Sunday, February 27, 2011

Plural of prius, by popular demand, is...

So Toyota had a promotion to decide the plural of Prius, the hybrid car model, and the winner is (are?) Prii.

While I initially had a rant in mind about setting language by vote, I've thought about it, and I figure this is just a more explicit way of doing what we actually do anyway. While pedants rave (and I can be as pedantic as the next guy... no, I can be way more pedantic than the next guy), it's a fact that usage ultimately determines grammar, spelling, word order, and other features of our language. And, ultimately, usage is a vote.

So we are a family with two Prii.

(I wish that didn't sound so contrived.)

charlie brooker on qaddafi

On the British Channel 4 show, 10 O'Clock Live, Charlie Brooker takes on Qaddafi.

Check it out (opens in new tab).

Since the so-called real news media are such wimps, I'm thinking we should just get all our news from Brooker, Jon Stewart, and Steve Colbert.

Friday, February 25, 2011

inherently unequal, constitutional constructionism, and political leaning from personal history

I heard the Fresh Air podcast of Lawrence Goldstone on his book, Inherently Unequal (on the Supreme Court's inaction on implementing the 14th & 15th amendments guaranteeing equal rights after the Civil War.

He makes two points: first, that several of the justices of that court were social Darwinists, and that that was an idea that was in the air (several of the robber barons of the time were social Darwinists as well). These people thought that survival was of the fittest (never a phrase used by Darwin himself, the johnny-come-lately social Darwinists came up with this one), and socially, if you were thriving, then you were fittest, and the other folks ought to be made to get out of the way for the good of the race (and that's not how natural selection works, either).

If you're brought up with those beliefs, though, it's a short hop to writing and interpreting laws that support them. As I was listening to this podcast, I was thinking that my leaning-left-ness is in not small part due to the bullying I endured throughout my schooling. I think that our political beliefs must arise from our histories. Conservatism must rise either from successes to which the person believes he or she is entitled, or from a belief in an earlier golden era to which we must return. I don't have either of those: I'd never want to go back to my childhood, and I don't think there was ever a golden era. Every grand house points to the slaves, serfs, indentured servants, and other poor folks who had to support it somehow. And if you have to build your house on the backs of poorer people, then you don't deserve your house.

The other issue that came up is that all of these decisions that, essentially, voided these amendments were based on what we now call constitutional constructivism, the view that the constitution should always be interpreted closely, on the intent of the founders. The past history of constitutional constructivism is that it led to law that eliminated rights and that most Americans now hate.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

parental advisory

I stole it from somebody who probably stole it from somebody:

... and I wish I didn't like it as much as I do.

bike's in the shop

The Anchor House Ride requires riders to turn in a form signed by a shop mechanic that we've had the bike inspected (thoroughly!). Except for the wheels, it's stuff I would normally do myself... but I'm not about to:
  1. sign the form myself, and risk being barred from the ride, or
  2. forge someone else's signature.

So I brought the bike to Kim's, my shop of choice, for the workup, that will cost $150. I figure I'll cut down my donation to Anchor House by that amount, presuming I have enough other donations to make the minimum (I was planning to donate $500).

On thinking about it, this may be a tie-in for Knapp's Cyclery in Lawrenceville (near Trenton) (you'll see their logo on the form, if you download it). They provide a mechanic for the week of the ride, and it may sweeten the pot for them if a large number of folks are going to bring bikes to their shop for inspections and tune-ups (at only a bit less than what I'm paying; see "wrench it"... and new cables are recommended, so there's probably at least some additional work, with appurtenant charges, on many of those bikes). While I'm grateful for the access to the mechanic, I'm not willing to enrich Knapp's, who also get human-interest cred for providing the mechanic. (I don't want to run down Knapp's, either: folks who use that shop - and their names are legion, in the Freewheelers - have only good things to say about 'em.)

So I brought my bike to Kim's on Monday; they said it would be ready today, and it's not; it won't be ready until tomorrow. They're only open until 5:00 pm, so it'll be a little close getting to the shop in time (I work until 4:15 tomorrow,at the other end of the county). But I'm cranky not having the bike here; I couldn't train on it today while I was off from work, for example. So I want it back, already.

In other news, though, I needed a new tire on the car, and, with that, I have enough money to pay for the tire and the bike tune up, before I get paid this weekend. And my bills for this paycheck are already paid, before I even receive the check. My problems could be worse.

ADDENDUM: Y'know, as I think about it, it's probably not in the spirit of the thing to get the inspection done now, before the season has started and almost six months before the ride. But tough. Now's when I have time to do it, the shop isn't busy (or not as busy as it will be when the weather warms), I don't want to give up the bike for a week during training season... and why should I let the mechanic have the fun of doing the maintenance that I want to do myself?

Monday, February 21, 2011

i can't say i understand it...

I'm reading Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe, a book on string theory for interested non-physicists. And I can't really say I understand either quantum theory or string theory*... but the book is helpful in describing how both string theory and quantum theory work. The book makes a distinction between a deep understanding and an "owner's manual", that gives you enough knowledge to get something to work, or to make predictions about how it will act. (Frankly, this distinction reminds me of one of my complaints about the classroom scenes in the Harry Potter movies: there's all this rote memorization of spells, but no theory - no grammar, if you will - of why magic works).

*Richard Feynman wrote in The Character of Physical Law:
There was a time when the newspapers said that only twelve men understood the theory of relativity. I do not believe there ever was such a time. There might have been a time when only one man did, because he was the only guy who caught on, before he wrote his paper. But after people read the paper a lot of people understood the theory of relativity in some way or other, certainly more than twelve. On the other hand, I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.

Anyway, The Elegant Universe is a cool book, and I got a version for my Nook on sale!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

darusha's Act of Will

Darusha Wehm, author of two of my favorite books on .mp3, Beautiful Red and Self Made, has a new one coming out in RSS as .pdf and .mp3: Act of Will. I like to read books faster than one chapter a week, which is the usual speed of serialized books, and Darusha is feeding my desire there: five posts (and fifteen chapters) in less than a week!

Her character, Andersson "Dex" Dexter, works a dead-end job by day, and moonlights as a freelance cop (in a world bereft of useful government for citizens, security is provided only by big businesses, and then only for those situations that the businesses choose to investigate and pursue, so private matters of employees, and all matters for self- or un-employed people, have to be handled outside the standard channels). I'm a sucker for the corporate-dystopia genre (especially since I think there's a real possibility that it will be instituted by a week from Tuesday: I've always felt we are more likely to be screwed by business than we are by government), so the atmosphere in these novels is right up my alley. (The first one is not a "Dex" novel, but it's set in the same world.)

I've just read the first three chapters of Act of Will, and it starts right off with a scary-but-spiffy murder and a stalking of the next victim, along with the obligatory backstory and setup for new readers. I'm liking it (although I've given up on listening to the books on .mp3 - I find I miss too much, and it's too hard to go back and re-read something to catch what I missed the first time. Maybe it's my age - I'm pushin' 60 - but sometimes the older technology is better).

Act of Will is available as both .mp3 and .pdf podcast.

first ride of the year

In a fluke of meteorology, personal scheduling, and dumb luck, temps were in the low 70's yesterday on a day when I got out of work by 2:30. After a quick side trip to get a taillight bulb for my wife's 2005 Prius, I hopped on the bike yesterday and cranked out a quick 10 miles, a treat for a mid-winter day.

Well, of course, after over two months of not having the bike on the road, it wasn't very quick: I averaged under 17.5 mph, and that was before the cool-down lap - way slow for a ten-mile loop; in the fall, I was doing far better than that over twice that distance. I've got some work to do before I get back into the shape I was in November, when I was leadin' the pack and crankin' up the hills.

10 miles wasn't near enough, of course, but with a bit of residual snow and ice on the ground (although not much; there's been serious melting goin' on), and gettin' close to rush hour on a Friday, I didn't want to be on the roads too long - there's only so much tempting of fate I want to do!

In other news, I was disappointed with the sprintech bar-end mirror. By the time the image appears, the car is fairly close (the mirror is curved, so there's some image distortion). It's better than nothing, and something to have on the bike when I don't have my full kit on, but the eyeglass-frame-clip mirror is much better. (You can say what you want about helmets, and most of the bike clubs and events require 'em, but the helmet is a resource of last resort, and I've never yet needed it -- but the mirror has saved my life at least twice. If it were up to me, the mirror would be the standard & required piece of safety equipment, not the helmet.)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

c'mon, spring!

Temps were in the mid-40's yesterday when I got home from work, so I took the road bike out of the trainer and did a quick mile around the condo complex. Sheesh, I miss riding the bike. And I forgot how easily it goes! I keep the resistance on the trainer pretty high, so when I'm in the garage, it's a bit like I'm always climbing a long, slow hill.

Snow melt on the ground splashed up on the bike; I'll need to clean it up (although I'm not worryin' about rust on the Ti frame!).

Temps supposed to be back down for the weekend (drat!). Spring can't come soon enough!

Friday, February 11, 2011

thoughts on a coworker's retirement

I don't write about work much... because I don't know who sees this (not many people other than me, if the site statistics are to be believed).

Still, a coworker retired yesterday, and last night a few of the folks in my department and two from a supplier went out to dinner for her. She spoke about what she planned to do, and most her plans were about what she was not going to do - she was not going to be awakened by an alarm, she was not going to get out of her bathrobe, she was not going to put shoes on, and so on. She is planning a long road trip with a family member, but beyond that, her plans didn't seem focused or firm.

I don't get it. It doesn't seem to me that the alternative to working should be doing nothing. Instead, the alternative to working should be doing what I want to do, but actively, rather than just not going to work.

It strikes me that it's similar to my feelings about the go-to-the-beach, sit-in-a-lounge-chair-and-do-nothing-all-day vacations. They don't appeal to me at all; I'd much rather have a vacation where I get to do cool stuff (even if there's some early-rising and following-of-timetables involved). My aversion to the lack of plans may stem from a personality difference from the retiree in question: I'm a complete failure at filling unstructured time. When I was single, free weekends were ordeals to be endured, and I was actually relieved most Mondays when I could go back to work and have something to do. Most of my retirement thoughts are about,"What will I do with all that time?", rather than, "Won't I enjoy the idleness?".

In other news, we went to a Hibachi restaurant, and, while it was fun, the emphasis seems to be on the performance rather than the food. I'm glad I went, but I'm not going to be a regular there. (In other other news, I'm glad I went because I got to hang out with several people from my unit whom I don't get to chat with much - another effort in my long-term plan to try to maintain relationships.)

Sunday, February 6, 2011

krulwichians and abumradians, and atheist's prayer

As I said in a previous post, I'm an atheist, and, as I said in the same post, I've gone back to Quaker Meeting. As I sat in Meeting today, my thoughts turned to the two hosts of WNYC's Radiolab.

Bear with me here.

The hosts are Robert Krulwich and Jad Abumrad. Regular listeners will know that Krulwich wants to believe that, where human's find meaning, it's because there's an intelligence behind it all, an "author of meaning", if you will. For Abumrad, it appears that the idea of the "author of meaning" demeans meaning; it's more... uh... meaningful to him if we're the ones making our own meaning.

I think the world divides into Krulwichians and Abumradians, and I find myself in the Abumradian camp (I think that's why I so like Terry Pratchett's thoughts on humans not being fallen angels, but risen apes).

Now, just because I'm an atheist doesn't mean I'm a-spiritual. In the earlier post referenced above, I pointed out experiences (rare, but there nonetheless) that are, I think, spiritual. Because of this, I think that prayer might be useful - not to connect us with god, but to keep us in right relation to the universe, and to put in order experiences which we have, and which we might not otherwise be able to live with.

Back when I was a Catholic, we learned that there were four types of prayer:
  • Adoration and Wonder,

  • Thanksgiving,

  • Forgiveness, and

  • Petition

It's clear to me that the last is useless. I see no experience anywhere that praying for something has gotten anything that could not be otherwise better explained.

Forgiveness, however, makes sense to me. Just as we can injure other people (or animals), I think there are some actions which actually injure humanity itself - and they are not simply the grand actions of world figures. I think there are some crimes so heinous that they actually affect the criminal's relationship with meaning and with humanity. I think that some things might make a kind of person who is then less able to be human with other people, and this affects a person's ability to be in the world. I think a kind of "prayer of forgiveness" is then in order, although I'll admit that "actions of forgiveness" will almost certainly have to accompany it.

Thanksgiving. This one came to me today in Meeting. Thanksgiving, if there is no god, is an experience of Wonder; it becomes subsumed into the category of Wonder (I am not going to call it Adoration because I think there is nothing to adore, but "wonder" makes sense: when mathematicians talk about "beautiful mathematics", I'm sure they are having experiences of awe and wonder).

So for this atheist, anyway, there are two kinds of "prayer", or ways of ordering spiritual experiences, that make sense: wonder and forgiveness. There may be others, but for now, this is where I will stop.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

I miss riding

Even after a rainy, above-freezing day here in Central NJ, the snow piles around my apartment are taller than I, and the roads are in no condition for a bike ride even if the temperature were warm enough for me to go. I've been on the trainer in the garage, but it's not the same as a ride: first of all, I haven't really got a good idea how much resistance to put on the wheel (although as I warm up, I find myself upshifting), and second,
it's. immensely. boring.
(even while listening to RadioLab or the Car Guys - and what would I do without podcasts?).

When I went to the new-rider info session for the Anchor House Ride that I might do this summer, they gave us copies of a DVD they made from the previous year's ride. It's remarkably well done, with original and semi-original (pastiche) music, chats with riders and staff, and yonks of pictures and video of riders, riding, and sights along the ride. When not being able to ride the bike gets too bad, I've been watching the video. It's not as good as being in the saddle with my Lycra on, but it's better than just counting the days until spring.

In other news, I've bought another chain and handlebar tape, getting ready for an overhaul this spring. I still need a set of cables, and my seatpost is slipping again (I put in the Velo Orange aluminum one, when I put on a new stem - it was all about the bling; I like the silver look with the titanium frame better than the standard black), so there may be a Surly Constrictor in my future (although I wish it came in silver).

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

on supporting public radio

It's probably not a surprise that we support public radio (even though most of what I listen to is through podcast rather than over the air). Our local station is in the midst of the seasonal beg-a-thon, and a discussion arose today about the dwindling of government financing from the three states in their broadcast area. I think I remember that it's completely stopped in two of the states, and may be eliminated in the third.

It can't come soon enough, as far as I'm concerned. If government funding for public radio stops, then public radio can start telling the truth about government. If there had been no government funding in the first years of this century, public broadcasters might have been able to tell the truth about torture, for example, or have been able to tell a story about one party without some misguided attempt at fairness dragging in the other.

Our household contribution to public radio will double the day I hear that all government funding has either stopped... or, even better, been refused, by public broadcasters.