25 January 2009

something less than a return to form

Right now the date of the previous post just below this is from last year*. I'm not going to make much in the way of excuses for the gap. I've posted enough of those before. Believe me when I say the last several months were not uneventful.

Just before, or soon thereafter, that aforementioned previous post, I was told at work that my position was being moved to another non-downtown location, and my computer, my phone, my chair and me would move with it. At the time I was more than unhappy about that prospect, and everything hasn't yet played out completely, but for the time being I'm pretty happy there with things and people as they are. I just hadn't felt like writing about it. More changes are to come later this year as we are due to move again, so I can't get used to too much yet.

So what else? Why haven't I written? I've still been doing pretty much the same stuff, save for writing about it. I've been watching just as many DVDs as before, playing some video games here and there (I've come to think that the PSP was a great platform that is not too far from being the next Dreamcast for how a system's actual potential turns into how well it does for the market at large) but none of them was so noteworthy as to merit anything more than the odd mention on Twitter.

Oh yes, Twitter. To say I haven't written since August is to ignore all the words I've txted and tweeted to my Twitter status updates several hundred times, up to one hundred and forty characters each. It's no substitute for this site, and at some point I'll probably need to come up with some sort of export/dump so I can grab that chunk of my digital output and shoehorn it in with the rest of this, assuming I have some sort of output in the days and years ahead.

But enough with the melancholy. If I try to fit everything in I'll lose steam on what got me back at the keyboard in the first place. This post isn't very good, but I'm rather a bit out of practice. If you'd bear with me for a couple weeks (assuming I write during them) that'd probably be best for the both of us.

So I just watched a DVD. It was called Who killed the electric car? and it was not a great film, documentary or otherwise. It was too long, too slanted, too unfocused, and too often contrived. I recognized that, even while I was watching it (and really, knew about it going in thanks to most of the less-than-favorable reviews it garnered back in 2006), but it still got to me.

The argument put forward by the film, and I hope I'm not spoiling it in any way because people really should see this movie, is that the Zero Emission Vehicles mandated in California a decade ago, and produced by GM, Toyota, Honda, Ford and probably others not mentioned, were great technology that worked, and deserved far better than to have been swept under the rug, the cars not only forgotten but crushed and/or shredded, and their environmentally-friendly mantle taken up by less-than-worthy successors, and the blame falls upon not only the car companies, but also the government(s) and consumers alike. And a few other "suspects", but I don't want to give everything away.

Shifting gears slightly for a moment, I must admit I have a problem throwing things away that aren't yet broken and useless. The headphones I use daily at my desk only work in one ear. At least two of the digital cameras I use have pieces broken or missing. My iPod, already on its third hard drive, often needs less-than-gentle encouragement (that is, whacking it with my hand repeatedly) to get going. One of our cars, not my daily driver anymore, doesn't have working air conditioning. I'm using reclaimed car speakers for my home theater system. I have piles and heaps and bins of stuff that may turn out to be useful (and many have, though less than a majority of the things I haven't thrown out). So just seeing the stacked GM EV1s (read about them here), crushed and left to rot, bothers me on that level. Never mind the environmental aspects of crushing all those batteries, and metal and plastics that likely won't get recycled.

When those cars were crushed (and likewise the shredded Hondas, etc) with them was crushed a major hope for making things better for today and tomorrow both. Here (and now I'm talking about those EV1s) was a fleet of perfectly adequate, technologically advanced but entirely functional, people moving vehicles that people wanted to own, liked to drive, and loved to talk about. Sure, there are some doubts that switching cars from burning fuel to running batteries charged by burning other fuels, but those concerns could be handled easily if we, as a country, if not as a global society, stopped looking backward and dragging our heels today and looking forward with fear and trepidation, and embraced new and promising technologies for what they could do to get us from always needing to burn things to get what we want.

To oversimplify a related issue, new nuclear power plants could generate a whole lot more, relatively clean and considerably safe, electricity, but they happen to produce some by-products that could be devastatingly useless (read: dangerous and deadly) if they fell into the wrong hands. Fear of terrorism isn't the only thing keeping American reactor technology in the 70s, but from what I've heard, it's one major contributing factor.

Back to the cars, though. It's easy to follow the filmmakers when they point out that barely a month passed between GM's acquisition of the Hummer nameplate, and the shutdown of the EV1's assembly line. Hummers could, and did, make money for GM hand over fist, and they weren't the only oversized peoplemovers on the road, just the most ridiculous. It should be telling that the suburban SUV is an American cliche, this being the land of selfish demand and greed. It's easy to follow their implication that the auto companies wanted nothing to do with the electric cars because it would shut down the whole regular maintenance and repairs and replacement part revenue streams. That there partially explains why so much more support has been thrown behind hydrogen fuel cell cars (untested and as-yet-unavailable technology) and gas-electric hybrids (the benefits of an electric motor along with the regular maintenance of a gas one too!) instead of all-electric ones.

Anyway, I'm losing steam quickly. My rage and sadness are subsiding, somewhat. It's easy to see this whole thing in the same light as the current economic crisis, brought about by unchecked and rampant greed in the housing and mortgage industries. It's all about greed. I'd say I'm all for capitalism, but honestly, if there's a better way to make a better future than sheer profit motive alone, that'd be super. If there's a way to stay in business, and satisfy shareholders, while doing something innovative that can lead some real change (like, say, creating a fleet of working electric cars and pickups and actually letting normal people drive and buy them), companies should want to do it. Even if it means they take a hit on their bottom lines for a while. Hell, right now everybody's taking a hit anyway, and for doing business as usual, not from worthwhile research and trailblazing new technologies.

If I were in charge, I know which I'd want to make a case to do, but then again, I'm not in charge.

I have a daughter, and I'm likely not finished having kids, either (as scary as that thought may be, for you and for me) and I should not, cannot, must not act now without every thought of the consequences to the world I'll leave them. Hell, if I do no better than both of my grandfathers, I've still got sixty years of living here too.

* I'm of divided mind as to what to do with the only other unpublished post I even got around to creating in draft form. Most likely I'll publish and date it that day, instead of backdating it as I had many a time before. And at the rate I'm going, I'll be doing that around Independence day. Hopefully sooner.

31 August 2007

better late than never

My favorite online T-shirt shop* Threadless is having another $10 sale, until Tuesday. Surprisingly few shirts have sold out this week (the sale began Monday).

I'm not sure if I'll pick up any this time around, but I can certainly agree with this one:

Stupid Raisins, Stay Out Of My Cookies.

* I suppose I should mention the links in this post will credit me some small amount if you buy shirts. Which I think you should - they're cool, and comfortable as well.

6 November 2006

shopping 'til it hurts

We left the hospital Thursday morning, and surprisingly Jessica let me go almost a whole 24 hours before driving our baby to a store.

Of course, according to pretty much everything I've read and heard, the newborn brain is incapable of learning anything more complicated than sucking or peeing for the first six months*, so we probably shouldn't be worried about her inability to find the freshest gallons of milk or know if the cashier has short-changed her yet. She's got a little time before we can really brush up on basic consumer skills; after all, you've got to learn to walk before you can push a shopping cart. I think.

But the experience was relatively painless, but I'd been thinking about writing about shopping stuff many weeks ago (you know, the ones in months that are blank in the archives) but never got around to actually putting fingers to the keys.

I'm not a big fan of shopping in stores, whether it be for something I want (DVDs, small toys) or need (groceries, socks). Grocery shopping in particular is a source of many annoyances:

Items that are shelved in a haphazard fashion, in aisles that have no discernable heirarchy
I never know where to go to find kidney beans. This is not the only food I can't find, just the one I remember most (searching for them, not where they are). I realize there is a good reason - for the store's bottom line - to send me searching every single aisle that has anything like "vegetables" or "cans" on the index-board, but it always seems to me that sorting the store by color could well be easier and faster for the shopper. Cereal and bread would all be together, more or less, but all the tomato products (diced, salsa, paste, ketchup, juice) would all be together, as well. Of course this would still be troublesome for things that have indeterminate colors (I bought prune juice once, and I think it was either purple or brown) but the store associates would only need to say which color to check, not send shoppers down aisles for which they may or may not know the numbers. Yes, I realize this is completely impractical and dumb, but you tell me why every store has the potato chips five aisles or more away from the crackers.
Whoever picks the music has horrible taste
If there's music blaring, more often than not it sucks. It's either eighties revival (i.e. the same five songs that comprise every bad eighties mix), lite rock (Celine Dion and bad Elton John) or cartoon ballads (again with the Elton John, and so forth). I miss hearing Muzak - at least then I have the fun of trying to figure out which popular song is being mangled, but sadly grocery stores don't seem to use it.
Unit prices aren't always in standardized units
I shop based primarily on price and value. If I can determine that I get a better price per ounce buying one box instead of another, I'll reach for the first one as long as its something that doesn't change much vendor to vendor. However, if one has the price per ounce given and the other is price per hogshead or some such, then I'm outta luck and end up shaking the boxes and making up mathematical conversions to make a decision. Then I generally pick the box that has better graphic design, since a company that spends more time and money on presentation of the box must logically have better stuff therein. This, of course, is foolishness and I know it.
No concessions are made for competent shoppers at the checkout lane
Having long ago realized that the "15 or less" rule for Express lanes is merely a suggestion, I doubt there's anythign the store would be able to do about my idea, but here it is anyway: a checkout lane for competent customers. Like me. When I get to a checkout lane, I'm ready to go. I know more or less what every item should cost, I have whatever coupons I need to use ready, and I've got my credit card and pen ready too. I preempt most of their questions ("Hi, doin' fine, thanks, here's my card, and no bags for the milk") and often will be out of the store in less time than it took to find the kidney beans. I'd almost be willing to pay a little fee or endure some sort of licensing test to have exclusive access to a true 'express line', since half of the time I try to check out quickly, something ahead of me in line has happened, and then I'm screwed. Nine times out of ten it's somebody paying with a check.

Now don't get me wrong - just because it takes me over a year to get through that first fifteen checks the banks give you for opening an account - I'm not anti-check. I am, however, firmly against people who wait until every item has been scanned and bagged before that crucial moment of "Gee golly, I guess I'm gonna have to get out my checkbook and pay for these groceries. Now where did I leave it in this bottomless purse... and now where's that pen..." after which the checkbook is found, and the cashier begins the twenty-point checklist of personal items required to be written on the check and/or signed in triplicate from a notary public.

And yet, to these people, this isn't hassle enough to get them to stop using checks, or to figure out how to streamline the process (like filling them out in advance, or at least having the checkbook out and ready by the time it's time to pay), and as such I think the stores need to step it up and get these people in line. Since they're not going to implement my competent checkout license idea, I'll give them another: go for blood.

Why not get one of those pinprick blood test things that the Red Cross uses (and also as seen in Gattaca)? I'd imagine that a drop of blood would be more conclusive to a person's identity than writing some numbers on the check.

This would speed things up considerably, and make paying with a check that little bit more annoying to discourage the slow people in front of me from doing so.

I'm not suggesting that people sign the checks in blood - that would be going a bit too far, at least, at first.

* It may in fact be the six week mark that changes her from stupid to studious. I can't say for sure; lack of sleep makes me a little dumber too.

5 October 2006

no need to thank me, unless it's in cash

If you drive a car* (and live in the continental US) you may have noticed the ever-dropping prices at the pumps.

If so, well, you're welcome.

I'm taking credit because every time I fill up my tank, the price drops anywhere from a dime to a quarter. The price per gallon had stayed precariously close to three dollars for a while there, but today I saw it for $1.99 for the first time in a long time.

I of course had already paid $2.09 each for my twelve gallons, but such is life. I'm doing this for all of you, not me, after all.

Any theories that I'm doing this because of the upcoming election are as ridiculous as any theories that the dropping prices are the work of one person, of course.

* By 'car' I am of course making the implicit assumption said car is gasoline-fueled. If you happen to have a greasecar or an electric, well, I can't really speak for fluctuations in the price of fry oil or kilowatts.