a new economic indicator

I’ve been thinking lately that I’ve hit upon a new urban economic indicator: diversity of state license plates on the local highways and byways. Looking back over the last few years, I can recall the crowded highways of the late 1990’s and remember seeing license plates from just about everywhere. Between the post Internet bubble-recession and the post-9/11 travel scare, license plate diversity shrank to the point that I got used to seeing mostly our local license plate.

This has changed recently, however. In the past couple weeks, I’ve seen plates from Texas, Montana, Idaho, Colorado, British Columbia, Arizona, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York out on the local roads. It has actually been rather refreshing.

But what does it mean? In the late 1990’s, I would attribute all of the various license plates to people who brought their cars here as they took new jobs or looked for work. Does it mean the same thing now? Or is it merely an unusually early burst of tourism? I don’t know.

21st century astrology

I think astrology is getting boring. Why? Well, how many times can you be bothered to read “well Acquarius, you’ve got a moon rising and mercury in retrograde, so just feel lucky that your boobs don’t sag to your knees or your pecker doesn’t fall off this week”? I think it must be the signs. We’ve been using the same same astrological signs for the last three thousand years.

Well, no more. Call me a radical or just say I’m “thinking outside of the box”, but I’m willing to propose a few new, modern astrological signs. We’ll worry about how they “connect the dots” in the night sky later and when they fall during the year. I think its just important to get some new astrological ideas out there, run them up the flagpole, and see who salutes.

So here’s some astrological advice for this week for several proposed new signs of the zodiac:

Hummer– You are incredibly powerful and forceful, commanding respect and inspiring fear wherever you go. Yet for all your mighty bluster, you are insecure. For all your moral and spiritual size, you somehow fear you are a dinosaur and an asteroid is on its way to shatter your world. You fear this change knowing that you cannot be anything other than what you are. Embrace it because all ends are beginnings and vice versa. Try to stop at Bob’s U-Fill-It on 4th street this week. Gas is 20 cents off if you fill the tank after a car wash, and you, my friend, are in need of a shower.

Moxie– You are the perpetual idiosyncratic underdog and younger sibling wanting to play with the big kids. In your day, you had your shot to become the King of the Mountain, but you seek to please yourself rather than please others and you lost. Fear not, however. You have and always will have your fans. You are the Clint Howard to older brother Ron. True, you didn’t get to direct Apollo 13, but Ron was never on the original Star Trek. Take pride in your accomplishments this week and look into Rogaine.

Whore– You are the perpetual enigma. Some want power by owning you; others seek to use you and degrade you. Celebrities and a legion of children on the cusp of adolescence want to look like you and appropriate your indescribable mystique. Intellectuals cannot decide if you are a brave pioneer offering some lesson about the world or a social ill in need of a radical cure. You are at the heart of all things commercial, even if some do not wish to mention this. Keep your head down this week or someone is going to get bitch-slapped ’cause Fat Maynard is looking for YOU.

7 Eleven– You are the crossroads of humanity, though some are loathe to admit it. Everyone passes through your life for some reason or another, be it a loaf of bread, a Krispy Kreme, a Lottery ticket, or some cat food and anti-freeze. Being somewhat co-dependent, you welcome all comers even when all they want is the combination to your drop safe. This is an upbeat week for you; Darlene will return early from that Indian Gambling trip with her boyfriend Jimmy and offer to work the swing shift. Just don’t ask her about the scars on her wrists.

Heinz Ketchup– You are a true classic, despite attempts by some to degrade you and call you a vegetable. A social butterfly, you are welcome at all sorts of social gatherings and are enjoyed equally by both society cotillions and homeboys on the front stoop. You do not change with the times as much as the times change around you. You have a stability that people admire, though you can be difficult to draw out of your shell. This is a good week to go out and mix it up… get together with some metaphysical mayonaise and turn your life into Thousand Island dressing.

Whale Bone Corset– You value continuity and stability over all other things. You feel that form is definitely superior to function. Often sober and serious, you nevertheless are able to bring out the hidden in others with your charming wiles. Some revile your sense of tradition as stuffy and oppressing. Others see your rigid sense of purpose as powerful and role-affirming. You have a tendency to crop up in the most unusual of places and often mingle with people that others least expect. Be careful not to get too tightly wound this week. Some around you will seek you out for your strength and resolve, but your purpose is only to guide, not to hurt. Speak truth, but don’t use it like a blunt instrument. Careful diplomacy will bring size and definition where it is wanted, and keep undesirable ugliness to a minimum.

Banana– You feel constantly under threat and frustrated as if you haven’t had sex in nearly 10,000 years. You live in careful symbiosis with the world around you and worry that without care and handling you will feel lost and die. You know your limits in this world and struggle to show others about the imperminance of everything. Live for the now, and not the future this week. Becky Snodgrass is having a Memorial Day picnic on Sunday and somebody was asked to bring fruit salad. You’re well past green, but you better not be brown on Sunday morning. Someone is NOT bringing a jello mold to her picnic again this year!

Sit’n’Spin– Some call you a wild ride and others say you’re going nowhere. You definitely can be fun when you let your hair down and let people get to know you. Always bright and colorful, there is a depressive streak in you — you often run yourself in emotional circles until you are dizzy. Commerce is your enemy this week. Don’t let anyone trade you to the Jenkins’ up the street for a Big Wheel, a GI Joe with Kung Fu grip, and bunch of Playskool little people. Their house smells like muddy sneakers and day old bologna.

Harley Road King– You are a creature of questionable identity. Who are you really? Are you the wild and open road or are you a 42 year old dentist from Syosset, Long Island vainly trying to chase after lost youth? About one thing, there is no question: your blustery rumble is a thunder that few can ignore. Explore your rebellious side this week: get off the damn fence and buy the shirt that says “If you can read this, the bitch fell off” on the back.

a semi-auspicious date

Today is a semi-auspicious date around the Geek household: it is now one month until Fiancee S. becomes Mrs. Geek and there are two weeks left until the current school year ends for Fiancee S. I think we are both looking forward to each of these milestones.

Wedding planning is slowly but surely wearing us down, and it is starting to show. I ended up calling my Mom last night to see if she had any advance information about a number of outstanding wedding invites and she said “it can’t be any fun to work all day and then get home to deal with all this too.” She’s right. I’m so very glad that we took a full year to plan this event… because the details are endless.

For those interested in “the wedding watch”, I can report that things are going relatively smoothly. We have responses for about half of our wedding guest list. There have been a few pleasant surprises; family we thought would not be interested in showing up has decided to come. Sadly there are also a number of people we hoped would show up but could not. Fiancee S. is worried about some of the non-respondents as well; because of room size and cost, we were not able to extend invitations to everyone in Fiancee S.’s family who invited her over the years. Fiancee S. fears that those relatives will feel snubbed. There have been few unpleasant surprises so far *fingers WAY crossed* — very few people have insisted on bringing additional folks not originally on our guest list.

Fiancee S. and I will both be glad when her school year ends. About six of her students in her classroom of twenty this year have been real beasts, to the point that they have interfered with her ability to teach in her classroom at all. She comes home at the end of the day depressed because her daily activities primarily consist of riot control when these six students begin to act up en masse. She comes home frustrated and drained because her day is about students hitting and yelling at each other, students being downright insubordinate (she often hears surly cries of “I don’t want to” from her troublemakers regarding the most mundane classroom activities), and getting negligible support from parents and administration. Given that she teaches in an urban Catholic school, I have posed the question “what exactly does it take to get thrown out of this school” out loud. I have not received a satisfactory answer.

Fiancee S. really enjoys teaching and interacting with children. It is therefore disheartening to see her come home everyday with a tale of some new outrage that occurred in her classroom. Fiancee S. has relied on me to be a supportive constant in the many changes and setbacks of the year… I can’t say that this has had more than a fraction of the impact on me that it has had on her. Still, there has been an impact. I came home feeling despirited by events in my own work day yesterday, but, it is harder to share what I feel when I know the load that she shoulders on a daily basis.

Fortunately, all of this will change soon. There will be no more “rehearsal dinner” and “sunday brunch” guest lists. There will be no more cries of “I don’t want to do that” and exaggerated bouts of boyish flatulence and burping. There will just be Dr. and Mrs. Geek, enjoying life together… at least until we decide to have kids. *grin*

philosophical overload.

My brain gets overly philosophical at times, and I spend periods of time “pondering the big picture”. The latest grist for the millstones in my mind is a quote from the irrepressible ilonina in her entry last Friday:

One reason I started a master’s in philosophy was in order to give me a set of intellectually adequate tools to think about God; three years on, I have those tools and many more, but instead of allowing me to approach God, they’ve sent me hurtling into a cold realm of sceptical criticism, warmed by my still-faintly-glowing faith in the supreme value of friendship.

My dislike for my tendency to philosophize and my response to her quote go hand in hand: intellect in itself is a lousy way to try to comprehend anything relating to God or the nature of existense. The possibilities for getting lost in thickets of ideas are endless and logic is useless for clearing away the ideological brambles. For example, what is the nature of God? Well, in spite of the fact that the Hebrew Bible says that God created humans in his/her/its image, God is obviously not human. That’s about the only tool that logic can provide. Reason and logic cannot even provide us with a firm proof for God’s existence… much less any other proof concerning the true nature of existence.

No, I tend to think that life should simply be experienced. Reason and religion are merely useful for sharpening our perceptive abilities in order to better understand what happens to us. Alas, puzzling thoughts only get in the way and distract.

In the hope of distracting myself from these distractions, I am listening to the blues. Currently, it is The Blue Rider Trio. Soon, it shall be some Son House or Ray Charles. I think those will do nicely, thank you very much.

mortal thoughts

I’ve been thinking about my parents’ mortality recently. It started when I spoke with Aunt R. last weeks. A day or two after she filled me in on the poor health of some of my Dad’s older siblings, I had a chance to talk with my Mom about it. Because I live a long way away from my parents, I haven’t been kept up to date about the health of some of my relatives. As my Mom recounted the various age differences between my Dad and his brothers and sisters, she noted with some finality that some of them were in their late 70’s and showing their age. They weren’t likely to last much longer.

It’s been a while since anyone in my family has died, and certainly a very long time since anyone of my parents’ generation passed on. The last one who passed away who was in parents’ age group was my Uncle J. He had leukemia and passed on about 20 years ago. Nearly everyone who was in my grandparents generation has passed since then, and one cousin who was ill from a young age died in his 30’s, but generally everyone else has remained healthy and alive.

Hearing my Mom talk about my Aunts and Uncles passing in the next few years suddenly had me thinking of my Dad’s mortality. He turned 70 this year and my Mom just turned 64. They’re both in good health. Statistically, he’ll probably last another 10 years. Still, that puts an end point on his life and that feels suddenly concrete and real to me. With the imagined passing of my Dad, I wondered about my Mom. When I told Fiancee S. about this, she asked if I would feel the need to move near my Mom after my Dad passed. I didn’t have a good answer then, and don’t now.

None of this was helped by a picture my Dad sent me earlier this week. My parents traveled on Monday to the cemetery where much of my Mom’s immediate family was buried. They were making an annual trip to tend to tend graves and plant flowers — annuals. My Dad took some pictures of the trip. My parents purchased a plot in that cemetery and a headstone a few years ago. My Dad took a picture of that headstone, with the names and birth dates inscribed in it.

The image elicits odd emotions in me. On the one hand, there is a certain odd calm in knowing that my parents are slowly putting their affairs in order. On the other is the loneliness I associate with life without them. I’m not sure how I feel about either emotion.

yes Europe, you too get to join this party

It is with some sadness that I find that the Irish Presidency and the European Coucil managed to ratify recommendations to the European Union’s Software Patent Directive that will allow the patenting of computer software. This means that the European Parliament will debate the measure in the Fall and likely accept it because a 3-to-1 or 4-to-1 will be needed to override the changes ratified by the European Council.

Why should you care? Because soon Europe will be able to enjoy quality software patents like this:

  • U.S. Patent 6329919 – System and method for providing reservations for restroom use – Don’t ask me what possessed IBM to file a patent on this, but they did.
  • U.S. Patent 5960411 – Method and system for placing a purchase order via a communications network – This patents the idea of being able to buy a product from a web site using one “click” of a mouse. Amazon.com owns this patent and sued Barnes & Noble over this when the latter company started its own web site.
  • U.S. Patent 5051835 – Method of processing theatrical film – Evidently Paramount Pictures Corporation thought that everyone should pay them money every time someone took a frame from a piece of movie film and turned it into a digital image.
  • U.S. Patent 4600919 – Three dimensional animation – The guys at the New York Institute of Technology must not have been too busy in 1982 to go out and see the movie Tron or pay attention to the previous twenty years of innovation which allowed that movie to be produced.
  • U.S. Patent 4538056 – Card reader for time and attendance – Someone tried to patent the idea of connecting a bunch of timecard readers to a central computer.

I could go on, but you get the idea by now.

Though I suppose you could argue that the patents above were granted because the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office are a bunch of overworked, underpaid slobs who rubber stamp every nearly every patent application that comes through, I worry that this reflects a distressing trend in the area of information ownership. Companies and international cartels are realizing that since the Internet makes the free exchange of information possibly at nearly zero cost, a great way to make a profit in the Internet Age is to OWN all the information. So, for example, a company that collects publicly available sale prices for cosumer goods, places those prices in a database, and lets customers search the database to find the lowest price on an item is sued out of existence by the major retail chains because the chains “own” their sale price data. Or another company can collect personal information about you from public sources, organize it into a database, and then sell that data because it “owns” the database it built. It is the free flow of information that increases both innovation and consumer value. I fear that there are market forces present in the world today that want to stop the flow of information to merely preserve their market share.

I can’t end this entry without first mentioning this patent though:

  • U.S. Patent 4666425 – Device for perfusing an animal head – This one patents a “device for maintaining metabolic activity in a mammalian headwhich has been severed from its body at its neck”. I think someone spent far too much time watching Mystery Science Theater 3000.

I will close by noting that all the patents listed above were eventually withdrawn, declared invalid upon review, or ruled to be so narrow that they are worthless in court. So justice prevailed, after a lot of time and money was wasted.

some foods are just wrong

I happened to be strolling through my favorite local upscale supermarket not long ago, and came upon a sign that said “Sale Low Carb Milk”. Intrigued by the lengths to which Atkins-ism strives to eliminate demon carbohydrates from everything (including bread), I decided to investigate. What I found was a product similar to the one shown above.

What is in “low carb dairy beverage” I hear you cry? I don’t remember the exact list of ingredients, but, it did contain soy protien, processed dairy solids, and various nutritional supplements. Thinking back, it was basically soy milk on steriods with some real dairy solids included for that creamy “milk-like” flavor.

Does anyone else find that this is just “wrong” on some basic level?

We silly Americans are so lost where our diet is concerned. We’ve deluded ourselves into thinking that we can have what we want when we want and suffer zero consequences. We want fried food. We want sugary food. We want rich, fatty food. We want it all everyday, while we sit in our corporate cubicles all day instead of staring at the back end of a mule as we plow the back forty, chopping wood, or doing laundry with a wash board and wooden tub as our peasant ancestors did. We’ve done what I think others might have deemed impossible — we’ve created a culture where it’s harder to be thin than be fat.

Consequently, rather than having milk or ice cream once a week instead of twice a day, we invent the crap that is “low carb milk”, “near beer”, and “McLean sandwich”. We ingest fat substitute potato chips that have warnings like “may cause anal leakage”. We spend billions looking for sugar substitutes that cause cancer in rats.

Me, I prefer a different approach. I like real foods in moderation. If there is one thing that dieting has taught me, it is that rich food is better savored in its quality than its quantity. Two chips are better than a whole bag. Homemade pple pie and ice cream is better a few times a year than all the time… at least when you’re not a 16 year old boy. No, when it comes to diet, I prefer to sin authentically but sparingly.