2001 Notebook: Weak IX
26 February 2001
Sex and Computers
I find it difficult to write about computers and sex for the usual reason: I’m not quite sure what to say.

Take Apple’s new portable computer, for example. The head of the company, as well as many reviewers, describe the machine as “sexy.”

I don’t get it. How can any electronic device—except perhaps a vibrator—be described as sexy? I’m not even going to consider how to have sex with a computer. (And not just because it would probably violate the warranty either.)

The computer industry didn’t use to be this moronic. Fifteen years ago I bought a computer with a Small Computer Systems Interface, or SCSI, port for attaching peripheral devices such as Winchester drives, scanners, et cetera.

Everyone pronounced the acronym SCSI “scuzzy,” not “sexy,” for a good reason. The SCSI gizmos weren’t sexy in any way, but they were indisputably scuzzy.

Computers are not sexy. And, if anyone has empirical evidence to the contrary, I don’t want to know about it.

gratuitous image
27 February 2001
Working Man’s Special
Al used extraordinary praise to describe Tommy’s Restaurant in Seaside, California. (Seaside is a settlement some twenty kilometers north of Al’s home near Carmel-by-the-Sea, a town he lovingly describes as a “phony-baloney, jerkwater tourist trap.”)

Tommy’s is at the corner of Broadway and Fremont, and there’s lots of free parking in the dirt lot next to the restaurant. That’s where Al parked when he took me there for breakfast this morning.

Tommy’s only waitress greeted us as soon as we walked through the door. Al likes her, and not just because she’s extraordinarily efficient. As he put it, “I’ve never heard her say, ‘Hi, my name is Dodobird, and I’ll be your server today.’”

I had the “workingman’s special” for ninety-nine cents. The two eggs, toast, and hash brown potatoes exhibited a lovely caramel glow until I devoured them. The working man’s special tasted especially good since I had no intentions of working any time soon.

Seaside is a lovely town.

28 February 2001
Safe Smoking
Fourteen dead. Another day, another horrific train crash in not so Great Britain. I might have been on that train, but, since I was eight thousand kilometers away, I wasn’t.

Having taken that Newcastle-to-London route several times, I’m familiar with the layout of the train. The first class coaches are in the front of the train, followed by a buffet car and the standard class coaches. The last car of the train is reserved for cigarette smokers. (English trains don’t have cabooses, which makes them feel rather untrainlike.)

According to the press reports I read, all the smokers walked away from the accident unscathed, mostly. I suppose that makes a certain kind of sense. Irony usually does.

1 March 2001
Decaffeinated Blackout
I awoke very early this morning to a power outage. Normally, a power outage would only awaken the clinically dead, but that’s not the case here at my laboratory. We installed backup power supplies on most of our electronic components, and the devices beep annoyingly when they detect a precipitous drop in voltage during emergency power situations.

A situation like this morning, for example.

This morning was certainly an emergency: the electric coffee grounder was one of the few gizmos without a backup battery. What an oversight! I spent half an hour fumbling and stumbling in the darkness before I finally finished shutting down all the devices on the primary lab grid.

The power came back at eight in the morning. By then, the sun was up, and the lab observatory was too bright to continue serving as a bedroom. I made some coffee, then spent another half hour powering up all the lab equipment.

This is stupid. I sent a memo to the president of the utility company suggesting that all blackouts should end exactly at noon or midnight, so at least all the clocks would come on at 12:00 and thus wouldn’t need to be reset.

2 March 2001
Colorized Big-ass Birds
A couple days ago Jen and I hiked up a large hill near the coast. We were rewarded with an excellent view of the highway.

We also saw some huge flying creatures. Using my father’s Either/Or Method of Ornithological Bifurcation, I recognized the fowls as a big-ass birds. (After all, they certainly weren’t little brown jobbies.)

Having exhausted my birdwatching tricks, I couldn’t figure out why some of the raptors had large yellow spots in the middle of the leading edge of their wings and others had white spots. Jen guessed that females were the ones with the white spots, or maybe the yellow ones. I originally thought that they might be claws, but then I realized that I was thinking about a large flying reptile that’s been extinct for several years.

The critters rode the thermal updrafts higher and higher, and after a few minutes they were soaring at eye level a few dozen meters away. That’s when we noticed the spots weren’t spots at all; they were numbered rectangles. Someone had attached metal tags to all the big-ass birds!

We never did figure out the difference between the yellow tags and the white ones. That’s fine; it’s none of our business.

3 March 2001
Failing the Macaroni and Cheese Test
I called a friend at work, and ended up chatting with the switchboard receptionist. Actually, it wasn’t much of a conversation; the telephone operator was “too distraught to talk much” because she’d just learned that she’d failed the macaroni and cheese test in her cooking class.

How is it possible to fail a macaroni and cheese test? I still don’t know. I was too scared to ask, and she was too upset to answer.

4 March 2001
Truth in a Bottle
Herb tells me that the photographer Martin Blume postulates, “transforming reality creates truth.” I’d always heard that reality is for those who can’t face Rainier Ale, so I had to agree with Blume. After all, Rainier Ale really is truth in a bottle.

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©2001 David Glenn Rinehart