Dining on The Man

One unbeatable, irreducible, very unfortunate aspect of being even slightly employed is that you get to have interesting, memorable, enriching, maybe even life-changing experiences (not to mention food and drinks) on someone else’s dime, schedule and initiative. Employment is the modern version of patronage and conscription rolled into one. It makes me wonder if Merlin really liked magic all that much or if he just happened to be capable and in the right place at the right time and really liked the nice lab and the free horse. And since work (a.k.a. struggle) of some kind is the only path to growth, it seems obvious that work should be almost universally good. And yet it isn’t. Why? I’m guessing for normal people (i.e. not me) it’s because they don’t end up in the right job. I mean who wouldn’t want to do neat things with electronic gadgets and occasionally fly all over the country for the purpose of talking to smart, interesting, funny people about your common goals? Well, me, as it has turned out on more than one occasion in my life, but I think to many people this sounds nearly-idyllic. But I’ve known many people who did it, including some whose jobs included gobs of down time where they were figuratively (and often literally) “on the beach.” And yet no one loves it for very long. Everyone profits from it, gains huge experience from it, grows as a person from it, then ultimately moves on. And if they look back at all it’s only with an occasional cold chill, like they narrowly got away with something. And I’m not sure you even have to be in the world of high-flying consultancy to do this. I think any job has this curve where it starts out being fascinating and fulfilling and at some point becomes just a job. Of course we imagine there are people for whom life is not like this–artists, actors–but as someone who has had some pretty interesting jobs, I can’t say I totally buy it. Even people who own their own businesses, who have wrested as much control as humanly possible out of the system, don’t typically love what they do. Almost anyone I’ve met and talked to who you could think of as being typically successful will admit that what they do is just what they do… to earn a living. They see it as a bargain: I do this and then I can do _____. Where the blank is filled with almost every non-work thing you can think of: retire, support my family, send my kids to good schools, do drugs, buy guns, run marathons, travel, play video games–in other words all the things we admit to doing or wish we could when people ask us what we “do” and don’t mean “for work.” But why are those lists inherently separate? How is it that most of us have such a fine and yet powerful discriminator to tell us the difference between work and not-work? Why are exciting, novel, enriching experiences on Saturday different from exciting, novel, enriching experiences on Wednesday? We’ll tell the same kinds of stories next year about both the good and bad experiences of work and not-work, but right now, today, something feels different about the things we’re getting paid to do versus the things we choose to do on our own. One possibility is that work is uniquely compartmentalized and indivisible. You can’t quit one part of your job, only the whole thing. Everything else is not like this. You can quit a friend, a hobby, TV, drinking, any, each or all without quitting life. But can you suddenly decide you’re not going to run a particular report anymore at work? Probably not. Which maybe makes for an interesting definition: work is that which must be quit as a package deal. And there could be a corollary: things that present as package deals often seem like work. So does it really come back to choice? Is the definition of work simply that which impinges on our free will to any extent? Maybe. And maybe this is why so many people are willing and able to put up with it. Because we are, sometimes, able to decide, as an act of free will, that we’re going to take the money and the experience and the free food and drink even if it means giving up a parcel of free will. Or maybe we don’t decide. Maybe we deny or evade or engage some other coping mechanism, but the result is the same.

Is the Prius Optimized for Evacuation?

Or just for the coming total urban gridlock of the 21st century? It’s quite a comment on the direction the average commute is headed that we now have a popular vehicle that’s at its best going zero to two miles per hour for 30 hours straight. As one of the blog comments implies, is owning a hybrid automobile to become a valid part of your personal contingency planning, right up there with bottled water and flashlights? A month ago, this idea would have sounded paranoid and apocalyptic. Now it just points out the absurdity of the whole situation. If we get one more storm this season you’ll probably see a push to get “evacuation mileage” put on the new-car window sticker right next to “city” and “highway.”

"The Grim Meathook Future"

Despite the over-wide format and namedropping, this is sublime. Except that it ultimately suffers from the same myopia that it purports to be railing against by taking as a given that “feeding poor people is useful tech” without considering the global view. Globally speaking, feeding poor people, directly, as a project, only serves to make more, poorer poor people. I’m not saying let them starve. I’m saying don’t have the cliched, knee-jerk reaction of thinking that more money means more bags of rice on more transport planes means reduced suffering. I’m saying ask more questions. Ask how so many people came to be living in such poor conditions. It’s not happenstance. It’s an effect of global economy, climate, culture and corruption. This is most certainly a problem that direct address does not fix. If direct address fixed poverty or even starvation, we would have solved it long ago. We need to be looking at indirect address: education, reform, changing mindsets and expectations and senses of morality and fairness and entitlement all over the globe. A person can become poor or suffer through a series of unfortunate events. People, populations, become poor, suffer and stay there through the machinations of huge, complex and often intentional institutions, beliefs and interests. These are what we need to be looking at. These are what really determine what kind of future we’ll inhabit.

Mac, You Got Told

Let’s take a break from all the hurricane panic (since it now turns out there will be about 10 people actually affected by the weather part of Rita) and do some cathartic Mac bashing. Here’s a nice enumeration of OSX annoyances to get us started. Actually, that’s probably enough to get us started and finished. Reading this I had a shocking realization: as an end user, I currently have no complaints about Windows! You have to understand, I make my living off the annoyances of Windows XP, 2000 and 2003 Server machines. If people didn’t struggle with these machines to some extent, they wouldn’t need me. There are some Linux boxes I grudgingly deal with, because really, who can deal with those things, but aside from that, it’s all Windows. And I have to say, in terms of speed, stability, ease of use, manageability and supportability, there is nothing better to me than a Windows XP-level machine. Admittedly, I’m soaking in the Kool-Aid. I grok Windows. Even when it doesn’t make sense, the way in which is doesn’t make sense makes sense. There’s a reason for this: backward compatibility and legacy hardware support. There’s so much old code floating around in Windows, so many ancient device APIs, so much stone-age technology, all still supported, all still interoperable. Microsoft has had to make Windows somewhat bulletproof, inside and out, just to keep it from blowing itself up!

My absolute favorite configuration is a Windows 2003 Standard Server stripped of all its XP UI chrome. I’ve been using one of these as my primary desktop and development machine, web server, SQL Server and Terminal Server for about 30 months on the same install. This machine has survived three versions of the Microsoft development environment, and at least two each of Office, Photoshop, and Macromedia’s suite. Plus a ridiculous amount of demo and trial software, a literally uncountable number of my own FUBAR application hacks, and about 10 versions of Yahoo Messenger. This is simply the longest-running, most stable computer I have ever used. Any problems I have had with it have either been hardware failures or very poorly written device drivers or software. In almost all cases, the system has fully recovered. The only exception is that after the last Yahoo “upgrade,” no webcam will work with any messenger. I completely blame Yahoo for this.

In fact, the author of the post I’ve linked to here works at Yahoo. So he’s in a position to know crappy software when he sees it. If he hates his Macs, if he wants to go back to using crappy Yahoo software on crappy Windows on crappy PCs, then man, the Mac must really suck.

We are Jupiter

Here’s an idea: What if Rita just stops? 9mph isn’t very fast for a hurricane to be traveling. The Long Island Express was moving what, 75mph at one point, 50mph when it made landfall? So what if Rita just parks its ass in the Gulf and sits there sucking up heat and moisture for the rest of the season? I mean storms on other planets can last hundreds of years. Isn’t it conceivable we could get a few good months of climatic/anti-climactic angst out of Rita? Or Beta, or whatever the next big storm is. Just think what that would do for the economy! All these poor suckers buying gas just to sit in traffic for 20 hours every day for weeks. People for 500 miles in every direction with two-car garages filled with bottled water and canned food. You’re probably wishing you had held onto that Yuma Y2K bunker about now, huh?

Austin Has Lost Its Collective Mind

What do you suppose has us so freaked out, the 60% chance of rain on Saturday or the threat of some displaced Houstonians showing up for dinner? I tried to go to Sam’s Club and Costco today. Sam’s had three signs on the door that said, “We are out of bottled water, batteries and generators.” The “so don’t even bother coming inside” was only implied. Cars were six deep at all the gas pumps. Costco had orange cones surrounding their gas pumps because they were sucked dry. HEB was out of bottled water and ice and dangerously low on beer and butter (and flour and sugar, I noticed… are people planning on a lot of emergency baking?), but at least it was no more crowded than a rainy Sunday evening. Still, the tension level was high. One shopper knocked over a salsa display rather spectacularly right near the cash registers and half the people in my field of view jumped. The other half just groaned. Frankly, I’m surprised no one started shooting. I saw two car accidents in eight miles.

Wow, you’d think we lived somewhere that just had a hurricane. Or at least somewhere that actually could have a hurricane.

Folks, calm down. It’s not even going to get cloudy until tomorrow night. Walmart and HEB have trucks headed this way right now to bring you all the things your panicked lizard brain is telling you to buy before the other guy does. Retail life will go on. Tomorrow, in fact, if you want to go through it all over again.

Mac, the Continuing Story

Okay, so as I think I’ve mentioned, Macs suck. And normally I’m pretty apologetic about the PC as well. But now Sterling has come out and said, Macs suck, but they still r00l, basically because they don’t get viri. Okay, so I support a ridiculous number of home PCs. Poorly patched Windows PCs, mostly. Like five, plus about a dozen virtual machines. Most of these with only standard Windows updates (eventually) behind a hardware firewall. Knock on wood, I have yet to have a virus or spyware. Really, you have to be both a complete slacker and moron to get one of these things. You have to be asking for it. You have to click on six things that say, “yes, please infect me and while you’re at it install software that will destroy my machine and share my personal, financial and biblical information with the world.” If you’ve done that, if you fall for that, you suck. You are the problem. And guess what, 90% of you use the PC. Why? Because 92% of the world uses the PC. Big surprise. If you look at the actual statistics, more Mac users are morons, because if one Mac user gets a virus, if one Mac user gets hacked, they blow the whole curve, because no one is targeting them. It’s the law of diminishing returns. Why hack a Mac when you can hack a PC? You’re just playing the odds. So if you want to live in paranoia, if you want to pay through the nose, if you can afford to have three computers so you can keep (maybe) two working at any given moment, own a Mac. Own a slow-assed, gimmicky, open-source exploiting, hypocritical, insulting-your-intelligence piece of shit Mac.

Bruce, buddy, just fyi, I will call you on this shit until the day I die.

How Quickly We Forget

Hey, remember all the uproar and lawsuits surrounding the Red Cross after 9/11? The thrown-out blood donations, the undisbursed relief money? Yeah, me either. Fortunately there are people out there with longer memories than me who are able to maintain their skepticism over the long term.

For example, this came across the wire today on Allan Weisbecker‘s email list. Allan is an author whose works I’ve followed for a while and with whom I’ve developed what I call a one-way friendship. That is, I keep track of what’s going on with him without actually bugging him about it. It’s about the level of interaction either of us have time for, I think. Anyway, he just sent a pant-load of money to the Red Cross (didn’t we all?) and told the people on his list to do the same. One of his readers pushed back, validly I think, and here’s part of that exchange. Keep in mind, this is an exchange that was forwarded to me but to which I was not an original party.

But there’s bad news too.

As a subscriber pointed out, the Red Cross is not the way to donate money for Katrina Relief.

I’m going to reproduce the subscriber’s email here…

Okay, the email:

> Allan,
> After such an eloquent and well-stated letter, it
> pains me that you would suggest people donate to the
> Red Cross.
> Yes. The vast majority of those who work for and
> volunteer their time on behalf of the Red Cross are
> very fine people. And they do this work with the
> best of intentions and for all the right reasons.
> However, the Red Cross itself is a tool of the very
> same forces you rail against (the establishment)..or
> in Orwell’s words which you quote in your
> letter.. the “oligarchical ruling group.”
> There are some within the upper echelons of the Red
> Cross who are utterly corrupt. And for the most part
> they are running the show.
> Consider what happened to the HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS
> of dollars donated to the Red Cross for the EXPRESS
> PURPOSE of helping the families of those who
> perished on Sept. 11th. These families got a mere
> pittance and they had to literally DRAG it from the
> Red Cross under threat of lawsuit.
> Not only that, the funds that the Red Cross received
> following September 11th were utilized for efforts
> all over the country (many of which were completely
> unrelated to the 9-11 tragedy) clearly against the
> wishes of those who donated for the specific purpose
> of helping those families who lost a loved one.
> Red Cross also made all sorts of impassioned pleas
> for people to donate blood after 9-11 (and again
> with Katrina). Virtually everyone involved in the
> 9-11 tragedy either made it out alive and well….or
> they DIED. There was not a need for massive amounts
> of blood. Most of this blood was either sold for a
> profit or destroyed (it’s true) because they had too
> much.
> The Red Cross established the “Liberty Fund” after
> 9-11. Out of the nearly $600 million raised, they
> BEGRUDGINGLY distributed only $154 million.
> The explanation was that this money was being used
> to fight the “War on Terror.” When questioned about
> the withholding of funds, Red Cross President Dr.
> Bernadine Healy arrogantly responded, “The Liberty
> Fund is a war fund. It has evolved into a war fund.”
> Families of 9-11 victims complained bitterly, but to
> no avail.
> This was certainly not the first time this has
> happened. When the devastating earthquake struck San
> Francisco several years ago the Red Cross received
> $50 million in donations. Only $10 million of that
> amount was distributed for the purpose it was
> intended.
> My best advice is that you take the time to do the
> research and find a reputable national charity or a
> group in one of the affected areas and direct your
> donation to them. That is unless you don’t mind the
> fact that 80 cents of every dollar you send to the
> Red Cross will never make it to Louisiana or
> Mississippi.

> Respectfully,
> Jon Herring
> Here are a couple of links in case you care to look
> into this subject further.


Of those two links, I think I’d pay more attention to the first one, since it’s CBS News. Granted, not the most reliable source in the world, but they don’t appear to have retracted the story. The second one devolves into conspiracy theories toward the end. Obviously you should do your own research and come to your own opinion.

My perspective on this, having worked on a few projects that were ostensibly “for charity,” is that there really is a lot of overhead and corruption between you putting in your money and anyone receiving a benefit. I personally worked (pro bono via my employer) with a group that went in with claims of “minimum overhead” and ended up pushing as little as 20 cents on a dollar to the actual charity organizations involved (that’s the organization, not the people receiving the benefit!). I guess it’s fortunate they weren’t very good at attracting donations.

Given that this is Louisiana we’re talking about in the present case, a state with high levels of ambient corruption, I’m not sure what choice you have if you want to donate. One serious option is to take direct action, rather than just sending money. Help at a shelter. Participate in a food or clothing drive. Or network, find someone you know who knows someone who is taking direct action and help them. For example, I can personally vouch for Blankets for the Gulf. These are people who are going to do what they say they are. And they’re not even asking for money! Though if you can’t make a blanket, you might seriously consider donating vehicle driving/use/rental, gas cards, storage or a donation point (in the Central Texas area), use of a vacuum bagging/shrinkwrap machine, or any number of other logistical support items I’m sure will be needed come December. If you want to help, get in touch with Heather. At the very least, spread the word to any craft-handy people you know.