Monthly Archives: November 2004

where’s my monster snorkel?

one of my favorite gary larson cartoons depicts a small, rotund boy hiding under the blankets in his bed. the room is full of monsters, but jimmy has got a monster snorkel that lets him breathe while safely under cover, and the monsters are none the wiser.

larson’s genius was in exposing the concept of the monster snorkel (or the equivalent): something simple to protect us from the bad things in the world. sadly, the world can be a scary place, and there aren’t any monster snorkels. about all we’ve got is our reptilian brain.
my trip to the garage the other night reminded me that the reptile inside is alive and well…

trash pickup occurs on tuesday mornings (early), which means trash usually goes out monday night. our three color–coded trash bins live in the garage, so last monday, following the routine, i took the trash down clad in my usual evening attire (flannel PJs, slippers, fleece pullover). it was dark, but the light above the garage stairway bleeds into the garage enough to support the business of garbage dumping, tool–rummaging, or whatever other urgent midnight task needs to be performed down there. it does not, however, cast light into all those nooks and crannies that are life–support systems for fear.

i discovered this fact while at the turning point of my journey. i was in the corner, the spot farthest from the stairwell, my back to the vast expanse that is our garage, and i was dropping bags into bins. you might say this is the most vulnerable position possible in my seemingly safe abode (dark, spooky garage, back turned, hands occupied, guard down, wearing PJs and slippers). if i were a monster, that’s when i’d attack me, my slavering fangs bared to rip through that flannel.

at least, i think that’s what my reptilian brain was thinking. at that moment, it hijacked higher cortical function and took over the show.

the hair on my neck stood up and it suddenly seemed like the most important thing in the world was to get up that stairwell into the warm, cozy, monster–free house. i squelched the urge to run like a little girl, clear evidence that the higher brain counts for something (i.e., saving face with your girlfriend by not running from boojums hiding in the shadows of our garage).

so that’s what i did. i calmly walked up the stairs (no! run run run!), clicked off the light, closed the door, and locked it. phew — disaster narrowly averted (note to self: take down the trash during the day).

the whole incident reminded me of when i was a kid, and of the deep–seated fear that would occasionally strike, the kind of fear that couldn’t be assuaged by any amount of parental cooing or logical analysis. after all, we’re talking about monsters here, people…

the thing that got my reptilian fires burning more than any other was, oddly enough, taking down the trash. we used to live in an apartment building on the top floor, and the dumpster was outside, three floors down, in the alley behind the building. there were two ways to get there: (1) walk down the stairs, out to the front of the building, up another flight of stairs, then across the carport, OR (2) walk down the back stairs to a small passage that emptied right in front of the dumpster. needless to say, route 1 was much longer and well–lit, whereas route 2 had a directness only matched by its potential to spawn blood–curdling terror in a 9–year old.

for some reason, i would always wait until it was dark to take out the trash. there were too many other things to be done during the day, after all. once the chore couldn’t be avoided any more, i’d pick up the bag, walk down the hall to the fork in the hall, and stand there. garbage bag clutched tightly, i’d try to decide whether i was gonna be a man and take the fast (dark! scary!) way, or act like a coward and take the long, slow way.

despite my general cowardice, i actually chose the dark, quick route more often than not. by going that way, i could simultaneously be done with taking out the trash quicker, and also prove (to myself, if no one else) that i wasn’t fazed by the gauntlet of terror (even though i clearly was). in the end, i survived, and am here to write of my trash–dumping adventures.

after 37 years, i still haven’t seen any real–life monsters (other than people). every once in awhile, though, the reptile inside takes over to remind me that just because i haven’t seen them doesn’t mean they’re not hiding in my garage. it may not be a monster snorkel, but it’s all i’ve got.

3D map of election results

check out the following map showing the election results by county, with population density represented in the third dimension. the blue spikes are the most striking feature, but not that suprising. more interesting are the subtler features (like Austin, that blue bump in the middle of Texas). this is the last map i will post — i promise:
(thanks alder!)

Brooks and the values-vote myth

david brooks has written a very provocative article on the relationship between moral values and the election results. he has some valid criticisms of recent behavior from those on the left side of the aisle. for the full article:

New York Times op-ed: the values-vote myth

there are a number of points with which one could take exception, but i’ll leave that dissection process to the interested reader.

actually, we’re purple

here’s another set of maps (thanks elaine!) that illustrate ideas similar to those from the previous red v. blue entry:

   Princeton map of county-by-count election results

instead of clear red v. blue differentiation, this map seems to indicate that the US is, more or less, purple. there are some blue splotches and some red splotches, but i see a whole lotta purple…

look around on the web. there seems to be an obsession with maps at the moment, showing once again how good information design can convey huge amounts of data with one image. here are a few more (some pulled from boing boing):

red v. blue

no, i’m not talking about the TV show related to Halo. i’m talking about the election results…of course.

my friend pascal has taken the time and applied his skills at information design to create an elegant representation of the election results. his illustration shows two things:

  1. the US is divided ideologically, not geographically
  2. certain states wield political influence (and reflect popular opinion) to a much greater degree than their geographical area would indicate

in my opinion, these diagrams also illustrate the lack of a clear mandate. if the President really had a clear mandate, wouldn’t it be self-evident? would he even need to plant this idea in the minds of the masses? just because he says it doesn’t make it so. make your own judgments. if john kerry had won with the same margin and had said, "it’s clear that i have a mandate to reverse course in this country," i would have groaned just the same…


i got to thinking about my soon-to-be-dead email address in more depth when i decided to unsubscribe from an old mailing list this morning.
it was a list devoted to a community of people with whom i used to work (the company is now defunct). someone set up this list as a way to keep in touch and to talk about (ostensibly professional) issues in which the membership would be interested.

a few years back, someone posted something on the list of a political nature. while i’m not normally one to suppress the exchange of ideas, i took exception in this one case, since i felt what was being said was (a) not appropriate for the list, (b) completely silly with minimal basis in fact, and (c) horribly inflammatory, bordering on hate-mongering. i went back and forth in my brain about whether or not to respond, and how i should respond. i ultimately decided to just say i thought the list wasn’t really meant for that sort of stuff. for that, i got flamed. so, i stopped posting to the list, although i never unsubscribed (because people did decide to leave politics aside…).

in the past week, activity on the list was high, and most of it was political (and left-leaning). yesterday, it degenerated into an all-out, profanity-ridden flame war, filled with some pretty hateful garbage. it was amazing to watch a group of supposedly intelligent, conscientious individuals sink to the basest levels. the most sickening moment was when one of the members of the list posted a private email in which she had been flamed with the torch set on nuclear. she held up this email as proof of the author’s vileness as a human being, then proceeded to do the same, in open forum. nice.


while i would not have defended this other person’s private vilification (because it was pretty raw), it seemed to me that the public exposure of it, followed by taunts in kind, was no better. it seemed worse, in fact, because it took whatever shreds of decorum were left on the list and threw them out the window. i felt like i was watching two five-year-olds fight, and it make me sad and sick. what made me even sadder was that no one said anything negative about the public exposure, while some in fact kept flogging the person whose private email had been exposed. like bloodlust, only within the context of a flamewar, people eventually just wound up emailing obscenities.

is that what we’ve come to? or is that, in fact, what we’ve always been and will continue to be? maybe i just witnessed a few bad apples screaming in a crowd of otherwise good, silent eggs.

i’ll probably never know, but based on that kind of behavior, it’s pretty easy to see why human beings seem to like killing each other so much.

digital dead letters

one of my email addresses is about to pass into the digital afterlife. it’s been a dutiful message repository for almost five years, and for that, i salute its service. it has also sadly become clogged with spam; there’s not enough Dran-O in the world to get rid of it all. so, without additional delay, here is my tribute: is dead! long live!

once it slips off its non-mortal coil, i wonder, how many digital dead letters will be left to wander the Internet? how many important communications will i miss? how much spam will bounce back to non-existent senders? what ripple will its passing leave in the digital pond?

the digital age, it seems to me, must be rife with this sort of detritus, garbage spawned by evolution and growth and change, not to mention forgetfulness. i couldn’t possibly remember all of the places i’ve used that email address:

  • purchases from stores (mostly digital) whom i’ll probably never visit again
  • mailing lists i don’t really read, but from which i’m too lazy to unsubscribe
  • sites that asked for my personal information, whom i was trying to send to a relative email dead-end
  • stuff from a long time ago, when i didn’t have any other email address
  • basically anything involving people or entities i don’t know, or don’t interact with often enough to care if they get in touch with me

it lived as an identifier in a few important places, but i knew where those were and changed them (i hope). other than that, my spam email address, as i called it, had been relegated to being a third-stringer in the email world. i hope it doesn’t hold that against me when it visits the SMTP pearly gates…

the day after

i woke up this morning and decided that, after some thought, i’d write some of my feelings about the election. i’ve changed my mind. sort of.

anything i could say about politics or foreign policy or religion is pretty much irrelevant (though that hasn’t stopped me before). the process of democracy has brought us our next president, and as americans, we are bound to respect the choice of the electorate, independent of whether it’s our choice or not. that’s part of the deal.

fortunately, this year we were (mostly) spared post-election cries of dimpled chads and fraud and dirty tricks. from where i sit, it seemed like the engine of democracy worked (even if it clunked a bit here and there).

respect for other people’s belief systems stops me from saying anything more. each of us can’t really know what other people are feeling today (jubilation, wariness, weariness, sadness, nothing) unless they tell us explicitly. occasionally, people (yours truly included) will project their belief systems onto others, and assume, for example, that because they are happy about the outcome of the election, then their close friend John or Jane will be, too.

as it turns out, none of us really knows for sure what our friends John or Jane think, and by spewing more rhetoric or venting more spleen after the election, we run the risk of dividing friends and neighbors and family even more than they already might be. in my opinion, the divisiveness of this campaign shows we are already at risk of losing whatever collective identity we have as americans, and it’s time to stop, take a step back, and really think about what we’re doing and saying.

we need to find a way as a country to expose common ground where there seems to be none. john kerry, in his concession phone call to the President this morning, reportedly said it’s time to unify the country. this blog entry, which is hopefully lacking in personal attacks or partisan sniping, is brought to you in my effort to contribute to that process, however small in scope or effect that effort may be.

the pain of cleaning computer slates

my new-ish computer (dual processor 1GhZ Mac G4, 1.2Gb RAM, two internal HDs, external HD, peripherals out the kazoo, yadda yadda yadda) started getting wobbly a few months after i brought it home. after an agonizing search for obvious hardware or software boojums, i finally concluded i had reached the point of last resort: complete system reinstall.

these words are enough to strike terror into most people who rely on magical boxes for their livelihood. i procrastinated for days, often sucking my thumb in the corner, rocking gently back and forth, before i summoned the courage to do it.

here, i recount the process of what was actually involved, if anything so that i can remember everything i did if i ever have to do it again <shiver>.

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