the back. After initially not quite comprehending the question, she disappeared for a while and then returned to tell me something that haunts me yet: "They tend not to have it." And while my brain was still trying to interpret this sentence, she disappeared and I did not have the heart to go after her and ask her what she meant.

What to make of this gnomic utterance ? That sometimes this store has Nutella, but, on average, it tends to be sold out ? That interpretation seems rather too complex and philosophical. I would like to think that she simply meant that they are currently sold out, and was not making a statement about the availability distribution of Nutella being somehow ... skewed, since that would mean I might have to adopt a more sophisticated sampling strategy than simply returning periodically to check on its availability.

What, then, to make of this disappearance ? Is it simply the result of the troubles of Kobe Bryant [who used to be the face of Nutella in the USA] ? Is it a conspiracy by enemies of mine in high places to rob me of a cornerstore of my diet ? I don't know. What I do know is that the search will go on, and I will not rest until I can once again enjoy the many forms of Nutella Usage.