Monthly Archives: September 2009

While I’m on the subject of cars, just about every car manufacturer has an option where you can build a car online. You can’t buy it online, but you write up the specs and it gives you the MSRP and basically puts you in touch with the dealer who will then quote you a price. Have any of you actually bought a new car this way? If so, how does it work? Do you have to pay them up front or do they basically order the car and then you buy it when it arrives?

Seems like they’d want some sort of deposit or something. Ideally, I’d almost prefer it if they just had you pay for the car and then you pick it up when it arrives. But every conceivable way of handing the transaction seems fraught with peril. If you put down a deposit or buy the car at the outset, they have all the leverage when it arrives because they have your money. Not that you wouldn’t have any recourse if they suddenly remembered that there were some special fees that they didn’t mention earlier, but it would it would probably be worth your while to pay a non-trivial sum just to get the dang car you’ve been waiting for. On the other hand, even if there is no deposit and they just order the car for you to purchase later, there’s nothing to stop them from suddenly raising the price or wanting to renegotiate once the car is there. You’d been salivating over this car for 6-8 weeks, after all. What are you going to do, start all over?

So… anybody know how that works? What sorts of protections you have that the price you agreed on is the price that you pay and the car you ordered is the car that you get?

Category: Market, Road

The Big Money’s Matthew DeBord wonders what happened to the family car:

To put it bluntly, even big sedans aren’t big enough to haul around the bevy of sports gear, pets, and offspring that now make up many American families. In the 1990s, families began replacing their Buicks and Ford Tauruses with SUVs, and now they’ve moved on to a combination of SUVs and so-called “crossover” vehicles, which are essentially five- and seven-passenger SUVs built not on truck, but on car platforms, for better handling and fuel-efficiency. They’re the modern-day station wagons.

The family sedan, meanwhile, has gone the way of the Dodo. But sedans are still in play. One of Ford’s most popular vehicles—one that sold like gangbusters during Cash for Clunkers—is the Focus. It’s a small sedan, however. So what does Ford do when it’s time to move that customer up to a larger car? {…}

Slip into a Ford Taurus today, however, and you can see my dad’s era rapidly receding. What you get instead is the latest iteration of the BMW experience. When BMW began bringing its “sport” sedans to the U.S. in the 1970s and ’80s, buyers immediately noticed that they were both more compact than American family sedans, and also more organized around the driving experience. (They were, after all “the ultimate driving machine.”) You sat in a snug cockpit, bolstered into your seat, with instruments arrayed around you as if you’d been dropped into a fighter plane.

Well, obviously, a Ford driver that wants to move into a large car gets either the mid-size Fusion or full-size Taurus. The problem for Ford is that neither of these cars stack up particularly well against their foreign counterparts, the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. Both of those cars, last I checked, were selling pretty well. And both are pretty big sedans and getting bigger with each remodel. So part of the problem is that sedans are something that Ford (and its American rivals) simply have not been doing a very good job of engineering, producing, and marketing their larger vehicles in comparison with its Japanese rivals.

DeBord comments that bringing back the Taurus name, but the real question is why they ever got rid of it. Ford fans were really displeased with that development and the answer to that question is a monumentally stupid one. Basically, they wanted all of their cars to start with the letter “F” the same way that their SUV series starts with the letter “E” (Explorer, Escape, Expedition, Edge, etc). So they dropped the Escort and the Taurus and replaced them with the Focus, the Fusion, and the Five Hundred. The Fusion was technically the replacement for the Taurus, though the Five Hundred was considered to be. Interestingly, now that the Taurus is coming back, it’s coming back as a full-size rather than mid-size Sedan. The Honda Accord made the leap last year. The Camry did a number of years back. I find this interesting because, despite what DeBord says, the auto-makers are making their marquee cars larger rather than smaller.

That’s not to say DeBord is wrong. In fact, I think it goes to show that he’s right. People are looking for more space. The engineers are doing a good job of cramming more space into a smaller-seeming car. My wife’s Camry has an astonishing amount of cargo space and until 2005 the full-size Toyota Avalon was not much larger. I used to drive a 1976 Chevy Caprice that I called The Trawler because it was like a boat on wheels. That’s what a full-size car used to be like and it’s no surprise that once other high-storage, roomy vehicles became available, that the full-size boat-car market cratered. If you’re going to drive something that large, why not drive a truck? The BMW model that DeBord cites sort of changed that as car designers have sought to make larger cars easier to handle (and not quite so large). There’s recently been a similar move on the compact and subcompact front, with cars like the Nissan Versa being both small and boasting some serious interior space. In other words, models are moving towards making smaller cars seem larger from the inside with more space for what matters (people and cargo).

But ultimately, I think that people like me are who DeBord is looking at when he says that people are less interested in full-size (or even mid-size) sedans. I look at a lot of those cars and I wonder “What’s really the point?” Clancy wants to replace her current Camry with another Camry and there’s no really good reason not to accommodate that unless we determine that we need all-wheel drive. But the cost of a Camry is not all that much less than that of a light-SUV (and the cost of an Avalon is more). There’s no AWD option (except on the super-expensive hybrid). No roof-rack. Lower safety scores. And yet it costs about the same as a Mitsubishi Outlander and only a couple thousand less than a Toyota RAV or Honda CR-V. The Camry in particular (in opposition to the Taurus and other full-size sedans) does boast phenomenal reliability ratings (one of the reasons that Clancy wants another Camry is that her mid-90’s model is running like a sprinting ninja), but the Accord’s ratings are similar to the Outlander’s (though the Accord’s safety ratings are comparable to the Outlander’s and better than the Camry’s).

I don’t have time to go through every model and do a comparison, and I know at least some mid-size and full-size sedans (Subaru Impreza, Mercury Milan) do offer AWD, though I should note that they only do so at the highest trims. The SUVs, except Subarus, will charge you more, but they won’t reserve AWD for the trims where you also have to get Bluetooth and GPS standard.

Ultimately, of course, it comes down to personal preference. Clancy doesn’t understand how a big guy like me can prefer tiny little cars over full-size sedans (or crossover SUVs), but for the me answer is improved mileage (though that’s less of an issue when I’m not commuting 60-110 miles a day) and mostly improved maneuverability. When I drive the Camry, I feel like “Gosh, I might as well be driving a low-riding SUV.” But obviously cars like the Camry do have something going for them because they remain prevalent. That’s changing somewhat, though I really don’t expect the larger family cars to go anywhere. They’re no longer really good family cars, though they’re still fine for secondary family vehicles that want two cars that can fit in car seats and the like. And as childless people that move around a lot, the Camry has proven to be much more helpful than the Escort has been or its successor the Focus would be.

Category: Road

In one of the articles in Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, Chuck Klosterman writes about a Guns ‘n’ Roses cover band that he took a trip with. He makes the following observation:

In fact, the guys in Paradise City {said cover band -ed} seem to care about all music with more enthusiasm than any group of musicians I’ve ever encountered. There is no elitism. As we roll toward Wester Virginia, the truck’s stereo never plays an artist they dislike. They have positive things to say about Aerosmith, Nickelback, Celine Dion (!), Black Sabbath, White Lion, Pink Floyd, and Alabama. When Jewel’s “You Were Meant for Me” comes on the radio, Dischner {a member of the band -ed} mentions that the song always makes him wish it were raining; ten minutes later, he tells me that Rush is “just about the greatest three-piece band ever,” and then gives similar compliments to the Rush tribute band 2112.

This is, in my mind, how it should be. As much as I take with people that say that they like every kind of music except country music to task for trying to be simultaneously open-minded and discriminating, I somewhat prefer this general attitude in comparison to people that tend to believe that popularity is a symptom of artistic failure and those that play a sort of I-am-more-discriminating-than-you game. And I am particularly driven crazy when it’s done by people that ostensibly like music, have careers related to music, or fancy themselves musicians.

It reminds me a little bit of the old movie reviews in Colosse’s alt-weekly. Whomever it was that wrote the reviews for movies for Colosse Weekly apparently did not like movies. Out of the thirty movies listed at any given time, somewhere between three and five would have a “see-this” star beside it. And it wasn’t the case that these were the movies you especially needed to see, but rather that these were the only movies worth seeing. Movies without stars beside them were typically run-down in the capsule.

In music and movies, nobody wants to be the guy (or girl) that likes something that their peers do not. If you praise a movie or music and other people tell you it sucks, it’s a far worse thing than running a movie down and then having others tell you that they like it. In the latter case, you simply position yourself as the discriminating sort who demands better. In the former case, you run the risk of being a gomer. The only exception is something that seems to go out of its way not to be easy to enjoy. Think an especially complex movie or maybe music that is not particularly harmonious. That sort of thing. But anything less than that and it’s safer not to like it. The crass snobbery of having discriminating tests is one of the two reasons I believe that critics tend to favor originality over quality-of-execution.

To me, this all should be the other way around. Music people should enjoy music. Different kinds of music. Including, horror of all horrors, popular music. That’s not to say that they should be listening to Top 40 radio all the time or even ever listening to it intentionally. But they shouldn’t pretend that a singer (or singers) singing in harmony surrounded by a band of professional musicians playing in sync (or put in sync by a producer, more-like) is objectively like nails across a chalk board. Even if that person is a corporately-built phony like Shania Twain. Even if that person is Celine Dion. That’s not to say that you should necessarily like it (I can’t say I care much for Twain or Dion), but assertions that these people have “no talent” or that people that do enjoy it are just sheeple or something say the most about the person doing the talking.

One does not have to be a posing snob not to care much for Genesis, but one does have to be a posing snob to suggest that Genesis lacks talent or that people only like Genesis because the record labels told them to. Record labels only wish that they had that kind of power.

One of the inspirations behind this post is my oldest friend Clint, a music composition major and someone that genuinely lives, breathes, and sleeps music. He is an extraordinarily talented person. But unlike a lot of other “music people”, he actually enjoys music and doesn’t really pretend to do otherwise. He goes on binges where he swallows up artists’ catalogs. Often it’s stuff I’ve never heard of, but sometimes it’ll be Brian Wilson or, for a couple years, Genesis. He’s not much of a country person, but he didn’t let that stop him from enjoying musicians with country roots if the sound struck him. And it didn’t stop him from writing some country-beat stuff himself.

If there’s a takeaway from this post, it’s this: far too many people determine the quality of their tastes by what they exclude from their threshold of worthiness. That’s just stupid.

Part of where I am coming from on this, I think, is that I often feel a sense of loss when I don’t like something that others get enjoyment from. For instance, I am not a big fan of the R&B infusion into pop music. I really wish I were. It would make listening to the radio a less grating experience. It would make it easier for me to find music that I enjoy. It would give me another thing to enjoy. Try as I might, though, I can’t really gather too much appreciation for it. That’s my loss.

Category: Theater

Clancy: I’m sorry that your tummy is hurting, though I am not sorry if it means that you’re going to be eating hot dogs in the future.

Trumwill: It’ll be a long time before I eat another convenience store hot dog.

Clancy: I can’t say that I have ever wanted to eat a convenience store hot dog.

Trumwill: You don’t know what you’re missing out on.

Clancy: Let’s see. In the last six hours you spent 45 minutes at a rest stop bathroom

Trumwill: Fifty-five. It was 45 from the first discharge to the last. Ten minutes waiting for the first discharge.

Clancy: Lovely… and since then, you haven’t wanted to eat anything…

Trumwill: I may never want to eat anything again. This could make for an innovative weight-loss program!

Clancy: Yeah, okay. Anyway, I’ve never cared much for hot dogs.

Trumwill: I go months without eating them. In fact, it’s probably an indication that my diet has gotten better than my stomach so thoroughly rejected that hot dog.

Clancy: That’s a bright side, I suppose. How long has it been since you had a hot dog?

Trumwill: Cooked? Months.

Clancy: Uncooked?

Trumwill: Well, I had a couple raw hot dogs when I was staying with Clint in Shaston last weekend.

Clancy: You eat uncooked hot dogs?!

Trumwill: They’re fantastic. I’m pretty sure that I am the one that got Clint into it, as well. an instant snack. and they’re pre-cooked, so you don’t have to worry about the bachteria of raw sausage.

Clancy: But how can they possibly taste good?

Trumwill: They just do. a nice, cold snack. Plus, I save carbs by not eating a bun!

Clancy: Fantastic. I just don’t like hot dogs. I prefer sausages. Cooked sausages.

Trumwill: The raw sausages aren’t nearly as good. Don’t ask me how I know that.

Clancy: I don’t even need to.

Trumwill: I’m talking about the precooked sausages. Not the really raw hot dogs. I probably shouldn’t say “raw” so much as “unheated.” actual raw sausage doesn’t taste good at all. at least, if it’s anything like raw bacon.

Clancy: You eat raw bacon?!

Trumwill: Only once. I figured if raw hot dogs were so good, raw bacon would be even better. Since I liked cooked bacon more than I like cooked sausages. I was wrong.

Clancy: Yes. Yes, you were.

Trumwill: You’ve tried it?

Clancy: Normal people don’t have to try it.

Trumwill: Yeah, but a normal person wouldn’t have discovered the glory that is uncooked hot dogs.

Clancy: Eck. I guess I like hot dogs okay if they’re grilled. But when they’re boiled, not so much.

Trumwill: I don’t like them boiled, either.

Clancy: You like them uncooked but not boiled?

Trumwill: I like them in the following order: uncooked, grilled, microwaved, then boiled.

Clancy: Microwave tastes different?

Trumwill: Not really. They’re mostly like boiled. The thing is, though, that the skin cracks. It creates a crevace that you can stick american cheese into. Kinda like those cheesedogs – which are really good uncooked, by the way – except cheesier.

Clancy: Throw in Easy Cheese and I think you’ve just about hit all of the low points of the american Diet.

Trumwill: Easy Cheese. Hmmm….

Category: Kitchen

Jonah Lehrer writes:

[The] virtue of experiences is that, while material things get diminished over time (we habituate to the pleasure, and then have to deal with the inevitable repairs), pleasant memories tend to become more pleasant. We forget about the delayed flights and jet lag but remember the lush rainforest hike, or the fancy meal in Paris. The vacation might be long gone but it’s still making us happy.

ED Kain isn’t convinced:

I know some people who continually spend money going out to eat, yet never bother to purchase new appliances. Sometimes spending money creating great memories can make it that much more difficult for you to save up for a new car or a down-payment on a house. I’d say that when buying memories becomes more like buying things the two become basically indistinguishable. Beyond that, most people can’t afford really lavish trips, so the same problem of comparison let-down can occur with memories too.

“Going out to eat” is, for the sake of this discussion, an example of spending money on experiences and memories rather than “things”.

A part of me wants to dismiss the “things vs. experiences” discussion as anti-materialist snobbery. Basically a bunch of rich people that want to be able to justify their trips to Tuscany while being able to condemn another guy for buying a 4×4. But they’ve got some research to back up the notion that things don’t make us happy for as long as we expect. I do think, though, that it’s overly-simplistic to suggest that one is inherently better than the other.

For one thing, the marginal utility on each depreciates at a relatively rapid clip past a certain point. Clancy and I spent a lot of money on “experiences” when we went out to eat on a regular basis in Estacado and Deseret. The result? Larger waistlines and thinner bank accounts. Memories? Sure. We do long for some of the restaurants that Soundview seems to conspicuously lack. But since moving out here, going out to eat is an irregular occurrence and because of that is much more significant.

To take a more expensive example, my parents love to go on cruises. They go on two or three a year these days. The last cruise I went on was about a decade ago. I’d like to go on another one at some point. When we do, I expect that it we will get a lot more mileage out of it than my parents do from any similar venture. This despite the fact that they (or Mom, mostly) enjoy cruises on the whole more than I do.

In other words, as ED is sort of getting at, there reaches a point where experiences become a thing. Once it becomes a part of your regular lifestyle, the spending of money on it sort of becomes like renting a car on a regular basis instead of just buying one. You may be renting different cars on different occasions and enjoying the variety a little more than someone stuck with the same car for ten years, but in the end if you reach a financial hiccup and have to go without its absence becomes no less real than if you own a car and it breaks down. It’s less an experience and more an obligation. Each successive new car becomes less special. Some day I would love to rent a muscle car just for the heck of it. But if I viewed doing so as buying a memory and wanted to do it frequently, it’d become more a thing or not.

Now, when it comes to buying experiences and memories, one way you can compensate this is by doing different things and going to different places. For instance, instead of going on a cruise to the Caribbean you go to the Mediterranean or Alaska. Instead of going on a cruise you go rock-climbing. Of course, on the material side of things, you can compensate by buying different things as well. Instead of getting that new computer when your old is good enough, you can get a portable MP3 player.

I will be the first to admit that a lot of the stuff I buy doesn’t buy me happiness. But there have definitely been some things – new and different things – that have enriched my life in significant ways. My first Pocket PC made a border-line unbearable job much more bearable and made chores like waiting in line or going shopping. It was definitely worth eating out ten times or so. It was even worth a flight home to visit the folks.

Saying that there should be a balance is all true and good but some will still suggest that people don’t have this balance and instead veer way too much to the “stuff” side. I think that this is true in some cases, but as EDK points out, we spend a lot on otherwise, too. Until we moved here, I think we went far too much on the spending-on-experiences (or ethereal convenience) and not enough on stuff. Or else, we spent too much on both.

I can certainly agree with the notion that there is more to life than stuff. And it’s true that experiences are one of those things that that is more important than stuff. And some people don’t spend enough on experiences. But others don’t. And I would be wary about broad proclamations about how people should make these decisions.

Category: Coffeehouse

I have a hypothetical scenario and would be interested in your thoughts.

Imagine that a company creates something that they call the Antcar. The Antcar is a self-driving car where you basically put a destination into a GPS device and it will drive you there. By and large, it is not meant to be driven. There may be controls (like a steering wheel and breaks) for an emergency, but it’s all pretty limited. The entire point is that it will take you where you want to go.

The first question is… would you want such a car? Would you trade the ability to drive for the ability to do other things while the car drives itself? Would you pay $12,000 more for the privilege? $8,000?

The second question, though, is the real question. Let’s say the Antcar (and its competitors) work very well. They’ve been on the market for a while and now the premium is down to $8,000 per car. The initial hopes that it would cut down on automobile accidents was premature. They don’t always play well with human drivers. The Antcar manufacturers, meanwhile, start a pilot program in an eastern European city and then a few cities where Drivercars are banned and only Antcars are allowed on their roads. The results are astonishing in terms of safety improvements. Traffic engineers in the United States start proposing that the US consider doing the same.

Below are some factors to consider. Feel free to point off if I am way off-base about something, but for the sake of this hypothetical accept what I say as true. I’m less interested in how you think Antcars would really work and more interested in how you would evaluate the tradeoffs.

Pro: Safety! Car-against-car accidents reduce by 90%. Cars running off the road reduce by 98%. Pedestrian accidents reduce by only about 10%, but the victims of remaining accidents are caused by pedestrian error. Accidents where pedestrians follow the correct traffic signals are reduced by 98% (the remaining 2% are Antcar malfunctions). No drive drivers, no exhausted drivers, no reckless drivers results in considerable safety improvements.

Neither: Operation costs are roughly the same. The taxes to account for increased costs of road maintenance are offset by much lower insurance premiums.

Con: The cars are more expensive. In today’s dollars, you can add about $8,000 to the cost of any given car. However, the increased safety means that driving smaller cars becomes more possible. So while a 4-door economy car might cost $20,000, you can get a 2-seat Smart-size car for $15,000 and a one-seat bucket car for about $12,000. Nobody would have to buy the Antcar right away because there would be a ten-year transition period, but you would have to factor these higher prices into future cars purchased.

Pro: A more productive populace. People can (sorta) work in their cars. I say “sorta” because they can’t lay papers out everywhere or anything cause the car would be turning and breaking and even if there were some signals to alert the driver, it could be kind of tough in a lot of circumstances. They can unwind during the drive rather than when they get home. Cell phone calls are now guilt-free.

Pro: The makers of the (capital-A) Antcar enjoy a market advantage but not an absolute one. They’re willing to submit to standards so that their cars can cooperate with cars made by other companies. They already do somewhat, but they understand that the standards are going to become much more rigid. In other words, they would not have a monopolistic advantage.

Con: The government would have to administer these standards. A cynical person would point out that they may not always necessarily do so with the public interest in mind.

Con: Everywhere an individual driver goes becomes a matter of record. Law enforcement and courts can subpoena it the same way that they can subpoena phone records. A drug dealer is arrested and theoretically they can look through the records and see everybody that’s visited that house or street in the last thirty days or longer or whatever the records say. Divorce proceedings could unmask precisely where the husband or wife has been. And so on. Definite loss of privacy.

Pro: The ability to investigate where people have been would help the police solve crimes. It could also help innocent people establish alibis.

Con: No more driving. No more getting a turbo-engine car that you can rev up. These cars would still be available, but you really couldn’t drive them anywhere. The engines in the Antcar (and its competitors) would be pretty standard in terms of capabilities. Having a muscle car would not be nearly as advantageous since the cars would be navigating in a more cooperative manner.

Pro: Reduced traffic times. No more accidents means no more accidents causing delays. No red lights at intersections where nobody is coming. Lane merges because much less painful. Eventually it will get to the point that traffic lanes themselves are no longer necessary, though the antcars are not yet ready for that.

Con: Driving in inclement weather can become difficult or impossible. These things are directed by satellite so things that disrupt a satellite signal would make the car not work. When signals are lost and are cutting in and out, the car can let you direct it (you tell it to turn right ahead and then you tell it when to turn left and so on), but it’s a real hassle.

So… what do you think? Here are some options, though I’d like you to elaborate if you have any further thoughts.

a) I would absolutely support banning drivercars. Safety is a premium consideration. Not just the lives saved, but the freedom from fear on being on the road after 2am would absolutely make it worth it.
b) I would probably support banning drivercars. I’m concerned about some aspect of it or another, though.
c) I couldn’t support banning drivercars on libertarian grounds. People should never lose the freedom to drive (and conceal where they’ve been) even if it results in the loss of life and a significant reduction of accidents.
d) I can’t support it because I don’t trust our government to play fair with standards and not play favorites.
e) It’s hard to answer your question because you didn’t explore what I would consider to be a significant factor and/or your prediction on some aspect or another is so far off-base I can’t suspend my disbelief that far.
f) What’s an Antcar? I’ve never heard of that. I don’t think this technology exists. I also don’t understand the meaning of the word “hypothetical.”

Update: New Pro and Con added.

Category: Coffeehouse, Road

I recently saw the movie Funny People and absolutely loved it. The more I think about it, the more I like it. It’s not a movie for everybody, though. But there were a couple of scenes that strike into one of the themes of Hit Coffee and other blogs in this neighborhood in the sphere. This post will contain no notable spoilers for anyone interested in the movie. I should add, though, that what I’m writing about is not what the movie is about, so don’t go and see the movie expecting it to be an artistic investigation of the Plight of the Nice Guy.

The two main characters are George, a successful stand-up comedian, and Ira, a young upstart who is hired on as an assistent and joke-writer. While George is something of a jerk with two strong romantic hooks – his money and celebrity. Ira is the quintessential Passive Male (a term that I will use in place of Nice Guy or Beta for the sake of accuracy and to strip it of some of the baggage of its conversational context). He’s slow to act on his romantic and sexual whims. He was overweight growing up and had an unfortunate name. He’s kind of a “keep your head down and try to get ahead in your own way” sort of guy. While George lives in a mansion, Ira lives on a fold-up bed in the apartment of his friend Mark (who is a minor celebrity himself).

There are two scenes that stand out in defining Ira’s romantic failures. The first occurs on his outing with George where the two of them bring home two girls to have sex with. While George is taking care of the first, Ira is abysmally failing with the second. She informs him flatly that nothing is going to happen and that she has a boyfriend. When George is done with the first, he then has sex with the second. The importance of the boyfriend, it turned out, was of variable importance depending on who else was sexually available to her.

The second and more important occurs when Mark brings home Daisy, a girl that Ira is known to be interested in. Mark is trying to set Ira up with him, but Ira fails to move. Not just because of passivity, but one gets the impression that even if he hadn’t been caught up in George’s whirlwind, he still wouldn’t have sealed the deal in the time frame (ten days) Mark gave him before Mark would bed her himself. About three weeks later, Ira has done nothing more than ask her to a Wilco show and Mark sleeps with her.

Ira, predictably, explodes. In The World According to William, his anger at Mark was justified. You sleep with the apple of your friend’s eye at your own peril. His anger at Daisy, though, was not. He accuses her of being a star{fornicator} and generally loose. She asks him if he would really refrain from sleeping with a super-hot girl that he just met and he basically said, “Right away? Yeah, I would!” because he genuinely prefers to move slow, get to know the girl, and so on. She is skeptical, but ultimately unapologetic. She has a right to her sex life and her own rules and is under no obligation to abide by his.

She is, of course, completely right. He had no monopoly on her sex life. Her rules were her own and she never asked him to go slow. Mark was willing. She was willing. Their choice, not Ira’s. And on and on. Yet, while she clearly won the argument, Ira’s pain and frustration was palpable and completely understandable. And it’s one of those things that strike a chord with a segment of the male population. Contrary to the claims of some, it isn’t simply about entitlement. He was doing what he was supposed to be doing, being sweet and nice and unaggressive… and he seemingly lost out in part because of it.

When growing up, we’re told that being nice is a way to win the girl. We’re told that pressuring is a bad thing. We’re told that women prefer a guy that is sweet to a guy that is sexually aggressive. So, it naturally follows, if we do what we’re supposed to do, we should get the girl. Okay, well not any girl, but we should at least have the advantage over a guy that does none of these thing. When we are respectful of the fact that someone wants to “go slow” (not in the movie, but frequently in real life) or has a boyfriend (the first girl from the movie), we suffer an indignity when a guy that ignores these things, is disrespectful of what she claims to want, suddenly gets what we wanted.

This is something that Phi, and a lot of guys, discuss constantly. It’s something I’m sure I’ve gone off on a rant about in the past. And it’s not wrong. A guy that gets frustrated with this should not simply be seen as the predatory friend who wants to slink his way into her bed. Sometimes they’re manipulative SOB’s trying to wear the underdog uniform to get some play, but sometimes they’re not. Sometimes they’re just guys that have done what is asked of them and have sometimes lost out again and again and not simply because they’re going after the ultra-hot girls. While my compassion and understanding of their situation is limited (it doesn’t matter how many times you get your heart broken nearly so much as it matters that you find the girl that doesn’t break your heart in the end), I’ve been there. I’ve felt it. My heart does go out.

There are, however, a few caveats.

The first is selective hearing. The truth is that guys get all sort of mixed signals on how to pick up a girl. We’re told that they want us to be respectful, but we are also told to sweep them off their feet. The difference between pleasant flirtation and sexual harassment depends as much on how the advances are received as on how aggressive they are. It’s like when I was a kid and I was told that exercise was good for you and rest was good for you and since I preferred rest I rested a lot. Since our passive social personalities do not lend themselves to being sexually aggressive or socially dominant, we listen more heavily to the advice that walks us down the path that we are more comfortable and capable of taking.

We also, by virtue of the fact that we are human and are not omniscient, don’t know which girls we have a shot at and which ones we don’t. This isn’t simply a matter of the nerd going after the chearleader. There have been some plain girls that I have been attracted to that didn’t know I existed while other more attractive girls that were approaching me. It didn’t matter what Ira did with George’s groupie. He wasn’t going to get sex. He did not have the one thing that she was willing to forsake her relationship for. His passivity was, in the end, utterly irrelevant.

In a lot of cases where a guy thinks that he misplayed his cards, in actuality he had a pretty bum hand to begin with. Sometimes she’s out of his league or sometimes she’s just looking for characteristics he lacks or is wary of characteristics (and not just passivity) that he has. Sometimes she is just at a point where she is only willing to move forward with someone that is truly exceptional and she will either not care that he is uninterested in anything more than a lay or she will convince herself that she can sleep her way into a relationship.

One of the more frustrating things I saw over the years was some variation of the following story. Jill just got out of a relationship or got her heart broken by some guy that she was never in a relationship with. She starts sorta-dating Jack. They don’t have sex. They’re not an official relationship. But they may hold hands or dispassionately kiss. He wants to date her and maybe has said so, but she just says that she is not ready and wants to go slow. Then she meets Jeff and has sex with him. The exact circumstances differ. Sometimes they weren’t even sorta-dating. Sometimes they were doing more than dispassionately kissing but were not sleeping together. Sometimes she didn’t just meet Jeff but instead Jeff is the guy that broke her heart that she swore she would never talk to again.

There are numerous ways to read the above dynamic. None of them make her look good, though some make her look worse than others. Some of them can make him look bad, too, but unless he seriously starts harassing her not nearly as bad. At least, that’s the guy’s perspective. Some women will immediately leap to her defense and say that she didn’t know what she wanted until she wanted it and that he failed to deal with that and therefore any of the pain caused was completely caused by him. That’s just not true. In the most charitable interpretation, she was not being honest (either with herself or him) about what was preventing them from having sex. He was investing under false pretenses that were signalled by the girl. In the least charitable interpretation, she knew she wanted nothing to do with him but used sex as a dangling carrot for companionship and the feeling of being desired.

But it is often the case that she is not being honest with herself. She really thinks the issue is that she is just not ready yet and only discovers when she meets Jeff that this is not the case. In fact, given the degree of self-deception I’ve seen in my thirty-plus years on this earth, I think that this is as often as not going to be the case. The room for doubt is what she should have known when. A guy owes it to himself to keep the potential for self-deception in mind when he invests in a relationship. And if he broaches the subject and she swears up and down that it’s her and not him, that doesn’t relieve him of his self-obligation. If she is deceiving herself, she doesn’t know that’s not the case.

Strategies aside, though, perhaps the most important aspect of the above dynamic is that, in the end, he never really had a chance with her. Not necessarily that she was “too good” for him, but her interest in him was (despite what she may have thought or hoped at the time) never a sufficient foundation for a sexual relationship. His mistake was not being a nice guy and not being a jerk. If he’d thrown himself at her, he would likely have been just as humiliated. The only upshot would have been that it would have happened sooner rather than later and he would have saved himself some time and effort. But he wouldn’t have gotten the girl. Not for very long, anyway. His niceness wasn’t the problem. He was the problem. Or she was. Or he and she together were. That’s not to say that there is nothing he could have done to change the situation. Sometimes there isn’t, but sometimes there is. But it requires something a lot less vague than “don’t be so nice” or “be a jerk” or even “be more aggressive.”

On that last one, excessive passivity is a problem. If you play a good doormat, people will see you as a doormat. If you never ask a girl out, you’re almost never going to go out with a girl. If you never make the move for sex, you’re rarely going to get sex. Unfortunately, a lot of passive people read things like this and think, in a self-congratulatory sort of way, that the problem is that they’re too nice. Or that if they were less nice that they would have more success. At that point, it depends on what you consider “nice”. But most guys that can’t get laid being nice and passive also have problems if they decide to become jerks. I know a lot of romantically lonely jerks. At this point in my life, far more lonely jerks than nice guys.

Instead, I think it’s one of those things where you see where you are on the introversion/extroversion and active/passive scales and try, not to be extroverted or aggressive, but to simply become less introverted and less passive. I personally did sporadically well on the first front and poorly on the second except when it mattered most with the woman that I would later marry. And even then, I came really close to blowing it with my passivity.

In the end, passivity is not a virtue. Guys that have been lead to believe otherwise (often by equating passivity with respectfulness or chastity) have been done a disservice. And I can definitely understand the frustration as this settles in. I just don’t want that frustration to fuel other non-productive ideas.

Category: Coffeehouse

The RIAJ (RIAA, Japanese-style) is conspiring with Japanese phone manufacturers to come up with a new way to verify that customers have purchased the content that they’re playing on their cell phones:

The notion is that the RIAJ would work with the phone companies to get verification software on every handset. It could then ‘phone home’ every time the audio player is activated to check if a track was bought legally or not.

Inside sources say not only is such a move possible because the phone networks dictate what software appears on handsets in Japan, but that it’s highly likely to be up and running by 2011.

On the face of it, this is a fair move. After all, nobody who has purchased their music has anything to fear about this. Right?

Except, of course, that’s not really true. What this means instead is that if you want to play music, you have to have their approval. So if their networks are down, you may not be able to play the music that you legally purchased. Or if they discontinue the program, everything you purchased could go inert. So what this will do is either (a) be completely ineffective against people that have hacked, DRM-free versions of the songs being played or (b) make life difficult for people who want to play media that is not in their system. In the case of (a), it will make owning an illegal copy of something more hassle-free than owning a legal copy of it. This was the boat that the American record companies completely missed when music piracy became mainstream while they insisted that listening to music be attached to a disc or tape. The movie industry is looking at that now where DVD’s get scratched and subscription services lapse or the terms change or you can download movies illegally for free and they will always work without anyone’s permission. In the case of (b), well, they have made themselves the complete and total gatekeepers of what can and cannot be played on your phone. May work out well for them, but sucks from just about everyone else’s point-of-view and may not be technically possible.

Then again, Japan is a whole other country and what doesn’t work well in the US could work well in Japan. They may view abiding my DRM as their civic duty or somesuch, so (a) may be a workable solution. Then again, to the extent that Japanese are a cooperative bunch, piracy shouldn’t be the issue it would need to be in order to justify that time and effort to implement this plan.

I realize that I am starting to become a one-note Charlie, returning to the subject of the iPhone as regularly as Half Sigma returns to HBD, but this is yet another reason why I am extremely reluctant to get an iPhone and why I wasn’t going to get one even when it looked like I might need a new cell phone. While Apple hasn’t signed on to anything like this (well, except iTunes DRM, but I wouldn’t count that), they pretty easily could. Their centralized way of going about things makes this sort of thing much, much easier than it would be for Google, Nokia, or Microsoft with their respective mobile operating systems.

-{Link via Kent Newsome}-

Category: Server Room, Theater

Over at Computerworld, Jeff Ello offers an interesting proposition – that the stereotypical IT person (antisocial, anti-management, anti-bureaucracy, etc) is merely a logical being who reacts in a logical way to their stereotypical environment. In particular, this quote caught my eye:

    Antisocial behavior — It’s fair to say that there is a large contingent of IT pros who are socially unskilled. However, this doesn’t mean those IT pros are antisocial. On the whole, they have plenty to say. If you want to get your IT pros more involved, you should deal with the problems laid out above and then train your other staff how to deal with IT. Users need to be reminded a few things, including:

    – IT wants to help me.
    – I should keep an open mind.
    – IT is not my personal tech adviser, nor is my work computer my personal computer.
    – IT people have lives and other interests.

    Like anyone else, IT people tend to socialize with people who respect them. They’ll stop going to the company picnic if it becomes an occasion for everyone to list all the computer problems they never bothered to mention before.

Without fail, not merely for myself but based on the experiences of friends/family I have known in IT, this is a major failing on the part of many organizations. IT people are “leaned on” constantly. They’re expected to fix their friends’ computers, neighbors’ computers, the computers of family members. Heck, they are sent questions by family/friends in other states who think that things can be fixed remotely. Co-workers piling on with this add to stress, especially if it’s done (a) often or (b) unappreciatively. Trust me when I say: we don’t mind, once in a while, helping someone out of a jam, especially if it’s something Worst Buy/Geek Squad/etc routinely screw up on or overcharge for. On the other hand, when we get 10+ requests for such help in a month, there’s a point where even we say “enough is enough.”

There’s another part as well:

    Insubordination — This is a tricky one. Good IT pros are not anti-bureaucracy, as many observers think. They are anti-stupidity. The difference is both subjective and subtle. Good IT pros, whether they are expected to or not, have to operate and make decisions with little supervision. So when the rules are loose and logical and supervision is results-oriented, supportive and helpful to the process, IT pros are loyal, open, engaged and downright sociable. Arbitrary or micro-management, illogical decisions, inconsistent policies, the creation of unnecessary work and exclusionary practices will elicit a quiet, subversive, almost vicious attitude from otherwise excellent IT staff.

I’ve added the emphasis above for the basic point – people who go into IT, fundamentally, are (again) logical beings. They approach computers and technology, which are logical machines, in a logical fashion. They appreciate people like Will or Will’s normal working-environment types who, when they bring a problem up, bring the background research (error code, method to reproduce, etc) with it. They don’t appreciate Carol in accounts payable who sends in a request saying “this stupid thing doesn’t work come fix it while I go to lunch”, leaves no indication of what application is “not working”, leaves no recorded error code or method to reproduce the problem, and then has a screaming fit when she comes back to the office to find an email or note indicating that the IT staff would like her to inform them when she is available so that they can observe the problem and implement a solution.

IT people react quite well to Will-types, who we usually refer to by titles similar to “power users.” As far as IT goes, Will-types are collaborators; they respect us, we respect them, and when they ask for help, they’re willing to work with us to see that the solution is found and works well. Likewise, IT people react well to what I’ll refer to as “Joel”-types. Joels are people who know that computers are logical, have a little trouble grasping what they are doing, but are (a) patient about a response and (b) willing to be present and educated on what to do. Yes, we may have to answer the same question 2-3 times for a Joel in order for them to remember what they are doing, and occasionally they forget how to do something, but they recognize when their knowledge is insufficient and call for help rather than making things worse.

There are two other types we have to deal with. As I referred to a moment ago, there are the “Carol” types. Carols are the type who believe that somehow, with zero information and zero cooperation on their part, the magic box sitting on their desk can be made to do whatever they want to do. They believe that sending an email or help request along the lines of “this fucking thing isn’t working fix it” with an “available time” of ASAP and perhaps a threatening note about “reporting IT to the VP” if it isn’t done by the time they’re done with their noon “rendezvous” will somehow make it so that the fix “just happens.” Carol-types are also the type who insist their computer is “so slow” and “takes forever to log on”, but scream bloody murder if you want to remove the 10 different “IE Toolbar” apps, instant messaging apps, screwy spyware-laden screensavers, and other non-job-related miscellaneous widgets that they’ve put on their computer.

The final type I’ll refer to as the “Todd” type. Todd-types are the IT department’s nightmare. Todd-types, in fact, account for 99% of the aggravations that sparked my response to Farhad Manjoo’s column (hey, I warned you; we IT-types are anti-stupidity) earlier. The problem with Todd-types is that they are the portion of the world who overestimate their own competence. They believe (for example) that because they managed to plug in their DSL modem in at home and get their computer plugged in, they are competent to build and maintain a 500-machine network, or that because they managed to install “free” software package X at home, it should be used by everyone in the company (setting aside all questions of the legality, licensing, and security questions of doing so). Worse yet, when they encounter an issue, they don’t check in with us first. Instead, they flail around, delete this, rename that, alter this setting, alter that setting, and instead of coming in to implement a simple fix based on a known error code, we are then forced to work backwards through all the other things they messed up along the way. Todd-types are the type who jam in print cartridges without removing the packaging tabs or “rip-cord” tab first, damaging printers/copiers in the process. They try to remove a paper jam by hand the wrong way, turning a simple removal process into a 4-hour process of taking the printer half apart to get to the one scrap of paper still covering the jam sensor. They see an “error” and download a “driver search” package infested with malicious software. In short, Todd-types are the reason that many companies lock down computers and take “admin” (software installation) permissions away from most users in the first place.

Now, looking back above, what’s the difference between the Will/Joel and the Carol/Todd types? I’ll take them in sequence.

– IT wants to help me. Both the Will-types and the Joel-types recognize that IT wants to help them. IT wants them to be able to do their jobs well. When Will-types feel that IT is taking things away, it’s probably helpful to remind the Will-types that for every Will in an organization, there’s probably an even dozen Carol/Todds, and upper managment freaks out when they see “problems” like that (for example, when “Carol” screams bloody murder and IT’s only defense is to give the now-screaming VP a list of all the extraneous crap loaded to Carol’s computer or else see themselves subjected to the VP’s wrath).

– I should keep an open mind. Again, Will-types and Joel-types do this. When IT tells Will that they may not be able to be there instantaneously, or that they may need to do some research on a fix, Will knows they’re right – hell, he’s already been researching it himself. When IT tells the Joel-types that they would like to schedule ~30 minutes (5 to fix it, 25 to train Joel to better use the application), he gets it. Meanwhile, the Todd-types lie about their thrashing (lest IT twig them for what they did and start proceedings to restrict their access to prevent future damage) and then complain that IT didn’t “completely fix” their issue, and the Carol-types are just downright uncooperative from the start.

And, of course… the Carol and Todd-types are also the most likely reason your IT guys don’t go to the company picnic.

Category: Office, Server Room

People who saw the Watchmen movie will recognize this song, though not this version of it. I like Waits’s Cohen’s* version from the movie, but Buckley’s here completely blows it away. The minimalist feel wouldn’t have worked in the movie, but it’s one of those songs where you want to close your eyes and let your imagination see what it can come up with. Since there’s no video (just the picture of Buckley), you can try this at your computer desk!

Here’s the one from the movie. No video, because this is a family blog and well, YouTube won’t let me.

{Buckley song via Outside the Beltway, from whom I “borrowed” their Late Night OTB concept for Hit Coffee Weekend}

* – I swore that I corrected this before posting it, but I must not have saved the change when I did.

Category: Theater