Monday, November 24, 2008

On culture

Thanks to the generosity of the LA's parents, we were a party of four yesterday at the Davies Symphony Hall for Mahler's 8th, the Symphony of a Thousand, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. The performance was wonderful, apart from the inevitable people unable to resist coughing during the quiet parts. On the way, I realised why the toll on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge is on the Westbound journey: that's the one that goes via the upper deck. The view is gorgeous that way, even from the Eastern span (the replacement is currently being constructed, as a seismic upgrade; the newspaper told me recently it was going to be a suspension span, and is being built deck-first.)

The thing I really like about the Bay Bridge, though, is its genesis. It was ordered to be built by Joshua Norton, who was the self-proclaimed Emperor of the United States. Actually, he was a homeless crazy guy, but the entire city of San Francisco went along with his proclamation, and accepted his "money" at face value. You have to love a city that does something like that.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

On the desireability of learning

I'm sure some of you have been in a Starbucks at some point, desiring some refreshing drink. It happened to me, some years ago; I reached the counter, requested a "large coffee", and received a blank stare in return. That was my introduction to what's become known as "Starbonics": the specialised jargon used for ordering at Starbucks. After that introduction, I naturally resent it; in fact, I refuse to use it. I will order in English, and complain mightily if my (simple) order is incorrect. The trouble is, although Starbonics would be simple to learn, I resent the enforced usage of it. Think how much you hated history lessons at school; anything you're forced to do is unpleasant.

Now, let me compare and contrast with another specialised ordering jargon: In-N-Out Burger's "secret language". I willingly learned this, and will always order in it, because it's not compulsory. You can order in plain English at any In-N-Out, and receive what you wanted. However, the plain English for my "usual" (in a rather loose sense, because it's around six months since I last ate In-N-Out) is rather less wieldy than "Two by one no tomato no onion, protein-style, fries well, medium soda". The only part of that that's equivalent is the soda, in fact; all the rest is custom-ordered. To explain: "two-by-one" means that I want two patties, one slice of cheese, and any combination up to four-by-four is valid; the lack of tomato and onion is self-explanatory; "protein-style" means that I don't want the bun, but rather the burger should be wrapped in lettuce; "fries well" means I want the fries left in the oil for a little longer than normal, as I prefer them crispier. I can give that order at any In-N-Out and know exactly what I'll get. This is the point of ordering jargons, Starbonics included, and is a good idea. However, enforcing a jargon is a good way to a) keep existing customers and b) reject new customers.

Starbonics has the sense of a secret club that you're not a member of, and the existing members don't want you in. You get dirty looks for not knowing things, even though you don't know them because nobody told you. In-N-Out, on the other hand, makes you feel like you're a member of the secret club, and yet allows non-members the same privileges as members, just as long as they ask. The key point is that you don't HAVE to use their jargon. It's helpful if you do, but you can get by without it for years. I hated history lessons at school, but since leaving, have avidly read history.

Of course, Starbucks does suffer quite a lot from being the largest player in the market; everyone loves to bash the 900lb gorilla. Sadly, biggest players seldom manage to do themselves many favours.

And while researching this post, I discovered that I have in fact been regularly patronising a Starbucks in plain covers; Seattle's Best Coffee is actually a Starbucks subsidiary.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

In memoriam

My mother has informed me that my paternal grandmother died today at just after 1PM. She didn't specify PST or GMT, although I assume GMT.

My grandmother had been suffering for some years now. She has passed beyond her pain, and I shall miss her. I shall remember the good life she had.

The LA and I shall still be attending Monty Python and the Knitty Grail tonight.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

On failure and success

First, failure: Tivo have rather failed at customer service. See, there's a bug. They know about this bug; it can cause season passes to fail to record. They could tell users about it, but they have not. This bug deprived me of my Mythbusters this week. I am not a happy bunny on that front, especially as I heard the words "det cord" bandied about.

But success: this marks my hundredth post across the two blogs I have on this service.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

On palettes

The LA commented the other day about my taste in clothes. I've known for some years that I'm very partial to an earth-toned palette, but I hadn't realised that I was actually pretty much an autumnal colour person. Now I look, I see that that's true. I go for oranges, and they're pretty good with my skin tone. Browns and greens complement them.

This does explain why I like sandstone.

Friday, November 7, 2008

On literature

My sister purchased a copy of Neal Stephenson's Anathem for my birthday gift. It's a rather imposing book, and initially difficult to read thanks to large numbers of unfamiliar, invented words. However, I rapidly got past that. I have to admit to having bogged down somewhat, as lighter-reading books have come along, but I'm plugging away with enjoyment.

Stephenson seems to have become the progressive rock of literature. He's rapidly shot beyond normal length to triple-album regions, and each book seems to have a concept. With Anathem, I get the impression his concept is the exploration of the consequences of making science genuinely be a religion, as some people allege it to be.

I'm enjoying it, but it's a big book that demands you think. Be warned.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

On protests, gunpowder, and celebration

Today is the 5th of November. To almost everyone in the UK, that means it's Guy Fawkes's Day, the anniversary of the State Opening of Parliament in 1605, which Guy Fawkes, despite his best efforts, did not blow up. That was largely a religious act of terrorism; at the time, Catholics were under huge legal pressure in the UK, James (the new King) had made some vague comments that he might ease things a little, but anti-Catholic sentiment was still strong. A group of young, foolish Catholics formed this plot to remove the King and Parliament, and bring in a Catholic puppet ruler. It largely failed, and this failure was celebrated the next year. By now, though, nobody's sure whether the sentiment is "Hurrah, they failed!" or "Hurrah, they tried!", but the fireworks tend to start in late October and not let up until around February.

Meanwhile, in the USA, the big night for fireworks is the 4th of July. I have to admit to not understanding this; first, it's in Summer. A key point to note about Summer is that it stays light until late. Moreover, in recent years, Benjamin Franklin's worst idea has been used; thanks to clock-keeping, you need to give people even less sleep before the next day's work to get darkness. Frankly, July 4th does not make sense as a time for fireworks.

In both cases, though, the impetus is a rebellion. The major difference is that the US rebellion succeeded.

And tonight, if I can find somewhere reasonably close to Pleasant Hill which will be dark and have an eastward view, I shall be watching silent fireworks, provided by nature. The Taurids are coming, and this year they're promised to be spectacular. And tonight, they're not even having to fight the moon much.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

On this historic night...

I greatly respect John McCain for the quality of his concession speech.

I also loved Barack Obama's announcement of the impending addition to his family: in his acceptance speech, he announced that he'd be taking a new puppy to the White House.

Make sure it's house-trained, please.

On the orientability of certain Platonic solids

Following my post regarding the excellent dice bag the LA knitted for me, somebody asked me about one of the dice shown in the photos. After that question, I now present for your edification the art of reading the d4.

Below, we see two d4s; an old-style d4 in pearl, and a new-style d4 in white. Both of them are showing a result of 1.

Below, we see the same two dice. This time, however, they're showing a result of 2.

Below, once again, the same two dice, showing 3.

And finally, the same two dice, both showing a result of 4.

As you can tell, the reading method is consistent: you read the number which is upright. I personally prefer (and have more of) the old-style d4s, but I do have the new ones just in case I have a player who doesn't know how to read a d4 properly.

Of course, if they follow my blog, now they do, and so do you.

Monday, November 3, 2008

On truth

I thought I was going to stay out of US politics this election. Seems I was wrong.

Everyone in California, please go to your polling place tomorrow and make sure to vote "No" on Proposition 8. Even if it wasn't shoving discrimination into the state Constitution, it is being pushed deceptively. Schools will NOT be forced to "teach gay marriage", just as they currently don't teach marriage. Obama does NOT support Proposition 8.

Who you vote for as President is one thing, but please, whatever your politics, vote NO to discrimination, hatemongering and fearmongering.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled geeky whininess.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

On the road back to health, and other subjects.

So yes, that is correct. I am much improved, health-wise, and the LA is also rather better. We're both off the chicken soup, and I'm cooking again - tonight's chicken with potato wedges went down rather nicely.

Still on the subject of health, I'm currently in the process of applying for health insurance. I honestly cannot figure out why so many citizens of the USA see this as somehow preferable to a system which allows you to see a doctor without worrying about cost. I won't say the NHS is perfect, but it is, to my mind, a damned sight better. I think that the best system would be one which keeps basic healthcare free (ie you can go see a doctor about this thing on your leg for free) but which allows for insurance and/or copayments for anything beyond "the basics". To take an example, if your appendix goes bad, "basic" is in you go, you get opened up and out comes the appendix, and they sew you back together and keep you in till you can get up and about safely, while you can if you wish pay for less invasive surgery, etc etc. "basic" vision care covers checks and basic lenses in uncool frames, but you can pay extra for contacts, nicer frames, thinner lenses and so on. I would consider universal access to healthcare to be a human right, but it's not the job of the state to support everyone's health.

I'm also applying for a credit card. Yes, Mum, I do remember what happened last time, and it's certainly NOT going to happen this time. The sad fact of the matter is that life is very difficult in the USA of modern times without a credit card and the accompanying credit rating, and so it's a good idea for me to have one, no matter that I will be using it very little. I chose which one to apply for in consultation with the LA, and it carries good interest rates, no annual fee, and some spiffs which make a great deal of sense when considered with respect to my preferences.

While the LA has been feeling under the weather, she's been continuing to knit. Her latest completed project is shown below:

Yes, that's a cabled dice bag. I have the perfect wife.

And now, I'm going to get ready for tomorrow. I have to go to the library to return some books, and to the gaming store to fill in my Consumermas wishlist. If anyone should buy me anything which is on there (and that will probably be high-dollar non-essentials such as a battlemat, maybe some minis, paint, and moar dice, rather than such things as GURPS Myth or Rippers which I would be sure to use) I will get double points for that item on my rewards account there. I'd shop at this store anyway, since it's a) got a wonderful atmosphere and b) the only gaming store in the area now, but the rewards card is icing on the delicious dice-shaped cake.