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Friday, March 30

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March 30, 2007 — 5:10 pm
Comments: none

It doth suck and, verily, doth it blow

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Today’s the day I had to show my current multimedia dingus to the client. It’s basically a little interactive thing that asks a question, stores the answer, shows a video, and gives some feedback, times ten. Easy, right?

Then the artistic genius building the kiosk decided he wants it to run vertically. Like, portrait. Computers do not do this, says I. Well — says he — I’ve never done it before, either, but I think you build it sideways and we’ll physically rotate the monitor. Oh, and no touchscreen — we’re tucking the computer out of sight and giving you three hardwired buttons. Three whole buttons. This’ll be packed with interactive functionality.

Um. Monitor #2 will rotate (I have three monitors — worship me), but you can’t design rotated. Up/down arrows become side-to-side arrows, the mouse is all over the joint. I can rotate the monitor to run the application, but I have to design it sideways and crane. Fabulous.

I had to bribe the video guys to use their +3 Video Editing mojo to rotate all my .avi files for me. My primitive video stuff doesn’t have a “make it sideways” spell. I’ve been excreting building supplies over this for a week.

So today I pitch it to the client — no, the client, the client’s boss, and the client’s boss’ boss. The latter is a woman whose name strikes fear in the hearts of cubiclemonkeys everywhere. Say it aloud and hear the gentle pitter-pat of ass-cheeks clenching. She isn’t a cruel woman. She’s that potent combination of stupid and powerful. This is cubiclemonkey kryptonite.

They gather in my office. I rotate the monitor for them, and in so doing somehow hit a button that kills the signal. It goes black. I have a feeling now is a really bad time to figure out what all those little buttons at the bottom of the monitor do. Time rubberbands while I punch buttons and sweat, though it might’ve been kinder if I hadn’t gotten it working eventually.

I love working for a research and engineering company. I love learning about geeky, science-ish things. But there’s no getting around it: engineers hate subtlety. I designed an interface of duotoned photographs: all muted blue and dusty red. Earthy variations on our corporate colors, with a nice, bangy video window in front.

“My eye goes right to the video window in the middle”
“Excellent! That’s just what I intended.”
“But I can’t really see the photos in the background that well.”
“Excellent! That’s just what I intended.”
“Change it!”
“Okey-doke!”

They discuss among themselves what color goes best with red and blue. Something nice and bright. Orange? Yellow? And then one of them leans forward says, “you know those web sites where there’s text and it’s on this sort of lozenge thing and it’s tumbling over and over — can we have one of those animations?” Something inside of me rolled over, pulled the covers over its head and cried itself to sleep.

I had originally promised them a bunch of functionality, but I presumed I had a full keyboard to work with. Now I have three buttons: “yes” “no” and “reset.”

So they’re all like, “can we skip to specific scenarios?”
And I’m like, “no. I have three buttons, and they’re totally spoken for.”
“Can we have a demo mode?”
“No, I only have three buttons.”
“Can we have a help screen?”
“I have three buttons.”
“Can we have fast forward?”
“Yes, sure, if you can fast forward with your mind.”

Thank you, Ace, for planting that dangerously insubordinate snark in my brain.

It got back to me later that they were, on the whole, pleased. I mean, I’m going to have to rape and pillage my own design, but I’ve been professionally outraging my artistic sensibilities for decades. I’m getting good at it.

And, anyhow, it’s Friday. Like I give a rat’s ass about anything on Friday.

— 10:02 am
Comments: 14

Gorillapoloozala

Hey, check this thing! It’s a Gorillapod. It’s a sort of flexible tripod. Those legs are cleverly jointed so that they bend easily when you want them to, but are sturdy and hold their grip when you let go. So you can use it as a standard tripod, or hook it around a limb or throw it over a cubicle. And the two joints directly under the camera make it easy to move it level it once you’ve got it in position.

I’ve been hankering for a tripod, but the little ones are such crap and the big ones are so heavy. This thing is perfect to take out in the woods. It’s light and strong and I can wrap it around a branch and take pictures of my butt. It was a little cheaper in my store than it is buying directly from them.

Get one! I command it!

I was in the camera store to have a passport photo taken. I had the last one taken there ten years ago (by the same guy, I think). Ten years. Ten years that have marched across my face in combat boots. With cleats. I consoled myself that at least I wouldn’t have the same short geeky haircut this time. No. But I have a clump of rogue hair sticking out over my ear. A Nerd Flag. Nice.

March 29, 2007 — 5:02 pm
Comments: 7

Word of the day: crepuscular

It means an animal that is active in twilight (as opposed to nocturnal or diurnal). I ran across it in an article about weasels (which are mostly crepuscular, unless they get the wicked munchies). Crepuscular can be further divided into matinal and vespertine — active at dawn or dusk. Derived, I assume, from the morning and evening prayers matins and vespers.

Animals can change their time orientation in response to local threats (such as the presence or absence of certain predators). I assume living on the edges of human civilization tends to push animals toward being nocturnal or crepuscular. At least, in my own experience hiking suburban conservation lands, I am far more likely to see animals when I go out very early or stay out late.

— 8:58 am
Comments: 14

Liberté – Egalité – Mustelidité

So, about Phrygian caps. Phrygia was an ancient kingdom in what is modern Turkey. It was conquered repeatedly by its neighbors, the ancients tell us, “for wearing those dumbass hats.” In Greek art, the Phrygian cap was used to indicate the wearer was some kind of foreigner, and Roman poets referred to Trojans as Phrygians. I claim extra credit for not making a cheap Trojan/hat joke.

Anyhoo, the Phrygian cap was like a red nightcap with the point pulled forward. The next time it turns up in history, it’s being worn by freemen of Rome — former slaves whose freedom was so thorough, it would be passed to their children. And that’s where the hat became associated with freedom and liberty.

Like this lady, the tart with the titties (hoo boy! Googleanch, here I come!). The spirit of France is called Marianne, and she’s usually drawn wearing a Phrygian cap (or Bonnet Phrygien, eef you pleez). Here she is, flashin’ ‘em for the troops.

Woohoo, Marianne! And Ginger, too!

Phrygian caps were an essential symbol of the American Revolution, usually waved about on a stick, called a Liberty Pole. The Sons of Liberty in New York, before the Revolution, were professional Liberty Pole putter-uppers. They’d put ‘em up, the Brits would tear ‘em down. It was zany, madcap revolutionary fun. With occasional violence!

Hence, several early American coins pictured Liberty wearing the cap or waving it about on a stick. Unfortunately, our available pool of Revolutionary-era artists was not so hot, and the caps look hilariously like panties. Panties! On her head! Waved about on a stick! Allegorical Girls Gone Wild!

The cap still appears in the official seals of the US Army and the US Senate (which also features a bonus pair of crossed fasces). Plus the state flags of New York, New Jersey and West Virginia.

The panty craze swept Southward, with Phrygian caps appearing on the coins of Mexico and the flags or coats of arms of Cuba, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Colombia, Haiti, Argentina and Paraguay. ¡Caramba!

And then there’s the Smurfs. Really, I have no smurfing idea what that’s all about.

March 28, 2007 — 9:56 am
Comments: 12

There once was a stoat from Pawtucket…

I had to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles this morning and deal with some paperwork. The state’s main DMV is in Pawtucket (Home of the Rude Limerick) and for several years now has been housed in what used to be a department store. I bought a microwave there once. They took out the clothing racks, brought in some cubicles and left everything else the way it was, which is a little brain-hurty. On the wall behind the Registrations lady was a sign that said, “No More Than 4 Items at a Time in the Dressing Rooms.”

I asked her about it, and she said the higher ups were so certain they’d be moving to a proper building right away, they didn’t want to do anything to settle in. Three and half years and counting. It’s a shabby and depressing place, but the staff are much friendlier than they used to be and the process isn’t too slow or painful.

But, jeez, last few times I’ve been in there, everyone waiting in line has been very young, very recently immigrated, very shabby or had…something wrong with them. I know that dealerships take care of the plates for new cars, but surely everyone has to show up in person for his or her driver’s license photo? Where are the shiny middle-class people? Is there a special Middle Class Day? Why didn’t somebody tell me?

If I’ve been stricken off the White Privilege Mailing List again, I’m going to be so pissed.

March 27, 2007 — 4:13 pm
Comments: 2

We’d be in a world of hurt

If spammers weren’t such utter retards. I just picked this one out of the spam filter:

Oh, nice idea and works good! but i had read it and i have swift trucking
tepee
pnuemonia
Best regards

Yeah, I hate when I get swift trucking tepee pneumonia. It lingers on for weeks.

— 6:28 am
Comments: 6

Damien communicates with the mothership

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charlottesniffing.jpgI tend to fire off dozens of photographs at a time and then evaluate them solely by thumbnails. As a result, I often don’t notice oddball images like the one above, taken when Damien was about eight weeks old. Directly above his face, just out of the shot, is a two-bulb fluorescent desklamp of the kind once used by draughtsmen (I got it from work when they shut down our ink-and-paper drafting operations), but with modern warm fluorescent bulbs. This light frequently confuses automatic exposure controls, which seldom get the white balance right for it. I take a lot of very yellow pictures under this light.

The cats are oddly fascinated by it. Charlotte in particular — who experiences the world largely through her nose — greets this lamp by starting at one end and smelling carefully down its entire length. And sometimes all the way back up again. I suspect it smells like delicious houseflies.

— 5:54 am
Comments: 4

Chinese cat cries its own name when frightened

If you’re guessing they named him “Meow” — well, no. They named him “A Gui.” From the video, it’s a little hard to tell when it’s the cat and when it’s the people, but somebody’s saying a lot of “A Gui.” And also “pooossy.”

The owner, surnamed Sun, named the two-year-old cat A Gui. To his amusement, the cat started crying its own name in a voice not unlike a human child’s one day two years ago when it was placed into a basin to have a bath. Since then, the cat cries like that whenever it is frightened, Sun said.

I’m guessing “A Gui” is Chinese for, “Dude! Water! Not cool!”

March 26, 2007 — 11:39 am
Comments: 4

Our tiny silver numismatic mixed metaphor

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I love the mercury dime. Both for the beautiful design by Adolph Alexander Weinman, and the brain-hurtingly odd symbolism.

elsiestevens.gifThese were still in circulation when I was a kid, but it was a rare and wonderful thing to get one. It would be too cool if the dude on it were actually Mercury, since Mercury is the god of business and trade. His name is derived from merx — as are the words commerce, merchant and merchandise. But, no. It’s not a dude! It’s a chick! Specifically, it’s this lady, Elsie Kachel Stevens. She was the wife of poet Wallace Stevens. Wallace commissioned Weinman to do her portrait and got two and a half billion of them. Pretty good value for money.

Check out the jaw on that lady! This could almost be a picture of my paternal grandmother, a woman of the same age and time. It’s funny how eras have faces and faces have eras.

Anyhow, here Elsie represents Liberty. That’s a phrygian cap on her head (the one on the coin, not the one in the picture), a bit of old Roman symbolism often used to represent liberty or freedom. It appears in a lot of early American iconography. The wings, however, are unique to this particular design; they symbolize freedom of thought. Okay, got that? The obverse of this coin represents freedom of thought.

Right, so what’s that thing on the back? It’s an olive branch wrapped around the fasces — a bundle of birch sticks bound to an axe. It’s an icon that dates back, possibly, to the Etruscans. Actual fasces were carried in procession in Roman times. The fasces symbolize strength through unity (the rods bound together) or alternatively the power of the state (birch rods, axe: whipping, decapitation. The state has the power of life or death over you, get it?).

Yes, as in fascism. Benito Mussolini coopted the term, both to evoke the fasces of Rome and the modern Italian word fascio, which means union or league. But you can’t blame poor old Weinman for that; fasces are all over our national symbols and state flags. Still are. And Weinman designed this in 1915.

So what’s going on here? Free thought, peace, the power of the state? Well, this coin was a message to Europe, then one year into World War I. Not that they knew that’s what it was going to be called yet, but we wanted no any part of whatever you call it. This coin was meant to say, we think for ourselves and we like peace, but if you screw with us, Europe, we swear to god we’ll cut you good.

Now we know how that worked out for us: Elsie Kachel Stevens and her smurf hat got to circulate through two European wars, and we got drawn into them both.


Eleven million pounds of mercury dimes were minted, and each is 90% silver — worth about fifty cents in today’s market. Salting away bags of mercury dimes for the silver is an old survivalist gambit.

One of which I am not. I just like coins. This is not a collector quality coin (very few of mine are). The fine specimens are all about the bands around the fasces: if you can see that they’re split into multiple cords (“full split bands”), it’s a high quality specimen.

— 7:23 am
Comments: 9