Thursday, December 24, 2009

How to Ruin Christmas

Aaaaaaarrrrrrrggghh!

How to ruin Christmas in Three Easy Steps:

Step 1: hide all of your wife's wrapped Christmas presents (including a small box from her favorite jeweler) in a large trash bag in the back of your car.

Step 2: take the trash to the end of the driveway on Wednesday morning. When the overflowing cans fall over, throw a few of them in the back of the car, and then throw all of the trash bags into the cans when you get to the end of the driveway.

Step 3: discover on Christmas Eve that you are missing a very important trash bag.

(Optional) Step 4: Spend thirty minutes on Christmas Eve with Amex Gold rep, who, after taking the time to understand the nature of the problem and the scope of the lost goods, patiently explains that the Consumer Protection insurance covers theft or accidental damage within 90 days of purchase. It does not cover accidental transport to nearest landfill.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

New Cialis Slogan

First, please excuse me in advance if this post is either rude or crude. I simply have no control over the workings of my brain.

But I’ve just been assaulted by two thoughts whose juxtaposition finally made sense of one which was previously unimaginable. I figured I’d pass the discovery along in case others might have had the same confusion.

Let me explain.

I am on my way to Paris. Walking through Newark airport earlier tonight, I was musing about my recent post about fat Germans (here). I started to conduct yet another thoroughly unscientific mental study about the largeness of the average American. I eyed the people streaming past me in the concourse and tried to guess the average weight in this little corner of Americana. At one point, I passed an unusually long string of, shall we say, broad people, and concluded that, indeed, Americans are large. On top of that, some of them were not the best looking folks I've ever seen.

That’s thought number one – hold that thought.

Earlier, on my way to the airport, I heard a radio segment on Cialis which mentioned the now ubiquitous statistic that 40% of men over 40 suffer from Erectile Dysfunction. Now, I am only recently over 40 myself, but that statistic has always astounded me. Forty percent! I vary between horror at the affliction and sympathy for those who might suffer from it. I pray that I might never be afflicted myself one day.

That’s thought number two.

As I continued to walk through the airport, I couldn’t help but put the two thoughts together. I realized that the average dude lying in his bed unable to perform because of ED was actually lying next to the average woman. But we’ve just determined that this average woman is most likely quite fat, and maybe even a little ugly, too. And it all made sense! Because if I were lying next to a fat ugly woman, I might have Erectile Dysfunction too, even if I didn’t actually have it. Hard to get the juices flowing, so to speak.

I wonder what percentage of men would suffer from ED if each of them were instead lying next to an 18 year old Jessica Simpson (not today’s Jessica Simpson). I suspect the number would be very, very small.

And it made me wonder if Ely Lilly & Co. ought not to embark upon a whole new truth in advertising campaign. It could be tremendously effective. It would go something like this “Cialis – have sex again, even with your wife!”

Again, please excuse the nature of this post. I disavow any control over its content.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Travel Notes from Germany - 9-09

I’ve spent the last week in Germany – Monday in Hannover, Tuesday & Wednesday in Hamburg and Thursday & Friday in Frankfurt. Here are some of my thoughts.

Hefty Germans

We Americans get short shrift. Or, maybe we get fat shrift. Because we are definitely considered the world’s fattest.

But I can tell you now that the Germans have caught up. The reason I know this is that, in an effort to save expenses, I sat in steerage on the way over to Hamburg. And as you know, airline seats in the back of modern planes are built to comfortably fit people approximately the size of Tinkerbell.

So as one enormous German after another lumbered onto the plane and headed toward my row, I found myself silently saying “Oh no. No, no. Please, please no. Please, please no.” I started to imagine eight hours of schnitzel and kraut-fed fat dripping over the armrest into my personal space. I desperately looked into each one’s eyes to see how far down the plane they searched for their row, relieved when they finally looked past my own.

A young, black-clad gothic waif approached. “Oh, yes. That would be good. Please, please let it be her. Come on, now. She’s getting close. Yes, yes! – wait, oh no! No! Come back!” As she passed, I grimly looked back up the plane at the approaching line of giant-sized Germans.

In the end, I was spared. My row-mate turned out to be a skinny Asian fellow who compounded the agreeableness of his size by sleeping the entire eight hours.

But, based on my thoroughly unscientific study, the Germans have joined us on the fat parade.

Optimists

Germans either have a lot of sex, or they’re extremely optimistic about their prospects for doing so. Everywhere one goes in Germany, one finds vending machines sporting a bewildering array of condoms and other sex gadgets. I was amazed to see that a rest-stop on a superhighway could support such a robust inventory of sex aids.

There were even miniature travel-size vibrators. In the men’s room. Now, who in the hell is so hard up that he (she?) needs to purchase a vibrator at a rest stop? “Honey, I’ll stay out here and pump the gas. Can you go into the shop and get me a bottle of water, a Snickers bar and a vibrator? If they don’t have vibrators, a plain ol’ dildo will do…”

Fast Cars

I’ve always been dismayed that Americans can’t seem to make a quality sports car. Oh, we have fast cars alright. I’ve driven a few of them. I raced a Dodge Viper at Limerock once. It was fast as hell, but otherwise it was just a piece of junk. It made all sorts of noises, the interior had a terrible, cheap plastic feel and it just didn’t hug the road like a fast car should.

For some reason Hertz gave me a Kia SUV to drive while in Germany. If I’d remembered what the roads were like, I’d have traded it in for a BMW and paid the upgrade. But I didn’t, so when I got to the autobahn between Hamburg and Frankfurt, I started getting uncomfortable at about 175kph (which is about 105mph). The Kia started to feel unstable and it started making noises.

BMWs and Mercedes were passing me like I was standing still. Many were going well over 200kph – maybe even 225.

And I finally realized why Germans have so many quality cars – they have to. It would be simply unacceptable to have autobahns and nothing stable to drive on them. As a consequence, Germans have been forced to develop solid, fast cars.

Well, I’m running out of battery juice and this plane does not have AC power, so I’ll have to post more later…

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Damn Shoes - Travel Notes from Hood River

Ever since Hotchkiss, I’ve worn Bass loafers. They may look uncomfortable, but after a few weeks of breaking in, they actually fit pretty well.

Unfortunately, Bass has now reduced the number of widths the shoes come in. I used to get Wide, but now they only come in Narrow, Regular and Extra Wide. So I bought the Regulars, and the merchant gave me some shoe trees to use. They work fine as long as I’ve got a shoe horn nearby.

Yesterday, I flew home from the West Coast after having spent a week with a bunch of buddies windsurfing, hiking and otherwise debasing ourselves in Hood River, Oregon. Upon embarking on the plane, I slipped off my newish loafers, pulled on my handy extra thick Intercontinental travel socks (which I keep in my briefcase), and settled in. I was pleased to find that Continental now has DirecTV, and thus whiled away the hours watching Seinfeld and The Office.

Six hours later, I was awoken from a slumber by the pilot announcing our imminent arrival, and quickly began my own preparations as the plane descended. I could tell that my feet were badly swollen by the thinness of the air, and knew that I was going to have a hell of a time getting my shoes back on. Slumped over in my seat, thus began a Thermopylae-like battle.

Now, in order to truly understand the nature of my physical and mental bearing upon landing at Newark, one must understand the nature of the trip that I had just undertaken. Hood River is brutal on both the body and the soul. Over the course of a long half-week, my cohorts and I subject ourselves to all manner of debilitating stresses. Chief among the physical perils is the windsurfing. It regularly blows 25+ knots in Hood River. This time, we got two days in excess of 30 knots, and rumors had it that one afternoon the gusts were over 40. In that much wind, any non-professional windsurfer is regularly catapulted over his board and sail only to be crushed into the rig at mach speed because he is still connected to the whole contraption by a harness. As a result, both my elbows hurt, my left ankle was swollen with a strain, and I had various deep cuts and bruises on my feet. I was sunburnt, with a peeling nose, and had wiry, sunscorched, windblown hair standing on end.

The mental challenge of returning from Hood River is no less daunting. The chief culprit in this case is the late-night debauchery, my own version of which is usually fueled with equal parts beer and vodka. Our exploits are probably tame enough to evoke a scoff from Tucker Max – no jail-time, for instance – but it’s still enough to include hazy memories and vague embarrassment. Certainly, since it’s so far from family, it’s more punishing than at any other time of the year, and is thus capable of leaving one feeling grim. Cumulatively, the feeling can crescendo into a mild spiritual crisis by the last day. It’s kind of like Sunday night in college.

This spiritual challenge is compounded by the simple fact of leaving Hood River. The town and its environs are akin to Elysium for the happy, well-adjusted, active 40-something. It has all of the benefits of an Arcadian dream spot, and none of the detriments of the seething, rat-race infested metropolises where most of us seem to live and work. It makes one think, upon boarding the plane, “what the hell am I doing with my life?” The economic crisis this year has added yet a further dimension to this effect.

So all was not well in the Finlay vessel as I bent over to wrench the shoes onto my feet. Anyone who has ever tried knows that it is frustratingly awkward to wrestle with your feet while buckled into an airplane seat. As patience is not a virtue of many air-travelers, I wanted to be clothed and ready when we pulled up to the gate, lest I hold up any of my plane-mates seated behind me. So I started with the shoe process five minutes before landing. Fifteen minutes later at docking, I had achieved success with my left foot (curiously, the one with the swollen ankle), but absolutely could not get the right shoe on. The whole time, I was cursing and muttering, “goddamn shoe… f_cking shoe…” I was not prepared for the struggle. Sweat dripped off my forehead.

I had to give up. People were streaming off the plane in front of me, and my turn was coming quickly. I slipped the shoe onto the front of my foot like a slipper, but couldn’t step down on it, because the back of a loafer is solid.

The Hood River trip requires the equipment levels of a battalion (windsurfing harness; wetsuits; mountain bike pedals and shoes; hiking boots; fleece; camera), so in addition to a checked, prodigiously stuffed duffel bag, I carried two other bags and an awkward windsurfing harness with me on the plane. I gathered them up and shuffled off the plane.

On the way home from anywhere, the walk to baggage claim is always interminable, but yesterday it was truly hopeless. People stared as I lumbered under the weight of my two bags and harness, limping on my left foot and shuffling and dragging my right foot behind me so I didn’t loose the shoe. Quasimodo was more elegant. Those walking the opposite way down the terminal would steal to the other side of the walkway as they passed me, staring in horror as if I were a stinking homeless man. It would have been humorous if I had not felt the part.

I finally got to baggage claim, and waited another eternity for the bags to appear. Those who’d seen me struggle into the room continued to stare. My stomach filled with a deep, heavy despair. I lowered myself onto my pile of bags and waited.

“Man, that looks painful,” said a man standing next to me.
“Excuse me?”
“That back brace you’ve got,” he said, nodding at my windsurfing harness. “Why aren’t you wearing it? You don’t look too good.”
“Oh no. No no. That’s a windsurfing harness, not a back brace. That’s fun,” I said, face betraying the sentiment.
“Ahhh.”

So I got my bags, struggled to my car and drove home. I arrived at 1:30 AM and the house was dark, all asleep. I’d been on vacation for two straight weeks, but I was exhausted, both mentally and physically. I left the bags in the back of the car and crept upstairs.

Oliver’s room was first. I poked my head in the door and there he was, asleep, limbs all akimbo, head poking out of his comforter. I felt better. Walker next, same scene, then Christian. Each time, I felt a similar lift in spirits. I walked into my bedroom and Teresa was likewise asleep, with our dog Sander splayed all about my side of the bed. I leaned down to see if Teresa might be coyly awake, waiting for me to greet her with a kiss. She still slept, so I kissed her lightly on the neck. She stirred. I’d wake her after I’d brushed my teeth and readied myself for bed.

As I walked to the bathroom, I realized that the weight in my stomach had lifted. I was home, and my spiritual crisis was, temporarily at least, over.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Who Would Have Thought? – More Notes from Asia

Wed, June 3

Who would have thought that Seoul, Korea would be such a fine place for a game of summer evening tennis? Before tonight, certainly not me.

I got home from my meetings late this afternoon and retired to my room, mildly torn between taking a nap and going for a run to wake myself up. I opened the drapes, carelessly looked down at the carefully manicured grounds of the Grand Hyatt twenty stories below, and what should I see but three tennis courts, all improbably in use?

On a whim, I called down to the athletic club to see if the resort had a pro. To my surprise, they did, and he was available. I booked an hour at 6:30PM.

Still, I was not hopeful. It is not uncommon for me to show up to hit with the pro at some resort where tennis is not a first priority only to find that I am the one who should be giving the lesson. And this was a resort in the middle of teeming Seoul, Korea. Not a hotbed for ATP professionals.

At the appointed hour, I ventured down in my running gear – that’s all I had – and found the athletic club. I signed in with a well-meaning but ill-spoken (English that is; my Korean is non-existent!) young lady who told me to descend to the tennis courts and inquire with a Meeester Davies. I ambled through lush greens down to the courts and found a young man sitting about, obviously waiting for me. He was caucasian, early twenties – a good sign. “Mister Davies?” “Ahh, na, it’s Dievid.” An Australian accent – an even better sign – he’d have game. We mounted the courts, started hitting and, true to his heritage, David’s game was exquisite and powerful. He spent an hour and a half running me ragged -- until my shirt was sopped with sweat. I could not have crafted a better afternoon for myself. It was the perfect antidote to Oriental jetlag, and I was infused again with enough energy to conquer the Kimchee and Soju at dinnertime.

I witnessed a funny thing on the way to the courts earlier that evening. In addition to spying the tennis courts from my twentieth story windows, I saw a large, lovely swimming pool, expertly crafted with ornamental tile.

In it were about thirty middle-aged men, arranged in rows, moving back and forth, amongst and around each other. It was such a strange sight that I did a double-take, fearing that I was seeing things.

I assumed that I was witnessing some strange oriental custom. But to my surprise, when I looked closer again, I found that all of the men were caucasian.

Now, it is simply not possible that a resort water-aerobics class would be so popular as to induce thirty middle aged men (and only men!) to don their trunks and take a whirl in the pool to the upbeat tempo of some Asian Richard Simmons.

So I concluded that it must have been a corporate training event, and the thirty men below were poor victims of some Executive Vice President’s decision to impose a dose of team-building and corporate training exercises. In fact, I could see the enthusiastic corporate training guru at the pool’s side, chirping out instructions as the men frittered about in the pool.

I laughed out loud at the same time as I felt for the men in their ignominy. They’d been thoroughly emasculated by the training guru.

I passed the pool on the way to the tennis courts and found that the men were not, in fact, middle aged, but rather twentysomethings. And they were huge twentysomethings - all about 6’5”, 250. And indeed they were doing water aerobics. The mystery deepened.

I slowed, stopped, and chatted with another onlooker. It turned out that it was the English National Rugby Team, which was staying in the hotel, presumably in town for a match against the Koreans (do the Koreans play Rugby?).

They even had tiny little waterproof rugby balls which they passed back and forth as they charged through the water. Their trainer was at the side of the pool barking out instructions.

The men had careful smiles on their faces, indicating that they, too, found the whole thing a bit ridiculous, but were nevertheless being good sports about it. I figured that it was the team’s means of getting a little exercise when they stayed in a place like the Grand Hyatt with no practice pitch nearby. I laughed again and made my way to the courts.

On a long roadtrip, clothes become important. It’s hard to pack a week’s worth of clothes in a business travel suitcase, so one becomes meticulous about clothes and keeping them looking and smelling good. In general, it’s not a good idea to get blood all over your pants while on a lengthy Asian road trip.

I’d fallen on the tennis court and given myself a good, bleeding strawberry rash just under my knee. The blood didn’t stop after the shower, and so I sat in my room before dinner trying to figure out what to do. I don’t carry band-aids in my Dopp kit. I couldn’t even put on pants to go see if they had band-aids in the gift shop.

So I ended up fashioning a big band-aid out of two Breathe-Rite Nasal Strips and a ball of tissue. It worked like a charm. Unfortunately, I then had to go out and subject myself to Kimchee and Soju.

Thurs. June 4

The Chinese take this H1N1 virus stuff very seriously. I flew from Seoul to Tianjin, China this morning. Upon landing, the plane was momentarily quarantined. A pack of surgical-masked medical professionals descended upon the plane, each holding a kind of electronic pistol in his hand. It was straight out of some Michael Crighton biological disaster thriller.

The medics walked down the aisle, pointing their guns at each person’s forehead and pulling the trigger, presumably taking everyone’s temperature by infrared measurement. If I hadn’t known better, it would have been deeply disturbing.

Five minutes later, all passengers declared fit, they decamped from the plane and we were on our way to immigration.

Heading home tomorrow! (just as I get over my jetlag!)

Fri. June 5

PS: You may have noticed that I posted this after I got home. I drafted most of the blog post on the plane to China, and the remainder in my Tianjin hotel room. But when I went to post it online, I found that I was unable to access anything in blogspot.com. It’s possible that China blocks this site all the time, but I have also heard that since it is the twentieth anniversary of Tiananmen Square, China is blocking all social networking and blogging sites temporarily to curtail any possible troublemaking that might get organized online.

I find it unbelievable that such government actions would be possible in this day and age. For all its economic might, China is still a backwater.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Crossing Guards

It used to be that when a deer crossed a road, it was done at high speed, the deer leaping out of the woods and making a break for it, with nary a look to the side.

But there are now so many deer in Morris County, New Jersey that they've become completely domesticated. They're even starting to act like good, law abiding citizens.

Driving along Mendham road early this morning on my way to work, I saw three deer lined up at the side of the road, looking both ways, patiently waiting for a break in traffic so they could amble across safely.

I just hope they don't hail from UK so that they remember to look left first instead of right. Next thing you know, one of the deer will designate himself a crossing guard.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Korea Travel Update

Traveling in Korea fills me with a certain type of dread. I feel like I am stuck in a scene from a modern-day Brave New World, in which society has been ordered by some fascist eco-planner.

I have been traveling extensively across the countryside, from Seoul in the Northwest to Daegu in the Southeast. One thing which strikes me is that there is nothing which you could describe as a suburb. Korea is all brown scrubby hills leaning over valleys with small agricultural fields and the occasional industrial building. There are no houses.

From time to time, you will come upon a populated area. These all look the same, and consist of a number of apartment building complexes, each containing between two and ten buildings, each of which is between ten and twenty stories. These buildings are made of concrete, with a significant number of small windows, but no balconies. Each of the various complexes has a name painted on the top of each of its buildings (close to Seoul, these will be in English first, then Korean below). In a sad but perhaps telling contrast to the barren look of these apartment building complexes, the names all attempt to convey some sort of magical tranquility: “Peaceful Hills”, or “Scenic Vistage” or “Joyful Shores”.

On each building, underneath the name of the apartment complex, painted in an even larger size, is a number. I’ve seen hundreds of these buildings, and for some bizarre reason, all of these buildings seem to be numbered between 100 and 200.

Anyway, the effect is that any resident of any building in Korea could say something like “I live in High Valley 104”, and everyone who lives within 20 miles would not only know exactly where this person lived, but could probably actually see it from wherever he happened to be standing at the time.

Now, it’s probably very efficient to organize your living in this manner. It certainly lends itself to the use of public transportation, for instance (ironically, though, Koreans seem to shun public transport as much as everyone else in the world – traffic in Korea is horrific and when one looks around, the cars are all filled with a single commuter).

Furthermore, it is perhaps unfair for us Americans to criticize a population with as much density as they have here in Korea. There are about 50 million Koreans living in an area smaller than Pennsylvania.

Nevertheless, the uniformity of the scenery in Korea is just dismal. Outside of the centers of large cities like Seoul or Busan, the countryside seems to lack any variability or dynamism. Every apartment complex looks just like every other one. For hundreds of miles.

I should note that it is not lack of wealth which causes Korea to have organized itself in such a manner: GDP per capita in Korea is over $20,000, putting it firmly in the first world. No, something else has caused Koreans to all want to live in concrete apartment buildings.

I am sure that I am missing something. To be fair, I have not traveled deeply into the countryside, nor have I spent any real time exploring. I am only conveying my initial impressions. But after my third trip to Korea, I can say that these impressions are confirmed upon each return.

This is mainly a gripe about aesthetics – none of this diminishes my profound admiration for the success of the Korean people. Their auto companies regularly eat ours for lunch, and one can hardly buy a quality flat screen television from anyone else. In about thirty years, the Koreans have lifted themselves from something like poverty to a real seat at the global table. They are bright and cosmopolitan

But their architecture stinks.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Groundhog Day in Melbourne

The question on everyone’s lips these days is: how bad is it? Are we still sliding into a deep recession, or have we hit bottom and it’s only up from here? As the Northeast shivers from a deep freeze reminiscent of days gone by, our economy suffers from a similarly debilitating winter. The only question is, when is this particular winter going to be over?

Well, it’s not over yet. We may have quite some time to go.

How do I know this?

Federer lost again.

Once invincible, Federer essentially capitulated to young Raphael Nadal in the fifth set of the Australian Open. His backhand became a shankhand. His serve became a fault. It was depressing to watch, especially since the match had been scintillating until that point.

Once upon a time, our economy, too, was chugging along, seemingly invincible. People were wondering whether we had finally figured out how to simultaneously provide for outsized growth while still controlling inflation. Wealth grew by leaps and bounds. The world marveled at its own good fortune, America leading the way.

But in 2007, there were early signs that things had gone slightly awry. In the beginning of that summer, Nadal, always a contender on clay, pushed Federer to five sets on the grass at Wimbledon. Federer still won, but it was distressingly close. Then, not one month later, credit markets froze up as the mortgage market started experiencing its first real losses in years.

But things were back to normal after RFed won his fifth US Open in September. Banks were busily writing off CMO’s, but it seemed like the worst was behind us. By the time the year-ending Master’s Series came about, Fed was back in fine form and won handily. The Dow hovered just below 14,000.

In the winter of 2008, though, the world got a wake-up call. Things were not well. Novak Djokovic, who wins tennis matches not by doing anything spectacular, but by doing absolutely nothing wrong, thumped the great Federer in three sets at the Australian. Five weeks later, while financial masters of the universe frolicked unaware on the slopes of Aspen and Telluride, the great 80 year old Wall Street wizard Bear Stearns started to crumble under pressure from client withdrawals and short sellers. All the skiers were called back from the slopes, and the firm was essentially liquidated in a fire sale to JP Morgan over the weekend.

While the financial world regrouped, licking its wounds and trying to protect itself from the reverberations of the demise of Bear Stearns, Federer headed into the clay court season, eager to reverse his slide. Alas, it was no use. Nadal was his master at the French once again. Spring was lost.

Summer came again, and the world breathed a sigh of relief. Wimbledon was around the corner, where, of course, Federer would show who’s boss. The Dow had seen some weakness, but still hovered between 12,000 and 13,000. But as fortnight at the All England Club began to unfold, we started to hear news that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were experiencing – could it be? – liquidity problems. By the end of the tournament, their stocks had dropped to the single digits and it was clear that they were in need of rescue. Federer faced Nadal again, and again it went to five sets, complete with rain delays and encroaching darkness. It was a hard-fought match – McEnroe said the best ever. This time, though, Nadal prevailed, even on the grass.

Bad news kept rolling in during the summer of 2008, and RFed kept losing: to Gilles Simon, to Ivo Karlovic, and then to James Blake at the Summer Olympics. We got a reprieve when Federer won his 13th Grand Slam at the US Open, defeating Andy Murray in straight sets. Professionals came back from their Labor Day breaks eager to set off on a new course, eager to prove that the financial turmoil was behind us.

October, 2008 proved that all the financial distress to date was real. Major institutions began to fail left and right. By the end of the month, not a single major investment bank was left, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley having converted themselves into banks in order to have access to the Fed’s (no relation) discount window. By November, the Dow had dipped below 8,000, an unthinkable number not long ago. That month’s year-ending Masters Series saw RFed lose to Simon once again in the round robin and then get manhandled by Andy Murray in the final.

Everyone relaxed for a bit during the 2008/2009 Christmas season, hoping that Obama’s soothing tone and stimulus package might breath some life back into markets. Bookmakers had Andy Murray winning the Australian, but RFed himself and the rest of us knew better. It was either he or Nadal who would hoist the cup at the end of the fortnight.

Federer put up a spirited fight for four sets, but when it mattered, he just couldn’t keep up. I think he needs to go retool his game in order to account for Nadal’s nasty forehand.

So what does that mean for our economy? Well, I think it means that we’ve got some more work to do. The stimulus bill the House put up last week looks a little bit like RFed’s backhand – a weak response to a killer problem.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Excitement at the Finlay Pad

So we got a snowmobile yesterday. I'll post some pictures this weekend.

We're not snowmobilers - in fact, I find it mildly embarassing to own a snowmobile. We got it to pull our three boys (on skis) up the prodigious hill on our property. When we get a proper snowfall (today's was ruined by rain at the end) we'll post some videos of the boys skiing down and getting pulled back up.

But here's the point: regardless of whether we're snowmobilers or not, it's damn fun. Show me a man who does not have a smile on his face while driving a snowmobile, and I'll show you a man who is either dead or not a man.

Update: Here it is, ladies 'n germs:

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Apple's Growing Antipathy for the Consumer

Those of you who know me understand that I am a strong warrior in the fight for open standards, and thus the fight against Apple. I just hate Apple's use of proprietary file formats, hardware, software, etc.

I am usually content to vent my frustrations with Apple verbally when I come upon some unsuspecting Apple-lover like an academic or artist (or, more recently, an iphone devotee).

But now my frustration has bubbled over, and I cannot contain myself on these pages. It seems that Apple has applied for, and the patent office has granted Apple a patent on snappy new ways to navigate touch screens such as flipping and pinching. See here for details.

Well, I've been flipping and pinching things for about 41 years now, so I fail to understand how that technology can be owned by Apple. The audacity of this project is simply stunning. Who do they think we are? I'd like to take Tim Cook and wring his neck. Steve Jobs would qualify for like treatment if he were not so ill.

This will continue to be in the news over the next several years as Apple tries to protect its "IP" through the courts, and thus to guarantee itself billions of dollars of profits (and, conversely, billions in excess cost to the consumer). If people only understood how much actions like this actually cost them, there would be more warriors on my side of this battle, and those ads on TV would not be considered quite so cute.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Laws of Physics - They Still Work!

You’ll all be pleased to know that the Laws of Physics are still in full force and effect. The particular law which I was able to confirm tonight is Newton’s lesser known but still dreadfully important Fourth Law of Motion: “The Bigger They Are, The Harder They Fall.” The venue for the experiment which confirmed the continuing existence of this law was our backyard while sledding with my three boys in a snowstorm.

Christian – only seven but still the daredevil of the group – had been standing on his sled like it was a snowboard. At times, he could stay on the sled all the way to the bottom of the hill. Neither of the other two tried it at all, given the scant snowcover and forbiddingly frozen ground.

Father, though, would not be outdone, especially infused with a dollop of liquid courage from the recent cocktail hour. I stepped on my sled, carefully schussed over the edge, and made my way down the hill.

I found myself going much faster than anticipated and, perhaps not surprisingly, the sled shot out from under me at the bottom. I fell hard on my left side, and my knee dug into the gravel driveway. Pain shot through me, and I shouted and curled up in the fetal position.

From the top of the hill, Walker – oldest and steadiest of the bunch - yelled “I told you, Dad.”

I couldn’t even answer him the pain was so severe. I did manage to stand up and hobble about for a minute, rescuing a small slice of dignity in front of my three kids. I cursed under my breath. I finally danced around for a while and managed to work out the kinks. It allowed me to continue sledding, but I know that I did some damage.

I’m sitting here now in front of the computer, occasionally rubbing my bruised and swollen knee. I’m reminding myself that Newton was a pretty smart guy, and that I should think twice the next time before trying to test another one of his laws.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Book Review: The Black Swan

I just finished reading the Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

The book is about the disproportionate effect on our world of highly improbable events, and the difficulty of predicting those events. The name comes from David Hume's observation that many generations of Britons' only seeing white swans was not proof that there is no such thing as a black swan (which do, in fact, exist).

I found the book very disappointing. It started out with so much promise; I looked forward to reading all sorts of anecdotal stories of these so-called black swans, and about the disproportionate effect on our world.

Instead, what I got was a 300 page diatribe by one statistician against all the others in the world who disagree with him, punctuated by an occasional gratuitous insult of the French.

After enduring several hundred pages of personal stories about the author's quest to make his statistical theories known (which are not quite as controversial as he would make you believe, by the way), finally in Chapter 15 it seems that he will get to the meat of the matter. Unfortunately, even though the next three chapters were laden with graphs and figures, I encountered no such explanations. Or, if there were any, they were muddled at best.

Even the anecdotes were disappointing. I was excited to start reading about a great vindication of his - the collapse of LTCM in 1998 (which was run by several of his statistical nemeses) - expecting to find a wonderful explanation of what went wrong, and all the financial turmoil which resulted. Instead, he simply stated "it went bust." Duh.

I have no idea why this book has been so highly touted. Perhaps it is because it came on the heels of 9/11, and just before the credit turmoil which started in 2007. But it's not worth your time.