March 31, 2004
Google Web Alerts
Sorry for not posting anything yesterday. It was Andy's only full day here, his first in Palm Springs, so we went rather nonstop with a hike up the Bump & Grind trail, then a visit to Palm Canyon, and finally (of course) up the tram for a pleasant 60° (F) hike around atop Mt. San Jacinto. There is still dirty, very wet snow lying around in patches...the sort of snow that could be easily packed into an iceball to crack somebody's skull. We didn't.
Here's an interesting sign posted by the USMC at the Palm Springs Greyhound station. What happens to those who call the number?
March 29, 2004
Agave bloom and a blooming ocotillo
I've got a friend here who's got a Dell laptop running XP. He uses Office XP a lot...and having troubles. Back in my golden days at Social Security we were a WordPerfect shop. What a beautiful product WordPerfect was...and still is. I guess WP is my other Mormon fetish (besides the missionaries, I mean). But then the whole agency (the entire government, actually) converted to MS Office, because you know nobody got fired for buying Microsoft. I dreaded the change, and experienced a bushel of schadenfreude when the very members of management who had (without any personal experience) extolled the ease of use of MS Word suffered the same frustrations and misery as the rest of us as work ground to a crawl, and all documents began to look like they had been composed by a Kindergarten class. I was a bit surprised, however, to discover that my friends who had been longtime users of MS Office and who praised its ease of use, were of no use when I sought them out to solve our problems with MS Word.
"How do you change the font and make it stick?"
"Oh, I don't know. We never figured that out. We just decided to leave it at 10 pt Times-Roman."
It seemed those who were happy with MS Office had grown up in an environment where it was acceptable for the software to tell the user how things should be done.
As the years rolled on at SSA we learned how to tame some aspects of MS Word, but we also learned to never turn our backs on it. The moment you relaxed and thought you had a "stable" document in Word, it would turn on you and create an unfixable mess. It was an important part of why working at SSA became less and less enjoyable, and certainly contributed to my early retirement.
But back to my friend: it's a Dell, so you know what that means. Problems. And poor customer support. He's gone through that a number of times, and I won't bore you with that. But a couple of weeks ago it finally came down to a complete HD failure in his laptop. Dell shipped him a new HD, which I guess was not too difficult to install. Then of course there comes the tedious re-installation of all his software (with countless reboots, I'm sure). He eventually gets to the point where he thinks he's all set. New HD, everything freshly installed, including Office XP, and he goes to edit his complex work document and when he tries to print nothing happens except Word locks up, forcing him to use Ctrl-Alt-Delete to kill it. This happens repeatedly, yet he finds he can print other Word documents okay.
Now this particular document has been his highest priority recently, so while his laptop was down he continued to work on the document on a Mac, on a friend's Dell desktop, and on the desktops at Office Max. He eventually resorted to that old, old fix of copying chunks of the old document into the a new Word document. He can't copy the whole document at once or the laptop crashes.
I'm amazed. I had half-suspected that by the time Microsoft had gotten up to Office XP running on the XP OS, the users wouldn't have to fall back on this old fix that we were using with whatever it was that came before Office 97. Why can't a Word document clean itself up at least well enough so it doesn't crash?
Now, I don't have Office on my iBook, so maybe it's not a fair comparison, but since I got my Mac it has hung exactly once. That was when I was trying to connect to some unidentified network I found out on the street. I've had more trouble with my cable connection, which I've had to reboot twice...is that just some screw up by Time-Warner? I never even turn off the iBook, just letting it sleep when I don't use it. Every time I re-open it, it's back in an instant, all perfect. Do well-maintained Windows laptops do as well? I suspect some readers can write and tell me their XP machine is just as stable...but then I remember all my friends who once told me that MS Word was a great product that could do anything you needed.
March 28, 2004
Tram Road View
Here's a panorama of the view from the 1000 Feet sign on the Tram Road. That's how far I go if I'm trying to to make it just a short quick exercise. It's right before the first bend in the road.
March 27, 2004
Costco v. Wal-Mart
According to this article in the WSJ, Costco gives its employees "the best benefits in retail," which means they are way better than Wal-Mart's. I had suspected just such a thing, based solely on the generally happy attitude I've always gotten from Costco employees. I have shopped at Wal-Mart probably less than half a dozen times in my life. They're okay, if you just happen to be there, but generally the stores seem kind of trashy and the employees provide the minimum service. I'm not part of any movement to boycott Wal-Mart, but I do find the place incredibly easy to resist. But not Costco! From my first moment in a Costco I recognized it as a temple to American consumerism. I don't worship there, but you know how it's nice to go visit temples.
Mission CreekWent on a hike today with some guys to the Mission Creek Preserve. Some of the longtime locals bemoaned the fact that the recent very warm weather burned out a lot of the flowering plants, so it wasn't nearly as impressive as it was just a week ago. Even so I managed to get these photos (click each to see the larger image):
March 25, 2004
An infrared photo in front of SF City Hall. This long roll of paper (a few hundred feet) listed all of the laws that distinguish between married and unmarried couples...something like more than a thousand differences.
Well...maybe we've got a deal on the Brighton condo now. That same danged fool has managed to scrape together enough to cash to actually pay for his cash offer. I said yes this morning about 8 o'clock, and no one's called me back to say it's fallen through, so I think it's still a go. Just to irritate me, the buyer asked that I put a fridge in the kitchen. Foo-ey! So I simply dropped the price another $500.
Somewhere in Iraq
Another P.S. Guesthouse
The 333 Bed & Breakfast is a fairly new, small guesthouse you might want to consider if you're coming to visit. I just met the owner yesterday, and I'm sure he could charm your pants off.
Another Bostonian Comes to P.S.
The new general manager of the SunLine Transit Agency will be C. Mikel Oglesby who was "[a] budget analyst who rose to the top ranks of the behemoth Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority." The MBTA is a behemoth? Hmm. Slow. Big. Well, okay.
March 24, 2004
Worse Than Rattlesnakes!
I have just discovered that the national Log Cabin Republican convention is going to be right here in Palm Springs on April 16-18, just one week after the White Party. Maybe I should slip into the Wyndham and replace the Gideon Bibles with copies of Atlas Shrugged.
The Hazards of NPR
This morning I was doing my walk up the Tram Road, going further this time because I had gotten started earlier and it was cold (69.8 degrees when I went out the door). By the time I got to my turn-around point (where the road intersects that levee-thing) I was dripping with sweat. I was listening to NPR as I was walking. I was probably in the midst of yet another story where each side tried to prove that the other side had been more incompetent and lied bigger lies concerning Al Qaeda and Bin Laden (or "Bin Layden" as Rumsfeld pronounces it). Then I saw it. A 4 or 5 foot snake stetching from the edge of the road out onto the pavement directly ahead of me. My reflexive subconscious is probably still in New England mode. Even though on each of the hikes I've been on someone warns to watch for snakes, and there's a general discussion of whether it's gotten warm enough to bring them out yet, I hadn't seen one yet. So I think my feet kept me going for one or two more steps. I was probably within 5 or 6 feet when it coiled and my old Boy Scout brain kicked in and I gave it a quick visual survey from the diamond head to the rattling tail, which I could only see, not hear, thanks to NPR. Holy mo fo, this was the first rattle snake I've seen so close without a nice protective layer of glass between us. My feet had no trouble instantly backing uphill two big strides. The snake relaxed instantly, so I decided to just watch. He turned and slowly snaked off the road and up over the little ridge of soil and rocks at the edge. There were no more alarms, and my sweat dried as I watched him/her. Henceforth I will eyeball those lines on the pavement a bit more carefully. Maybe a bit less NPR, too.
March 23, 2004
A snuff film for the whole family! Apparently it's being marketed that way somewhere. I went to see The Passion of The Christ at the $4 matinee at the Pickford and there was at least one very young child in the audience. Parents who bring their kids and let them stay through this vast bloodbath are pretty sick.
I went to see this by myself because none of my friends or acquaintances want to see it or give any money to Mel Gibson. I didn't want to wait for the DVD because I thought it was important to see what the enemy was up to. I don't care about its historical accuracy (or inaccuracy). I don't care whether it adheres perfectly to the words of the new testament or not. I wanted to see if it was a good story with some kind of message for the audience. Unfortunately, I found it tedious and boring with no new insights to the story.
And it is (as you've heard) violent, bloody and gory. Very violent, very bloody and very gory. It is not like taking the most violent movie you've ever seen and then cranking it up a notch or two. No, this is many times more violent than any previous commercial release. I think if you wanted to find its peer in the world of cinema you would have to consider snuff films, or perhaps documentary films made by Nazi researchers in the concentration camps. There is probably film of the jumpers from the WTC crashing on the pavement. Take that sort of subject material, bring it to beautiful high quality color film with a high qaulity camera and add a lush musical score and then you are ready for The Passion of The Christ. No popcorn, please.
Pushing violence to that extreme level is neither entertaining nor informative, except possibly in a judicial proceeding. Only those sociopaths (or is it psychopaths?) who are able to commit grotesquely violent crimes might find this remotely entertaining. Think Alex in Clockwork Orange.
Gibson does filter it somewhat. We get blood, lots and lots of blood, and some spit and drool. But we don't get shit, piss or vomit. Why not? When I read the histories of war, prisoners of war, and the victims of torture those bodily fluids are as omnipresent as blood. Why does Gibson only want to give us the blood?
Gibson must have seen both Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma and Sebastiane, but he totally missed the point. I recommend Salò only for the most hardy viewer, while most decent people will find Sebastiane highly enjoyable.
Both Jesus and his mother are not much more than one-dimensional. Jesus' character is to keep his mouth fairly shut and suffer. Mary is portrayed as the Roman Catholic ideal: suffering, patient, compassionate. No more, no less. About as fascinating as those wooden shrines to the virgin you see in front of the churches. Pontius Pilate (along with the other Romans) is a real person with doubts and torments and a boss to worry about. Even the Roman torturers have a wider range than Mary, Jesus or any of the disciples.
I think the film has fallen victim to the problem that afflicts all fundamentalists, the very thing that draws them to fundamentalism, which is a lack of imagination, a lack of the appreciation and enjoyment of contradictions, gray areas, the unknown. Fundamentalists are happiest when they have absolute knowledge of exactly what is right and what is evil. They want their literature to be plain, straightforward, with no ambiguity and nothing to read between the lines. Take the Left Behind series (please!) for example. Duller than all hell. To me a life that shallow would be the grayest sort of life to live, but it seems to be popular with a lot of people.
I don't think the accusations of anti-semitism have anything to do with whether the story is dull or not. I will say that the film certainly lays responsibility for the crucifixion directly on the Jewish priests, but anybody who wanted to take that and apply it to all Jews for all time would have to be seriously disturbed...or listening to Roman Catholic clergy.
That crazy radical leftist rag, The Wall Street Journal, discusses contradictions and gaps in the various official stories of our government's reaction on September 11. One can reasonably expect and forgive most of the mistakes, confusions and gaps in info. And we can even ignore the lies from GWB himself, because we are used to him being a liar, and a poor one at that. What are we left with after that? There is one little pearl there that I want to point out, even though it seems to run against my libertarianism:
That is, the beauty of functioning bureaucracy with dedicated civil servants. The FAA, the FBI, even the Massachusetts Air National Guard responded quickly and correctly without waiting around for any politico in Washington to tell them to jump. The closer you get to the political center, the worse the reaction time is. That's the way you should expect it to be. That's why it doesn't matter a whit to me whether GWB sat there in that classroom for 7 minutes (as he did) or just a few seconds (as he claims). It's not the President who directs the details of defense in the initial minutes. It's the bureaucrats, the generals, the admirals, around the country. Then it falls to the Secretary of Defense, and eventually to the President.
The bureaucracy, as much as we all claim to hate it, is the great buffer of knowledgable and dedicated workers (with some notable exceptions) who not only move the government along at its grinding, glacial pace; but also who protect the mere citizenry from the fools and powermongers who get themselves elected at the top. So when the nuts in Washington want to advance a great scheme against the Americans, they don't just launch into the citizens directly. First they have to soften up the bureaucracy. And that's why they needed to repeal job protections for gay and lesbian federal employees.
We're all familiar with this:
First They Came for the Jews
First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.
Pastor Martin Niemöller
Which is missing the correct beginning. It should start with "First they came for the homosexuals and I did not speak out because I was not a homosexual." That's how the Nazis did it.
March 22, 2004
This show is hilarious! Why don't they buy ad time on COPS?
More Desert-y Buzz
The Desert Sun reports that we passed 100° yesterday...at the airport, anyway. Things are a bit cooler at this end of town, so I don't know if I should count this.
Today was a hike with a bunch of guys in the Mecca Hills. It was nice and sunny, but we finished before 11:30, so it wasn't death-defyingly hot yet. We saw a few ocotillos in bloom, which reminded me that I saw one last week and intended to mention it here, but forgot. Fortunately, I haved a photo this time:
I'd never seen an ocotillo in bloom before. I kinda liked them in their austere, geometric nakedness. Now that I've seen them all puffed out with green leaves and flaming orange blooms waving on top, I'm all excited.
We also saw palo verde in bloom which, when it's going really good, looks like a giant forsythia. In our little excursion through the Mecca agricultural regions we passed fields of artichokes, citrus, grapes, the usual salad vegetables and (I kid you not) CORN! How do they grow corn in this rotten desert soil? It was about 12 inches tall. None of the guys in the car could make a guess what kind of corn they were growing. Obviously, we need to get in better touch with our earthy agricultural roots.