Monday, June 30, 2008

Why blog?

The rhetorical question "why blog?" has been floating around lately. Last week Lisa brought up the topic came up over at Politits, and this morning I noticed PZ Myers addressing the same question, albeit from a slightly different perspective and for different reasons, on Pharyngula:

When blogs started to emerge, I didn't quite see the point. I could see exactly what they were: they were nothing but web-based front ends for personal databases. That's all they are still. I couldn't quite see the point — the data being stored was rather idiosyncratic, and personally, I couldn't imagine myself writing enough stuff that it would warrant database tools to manage it. But then something odd happened: it turned out to be very useful to be able to compose something, and have it stored away in a manner that made it easy to access again. And then populating the database with useful stuff started to become an end in itself, the new motivator unit, and as the database grew, it became more useful, and that in turn made it more compelling to put more stuff in it, and so on.

Feed forward loops are powerful forces, people.

Then the other big force was Google. Google is the one significant tool we have for poking around in other people's personal databases. That's another powerful motivator, that we find ourselves able to plumb other people's words and experiences fairly easily, and what do you know, other people are interesting, so we want to look more, and we want other people to find us interesting, so we stuff more and more goodies into our own databases. Feed forward, feed forward, feed forward.

Bottom line: People are interesting. Reciprocity exists. People blog because other people blog.

Gotta love the way a scientist views a blog, though -- some of us see it as a journal, some as a shared memo pad, some as intellectual doodling, some as a sanity saver, and some as an efficient way to keep friends and family up to date on what's happening in our lives. Professor Myers sees it as a database.

Why dropkick dogs are nuts

There's another puppy mill bust in the news this week -- law enforcement and U.S. Humane Society representatives raided a place in Tennessee that was cranking out the little, yipping ankle biters that are popular as fashion accessories: Yorkies, chihuahuas, Pomeranians, and others that I usually don't have much use for. Old lady dogs, Paris Hilton wannabe dogs, the annoying little rats on a string that those of us who prefer "real" dogs kind of look at and shudder. (A real dog being, of course, any beast large enough to make Jehovah's Witnesses think twice about stepping into the yard.) The S.O. refers to them as dropkick dogs because it usually doesn't take long around one to have even the most ardent dog lover thinking someone needs to punt the wee beastie into someone else's neighborhood.

Stories like this one, though, make me want to go running to the Humane Society to put down the adoption money ASAP. Not even the world's most obnoxious breed (Pomeranians -- a designation they acquired back when I delivered newspapers in junior high) deserves this:

"Three-quarters of a mile before you got to the property, you could smell the urine, the feces and the death," said Scotlund Haisley,
emergency services director for the U.S. Humane Society.

Video on the national organization's Web site showed dogs packed as many as 20 each into dog crates, or running loose throughout the building.

"There was a great deal of suffering," Haisley said. "Starvation. Dead animals. Animals that were shot. Bullets in the animals. Animals living in tiny cages on top of their own feces, and burns on their skin from urine and feces."

The Humane Society removed over 700 dogs from the property. 150 came to Atlanta; the others are going to other shelters around the country.

No wonder so many of those irritating yippers are incredibly obnoxious and impossible to housebreak -- the poor little bastards are insane from having been born and raised in the canine equivalents of concentration camps.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Jobs Americans won't do and other Saturday morning revelations

I just returned from running various errands -- trip to the post office to buy stamps, brief foray into retail therapy at Target and Marshalls, indulging in a 6-inch Blimpie's Best for lunch -- and in the course of my wanderings it hit me: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is right. Illegals are doing jobs most Americans wouldn't consider.

The walk to the post office took me past a one block stretch where the day labor crowd hangs out along the edge of a parking lot. I am not a power walker, and I enjoy people watching . . . so as I ambled I was observing the group of job seekers and the various vehicles that stopped to chat them up. It didn't long for me to realize that (a) high dollar passenger cars driven by well groomed middle-aged white guys far outnumbered pick-up trucks or vans with ladder racks, and (b) many of the polite young men standing around were looking far too well-groomed to be contemplating spending the day painting a house. I may not always be the sharpest tool in the shed, but, hey, even I can spot johns cruising for some action . . closeted upper income Buckhead denizens hoping to get in a quickie before hitting the golf course while their wives are off shopping at Nieman Marcus or being pampered at a day spa. Maybe, just maybe, some of those dudes were looking for someone to mow the lawn or clean the pool . . . but I doubt it. [I hope the guys doing the sex work are getting paid a decent fee for their services -- I know there isn't enough money on the planet to get me to go down on a smarmy Larry Craig type.]

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Big Chicken gets a make-over

The AJC has some nifty photos of a well-known local landmark, the Big Chicken, getting spruced up. I'm a little skeptical as to how handy it is as a reference point for giving directions because every time I've been past it we were already committed to either going straight or turning long before the bird became visible, but then I'm skeptical about almost everything.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

I'm going to Albuquerque

How could I not go when the program includes presentations like "The Beefsteak Trail: A Road Trip Along the Nation's Last Cattle Trail," "Supersized! Roadside Infrastructure for BIG RIGS," and "This Way to the Big Top: Circus Themed Architecture in Denver, 1957-1970"?
My proposal, "Hodags, Hiawathas, and Happy Chefs: Practical Applications of Materials Science Along America's By-ways," was accepted so I need to get busy sorting slides. So many Muffler Men, so little time. . .

Things that amuse me for no good reason

No recycled content whatsoever, no bragging about "x %" pre- or post-consumer, just, hey, Paper Plates made from (dramatic pause) paper. But you can feel good about buying them because they're Green Label.

(They're also really, really cheap, but that's a different incentive.)

Retirement bunker

Found myself thinking about the retirement bunker this afternoon. Here's a view looking down the hill towards where it's going to be:This is what's there now -- the former back porch for a ratty mobile home that (since the shoebox is gone) has been elevated to the status of The Camp.
The Camp comes complete with a north elevation that's tarpapered. Definitely the epitome of Yooper camp architecture.
I was pleasantly surprised by how fast the area where the trailer used to be greened up. I had visions of it turning into a patch of pigweed instead of mixed grasses and white clover. Not that it matters much when we're about to disturb it again with excavating for the bunker, but for the short term I'd rather look at timothy, brome, and clover instead of pigweed and nettles. The Plan calls for the S.O. completing Stage I of the bunker this summer. Now all we have to do is come up with a common definition of Stage I -- my definition leans toward "foundation in, rough framing done, roof on, windows in, and only interior finishing work left to complete." His definition is more like "stakes in place to indicate more or less where to start digging."

The little boxy thing in the upper left is a pumphouse for a shallow well pump. . . and, for purposes of climate comparisons (the U.P. vs Atlanta), those trees behind the pumphouse are apples, they hadn't bloomed or leafed out much yet, and I took the photo the second week in June.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Okay, now that we've seen the good chainsaw art

Here's an example that's kind of over the top. . . I swear this piece of public art, which is supposed to symbolize the spirit of the northwoods, includes everything except a cliched kitchen sink tossed into the river. "Busy" is an understatement. The flip side includes diving ducks and otters, and there's a great blue heron tucked into the other side of the tree the bear cub is climbing.
I will concede the cub is kind of cute.

Stopped by the public library this morning

It opened at 11 a.m. I got there at 10:55. There was a line of people waiting to get in. By the time I emerged 15 minutes later, three books in hand, and headed across the street to the bus stop the front parking lot was totally full. Amazing. It wouldn't have surprised me to see the main DeKalb County library in Decatur looking really busy, but seeing the Brookhaven branch looking crowded was rather startling. In a good way, of course, but still startling.
As for what I picked up, it's the usual mix of mind candy (Ice Run by Steve Hamilton, Darker Jewels by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro) and something serious (Defying Dixie: The Radical Roots of Civil Rights 1919-1950 Glenda Gilmore). The Younger Daughter recommended Hamilton -- he's apparently done a series of books set on the eastern end of the Upper Peninsula (i.e., the Sault Ste. Marie area). She claims he's got the setting nailed -- and she should know. She spent a fair amount of time down on that end counting trees for the U.S. Forest Service a few years ago. I do like Hamilton's description of Lake Superior: "water so cold and deep it was like a cruel joke to call it a lake at all. It was a sea, . . ."

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Secret to staying cool in Hotlanta

Web radio. WTIP from Lake Superior's North Shore. The weather forecast for Grand Marais, Minnesota (current temp -- 48; predicted high -- 70), is definitely easier on the mind than Atlanta's smog alerts (today it's red for ozone, yellow for other pollutants).

Add in the fact it's community radio with real live humans sitting in the studio talking about what they see walking down the main street in Grand Marais, the music mix is not top 40 dreck, and the accents sound like home. . . I listened to this station while living in the white dorm (aka the clean dorm; the slobs always seemed to end up in the green dorm next door) at Apostle Islands NL back in 2002 -- it came in clear because the signal could come straight across The Lake to Little Sand Bay while stations that were physically closer, like in Washburn, were on the wrong side of the Bayfield Peninsula. Rediscovered it while in the U.P. (sitting close to the highest point in Michigan no doubt helped) and, although they never mentioned streaming, it occurred to me that if WOJB out of Hayward, Wisconsin (operated by the Lac Court Oreilles Ojibwa community; it is the station to listen to if a person wants to stay current with what's happening in Indian country) was available on teh intertubes, WTIP probably was, too. (And, yes, I know Atlanta has Radio Free Georgia, a great progressive station, but their weather reports won't allow me to live in a fantasy world.)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Another hodag

Another fine example of a northwoods denizen. This guy is on the northeast side of Rhinelander, Wisconsin, gracing a BP station. I had been curious about the material -- there's so much "chainsaw art" out there now that is actually molded resins -- but he's really wood. The artist is from Phelps, Wisconsin.

As to why he's in a cowboy hat and toting a guitar, Rhinelander is the home of an annual country music festival that has evolved into a major event. This year's schedule includes headliners like Reba McIntire and Marty Stuart, as well as a host of up and coming artists I'd quite frankly never heard of, but then I'm not much of a country music fan.

And, for what it's worth, the day we stopped to take photos, gas was going for $4.09 per gallon.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Same old same old

Well, I survived the return to the cubicle. Gone for three weeks, and it looks like the only living thing that actually noticed I wasn't around was my spider plant -- it had a desperate, please-water-me-right-now expression on its leaves. The e-mail in box had a zillion messages built up in it, most of them exhorting me to attend various presentations and workshops happening around the Large Nameless Agency campuses. The fitness folks are sponsoring a field trip to Kroger in an effort to get people to learn to eat healthier/shop smarter, an endeavor I don't question, but did they really need to send out eight notices (one every other day) trying to suck people into participating? Ditto the multiple reminders about completing security awareness training (bottom line: be afraid, be very afraid). And the new art exhibit in the visitor center. And several new van pools. After hitting Delete numerous times I found myself remembering something I'd heard at a training (Harnessing the Power of Outlook) back in April: the trainer said that sometimes the easiest way to deal with e-mail that's built up while a person has been away from the computer for a few days is to simply delete it all. Good advice for the future, although I may be a tad too neurotic to just jettison everything without first checking subject lines and/or senders.

There was work waiting for me, of course. Two projects. I'd been warned they would be there before I left town. One is a straight forward editing job, but the other is a little trickier: the task is to take a 58-page report that's written in ordinary language by an outside consultant, someone who had never been shown the secret handshake and so wasn't privy to LNA's own special language, and make it look "more governmental." In other words, purge the plain English and insert bureaucratese. Or at least salt it with sufficient favorite LNA buzz words and acronyms to make it look like it actually came out of our shop. It's a perverse assignment. On a very basic level it feels like I'm being asked to do the exact opposite of what a good editor should do.

Of course, if making it more bureaucratic and jargon-ridden lends it more authority so the target audience takes the content seriously the assignment makes perfect sense. But it'll still feel weird.

I am still getting used to being back in Atlanta, too. The S.O. is spending most of the summer up north working on the retirement bunker so I'm now car-less and having to make various lifestyle adjustments. I have toyed with the idea of getting a scooter, but that's not going to happen. So it's Farewell, Kroger; Hola! El Progresso Carniceria y Tienda. The nearest Kroger is a mile away; El Progresso is one block. Of course, El Progresso had an edge to begin with. They sell LaLa manzana yogurt; Kroger doesn't.

Took MARTA home from the airport -- my first experience with mass transit here in Hotlanta. When I prepared to move here, I kind of assumed I'd end up taking MARTA a lot, but then got lucky and wound up with a commute than can be done on foot. The S.O. and I kept talking about using MARTA to get downtown to museums or the Aquarium, but never quite got around to it. (I have a hunch the only time I'll see any of that stuff will be the rare occasions when we have out of town visitors.) The AJC coincidentally had a piece today, A Newcomer's Guide to MARTA, that was kind of fun to read after I'd already gone through the experience of being a newbie, especially some of the "OMG poor people ride the bus" comments. If my experience was typical, I don't know why so many people bitch about the system. Didn't strike me as any worse than any other large urban area's attempts at mass transit, and is a whole lot better than some.

Among other things, MARTA actually has real live humans at the airport to provide help when it comes to stuff like buying a Breeze card, how to get from the airport to various locations in the city, and so on. There were actual people working at the stop I got off at, too. It's got the DC Metro system beat right there. The cars were reasonably clean, the crowd riding the train the usual urban mix for a Saturday afternoon -- some families out with the kids, working folks heading to or from their jobs, a few baffled and nervous looking tourists -- and the air conditioning worked. Same story for the bus I transferred to for the last mile home.

I heard a lot of the same reservations expressed about mass transit in Omaha, Seattle, and Washington, DC, that I've heard and read here in Atlanta: "You don't want to take the bus. Think about the 'type' of people who take the bus." Which is middle class white speak for "Be careful. Being around poor people or minorities will give you cooties." I can understand a certain amount of healthy urban paranoia, but the fear of sitting next to someone who may or may not be poor is just really, really pathetic.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Vacation's over

And I'm definitely not too thrilled about having to head in to the office first thing tomorrow morning. I do, however, have a renewed appreciation for indoor plumbing. There's nothing quite like visiting the outhouse (or its equivalent) and discovering word has gone out to every mosquito, no-see-um, and sand fly within a 20 mile radius there's a new buffet available for their enjoyment to make a person question her choice of vacation options.
On the positive side, I never saw a wood tick and the blue-eyed grass was blooming.