Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Birth of a Legend

Back when I taught Windows apps for a living, I began each class with some kind of mood-setting icebreaker. For instance, those of you with a tech background may be surprised to learn that it will never occur to the average PC user to clean their mouse. I showed 'em how: I popped the ball out of the mouse and gave it a quick puff to blow the dust out.

From the reaction, you might have thought I'd done it to a real mouse.

I'm thinking, now, that it must have occurred to many of my students that there's a crude yet logical name for this procedure, a name that it would have cost me my job to actually say.

But when it was a MS Office application, I had a ready-made icebreaker built into the software. A feature that the whole suite shares. A feature that everyone has used, since it pops onto the screen unbidden. A feature that users hate with a passion I'd previously seen reserved for the post office, the phone company or used car dealers.

Yes, I'm talking about Clippy, the paperclip, the Office Assistant.

I told his story in a roundabout way, because (as just now) I didn't tell the class the point of what appeared to be a digression. I talked briefly about the forgotten Microsoft product, in which Clippy (and several of the other Office Assistant characters) had made his debut. A product intended, as Clippy is now, to put a friendly, happy face on the user interface, to help users overcome their fear of the PC (yes, average users are afraid of their computers), to reassure them that the computer is there to do what they tell it to do, no less, no more.

The lesson learned from this product is, as frustrated as you may get with your computer and the software it runs, Microsoft is at least trying to help. Only a deeply-felt concern for the lost user could have persuaded them to let this thing out of the gate. Shed a tear for broken dreams.

I give you CNET.com's Worst Computer Product of the Decade: Microsoft Bob.

(See also Wikipedia and ToastyTech.)

Monday, September 26, 2005

Unintended Consequences

Since I'm sure you're all concerned, let me fill you in on how the Governor's decision -- er, request -- to close schools statewide today and tomorrow has affected us.

Well, most immediately, since both of the wage-earners in this house are teachers, it means they're both off work today. This might not be the plus it sounds like, since (1) it's unpaid, and (2) being "officially" a snow day, it'll have to be made up later. In addition, at least as far as my wife is concerned, there are a number of tasks she must have completed by Friday. She was counting on being able to work on them today and tomorrow, and she can't do it from home. (Whether the buildings will be open for teachers to come in is each principal's decision: This one has opted to keep the building closed.)

My daughter is at school anyway (her principal decided to open the building), working on the upcoming Talent Night. My son is content to stay home and watch TV when his mother doesn't have him sorting laundry.

I suppose it could be worse. If my children were younger, and the wage-earners working in some other line of work, we would have to spend a couple of hundred dollars we don't have on daycare. Many thousands of families statewide are doing exactly that. I wonder if the available daycare facilities are sufficient to the task. They didn't get much warning, since Governor Purdue chose to announce this decision after 4:00pm Friday afternoon.

But Georgia's school districts have saved, between them, an estimated half-million dollars in diesel fuel. I'm sure that's more important.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

I'll accept that, I think

You are a

Social Liberal
(63% permissive)

and an...

Economic Conservative
(65% permissive)

You are best described as a:


Link: The Politics Test on Ok Cupid

...although, I wonder why the Democratic area is so much larger than the Republican area.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Another one bites the dust

Yahoo News (AP) | Marshall Field's Name Change Upsets Some
CHICAGO - It has always been much more than a department store. It's the magical place where parents brought their children to see the windows at Christmastime, where those children grew and did the same with their kids — stopping, of course, to visit the one true Santa Claus.

It is Marshall Field's. Or simply "Field's" to everybody in Chicago.

...On Tuesday, Federated Department Stores Inc., said it is planning to change to Macy's the name of all 62 Marshall Field's, including the one on State Street that dates back to 1892.
I understand Chicago's disorientation. Having seen two department stores / local institutions become Macy's (Davison's and Rich's), my first reaction is "Why should Chicago get to keep theirs if we couldn't keep ours?"

Friday, September 16, 2005

Is it just me...

...or is The Phantom getting creepy?

And not creepy in a good, thrilling or exciting way, either, but creepy in a date-rape, Michael Jackson kind of way.

Currently, for instance, he is in the home of Mina, the young lady whose presence sparked his most recent storyline. Having safely doped her with Bengalla medicine so that she no longer remembers their adventure (which, in context, seems a lot more questionable than when Tommy Lee Jones did it to Linda Fiorentino in Men in Black), he's stalking around her house late at night, and today he's in her bedroom, watching her sleep.

(The link goes to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, where the most recent month of continuity can be seen. The strips syndicator, King Features, has gone to a bewildering policy of displaying only the first week of the preceding month on their web site.)

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Stealth opinion

Supreme Court Chief Justice nominee Judge John Roberts listens to a question from Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) during the second day of his confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington September 13, 2005. Roberts was pressed by senators for his views on the strength of established legal precedent with regard to the controversial issue of abortion rights and the landmark Roe vs. Wade abortion case. REUTERS/Kevin LamarqueThis photograph is an editorial.

It is not labeled as such. It is presented as a straight news photo by Reuters, part of their ongoing coverage of the John Roberts hearings. Looks like a man whose day is not going well, doesn't it?

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Personal Appearance

Much to my surprise, I'll be participating in the special "Talk Like a Pirate Day" program at the Barnes and Noble near Perimeter Mall. We'll be reading selections from Brad Strickland's and Thomas E. Fuller's The Guns of Tortuga, volume two in their "Pirate Hunter" series.

Some of us will be in costume. Your guess is as good as mine as to whether I will be among them.

That's a week from today (Sunday, September 18).

Horror stories

A gossip column in the New York Daily News isn't the best source I could hope for, so take this with a large grain of salt:
NY Daily News | Lavish tastes of card-carrying lowlifes
Profiteering ghouls have been using debit cards distributed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina - intended to buy essentials for evacuated families - in luxury-goods stores as far away as Atlanta.

"We've seen three of the cards," said a senior employee of the Louis Vuitton store at the Lenox Square Mall in affluent Buckhead, who asked not to be named. "Two I'm certain have purchased; one actually asked if she could use it in the store. This has been since Saturday."

The distinctive white cards were distributed by the Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency and carry a value of up to $2,000.

"It doesn't say anything on the card other than alcohol, tobacco and firearms cannot be purchased with it," the store employee told me. "There's nothing legally that prevents us from taking it, unfortunately. Other than morally, it's wrong."

The source told me that the two women who had made purchases with the card each bought a signature monogrammed Louis Vuitton handbag in the $800 range.

"They didn't look destitute by any stretch. You would never have said, 'They must be one of the evacuees.' … The one that I dealt with yesterday was 20. She'll be 21 next month." The source described the reaction of other store-keepers in the mall - which includes luxury brands Ferragamo, Burberry, Judith Leiber and Neiman Marcus - as "outrage."

"It doesn't say anywhere on there, but it would have to be a good amount to be shopping in here," the source said with a dark chuckle.
"Lowlifes". Hm. I'll file it with this one, which I also find myself doubting:
Yahoo News UK (Sky News) | Storm Survivors Told To 'Expose Themselves'
A group of female hurricane survivors were told to show their breasts if they wanted to be rescued, a British holidaymaker has revealed. Ged Scott watched as American rescuers turned their boat around and sped off when the the women refused.

The account was just another example of the horror stories emerging from the hurricane disaster zone.

Mr Scott, 36, of Liverpool, was with his wife and seven-year-old daughter in the Ramada Hotel when the flood waters started rising.

"At one point, there were a load of girls on the roof of the hotel saying 'Can you help us?' and the policemen said 'Show us what you've got' and made signs for them to lift their T-shirts," he told the Liverpool Evening Echo.

"When the girls refused, they said 'Fine' and motored off down the road in their boat."
That almost sounds like it could have happened: "Show us what you've got" is the unofficial motto of New Orleans ("Laissez les bon temps roulez" being, I think, the official one). I remain skeptical.

I need a palate cleanser.
Boston Globe | Katrina's real name
THE HURRICANE that struck Louisiana yesterday was nicknamed Katrina by the National Weather Service. Its real name is global warming.

...Unfortunately, very few people in America know the real name of Hurricane Katrina because the coal and oil industries have spent millions of dollars to keep the public in doubt about the issue.

The reason is simple: To allow the climate to stabilize requires humanity to cut its use of coal and oil by 70 percent. That, of course, threatens the survival of one of the largest commercial enterprises in history.

...In 2000, big oil and big coal scored their biggest electoral victory yet when President George W. Bush was elected president -- and subsequently took suggestions from the industry for his climate and energy policies.
Ah, there it is. The President really does control the weather.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Sean, Celine and the Big Easy

Sean Penn bails his leaky boat with a plastic cupCeline:
"Oh, they're stealing 20 pair of jeans or they're stealing television sets. Who cares? They're not going to go too far with it. Maybe those people are so poor, some of the people who do that they're so poor they've never touched anything in their lives. Let them touch those things for once."
"There are people that are dying right now and I mean babies and old people and everybody in between - they're dying. There are people dying and (the US government are) not putting the boats in the water, I think that's criminal negligence. I don't think anybody ever anticipated the criminal negligence of the Bush administration in this situation."
(The Evening Standard is one of the few that's taking Penn seriously. Most domestic sources are reporting Penn's involvement as comedy relief. See All Headline News and Blogcritics.)

You know, I've been looking for past warnings from the mayor of New Orleans or the governor of Louisiana that "we'd better reinforce these levees before hurricane season gets here", and I'm not finding any. The best I can find is Drudge's reference to a Times-Picayune report describing a series of public service announcements being recorded by the local Red Cross Executive Director, the City Council President, and, yes, Mayor Ray Nagin, warning the population of sub-sealevel New Orleans that...
In the event of a major hurricane, you're on your own....the city does not have the resources to move out of harm's way an estimated 134,000 people without transportation.
But apparently it is, or should be, within the president's power to change the course of mighty rivers. (What about the bending steel part? Does he have to use his bare hands, or can he have a pair of pliers?) Is the president supposed to take charge of every potential infrastructure failure in every city in the country? What are local governments for?

According to ABC, FEMA gave them what they asked for, but they didn't ask for evacuation assistance until well after Katrina hit.
One aide to the governor told ABC News today Blanco thought city officials were taking care of the evacuation.
Well, yeah, you'd think people who live in the shadow of a levee might be thinking about that. I can only assume that most of the city officials live on higher ground than Poydras Street. We've seen what city officials were doing: "You're on your own." As reported by the New York Daily News:
Nearly a third of New Orleans cops - some 500 of the 1,600 - are now unaccounted for. The department says some quit, but it doesn't know where most of them are. The top cop, Eddie Compass, has responded by offering all officers paid vacations to Las Vegas and Atlanta. Yes, that's right - he is pulling all cops off the street, even while bodies lie in the open.
And they used the buses that might have been useful evacuating residents dependent on public transportation to get them to, of all places, the SuperDome. Which is a lot like hiding in Titanic's engine room. Apparently Mayor Nagin had seen an old Superman comic featuring the domed undersea city of Atlantis and thought the SuperDome would do as well.

Maybe he figures Cuba Gooding Jr will play him in the movie.

It's not like the problem wasn't known. See National Geographic.

Even many of those who are making reasonably good cases for more and faster federal involvement (and I'll grant there are plenty of dropped balls to go around) are saying, in effect, that Washington should have known that those cajuns, yats, and n--that is to say, people of color--aren't capable of dealing with a real disaster. Which isn't quite the defense I would have hoped for, were I they.

LATER: Colorado representative Tom Tancredo actually said it:
Given the abysmal failure of state and local officials in Louisiana to plan adequately for or respond to the effects of Hurricane Katrina on the city of New Orleans, and given the long history of public corruption in Louisiana, I am not confident that Louisiana officials can be trusted to administer federal relief aid.
Well, I'll be darned.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

News stories I couldn't finish reading

Guardian | Lewinsky to study psychology at LSE
Monica Lewinsky, who shot to fame as a White House intern under the US president Bill Clinton in the 1990s, is...
(Thanks, Ron.)

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Personal Appearance

Yep, we're all at DragonCon this weekend. The Atlanta Radio Theatre Company has two performances, one of which you've already missed (oops), but there's still time to catch the Sunday evening show. That's the important one, of course, because it's the one I'm in.

And the organization variously referred to as the wicked stepsister, the evil twin, and the red-headed stepchild, the Mighty Rassilon Art Players, will be mounting a full-length stage musical, "Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter". That's Monday afternoon at 2, and those of you who haven't yet heard my daughter sing will have an opportunity to do so there. I'm told that some other people are in it, too.