December 23, 2004

And For The Hamburgers

There's a car just around the corner from my house that has not one, but two HSV bumperstickers!

Not something I expected to run across in an average California suburban neighborhood -- I feel like I should leave a note on his windshield or something ...

Posted by Kevin at 08:51 AM


Well, if you read Shelby's blog, you already know that she was in an accident earlier this evening -- rear-ended by a big red pickup truck at a stop light, just after she'd exited the freeway.

Shelby is safe and well (except for some ambiguous neck pain; we'll have to see if that keeps up) -- and it's a good thing that it happened while she was driving my car, since it outweighs her Miata by a factor of two or three. But still -- why did it have to happen to my poor car??

The damage doesn't look that bad -- the rear bumper is pushed in, the rear half of the car on the driver's side is dented and scratched, and the trunk lid no longer closes properly. In a just world, this relatively superficial exterior damage will mask deeper, darker, hidden interior damage, and the insurance company will feel obligated to declare the car a total writeoff (as happened to some folks I know, who also thought their Ford product was only mildly dented up after a minor fender-bender), thus paving the way for us to get one of those spiffy hybrids we've had our eye on.

With our luck, though, the final solution will no doubt involve sketchy Mexican-made knockoff body panels and twelve gallons of Bondo.

Posted by Kevin at 01:24 AM

Harry Potter and The Quest For Racial Purity

And while we're talking about books -- is it just me, or does anyone else think that Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the announced title for the yet-to-come sixth Harry Potter book, seems a little, well, off -- a bit too, um, overtly racial?

I hear the title, and I imagine Rowling dragging along a chalkboard to book signings, interrupting the flow of book-toting kids in order to break into impromptu lectures on Ayran theory ...

Posted by Kevin at 12:32 AM

December 22, 2004

Adventures in Retailland

(I'm back!)

Last night Shelby and I went to the Borders bookstore at The Block at Orange (OC's 'edgy' mall for Gen-X/Y/whatever types) so that she could return a book and we could do some last-minute Christmas shopping.

Browsing around, I saw to my horror that not only is The DaVinci Code still not available in paperback -- after over a year and a half! -- but they've come up with a way to dupe people who bought the hardback into paying even more money on another hardcover edition of the book -- for $35, you can now buy The DaVinci Code: Special Illustrated Edition!

I would ask "how does Dan Brown sleep at night, after bilking the worldwide reading public out of million$ for such a poorly-written unadulterated potboiler?", but I know that the answer is very well, indeed ... inside his hyperbaric oxygen chamber lined with brand-new $100 bills.

But the horror didn't stop there -- the bookstore also had a large table stacked high with copies of Miracle: A Celebration of New Life, a giant-sized $60 coffee-table book-and-CD set that's the product of a collaboration between Anne Geddes and Celine Dion! I can't think of a possible cooperative work between two 'artists' that would horrify me more, or that I'd like to see less -- unless, perhaps, Dan Brown and John Meyer got together to crank out a snappy little words-and-music coffee-table number.

The day before that, I did a bit of shopping on my own.

I started at Hills Brothers Lock and Safe in Garden Grove; we're finally getting around to replacing our house's hodgepodge of exterior door locks of various vintages and manufacturers with a new set of knobs and deadbolts all keyed alike. If you compare the price I paid there for what I could have paid for similar hardware on the Internet, we got taken -- but once you factor in the cost of shipping, the price of getting my Internet-bargain locks rekeyed, and the warm fuzzy feeling of supporting a local merchant, I think that we more or less came out even. Plus, Hills Brothers has the Lock Museum of Orange County -- they started out by cramming their retail store full of antique locks and paraphenalia, but eventually the accumulation got so big that it expanded into a seperate building next door. (And their store building still has such things as a twenty-foot high wall of doorknobs, as well as a floor completely inlaid with keys.)

After that, already being on the westerly side of the county, I headed northwest to two fondly-remembered hangouts of my youth. First I went to Hobby City, on Beach Blvd. in Buena Park. Hobby City is a ten-acre complex of independent stores catering to hobbyists of various types -- there's a store for model cars/ships/airplanes/trains, there's a stamp and coin store, there's a store for reptile fanciers, there's a store entirely devoted to cake decorating, and so forth. Hobby City used to have an excellent model train store, The Little Depot, that was probably the best in SoCal -- but I arrived to find that The Little Depot had given up the ghost for whatever reason, and that its space had been absorbed into the larger but more general model car/ship/airplane store next door. This store had grown a small train department in response -- and their selection was actually okay, but it wasn't the same. Disappointed, I moved on to my next destination, Knott's Berry Farm.

Knott's is best known as Orange County's 'other' amusement park, but there's also a complex of shops outside the park boundary. My stop was at Snoopy Headquarters, which bills itself as the largest store for Snoopy-themed merchandise in the country (even larger than Snoopy's Gallery and Gift Shop in Santa Rosa, home of Charles Schulz?) It was fun to browse, but I didn't find any Christmas gifts. As I was walking back to my car, a Scary Teenaged Punk rode his bike down the sidewalk past me, which led to an exchange between a Knott's security guard and The Punk that you'd never witness at Disneyland:

Punk: (Starts riding his bike on the sidewalk in circles, while singing the "Mickey Mouse Club" theme song in a high-pitched-I'm-trying-to-get-your-goat falsetto)
Punk: (Rides his bike to the other side of the street, narrowly missing being clipped by a car driving past)
Punk: (Flips security guard the bird)

. . . and our Scary-Looking Punk rides off into the sunset.

Posted by Kevin at 11:46 PM

December 12, 2004

The Day After

Last night was our housewarming party -- looking back on things from the somber light of the next day, I'm pleased to say that it was pretty much a complete success!

We had a bit of a rough beginning: we spent too much time prepping the house (that is, shoving miscellaneous not-yet-unpacked boxes into closets) and not quite enough time prepping the food before our guests started showing up. But our partygoers were tolerant and helpful, setting out plates and napkins and pouring mixed nuts and M&Ms into various bowls as I continued to work in the kitchen. A short while after that, things started picking up, and as the evening took its course, all of my essential criteria for success were met:

  • Lots of people came! Counting on our fingers this afternoon, we must've had 35 or so guests, all told.
  • Everybody had someone to talk to -- nobody was sitting in a corner looking brooding or lonely (or, at least, they were doing a great job of hiding it).
  • The weather was great -- after a week of rain, it's started to feel like Sunny California again, so we were able to open the patio doors and put some chairs outside.
  • We didn't run out of food! I'm not sure how that happened, as nobody seemed shy about eating and we still ended up with plenty of leftovers; it must've been something along the lines of Jesus' miracle with the loaves and the fishes.
  • People liked our house, and were full of praise for everything from our bedroom furniture to our living room light fixtures.
  • People liked our food:
    • The professional winos -- the guests that we know from Shelby's parents' wine group -- seemed suitably impressed by our initial wine selection, so I must be climbing the ranks into connoisseurship.
    • Like at our San Jose farewell party, everybody was fascinated by our raclette set, eagerly seizing the opportunity to custom-melt their own meat/cheese/vegetable dishes. (What's raclette? Here's a page with some background.)
    • As usual, people were impressed by my pies -- one apple, one lemon meringue -- they're easy to make, and I just take the recipes straight out of the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, but nobody ever seems to believe that.
After having such a good evening, we're already fishing around for an excuse to throw our next party.

One thing that we completely forgot to do was to take pictures! The best we can leave you with is a view of some of our day-after wreckage.

Posted by Kevin at 06:03 PM | Comments (1)

December 10, 2004

German Corner

German News, Slowly Spoken: Every day, Deutsche Welle's news service reads the 10 o'clock news -- slowly -- in German, and puts it on the Web as an MP3 file.

I don't need this as badly as I once might have -- man, I would have killed for this when I was first learning German! -- but it's nice to know that it's there, should I need a slow, patient voice to speak to me. (From PapaScott's sidebar of links.)

Raiders of the Lost Bonds: As a stamp-collecting kid, I was fascinated by German stamps of the 1920s, printed and overprinted with fantastical values -- five million Marks, five hundred million Marks, five billion Marks -- as a result of the hyperinflation that Germany was undergoing during the Weimar Republic.

Now, it seems that another relic of that 1920s hyperinflation is coming back to haunt the current German government -- some people in possession of Weimar Republic bonds are trying to get the Bundesbank, Germany's current state bank, to pay them off.

The German government's liability is far from clear -- should all of the worldwide claims turn out to be valid, it may be on the hook for 500 billion dollars. A strawberry farmer from Florida can't wait; he's holding 750 bonds and is suing the German government for $382.5 million. Adding to the murk is the fact that many of these bonds may have been stolen by the Russians from government vaults during their sack of Berlin at the end of the war -- but since the paperwork of the department responsible for keeping track of these bonds was also destroyed, nobody knows for sure!

(From Crooked Timber.)

Posted by Kevin at 09:50 AM

December 07, 2004

Eye In The Sky

Our house!
TerraServer USA, a public-service database of satellite imagery hosted as a joint venture between the U.S. Geological Survey and Microsoft Research, has always been interesting, but since my last visit they've upgraded their imagery and made themselves even more interesting. For many U.S. urban areas, you can now get images in full color at quarter-meter-per-pixel resolution -- four times better than their previous (black and white) 'best' images, and so good that you can zoom in close enough to make out individual people walking around! For example, here's an image of our neighborhood.

And here are some other prominent Orange County landmarks:

For map geeks, the National Map Viewer is pretty nifty too.
Posted by Kevin at 08:50 AM

December 05, 2004

Nooooooooooooooooooooooooo (More College Football)

Well, Cal apparently didn't beat Southern Miss convincingly enough last night -- which allowed Texas to move up just enough in the BCS rankings to claim the #4 spot that Cal's been holding for weeks -- which means that now Michigan and Texas will be playing in the Rose Bowl, while Berkeley plays Texas Tech (ranked 22nd in the BCS; third-ranked in the Big 12 South!) in the Holiday Bowl on December 30th.

Excuse me? What in the hell just happened there? How did Pittsburgh (8-3; ranked 21st in the BCS) end up in a 'championship' BCS bowl while Cal just got kicked down into the basement? If the BCS "has quickly become a showcase for the sport, matching the best teams at the end of the season", as they say on their home page, then today something went wrong somewhere.

It could be worse, I guess -- we could have ended up in the Tire Bowl, or the MPC Computers Bowl ...


Posted by Kevin at 03:52 PM

If You Don't Know What It Means ...

... then don't trust someone you just met to make it a permanent addition to your body!

First there was, dedicated to the abuse of the English language by (mostly) Japanese speakers.

Now there's Hanzi Smatter, a compendium of Westerners' misuse of Chinese characters.

Predictably, most of it seems to revolve around tattoos -- people who thought it would be 'cool' or 'mystical' to get a tattoo in Chinese and ended up with more than they bargained for. Case in point: the guy in their very first entry -- who ended up in the newspaper because he thought he was getting a tattoo that said "Love, Honor, and Obey", but got a tattoo that said "At the end of the day, this is an ugly boy" instead.

Posted by Kevin at 01:01 AM

December 04, 2004


Speaking of the Eurozone, Dave's pictures of Hamburg's Christmas market are making us both really Hamburg-homesick -- it's too bad that we can't arrange a quick 'business' trip ... maybe next year!

Posted by Kevin at 11:30 AM | Comments (1)

Dollar Follies

So I saw this post on Atrios yesterday, regarding the dollar's current freefall against the Euro (and darn near everything else), but what really caught my eye was the comments thread. It seems that you can place a lot of peoples' reactions into one of two categories:

  • Almost-manic glee: Boy, maybe this presages total economic armageddon for the United States! That'll sure show those people who voted to re-elect George Bush!
  • Smugness in Europe's superiority: These people are just fleeing to quality -- it shows you that the Eurozone is much more financially sound! Hopefully I can move there before it's too late!

Um, friends? How about we don't jump up and down like giddy schoolgirls, hoping for America's economic collapse? Because if a second Great Depression does come, it's not going to pass over you or me just because we've both got a John Kerry For President T-shirt folded up at the back of our underwear drawer. I'm not holding any faith in Bush and his advisers either -- but that doesn't mean that I'm not really hoping for them to somehow pull us through in spite of themselves.

And what candyland are you "Europe is so much stronger!" people living in? Someplace where the Eurozone member nations aren't also running up giant budget deficits and suffering from unemployment rates that are two/three/four times America's? It seems, as ever, that there are two Europes -- the real Europe, and the "if things get much worse here, I'm moving there" fantasy-Europe of the liberal imagination.

(Note: Atrios' post is just a dynamic graph of the Euro's current price; since there's no currency trading on the weekend, it won't give you any useful information if you try to click through today. Try this graph of the three-month trend instead.)

Posted by Kevin at 11:25 AM

December 02, 2004

Administrative Note

Thanks to a never-ending flood of comment spammers, I've installed the mt-close2 plugin and closed comments on Shelby's and my old blog entries. Now you've got 15 days (more or less) to comment on an entry before it's closed -- so if you've got something to say, get to it!

Since we're both grownups who make money and stuff, I suppose that eventually we'll shell out for the upgrade to Movable Type 3.x, and will then investigate alternate comment-spam-fighting solutions. But this is the answer for now, and it seems to be working well so far ...

Posted by Kevin at 02:24 PM

Gadget Corner

Go Go G5!: This week the friendly UPS man came by and dropped off a Power Mac G5 (and a new flat-panel display!) to replace my geriatric old PowerBook G4 as my "work Mac".

Yikes! The new machine is low on the power curve by desktop-Mac standards (a dual-1.8 GHz), but it was able to build a completely-new-from-scratch copy of our app in less time than it usually takes me to rebuild an updated-from-yesterday's-changes copy on the PowerBook. It looks like the morning meditation time afforded me by the daily sync-and-rebuild ritual is about to sharply decrease ...

TrafficGauge: If I wasn't working at home, I'd perhaps join the crowd clamoring for one of these.

I don't want to be a finger-wagging Europhile here, but I can remember riding through Hamburg in my manager's BMW five years ago, watching as our progress through the city was reflected on a full-color, constantly updated in-dash moving map display. Information about traffic jams and slowdowns in our vicinity were broadcast to the car via RDS-TMC; the system decoded these broadcasts and pinpointed each traffic problem with an icon on the map.

The whole mapping/traffic system was factory-standard, built into the dash and integrated with the car's controls. Traffic info was free, invisibly piggybacking on FM radio signals.

In contrast, TrafficGauge is charging you $79.95 (plus $6.99 a month) for a chintzy gadget that looks no more sophisticated than a hand-held Blackjack game that you'd buy for $4.99 in the kids' toys aisle at the drugstore. For a region that supposedly prides itself on being the epicenter of car culture (nobody walks in LA!), why did it take us so long to come up with something so cheesy?

Posted by Kevin at 10:07 AM