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First Misunderestimations

January 15, 2009

The odd but interesting @zolora was bored, and her brain cast out three seemingly random questions. I so enjoyed the recent #7things meme (tell us seven things about you that we don’t already know) that I agreed to answer these questions, too. This is one of three:

When has your first impression of someone been most inaccurate?

Like the Z-girl I’m not a big believer in “best,” “most,” or “favorite.” It’s hard to choose the “most,” and I often don’t see the point. But there is a recent misunderestimation that stands out clearly in my mind: @empirebetty, who I know IRL, via Twitter.

I don’t know first who followed whom. We were both looking for other local folks on Twitter, and we followed each other at about the same time. My first impression was massively inaccurate. I thought she was much, much older than she is–both physically and emotionally. As in “I was off by 30 years.” Or so.

I thought she was kind of a fogey, to tell the truth. I pictured her, on the basis of a her updates and a brief glimpse in her avatar, as in late middle age. I pictured someone not terribly happy or outgoing. Now I generally like older women, but I wasn’t terribly keen on the cross-following. I thought she might at some point chide me for not being a good enough Christian, or something like that, and I was more than ready to un-follow her at the first whiff of trouble. Just as a point of reference, my impression was that she was (at least emotionally) even older than my wife, who is 65. (Sorry, EB!)

I started to down-shift my age assumptions as I started interacting with her more directly. She started to seem more social. By the time we planned our first dinner together (EB loves to dine alfresco, so do we), I realized she probably wasn’t too far out of her 40s. Maybe mid-40s. When she arrived, I had an “oops!” moment, realizing she was probably in her 30s. Turns out, her early 30s. So that put my initial impression off by a factor of 2. My read of her emotional age was at least as far off as my physical age guess.

In my defense, I will say that EB used to be vastly more guarded and circumspect. Her “adorably obnoxious” tagline wasn’t yet so fully manifested, her nightlife and romances were not yet eagerly chronicled, and few photographs were to be seen. Her avatar and photos did not convey youth! and pizzazz! to me. Even today, she favors photos like this one from New Year’s Eve that, in my opinion, make her look much older, and from a bygone year besides. That’s OK; they make her smile. But the EB I know is more like this: vibrant, fun-loving, and more than a little devilish.

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Grillmaster, Grill It! Grill It Fancy-like!

January 15, 2009

The odd but interesting @zolora was bored, and her brain cast out three seemingly random questions. I so enjoyed the recent #7things meme (tell us seven things about you that we don’t already know) that I agreed to answer these questions, too. This is two of three:

You have to make a 3 course dinner for 50 very important people. What do you make?

Something on a grill. The something isn’t as important as the grill. 50 VIPs? You want something they’ll remember. They’ve probably all had the fancy meals. Gotta give them something different, something memorable–and something that will reliably work. Go for the grill.

The most interesting meal I’ve had of this sort was made by Steven Raichlen. A multi-course meal for 100 or so guests, all grilled. Including dessert. All paired with wine. Not beer, no. Wine–the good stuff. Maybe it’s just breaking traditional expectations, but the grill really works as an upscale cooking device.

As for foodstuff, you can go simple. To start, maybe an asparagus and something appetizer. For the main course, just whatever: steak, pork, lamb, chicken, shrimp, scallops, salmon/swordfish/tuna–it’s all excellent. Match that with some grilled veggies: corn on the cob does really nicely, and roasted peppers are to die for. For desert, grilled pound cake, maybe with a dab of fruit sauce or caramel. (Bonus hint: Toasted pound cake is always divine.)

Been there, done that: This is a meal they’re not likely to have had before, and that they will be reminiscing and talking about for years to come.

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What If?

January 15, 2009

The odd but interesting @zolora was bored, and her brain cast out three seemingly random questions. I so enjoyed the recent #7things meme (tell us seven things about you that we don’t already know) that I agreed to answer these questions, too. This is three of three:

If you led a double life, what would your secret other life be like?

If?

Oh, right, this is a hypothetical. Let me answer it that way: All the stock answers–secret agent a la Danger Man (RIP Patrick McGoohan; your John Drake was simply the best secret agent ever), hitman, serial killer, thief, Simon Templar/The Saint–they all seem like good, fun choices.

Yes, I said I’d like being a serial killer. What?! The stalking, the torturing, the power-play, the free expression of bloody violence: You can’t look honestly at the human race and the things we do and tell me that’s not inherently, at some level, inside and fun to us all.

Wait. I’m sorry. You probably weren’t looking for that much brutal honesty here. It’s a fun hypothetical. I’m not supposed to think fondly of Tarantino villains or their vengeful forebears. Not supposed to have an Ed Gein moment! No, siree! Back on track now! Orgetfay Iway everway entionedmay erialsay illerkay.

All the choices seem interesting, but if I were really going to lead a double life, I think I’d have to “work blue.” I’d be a stunt man in porn films. There is such a thing, right? I’m sure there must be. That’s what I’d do. If.

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7 Things

January 7, 2009

I was tagged by @empirebetty to reveal “7 things you don’t know about me,” then tag 7 more folks. Here goes:

  1. I’m a sucker for the glossy sound of New Wave and synthpop. Sure I like high-brow music, such as Bach and Beethoven on the classical side, or Coltrane, Jonah Jones, and Béla Fleck in jazz. But I’m sadly smitten by “the music of my youth”: Blondie, The Cars, Talking Heads, Eurythmics, Devo, Adam Ant (and before that, Adam and the Ants), Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, The Human League, Kraftwerk and a whole bunch of other lower-brow sounds. I don’t have the musical ear or vocabulary to precisely understand or express what it is about this music, but it’s like Cheetos. I just want to eat the whole bag. And then, maybe a second one. I hear the same slick sounds carried over in more recent bands, be it U2, INXS, or Oasis, and I like them for the same reason(s). And if this weren’t a sufficiently embarrassing admission, I’m equally a sucker for surf rock. Here’s a Pandora.com station that combines these influences.
  2. I like “older women.” This won’t completely surprise those who’ve met my wife. While quite young for her age, you’d have to be pretty unobservant to not notice that she’s a few years my senior. 22 years, in fact. I think it traces back to the fact that, as a child, I spent a lot of time with much older women: my 70- to 90-something aunts, grandmothers, and great-grandmother. I related to them as “other people” rather than “old people,” which made me much more accepting of women of any age when I became interested in the opposite sex. I certainly admire the bodies, the energy, and the enthusiasm of younger women, but let’s be practical. On any kind of ongoing basis, you can have sex, what? Maybe two or three times a day? At the most, on good days. That leaves a lot of hours in which you have to interact in other ways. And so your companions / mates had better be able to make decent conversation, remain interesting, be cooperative and kind, and generally be the sort of person that you want to do things with and be with. Human beings don’t seem to be “fully baked” until about 25 years old. Until then, there’s a lot of, like, you know, immaturity. Ohmigod! There is. And, like, not enough, like, substance. You know? And so 25-on-up is the appropriate age range, with 30-something or 40-somethings seeming like “young women.” That’s enough, at least, to impart some experience, and to get over unrealistic party-always or fairy-tale thinking. Side note: When I was young, it felt like I had the whole MILF category to myself, but these days it seems a lot more men have caught on to the virtues of sadder-but-wiser girls.
  3. I never wanted children. Ever. I knew, from an early age (by 10 certainly, maybe younger) that I never wanted to have children. At the time, most adults I discussed this with tried to convince me that I was Wrong, and that my opinion would change as I grew older. I knew the opposite. They were wrong at the time, and I’m doubly certain of it now. My parents were divorced, and maybe this played into my thinking, but not in any clear or direct way. Don’t get me wrong. I do like kids. They’re so cute and adorable. When they belong to other people.
  4. I’m bad at math. I suck at basic arithmetic; it’s amazing when I can add and subtract numbers correctly, much less multiply or divide them. Yes, I have a B.A. in mathematics, and could easily have gone on. Yes, I took 5 years of calculus, up through the Complex Numbers. (Ulch!) Yes, I did graph theory, combinatorics, and abstract algebra at a graduate level. Yes, I score near the top on tests. Yes, I earned my way into a national competition on the strength of a mathematical insight. But trust me, I’m bad at math. Or put another way, I was good in the same way that many high-school or college athletes are good at their sports: Good or very good compared to the completely untalented general population—but pitted against a real professional or someone with genuine talent, you quickly realize just how pathetic they still are. I studied with a world-class mathematician, and I was just good enough to maybe polish his shoes.
  5. My internal thermostat runs at least 10 or 15 degrees hotter than most peoples’. I’m quite comfortable in 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit. I wait until it gets down to 40- or 30-something to use a light coat, and don’t get serious about warmth layers until it’s freezing or below. Most indoor environments are kept much warmer, especially in the winter. That’s not particularly comfortable for me. I start to get hot in the low 70 degrees Fahrenheit, about the same temperature most people think is just starting to be cozy, and I start to sweat about 3 degrees higher. A room that’s 78 or 82 degrees is like an oven to me. I’m forever opening the windows, rolling up my sleeves, or mopping my brow. My desk always has a small fan, and it’s usually on, even in the winter. This leads to no end of social discomfort, especially since many things I love—moving around, engaging in energetic discussion, or consuming anything alcoholic or caffeinated, for example—turn the furnace up even higher. Mommie, why is that man sweating buckets? Because he’s what the Chinese would consider the very embodiment of the Fire element, that’s why.
  6. I have interesting ancestors by the boatload. My forebears include some of the first Jews in America (Portuguese Sheppardic Jews fleeing the Inquisition in 1733), a Cherokee lass separated from the Eastern Band and brought up Baptist in the late 1800s, and a whole bunch of hard-working, Western-pioneering farmer folk from the United Kingdom, especially Scotland. Some of my cousins, descendants of those hardy Scots, their great-great-grandparents having homesteaded Oklahoma and then moved even further West, are still out there farming the edge of the Arkansas River in Colorado. Then there’s the one-legged Confederate sergeant, the exquisitely corrupt government contractor, the druggies, alcoholics, and violent rage-o-haulics, and the insane. One great-grandmother spent a goodly amount of time “at Milledgeville”—a facility started as the “Georgia Lunatic Asylum” (a.k.a. the “State Asylum for the Insane”), but that was watered down over several iterations down to the colorless “Central State Hospital” (still “Georgia’s largest facility for persons with mental illness”). Oh, did I mention the swamp-billies living on the edge of the Everglades, complete with swamp buggy in the front yard? Say what you like, but I come from interesting people.
  7. I’m hopelessly in love with any food featuring an elastic texture. Marshmallows are the paradigm example. I’ll eat marshmallows toasted, or right out of the bag, or Fluff out of the jar. I’ll eat basically anything with marshmallows on or in them. Fluffernutters are great sandwiches,[1] and Lucky Charms really are magically delicious. I even like marshmallowy things if they are objectively disgusting, such as the grotesquely orange pseudo-marshmallows called Circus Peanuts. I’m also fond of Jello—especially if it’s stiffer and springier than usual. That it’s made from the scrapings of animal carcasses? Doesn’t faze me a bit. Speaking of meat byproducts, meats often have part of the skin, ligaments, or gristle that’s quite elastic. Love it! There are also elastic noodles, such as in Pad Thai. Or spongy, elastic breads, such as Mandarin buns. Also mmmmm! Truly, anything with an elastic texture is worth a try.

I tag the following tweeps to similarly reveal 7 things we don’t yet know:

  1. @fistsoffolly DONE! Read here.
  2. @Jessabelle207 DONE! Read here.
  3. @zolora DONE! Read here
  4. @mayjah DONE! Read here
  5. @davislove DONE! Read here
  6. @viciousbleu
  7. @EntropyAS DONE! Read here

[1] Bonus info: Apparently, Fluffernutters.com is also a company that arranges hedonist/swinger vacations. No affiliation with the sandwiches. Once again, Thank you, Google!

UPDATE: TBMimsTheThird provides a nice listing of various folks’ #7things posts.
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ERA Not Enacted? No Biggie, Considering

December 2, 2008

@twitterknitter asks: “Anybody else pissed that the Equal Rights Amendment isn’t really an amendment yet, and may never be?”

Wow…the ERA. Hadn’t thought about it in a good long while. Thinking about it now, I realize the answer is: No. I’m not really concerned. I used to think it important, but I’m not really all that unhappy that it hasn’t passed.

It’s not that I don’t agree with its basic premise: that equality of rights should not vary by sex. I’m fully on-board with that. While most young women these days do not call themselves feminists, nor associate with the cause, I would call myself a feminist. That’s not to say that I buy into the “sex = rape” polemics of Andrea Dworkin or the Gyn/Ecology theology of Mary Daly. I don’t. Maybe it’s just me being a man and all, but I don’t buy into the “men are evil scumbag overlords of the patriarchy established just to keep the nobility that is womanhood down.” Nor will I be using we’re-on-a-mission neologisms like “womyn” any time soon.

So my Feminist 1.0 friends–well, acquaintances, really; I’m pretty sure all my friends upgraded to at least version 1.5–might not recognize me as a True Supporter of the Sistern. But I’m a good deal more concerned about feminism than many women I know or meet, and much better read on the feminist canon to boot.

My position is very simple: I like women, and would like to see them get a fair deal. Whatever laws, practices, folkways, biases, expectations, or what-have-you that don’t treat women fairly are inherently Wrong, in the same way that racism is.

I’d be perfectly happy if the ERA were enacted. But if it’s not, that won’t bother me overmuch either. The ERA was an important fight for women’s rights and stature. But I’m not convinced it is now. The fight–and the issues and consciousness it raised–seems much more important than the fairly narrow legal protection embodied the ERA itself. Just as with racism in the last half-century, forcing people to confront, consider, and defend their practices, beliefs, and laws is the real change agent.

There’s no question that law is an important lever. The Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas decision and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, for example, were instrumental in the fight against racism. But changing hearts and minds is the real deal when it comes to systematic change. When hearts and minds are changed, practices, laws, beliefs, folkways, and all else change as a consequence. It’s slow, taking years, but it’s inexorable and broad.

While gender equality remains a work in progress, I see many positive signs of just such systematic changes. Just a few:

  • Strong, independent, outspoken women everywhere
  • Success for women no longer exclusively tied to marriage and child-rearing
  • Many women in high places – national presidents and prime ministers, governors and mayors, legislators, judges, military offers, corporate presidents and vice presidents, business owners
  • Many women in low places – It’s no longer surprising to see female police officers, soldiers, pilots, construction workers, dock workers, postal workers, CPAs, university professors, doctors, and all manner of other professions in which women were scarce to non-existent thirty or forty years ago
  • Many women in technology, the world’s growth industry: as engineers, geeks, CTOs, analysts, executives, and entrepreneurs
  • Many women in a broad range of sports and leisure-time activities, including those once dominated by men
  • Many women comfortable with, and self-directing, their own sexuality
  • Young women growing up with an expectation that they can accomplish pretty much anything they’d like, at least as much as boys can
  • Many men reporting to female superiors, and working with female-coworkers
  • Many men accepting formerly female-exclusive or female-dominated roles: cooking, parenting, nursing, teaching, nurturing
  • A massive reduction in gender-defined attire (e.g. women in pants, men wearing makup), behavior, and social expectations

The list grows long, so I’ll stop there. But the length makes a point: Since Feminism came on the scene in the Sixties and Seventies, we’ve seen a large-scale change in social attitudes and approaches. My doctor, my company president, my friends, my U.S. Senator, my peers, my clients–I find women doing well in all parts of my life. While further formal structures such as the ERA supporting gender equality are nice, the broad-based changes occurring even in the absence of the ERA are so much more important, so much further-reaching. They are the march toward equality in action, and what I really care about.

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E.T., Don’t Call Home

October 31, 2008

We haven’t had a television in our home for over twenty years. Now we can feel even more like edgy hipsters, as we no longer have a home telephone either. A few weeks ago, we canceled it.

It’s not like there aren’t a lot of ways to communicate with us. We have personal mobile phones, which are with us almost always. Then there’s the Internet, with email, IM, and Twitter. If you’re Old School, send us postal mail, make smoke signals, or just shout loudly.

Nor was it like we were getting any real value from having a home phone. We were on the National Do Not Call Registry, so most of our calls were from those exempted: political organizations, charities, or telephone surveyors. After the fourteenth call asking if plan to vote for Obama–and if not, can we be talked into it–it gets a bit old. Ditto for the endless political surveys to which New Hampshire residents are subject, and the endless cries of “PLS HALP!” of charities.

Oh, occasionally we’d get a call from a doctor’s office reminding us of some upcoming appointment, or just a chat from someone else who could just as easily dial us directly. We directed the few who had our home number–or at least those that we might actually want or need to hear from–to call our mobile numbers. To Hell with the rest! We didn’t usually want to talk with them anyway.

Beyond the annoyance factor, a recent review of our phone bills showed we were paying outrageous monthly fees for a bevy of services like caller ID and you-can’t-call-us-unless-you-have-caller-ID that are primarily designed to keep us from being bothered. Nickel-and-dime charges, we don’t need you either!

Some folks have pointed out that not having a home phone wouldn’t suit everyone. With a busy household, for example, you might actually want to be able to call and have whoever’s closest pick up. Or, with kids in the house, you might want an easy, guaranteed way to call 911. If you have broadband Internet, services like Vonage can give you telephone-over-IP on the cheap. Fair enough. But we don’t seem to need anything else, and so far not having a home number is working just fine.

So buh-bye, Verizon landline! Thanks for the memories. Don’t let the door spank you on the way out.

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Fail Whale for the Favrd

October 22, 2008

Many Twitter users are perfectly happy sharing tweets along the lines of “I am at Crispy Joe’s having a double tall extra milk frappachino with two cherries. Man! Do I ever love me some girly coffee!” or “Going to gym. Good abs day. Tomorrow: Pecs.” Good for them!

But some folks aspire to more. More than answering just “hey, whatcha doin?” they want to amuse, inspire, and entertain. They their very own place in the firmament of the Twitterverse: Favrd.

Unbeknownst to many users, Twitter lets one click a little blank star next to each tweet to “favorite this update.” (Twitter clients may use something different. The popular Twhirl for instance uses a star for something different, and uses a heart icon for favoriting.) Favrd is a service that turns those favorites into an ongoing, crowd-ranked distillation of what is most funny and favored across the Twitter land.

A program at Favrd’s world headquarters uses the Twitter API to look at the favorites of a subset of Twitter users (you can nominate yourself into this group, if you like). These favorites are seen as votes. If tweets get enough votes (currently 3), they are “favrd” and appear on The Leaderboard. Day by day, the best and the brightest are voted up, the votes tallied, and the winners proclaimed.

But the voting process is now broken. Twitter has stopped reliably recording favorites. Twitter has never been known for rock-solid quality of service. Quite the opposite, in fact. Sometimes the whole service has been down, sometimes just a feature like search or keyword tracking. After a particularly shaky Summer, service levels have been generally good and improving. For at least a week however, favorites have not, at least in part, worked. Some tweets can be marked as favorites by some users–but not by other users. Sometimes favorites look like they worked, but are not permanently recorded by Twitter. In other words, the failures are intermittent, and some are of the silent-but-deadly variety. The problem also seems time-dependent. Some unfavorable tweets suddenly become favorable, a day or so later. Unfortunately, most users will have long since moved on.

Many Twitter problems and status updates are reported on status.twitter.com, but the systemic failure of favorites doesn’t appear there. I’ve started a discussion in Twitter’s Developer Talk area, and Twitter developers such as Alex Payne (@ax3l) are aware of it.

I know I’m risking a A Twitter feature is broken!! A Twitter feature is broken!! How ever will I live?! frenzy reminiscent of @Lisa_Nova‘s excellent Twitter Whore video. (And yes, I did tweet my moment of tizzy. You know I did!) But having major Twitter features not work is important. It’s important to users, and it’s important to Twitter as a platform provider. It’s especially important to the Favrd crowd. If favorites don’t work reliably, Favrd might as well be using Diebold voting machines. Favrd Nation, the Fail Whale is upon you.