Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Holidays Bring Unintended Products

When shopping for others we fall prey to products and product variations that we are unlikely to buy for ourselves. Does anyone really desire a football snack bowl that plays the FOX NFL song? If you do, you're in luck...they've marked it down. The other products designated for JUC's Museum of Questionable products that caught my eye this year (not in actual stores, which I rarely visit, but in ads) were the Pink-colored 22 Rifle at Cabela's and the George Forman iPod Grill. But I guess if you have a diehard fan of FOX NFL on your list or a girly hunter or someone who really needs to have a grill with are set for 2007. To me, they seem to be as good an idea as Billy Bass or a Chia Sheep. (Although maybe a Chia Pet is such a bad gift it's good.) In any case, The Journal of Unintended Consequences acknowledges the winter holidays as being a high point for the gift with the unintended consequence of giving the recipient a dose of embarrassment at possessing something.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Crazy Cat Lady and A Wealth of Other UCs

Every year I look forward to The New York Times Magazine when they have the issue that talks about the 'Year in Ideas.' They find some pretty cool innovations but also explore off the wall research and almost always have lots of fodder for a chronicler of unintended consequences. You can mine the whole thing with the link but I would point out the interesting bit of thinking about why "some humans develop an unhealthful attraction to cats and apparently become immune to the smell of their urine." Ah, yes. Unintended consequences for the human, but full of intention for the common parasite Toxoplasma gondii.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

More Fat Issues

Let's just say: mine is a family with more than one chin issued per person. This photo is me and my dad, circa spring 2003. Those are fields of blooms at a wildflower farm in the background. I might weigh a little less now. I've been exercising assiduously since about six months before the photo.

I read the other day about a little understood phenomena concerning getting us overweight specimens to, um, move it.

Reported in my favorite reference, The New York Times, we have this great headline: Exercising While Overweight Often Ignores the Jiggle Factor. Ha. Ha. (Hear that in the voice of the bully on The Simpsons if you will.) Another reason for the world to laugh while we try to get healthier, huh?

JUC's main interest here is that by telling obese people to get a move on and not dealing with the problem of doing so while toting the fat around may result in injuries and arthritis and further limit the person's exercise options. Basically this article contends that along with the exercise prescription should come the admonition to start with water or recumbent exercise and to watch for this effect. The article also quotes someone as saying that "any soft tissue that is unsupported should be supported." However, that advice is from someone who sells support so I'd take that with a grain of salt. But do try to avoid doing hard with the exercise prescription. I knew there was a reason I preferred the recumbent bike!

Editor's Note

Don't think that there isn't more than enough input for JUC. We've just been swallowed up in blogging elsewhere. Stay tuned, though, cool material is coming.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Math is God's Work

I can't believe the JUC missed this story when it first came out. So in these dictatorial societies where polygamy is practiced, eligible women are in short supply. So you force young men out of the society by damning them for things like watching movies and wanting to go to school.

Personally, I don't think the government should dictate relationships, but this just goes to show you that probably, if there is a higher being, he didn't intend for men to have a bunch o' wives.

In other God Math news, did you ever wonder if those suicide bombers who believed they were getting scores of virgins in heaven also thought they they might be sending some of those virgins to heaven by there indiscriminate bombing? And isn't it convenient that only some guys get the multiple virgins? Because if they all did then no matter how many virgins got killed the numbers wouldn't add up soon enough.

The JUC is just saying...we believe in math. Hard to argue with it.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Domestic Bliss

There are things we can do to upset married life. You know those little nagging things that add up and split people up. Of course, women can be so tolerant. Norman Mailer (pictured here on the cover of the August 29 LIFE magazine) recently died. In The New York Times obituary (November 11, 2007) there is this paragraph:

In November 1960, Mr. Mailer stabbed his second wife, Adele Morales, with a penknife, seriously wounding her. It happened at the end of an all-night party announcing Mr. Mailer's intention to run in the 1961 mayoral campaign, and he, like many of his guests, had been drinking heavily. Mr. Mailer was arrested, but his wife declined to press charges, and he was eventually released after being sent to Bellvue Hospital for observation. The marriage broke up two years later.

Well, um, that's so rich, that paragraph! Does the Times' habit of giving everyone a honorific even when describing the most despicable deeds make this sound funny? Is there a tone of excusing stabbing your wife if you'd announced a political move and, after all, just drank as much as your buddies? She did give up on him, though. (Or he her?) After two years. Then, of course, one ponders what would have happened if she had died. If she hadn't been around to forgive this tiny transgression in spite of his 'seriously wounding' her?

I'd always known Mailer did this (stabbed one of his wives) but this description in the Times really brought a flood of thoughts of the unintended consequences of domestic violence, living or dying after an assault and, of course, of running for political office.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Overweight and Proud of It!

This was taken last year. Around the holidays obviously. (For those of you following the downsizing saga over at Visible Woman, we sold the decorations.) Anyway. The JUC has trouble resisting comment on certain stories and one of those came out today. Seems there was a scientific study of the effect on mortality of being at certain weights. Overweight means a BMI of 25-30, I think. Mine's around 27 I bet. (I did have it tested once. Okay maybe 28.) I'm 5'6" and 162 pounds, more or less. I'm actually probably shorter now. You shrink! Gravity! No fair! Anyway. This juicy story, from some scientists with too much time and data on their hands was reported in newspapers around the country today. See The New York Times.

Bottom line is that being overweight according to current standards (not obese) might make you live longer. They don't know why, of course. Now the only question we have here at JUC is how to make the money last!

Friday, November 2, 2007

What is Funnier?

I know you all had laughs over Dick Cheney shooting his hunting partner. But did you hear that a guy in Iowa got shot by his dog the other day. That is way funnier, I think. He put the gun down, no safety, dog stepped on it. Hunter will survive. Dog unhurt. What if this guy went hunting with the Vice President? Maybe this guy's dog could shoot Dick and leave a pellet or two in the Secret Service detail. That would be funny to the max. Unless someone was permanently harmed. Because as much as we are smart ass 'you didn't mean that to happen, did you?' folks here at JUC, we don't want anyone permanently maimed like, um, soldiers in all those wars.

Friday, October 26, 2007

European Economies

While perusing a stack of somewhat dated newspapers, I noticed a few bits that might help you understand the economies of some of our neighbors across the pond.

Did I really see a blurb that said that organized crime was the largest segment of the Italian economy? Yep. Didn't dream that. Dutifully reported in The New York Times.

I also saw a couple of stories about Germany. One was reporting on the way the Germans like to save money. So much so that perfectly affluent people furnish their apartments from stuff from the street or dump. Dampens retail sales does this tendency to save for a rainy day. Give those Germans some U.S.-style consumers to buy a bunch 'o bedroom suites, flat screen TVs and kiddy toys from China with dubious paint. Fact is the Germans make some quality toys with no lead paint and high enough prices. Playmobil. Fact is I've seen Germans doing lots of upscale shopping. But maybe judiciously. Said in the article that German ebay is second largest after U.S. They love a bargain, I guess. Saw another article about German booksellers. In German, book prices can't be discounted so all the little stores co-exist with the giants. This has actually resulted in lower suggested retail prices. Somehow. Whole system is now threatened by the Swiss allowing discounting of German language books.

And finally, the French. I love France by the way. (And Italy. And Germany.) But the French are being told that their lack of trust of one another is so extreme that it is affecting their economy adversely and adding much unemployment.

It all sort of makes me go 'hmmm' in a Journal of Unintended Consequences kind of way. Especially the worry about consumers in Germany because it always seems that the U.S. economy is dependent on all of us spending like fools.

Monday, October 22, 2007

When Unintended Consequences Collide

I was reading about how some Japanese clothing designers, feeding on people's fears of personal attack crimes were making clothing and bags that quickly converted into something inanimate that you'd expect on the street. One dress turned into a soda machine. I'm not kidding. Follow the link. A kid's backpack became a fire hydrant.

Then I thought how vulnerable you'd be standing there pretending to be these things. Then I remembered that people are sometimes injured by trying to tip soda machines to rob them or make them work. Not to mention what dogs do to fire hydrants.

Maybe this is what life is all about: unintended consequences colliding.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

This may sound corny...

I can't believe I haven't mentioned how the rush to make corn into fuel (and subsidizing same) has roiled the world with UC. Poor Mexicans can't get cheap tortillas. Somehow milk and egg prices are affected. Yes, well, those animals that we take from eat something. How surprising. And now with corn (it's SUV fuel!) prices rising there is a shortage so ethanol plants don't have raw materials. None of this should have been unexpected. But someone folks feign surprise.

So when you are standing at the pump filling your SUV with fuel and you see that the fuel might be 10% Ethanol, remember: that's someone's tortilla.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Low Hanging Fruit

Having a Journal of Unintended Consequences when the subprime loans crisis comes due is sort of embarrassing. Yep, if you take out a loan with the certainty that prices will go up and interest rates stay down, you will get burned. If you call 'losing' a house you never even made much of a down payment on losing something you owned, I guess these people are victims. (Ask an elderly couple about paying the exorbitant taxes in Austin on a home they own outright. That, my friends, is criminal.) And if you make these loans or buy packages of them? Well, shame on you, too. Because getting these houses back in foreclosure won't be fun.

Nope. This journal's topic is just too easy. I was thinking maybe of starting the Digest of Unremarkable Headlines. (DUH) for things like "Happy People Found to Live Longer" but then who needs another journal. I'm not keeping up as it is with The Visible Woman and Austin, Texas Daily Photo. And I'm threatening to start a WEB page for all the Baby Boomers and elderly people moving to downtown Austin. (How does The DOWNTOWN AUSTIN BOOMer sound?)

Anyway, two other headlines have caught my eye while I was wearing my Journal of Unintended Consequences hat. In one (The New York Times, Saturday October 6, 2007) entitled "Save the Gnostics" it is brought to our attention that a group called the Mandeans are being wiped out by the war in Iraq. The group is small and pacifist and in spite of surviving in a delicate balance with the conquerers and dictators of the past, the situation now is scattering the group and they are landing in places in small numbers where continuing their culture is not encouraged.

In other news, there is a polio outbreak in Nigeria. Due to cost and training requirements, they use a live oral vaccine. But not enough people get it (some think it is a Western plot to sterilize Muslims). People who do excrete the weak virus and people who aren't inoculated can actually get the disease.

Yeah, life is teeming with UCs (unintended consequences) but I'm clearly not paying enough attention. Being caught up in the vortex of downsizing will do that to a person.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Laws and Schools

Long ago, most classrooms in Texas weren't air-conditioned. Maybe the principal's office or some windowless area, but not all of the school. School started around Labor Day and ended around Memorial Day. We sweltered for a small amount of the year.

With the advent of air-conditioning and the continued pandering to kids ("let's let the Christmas holiday be between terms so they won't have to study") gradually the start of school slid back into the summer. Then people noticed a loss of vacation revenue at beaches and amusement parks. And the cost of cooling in the dog days of summer. Now, in Texas, there has actually been legislation to push the school openings back toward Labor Day.

One of our readers notes that there is a fallout at the other end of the school year. As part of the continued pandering to kids, elaborate graduations in big (air-conditioned and comfortable) venues are booked years in advance. Only they are now scheduled too early! In my day we graduated in the football stadium.

When you move the date one way for some 'good' reason it has economic consequences. Correct that and, of course, other unintended consequences raise their heads. In Colorado where my great nephew goes to school, kids are using the schools year round. And, of course, you don't need as much air conditioning.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Steal a Truck...The Consequences

Well, the event started this way in Phoenix. A guy in a utility truck is stopped. The truck is stolen, maybe, or the driver doesn't want the cops to check him. He crashes into the crusher and flees. Lots of cops pursue. A police helicopter, too. And four news helicopters. Just as the day pulls over and gets in a truck that is idling and (miraculously because you'd say he was surrounded at that point) pulls away, two of the news helicopters crash into each other. You can hear the crash on this video.

Some days start out so simply...and then take bizarre turns.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

All Organ Meat Meal

We had a delicious '97 Burgundy Grand Cru and a 1986 Silver Oak Napa Cabernet last night in celebration of a friend's birthday. This is my foie gras with one succulent bite of the liver already gone so you can see how pink and beautiful it is. Yum. I had sweetbreads for my main course. A most politically incorrect meal. The sweetbreads were probably once the thymus gland of a young calf (dare I say the veal word?).

This delicious meal was at a venerable Austin restaurant whose name will not be revealed here because vandals have the handle as Dylan said. Although the vandals' attack on another restaurant had the effect of costing them in clean-up but making the foie gras sell out halfway through the evening. Go figure. As we are constantly pointing out in this space: things don't always happen like you expect.

I'm sure this meal is supposed to be damning my health, too. I buttered several small rolls to eat along with my two dishes, too.

Birthday celebrations. Hoping for many more. And we eat and drink. But is it really an accident that my most gourmet-minded, organ-meat-eating, vintage-wine-drinking friends are the ones soldiering on with me in the greatest numbers?

Perhaps the biggest unintended consequence of the way I live my life is that it is becoming a sort of experiment. My 90-year-old dad went along last night. He didn't drink too much. He had steak. He told jokes.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

To China and Back, with Love

You all know that getting rid of all those old computers, printers, cell phones and such is a huge problem and that tossed on the land fill they are toxic to ground water. Well, sometimes we fill ships with them and send them to China. So far, so good. Contaminate the communists, I guess, because they toss what they don't recycle and contaminate their own landfills.

But the Chinese are apparently recycling some of this waste into lead alloy and making it into children's jewelry and sending it back to us. The Wall Street Journal reports today that two studies suggest that this jewelry had traces of copper and tin indicating solder material from circuit boards was the source of the high levels of lead and that some jewelry contained antimony, a toxic metalloid element used to harden lead in batteries.

You will be glad to find out that China bans imports of e-waste but that it arrives nonetheless in loads of sixty tons or more.

To add to the profound head-hurting globalization many of the trashed electronics, or parts of them, came from China in the first place.

You Are What You Steal

This just in from today's Wall Street Journal. A company collects data on pirated music downloads and sells it to radio stations to refine their play lists.

What's next: Wal-Mart stocking stores based on the most often shoplifted items? [Warning: they are cracking down on young shoplifters over at WalMart, I read elsewhere recently.]

Friday, July 6, 2007

Revenge for Not Cleaning Your Plate

[First...apologies for stealing this picture. These are actually clever lamps from this company.] But I've been thinking about all those "there are people starving in China" admonitions we got from our mothers who wanted us to join the clean plate club. Now, Chinese factories are poisoning their food and ours (and our pets'). There's some justice in that.

Global Parenting

It's tough on the rich and well-connected to teach their kids everything they should know. So Al Gore's kid is driving a Prius, yes. Did Daddy buy it for him? Did he mention that driving it 100MPH might defeat some of the positives for the planet? (You think the internal combustion engine is working when a hybrid goes this fast? Me, too.) Yeah and he had a bit of drugs, too. Just say no. To global warming.

I'll bet the father saw things this way: my son will be setting a good example in a Prius. In the Unintended Consequence of parenting, it just makes this story so so funny! And, of course, pushes Paris Hilton off the media table for a minute or two.

Friday, June 29, 2007

The Danger of an Examined Life

I was reading the May 28th issue of "The New Yorker" and there was an article about Gordon Bell. Let's just say that in the interest of software or self-indulgence and, I guess, his job as a researcher at Microsoft, Mr. Bell is recording almost everything in his life. Past and's being scanned, photographed. He wears this camera around his neck that senses light changes and takes a picture.

Now, Socrates, I believe said “An unexamined life is not worth living." But really.

Bell's initial epiphany was that scanning and photographing would let him let go of paper and objects. But there is this ongoing question of saving this stuff in any form.

God knows (if he exists and is paying attention) that I've tried to record my life. Sometimes obsessively. In cyberspace I have, from time to time, posted journal entries every day which included my mood assessment, my exercise routine, what I ate and how I filled my time and, privately, filled many journals (especially making records of travels) and KBs of disk space recording what I have done. I've made databases of books and people. I've recorded all my spending for embarrassingly long periods of time. I've even scanned in scraps of paper with my doodles on them. When I'm not making a record of my life, I feel a little lost in it. But clearly it can go too far. And this article is a witness to that.

Knowing how much to try to record or for that matter remember of one's own life, is a crazy science.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Evoking Memories

Anniversaries do it. Evoke memories, that is. If James Joyce was capable of thinking of marketing, he would have realized that he would mark June 16 (1904) for the literature set. Bloomsday.

For those following along, I've been toying with the idea of reading Joyce's Ulysses myself for a while. I prepared. I bought Stuart Gilbert's 1930's exposition on it in a Paris bookstore (The Village Voice). I read it, too. Mostly in the bathroom if you must know. It took almost two years to get through it. I shook my head at the untranslated French and Greek thrown about. I read The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I watched movie versions of Artist and Ulysses. I read various biographical and explication materials. I read a prose version of The Odyssey, translated by T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia).

Yesterday, I decided the time had come. I would read James Joyce's Ulysses. I would carry it to the gym for the bike and take it any time I needed reading material and didn't take newspapers. And I did. I'm a few dozen pages in.

In 2004, I visited Dublin. I flew over alone and met a friend who had been visiting Edinburgh, her place of birth, from her home in Cape Town. She helped me seek out the plaques embedded in the sidewalks marking spots from Ulysses, went with me to places like the James Joyce Cultural Center and sat with me while I had a pint at Davy Byrne's pub. She even talked a friend of her son's who took us out for a drive into going to a Martello tower that houses a museum of some sort. (We didn't get to see inside because it was closed, but I was thrilled to see the tower.)

So the day (June 16th) makes me think of Joyce's book. And the copy of the book I chose to actually read (I found three in my piles) was one I bought in Dublin. I thought of my friend. How one day on our visit to Dublin she had awoken with a swollen eye. And how we would much later learn that it was a symptom of her breast cancer once again rising up in her brain. My friend is in perhaps her last battle with her disease now. She's far away in Cape Town. But every day that I read my Penguin Classic version of Joyce's book I think of her.

Dates and places have power to evoke memories. From June 16th to Dublin to Cape Town. We joked about the swollen eye, called it the "Dublin Eye" when the symptom came and went and bedeviled her before it was known that it was an announcement of what might spell her doom. Our joke was a sly reference to the London Eye which is really a sightseeing ferris wheel. Which I visited in a break from a business trip in 2002 while my mother was in a hospital dying. I was melancholy on the trip but I bought a souvenir picture of myself on the London Eye to show my mother who was eager to hear about the trip and ask for souvenirs.

And now I've arrived back to my mom and her cancer: Multiple Myeloma. And I think of my friend who is waging a valiant battle against it.

Chains of memories and thoughts, unbidden and sometimes unwelcome. It's how we operate. From the date June 16th and off into the world of fiction and then into the facts of our lives.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Politics of Eating

Eating is getting more and more fraught with politics all the time. There is the organic food movement. Then there are the people who tell you that it needs to come from close to home to save fuel costs. Of course, there are the people who think foie gras is cruelly obtained and then those who would have you not kill animals at all.

Restaurants are eschewing bottled water because of the high cost of containers and shipping and going so far as to filter tap water and infuse water with carbon dioxide for the sparkling drinkers.

Here in Austin, there are those who are up in arms that the owners of Las Manitas got a forgivable loan to move their restaurant out of leased space. (Particularly irate is the barbecue joint owner whose place burned down when, with a fire station within spitting distance, the dispatcher decided that the 911 caller couldn't be serious..."they must just be smoking some meat." He got no help from the city in rebuilding his business even though, as a taxpayer, he should have surely had some expectation of fire protection.) Right on the Avenue (Congress Avenue) we will have two politically fraught choices when we move downtown (assuming they both last). Las Manitas ("Avenue Cafe") with their undeserved boost from the city and Jezebel, proudly serving foie gras...even for dessert. I've made my choice. I used to dine at Las Manitas occasionally and encouraged outlanders to try it for the local flavor and possible celebrity sighting. No more. I'll be eating foie gras down the street, even if I have to elbow some protesters.

I'm wondering, too, about the unintended consequences of the other movements. Where will the displaced long distance truckers and water bottling plant employees get jobs? While I try to buy locally made groceries from time to time, will sales of some things be adversely affected? Long term these movements do good. With the exception of the foie gras thing. I just wish they force fed ducks nearer to home. (Methinks they use ducks, not geese, these days. At least in the U.S.)

Tuna, I think, is the subject of much controversy, too. We are fishing them into extinction or something. But doesn't that plate of seared tuna look good? And if we are to truly eat locally wouldn't that really limit the fish we'd have in Central Texas? I love fish. It's supposed to be good for me. Locally we might get some catfish. A questionable bottom feeder that seems best fried.

Yeah. Eating has consequences. And it's political. But I think perhaps unintended consequences abound.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

More is Less Sometimes

I have three blogs now. Journals, whatever. I'm kind of old school. I guess they are blogs because I use the software instead of making HTML and uploading it myself. I like the dating, labels, tools. Although sometimes I wish I'd chosen WordPress because they seem to have a little calendar widget that is cool. But I digress. And sometimes digressions make things lose their punch. More is less.

Anyway. Besides this rather specialized journal (wherein we examine what happens when we are thinking about something else) I have my classic blah, blah, blah this is my life in too many sentences: The Visible Woman. And my spousal unit really wanted to join the Photo-a-Day family. So we started Austin, Texas Daily Photo. Now we have sleepy conversations of a morning, as we did today.

"Do you want me to put up a picture or do you want to do it?"

He returned an uncaffeinated, puzzled look.

"Austin Daily Photo."

"Oh. I wanted to put up a picture of the Avenue B," says he. (The link is to his original discussion of that place on our old WEB page.

"OK," says I. And I wonder if I will post anything on another space.

So that's where the car comes in. I posted some art cars on the daily photo: here and here. Well one was a truck. Still. I was flipping through photos on the computer and came up with the one shown here. I could 'save' it and exhibit in on the Photo-a-Day site. I specifically set ground rules there that the photos didn't need to be particularly current. (Although I'd try to identify the when and where. This one is from December 2005. Downtown on Second Street.) But I decided to show it here. Because it so clearly illustrates my 'more is less' theme of the day. Notice they had to (or accidentally) painted over a bumper sticker. Change of Heart? Too exuberant with the paint? Notice that the license plate got a bit of paint. That might be a problem, too. See here.

Gee I seem to have come up with a bunch of links for this puppy. So if you aren't convinced that this post just has too many words in service of its thought (more or less) then you are now reeling from following all those links. Do you do that? Do you have ADD? Me, too.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

On Average Women Get Five More Years

In The Wall Street Journal on April 24th there was an article about how men's health just wasn't getting enough attention. Women noticed a few years ago that all the medical research and drug research was focused on men and got some money diverted to breast cancer and, whine, whine, men die earlier and now that women's health is getting attention, men's is getting less and besides men don't like to go to the doctor.

There was more whining about how women have special doctors (OB/GYN) and they bother to go see them. And, quel dommage, boys and men take more risks and it gets them killed.

Well, my in-laws are both sort of nihilists about going to the doctor, but he's got nine years on her to start with. Here they are at 87 and 96 after we took them for a Mother's Day brunch.

The capper of this article (apart from its use of Unintended Consequences as a sub-head--HA!) was that pundits are suggesting that doctors should check out blood pressure and cholesterol and glucose and stuff when the gents coming begging for Viagra. After all, a OB/GYN will take blood pressure and do blood tests when a lady comes in for a Pap smear. It's only fair! Besides with better control of their hearts and such, they might not need the Viagra.

So women get five more years on average. It seems fair somehow although after being paid less, on average, their whole lives they better hope some dead man left them some money.

My 90-year-old Dad was five years older than my mother. And he's been a widower for five years. Statistics and real life are two different things.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Spending Money Where You Sleep

Hotels charge you for the room and hope to recoup the cost of utilities, staff, maintenance, supplies, taxes, rent, insurance and on and on. They hope to get another little margin of profit from honor bars, in-house bars and eateries, parking, gift shops and such.

Our two main hotels for our Western adventure of 2007 were the El Dorado Hotel and Spa in Santa Fe and the Valley Ho Hotel and Spa in Scottsdale.

The El Dorado hoped to get thirty or forty dollars extra during our stay for the use of the Internet. Only it didn't work in our room and it was inconvenient to change rooms when they offered. I felt a little put out at them over that. OK, a lot put out. FFP had a massage in the spa (in fact he was getting it when they offered the room change which was after I'd found a cafe and checked email) but other than that we didn't give them one penny more than the room rate (which was plenty) and the taxes and the eighteen US dollars a day to park. We eschewed the mini bar. We didn't dine in their fancy restaurant (although the menu posted looked good). We didn't have drinks in their rather cold and cavernous lobby lounge. We didn't order room service and drank the (free) coffee from the little pot in the room. We went to the Internet Cafe pictured for free Internet access and bought coffee and other drinks from the cafe. We ate and drank at other restaurants.

Now at the Valley Ho they gave us a mega upgrade. The wireless access worked flawlessly. And is free. It might follow that I
  • drank a beer out of the mini bar
  • ordered expensive pots of coffee from room service
  • let FFP buy a T-Shirt, watch and sun block in the gift shop
  • bought an over-priced insulated cup in the gift shop for myself
  • ate two meals on the patio in the ZuZu restaurant
  • had drinks at the associated Trader Vic's
Those extras make money for the hotel. Only when you get pissed off about something you hold back and don't buy stuff.

So word to the wise, hospitality guys: if I feel well-treated and not ripped off then I spend money on the other stuff. And, hey, I was actually willing to pay $9.95 a day for wired access. You just had to make it work in a timely fashion. Of course, free access would have been better. The free apples in the gym, The New York Times (so much better than USA Today) and all that loosen up my credit cards. El Dorado: I might have dropped some other bucks in your hotel. Except. It just felt like a rip. Your loss.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Unworthy Customers

In Santa Fe you constantly see examples of the old customer adage "you never know who is going to be an important customer, so treat everyone like the most important one." OK, maybe it's not an old adage, maybe I just made it up, but it's a good one. Anyway, in Santa Fe when you go into an art gallery, the people running it are almost unfailingly nice. Even if you are in your jeans and hiking boots and you just want to chat about art you already own and how you are downsizing and actually selling the art you already own, they will show you stuff, tell you tales, make you feel like a customer.

Now, when we decided to visit Santa Fe we knew we would go to art galleries and wander through enjoying some, shaking our heads over other stuff. And we knew we wouldn't buy anything. But we knew we would be customers of a few dining and drinking establishments.

Restaurants occasionally fall into a mode where some customers are more equal than others. Why I don't know. Every customer is spending money. I guess they figure if you are a regular or a restaurant critic, it matters more how your experience goes. There aren't any consequences, in other words, of giving you a lousy table or otherwise spoiling your experience if they don't know (or care) who you are. You already showed up and they will just charge you the prices on the menu. No loss.

Well, I guess the restaurant folks may be right. But since I started this blog, I figure there are consequences. My three or four readers will find out how I was treated at and what I think about these restaurants.

Everyone we asked about Santa Fe said Geronimo was the fine dining choice. So I made a reservation a long time ago, many weeks ago, for the night of the first full day we'd be in Santa Fe. A Monday.

Things started fine. While we were having delicious NMex food at Tomasita's for lunch someone named 'Ronni' (I'm guessing the spelling, it was a woman) called on my cell phone to get assurance that we would show up for our reservations. I assured her that we would. I thought this was a good sign. In retrospect, though, I think it meant that they were trying to give away our reservation to someone 'more important.' Maybe not.

We arrived a couple of minutes early. We immediately noticed a fireplace in front with tables set in front of it. Since indoor areas seem stuffy there anyway we hoped not to get one of those. We should have been so lucky.

FFP thinks the hostess said she 'had us at table 40.' Table forty was back a room and set for four (we'd only had a reservation for two for sixty days or so after all) and it turns out that four would be very very uncomfortable at this table. Shoehorned by a gas log fireplace, it had a banquette and two chairs on the opposite side of a narrow, not-intended-for dining (legs on outside) table. The hostess suggested that we both sit on the banquette. I wasn't interested in being by the fire and, as it turned out, two people could not sit on one side of the table very easily because to avoid the legs I had to move the extra chair well out of the way. My chair was apparently partly broken because as I squeezed in and scooted away from the leg that banged my knee the seat back and seat moved apart and gave me a mega blood blister on a finger.

So was this the worst table in the restaurant? No, it was the worst table in all of New Mexico. Because just to my right was a corridor and every waiter going to the kitchen with dirty dishes or coming from the kitchen with plates and every customer coming and going to the toilet had to pass through this corridor. I started doing a scientific stufy (well, maybe not scientific) of the average time we were left in peace without interruption. The longest was 30 seconds. Sometimes there was no break. Usually I'd count five, six, seven seconds and someone would go into or out of the corridor.

Now we should have asked for another table. But we didn't. So I can't tell you if they would have accommodated us.

But I will say they were serving the foie gras on chocolate cake. I'll go a lot of places with a good chef. But I won't go there. So I had a tuna and smoked salmon appetizer which was just okay. When I ordered the lobster and salmon entree I should have known that something was going to be off. The waiter said, "Now the lobster is spicy and it's served atop a cold salad." I guess other diners complained? Well, I got it anyway. The spice was cranked up a bit but that was fine. Overall it just didn't come together. The lobster and salmon were not mated in a meaningful way. The whole thing was served on a narrow curving dish that meant that my food was hard to keep on the plate. I hate that. FFP got some dish that combined fish with short ribs. You know when you go someplace like that with a chef, it has to work! We ordered a $20 retail bottle of Chardonnay for which they charged eighty bucks.

Did we have dessert and coffee. Um, no.

We retrieved our car and went back to the hotel. We asked ourselves if there were consequences for the restaurant. Probably not, we decided. But it wouldn't keep me from expressing my dissatisfaction in this space.

We did find places we liked in Santa Fe. The much-touted Cafe Pasqual's was everything we dreamed of. Fresh, flavorful, friendly service. Yes, it was crowded. But all tables were equal and you could actually dine at them without being assaulted by the service for every single table. We liked it so much that went back the second time for breakfast. The smoked trout hash and the motulenos were delicious. FFP had a breakfast chile relleno, too, that he loved. We tried to go back for dinner but were thwarted by the line. (They do take reservations.) We also enjoyed Il Piatto, too, where the pumpkin ravioli, apparently a signature dish, was wonderful. Service was friendly and they didn't have any table that was really so bad that it could be compared to number 40 at Geronimo.

Every customer's experience has consequences. We didn't try SantaCaFe on this visit because Austin's food critic for the local paper went there three times and had three bad experiences.

We love dining. And sometimes good experiences are expected and not realized. Other times good experiences are just stumbled on.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Save the Earth! Free the Internet!

We are in Santa Fe at the moment and yesterday we wanted to sit and read and have coffee and we only found a Starbucks. We asked for brewed coffee, a tall. (This is small for those not schooled in this Starbucks BS.) We asked for a real cup since we planned to sit in the place and consume it. This seemed to completely baffle the Starbucks employee. She showed us a rather large ceramic cup and said she did have these but they held more than the tall (which is small remember).

"Do you just want me to put the amount of a tall in it?" she asked.

"Um, yes."

I didn't look and see if she used a disposable cup to 'measure' the amount. I couldn't have taken it if she did.

I guess Starbucks doesn't want to wash dishes. They want you to take those awful cups with the cardboard rings. And a plastic lid. Even to sit in the place and have your coffee. They are good citizens of the world, though. They have signs about how fair trade their coffee buying is and they sell this water from a company that purports to donate a nickel for each bottle to a charity that provides clean water to the third world.

Today I'm typing this in the Ecco Espresso and Gelato bar. The coffee automatically came in a ceramic cup when I said I was dining in. The sizes are 'Small, Medium and Large.' The wireless Internet is free. I'm using the Internet here because my fancy pantsy hotel purports to have wired Internet for $9.95 a day but it doesn't work in my room. I always check if there is Internet before picking a hotel. But sometimes they lie. We stayed last night in a less well-situated chain for about a third of the price. Free wireless. It would be funny if it weren't so sad. I like my high thread count sheets and fancy shampoos and soaps as well as the next person. I like a great location. But get the Internet together guys. I don't want to spend my vacation on customer support!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Perils of Wal-Mart

There has been lots of press of late in Austin about the neighborhood opposition to the Wal-Mart project at the site of the old Northcross Mall. Elegant renderings of native limestone buildings surrounded by native Texas plants have been presented by the Bentonville set. In their defense, they 'voluntarily' made changes. And no tire shop either. And they might not be open all night and will (somehow) keep their big semi delivery trucks off the neighborhood streets. Opponents counter about the parking garage, traffic and their vision for a mixed-use development on the property. I suspect that WalMart will win. They already have approval, after all.

But today I was in Brownwood. My husband picked up a Brownwood paper and found the police blotter cluttered with Wal-Mart crime. Is that because nothing else is open in the wee hours when everyone but Wal-Mart employees, shift workers, criminals and drunks are asleep? Anyway, in Brownwood I doubt their was a protest of the Wal-Mart perched on the highway amid the chains and dollar stores.

But these police reports were funny and make a case for not having Wal-Mart in your neighborhood. One guy objected to an ID check for his smokes purchase and verbally and physically abused customers and employees and employees and police gave chase to the Dollar Store. (This guy struck a jailer with a shoe hurled from his foot after arrested. There you go.)

"In unrelated incidents" (don't you love that?): an officer responded to a disturbance at (you guessed it) Wal-Mart where a guy who was eating donuts, candy bars and beef jerky in the store told the cop he was "chillin' dawg." And then another officer responded to Wal-Mart where a woman was stealing laxatives and her companion sunglasses. The man was cited for theft! But there's more! Another officer was dispatched to (yep) Wal-Mart because a guy took a cooler into the store and tried to put a 30-pack of beer (I never heard of a 30-pack of beer!) in it.

So, yeah. Wal-Mart. Crime wave. Whatever.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Bad Connection

That's what my Dad's cell phone looks like. [Although maybe there is no picture there. Suddenly for my blogs the pictures don't show up.] Anyway, my Dad's cell phone. He never uses it. But we share minutes and he has it if he really needs it. And happens to be carrying it. So it goes. (Not to get all Kurt Vonnegut on you.)

Anyway, a few weeks ago I started noticing on my phone (which I talked about here) that I was getting missed calls from, I think, an 866 number. I didn't think anything about it. No messages were left.

Then one day I happened to be paying attention to my phone when it vibrated and I answered it and it was this 866 number (I think, something like that) and it was someone with a hard-to-understand accent trying to hard sell me a new phone. And a new plan, of course. Not only was the person hard to understand because of an accent but the connection was bad. And, usually, my connection is crystal clear. In any case, I told them I didn't want a new phone or plan.

But the calls kept coming. Different accents. Always a scratchy connection even though my other calls remain crystal clear. Finally I got one with a hard-to-understand accent and this real pushy attitude. "The new phone we are GOING to give you has a NEW plan." Still a poor connection exacerbating the accent.

"I haven't agreed to a new phone or plan. I'm happy with my phone except for you people calling on it and bugging me about a new phone or plan."

"We can put that in our records," she said. I think anyway.

"Yes, please do."

Isn't it funny that these are the only calls that sound like they are coming from Mars via India? And they are from my cell phone company trying to sell me something.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Thank You For Rubbing This in Your Hands

With smoking ordinances more and more keeping smokers out of my smell zone, I don't think much about smoking. Except, you know, when I check on my RAI stock.

When I plowed through the stuff in my SXSW swag bag, I found this little foldover pack that looked like a matchbook. But it contained this little foil packet of lotion that you rub on your hands when you can't smoke that has extract of tobacco in it.

Rather than discard it, I put it on my desk to ponder the amazing world we live in.

And, of course, all the unintended consequences. Children getting addicted to rubbing tobacco into their hands. (The package says 'For Adult Use Only' I'll give them that.) People transferring the substance to others. I searched the WEB a bit today and found that people were wondering about these things. Other people were using the product. This user says the product smells like a dirty airplane. Hmm...that's attractive. But then if you smoke.... And besides do dirty airplanes smell like that anymore?

Monday, March 26, 2007

Taking Stock

When I have a party, I like my guests to be comfortable and happy. Rule number one: get a libation in their hands. [Note: Libation is, strictly speaking, the pouring of a drink in honor of a diety. In my lexicon, it is a drink poured in honor of a guest. Whether it's a glass of wine or whiskey or just a Coke or water or some club soda, it is symbolic of honoring a visitor to your home or event.]

At each event, I direct the guests to my most available drinks. Usually red and white wine are available. Still and sparkling water. Some sort of cold drinks (or, depending on your region, sodas, soda pops, soda waters). Occasionally we offer a couple of varieties of beer. Sometimes we will push a specialty drink. Bloody Marys, perhaps. Or encourage the consumption of liqueurs. Once we offered mango margaritas with an interior Mexican meal. (My trusty assistants did lots of lime squeezing as each of five pitchers took 3/4 cup fresh lime juice.) I served those in my martini glass collection.

Anyway. Unintended consequences. When I'm serving drinks I'll buy sodas or mixers. You never know when there will be a run on gin and tonic or Diet Coke. (If you have lots of women guests, have lots of white wine and Diet Coke. Sexist, I know. Personally when we are out and about and I order whisky and FFP orders white wine they always put the drinks in front of the wrong person. Still.) But I digress. Unintended consequences?

Now if I have a bottle of Gin or Jack Daniels it never really goes bad. So stocking up just means that your supply lasts for more occasions. But buy sparkling water or soda and they don't really last. We don't go through much of it. I might drink a Coke or Root Beer or something once a week. I might mix an occasional drink with Tonic or Club Soda. (Mostly, I drink my whiskey straight or with water and ice.) Bottled sparkling water loses its fizz. And sodas in cans? Well, over time, the contents seems to lose its pizazz. But worse, the cans leak! They do this in a most amazing way. I will quote Wikipedia.
Aluminum cans contain an internal coating to protect the aluminum from the contents. If the internal coating fails, the contents will create a hole and the can will leak in a matter of days. There is some difference in taste, especially noticeable in beer, presumably only due to traces of the processing oils used in making the can. Oils used in can manufacturing are FDA approved and must be constantly monitored.
[This isn't an academic paper so forgive me for this source. It was the only one I could find.]

I have experienced these leaks and they are very strange and messy. You will have some soda stacked somewhere. In my case, under a 'bar' in the kitchen or in a climate-controlled storage room or even a refrigerator. There will be a mess from spilled soda and, sure enough, you will find a can or two that have leaked some but not all of the contents. There will be no apparent leak. I finally saw a can leaking when I was cleaning out a small frig we hadn't used in a while. I picked up a can and a very fine spray from a microscopic hole in the side started spraying me. Obviously when the liquid reaches the level of the hole, it stops. You cannot see the hole!

I haven't seen this effect with canned beer. However, I do tend to drink beer faster than sodas!

So I guess that when I have a party or guests and stock up on these cans of stuff, I'm going to have to find some way to get rid of the leftovers or just open them and dump them down the drain. This planned obsolescence of canned beverages seems to give them a pretty short life. Although I might possibly have kept some around longer than I realized! And yes, I've found a leaking food can in my pantry more than once in my life.

You just can't stock up on some things. They won't be the same when you are ready to use them. Toilet paper, however. Doesn't ever seem to go bad.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Escape Nostalgia

You know how you start to cherish things you are willingly giving up?

I am ready and willing to leave my large house and my large yard. I am mentally ready to live in a high rise with less space and stuff.

Naturally nostalgia sets in. For the arrival of spring in a plot of land you call your own. For the comfort of having all this storage for all the things you don't really need.

And you look at your target environment differently, too. Last night, very late we were downtown walking to our car. The streets were full of rowdy, slightly drunk singles and we encountered one couple about to have domestic violence on the sidewalk. We were imagining that we were walking back to our home instead of our car. Would we feel as distanced from all this ten stories up as we do five miles away?

A variation on this theme is the feeling you get when visiting a place you "like to visit but where you wouldn't want to live." Finally, you feel like going home. But that day you realize that you are also feeling at home and can navigate the streets and transportation system with ease.

The Truth and Its Servants

FFP and I have been going to the SXSW Film Fest. We have seen only documentaries. Six of them so far.

I plan some mini-reviews over at my main site but this entry is about the consequences of putting the truth in service of our hopes, dreams and desires for change.

Documentaries often have an agenda. They want to explore something as a call to arms to change or at least to expose something standing in the way of a true path.

Which is great.


It is irresistible not to start picking and choosing what you show or pay attention to. By turning a blind eye to some things and putting the floodlights on others the truth starts to look a lot like lying. Especially in cinema. The harder you try to put the truth in service of something, the more it becomes a lie.

Of the films we've seen, the ones that seemed to ring truest and also to give us some insight into the human condition, got out of the way of big issues and let us see individuals in individual struggles. One film chose not to investigate too deeply a character's claim to a celebrity parent seeing that the purposes of the film were served by just knowing what the character said he believed to be true.

At the Q&A for another film that stayed true to the personal while addressing the existence of larger issues, an audience member tried to pursue a thread...looking for a raison d'etre for a (seeming?) epidemic of cancer. This woman went so far as to start talking about governments. You know, being to blame for not stopping the toxic onslaught of industry. This is a tactic FFP and I refer to as 'Stop the Industrial Revolution.'

Another film seemed to want to address growth and natural resources and the politics thereof. Facts were presented. Dazzling cinematography was engendered from satellite pictures, site maps, blueprints. And yet the cause remained blurred. I was sure there was a message. A call to action. But what was it? Was sprawl bad? But they were excoriating high rises. Was growth bad in general? But the director was introduced as not only a great director but a mother.

Documentaries are entertaining and short cutting the truth often makes them more engaging. But the harder you try to put the material in service of some cause and really press to change the world, the muddier the waters get. It turned out that the docs I enjoyed most and, I think, got the most out of, were ones that put a microscope on some of the individual lives that are just part of the great mass of humans. Really, there is only truth one-on-one. And all politics is inherently a statistical lie.

Daylight Savings Time

Time is such an elusive concept anyway. The way we synchronize ourselves to make appointments and label things on a 'time line.' To then make whole hours disappear and reappear in the daylight savings dance seems insane to me.

If people want more daylight after school or work, then why not start earlier? After the politicians vote DST in and you Spring forward what's the difference? And will we really save energy? I mean don't we get home from work in August in Austin and crank down the air conditioner and turn on the computer and the TV, etc?

I just slept a little later this morning and then readjusted to Daylight Stupid Time. My atomic clock and my cable boxes knew the correct time. We are working our way around the other clocks. The one shown in the picture had the right time when I got to it. Whether it was reset by FFP or we never bothered last October, I can't say. We learned to adjust the new car's clock on the way to the movies. I'll have to relearn how to do mine when I next drive somewhere. FFP set his watch but I haven't set any of mine. My phone got the word from the phone company. My computers figured it out, too. (Both running XP.) But FFP's (running Win 2K Pro and completely up-to-date with fixes) didn't.

One unintended consequence of all this is the fun possibility of saying something happened at 2:30AM Central Daylight Time on March 11, 2007. Worse when the November time for the change rolls around doesn't 1:30AM occur twice? At least then one is daylight time and one standard. Sounds like fodder for a mystery novel or at least a botched CIA investigation.

Friday, March 9, 2007

At Least it Doesn't Have Rotary Dial

In the Journal of Unintended Consequences, Category: Unplanned Unobsolesence, I offer the evidence of my old Sanyo SCP-4000.

On the left is my worn out phone in its leather case. On the right, the picture the Sprint company shows alongside my online info.

I'm not sure when I got this phone. At first it was my 911 phone mostly. But when my mother was in the hospital, almost five years ago, I used it extensively to keep friends and relatives apprised. I collected a lot of phone numbers in the thing and started keeping it on all the time (always on vibrate), attached to my belt and plugging it into its charger every night.

I came to rely on the cell phone after that and carted this one on trips and recorded phone numbers of a lot of friends, family, restaurants and hotels.

Naturally I know how to use it. And I rely on it to remember the numbers I can't. I keep it on vibrate and keep keyguard on (this overrides when I answer a call and then goes back on). It holds a good charge with the original battery and the almost but not quite every night charge it gets.

Of course, my phone doesn't take photos or videos. I don't have a way to get the numbers off of it and into the computer. It can surf the WEB somehow but I never really used that. (Imaigine that little monochrome screen!)

I have dropped this phone a thousand times. There are permanent flaws on my screen and wear on the buttons. And yet it keeps doing its job and doing it well. I thought one day I'd renegotiate my contract and get a new phone. Then I renegotiated to share minutes with my dad (who really rarely uses his) but heard myself saying to the guy how happy I was with the phones, that I'd just keep the phones.

Most things give up or the newer models start to tempt me with 'must have' features. But this little Sanyo phone just keeps going.

I'm sure I've doomed it to a death soon by writing this. But whatever happened to Planned Obsolescence?

Monday, March 5, 2007

Trans Fat in Bulk

See this package? It is a three pack of tubes of cookies. I love these cookies and occasionally get them at Central Market or some place fancy like that. I don't like a lot of sweets. But I like these. Tangy and sweet, ginger and lemon. Yum.

I try not to buy them because then I will eat them.

So I was surprised and delighted and dismayed all at once to see a multi-pack at Costco. And cheap, too. Of course. I even had a discussion in the aisle with a perfect stranger about how good these cookies were.

I didn't resist.

Friday night I went to a wine tasting. I managed not to eat a lot of the rare tuna apps and such other goodies and had some nice tastes of wine but not too much drinking. But when I got home, I decided to have a little something else to eat with my coffee. (Yeah, coffee at night. That's another story.) I remembered these cookies. And I ate way too many of them. Yikes.

I went to bed Friday night thinking I shouldn't have eaten so many. But when I got up Saturday I felt fine. I showered, went for a haircut, talked to the barber a while and drank coffee. I went to the gym and did a long hard bike ride to nowhere. When I was lifting weights, however, I felt a little unwell. Dizzy. Nauseated. I went home. I felt a little fragile. It was lunch time. I rarely eat breakfast. So I had spinach salad with green onions, carrots, Craisins and shredded cheese and some feta dressing. And a bunch of water. Gradually I felt worse.

I lost my lunch. I blamed the cookies.

Now this is ironic. A perfectly OK lunch. But I couldn't keep it down. I'm never going to be a good bulimic person if I toss the stuff that's part of a good diet. And keep down the cookies that turn out to have trans fat in addition to many calories.

By Sunday I was much better. By Monday I was cured of the cookies. Of course, it might have been something else. Even a bug. I hear raw oysters from the Texas Gulf Coast are making people sick. But I haven't eaten raw oysters in a few weeks.

And I like to blame it on the cookies.

The Rich Get...Poorer

Last week's stock market decline (correction? free fall?) had the pundits chattering as usual. Much is known in retrospect.

I noticed a couple of articles in The Wall Street Journal late in the week that were amusing in a 'Journal of Unintended Consequences' kind of way.

One article talked about how all the effort (and commissions?) that financial advisors have put into 'balancing' portfolios may have resulted in all kinds of assets moving up and down together. This is a great quote from a Thursday piece:
Many investors who thought they had avoided putting all of their eggs in one basket just got egg on their face instead.
Another article talks about how the rich are heavily invested in stocks (and hedge funds) and borrowing for luxury goods (presumably against future outrageous earnings as CEOs or investment bankers). And if the market really corrects...they will hurt worse than you or I. Maybe not so much, of course. I read another article about how little (percentage-wise) the really rich give away.

In this house, we find ourselves heavily invested in cash, real estate and bonds at the moment. We have noted that our positions have a reverse effect on the financial markets and call this the P-B effect. You may watch for rising prices in the stock market, a real estate crash, etc. I'm just saying. Meanwhile, take a moment when the Dow plummets (my favorite word) to feel sorry for the rich. We will let you know when we jump back into stock and you can sell then.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Office Supply Injuries

I have been working on getting my taxes organized so my CPA can get the return done.

Today I was trying to put a rubber band around a folder stacked full of my copies of a set of papers. The rubber band popped in such a way that it stung the palms of both hands. And it made me jerk a finger across the pile of papers and...paper cut! So there I was bleeding on my tax records.

Yesterday while I was removing staples from paperwork that I wanted to make copies of before I gave the originals to the CPA, a staple separated and a tiny piece of the metal hit me in the nostril. I snorted and it flew out. If it had gone into my brain I wouldn't have been surprised. (Also I don't think my brain could have hurt worse than the tax mess had already achieved.)

I'm one of those people who believes that if you buy enough office supplies you can (finally) organize your life. However, having the stuff turn on me is always disappointing. Really, I don't expect victory through office supplies actually. But I've been known to go get fresh tablets, pens, folders, labels, etc. when some problem was bothering me. The answers were seldom found in the office supplies but I ended up with lots of short-lived organizing techniques.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Things Left on the Top of the Car

You are fumbling for your keys or trying to get too many things loaded at once. You set something on the top of the car or the top of the trunk while getting organized.

And you forget.

I lost a pair of shoes that way once. I believe they were scattered somewhere in the Oak Lawn area of Dallas.

Today I put coffee from my beloved Capresso in my beloved Nissan commuter cup. I buzzed around the house putting things where they belonged and organizing stuff and getting my wallet and keys and phone and some newspapers. (I was headed to the gym.) I went outside and backed out of the garage and angled around in the circular drive to pull out forward.

And I realized I didn't have my coffee cup in the cup holder. I left the car running and went inside. I looked in the kitchen and bedroom and office. No cup. I thought "you don't suppose?" and looked out the front windows at my car. And there was the Nissan commuter cup (with the rubber bottom) on top of the car.

I laughed out loud.

When I drove down 45th I saw a stray shoe in the street. You don't suppose?

I've heard tales of everything imaginable being left on the car in this way. Including babies in car seats. Urban legend? Perhaps. And it seemed to me that the baby in "Raising Arizona" ended up in the road in his car seat. Was that how it happened? I'm not sure.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Not Quite Imploded

Today the shell of a building the Intel Corporation stopped building in 2001 in downtown Austin was imploded. When this concrete and rebar structure was being built there was a downtown euphoria. That evaporated and later reignited. This shell sat awaiting its fate. Dancers danced (and rapelled) on it. People mocked it.

We got up early this morning and stood around downtown with hundreds of others for an hour until the booms went off. Folks drifted by with signs indicating 9/11 conspiracies. A policeman with a bullhorn made an announcement that no one understood. Marc Katz came by and with no amplification said: "Listen up folks! Intel Imploses, but, I gotta tell you: Katz's Never Closes!"

There were a few false alarms with sirens. Or maybe they were preliminary warnings. The workers started moving away and water cannons started blasting away.

Finally big booms, some flashes, more booms, dust. Then you'd expect to see an after picture that was nothing much to look at. But maybe it's just me or did this not work? The officials say the parts left standing "was as expected" according to local News 8 Austin. But to me it looks like something that might not have been as intended. The part remaining shown in the bottom picture well after the collapse was complete and some dust was settled looks like it might be hard to demolish. But what do I know? See my you tube video for all the noise.

Still...when you start building something this isn't the end you imagine. In the top (before) picture you can see buildings under construction on the left and right of the shell. The ten or eleven story one to the right is, in fact, a condo tower we hope to live in one day.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

A Lot Like Fame

This is Rob. A relatively famous blogger. If you know me (and you don't, of course, not really), you know I like reflections. So his glasses bouncing the light in the atrium at the Omni Hotel in Austin (I think) is no accident. Or a happy accident. This picture (taken in 2003) was taken at an event called Journalcon. Or when it was in Austin "Web Writer's Weekend." I think this event has expired. People who wrote on the World Wide Web (before it was 'the WEB') in what we naively called 'journals' (named for their real world analogs) had started gathering in 2000 and continued until 2005 when, I think, their San Diego gathering fizzled a little. After all, by 2006 there were millions of self-styled bloggers and they called themselves that. And My Space was popular. It no longer meant much to meet with the 'other web writers.' Everyone seems to be a web writer now. I see that 2007 will bring a big convention with a lot of shameless convention pandering. But these old journalcons were really about people meeting in the real world who had connected through their journals.

Anyway, I only went to the event because (1) it was in Austin; (2) I was only a year into retirement and still figuring out what to do and thought going to stuff like this and film festivals would someone reveal a higher, creative purpose to me.

I enjoyed it. At the time, I took care not to promote my journal, not to put it in rings and such, not to encourage people linking to me. I stopped this later and started promoting my WEB writings a little but still not much.

So where's the unintended consequence in all this? Well, here goes. Because of these journals, er blogs, ordinary people reveal a part of themselves to anyone who happens by. Some strangers, some people who know some real world version of the person. It creates a vast amount of one-way communication. Some journals have comments but they aren't really conversations. And people can happen by and just catch up on the life of a friend or acquaintance (or a perfect stranger) in much the same way that we can keep abreast of Brittany's impromptu hair styling and tattoos through all the media.

And thus we learn a little about the one-way communication of fame. Even if we control what is written about us (by doing it ourselves!), there are people out there reading, finding out what we are thinking and feeling and seeing. But we don't know the same things about them. I never fail to be shocked at a party when someone whose name I can't remember starts talking intimately about my 'blog.' And people who I count as friends read and keep up with me in a way. But their e-mails are few and far between. It's an unequal communication. Not unlike fame.

Whenever I see Rob in real life (which I have a very few times), I am a little embarrassed. I feel this way around celebrities, too. I feel like I know more than I have a right to know.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

We're All Criminals Down in Texas

I've heard that Texas was originally populated to some extent by citizens of more civilized states who went on the lam. Well, a few years back the Texas Legislature passed a law that you couldn't obscure your license plate in any way. Subject to a $200 fine or if you "knowingly" did it...a $2000 fine and six months in jail. We scoffed at the time although we understood that the bad guys might obscure significant parts of their plates while, you know, being bad and that this would of course be a law for them. However, some law enforcement type stopped a guy for having a frame on his plate that obscured the space shuttle, part of Texas and the all-important slogan: "The Lone Star State." The officer discovered the driver was intoxicated. In his case they tried to suppress evidence saying this law didn't intend to cover a frame that didn't obscure the license number or make it impossible to pick out the state and that therefore the stop wasn't for due cause. Now I'm thinking that the guy was weaving or driving too slow or fast or whatever. But they cited him on his plate.

So a judge had to rule and said the legislature was within its rights. I guess they just have to go out and see what we are already doing, declare it illegal and make criminals of us all. The funny part is that they've built all these toll roads and they've been pimping TxTags for easy (and cheaper) use of them. Of course, if the tag attached to your windshield doesn't work, they give you one that (you saw this coming didn't you?) obscures part of the license plate.

They Hate Each Other and They Hate Us more

In the continuing journal of unintended consequences called the Iraq war, militants (insurgents? Al Queda? Freedom Fighters?) are attacking the new posts in the neighborhoods that were rolled out in the 'surge' to, um, secure the neighborhoods. When our troops stayed inside their zones, they got hurt in smaller numbers than the citizens. It would be interesting to know how many insurgents there are compared to the number of U.S. and Iraqi troops. As in all wars, your heart goes out to the ordinary citizens with no desire to bomb their way to power.

No picture for this one. Refer to this NY Times article.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Art and Porcelain

Ninety years ago Marcel Duchamp gave the idea of what one might consider 'art' a radical flushing.

In the latest news of unintended consequences we have art and we have urinals.

First up: art.

OK, this has nothing to do with Duchamp's porcelain. This is Georgia O'Keefe and her cronies. This story is not one for people with attention defcit disorder. See, O'Keefe was married to Alfred Stieglitz. The famous photographer. He collected art. He died. He willed all the art (some hers, some his, some others) to her. She in turn willed it to various institutions. Including Fisk University. An historic black university. However, she left these strings attached. That the collection be kept and exhibited together and not sold. I think the idea was that blacks needed an opportunity to see this work that was denied them elsewhere. Anyway, a couple of the paintings, including one by Ms. O'Keefe herself, are worth a lot of money and Fisk wants to sell to maintain the rest of the collection or maybe keep the institution going. Here is one story. (I read it in The Wall Street Journal. Just as an aside, I think if you subscribe to the paper you ought to get the online stuff, but that's not the way that site works.) If this story doesn't cry out 'unintended consequences' then I don't know what does. What did Ms. O'Keefe and her advisors envision for the year 2007?

Ah, but what about urinals? Well, let's set the scene. It's New Mexico. You have a problem with drunk driving. Someone invents 'talking urninal cakes.' Now the inventor, surely, had motion-induced advertising in mind. But authorities thought, hmmm? Let's make the cakes give a drunk driving warning. After all what's the thing guys do before getting in their cars drunk? They relieve their bladders. Now the other shoe hasn't dropped on this. But I couldn't resist. So many unintended outcomes lurk in this one. Oh, and the voice is a female voice.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Kicking off This Blog

Humans like to think that their actions are carefully calculated to elicit certain results. And that if they are strong and brave and righteous that their outcomes will be as they wish. However, there is something to that old saw about Hell (or the road thereto) being paved with good intentions.

The world spins through space, all chaos begetting chaos (and evolution), and we ride along, a species full of ideas about steering our ship.

Whenever I see something that reminds me of this state of affairs I think "that belongs in The Journal of Unintended Consequences." I don't believe there is such a journal. You know, after a quick search on a few search engines, I couldn't find such a journal, scientific, humorous or whatever. There is another blog right here on blogger that seems pitched at this concept. I discovered it while trying to get a blogspot URL for this satellite journal. This journal is called "Unintended Consequences" and seems to be pitched at collecting links. While I'll do that, too, I hope in this space to collect enough info so you can simply read each entry, without following links, and say to yourself "yeah, weird outcome" or "this woman is insane to draw that conclusion."

A few newspaper articles I've read in the last few days really cried out for inclusion in this journal. (Note: links may require you to login to a site to obtain more info. I read the old-fashioned paper papers myself.)
  • In Nepal, conservationists have opened a 'cafĂ©' to serve safe food to vultures who were endangered by feeding on dead cattle that had been treated with a drug that helped the cattle thrive and presumably poisoned people not at all or more slowly. (The article in The New York Times mentions that the drug is banned in India and Nepal but that the ban is widely ignored.)
  • The Wall Street Journal reports that blind pedestrians want hybrid cars to emit a sound when turned on. Now, I've noticed sighted pedestrians in parking lots who have not heard my car coming along. It's not a hybrid. But it is a Ultra Low Emission Honda Civic. And it is quiet. Ditto our new Honda Accord. Take away something unpleasant (pollution, noise and otherwise) and you take away something that grounds folks to the danger of speeding cars.
  • Out in San Francisco, there is a old, historic armory building. Naturally the heritage-minded don't want the thing knocked down or transformed. So someone is buying the property for adult movie-making. You know they sort of like the bare, castle- and dungeon-like appearance of the place. Folks are protesting. Maybe some of the same folks who would protest if someone wanted to level it and create condos. To me, this has the ring of unintended consequences.
I'll bet, if you read this far, you are starting to wonder (1) what this entry has to do with war (see labels); and (2) what it has to do with Tom Hanks. And for reading this far you deserve that explanation. I took the picture on June 6, 2004 near a phalanx of portapotties at the sixieth anniversary ceremony of D-Day. Tom wasn't headed to those, of course, but rather to his VIP transportation, probably a helicopter. The vets and others who surrounded him might have been headed the the temporary toilets, though, shut out of the nicer ones in deference to their betters like the presidents of the U.S. and France. I've written a journal entry about that day that you can find here. Suffice to say that on that day George W. Bush pretended to salute these vets (all near 80 and above) by inconveniencing their celebration. Just in my opinion, of course. Now, I never knew whether George (or his 'people' or the French security) saw this situation or the irony of it. But it is right up there in the Journal of Unintended Consequences.

So, I've kicked off the companion blog to The Visible Woman. Over there, we talk about whatever. Here we will concentrate on those things that we humans make happen but never intend.