Wednesday, August 29, 2007

NASA can hear Voyager, but I can't get cell coverage

I undertake this topic at some risk, since there are those in the Readership who actually understand outer space science and what-not, and who will enjoy snickering at my ignorance of these things. You would all like each other too; I must arrange that somehow.

So here's what I am thinking about.

The most distant earth-made object in space is still speaking to us through mid-70s technology, and I don't understand why that is still possible.

It is carrying a phonograph record which you couldn't play on earth today, unless you were at my house. Or the RCA Victor Museum.

Someone please photoshop a big-eyed alien with head cocked to a Victrola, ("His Master's Voice" style) because I don't have time right now.

Perhaps if it does end up long ago in that land far, far away it will be found by bobby-soxed and pompadoured extra-terrestrials, because that record's got Chuck Berry on it. To see a list of everything on the records, visit the official website here. The Flash version is terribly entertaining.

What V'ger is sending back is not so public-access friendly, but you can see the latest charts and graphs on the webpage as well. There is another flash that seeks to make this more exciting here. Impress your children by telling them, that's right honey. We didn't know any of that until I was already in junior high.
It is from this tour I have just learned the word "heliopause" and am now looking for ways to use it in daily life.
Sagan's Murmers of Earth, I was sad to learn is no longer in print, but can be found used.
(It is not Mummers of Earth, which I thought it said at first. For a moment I thought that if we sent Mummers and Morris Dancers into outer space, the extra-terrestrials would definitely not call us back, but we might breathe easier here.)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Why no one is at the Fitchburg Art Museum

On a very hot day, on a drive back from the Berkshires, I tried to let my mind and steering wheel do the wandering for me, so as to discover something new to stimulate my mind besides the Netflix Watch Instantly feature and managing the shared In Box.

Fitchburg is one of the formerly-great Central Mass milltowns, in this case paper, and is still considered a working man's town off Rt 2, halfway between the plastics factories and the furniture mills.

And they have an art museum. Eleanor Norcross, the Isabella Stewart Gardner of her region (minus the villa and the lion). Eleanor was an artist and a collector, a small-town girl with a dream to give back, whose musuem finally opened in 1927.

And it is a lovely collection and a lovely museum, with an active children's program, a multi-cultural sensibility, and an architecture that somehow makes it larger inside than it is out.

The day I arrived, they seemed surprised to see me. I may have been their only visitor that day.

The parking is confusing
By that I mean, there are 6 spaces inside a courtyard, and the modern SUV would not fit through that space. When I asked if where I had parked (on a side street) was all right, they said, "This is ah pahkin right hee-ya." loudly.

The docents are hard-of-hearing
Which is a great book title. They holler to each other through walkie-talkies across the galleries, but then I suppose they are not very used to disturbing visitors.

The "cool stuff" is in the basement
Myself, I don't care about Egyptology, but it is what brings the kids in. People want a mummy.
And the FAM has one, as well as a reconstructed tomb chamber. Wander into the basement, and you encounter the work of Joseph Lindon Smith, who specialized in reproducing tomb art in actual size and detail. It's quite impressive, if you can find it.

The cool stuff is owned by the MFA
So maybe no one knows it is there.

They misspelled "Egyptian" on their website
And that's damned unfortunate.


Not enough fuss about Eleanor Norcross
I suppose if you grow up in Fitchburg, and you came here as a kid, you got the whole tour. And if you didn't, why would you be here? I wanted a book from the giftshop.

There is no giftshop.

There is no cafe.
There was an honor system coffee cart, but it was closed.

So go for the art. There is at least 1 of everything you like -- a Copley, a Sargeant, an O'Keefe -- pre-Columbian, African, Greek and Egyptian, some decorative arts/China trade stuff. And they exhibit local living artists, which is also nice.

Friday, August 17, 2007

You Deserve a Gender Neutral Break Today

Why in the 21st century earth would McDonald's still ask me if I want a "boy or girl" Happy Meal? Is it so hard to say "Hot Wheel or Barbie?" (Or, more likely, "made-up misshapen superhero or plastic big-eyes animal with synthetic hair?")


This is an easy topic to attack, and I know you would rather ask me why I am going to McDonald's in the first place, and then.... why I am ordering a Happy Meal?

And thirdly, why I care what the toy is.
So I'll oblige.

the last 5 reasons I went to McDonalds in descending order of visit


  • Driving on Rt 2, 97 degrees outside, and half an hour to my next stop
  • The one in my town is open 24 hrs; everything else closes at nine. It was 11
  • Out of calories and dehydrated getting off the refrigerator crate known as the Nantucket ferry
  • 2 glasses of wine in an hour, stumbled out to the daylight and realized I shouldn't drive home. The fact that I didn't go back into the bar I just stumbled out of is some measure of how badly I needed some fry soaking.
  • I wanted some Chicken Selects. Don't act holier than thou.

Why I order the Happy Meal

Remember before the Happy Meal (1979 , if you are wondering), when the hamburger, small fries, small Coke combination was under $1? The Happy Meal is an emergency calorie infusion that can usually be purchased with what's in your coin tray. I do not claim this is better for you than eating a Power bar, or even 3 packs of salt and a pixie stick. I am just answering the question.

Why I care what the toy is.
I sort of care. When I had an office (with a fireplace, a couch, and french doors, but don't make me cry) and the disposable income of a 25 year old, AND... when Happy Meal toys were a whole lot better.... AND... I was going through a Disney revival period I have never yet explained except as a compulsion... I had a mantelpiece lined with Happy Meal toys. And in "them days," you were collecting movie characters so you could build a whole playset. No one cared whether you were a boy or a girl.

Today I sort of care because if it is any good, I'll throw it in the toy box I keep for visiting kids, where the rest of the good action figures are.

But they aren't. They are crappy. Dig the Mulan figures from 98. Hand-sized, posable, ripe for play. Today's toys -- right now today -- are a Legion of the superheroes figure (the size of an adult index finger, and made by people who had the specs delivered by cell phone). Below, DC help us, is the Man of Steel. He seems to have just heard the Five for Fighting Song.



or a Build a Bear bear, which is already built, by the way, what you get to do is dress it.


So when the kid says to me, "Boy or a girl?" I said, "what are the toys?" and then pretended to think a long time about it, as if conferring with my child, which he will soon see is not in the car. I chose the Superhero. Don't lick it; you don't know where the plastic has been.
Wonder Woman, even in a sickly version, is not in the collection

They should put this is every Happy Meal. It is clearly unisex.


Finally, I am pleased to report that in preparation for this story, I learned that stories about things found in Happy Meals are easier to find that we might like.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Cheap Blogger's Trick

From the Bag o' Blogging Tricks.... digging deep on You Tube and posting someone else's find.

I have chosen this brilliant Jot artifact.


Jot : Baptists as Davy : Lutherans as Charlie Brown : UU

But we're here to talk about Jot. This clip is the longest 4 minutes you will ever imagine a child sitting through. If you can get your child to sit through it, please write in and tell us which method you used. Please also tell how you explained the allure of a propeller party hat. Because that I would like to know.

Even one that quotes Exodus must run thin after a while.

I adore this find for the same reason I adore my afterschool specials -- they are the documented proof that I am not remembering the 70s wrong. And that kids today really are a bunch of pansy-asses.

I am quite sure none of them know all the words to Blessed Redeemer (#103).


Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Dangling modifiers are equal opportunity!


Blind people like to proofread too. I am sure the readers will especially enjoy this sentence, which made me laugh out loud and forced a re-take:

(from a cookbook)

Remove, and while still warm, squeeze garlic out of roasted head.
This is a good trick. And like Julia Child used to say, you can prepare it ahead of time.


(go ahead, Jay, the floor is yours.)

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Flash: Second Life just as banal as real life

Long after fads have left the building, I tend to come trampling along, kicking the fallen dead leaves, and go "Pffft. Beats me."

I realize I probably do this on purpose, but never consciously. I was curious about Second Life back when S@L was hooked on it (evangelically hooked on it) mostly about the mechanics of it all. But there was only the company computer at home, and I wasn't willing to be so vulnerable.

So anyway, fast-forward: I've wandered in. And what we knew about ham radio, CBs, party phone lines, chat rooms, MySpace, and yes, the blogosphere is also true in virtual reality: you are not any more interesting as a cartoon.

S@L is right about many things though, mostly that you can spend an entire hour fussing with your appearance. What's hilarious is that in the Orientation room (get ready to know that I don't know the lingo for anything. Someone moments ago asked me if I wanted to "camp," and I have a feeling it didn't mean anything I thought it might have meant), everyone looks alike because you start as one of 6 or 8 stock characters before you are let loose with alteration tools. There is a strong drive to individualize. (with or without furries)

You recall I am not very avatar friendly, but when you first get in-world it is about the only controls you can figure out., and they provide immediate results. I am not as fat in 2nd life as I am in Land's End, but I was surprised to learn I had made myself too short. My 2nd Life self is only 5'3" according to an object that offered to measure my height.

You spend most of your time walking behind yourself, so I know that I have a bald spot I can't get rid of and a fairly ponderous ass.

It is not my fault the shirt doesn't fit. My shirts don't stay tucked in in real life either.

The first person I encountered in SL kissed me uninvited; the 2nd one followed me around practicing his English. I've been run over by a car, and have a tendency to get trapped behind furniture in small rooms I can't get out of. I got the warmest welcome at a beach I went to; unfortunately, it was Beach Japan, so I have no idea what was going on.

And other than those vignettes... there is no one there. SL is a ghost town. Even at the Virginia Tech Memorial, which I had posted about, so I thought I should go. No one there. Nor at the bookstore, movie theatre, bowling alley (I collected several bowling balls, but couldn't throw them), real estate office, reggae bar, church, sex club (oh yes, I did -- as we used to say in public television, follow the porn). I found a beautiful neighborhood of homes I barged right through, completed with blazing fire...no one home. There was a beachfront boardwalk in French. A flight school. A gym.

The image above, which appears to be in Busch Gardens, was actually at "Camp 80s," where I was not served a Slamma or an oat-bran muffin, but was invited to "camp," whatever that could be.

Today in real visceral life I went exploring the Case Estates, where no one was either. Just me and a camera and a backpack, walking through empty fields listening to the wind blow. And, except for not having to watch myself from behind, it felt pretty similar, only less creepy. Certainly better exercise, and Vitamin D.

I promised Miss Minchin I would give her a peek, and if S@L tells me her in-world name, we can go back to the sex cl----I mean, boardwalk together. Or we can just sit on her transparent floor and bang the pots and pans. I've gotten good at sitting on things.

About the layoff

I can't say much, but I did want to say this.

There were bouncers. Security guards. "Friends of ours," if you will. 4 of them, who all looked like this guy, in Damon Runyon suits.

I think they were disappointed no one needed to be tasered. I thought of Jerry Maguire's departure speech, and since I wasn't being laid off I should throw my comrades a bone and freak out as if I had -- not only to give Jimmy Two-Times Repozzio something to do, but to create enough of a diversion that the departing could actually lift a fax machine.

I thought if I could get my hands on a goldfish and a baggie, I would race after one of the fired like Renee Zellwegger. You had me at severance.

I told one of my teammates I would give him $100 if he approached one of the Suits (as we had named them by 10am) and ask what they were doing. $150 if he would approach them as if they were new hires, bring them some corporate swag and invite them to lunch. "So, is this where where you'l be sitting, or just temporary?"

Dodie says she would have done it no charge.

Truth is, I didn't do anything. On account of not giving a damn, and all.

Friday, August 3, 2007

It could only be better if it were actually Netflix


I have been meaning to tell you about Good Reads, the book listing/sharing site recently introduced to me by KF -- dear friend and reader. This is more listing than releasing of books, though those functions are possible. You could also add to your hoard from it, so I recommend cautiously.

Who are they? Librarian + software engineer = exquisite list making. I should also point out Dr A. had this idea a while ago, and found a site that would do the job, but it lacked the reader's touch. This is what that site meant to be.

Co-founder Elizabeth Khuri writes, "One afternoon while I was scanning a friend's bookshelf for my next great read, it struck me. When I want to know what books to read, I'd rather turn to a friend than any random person, bestseller list or algorithm. So I thought I'd build a website — a website where I could see my friends' bookshelves and learn about what they thought of all their books. "

Compulso-meter: Low, but in a good way. This is a very clean-looking site, with plenty of white space and book cover images. Standard lists include books you've read, books you're reading, books you want to read.... but you can create your own. I have a separate list for audio books, which my audio book friends and I admit we judge differently than we do reading.

Cool stuff:
Bookmarklets, such as the one linked to Amazon, that lets you add books you find there to your Good Reads. {chills} Friends lists, naturally, with the same dialogue feature you enjoy on Netflix.

Meet people near me. Say you are looking to form a book club. (I don't understand you, but I recognize it is a perfectly normal thing to do). Good Reads will show you Good Read listers near you, and you can contact them with your book club idea. Or your society of creative anachronism idea. Or to buy their OED set.

Friends popular, unpopular. Not what it sounds like. And they should probably change that. But you can see the most popular and unpopular books among your circle of friends.

Yes, but can I pass off my book pile there? Indeed you can. When you list your book, check the box, "I own a copy of this book I'd be willing to swap/sell." (Try not to notice the lower case "i."). What I can't figure out is how to locate these books in othjers' lists. But it's just as well; you have enough crap already.

Why is Netflix better? My title only reflects my superior love for movies over books. And as much as I could wander a bookstore for 10 hours, defeated by the knowledge that I will never read them all... I eventually "get done" and need a Tazo. On the other hand, I could read lists of movies for...ever.

That's your book hoarder's review for the day. Check it out and link yourself up. You need more networks to justify the amount of time you spend on line.