Suburban schnauzer wrangling

This afternoon, I opened my garage doors, intending to get out some gardening supplies so I could work in the backyard. As I stepped out into the driveway, I saw a guy chasing a schnauzer down the sidewalk toward me. I stepped to the sidewalk, squatted down and held my hand out to the dog, hoping I could catch him.
But the dog was too wily; he barked at me, ran past me and kept going. I saw that the dog was out-pacing the man, so, I stepped back into the garage, grabbed a leash and my bicycle and joined the chase. A few seconds later my neighbor Chris from three houses down the street came up on his bicycle, and he joined the chase, too. Chris is out on his bike and rollerblades a lot, so I figured he was either already out riding or had also joined the chase as it passed his house.
The dog led us across the street and onto the sidewalk that goes behind our subdivision’s pool and tennis courts. At one point, Chris and I managed to get the dog between us with some shrubs on one side, but the dog dashed between the shrubs and into the parking lot.
On the other side of the parking lot, we kind of cornered the dog between the tennis courts and some other shrubs. Chris and I both dropped out bikes, and Chris managed to get on the other side of the dog. He then squatted, held out his hand and called the dog in a sweet voice. To my surprise, the dog responded. When he got close, Chris grabbed for his collar, but the dog wriggled away and came toward me. I tackled the dog and held onto him until Chris could also get a hold and we got the collar on him. When I tackled the schnauzer, he bit me and punctured my hand in one place.
Chris then told me that the dog chaser was his visiting brother-in-law, and that the dog has escaped from Chris’ house. He thanked me and walked the dog toward his house, and I rode home.
While I doctored my wound, I told Katie and the kids what had happened–laughing hysterically the whole time. A couple minutes later Chris came over to thank me again and to give me my leash. Turns out, he’d been bitten, too.
All in all, the suburban schnauzer wrangling was worth the dog bite. It was actually a lot of fun.

Good bye, eMusic – Hello, Amazon MP3

Lat night, I bought my first album of DRM-free MP3s off of Amazon MP3. Reasonable price ($.89/track; $8.99/album), easy purchase and download experience (it puts the tracks directly into iTunes after download), and DRM-free MP3s. What’s not to love?
This morning, I canceled my eMusic subscription. I’ve really enjoyed finding new music on eMusic, but lately it felt like a monthly chore to find 90 tracks that I might like, listen to them all, rate them, etc. And now that I can buy DRM-free MP3s competitively to Apple’s DRM-laden iTunes Music Store, I think I’ll switch back to buying less music that I know I like for a while.
Hasta la vista, iTunes Music Store
Oh, and it warms my heart to see DRM finally losing out due to market pressure. People DO care about controlling the stuff they own.

The ‘burbs

Our McMansionI usually hang on pretty much everything Fred Clark says on his blog, but his recent post about suburban sprawl is the exception to this rule.His thesis is pretty simple: suburban living sucks. He throws out all the usual arguments: soulless cookie-cutter homes, long commutes, poor home quality, etc.
I see where Fred is coming from. Until about age 30, I felt the exact same way. In my case, my over-simplified view of the ‘burbs was born of ignorance. I grew up in the country, and then lived as a young adult in Europe and in older Austin neighborhoods around the UT campus.
Now that I’ve lived in the ‘burbs for a decade, I see the situation differently. I’m not saying that Fred’s accusations have no merit. Rather, I think he only sees one side of the story. Let’s take the issue of poor quality suburban home construction. I hate to tell him, but that’s been a fact of life in Austin since the first ‘burb opened up over 100 years ago–the neighborhood next to UT that I lived in during college, incidentally, that’s now an expensive, desirable urban neighborhood.
Another issue that isn’t so black and white is community. The stereotype is that suburbanites don’t know their neighbors. In our case, however, I know many more neighbors here in the ‘burbs than I did in the in-town neighborhoods we lived in. To large extent, I think you get the level of community that you expect, wherever you live. We made a conscious decision to put down roots in Pflugerville. Except for work, we live our lives here: home, schools, church, etc. As a result, for instance, we can’t ever go to the grocery store without running into someone we know. That certainly doesn’t feel like the soulless, anonymous suburbs that Fred and others imagine.
I agree 100% that suburban sprawl is not a viable long-term option, primarily due to the reliance on automobiles. And yes, I’m contributing to it. But the factors that led to our living where we do are many and complex. You just can’t reduce it to a few paragraphs of screed, as Fred has done.

The Persistence of Myths

My aunt used to distribute a lot of urban legend emails, mostly conservative political and religious crap. And every time, I would look up the myth on, and send out a reply-to-all email explaining that this particular email is an urban legend, and pleading with people to do some minimal amount of research before forwarding on such emails to everyone you know.
Now, some researchers believe such counter-efforts may not help as much as I thought:

The conventional response to myths and urban legends is to counter bad information with accurate information. But the new psychological studies show that denials and clarifications, for all their intuitive appeal, can paradoxically contribute to the resiliency of popular myths.
This phenomenon may help explain why large numbers of Americans incorrectly think that Saddam Hussein was directly involved in planning the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and that most of the Sept. 11 hijackers were Iraqi. While these beliefs likely arose because Bush administration officials have repeatedly tried to connect Iraq with Sept. 11, the experiments suggest that intelligence reports and other efforts to debunk this account may in fact help keep it alive.

How depressing.
Oh, and I no longer receive such emails from my aunt. I hope, though don’t really believe, that my efforts caused her to stop sending them. Most likely, she just removed me from the recipient list. I’m surprised I stayed on her list so long.

Radical Honesty

Journalist A. J. Jacobs recently published an article in Esquire about Radical Honesty. According to the web site, Radical Honesty is “a kind of communication that is direct, complete, open and expressive. Radical Honesty means you tell the people in your life what you’ve done or plan to do, what you think, and what you feel. It’s the kind of authentic sharing that creates the possibility of love and intimacy.”
Or from the article:

[Radical Honesty’s founder Brad Blanton] says we should toss out the filters between our brains and our mouths. If you think it, say it. Confess to your boss your secret plans to start your own company. If you’re having fantasies about your wife’s sister, Blanton says to tell your wife and tell her sister. It’s the only path to authentic relationships. It’s the only way to smash through modernity’s soul-deadening alienation.

When Mr. Jacobs tried to practice radical honesty, here are some of the incidents he describes in his article. First the stepmother:

The next day, we get a visit from my wife’s dad and stepmom.
“Did you get the birthday gift I sent you?” asks her stepmom.
“Uh-huh,” I say.
She sent me a gift certificate to Saks Fifth Avenue.
“And? Did you like it?”
“Not really. I don’t like gift certificates. It’s like you’re giving me an errand to run.”
“Well, uh . . .”

And then the female business associate:

I have a business breakfast with an editor from Rachael Ray’s magazine. As we’re sitting together, I tell her that I remember what she wore the first time we met — a black shirt that revealed her shoulders in a provocative way. I say that I’d try to sleep with her if I were single. I confess to her that I just attempted (unsuccessfully) to look down her shirt during breakfast.

I regard my honesty as one of my most valued traits. In fact, some would say I already practice radical honesty! But ‘Radical Honesty’ is a step too far even for me. The incident with the business associate is the easiest to get out of the way. Even if Radical Honesty consists of “toss[ing] out the filters between our brains and our mouths,” there’s always the option of just keeping your damn mouth closed.
The interaction with Mr. Jacobs mother-in-law is a little trickier, since she directly asked him for his opinion. But her question and his response are only one small part in a larger cultural ritual that involves deciding what to give, giving it, receiving it–each step of which has ritualized responses. Mr. Jacobs abides by the conventions of the ritual until some arbitrary point, when he decides to throw convention out the window and practice Radical Honesty. I notice he didn’t mention that he offered to give the gift certificate back to his mother-in-law. It seems to me that if he really wanted to practice radical honesty, he would need to opt out of the entire cultural ritual. You can’t have it both ways.