Situational messiness

I’m generally a very tidy person. I like to think that I don’t organize for its own sake (Katie’s opinion would differ), but I definitely like to know where to find things. Even when I leave things out, I tend to leave them in the same place. Conversely, it drives me insane that Katie leaves the portable telephone wherever she was when she ended her last phone call.
But after reading Jason Levine’s post about his new workbench, it dawned on me that my workbench is definitely the exception to my general tidiness.

I just pile stuff on my workbench. Every few weeks, I go out and put everything away, but then I let it pile up again. The photo above is about in the middle of this cycle. It’ll get a little worse before I get around to cleaning it off again.
I’m not really sure why my workbench is so messy. I suspect it’s because I just don’t have enough room to organize everything well in the garage. I’m thinking now that maybe I should rearrange the garage to make more storage space for tools and such. Unfortunately, that has to be a relatively low priority home improvement project. I’ve got several other more important tasks on my honey-do list.
Maybe I’ll find some better organization alternatives when the new Ikea opens in the next couple of months.

Searching for meaning

I live in suburban Austin, Texas–a long way from the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. In the days and months after that date, it made me really angry whenever I heard someone state that “Everything is different now” or “Things will never be the same again.” My anger was due to my belief that for pretty much everyone in America–save, perhaps, some in NYC or Washington–things were, in fact, very much the same. We’ll be freaked out for a while, but then life will go on pretty much like it was before. And I felt that life should go on like before, as most Americans’ chances of being directly affected by another possible attack were slim at best.
Fred Clark recently linked to a blog post by Athenae that offers an explanation for these declarations that irritated me so much. Athenae writes:

An awful lot of people, good people, nice people, people living what you’d call normal lives, are just sort of ambling around trying to figure out what the fuck they’re doing here. They have jobs they hate and families that drive them nuts and leisure time that feels more like work than work does, what with travel indignities and the rush and bustle of theme parks. They’re miserable in a low-level kind of way, quiet desperation and all, and church isn’t doing it for them, and drugs are too destructive, and most of them aren’t living the lives they wanted to live. Not at all.

And so, when George W. Bush came along and made a good speech, . . . they jumped on the bandwagon because really, any bandwagon would have done. It had nothing to do with George Bush and nothing really to do with Sept. 11. It had everything to do with a hunger in suburbia for the kind of purpose their parents had as young people in the 1960s, the kind of purpose America had when it was led by real men and not hucksters and thieves. The kind of purpose World War II necessitated . . . and the civil rights movement engendered, back when the people writing editorials today sincerely believed they could change the world.

I’d like to think that I’m just smarter than the masses, but if nothing else, I have a strong aversion to mindlessly pledging allegiance. It angered me that so many were declaring common cause where, to my mind, none existed.

The (inadvertant) power of buzz marketing

Sprint sends a free mobile phone to well known geek blogger Joel Spolsky, in hopes of generating some positive buzz. Joel tries out the phone and then posts his review: he rips it to shreds.
After his shredding, Joel concludes that maybe the phone was just not designed for an alpha geek like him, rather for a younger audience–he says 4 year olds, more likely for teens. But if that’s the case, then why in the world did Sprint send it to him, not to some well known teen (or four-year-old) blogger? I suspect that this morning, someone at Sprint marketing is dreading the request from his boss to come to the boss’ office.

Who’s your customer?

Microsoft’s yet-to-be-released iPod challenger, Zune, is already drawing a lot of attention. So, one of Zune’s innovative features is the ability to share musically via a wireless connection with other nearby Zunes. Cool. For copyrighted music, however, the receiver can only play the received content three times or within three days, whichever comes first. Okay, a big nod to the music labels. That in itself is generating a lot of controversy.
But here’s the part that astounds me, directly from the Zune blog:

I was going to leave a comment in my last post answering questions, but I decided to make a new one…
“I made a song. I own it. How come, when I wirelessly send it to a girl I want to impress, the song has 3 days/3 plays?” Good question. There currently isn’t a way to sniff out what you are sending, so we wrap it all up in DRM. We can’t tell if you are sending a song from a known band or your own home recording so we default to the safety of encoding. And besides, she’ll come see you three days later. . .

Just like the music industry attacked file sharing applications because it’s possible to use them to share copyrighted material, Microsoft is defaulting to DRM since it can’t know for sure whether a shared file is copyrighted. Better safe than sorry–safe for them, anyway. Well, that sounds pretty sorry to me. It’s a ‘guilty with no chance of proving your innocence’ strategy. Great way to treat your customers. Of course, a lot of people are observing, justifiably to me, that Microsoft’s primary customer is, in fact, the music labels. The consumer runs a distant second. In which case, the Zune will not catch on.
OK, so what about Apple’s DRM? First off, if I import a non-DRMed song into iTunes, iTunes doesn’t mess with it. Second, Apple doesn’t promise to let me legally share files with someone else. I don’t like DRM any more than Cory Doctorow, but Apple’s ‘five computers plus attached devices’ DRM for iTunes seems a reasonable limitation for personal use. Millions of other iPod owners seem willing to accept it, too.

Autumn in central Texas

Autumn sneaks up on us here in central Texas. First, it’s August–hot and dry; the world turns brown. All you can do is hunker down and survive the heat. Then, in September, the first cold fronts start blowing through. They don’t cool things down much, but the rain showers and then the dry north winds that blow for a couple of days remind you that it won’t stay hot forever.
Immediately after the rain showers, things turn green again. But you see that some grasses stay brown. Then you also notice that the corn fields have been harvested and plowed under. In the couple of days after the cold front, the air and sunlight have a softer texture. A hint of things to come.

Where were you five years ago today?

I remember previous generations remembering where they were or what they were doing when they heard about significant national events: assassination of JFK, attack on Pearl Harbor. The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 were that kind of event.
When I heard the first news of the events, I listening to NPR’s Morning Edition as I was driving to work in downtown Austin. The first news broadcast was simply that an airplane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers. In typical fashion, I immediately began to minimize what must have happened: a private airplane had somehow hit the tower, kind of like a bug hitting a windshield.
After I got to work, we listened to the radio for more news. At some point, my coworkers and I migrated from the radio to the company upstairs that had a TV in its lobby. We sat there, stunned, as the events unfolded. When it was finally clear that the events were over, we went back to our offices and worked the rest of the day. We had Hannah in private school in Austin at the time. Katie was out and about, so she went ahead over to the school. I believe she got Hannah out of school early, but I was adamant that there was no point in panicking; the chances of anything happening to us personally were astnomically low.