Tuesday, December 03, 2002

Curious Signs

Some signs just strike me as odd. Long ago I saw a sign on a restaurant that read


Gee...if I were to take a short woman out on a date, would I go there? I think not!

More recently, signs on rest rooms are showing up that say


"Dear, we always wanted a girl...let's take little Bobby to the baby changing station!" (What's even worse is that the picture on one of the signs shows a baby elephant in diapers. You'd think Jeremy Rifkin would be protesting...)

Sunday, December 01, 2002

So, is conclusion-jumping aerobic?

Some years back--back when the intercom in the complex worked--I called out for a pizza, and then went back to reading or whatever I was doing at the time.

About a half hour later, the heart-stopping shriek of the intercom made me jump. I followed the posted protocol: I hit the "talk" button and said "Hello?" No reply, save for the shriek of the intercom signal. I hit the "talk" button again and said "Hello?" No reply...and then another insanely loud beep.

I thought some joker was trying to be funny. I hit the "talk" button and said "Look, whoever you are; this isn't funny. Hit that button again and I'm calling the police." A few seconds and sure enough, it BEEEPed again.

Enraged, indignant, and not bothering to think that anyone who would harass someone might not draw the line there, and could be waiting for me with utensils of destruction, I stomped up the stairs and opened the door...to find a young man standing there with my pizza. After a few seconds of silence, I realized that he was deaf.

I paid for the pizza, inferred that the sign he made was "thank you" and repeated it to him, and headed down the stairs--thinking that the pizza place should perhaps have let me know and established some beep pattern to indicate that it was him upstairs, but mostly abashed at having leapt to a conclusion without sufficient data. I saw him a few more times when I ordered pizzas, and I wonder from time to time what happened to him.

Since then, initially largely because my now-wife was wanting to take the lessons but was hesitant to, and now because the subject is interesting and to prove to myself that I can still learn something, I've been taking ASL lessons. It's frustrating in parts. Spoken/written languages provide one with an enormous corpus of grammatical utterances of native speakers available at any time, but we have yet to find anything at all like that for ASL. The lessons have settled into a routine of the instructor signing us sentences that we parrot back, left to our own devices to figure out what was said. The sentences themselves are written by a person who, while skilled in ASL, is a hearing person--so that ASL is his second language and we're never sure whether we're getting what native ASL speakers would say is grammatical. (Indeed, our instructor, who is deaf, has looked at some of the sentences and looked less than pleased with them.)

So...frustrating as hell...but still worth it. At then end of our second ten-lesson session, the classes had a pot-luck dinner. I'd looked stuff up, and at what seemed like the appropriate time, at the table, with two instructors seated there as well, I looked to one of them and signed "I MUST ASK B-I-L-L-I-E IMPORTANT QUESTION. PLEASE CHECK MY SIGN." She nodded, and I looked at my now-wife and signed "YOU WANT MARRY ME?" About the time I got to MARRY people were looking and saying "He didn't sign what I think he signed, did he?" The opening of the case with the ring confirmed their suspicions, and the other instructor was in tears.

I was sufficiently nervous that I didn't even see Billie sign YES in reply, even though she'd been in on the ring design--after all, she was the one who'd be wearing it--and hence there was minimal surprise involved. She turned the brightest red I'd ever seen her turn. I'm very glad I asked then and in that way.

Wednesday, November 27, 2002

What Was It Like?

Remember the Great Folk Music Scare back in the 60s? That [stuff] almost caught on. --Martin Mull

I was five or six back then; the scare faded out in the early 60s in the face of early rock and surf music, and the British Invasion killed it stone dead, partly, ironically enough, with British groups feeding us back our own folk songs electrified.

I do still remember the stray Kingston Trio, Burl Ives, and New Christy Minstrels song, and Glenn Yarbrough singing "Baby, The Rain Must Fall" through my parents' Pepto-Bismol pink AC-DC tube radio, from back when even Top 40 radio had a vastly more eclectic mix than the focus group and demographics-driven sewer of today's commercial radio. I wasn't old enough to notice the irony of clean-cut college types raking in the dough via faux solidarity with migrant farm workers and coal miners. I just enjoyed it as music, and was blissfully ignorant of any message or emotion therein in my five or six year old way.

Fast forward about forty years...

A slightly stooped but quietly dignified man with a neatly trimmed beard walks into the coffee shop, carrying two guitar cases. (I haven't checked whether one has scorch marks on it from the last night at the coffee shop's old location--but that's another story.) He walks to the stage, acknowledging the greetings of the people who've come to hear the music, checks volume and reverb levels and tuning, and heads out for one last cigarette.

A few minutes later, in walks another man, as if the archetypal grandfather had decided to take a break from Plato's heaven-- though one doesn't think of the perfect grandfather as packing an electric bass and amp. He does the analogous greeting and setup, and then goes to the counter after a beverage.

The gentlemen in question are, respectively, Bob Cook and Gary Audsley. Their audience is reminiscent of a goldfish, growing to fit its container. At the old coffee house site, a proverbial hole in the wall in a suburban strip mall, if you wanted a choice of seat, you had to arrive at least an hour early. (I never got around to asking whether we'd be packed in oil or tomato sauce.) At the new site, there's a lot more room, and you don't have to arrive too early, but it's still pretty well full when the lights go down.

Once they take their respective stools and start playing, you forget about the stoop and Plato's grandfather, and get lost in the music and the images of sailors and hardscrabble farmers, railway men and highwaymen, gamblers and horse thieves. I figure that this what it must've been like during the scare.

It's over too soon--the one concession to time is that they stop at 11:30 rather than midnight. But you'll be back next time, the first and third Saturdays of each month (and fifth when it happens), at Starry Night--The Coffee Connection, now in Ankeny, Iowa.

P.S. Say, "Plato's Grandfather" would be a good name for a band...

lettinme be mice elf agin...

OK, I'll bite. What the bleep do I have to be thankful for? It's now over a year since I was laid off, and I'm now living off savings that were intended for my retirement while the places I apply for work either ignore me or send me little "thank you for playing" postcards.

Well...there are a few things. I'm not hospitalized with cellulitis the way I was last year, nor am I wearing a humongous leg wrap or on a continuous antibiotic IV drip. I still have a place to live... for now, anyway... and now I'm married to a wonderful, talented woman who loves me. (It's still a little hard to believe, even after a month an a half.) Could be worse. Enjoy your turkey, or tofu if you're vegetarian.

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Didja Ever Notice How Irritating Andy Rooney Is?

As the holiday season approaches, so does one of my pet peeves. Not the "Let's start prodding people to Christmas shop on Labor Day" routine, though goodness knows I'm sick of that. No, this is one that comes up most fiercely around Easter, because there isn't quite as much shameless marketing as for Christmas, but I saw an ad yesterday that set me off.

The pet peeve is this: it's not "spiral sliced ham," dagnabit, it's HELICALLY sliced ham! If it were spiral sliced, it would unroll like a carpet. I know it's a hopeless cause...people still say "spiral staircase" after all these years...but I'll continue to fight the good fight.

Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Cable of Tomorrow...Like Yesterday's, but More Obnoxious

Digital cable sucks, for various reasons:
  • It's yet another box requiring yet another outlet and another piece of coax and remote.

  • It gives you all the joys of lossily compressed MPEG video.

  • It returns you to the thrilling days before "cable ready" TVs and VCRs, and all the inconvenience of not being able to watch one show and tape another. You say you bought yourself a spiffy picture-in-picture TV? Too bad; it's worthless with digital cable.

  • It's yet another thing you get billed for.

Saturday, September 07, 2002

When I Was Your Age, Sonny, I Wound the Film Myself...

We're a little out of sequence here; apologies.

I was at the Iowa State Fair doing volunteer work-- photography for VSA Iowa. VSA Arts (a name created by the Dept. of Redundancy Dept., I guess, as VSA stands for "Very Special Arts") is an organization that promotes artists with disabilities. My fiancée (well, for the next month-- nervous? me?) schleps and rides VSA performers around the hilly and crowded terrain of the fairgrounds on a golf cart each year. They needed a photographer, and I was interested and [insert deity of choice] knows I have the time... sigh.

The photography was fun and educational; I was lent a camera and lens for the job-- actually the lens first, and the camera when it turned out not to work with my SLR. The educational part? The camera was a very non-automatic Pentax, with me lazy and used to my very automatic Minolta Maxxum 450si. I reviewed the definition of f-stop, and discussions of depth of field, and the operation of the camera... and it only took me one wasted roll to get into it. (Sigh of relief.)

It worked out very well, everyone was happy (though I'd have been happier if I'd been paid, and happier still if I could get a Minolta AF zoom lens like the one on the Pentax...), but that's not what I'm really wanting to write about.

One can find quite a few "oldies" groups at the Iowa State Fair; indeed, one of the regular events is the "Rock and Roll Reunion" at which a number of groups from the early sixties perform. It turns out that on the very last day of the Iowa State Fair this year, there would be two performances by... The Association.

I've not followed The Association over the years since their heyday, but I nevertheless love their music. They were masters of harmony and weren't afraid to take chances with tracks like "Pandora's Golden Heebie-Jeebies" and "Requiem for the Masses." They could rock-- "Six-Man Band" took the genre seriously, unlike, say, Peter, Paul & Mary's tongue-in-cheek "I Dig Rock and Roll Music" or any hit of the Fifth Dimension. ("Let the Sunshine In" is more gospel-influenced than rock.)

So...VSA Iowa didn't have anything going on that last afternoon, but it was around 5:15 p.m., most of the way through The Association's first performance of the day, before we made it to the stage they were on. As we approached, I was shocked to hear them doing covers of 60s R&B songs. WHAT?! They have a large and wonderful oeuvre; what the heck do they need to cover those songs for? I thought to myself. As the performance ended and people started on their way out, we noticed a couple of friends. "Did they do 'Pandora's Golden Heebie-Jeebies' or 'Requiem for the Masses'?" I asked. "No," came the reply.

After the first performance, the group (all clad in white suits) came out to greet people and sign things. No CDs or things for sale... I got in line, and when I made it up to the table I said I didn't have anything needing signing, but just wanted to thank them for lots of fine music. One of the group said thanks. I asked if there were any chance I'd hear... well, you know which two songs by now... and he said not tonight, but perhaps in a future performance. I thanked him again and went back to where my fiancee was. (I noticed that two of them were signing items with "aloha" and "mahalo"-- the latter means "thank you" and the former means, well, a lot of things-- and inferred that they were from Hawai`i.)

We had plenty of time to wait between sets, and plenty of spaces available to sit in, so we found a good spot, right in front of the sound guy, and waited.

Maybe half to two-thirds as many were there for the last show. They did the hits you'd expect, and some less well known ones ("Everything That Touches You" and a Dylan cover that was on their first album). The fellow who did much of the talking then said they'd like to do some of the songs that they sang backstage between shows, and they went into a string of R&B covers again. I certainly couldn't complain about how well they sang them, but it was nonetheless a disappointment. They returned to a hit for the close.

My fiancee wandered away to see about getting the sign insert for the stage sign that read "THE ASSOCIATION"-- after all, it was the last show and they would probably just be chucking it. She got there just in time and sweet-talked the maintenance people who had retrieved it into letting her have it.

After the last show, we walked back in hopes of getting the sign signed, but it didn't look like they were going to come out after this show. They probably had to be on their way ("...we just got the time to say hello and then a fast goodbye..."). Were it just me there, I'd have trundled silently away--but my fiancee is much better at these things than I am, and I think she tallked to the soundman and to one or two of the group... and eventually they all came out and signed. We responded with "mahalo nui" (thank you very much) to the two who signed with Hawai`ian, and got smiles as a result. I certainly appreciate their all taking the time.

Since that night, I've read some biographical information on the web. There have been personnel changes over time-- one of the members of the group we saw is a son of one of the original group members-- and one page refers to the name "The Assocation" being rented out to people to perform under. Goodness knows that one rather vehement fan site probably thinks ill of me for here referring to the group we saw as "The Association," but I can only say that this is as close as I expect ever to get to the live experience of The Association; the group members are all very good at what they do, and unfailingly courteous-- they certainly didn't have to take the time that they probably needed to be preparing to get back on the road to sign a lone fan's object saved from the dumpster. They have my appreciation and respect and thanks... but I wish they'd done more Association songs.

"After all the time we spent together/Just doesn't seem fair, no fair at all..."

P.S. It's interesting how quickly allusions and references become dated. In "Six Man Band," the "seventeen jewels that dictate the rules" and thus enslave the band to the clock and schedule are the jewels of an analog watch movement. How many people have analog watches any more, much less know their construction well enough to get the reference?

Tuesday, August 27, 2002

No, That's Not Where They Keep Ted Williams's Head...

Had the fun of introducing someone to Nitro Ice Cream yesterday...These folks started out at Iowa State University with the realization that if they froze ice cream very quickly (using liquid nitrogen) they could make a maximally smooth product, avoiding ice crystals and such. For a few years they've been at the Iowa State Fair selling their product (vanilla only there) to fairgoers, but now they've set up shop in Ankeny, Iowa under the name "Blue Sky Creamery." There they have multiple flavors (yesterday there was vanilla, chocolate, cherry, and green apple), and just as at the fair, the ice cream is made while you watch, with the shiny aluminum device emitting clouds as it sits there.

Should you ever be in central Iowa, by all means go there. I've tried the chocolate, but still think the vanilla is best. (For a chocoholic to prefer the vanilla says something...) Check out their web site and nudge somebody nearby to start a shop. (No, they don't give me any money.)

Sunday, August 25, 2002

Sic Transit...

It's a day after the second Gnomedex, and I'm of a couple of minds about it. Part of it's personal--somewhere around eighteen years ago, I was at the very same location, in a group of at least the same size and enthusiasm, all excited about and working on OS-9, the operating system that I managed to devote over a third of my life to until I was laid off last November. The excitement has gone elsewhere; I will but say here that I think it could have been otherwise.

OTOH, the speakers were excellent, especially Doc and Steve and Leo (that's last names falling out of short-term memory rather than faux familiarity and name dropping), and if the enthusiasm has to be elsewhere, I'm glad it's with Linux and blogging and fighting the media conglomerates.

Thursday, January 17, 2002

What Better Reason to Do Something?


You and I have Justin Raimondo to thank, or blame, for this blog. I've heard of weblogs, but didn't know about blogger.com until I saw a rant of his about bloggers who have the temerity to disagree with him about the "war on terrorism." In passing, he also manages to put down bloggers in general as people who think their "meandering expostulations, mini-essays, and Internet links" are "infinitely fascinating"--like essayists such as Raimondo himself, I suppose.

We'll see how this works out. blogger.com is wise to make blogs easy to edit and extend, but even with that I can't help thinking that the attrition rate is significant.

A flashback and analogy

You've probably heard about how the notion of sum types (e.g. Algol 68 union s, Rust enum s, Haskell type s) and product types (e.g. tup...