Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Friendly Skies

The problem:

Airline passengers not paying attention to the safety video at the beginning of their flight.

The solution:

Have the flight attendants wearing body paint that mimics their uniforms.

Of course, the video is careful to maintain a "G" rating, making sure that objects more substantial than paint are hiding any naughty bits that might scandalize little eyes. (Or keep the older kids paying more attention than perhaps they should...) But I have a feeling that we'll be seeing more of this idea, as online pranksters and parodists get a hold of it.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Never Grow Up

You have to love children. Florida Atlantic University students decide it would be a great idea to have free bicycles to allow people to get around campus more easily. As is common with such programs, pretty soon, all of the bicycles had been stolen. Any adult would have told them that the honor system would be trouble. Especially now, when depressed economic times have people scrambling for sources of money - and not always caring what they are. But one wishes that the students had been right. The adult world can be such a drag sometimes.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Water, Water, Everywhere

A Water Lily, in the final minutes before a thunderstorm paid a rare and brief visit.

Friday, June 19, 2009

But It's Only One Straw

Now that General Motors is effectively a government-owned corporation, it's shackled to it's greatest enemy - politics.

[Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank, chairman of the House Committee on Financial Services] says the distribution center employs only about 80 people and keeping it open a while longer won't break the budget. Frank also says that with the government propping up GM with $50 billion, politicians are within their rights to scrutinize decisions.
Government Stake In GM Creates Complications
In effect, Frank is saying, it's a little thing. It won't break GM's bank. Of course it won't. Say what you will about Frank, but he's not politically stupid. He's not about to advocate something that would put the smoking gun of a complete failure of GM in his hands. And neither is anyone else in Congress. What will happen instead is that they'll nickel and dime the company to death.

It works like this. Once, when I was a Quality Assurance manager, we were having trouble with our schedules. We were hitting our dates, but sometimes, it wasn't pretty. So I started investigating. After a bit of creative prying (it's good to be the boss), I learned that time was being diverted to small requests on the part of the development team. So in that Friday's team meeting, I laid down the law. "None of you," I solemnly intoned, "Are to be working on ANYTHING that I haven't expressly authorized you to be working on, or you're fired." Now, everyone understood that I wasn't really making a threat - I was simply giving them cover, and they took full advantage of it.

It was about 9:30 Monday morning when the first developer came into my office, wanting to know why they were being told they had to talk to me if they had a request for a tester. By Tuesday afternoon, nearly the entire development team had been in my office. As I explained to the development director on Wednesday morning, none of the individual requests were a problem, but taken together, they were costing my team nearly two and half person/workdays a week, and that time was impacting our projects. Of course, none of the individual developers thought they were responsible, which was reasonable. No single one of them was to blame. But they all should have understood the aggregate impact of their actions.

Now our Congress is preparing to go to bat for a million reasonable requests. And if their combined weight pushes GM beneath the waves again, there'll be plenty of blame to go around. Just not enough for anyone to accept any themselves.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Train Wreck

So, I'm hooking up the new cable box. Fascinating task. Really. After a call to the cable company (Note - if you're going have instructions that refer to a number printed on the box - please print the number on the box. Thank you!), I got everything up and working, and was sifting through the channels to see what I had to work with.

Suddenly, the television erupted with a woman's barely coherent screaming. This was a tantrum that would shame a five-year old. It was a "what on Earth?" moment unlike none I'd ever had before. This wasn't someone who'd simply gone over the edge, even with a running jump - she'd been shot out of a cannon. As an aside, I finally understood just what people meant when they talked about watching a train wreck. The sight of this woman undergoing a complete meltdown was strangely gripping. I quickly realized that I was watching some sort of reality television show. There were camera people scattered around, some clearly unsure whether they should stand their ground, or run for their lives.

A quick online search revealed that I'd stumbled upon an episode of Trading Spouses from a few years back. This particular matchup featured a born-again family on one side, with some new-age neopagans on the other. Hilarity ensued. To shorten what's already becoming a long story, the Christian wife basically lost it, and the viewing public was treated to her breakdown on national television. As riveting and bizarre at it was, it was also sad. From having had cameras trained on the two households for several days, the network must have generated hundreds of hours of raw footage. Someone in an executive suite somewhere looked at the tape of a woman suddenly terrified that someone had come into her home and cut her family off from God and said "This is reality gold."

Say what you will about someone deciding that this was fit entertainment. But considering that this is still being re-run five years later, they're not the only person with questionable judgment.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

I'll See Your 50 Dollars...

Back in November, I received a postcard from Wells Fargo, attempting to entice me into putting at least $100 into a checking account there with the promise of and extra $50, to be added to the account balance, once an account had been open for a certain amount of time. Now that Chase has completed their conversion of Washington Mutual, and has entered the Washington state market, they're making the same pitch. Only they're offering $100 in extra cash.

Chase also sent me a credit card solicitation, also with the promise of cash to sweeten the deal - in this case, they'll fork over $50 cash back the first time I buy anything with the card. Of course, it's not quite as easy as all that, there are always the limits, restrictions, terms and conditions but it doesn't seem to complicated to get the cash.

Considering how everyone was saying that the banks were hurting for capital, it sure seems that they're in a hurry to give money away all of a sudden.

Monday, June 8, 2009

I Am Lead To Wonder

If the evangelical wing of the Republican Party were in power today (Imagine that we were now in a Huckabee Administration that had broad Congressional support), would they would launch the effort to repeal, or at least modify, the first Amendment to the Constitution - given the understanding of the Evangelopatriots that, in effect, to be a True American is to be at least Christian, if not Evangelical. To wit:

Amendment I
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
If, as Newt Gingrich says, American citizenship starts with the "creator" (I find it interesting, and perhaps telling, that he didn't just say "God"), or as Huckabee contends, America's very existence is owed directly to divine intervention, it seems such a move would be perfectly reasonable. Yet it's never mentioned. During the Bush administration, people bandied about the idea of amending the constitution simply to effectively prohibit same-sex marriages, presumably on the grounds that it's so morally reprehensible that a central document of the nation must be modified to help stamp it out.

But somehow, the idea that the part of the Constitution that prevents the government from openly preferring a belief system that supporters say is central to the nation's very existence should be changed never comes up. Even from prominent people who preach to Evangelical audiences that their beliefs are objectively right, and that they should be more engaged in politics for the express purpose of codifying their beliefs into United States law.

You could make the point that everyone realizes that it's an effort doomed to failure, but it wouldn't be the most quixotic thing ever attempted in American politics. It seems the very definition of throwing red meat to the base, and if no-one else takes it seriously, there's little change of arousing the opposition. So I wonder what the hang-up is?

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Whose Side Are You On?

Dueling websites. On the one side, WhoSigned.org, a website planning to publish the names and addresses of everyone who signs the petition to put Referendum 71 on the ballot this Fall. On the other hand, IWillSign.org is for those who not only plan on signing the petition, and are willing to go public with that fact.

For the record, Referendum 71 is sponsored by Protect Marriage Washington. (You can guess where this is going.) The idea is to overturn the state's 2009 Domestic Partner Expansion Bill, a measure designed to give registered same-sex couples the same rights and benefits that the state offers married couples.

For the people behind WhoSigned, the idea is simple. Same-sex couples, they argue, deserve to know who favors taking their rights away. They view signing the petition to put R-71 to a vote as threatening and intimidating. Their critics, including those behind IWillSign, say that it is they who are doing the threatening and intimidation.

But for me, the whole argument marks a breakdown in the process of citizen participation. As a general rule, the opinion is that if you favor putting something to vote, you expect it to win. The reaction to R-71 seems to bear this out.

"If you believe and understand and want to hurt families in Washington state and take their rights away, then don't hide, by all means go ahead and sign," said Tom Lang, director of KnowThyNeighbor.org [...].
But we should be working the other way. Deciding that something should be put to a vote should be independent of the item itself. The understanding that a referendum should be put to a vote should be a referendum of its own, on the appropriateness of the idea being voted on. You could be very much opposed to the Domestic Partner Expansion Bill, but also agree with Lang, that this isn't a appropriate issue for the public at large. Or you could feel that R-71 shouldn't be enacted, but that the final decision ultimately belongs to the voters in a democracy. You could make the argument that the propriety and legality of the referendum are best left for the courts, but the very fact that a segment of the public has to sign off for referenda and initiatives to go on the ballot gives us a chance to make that determination for ourselves, and we'll be better off viewing it that way.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Public Of Politics

Unaware themselves of what is changing, MPs encounter [the public] as hyper-critical, unreasonably demanding and seemingly apathetic.
By George, I've got it! Now let's tell the MPs.
I'll bet that legislators at all levels here in the United States feel the exact same way. I would, we I in their shoes. Which is precisely why I don't want their shoes.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Craigslist In The Crosshairs Again

"The guy is just a freak," Police Capt. Chuck Adams said.
That's never a good sign.

Today's Random Act of Craigslist (and all-around "What the crack?" moment) - some guy arranges for his wife's rape at knifepoint. So he can watch. (Where do they find these guys? And why isn't it under 24-hour guard?)
Experts say the case is likely to lead to more questions for Craigslist, which has faced criticism for its "erotic services" section.
Really? The Associated Press needed experts to tell them that? And anonymous experts? I'm betting that they're just a couple of guys from Accounting who went online to buy a couch or something. (Hey, maybe they're expert accountants.) Although I suppose if I were an expert, I wouldn't want to be quoted saying something so blindingly obvious. I'd hate to be sued after someone loses their sight.

Matt Zimmerman, of the Electronic Frontier Foundation says that this could happen on any online service that allows people to communicate directly without doing background checks. You'd think that a statement like that would go without saying, too, but given the short attention spans that have come into vogue these days, many people are likely unaware that the Internet consists of more than Craigslist, Google and Bizarro-world ads for faddish weight loss products.

On the other side of the ledger, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who is suspected of using his Crusade Against Craigslist® to springboard his political career, smells more fuel for the fire, and is asking that Craigslist turn the details over to him - so he can use the information against them. Too bad the Court of Public Opinion doesn't have the same rules against self-incrimination that criminal courts have. But good for Blumenthal, and good for the media, which will also be looking for some salacious details to sell papers -- er... drive eyeballs to their websites. (Sorry. Got behind the times there.)

In other news, Captain Adams has been nominated for every award given for Understatement in the known world. For the next fifty years.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Take Your Pick

I'm beginning to find it entertaining that two local espresso stands have entered into a de-facto advertising battle over how much their baristas wear. Beehive is playing up the sex factor. A number of stands in the Seattle area have taken this tack over the past couple of years, but recently, more previously everyday stands have been "converting," as it were. Beehive, as a matter of fact, just started with their own "Bikini Baristas" this spring, in an attempt to set itself apart from several local competitors, and they've been hammering that fact mercilessly.

Down the road a short way, Monster Espresso, the most recent entrant into the (very) crowded field, seems to have gone with a different strategy, and concentrated mainly on touting the quality of their coffee. But recently, they've also started playing up the fact that they're NOT doing the bikini shtick.

Because of the design of the roadway, you can't make a left turn to get to Monster. This means that you can only turn in if you're headed along the road to the northeast, and (depending on how you go there) may have already passed four other dedicated espresso stands (including Beehive immediately prior) and McDonald's within the past half mile. This puts them at something of a disadvantage. And in fact, they don't even both putting anything on the other side of their sign. But, the area being what it is, espresso stands sprout like weeds. One one in the area has closed in the past several years, and every so often, another pops up. Although the current crunch might change that dynamic.

We'll see who makes it in the end.