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.