Saturday, January 24, 2009

Recent Past Events

I had a good day on Open Salon today.  I quickly wrote out an article about a topic that's been bugging me, the "he kept us safe" argument started by Judith Miller and adopted by a number of other conservative writers and publications.  I've identified the logical fallacy this represents: confusing cause and effect.  In eight years, we suffered one terrorist attack on domestic soil (9/11) and none others after that.  In those eight years, Bush was president.  Therefore: Bush's prevented all other terrorist attempts within our borders.

One might argue that Bush's presidency caused that first attack.  But the fact that no other attacks happened does not necessarily denote that Bush prevented a random number of attacks.  My article addressed the concept of that, exploring what other outrageous disasters Bush protected us from, simply because they did not happen.

At the time of this writing, the Open Salon home page shows that my article has been the most read in the last 12 hours, as well as the highest rated.  It is also an Editor's Pick, and that's not going away.  People have been commented all day long and I've had great fun in writing back to them.  This is a good moment for me as a writer.

But I had a bad night last night.  I had a good day at work, though my boss kept referring to me as a "contractor," when I thought I'd been hired as a regular employee.  At no point in the interview or application process had anyone suggested I would be a contractor.  That would explain the surprisingly large paycheck, if I'm paying my own taxes, social security, and insurance.  But still, oh well, so I become my own business.  So I am a self-run company and I contract myself out to other businesses.  Is that so bad?

Then I wanted to go home and work out.  I've been excited about how reliably I've been sticking to my workout plan, how much weight I've been losing.  Instead of that, however, I went out shopping with Rebecca.  We had fun doing it, we went to World Market (which is going out of business, much to my disappointment), and we went to Target.  At Target I looked at exciting new clothes, tried them on, and realized that I am too old and too out of shape for them to look good on me.  The clothes themselves fought me as I pulled them on.  If the shirt and vest had possessed fists, they would have pummeled me into submission.  They would have rained blows upon my body.

Then we went home and I tried to get ready to work out.  The cats kept running under my feet and one knocked over my water bottle.  Convinced the universe was trying to give me a hint, I threw a tantrum, changed into warmer clothes, and went outside for a very long walk.  I stormed down the sidewalk and strode along the cemetary up to the park, then charged through the park up to the lake.

On the shore of the lake I stood very still, pulled off my earmuffs, and breathed.  I listened to all sounds in my environment: distant car on my left, plane roaring through the sky before me, distant traffic on my right.  Nothing and no one behind me, and the vast expanse of a frozen sheet of ice in front.  I grounded my energy into the earth and gathered all my personal energy from where it had scattered throughout the city, and I asked the universe why I was not allowed to work out tonight.  It had no answer.

I turned around and walked home, much cooler (in temperature if not in temperament) and starting to feel pain in my cheeks.  Back through the park, back up along the cemetary, where something caught my eye.

Tiny flashes of dim light appeared up and down the hill among the graves, flickering almost too quickly to look at directly.  Some were yellow, some were pink, I think.

When I walked along the sidewalk next to the cemetary, I wasn't able to find my footprints from where I'd come.  Just a sheet of untouched, unbroken snow on every square of the sidewalk.

Misogyny in Advertising

There's a strange new commercial on the airwaves currently.  I just saw it yesterday.  It's advertising Edge Shaving Gel.

Actually, it's a two-pronged attack: one is promoting a brand of shaving gel you can purchase, and the other is encouraging the unevolved man's hatred of women.  The message is decidedly anti-women, portraying them as an expendable resource that appeals to base lust yet can be conveniently, heedlessly discarded.

The commercial itself takes on two tacks, as it promotes how smoothly you can shave with this product and how nice it will smell to you.  It degrades and devalues women in each of these respects.

First, a man is seen spritzing a small dollop of shaving gel into one hand.  He carefully massages the gel onto his jaw, where it foams into a thick white lather.  Then the camera zooms in to show what's really going on, on the surface of the skin.

Reminiscent of the Scrubbing Bubbles, the shaving cream has been anthropomorphized into a couple platoons of scantily clad women.  Why?  Someone in marketing thought it would be irresistably arousing to envision a couple dozen microscopic, semi-nude women tromping through the whiskers of a man's chin.  They wear skimpy skin-tight red garments and bear tanks of shaving cream on their backs, and they are spraying foam upon the tree-like whiskers that tower above them.

They're also hosing each other down.  The women turn their menial labor into a titillating playtime, spraying each with jets of white cream.  They wince with enormous smiles and abandon their duties, devolving into the shaving cream equivalent of a pillow fight.

Then, panning back, the man shaves them all away with his enormous razor.  Without a second thought he has massacred thirty women of various ethnicities, all in their mid- to late-20s, all groomed from childhood to represent contemporary sexual ideals.  He has sliced them into tiny bits with his razor, he rinses them down the sink, and he walks away from his bathroom mirror wearing a self-satisfied grin.  Edge Shaving Gel!

In the second scenario, an unkempt man approaches his own bathroom mirror.  He has just waken up, indicated by his bed-head hair.  He spritzes a dollop of the shaving gel onto his fingers and works it on his jaw, where it foams up.

Zoom in to the foam on his fingers.  From it has launched a sortie of beautiful young women dressed in skimpy, tight, green outfits and equipped with jet packs.  These women are flying up from the foam on the giant man's fingertips.  Side view: a couple dozen miniscule women are flying straight up from the shaving gel, past the stubble on his enormous upper lip, and ascending steadily up into the man's nostrils, tiny pale green contrails behind them.

Beautiful women are flying into a man's nose.  Someone proposed this in a marketing meeting, and someone else agreed it was a great idea.

The camera is in front of the women as they fly up into the huge nose, and the periphery of the nostril slowly descends around them.  The light on the women dims as they go deeper into his nostril, and the expression of the woman in the front is difficult to interpret.  She looks like she could be wrestling between determination for her mission and a deep, animalistic sexual arousal.  But she could also look disgusted.  She could look like she's having second thoughts about the career track that has taken her up into a gigantic man's mucal linings.  Would the commercial seriously allow her such dimensionality?  Maybe, if it were to highlight her humiliation.

Ah, but now all the women are in the man's sinuses, where they have erupted into a dance party.  The beautiful, tiny women are dancing in the man's nose.  Yes, you can even see the indentations of the sides of his nose, up above the women.  Zoom back: the man's hair has calmed down slightly and he bears a self-satisfied grin as he turns away from the mirror.  Edge Shaving Gel!

What does Edge Shaving Gel say about women?  They're only good for looking sexy.  You can cut them in half when you're done with them.  You can shove them up into a disgusting orifice and they're overjoyed to be there.  So if you're a guy and you think women should be pretty and they're stupid and who cares what they think, Edge Shaving Gel would like you to know you're in good company, and you're looking a little stubbly, there.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Working Out is Working Out

That is, my new exercise regimen is actually happening.  Last week we picked up a copy of My Fitness Coach for the Wii, where previously I'd been working out with Wii Fit.

Wii Fit: is very playful, has lots of fun exercise-based games to play and unlock, and helps you keep track of your weight, BMI, and progress with an in-game calendar.  Games and monitor all work through the very fun Wii Board.  You can also log in exercise you do outside of the game.  As for goals, the game only asks you how much weight you'd like to lose within a short time frame.  On the other hand, you go back to a menu after every exercise, cutting into your workout time, and some people find the game monologue to be insulting and discouraging.

My Fitness Coach: provides a long stream of uninterrupted workout in 15-minute increments.  The game can't read you and doesn't require any feedback during exercises: you enter in your own weight and measurements, then report how well you do during the fitness exam.  Rewards (new environments, new music) are harder to come by and, therefore, mean more.  Instead of using the Wii Board, you get a personal trainer who intermittantly asks your opinion of workout sets and adjusts future workout programs accordingly.  The program does ask for what exercise equipment you own (heart monitor, stability ball, dumbbells, step bench) and produces exercises that use them.  For scheduling, you can accept the trainer's advice or set up a weekly regimen based on your motivation and availability.  On the other hand, the game feels thrown together and unrefined.  When doing the Pigeon Stretch, the vocal quality changes completely as though it were a last-minute addition.  Some of the spoken instructions are poorly (or not at all) coordinated with the exercises.

I just did my first 45-minute workout with My Fitness Coach, and I really feel like I worked out.  Maya, the game instructor, has set my overall goal to be cardio, but today we worked on upper body.  My arms are exhausted and I'm glad she's giving me a break tomorrow.  I'll probably logon and workout on flexibility, though.

Working out makes me want to eat better, too.  During, I get a craving for water, and afterward I only want raw fruits and vegetables.  My Fitness Coach makes better recommendations for lifestyle than Wii Fit does, so now I start the day with grains and have a snack before working out.  Still, Wii Fit's balance games are excellent training, so when I'm done with My Fitness Coach I'll login my time on Wii Fit and do a couple balance exercises.

I really do feel like I'm getting in better shape, ultimately.  I went down one belt size with Wii Fit, so I hope My Fitness Coach will make visible improvements on my musculature.  These are my goals, in the middle of January.

In other news, I produced four strong, positive work references and have given three great interviews to this marketing firm, so I hope to hear very soon that they're interested in taking me on.  Actually, I can't see how this wouldn't be the case: I owned those interviews.  It's an editorial position, and I've done that work professionally and casually my entire life.  I had an answer for every question or situation they put on the table.  I anticipate great success.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

There are Other Options Before Jihad

I'm probably never going to be face-to-face with any radical Muslim who supports Osama bin Laden.  Regardless, this is my open letter to such a person.
  • Any righteous religion is a celebration of life.

  • Any religion that orders you to kill people (yourself or others) for any reason is evil.

  • Any person that convolutes a righteous religion to create excuses to kill people is an evil person.
I'll leave it there for now.  Once you stop killing people, I'll address oppression.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Last Night's Nightmare

When I was a child, my nightmares were much more vivid and exaggerated. Large monsters or animals were involved, as well as treacherous landscape features (icy hills, broken staircases, narrow ledges far up on mountains or buildings, &c.) or else my body was somehow hampered, whether my limbs were slow to respond or my voice was mute.

Now my nightmares are much more subtle and play on social fears rather than physical horror. The bad dreams have to do with being on a road trip of some sort. If I'm alone, I'm seeking out a specific object in a certain small town that no one's ever heard of, and the dream is full of misdirection and mistrust. If I'm with friends, we travel to a large city and undertake some shopping before an important event, but I'm holding everyone back. I want to look at things and learn more when everyone's ready to move on, and their muttering escalates to face-to-face confrontations in which they litanize how much I disappoint them.

But last night was a full-on nightmare. This is how it went.



My wife and I were visiting my mother. We had finished dinner and were seated before her a fireplace, indulging in light conversation. Mom was doing crosswords and Rebecca was trying her hand at crocheting, while I was only relaxing with a mild scotch. It was a winter evening, so the cozy setting was especially valuable.

I got up to get some water from the kitchen. Before I could fill my glass, though, I heard some activity in the dining room. We should have been alone in the house so I went to check it out. It didn't sound like anything big, as though some small item had shifted where it rested.

The dining room table had not been completely cleared from dinner: two placemats, one plate, some silverware, and a juice glass remained on the table. I was about to enter--there was a baby gate in the doorway, though there were no infants in the house--to collect the remaining dishes when the juice glass moved slightly. (My wakeful mind goes back to the baby gate in my sister's house, where I babysat my niece the night before.)

It skidded with a quiet grating noise and stopped immediately. My eyes flicked to it at the first movement, so I stared at it while it stood still. I knew that sometimes a glass resting in moisture might trap an air bubble, upon which the glass might glide. The grating noise told me the glass was not wet, however. I began to attribute it to my imagination when the glass slid again, slowly and steadily, as though a team of ants were carrying it toward one of the dinner plates. My mind grasped at another explanation: the deep rumblings of any nearby truck could disturb the table and anything resting on it, but there were no trucks going by.

The glass slid toward the plate, then slowly traced a U-turn, as though following the path of a medium-sized circle.

Alarmed, I stepped away from the door and looked into the living room for stability: my wife and mother were chatting quietly, the fire still looked comforting and good. I turned back toward the dining room, and the glass was still grating drily across the shellac of the table, still revolving in a circle. I checked to see if anything else was being disturbed: some Doritos crumbs on the pale gold carpet were slowly congregating toward some unknown point, though the bag itself was motionless, precluding the possibility of a breeze. A couple loose wood screws were also rotating and beginning to roll towards that certain point. (My wakeful mind recognizes this as a Quay Brothers reference.) I wondered whether it was being guided by a ghost, and tried to blow a cleansing breath at the glass. If successful, the glass would fall still; instead it continued its perambulation. Perhaps it accelerated slightly.

I turned from the doorway and hollered into the living room: "We've got ghosts."

Mom looked at me blankly and insisted we did not. My wife laughed and asked me what made me think so.

"There's a glass sliding across the table," I said. "Come see."

"That could be anything," they said.

"There are some wood screws spinning around on the floor, too."

"Why are there wood screws in the dining room?" my mother demanded.

"I'm sure I have no idea. Just, come here and look at this."

Rebecca refused, on the grounds that she had just gotten her blanket underway and didn't want to interrupt her stride. Mom got out of her chair with some effort and joined me at the doorway to the dining room. Just like I was afraid the scene would not repeat itself if I looked away and back again, I was now afraid everything would stop moving by the time any other witness could be produced. But mom saw the glass and the screws and the chip crumbs, and she was also upset.

"That's strange," she said. "What do we do about that?"

At last, action. "I don't have my laptop with me," I said. "Do you have a computer I can use? I can research this online, probably." She went upstairs to get her home computer, and I searched around the kitchen for anything that might be useful: sage, first and foremost, or else some salt and a small bowl to hold soapy water. It was the nature of the dream that I could not find these simple items.

As mom thumped around upstairs, I beseeched Rebecca to please come and observe this supernatural phenomenon. She is quite psychic (in real life) and I would have valued her impression of the situation. Any additional information might have been useful to me.

"I'm not getting up, Christian," she insisted. "I'm doing this for the first time in my life and I'm really good at it. You're just mistaken. Why don't you come back and have another drink," she added with more acid a tone than I liked.

"Then how do you explain all this?" I said, my voice rising as I stormed into the living room. "Even if you can't trust my perceptions, how do you explain, entirely in its own context, a glass moving around on a table without any breeze or any environmental vibrations to move it?"

She rolled her eyes. "I have no idea, but I'm sure that's not what's happening."

"If you'd get up and look, then you could see! Isn't it worth getting up, if for no other reason than to prove me wrong?"

She sighed with irritation. "I know you're wrong already, so I don't need to spend any extra energy to prove it."

Mom returned to the room before I could form a rebuttal. On an ottoman by the fireplace, she set down an appallingly ancient workstation computer. It was a self-contained unit, one badly yellowing beige case that housed the keyboard and monitor, reminiscent of the Apple IIe. The monitor was a tiny 600x400 green screen and the keys were worn down to a smooth polish: the home key nubs were almost completely gone and many of the letters had at least partially rubbed out.

But it worked. (The dream construct did not involve a power cord or modem.) It booted up quickly but its processing was bogged down with an inundation of windows. "You were the last one to use this computer," my mom informed me, looking away politely: there were dozens of windows showing images of nude and partially nude women who ranged from 25 to 100 feet tall, interacting with buildings and tiny people. My cheeks burned as I systematically closed all the windows, which took some time, and opened a fresh browser.

I began experimenting with keyword searches, trying to locate any Web sites that covered ghost behavior and how to exorcise or banish ghosts. I knew a couple rituals of my own but lacked the material components to perform them. I hoped to find any spoken invocation that would ward off the ghosts until I could obtain the resources to banish them for good. Rather than anything useful, I uncovered hundreds of message boards in which blue-collar families related their own experiences with the supernatural and how their own particular religions assisted in alleviating the problems. The HTML had been abused as badly as the written language; there was a lot of proselytizing and Comic Sans, but no useful information whatsoever.

Rebecca still refused to look at what the ghosts were doing. I tried to appeal to her wifely duties, as she has invoked my husbandly duties to complete some onus. She returned a stream of June Cleaver-esque rhetoric and remained planted on the couch.

Now my fear of the supernatural gave way to the irritation and resentment forming after my wife's obstinance. I turned this anger back toward the ghosts and, setting the computer aside, closed my eyes and issued an appeal to the general domain of spirituality.

The front page of a newspaper flashed in my mind, with the headlines:

GREAT
MASTER
POISON
STANCE

 There it was, my answer, and I knew exactly what to do with it. I rolled up my sleeves and stormed back to the dining room. I planted my boots in a strong horse stance, threw my arms up, slashed them down viciously into an X-shape, and bellowed, "Great Master Poison!" I swept my left foot forward and pushed an invisible wave of energy to the left, yelling, "Out!" I moved my right foot forward, grandly swept my arms to the right and yelled, "Out!" I brought my left foot next to my right again, pushed the wave of energy forward, and hollered, "I banish you from this room! You are unwelcome here!"

The juice glass flew from the table and shattered against the wall to my right, but the pieces fell motionless. The crumbs and the screws also ceased movement.

Emboldened, I went to the next room and summoned up more fury for the Great Master Poison banish. I forced the ghosts out of each room systematically, sometimes having to repeat a room if my shouts were not emphatic enough. In the living room, my wife chuckled and rolled her eyes at what an ass I was making of myself. My mother followed some distance behind me, timidly asking what it was I thought I was doing, timidly peeking into each room after I finished with it.

I began to open new rooms that I didn't know about, and I cleansed these as well. I wound my way around the perimeter of the house and had to go back into a hallway to do the rooms in the core of the building. I was running low on righteous fury, partially due to my elation at being so effective, partially out of physical exhaustion, when I opened one door in the center of the house.

"I never knew this was here," I told my mom.

"Neither did I," she said, mystefied.

It looked like it may have been a bedroom at some time in the past. It had no windows, obviously, and no working lights: illumination spilled in from the hallway. Mom and I cast long shadows on a single bare mattress pushed into the corner of the room. It was so old that even its stains had begun to fade. One wall behind it had been ravaged: grey wallpaper had been stripped away in spots, lathe had been broken off, and old wool and newspaper insulation spilled out here and there. Beside the mattress was a small doll, a humanoid rabbit sewn out of socks, with buttons for eyes. The socks were filthy and the doll had been slashed and mutilated. To my right, behind the door, there was a battered and sealed armoire.

My chest went cold, and my mom fled down the hall for the safety of the fireplace; I could hear my wife ask her if there really were anything going on. Her tone presupposed an answer, but my mom refused to say anything for a while, hunching by the fire.

Dark energy hung in the air in this room. My mind tried to weigh whether I'd pushed all the ghosts into this one last room, or that this had been the central font from which all ghosts issued. There was nothing else in this room besides the mattress, doll, and armoire, and nothing outside of their age and damage from which to hypothesize a history. It was palpably obvious that something horrible had occurred here, leaving a psychic pool to generate a seemingly limitless supply of terrible energy.

I drew a deep breath, revisited in my mind the resentment of my wife's lack of faith in me, and felt a fire form in my chest as I prepared the final banishment.

But I took one step inside the room and my leg felt chilled and infected, as though I'd stepped up to the knee in a diseased bog. I began to bellow my chant but could not complete the first word. My voice turned high and weak, and the syllable strangled in my throat. I tried to collect myself and take a deep breath, but my ribs refused to expand. I could not even whisper the words, the air would not come out of my throat.

I fled. I slammed the door and rabbited away back to the living room, to the fire, to the other living people. Mom was swooning in her recliner, muttering her own prayers. Rebecca was in the kitchen, having fixed herself a snack. Across from her a large window showed the black night sky, the darkened field of snow, and a huge wolf looking around. It spotted the house and loped heedless toward us. It was five feet high at the shoulder, with a bristling mane of steel-grey fur running from behind its ears all the way down its spine. Its head glowed with the light from the kitchen, its wide golden eyes surveyed the room. I knew that the window was not nearly strong enough to hold it out, if it really wanted to get in.

I turned to warn my wife, however unlikely it was she'd listen, and then there was a large Irish wolfhound standing beside her. As she scraped food off a plate into the trash, it craned its head into the trash bin and wolfed down any food it could find. When it sensed me behind it, it turned to look at me with its head lowered out of shame or fear. Its eyes were glowing a bright wintery blue. I turned back to the window, and the wolf was pressed up against the glass, its breath escalating into an hysterical rasp, and its own eyes changed from yellow to blue as I watched. Two more wolves trotted by in the distance, turning as one to look at the large dire wolf pressing itself against the brittle pane of glass, beginning to crack.

I lost my concentration on the banish and sensed that all the ghosts had been released back into their rooms, vengeful as bees stirred up in a hive. We'd have no place to hide once the wolves broke in, and I didn't know whether the wolves or the angry ghosts would be worse. I yelled at my wife for not believing in me and for inviting such danger into our home. She seemed a little repentant about the wolves but claimed she had no way to predict this would have happened.



At this point I woke up abruptly. I tried to cuddle my wife but she was overheating in the bed and protested sleepily. I threw back the covers and climbed out of bed. When she asked what was wrong I muttered that I'd had a nightmare. She asked me to come back to bed, but I left the room.
I sat at my laptop in the sunroom (it was 4:30 in the morning, very dark out), running through a routine of checking e-mail and updating Facebook games, trying to fall back into my familiar life and distance myself from the dream. I was too badly shaken, however, and ended up turning on all the lights in the living room and curling up on the futon with a large blanket, reading a book on the history of Japanese cuisine until my wife woke up at 6:00 AM. It wasn't until three hours after sunrise that the fear finally dissolved from me.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Welcome, Moss

I'm the uncle of a new baby boy: Moss McBrady, born to Amanda and Collin McBrady, little brother to Maggie McBrady.

Poor weather for birthing, but we all turned out at the hospital last night to greet him.  Today we had a "big sister" party for Maggie at Chuck E. Cheese (which has come a long way since I've been there last).

He's a quiet, sweet little baby with great color and not too fussy a temperment.  When he cries it's still quiet and unobtrusive.

More to come, inevitably.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

And Then There Are Crappy Businesses

On 12/24/08 I ordered some anime DVDs from a business called BargainAnime through Yahoo! Shopping. They charged me the total of the bill that same day, so they're very eager to receive money.

However, it's been over two weeks and I haven't received the DVDs I paid for. Their e-mail receipt included a link to the order status: for two weeks both the Order Status and Tracking fields have been completely blank.

Two days ago I e-mailed them to ask the status of the order, and 48 hours later they have neglected to reply. Yahoo! Shopping policy dictates that merchants must respond to concerns within 24 hours.

Today I sent them another e-mail demanding they cancel (ha!) the order and refund me the full amount. I also registered a complaint through Yahoo!'s Complaint Resolution Process, detailing the transaction history and all pertinent information.

What's hilarious is that yesterday I received a merchant evaluation form for BargainAnime. It asked me how the transaction went, how easy it was to shop, and how satisfied I was with the merchandise. That is hilarious. I was honest when rating how it was to search for DVDs, and brutally honest when given the opportunity to comment upon their business practice.

I'm also complaining about them here, as much good as that will do. Whenever shopping for anime, please avoid BargainAnime unless you have way too much money to keep track of and don't care about receiving the merchandise. If you would like to throw your money down a big black whistling crevasse and come away empty-handed, then BargainAnime is the gaping commercial void for you.

Update:

Only too late did I just now do a search for BargainAnime, and found a little complaints message board with two irate customers in a situation similar to mine. They're recent complaints, too, posted 12/9 and 12/28 of last year. Did the company just sharply plummet?

There were more than that, apparently. Now I feel stupid.

And they received an "F" rating from the Better Business Bureau. I'm filing a complaint with them right now.

I was going to say my paranoia meter just went in, but I have two conflicting philosophies about paranoia.

William S. Burroughs said, "Paranoia is the highest state of consciousness."

Hunter S. Thompson said, "Paranoia is just another word for ignorance."

I'm starting to lean towards the latter. All the information was there, I just didn't do any research of the company beforehand. You don't have to feel paranoid in order to execute extensive research on an online company with whom you're planning to do business.

Function and Charity

I was contacted via e-mail about a hotel search program. I was told that if I tried it out and wrote a review on my blog, they'd donate money to one of their selected charities. I'm all about donating to preserve the ecosystem, and I'm all about efficient search engines especially as pertains to travel, so why not?

I went to Hotels Combined to see what they offer. I'm actually booting out to Washington later this month, a quick weekend stint to see a couple friends, and though we've got places to stay I wanted to see what the hotel situation would look like.

Hotels Combined runs the same kind of search for hotels as I do for airline tickets. I pull from a broad number of airlines and airline search engines and compare all the results against each other. Hotels Combined seems to draw from a large pool of hotel-based resources, most of which I'd never heard of, and spills out a handy array of results to be organized in whichever way is most pertinent to you, whether you want the most popular-rated hotels, a really nice place to stay, or an extremely affordable crash pad for the weekend.

I have no problem pointing out this resource to my readers. If you're going to another city and don't have the hook-up for a place to stay, check out Hotels Combined and let it aggressively weed through the best deals for you. Any service that conveniently renders the same kind of diligent research I'd do for myself is okay in my book.

And now, by virtue of their Spread the World for Charity program, they'll donate $20 to World Wildlife Fund for me. It's a good deal all the way around.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Bad News: IE is Sufficient

As much as I hate Internet Explorer, it seems to be the best browser to blog with.

I thought the spacing looked weird in the paragraph breaks I type in, and they were weird. After writing four posts in four browsers, and then comparing all four posts in each browser, this is what I came up with:

Microsoft Internet Explorer

  • The IE and Firefox posts appeared to have normal spacing.
  • The Safari and Chrome posts had a weird trait: the first paragraph break was normally spaced, but all others throughout the post were 1½ lines.

This problem was greater in the other browsers. Browsing in Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, and Google Chrome: the IE and Firefox posts had normal spacing, but in the Safari and Chrome posts the first paragraph break was 1½ lines and all others were double.

If I wanted to take this further I would code sample posts in the 'Edit HTML' option in Blogger, to fully command the spacing, then browse the posts in all four browsers again, but as it happens I don't care that much. I just wish my posts didn't look so jacked in other browsers.

Update

I see now that Chrome claims that IE inserts DIV tags for line breaks (in the IE post), while IE just creates extra lines in the HTML editor.  And the DIV insertion is imperfect: the first line gets DIV open, DIV close, DIV open, and all others get two pairs of DIV open and close tags.

What the hell?  And in writing this, I realize that I have to hit Enter twice in IE to create the paragraph break I want, but in Chrome I only hit it once and it creates an apparent double carriage return in normal spacing.  But, as I demonstrated above, this is not how it looks once published.

And now Chrome's doing something even weirder: in the HTML editor, all lines prior to the Underscore code in this post appear to be physical carriage returns with normal spacing, but after the Underscore close tag it uses the Paragraph open and close tags.

This is maddening.  My analytical mind wants to systematically attack this browser conundrum and find out what each browser does with HTML code when I create a post, and how every browser interprets each post's code.  But my practical mind tells me I have other, more important things to do with my time.

Update

It's even worse!  I'd started this post in IE, but edited and expanded it in Chrome!  It isn't using its usual Chrome formatting (the DIV tags) because of this!  Further, the implementation of the Underline tag had nothing to do with the implementation of Paragraph tags: the IE-generated carriage returns were physical lines in the HTML editor, but the Chrome-generated carriage returns in an IE-originating post became Paragraph tags, while leaving the IE carriage returns intact!  If this had been a Chrome-originating post, the Chrome-generated carriage returns in the HTML editor would have gone back to DIV tags!

I would have to write partial posts in combinations of browsers, and then view them and their HTML structure in four separate browsers to fully chart all the effects they have on each other!  This is horrible!  I have to stay away from the computer for an hour!

Writing is Much Harder

Final post in the set of experiments: this post is written via Google Chrome.  I like this browser for its speed, but if I leave a Yahoo Mail open in a tab for too long, neglected, eventually it times out and doesn't let me read any e-mail.  I have to open a new browser entirely to read it.  After that I like Firefox except that it seems to take up more memory the longer you use it, per session.  Then Safari because it's fast, but it's uncooperative with tabs and doesn't seem to have much in the way of customization options.  I don't like IE at all and actually hate it: it's slow, clunky, takes up too much window space (Chrome and Firefox can minimize to one thin bar of tools, leaving a nearly complete window of browser viewing), and I resent that it seems to be the only browser some Web sites will allow, like viewing streaming movies over Netflix.  There's nothing wrong with building a browser that works quicker with all Web sites; it is very wrong to design a Web site to not work with certain browsers.

Anyway.  Mainly the difference I notice between these four posts in four browsers is the extra space with the carriage return.  I don't know why one browser would default an extra line in there.  I thought maybe certain browsers also screw around with the display font but that doesn't seem to be the case.

I have no interest in trying this out in Opera.  I hate Opera almost as much as IE.  Opera is no option at all, unless you're striving for inconvenience.  Similarly, there's no point trying this out in Netscape or Magellan.

Now that that's done, on with the blog.

I'm well into Wolfe's Soldier of Sidon.  I'm enjoying it greatly, of course.  I'm going to be very upset when this genius is no longer producing material in this world.  It will be a tremendous loss that most people are too small-minded to appreciate.  The Bachelor can last for years and 90210 can make a comeback, and real vision withers and dies on the vine, neglected.

I'm glad I took the time to write to him.  I prize his response and show off his autographed book to anyone who cares.  I have a picture of him and Neil Gaiman for my wallpaper (took a small photo and enlarged it through an amazingly faithful Web-based graphic scaling program I can't seem to find anymore, but it's better than Photoshop and free) to stare at me when I logon to goof around.  Their gaze truly shames me.  Gaiman himself told me to learn a trade if I wasn't compelled to write all the time, because "writers write."  If I'm not writing, I'm not a writer, and I'm ashamed of what these last five months have proven about me.

But I'm not a failure in all things.  I worked out for half an hour with Wii Fit and then set DDR to burn 50 calories.  I had a reasonable breakfast and am now snacking on whey protein in rice milk and a banana.

But the rest of the day must be spent writing.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Holy Crap, I Used to Love Driving

Minnesota is not a state for drivers, just like the ocean is not a geographical form for air-breathers.

I had one simple trip to make today: register my independent study class at the St. Paul Metro State campus.  A twenty-minute drive in either direction.  Once I got there, it took less than 30 seconds to enter the Registration office, hand a worker my application, receive instructions that I'd be contacted by phone once it went through, and leave.  It seriously was that quick.

But it was one thin strand of meat and cheese in a bulky, undercooked, moldy tortilla of ignorance, forming the most hateful burrito.

You know those four-way stops, where you pull up, stop, and go?  Where you pull up, someone else pulls up, you go and then they go?  You take turns like that?  Apparently I live near a magical four-way stop constructed by anarchist masons, where you pull up and anybody who fucking feels like it pulls out in front of you, be it a salt truck, a yuppie with a douchy faux-hawk, or a guy skidding around on the ice with his ten-speed bike.  Or, in my case, all three at once.

The highway was harrowing.  Envoys from Greece must've installed all these "LANE ENDS, MERGE LEFT" signs, because Minnesotans have never seen them before in their lives and cannot interpret them to save their lives.  They will hover next to you even as their little white line turns dotted, even as it disappears and the concrete wall comes drawing ever nearer their passenger side.  Even then, it never occurs to them what is happening but it's somehow your fault, not theirs.

I was waiting at a red light and when it finally turned green I started to leave.  One car drove through from the right, and then a second car drove through (this is at a no-turn-on-red intersection).  The third car driving through forced me to brake.  He glanced up, gave a limp wave as if to forgive me my transgression, and coasted through his red light in all nonchalance.

And I'd like to say an ambulance cut me off, that would be a better story, but it was only an Allina Home Oxygen Medical Supply truck.  He was in the left lane, an exit-only lane for the highway, and I was in the right lane.  Abruptly he decided he needed my lane and drove into it.  He would have driven into me if I hadn't been quicker, again, on the brakes.  Once in front of me, he slammed on his brakes.  He had a green light and the street was empty in front of him for a full block: he simply decided to teach me a little lesson in impertinence, I suppose.

I tried to go around him so he sped up.  I hit a patch of unplowed snow (this was in a low-income neighborhood where plowing is a low priority) and started skidding toward a parked car.  The Allina driver helped out not by driving ahead to clear the area around me, but by slowing down to block my car from getting out of the snow.  Slower and slower we went: I, struggling to keep the car from spinning, and he, struggling to keep me from clear road.  Fortunately, I could see in his passenger-side mirror, none of this nonsense kept him from his phone call.  Eventually we slowed to under five miles an hour and he decided his prank wasn't worth that much time, and he drove off.  I got the car under control and moved back into the cleared street.

That was when I drove up to the magic anarchical four-way stop.

Once, long ago, driving was a joy to me.  A very long time ago.

(This post, per previous experiment, was written via Safari.)

Thursday, January 1, 2009

NY09

Happy new year, everyone.  Privately, I'm welcoming it in with a stainless steel shot glass (actually a sauce cup) of the Dimple Pinch, a Speyside whisky with a ridiculous name.  It's a smooth, carmelly scotch in which the peat is present but not predominant.  The bottle is attractive.

Tonight I know of four parties that took place.  I received notice on Facebook about them.  One was interesting but unfeasible, one was completely inscrutable, one held absolutely no interest for me at all, and one might have been fun but the only directions were "you know where."  I did not, in fact, know where.

Instead of any of them, Rebecca and I drove out to her sister Sheryl's house for dinner and games.  Three families together, eschewing all formality as we played Taboo, conversation turning raunchier once the kids left the room.  We made tacos and we watched Dick Clark soldiering through his NYE broadcast.  It says something about his legacy that he's permitted to host a show like that--anyone else all Botox'ed up and having suffered a stroke would never, ever, ever have seen air time.  Good for him, though.

We laughed all night long.  It was a really great time, even though I wasn't in a club or surrounded by friends and acquaintances.  Life changes all the time.

Now I'm finishing a scotch.