The Wonders of the GA

September 26, 2007

Today was the opening day of the GA. While much of the talking time will be spent on either Bush’s speech (a relative snoozer, though it was interesting that he mentioned Burma and explicitly said he supported Japan’s ascension to the SC – which I thought the US had waffled the other way on) or his inability to pronounce anything without assistance (at least his handlers remember that much now, all Mandelas aside), I still find it amazing that world leaders as disparate as Bush and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmedinejad can still sit in the same room while the other is talking, listening in the context of an international forum.

All criticisms of the UN and the demagoguery of some of the world’s leaders aside, it still shows that there are avenues that don’t require boots and planes. And that’s heartening.

On Software and Macs

September 24, 2007

As I thought this evening about purchasing Scrivener, I realized that the mindset I have adopted in the few months as a Mac user is completely different than that I had as a PC user. This may in part be because of the quality of products or the communities surrounding them, but I think a lot has to do with the overall user experience.

Let’s take Scrivener, for example. It’s a full-featured product, for a decent price (about $35). It has some great features (the full screen mode and the corkboard are particularly cool) that I could probably do without in my writing. But, in reality, I’m excited to use them, because they seem like they’d be (and have been) beneficial. Back in PC word, I’d have found a series of freeware tools that did some of that and just hobbled something together (ok, I would have just stuck with MS Word).

The same goes for MarsEdit, which I’m currently trying out as a blog editing tool. I see no reason why I won’t purchase it in a few days. It’s not that much different from the built-in WordPress tool, but it just seems to make sense in a way that other tools have not. And believe me, I tried them on my PC, but I always went back to the web based tool because there was no way I was going to pay for something I was writing in part time.

Maybe I’m just growing up, and recognizing the value of a good tool. But the amount of software I’ve purchased – and the quickness at which my normally tight grip on the credit card loosens – indicates that it’s something more, because I wasn’t doing that at this time last year. No, I think it’s the attention to detail, the beautifying of the environment, and the simple sense that every step is thought out that pull sme in. Maybe it’s because there isn’t the wealth of misguided VB-based tools written by the creatively challenged; maybe it’s that the aesthetics of design have infiltrated every decision.

Either way, I don’t care; I just have to decide between RapidWeaver and Coda.

Status Quo and Prison Religion

September 11, 2007


But prison chaplains, and groups that minister to prisoners, say that an administration that put stock in religion-based approaches to social problems has effectively blocked prisoners’ access to religious and spiritual materials — all in the name of preventing terrorism.

It’s really just an effort to ensure that Qutb, et al. do not show up in prisons. But it seems like a great example of the kind of heavy handed, brute force tactics that government and society tend to make. It’s much easier to just pick out what’s good and ban everything else – or sweep up everyone you see in a sting operation, or a village in Afghanistan, or anywhere else – than to really sit down and analyze the best approach.

Often, this is the necessary approach in the short term, when things need to get pushed out the door. But once the dust is settled, when the historians start to do their work, it’s important to start trying to fix the mess, to ensure the hard bank doesn’t capsize the ship, to make a terrible metaphor. Status quo, though, is a powerful force. So it’s much easier, especially from a bureaucratic perspective, to leave things the way they are. As the status quo calcifies, however, it can’t just be chipped away – at least not easily, or without a broadbased social wave.

So I guess what concerns me, in my meandering writing here, is that the actions of a few in the time of desperation, thinking things will settle once the dust does (or even if they don’t – see: Addington), often make decisions that cannot be reversed without broad social work. And I’m curious if anyone’s studied what kind of issues can be changed by the individual like that, and what it requires. For instance, the religious books, changes to torture laws, wiretapping, and a number of other policies resulted from the political and social waves caused by 9/11, which, even years later, still enabled a small number of influential individuals to have considerably oversize impacts. What does it take for the pendulum to swing back? The same issue arises in other areas as well, like the alternating tides of gentrification and poverty to which some areas are prone.

Anyway, that’s what I’m thinking of this evening.

Race Time

September 10, 2007

I ran the Arlington 9/11 Race this weekend. Not a great showing; my time was 32:01, or just a light bit over 10 minutes a mile. I really need to get back into running. Maybe with the shift in contracts I’ll have time again.

New iPhone

September 10, 2007

So the girlfriend got a new iPhone yesterday (which had a lot to do with my not posting the rest of the weekend). Besides being insanely jealous, I had a few observations:

  • I’m pretty sure AT&T doesn’t give their employees commissions for iPhone purchases. The gf wanted to ask some questions about coverage and figured the people at the Apple store wouldn’t know. At the AT&T/Cingular kiosk (which had both brandings), the guy first lied about the plan offered with the iPhone, claiming that there as no phone included for the $59 (huh?) then claimed it actually didn’t have the data supplement (which he’d actually said 5 seconds earlier was all the plan was). After some wrangling, he whipped out a brick of a phone and tried to sell her that, claiming it was all the iPhone was and more. While the idiot salesman and I got into it (don’t cross an Apple fanboy while making a purchase!) the gf flat out said she hated that phone, and we made our exit. Maybe he’s a hater; maybe he’s just bitter; at least it’s not unheard of.
  • Gmail needs to offer IMAP. Having to download 1500 messages, then go through and mark each as deleted, is not really a credible option. It makes me want to switch to yahoo, of all places, just for their push mail. Of course, I don’t have an iPhone yet, so…
  • That speaker is mighty impressive. Not a whole lot to it, but it’s nice to be able to take it to somewhere relatively quiet and use it as a radio sans headphones.
  • There are a million great things about it – the maps, the keyboard (better than I thought it’d be), the ease at which contacts are added, integrated, everything – it makes my Motorola Q seem even worse than it seemed before. Sprint says my contract expires in December – it’s going to be hard to resist.

Friday observances

September 8, 2007

The work week should start on Monday at noon and end on Friday at noon. That is all.

Metro Gripes, vol. 1

September 7, 2007

I spend far too much of my days on the metro system. 1.5 hours each way, 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year – I started to calculate that in actual days spent waiting or riding (but mostly waiting) but it got too depressing.

There’s much that’s wrong with this system. I’m stuck at a station, waiting for a train, so I might as well list some of them:

  • Signs. It’s really helpful that they display what trains are coming (I’ve sadly been stuck in this swamp long enough that I remember when they didn’t do that) but do we really have to see the elevator outage information? We get it, all the elevators are busted all the time. Now show me when my train is coming. There’s nothing worse than getting to a station, expecting that sign to sweetly inform you how much time you have left – to see that the Greenbelt elevator is out. I don’t even know where Greenbelt is, and I sure don’t care about its elevator. When I then run to the platform, get irritated waiting for tourists, to find I still have 8 minutes left (or my train just left) – I’m not going to be happy.
  • Announcements. I don’t think I’ve ever heard more than a word or two of any given announcement. This is especially great when there’s some major disruption, so the announcement is 75-90 seconds of an indistinguishable drone.
  • AC. How has the AC been out in Crystal City all summer?!
  • escalators. Frequently broken or clogged with tourists or other escalumps.
  • Frequency of rides. I take the Blue line from Crystal City into the city every day. I’ve literally waited 9 minutes for a train during morning rush hour. Why? There’s no reason that any train should run that infrequently during rush hour. Same goes for the afternoon, when they never run more than a single orange line every 10 minutes.
  • Buses. Consistently late, I’ve seen buses switch routes while I was onboard. While I was onboard. Bus drivers rarely seem to be able to observe traffic rules, will have conversations with other drivers instead of stick to their schedule. I’ve also stood at the bus stop for 25 minutes for a bus that’s supposed to come every 15. The last time this happened, two showed up at once.
  • People. Really, there’s no way to fix the problems of people, who are, it seems, inherently stupid. When I’m on the metro, I just want to be left alone, and not be impeded in my commute. I’m pretty well ensconced in my ipod bubble, and I really don’t feel like leaving it, either because I’m just too sleepy (just woke up) or too tired (just finished a long day of work). So not recognizing common etiquette (standing to the right on escalators, not yelling into your cell phone right next to my ear the whole way) really annoys me, especially in the sleep side of my circadian rhythms. But that’s the fault of people, not the system.

Sure, everyone complains, but the really good thing to do is actually offer some prescriptions. I only really have a couple:

  • Elevator outage information should go where people who care are going to see it – in the elevator. Put a notice in there, or even an electronic sign. Not too hard, and it will really help in the information game. That lets you take the elevator information off the train arrival signs. Come on people – single use UIs are best!
  • Fix simple things like air conditioners and escalators. And really, just replace all the elevators. I imagine it would be simpler than trying to fix each one every week.
  • I don’t know how to fix the announcements – I think that’s mostly the result of the acoustics.
  • And my big one: give us access to train information. I have a smartphone (though not a JesusPhone) – let me see where my train or bus is. Mash it up with google maps, or just open up the api for someone else to use. When I’m getting off a bus, it would be nice to know that a train is 2 stops away, or that it’s half a stop away, and the same with the bus as I’m leaving work.

Oh, and don’t even think about cutting hours. Come on, how stupid of an idea is that?