Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Grinch who stole gay marriage

The people awakened one morning to hear
That the Grinch of Prop 8 had stolen their cheer

So they marched in the streets to protest the decision
As victims of public discrimination.

But one of them said, in a voice starting low
“Maybe, just maybe, it need not be so.

“Does love need a license from officials of state
To affirm what our hearts know will never abate?

“Perhaps marriage is something that can't be constrained
By a book of religion or a statute ordained.

“Marriage is defined in the hearts of two lovers
And can't be affected by the thoughts of the others.

“So let the Grinch live by his own set of rules.
They need not define us unless we be fools

“Someday he will learn what we already know
That love's unconditional, and that's how we grow.”

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Susan Boyle phenomenon

It's nice to see an average person with talent being newly discovered, and I'm happy for Susan Boyle getting the exposure her voice deserves. What puzzles me, though, is how she got that recognition.

When this frumpy middle aged housewife with a flat nose and a horrible hairdo appeared on stage for the Britain's Got Talent show the audience looked on her with low expectations in their eyes, while the judges were openly dismayed to see someone like that on the stage.

When she opened her mouth and people realized she could actually sing with the best of them, everyone cheered like mad, as if they were watching a handicapped person do a pole vault. When the video circulated on You Tube Boyle became a worldwide sensation overnight.

What is really going on here? She defied expectations, that much is clear. What puzzles me is why expectations were so low in the first place. A pretty face is not a prerequisite for a pretty voice. The most rudimentary layman's knowledge of anatomy should have been enough for the audience and judges to give her the benefit of the doubt. But apparently they didn't see any reason to believe she could sing.

I hate to think that the audience and judges were so shallow minded as to judge a book by its cover, but after watching their rolling eyes when she walked on stage that seems to have been the case.

This story is not about Susan Boyle. It is about us.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

In memory of Memorial Day

I remember when holidays were tied to specific calendar dates, so Memorial Day, Labor Day, etc., could fall on any day of the week. In those days holidays were observed with a specific purpose in mind. After certain holidays were shifted to always fall on a Monday, they lost much of their meaning and morphed into three-day commercial extravaganzas. Try to remember the fallen soldiers as you party and shop this weekend.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

California Voters: A disapointment.

As a committed nonconformist I often find my votes on the losing side of the election. But I am particularly dismayed by the rejection of Proposition 1A. This is the second time voters have rejected a measure that would have helped even out the boom-bust cycles in state spending.

The biggest problem with the state budget is that legislators have often used increased revenues from good economic years to start new programs, instead of saving it for bad years. Prop. 1A, and the similar Proposition 56 in 2004, would have required the legislature to set up a larger reserve to keep things going in bad economic years. This week, as before, voters rejected the idea by a huge margin.

It appears that both times voters were just so angry with the legislature's fiscal irresponsibility that they voted NO as punishment. The irony, of course, is that by voting NO the voters were really saying no to the very type of budget discipline they say the legislature needs.

So just what are voters trying to say? Saving money for a rainy day is a bad idea? Given that on two occasions voters overwhelmingly said no to increasing the reserve fund, I guess that must be the case. If so, don't blame the legislature if your taxes go up and public services like roads, schools, parks, fire protection, unemployment benefits, and health care deteriorate in bad economic times, just when we need the services most.

"We have met the enemy... and he is us" -Pogo

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Fun with Comcast: A free digital upgrade problem.

We recently took advantage of Comcast's free digital cable upgrade, finally freeing ourselves from the olden days of analog television. As a techie kind of guy, you may think it odd that we waited so long. We had our reasons, most notable being the fact that upgrades were previously very un-free. Also our small house had no place to put a VCR sized cable box without sacrificing CD storage space.

But the new Motorola cable box they're using now is sufficiently compact to fit in the space of a few knick-knacks. It was delivered within two days via UPS. Hooking it up took less than ten minutes, plus another 45 minutes to dust off and relocate the aforementioned knick-knacks.

The rest of this story gets kind of technical, so be warned. I soon realized that the cable box was not delivering stereo sound to the TV, at least not through the standard coaxial cable. After ruling out a variety of potential causes (audio settings, bad cables, etc) I then ran a set of RCA type audio and video cables from the color coded A/V outputs on the box to one of the TV's A/V inputs. Voila! Beautiful stereo sound.

But to do that I had to disconnect my secondary DVD player from the TV, which I didn't want to do. It also creates some other minor problems with the maze of home theater connections that are too complex to explain here.

It was late at night so I went on-line for a chat with a Comcast "technician," a clueless individual who at one point asked me to plug the coax cable into "the red port" of the cable box. This was a ridiculous request not only because the red output only carries the right audio channel, but also because it is a completely different type of connector, and quite incompatible.

After educating the "technician" on this point, he then tried to explain my problem as an account issue: He said I didn't actually have digital cable, even though I was at that moment enjoying all of its benefits.

45 minutes later I gave up and took my case to Motorola. They confirmed that the cable box, model DCH70, was perfectly capable of conveying stereo sound through the coax cable.

Armed with that I went back to Comcast, by phone this time. The maze of "press one, press two...." options led me to a dead end that I couldn't back out of. Fortunately, pressing "0" got me a real person who spoke my language and understood audio/visual jargon. He agreed to send a technician out tomorrow, which is now today.

The cable guy arrived late this afternoon. We ran through the troubleshooting steps, then he tried a new box with no improvement. Apparently this is not a hardware problem, but a software deficiency. The soft spoken but friendly cable guy suggested that this was not yet a "known issue" and that he would report it. Hopefully a software upgrade would be directly downloaded to the device in due time. OK.

Knowing that, and having successfully lived with the issue for a week and a half now, I decided I could work around it.

I'm telling you this in case you've recently switched to Comcast's free digital upgrade. If you're not getting stereo sound our of your stereo TV use the red, white, and yellow A/V outputs and plug into your TV's A/V inputs. And call Comcast to report the issue 1-800-COMCAST.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Night Owls vs. Early Birds

I've always been a night owl and late sleeper. Most of the jobs I've held in my life were night jobs. Yet I've often been subject to criticism from early birds for being lazy.

Today I feel vindicated. The Week magazine reported on research which discovered that we night owls maintain our alertness levels much longer than early birds. At 90 minutes after rising, early birds and night owls were equally alert. However, at 10.5 hours after rising (afternoon for birds, evening for owls) night owls were much better able to maintain their ability to focus and react than early birds. In short, night owls can be more productive towards the end of their day than early birds towards the end of theirs.

So there!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Town Square: Mission Aborted

A few months ago I set up a Monterey Peninsula Town Square forum, which I hoped would provide a place where local residents could engage in civil discussion on local issues. Regrettably, I am shutting it down as of today, due to a lack of interest and activity.

In looking over the site statistics, the vast majority of forum "visitors" were not even local residents, and not even human. They were spambots from Russia. Only one got through to make a post, but several more tried. If my actual human visitors, few as they were, had shown half as much interest perhaps the forum might have taken off. But it was not to be.

The rest of the Monterey Peninsula Toy Box is still in business, and I expect it to remain so for a long time to come.

I'd still like to find ways to make the Toy Box more interactive, but for now we'll have to make do with the "comments" feature of this journal.