Viewing all blog posts (Page 8 of 11)
Three months in Los Angeles without a car
It can be done.
Today I got my car back after two months in the shop after a month sitting in my garage unused (when I was too busy to attend to it). 
But I want to make it clear that good public transit was a big part of my decision where to move to where I live now (Santa Monica), and that my job is fortuitously right across from a bus terminal on the other end of the line.  In fact, I had been taking the bus to work for about a month before my car's transmission started to go. Around the same time I had a big project at work that was nearing a deadline, and so I never got around to taking the car in for service till a month later.
So for that month and the next two, I took buses (and, in a couple cases, a train) everywhere. Granted, I don't exactly have a vibrant social life, and I have a lot of the stores I need within a few blocks of my apartment. Also, I found that at no point did I have a need to hit anything like a Target , which would have been a pain. But the bus was able to get me where I needed to go: doctor's appointments, destinations here and there, and downtown L.A.
So, the next time someone tells you it's impossible to live in L.A. without a car, I am proof that it's definitely possible.
Still, I'm really happy to finally have the car back. In fact, I was so happy I went to the supermarket and filled up a whole cart.
Nickling and Diming
One of the main complaints consumers have is about companies who "nickle and dime" them all the time, meaning that they charge small fees for a bunch of things that aren't part of the up-front, advertised cost. Airlines charge fees for baggage, food, and earphones that aren't part of the ticket prices. Banks and credit cards charge all sorts of financing and usage feeds. Hotels charge for extra blankets. And so on.
Personally, I say bring it on.
First of all, we have to address a common myth. People think that companies resort to nickling and diming in order to squeeze out every little bit of profit they can, no matter how petty. Although it's true that the goal of nickling and diming is to increase profits, the idea isn't to profit directly off of petty things.
The fact is, these companies already know how much money to charge so as to maximize their profit margin (or, for airlines, to minimize their losses). Nickling and diming customers will acutally reduce their margins, unless the price increase is offset by a lower base price. And that is exactly what the real purpose of nickling and diming is: to allow those companies to charge less money for their basic service while maintaining their margins.
"But isn't that false marketing?" you ask.
Well, yes, sometimes it is, when the fee is unavoidable. But here's the thing: most nickle and dime fees aren't unavoidable. They're mostly for add-ons: optional amenities on top of the basic service.
Personally, I hardly ever use these optional amenities, and I'm rather happy to know I'm not subsidizing other customers' usage. In fact, I sometime rue how many amenities the basic service includes, thinking how many dollars I could have saved if I didn't have to subsidize those amenities for other customers (especially in hotels). And, when I do use optional services, I'm happy to pay for my own consumption, rather than burden other customers with it. The sword cuts both ways for me.
I don't deny that the actual economics is more complicated than I've presented here, nor that there are many shady uses for the "hidden fee". But the bottom line is, most of the time, nickling and diming customers reduces my price. So I say, more nickling and diming.
Nonfiction Book Title Rules
Nonfiction is one of the most popular genres of books sold today. It's also the genre with the absolute least amount of imagination when it comes to book titles. In fact, all nonfiction titles follow five basic rules.
Rule 1: All nonfiction books must have both a title and subtitle.
There are no exceptions to this rule. All nonfiction, every single book ever published, adheres to this rule.
Rule 2: The title will be in one of these three forms:
Rule 3: The subtitle will be in one of these five forms:
Rule 4: Only the subtitle is allowed to identify the book's contents.
The title alone should never, ever be sufficient to allow someone to guess what the book is about. Preferrably, the title shouldn't have anything to do with the contents except in the most abstract, metaphorical sense.
Rule 5: The word "secret" may appear anywhere in the title or subtitle even if it violates Rules 2 and 3.
That's it: these five rules are sufficient to cover the title of all nonfiction books ever published. Let's take a look at some examples of valid titles.
Photographs of Me
I've had a web presence since 1995.
In those 15 years, many things about the World Wide Web have changed tremendously, but one thing has remained the same: my web pages have been almost entirely static. Except for a few minor cgi-bin applications (including the Oracle of Notre Dame in a previous form), all my web content was edited on my desktop, uploaded, and served as-is.
Well, I've finally jumped on the dynamic content bandwagon. Welcome to my new blog. Like any respectable web app, it stores content in a database and retrieves it upon request.
So what pushed me over? Well, it's mostly a matter of the right technologies coming together and getting support from inexpensive web hosts. Until recently (last few years), most inexpensive web hosts only supported dynamic content with PHP (which I will never touch) and cgi-bin scripts. CGI is terrible for anything more than trivial apps. But lately web hosts are supporting a wider variety of web frameworks (largely due to the success of Ruby on Rails, I think).
With that development I began considering to implement my own dynamic content in Python. There are now tons of libraries one can leverage to take care of the gory details (and that's all I wanted—which is why I didn't go with a framework like Django). I found CherryPy to be especially helpful to take care of all the HTTP aspects, while not being overly formulaic to use. The major libraries that came together for my blog are:
I threw together a couple small apps with CherryPy and SQLAlchemy, and then decided I was ready to try for a blog, and here it is.
List of Facebook Apps I've blocked
August 6, 2010
Facebook added an application kill switch, which I invoked, so now all applications are blocked. Yay.
Here is a list of Facebook apps I've blocked. With one minor exception, my policy is not to allow any third-party Facebook apps.
Even though I use Facebook sparingly (it's mostly there just in case people want to find me), I find Facebook apps irritating enough to stomp out and brag about it. Besides being annoying information vomit, they are often also security risks (they can phish information from your Facebook profile if you allow them).
The first 20 or so apps on this list I blocked before even having used them; when I first signed up I browsed through the most popular apps and blocked them all. I take great pride in having blocked SuperPoke without ever having been SuperPoked.
Here's the list:
An Open Letter to all Job Recruiters
Dear the five or so job recruiters per day who try to contact me:
First of all, I would like to thank you for your interest. It is comforting to know that I always have options. However, several aspects of you methodology have been a source of irritation to me, so I thought I'd write this letter to make you aware of this.
I think you for reading this, and I would encourage you to pass this on to any of your friends to that all may be enlightened.
The Apostrophe Rule
The Apostrophe Rule is a rule I made up while advising someone on an Internet forum what to do about his wife who would always talk his ear off. I've been told many times how clever the rule is, so I thought I'd share it with the whole world.
The husband in question here didn't want to shut his wife down completely, I guess because he thought gossiping was the highlight of her day, or something. Anyway I gave him this rule which is designed merely to set boundaries about who she can talk about, and it's pretty clever. Here is the rule as the husband would dictate it to his wife:
You may not gossip about anyone you need an apostrophe to name.
If you think about it for a moment, it's clear how and why it works, but I'll give some examples anyway. First of all, people who are on first name basis with both spouses are acceptable, since they can be named with their actual name, no apostrophe needed. Any relative or friend of the wife would be acceptable; she could name them as "my sister", "my mom", "my best friend", "my coworker", "my dentist", etc. However, the rule kicks in once she starts getting to "my sister's friend", "my coworker's niece", "my mom's psychiatrist", "Dawn's hairdresser", etc. Those people need apostrophes to be named, so she is not allowed to talk about them.
This rule has two benefits. It limits the number of people available for the wife to gossip about, ostensibly reducing the overall time she'll be able to spend gossiping. Also it helps limit the gossip to be about people that the husband is less uninterested in.
As far as I know, I am the first person to come up with this rule. I've had a lot of people follow-up with praise for this rule whenever I post it. They will write, "Wow, that's a really good rule." I've even had women say they would respect men who instituted it. It seems that a lot of people like rule.
The Apostrophe Rule is slightly related to an observation I made about urban legends, which I'll call the Apostrophe Theorem even though it isn't a theorem and isn't even always true, for that matter. It's just cool to call things theorems. It goes like this:
Whenever someone claims a dubious, urban-legend type story really happened to someone they need an apostrophe to name, it isn't true.
Point is, stuff you hear from the grapevine, even short grapevines, isn't trustworthy, which is why gossip about your father's brother's nephew's cousin's former roommate is so inane. What's the point of listening to all that when it's probably not even true? Some people have an instinctual filter to that causes untrustworthy information to bore us; others don't. That's why we need the Apostrophe Rule.
Why did the movie The Matrix suck so bad?
I just got done watching a very good, highly entertaining movie, V for Vendetta, on FX. It was created by the Wachowski brothers, who made another movie I thought was excellent, Bound, but are most well-known for the Matrix Trilogy.
V for Vendetta and Bound were such good movies, it makes me wonder, why did The Matrix suck so bad?
I know exactly why I didn't like The Matrix; I just wonder why the Wachowski brothers did it. In V for Vendetta they took existing idea—totalitarianism, vigilanteism, revolution, and vengeance—and made a movie about them, but without the pretension of being the first ones to ever present those ideas. It's not as if no one has ever sat down and thought about whether vigilanteism is ever justified, and the movie didn't make itself out to be the first to ever ponder these ideas.
The Matrix, however, did. The Wachowski brothers presented this idea that the world we live in is just an illusion, as if they were the first people to ever ponder that idea. Well, no they weren't: the Greek philosopher Plato wrote about this idea only around 2500 years ago in his Allegory of the Cave. And, to make matters worse, the movie fails miserably to convince me that the world could be an illusion. I'm apparently expected to believe that if you get shot in the Matrix, your body will be riddled with bullet wounds in the real world, and nonsense like that. The movie tries to be like, "This could really happen," but the silly inconsistencies, stupid plot devices, and bad thermodynamics destroy that. It tries to be plausible, but it just isn't.
Cinematographically it's not even close to being as well done as V for Vendetta or Bound. All it really has going for it is special effects (which are not as technologically advanced as they appear) and little in-jokes (oooh Neo is an anagram of One, that is so cool).
In short, it sucked.
I just wonder how the Wachowski brothers did so poorly with it, when they did so well on other movies.
MRI of my Brain
Yes, this image is really an MRI scan of my brain.
The story behind this image begins in 2005, when I began to experience minor but irritating dizzy spells. After some otolaryngologists were unable to diagnose the problem (I had no hearing loss so it didn't appear to be Ménière's Disease), I was recommended to a neural specialist who ran an MRI on me as a precautionary measure. They were looking for multiple sclerosis. Fortunately my brain scan was normal, and as a side effect I got this cool image that shows my brain in all its glory.
By the way, I still don't know what caused my dizzy spells, but after I went through some physical therapy the spells became much less severe and frequent but I still get them once in awhile. I think it's safest for me to assume I have a minor case of Ménière's Disease so I try to avoid getting water in my ears.
Viewing all blog posts (Page 8 of 11)